Drawn in a group with international powerhouses Brazil, Portugal and the much-fancied Ivory Coast, 1000/1 outsiders North Korea aren’t expected to impact on much more than their three rivals’ respective goal differences in South Africa.
But the word from their confident manager is that they can recreate the magic from their first ever World Cup campaign in 1966, when they shocked everyone by making it to the quarter-finals.
Boss Kim Jong-Hun told local press: “I believe we will at least pass the first round, we have the strong spirit of challenge to upset expectations.”
Highly-rated striker Jong Tae-se also fancies their chances, claiming that “Brazil will be first and we will win second place.”
So while their self-belief is admirable, is it completely misplaced? They held former European champions Greece to a 2-2 draw on Tuesday, and drew 0-0 with South Africa last month. There have also been losses to Paraguay and Mexico, but in both games they found the net and only lost by the one goal.
Tae-se is a reason for their optimism. Described as the “Asian Wayne Rooney”, North Korea’s fans have high expectations of the 26-year-old Kawasaki Frontale striker, who has an impressive strike rate at international level, with 14 goals in only 21 appearances.
He scored both in Tuesday’s friendly, suggesting that his fans’ high hopes might not be misplaced. But while he might enjoy a fruitful World Cup, given that his side’s last win was a penalty shoot-out victory over Turkmenistan, repeating the feat of 1966 remains a long way off.