“Fino a che non diventeranno coscienti del loro potere, non saranno mai capaci di ribellarsi, e fino a che non si saranno liberati, non diventeranno mai coscienti del loro potere.”
“If North Korea somehow defeated or tied mighty Brazil, tightly edited snippets of the match — obtained perhaps from China or pirated — would be shown a day or two later, Myers said. Defeats might receive no mention in the state-controlled news media.”
“North Korea then blew a three-goal lead and lost, 5-3, to Portugal in the quarterfinals. Rumors spread that the Koreans had run out of gas after cavorting in Middlesbrough, England, where the Italian match was held, and were later killed or sent to re-education camps for their decadent behavior.”
By JERÉ LONGMAN
Published: June 1, 2010
JOHANNESBURG — North Korea’s soccer team arrived Tuesday at the World Cup, where it will be supported by cheerleaders recruited from China, led by a forward born in Japan and prohibited at home from receiving free television coverage provided by fellow competitor and political rival South Korea.
There is much intrigue surrounding the mostly unknown team from North Korea. One of the world’s most closed nations will open slightly to participate in the world’s biggest sporting event, even as it is being accused by South Korea of sinking one of its warships in March and killing 46 sailors.
As the lowest-ranked of the 32 nations in the field, North Korea faces an imposing challenge to become one of two teams advancing from the so-called Group of Death, which also includes Brazil, a five-time champion; Portugal, a 2006 semifinalist; and the Ivory Coast, an African power led by one of the world’s best forwards, Didier Drogba.
Yet no country enters the tournament, which runs from June 11 to July 11, with a bigger reputation for doing the unexpected. North Korea’s last appearance in the World Cup — in 1966 — resulted in one of soccer’s greatest feats, a shocking 1-0 victory over Italy, whose humbled players were reportedly pelted with rotten fruit upon returning home in disgrace.
“We have a great desire for success in the tournament,” North Korea’s coach, Kim Jong-hun, said in a brief statement Tuesday.
As expected, Kim did not refer to increasing tensions along the 38th parallel. In sporting terms, North and South Korea have a complicated relationship that long predates the sinking of the naval vessel, the Cheonan. Last week, South Korea’s captain, Park Ji-sung, told The Guardian of London, “Maybe we can get closer to North Korea through the World Cup.”
Athletes from the two Koreas marched together in the opening ceremony at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Yet North Korea did not even attempt to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, which was jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan. It also ignored an offer by FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, to host a match or two in that tournament.
During qualification for this World Cup, a 2008 match with South Korea, scheduled for Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, was moved instead to Shanghai. South Korea had insisted on bringing its own fans, raising its national flag and playing its national anthem, to which the North objected.
After losing a 2009 qualifying match by 1-0 to South Korea in Seoul, the North Koreans complained of biased refereeing and tainted food, saying the game “turned into a theater of plot-breeding and swindling.”
South Korea’s refusal to beam free World Cup television broadcasts across the demilitarized zone, which it did as a humanitarian gesture in 2006, might not have a dramatic impact.
Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, would probably not allow any matches to be shown live anyway, considering that the team could be humiliated or someone could hold up a sign of protest against the regime, said Brian Myers, a professor of international studies and an expert on North Korean propaganda at Dongseo University in Pusan, South Korea.
If North Korea somehow defeated or tied mighty Brazil, tightly edited snippets of the match — obtained perhaps from China or pirated — would be shown a day or two later, Myers said. Defeats might receive no mention in the state-controlled news media.
“I can’t remember reading about North Korea losing a match,” Myers said in a telephone interview. “Occasionally, they show a couple minutes of soccer matches around the world. They might show one of the enemy — like the U.S. or Japan — losing.”
Unlike the former East Germany and Soviet Union, which intended athletic achievement as a sign of communist superiority, sports in North Korea serve to burnish nationalism and enhance the cult of personality of Kim Jong-il, said Michael Breen, a British journalist who lives in Seoul and has authored a biography of the leader.
That seemed evident when goalkeeper Ri Myong-guk said it was his duty to “safeguard the gates to the fatherland,” and the star forward Jong Tae-se said, “If Kim Jong-il is pleased, I will be honored.”
Jong is one of two ethnic Koreans on the North’s roster who were born in Japan. He is a top forward in Japan’s professional league and is nicknamed the People’s Rooney for a stocky build and goal-scoring propensity that remind some of the English star Wayne Rooney.
There have been conflicting reports of Jong’s heritage. Some news accounts say he was born to South Korean parents and later renounced his South Korean citizenship. But Jong told reporters recently that his mother is North Korean, his father was born in Japan and that he himself attended Pyongyang-supported schools there.
Upon leaving his Japanese club team to begin World Cup preparations, Jong told reporters in Tokyo that his North Korean teammates were curious about his cellphone, and had passed it among one another. He also vowed to score in each match, adding, “We want to produce results that will stun the world.”
Sven-Goran Eriksson, the Ivory Coast coach, cautioned that opponents better be prepared for the relentless, defensively robust North Koreans, saying: “Physically they are better than anyone because they have been in training camp for six months. They are organized, running all the time.”
Because so few North Koreans have the money or the permission to leave the country for the World Cup, the nation’s sports committee has recruited about 1,000 Chinese fans as surrogate cheerleaders, including actors and musicians, according to Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency.
If North Korea does stun the world, it will not be the first time. At the 1966 World Cup, its army-based team shocked Italy on a lone goal by Pak Do-ik, who later was called the Dentist for inflicting so much hurt on the favored Italians.
North Korea then blew a three-goal lead and lost, 5-3, to Portugal in the quarterfinals. Rumors spread that the Koreans had run out of gas after cavorting in Middlesbrough, England, where the Italian match was held, and were later killed or sent to re-education camps for their decadent behavior.
But a British filmmaker named Daniel Gordon found the truth to be otherwise in a 2002 documentary about that North Korean team called “The Game of Their Lives.” Players received decent apartments and increased rations for their startling upset, Gordon said in a telephone interview.
“It’s possible some prominent players got caught up in factional purges, but I’m not convinced it had to do with 1966,” said Gordon, who has been to North Korea more than 20 times. “As far as them going through bars and cavorting with women, there aren’t any half-Korean children running around Middlesbrough about age 40. That behavior didn’t happen.”