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NK Striker Moves Fans With Pre-game Crying

Posted June. 17, 2010 12:45,   


Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na staged the most beautiful performance in the sport’s history at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in February. She burst into tears after finishing her free skating session, causing many of her compatriots to weep with her.

Another ethnic Korean sports star has made headlines for crying. North Korean soccer striker Jong Tae Se, 26, (Kawasaki) burst into tears even before his team played its first Group G match against Brazil at the World Cup in South Africa.

He was seen weeping while entering the stadium and cried when the North’s national anthem was played.

Jong appeared in a TV commercial for a South Korean pharmaceutical company, showing how familiar he is to South Koreans. When South Korean fans watched him weep while the North’s national anthem was played, they also felt emotional.

A major topic of conversation Wednesday was Jong’s tears, which were also featured on the homepage of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body.

The North Korea-Brazil game drew attention long before kickoff. Brazil is atop the FIFA world rankings and the North is the lowest ranked team (105th) among the 32 countries in the World Cup.

Brazil prevailed, 2-1, but the attention was squarely focused on North Korea. In the game, the North gave the Latin American powerhouse all it could handle, with Brazil coach Dunga saying, “The North’s squeezing defense was close to perfection and allowed no space to penetrate.”

Foreign media including Eurosport and Goal.com gave higher grades to North Korean players than to their Brazilian counterparts. Eurosport also picked Jong “Man of the Match.”

The striker distinguished himself in the match as a star irrespective of his tears and offensive capability. A German reporter said, “The big physique and powerful play shown by Jong Tae Se would fit nicely in the Bundesliga. It will be no surprise to see a (European) pro team recruiting him.”

Jong spoke fluent Portuguese when interviewed by a Brazilian reporter after the event. He was born in Japan and plays in the Japanese pro league, but also speaks good English. He can effectively speak four languages, including Korean.

He likes talking in public. After the North lost 3-1 in an exhibition game versus Nigeria June 7, most North Korean players and team staff, including head coach Kim Jong Hun, hurriedly left the ground to dodge South Korean reporters.

Jong stayed to face the media, however. “If South Korea’s swift forwards can attack Nigeria through one-on-one passes, South Korea can easily dismantle the Nigerian defense,” he said.

He is also posting entries on his Japanese blog during the World Cup, living up to his status as a new generation star.

Jong’s personal background also fully reflects the modern history of the Korean Peninsula. Born as a third-generation ethnic Korean in Japan, he has South Korean nationality because of his father.

His mother is North Korean, but both his elder sister and brother hold South Korean passports. His elder brother Jong Il Se plays goalie for Chungju Hummel, a corporate semi-pro team in South Korea.

While attending a school affiliated with a pro-North Korea group in Japan, he grew to believe that his motherland is North Korea. After starting soccer, he dreamed of playing for the North but could not due to his South Korean nationality.

Since the South does not allow dual citizenship, he had to change his nationality to play for the North. The South also does not recognize the North as a legitimate country, however, so he could not give up his nationality.

He sent a written appeal to FIFA explaining his family history and the historical background of the two Koreas. The body accepted the appeal, and he joined the North Korean team in July 2007.

After the Brazil game, Jong burst into tears again lying on the ground. He said he regrets that his team failed to win and that he did not score.

On his tears shed before the match, he said, “I wept because I was so excited to participate in the World Cup and play against the world’s strongest team.”