The last time North Korea qualified for a World Cup, England won it and North Korea departed at the quarter-finals.
The latter is a 40/1 shot this time around if you want to believe in the fairy tale World Cup story, while the North Koreans are 1000/1 to win the tournament and anything but rock bottom in Group G will be a major shock.
The Dutch only had to play eight games to qualify, so spare a thought for the North Koreans – a whopping 16 fixtures required, dating back to October 2007, that took them from Jordan to Mongolia. Most impressively of all, was that the North Koreans conceded just seven goals along the way.
The North Koreans have been testing themselves ahead of the World Cup with recent friendly fixtures against Paraguay (L1-0), South Africa (D0-0), Mexico (L2-1) and Venezuela (L2-1), showing that whilst results haven’t gone their way, they might not quite be the whipping boys many are suggesting. Indeed in the last two years only one side has managed to score more than twice against them, Zambia beating them 4-1 last November. So, perhaps the best way to make money from the resilient North Koreans this summer may be in the Asian handicap markets.
It is a relatively youthful squad the North Koreans have – with only three members over the age of 30 – and they are regarded as being an extremely fit and determined outfit. Much hope will be placed on Hong Yong-Jo, the captain, who scored three in qualifying and plays for FC Rostov in Russia, as well as the so called ‘North Korean Wayne Rooney’ Jong Tae-Se, who plays for Kawasaki Frontale in Japan. Indeed they are two of just three in the squad who play their football outside North Korea.
Underdogs probably doesn’t go far enough to explain how remote their chances are and in some ways their best hope must be to attain a draw to spoil the party for either the Ivory Coast or Portugal – don’t rule out a 0-0 against one of these two.