North Korea may be 1500-1 in the books to win the 2010 FIFA World Cup this summer, but they are even-money in my book to play their hearts out.
And though North Korea may not possess the attacking flair of teams like Brazil and Spain, or the defensive prowess of countries such as England and Germany, they will most certainly play with pride, and lots of it.
Having been drawn the infamous "group of death," the North Korean football team, or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) as recognized by FIFA, is poised for a stern test. Group G has three powerhouse nations all with a good chance at going far in the tournament. They are Brazil (June 15), Portugal (June 21), and the Ivory Coast (June 25).
For a country with a reputation as volatile as the DPRK, the only part of the world they are looking to "upset" this summer is the soccer world. They will undoubtedly let their soccer play do all the talking in what's their first World Cup berth since 1966, when they beat Italy, 1-0 in 1966. More recently, the North Koreans won the AFC Challenge Cup, but it's safe to say that they have an even higher standard to live up to this time around.
If coach Kim Jong-Hun's team is to find the same form they had in qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, and utilize top goal-scorers Hong Yong-Jo and Jong Chol-Min (four goals apiece), perhaps they have more than just pride to play for in the world's biggest sporting event.
The wide players like Mun In-Guk, and Jong Tae-Se, will be looking to swing the ball into the box as often as possible in attempt to create havoc versus very strong, and capable defenders.
The team will try to embody a spirit of Juche (pronounced joo-cheh), which basically means unity through self-reliance and confidence.
They will also try the long ball as a quick outlet option, while trying to pick out their forward players, Pak Chol-Jin and Hong Yong-Jo.
Defensively, there isn't too much to boast about.
But don't tell that to the back four. Cha Jong-Hyok, Ri Jun-Il, Pak Nam-Chol, and Ri-Kwang-Chon will defend their experienced keeper, Ri Myong-Guk's goal, with their lives.
Their first game will test their character, as well as being up against the likes of Luis Fabiano, Nilmar, Kaka, and the gang. Gulp!
Strengths and weaknesses
North Korea's main strength lies in their cohesion as a team, not to mention some quick passing and varied tactical options.
They are not only fast with their feet, but they can quickly adapt to opposing tactical strategies, and adopt new formations along the way. Coach Kim will look to surprise their opponents with quick counter attacks, and any kind of tricky set pieces they can devise within training camp.
Their defense, which did not concede that many goals in qualifying, must remain well organized, and cannot afford to get lazy or give up for 90 minutes.
I would have to say their weakness is lack of confidence, due to lack of experience against top teams like Brazil and Portugal.
Fear is not an option, however, and they will have to treat each match the same.
It would be a great World Cup if...
North Korea can score the first goal in any of their three matches, it would make for a much better tournament.
Imagine the highlights: "DPRK Draws First Blood, Brazil in Shock." What a story that would be, even if it were just temporary.
North Korean fans could be momentarily paralyzed with joy.
It would be a disastrous World Cup if...
North Korea are held without a goal in all three of its matches. No one wants to see a team get clobbered, let alone not score goals. It makes for poor soccer.
I am not asking Brazil or Ivory Coast to go easy on them, but if it happens that 4-0, 5-0, or even worse, scorelines for DPRK come into play, I may be tempted to look the other way.
North Korea will lose all three qualifying games, the question is by how many goals.
No one likes to lose, but they will make their mark on the tournament, and the world, by maintaining character and pride regardless of the results.