Korea DPR – Route to South Africa

It’s probably fair to say Korea DPR will represent the unknown when it comes to South Africa 2010. Politically at least, they are considered the most secret nation in the world and why should it be any different when it comes to football. Sure! They won’t exactly have the European and South American giants quaking in their boots, but Korea DPR will represent a media dream at the thought of being paired alongside countries like the USA or Korea Republic.

Korea DPR began 2010 World Cup qualification against Mongolia in October 2007. In the opening leg they beat their opponents 4–1 in Ulan-Bator, with Jong Chol-Min scoring a hat trick. One week later both teams met again, this time at the Kim Il-Sung Stadium in Pyongyang. Korea DPR won the game 5–1 to secure passage with an aggregate scoreline of 9-2.

In the third round, DPRK opened their campaign against Jordan in Amman. The visitors won the game 1–0 with Hong Yong-Jo scoring the winner after 44 minutes. The following matches saw DPRK win against Jordan and Turkmenistan at home and tie with Korea Republic both home and away to advance to the final round.

In the final round of qualifying, DPRK finished in second place in Group B behind leaders Korea Republic ahead of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In their first match, DPRK scored a valuable away win against the UAE. Against the run of play they scored two goals from Choe Kum Chol and An Chol Hyok to clinch the win, despite a late consolation for the hosts. The second match was the third encounter in qualifying against Korea Republic at the neutral venue of Shanghai which ended in a 1–1 draw – the third game in a row that the match ended level between both sides. Hong Yong-Jo converted a penalty to put the North Koreans ahead in the 63rd minute, but Ki Sung-Yeung equalised for the visitors five minutes later.

DPRK’s unbeaten record in the final qualification stage came to an end with an away loss to Iran. Mehdi Mahdavikia headed the hosts into a ninth-minute lead when he picked up a pass from Mojtaba Jabbari from outside the penalty area. Javad Nekonam doubled the lead in the 65th minute when he latched onto team-mate Masoud Shojaei’s pass, this time from inside the box. Korea DPR’s consolation goal came from a header by Jong Tae-Se. In their fourth match against Saudi Arabia, Korea DPR underlined their status as Asia’s dark horses by causing a major upset. Mun In-Guk scored the only goal in the first half, much to the delight of the 70,000-plus home crowd. The result moved the North Koreans up to second in Pool B with seven points from four matches. They went on to defeat the UAE in their next match to go top.

On April 1, the awkward stalemate between the two Koreas was broken when they lost 1-0 to their southern neighbours in a match held in Seoul. The North Korean coach later suggested during a news conference that the South Koreans poisoned their squad.

A draw against Iran in Pyongyang complicated matters for Korea DPR who had 11 points from 7 matches and one game left to play. Avoiding defeat against Saudi Arabia would earn them direct qualification, so long as Iran didn’t win their final match.

On 17 June 2009, North Korea qualified for the 2010 World Cup by securing a draw with Saudi Arabia in Riyadh. They finished level with the Saudi’s on 12 points each, but held a superior goal difference to qualify for their first World Cup since 1966.

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