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North Korean soccer players have a unique motivation to win the Cup: a government so invested it tells players how to cut their hair.
North Korea World Cup Team Statistics: Group F
Status: Knocked out round 2
World Ranking: 105
World Cup 2010 Results: 0-3-0
Total goals scored: 1
Total goals scored against: 14
North Korea World Cup Schedule: June 15 - Brazil (1-2 loss); June 21 - Portugal (0-7 loss); June 25 - Ivory Coast (0-3 loss)
North Korea World Cup Soccer 2010
North Korea is the most paranoid country in the world so perhaps they weren’t surprised — conspiracy had to be afoot — when they got stuck with, arguably, the toughest draw of any team in the tournament.
Though the team is a tremendous source of pride to the nation, none of the glory is supposed to accrue to the players; all glory belongs to “Dear Leader” Kim, whose late father was the “eternal” ruler of the country. Since losing is anathema — a national insult — and losing seems the likely outcome in South Africa, North Koreans may not get to watch the games, but only edited highlights that mask the results.
Kim will certainly be watching, though. He is considered a fan, but one with a unique command of the game. After attending a college match at his alma mater, he was reportedly disenchanted with the long hair worn by some players. A national edict banning long hair for men soon ensued.
North Korea World Cup History: North Korea has only played in one other World Cup, back in 1966 — but what a performance. It upset Italy to reach the knockout stage and had Portugal down 3-0 before faltering in a 5-3 quarterfinal loss.
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North Korea World Cup Conventional Wisdom: Even the folks at home, starved for information of the outside world, know that the North Korean side has a difficult road, opening against the number-one and number-three ranked teams in the world. Team contends with New Zealand as tournament’s best bet to lose all three first-round contests.
North Korea World Cup Team Coach: Kim Jong-hun
Kim is the latest in an ever-shuffling array of coaches and, even now, rumored to be on his way out. But even the most mercenary of foreign coaching luminaries has resisted the lure of this thankless challenge under the watchful eye of the “Dear Leader.” The current coach, a former defender himself, naturally favors a defensive style. But there may be no defense for him after the results are in.
North Korea World Cup Team Strength: The team, with about half its players off the Army team, has tremendous stamina and reputedly great mental toughness, byproducts of what is considered one of the harsher training regimens.
North Korea World Cup Team Weakness: Even by the standards of a soccer world that doesn’t take losses lightly, North Korea regards them as an affront to the nation. Fear can be a great motivator, but it can also yield paralysis.
North Korea World Cup Key Player: Kim Jong-il
The North Korean dictator commands not only the nation, but the soccer team. And his whim — invisible to the larger world — could dictate everything about this team; from its lineup to its tactics to the players’ hair length. If Kim concurs, best hope for a breakthrough may lie with versatile, attack-minded Jong Tae-se, who at least represents a propaganda victory. He was born in Japan and renounced South Korean citizenship to play in the North.