The North Korean national team came to the 2010 FIFA World Cup with much hype from its own country but very few expectations from soccer pundits around the world.
The team has not qualified for a World Cup for 44 years. Their made the quarterfinals in 1966, when a 1-0 win against Italy shocked the world and propelled the country to the quarterfinals.
The North Koreans were trying to pull off the same level of upset Tuesday against Brazil and put up a valiant effort in a 2-1 loss.
It's a match the citizens of North Korea may never get to see.
There are numerous rumors about what the communist government is letting their citizens watch and how much their dictator is trying to influence the team's play.
Let's delve into some of the controversy.
Many world observers wonder if North Korean leaders will even let their people watch the World Cup.
The problem has been a rights dispute among North and South Korea.
A Japanese company confirmed Tuesday that they had secured permission from FIFA to feed the games free of charge to the people of North Korea.
The country has one TV station, North Korean Central Broadcasting, which is rumored to be airing the games not involving their country on a one-day delay.
There was very little hope for North Korea against Brazil—that is, if you ask anyone other than the country's leader Kim Jong-Il.
North Korea is ranked 105th in the world, the lowest of any of the World Cup qualifiers. Brazil is ranked first.
Jong-Il and his leaders have said all along that they expect nothing but the highest achievements from their team.
Foreign affairs experts all agree that the North Korean matches are very unlikely to be broadcast in the country.
One expert put it very bluntly.
“I would think it won’t be reported at all,” said Erich Weingartner, who edits The CanKor Report, a journal focusing on North Korean issues and policy, to The National Post. “I think they’ll wait to see if they do any better against some other team. Except for the few North Koreans who somehow have access to South Korean media, no one will know the difference.”
It's a bizarre PR situation. The North Korean government touted the team as champions before they left for South Africa.
Now, because of the loss, the citizens are likely to get no further follow-up.
The team's defeats will be seriously downplayed, to the point of propaganda such as Mother Nature being the goat in the match (something such as a lightning strike hitting as the North Koreans are about to score a goal).
They play the Ivory Coast, currently ranked 27th in the world, on June 25.
But if they win? Oh my, there will be a national day of celebration.
"Exultation," foreign affairs expert Harmouth Knoll told the National Post. "“And all credit would go to the Dear Leader.”
There's much talk in South Africa that Jong-Il is so obsessed with the national team's success that he has taken to the ultimate level of micromanagement.
Jong-Il is rumored to have given his team's starters earpieces and pipes in instructions and play demands during the game.
Of course, the North Korean government officials would not comment on the ear pieces.
ESPN announcer Martin Tyler brought up a highly logical possibility during Tuesday's game against Brazil.
Tyler said the feeling in South Africa is that North Korean officials shipped in paid actors from China to act as their fans during the tournament.
The idea is reasonable, considering that citizens are not allowed to travel outside the country.
Many experts wonder if the North Korean team will even return to the country if they were to lose June 25.
That would likely mean they're eliminated in group play.
The theory is that Jong-Il would give them their freedom and ban them from returning to North Korea.
That way, he can craft the message exclusively of what happened in South Africa without first-hand stories being told by players.
The other popular train of thought is that Kim Jong-Il will allow the players to return home as long as they promise to never speak of the tournament in any other context than the carefully crafted message the dictator gives them.
Many folks wonder if the team would be executed by Jong-Il. That's a bit extreme even for the Dear Leader.
In this day and age, there will be much attention paid to the team upon their departure.
How does the dictator plan to explain away a pair of losses.
The National Post's Nick Aveling put forth his best North Korean propoganda impersonation.
"The North Koreans are bound to suffer a questionable defeat on Tuesday due to unforeseeable circumstances and unbelievably bad luck — but their exploits will shine for all ages thanks to their valiant hearts, which beat in tune with the Dear Leader’s," Aveling said of what the headline will likely read after the Brazil game.
The feeling is that any possible defections would be logistically impossible.
North Korea's National Security Bureau travels everywhere with the team to protect against such an act.
Also, there are stories of past defector attempts to detract the team.
One political opposition leader escaped, but 3,000 of his family, distant relatives, friends and associates were rounded up, interrogated and tortured. Some disappeared while others were sent to re-education camps (think Gitmo) until the leader returned and turned himself in.
Another case involved a group of 100 North Korean cheerleaders who traveled to South Korea in 2003. They were forced to sign contracts forbidding them from discussing anything they'd seen or heard in South Korea.
Ultimately, 20 of them were sent to re-education and labor camps.