Secretive North Korea back at World Cup - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Secretive North Korea back at World Cup

By Joshua Howat Berger 15/06/2010 07:41:35 PM Comments (0)

As North Korea make their first appearance at the World Cup in 44 years on Tuesday, the Communist country's reclusive team are provoking some head-scratching among football fans.

With Kim Jong-Il's regime mired in controversy over charges that North Korea sank a South Korean warship in March, an embattled Pyongyang has a chance at a more positive turn in the international spotlight as the North make a run for the World Cup.

But North Korea have so far been the tournament's most elusive team, granting few interviews, avoiding photographs and kicking journalists out of what was scheduled to be an open training session last week.

In a pre-game press briefing on Monday, Coach Kim Jong-hun refused to take any questions on politics, broadly defined.

"Who selects your team - you or the president?" one journalist asked.

FIFA press officer Gordon Glenn Watson grabbed the microphone.

"That's a political question. Next question please," he said.

North Korea is alone among World Cup teams in showing no interest in marketing its merchandise.

The team kept their World Cup jersey under wraps prior to the tournament, sending collectors determined to buy all 32 teams' shirts on a global hunt for the manufacturer.

North Korea have been all but invisible in the football fever that has gripped host country South Africa.

The isolated nation is probably the least represented in the deluge of flags, jerseys and other gear that has flooded the country.

Vendors near Ellis Park, the Johannesburg stadium hosting North Korea's opener, were stumped by requests for the country's flag Monday.

"Sorry boss, next time," said a vendor after checking in vain with colleagues up and down the street.

Despite being 2,000-to-1 underdogs, North Korea hope to repeat the glory of the team's last World Cup appearance in 1966, when they shocked Italy 1-0 on their way to the quarter-finals.

But they face tough opponents in Group G, dubbed "The Group of Death" by commentators: Didier Drogba's Ivory Coast, Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, and Kaka's Brazil.

The North Korean dark horses - fittingly nicknamed Chollima, after a mythical winged horse - are devoid of big names.

They are also the tournament's lowest-ranked team, coming in at 105 in the international standings. They play their opener against world number one Brazil (0430 AEST).

The country's secretive government keeps a close eye on the national side's performance. It banned the team from travelling abroad after losses to South Korea and Japan in qualifiers for the 1994 World Cup.

Football fans in the impoverished country almost missed out the games entirely.

Asia's broadcasting union said a deal was signed just before the opening match to allow the games to air in North Korea.

South Korea, which holds broadcast rights to the World Cup for the entire Korean peninsula, has refused to provide the North with TV coverage of the games as it had in 2006.

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