Tuesday, June 15, 2010
North Korea worthy of world stage
Tuesday night in South Africa, and North Korea have made their mark on the World Cup once again.
• Brewin at Ellis Park
• Dunga senses nerves
• Blog: South supports North
Memories of 1966 abound, and although the Chollimas need to up the pace of their game and indeed place more focus on their own attacking potential ahead of their second game, the surprise was certainly in the icy air of Johannesburg for almost an hour.
Before kick-off, the Group of Death had just three teams really in it and all the talk was centred on Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast. Of course, there were also the North Koreans completing Group G, but more as the exotic outsiders who no one really considered contenders for a place in the last 16.
After the final whistle - which must have brought an immense amount of relief to the Brazilians - there are suddenly four teams in this hard-fought group.
North Korea did more than to provide the novelty factor by keeping Brazil goalless in Ellis Park. They have also shown that they are in with a chance - slim as it might be - of qualifying from Group G. But if they are to make it past the first round, the gutsy North Koreans will need to really focus on their own attacking potential, which is no doubt there given their late goal as well as striker Jong Tae-Se's promising performance.
Indeed it was Jong, the 'People's Rooney' as he is lovingly called in Asia, who provided the most striking image even before kick-off, crying profoundly at the sound of the North Korean national anthem. The Japan-based player is rumoured to be on the shopping list of European clubs this summer, and certainly showed a silky performance up front given that he was virtually the only attacking player for most of the match.
In the 10th minute, Jong's skilful dribble and shot was the first warning sign that North Korea were not out just to make up the numbers. Six minutes later, defender Cha awoke Cesar in the Brazilian goal with a left-footed drive which went wide.
What these attacking outings in the first half had in common was that they were conducted at an extremely quick pace, with often smooth combinations leading to a shot on goal. However, North Korea will really need to believe in their own ability more ahead of their next game against Portugal. Many moves came to nothing, often due to a lack of support up front.
With thoughts of a shock in the air, Maicon escaped down the right and the resistance was broken. With the second goal from Elano coming shortly thereafter, North Korea fell into a hole of sorts, with their attacking ambitions now totally coming unstuck.
But the spirit of this surprisingly plucky North Korean side was not broken. Jong almost breached the Brazilian defence in the 85th minute, and three minutes later he laid off the ball perfectly for Ji to march through and register their first goal of the tournament.
And Jong attempted to grab a sensational late equaliser, only to see his long-range effort fly over the bar.
With all of Brazil sighing with relief, the final whistle blew, but North Korea have made a statement of intent in South Africa. If they are intent on staying on past the group stage, however, they will need to put on their attacking shoes ahead of the games against Portugal and the Ivory Coast.