Posted June. 19, 2009 04:56,
North Korea and Saudi Arabia yesterday played their final qualifier for next years World Cup at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh. The game remained scoreless after 90 minutes of regulation and five minutes of injury time.
The draw gave the North its first ticket to soccers grand event since 1966, and its jubilant players embraced each other to share their joy. Striker Jong Tae Se, who plays for the Japanese pro team Kawasaki, burst into tears after taking off his jersey. Coach Kim Jong Hoon also burst into tears.
North Korea and Saudi Arabia each had three wins, three draws and two losses for 12 points in Asias Group B, but goal difference secured second place in the group for the North and a berth in South Africa next year.
North Korea will play in its second World Cup after shocking the world with a quarterfinal advance in the 1966 tournament in England. Hence, both Koreas will play in the same World Cup finals for the first time.
○ Asian tiger in the 1960s
North Korea has had a bumpy ride in the World Cup over the past 44 years.
The Stalinist country had the best team in Asia in the 1950s and 60s. At that time, South Korea even boycotted a World Cup qualifier due to the heavy burden of playing its northern foe.
In the 1966 World Cup, Pak Do Iks goal gave the North a shocking 1-0 upset of Italy and a berth in the quarterfinals.
That, however, would mark the end of the Norths soccer heyday. The country struggled throughout the 1970s and 80s due to its policy of isolation and economic hardship, snubbing qualifiers for the 1970 and 1978 tournaments.
The North even failed to pass the first round of qualifiers for the 1974 and 1986 events. It was stopped in the final round of qualifiers for the 1982 Spain World Cup.
North Korea advanced to the final qualifying round for the 1990 and 1994 tournaments, but finished in the bottom. It also missed the 1998 and 2002 editions.
The country tried for the 2006 World Cup in Germany for the first time in 12 years, but finished with just one win and five losses in the final qualifying round.
○ Memories of 1966
Foreign media have shown keen interest in North Koreas advance to next years World Cup given the tension surrounding the countrys nuclear and missile development. The Associated Press, AFP, the BBC, the Daily Telegraph, CNN and other outlets reported on the Norths qualification en masse.
The Daily Telegraph recalled memories of the 1966 World Cup, saying North Korea is preparing a diplomatic storm by advancing into the World Cup finals before the North secured its ticket.
U.S. media also reported on North Koreas qualification. The Washington Post said, Just as the United States and Iran played in the same group during the 1998 World Cup in France, the U.S. and North Korea could play in the same group.
Soccers world governing body FIFA also covered the North Korea-Saudi Arabia qualifier in details on its Web site. FIFAs homepage carried a photo of North Korean players waving their national flag and a video clip of the Norths 1966 World Cup team in England.