Wednesday, May 26, 2010

2010 FIFA World Cup: North Korea

We preview the 2010 FIFA World Cup, set for June 11-July 11 in South Africa.

Appearance: Second
Last time there: 1966, lost in quarterfinals
Best performance: Quarterfinals (1966)

The enthusiasm is high for this North Korea team. Coach Kim Jong-Hun is probably one of the nation's most popular people, as he led them to their first World cup since 1966. That 44-year drought is the longest among the nations in this year's finals who have been there before.

This team, however, will be hard-pressed to duplicate anything remotely resembling the success of the 1966 team that fell to Portugal in the quarterfinals.

For starters, North Korea were drawn into an impossible group. Many have labeled Group G the "Group of Death" this year, even though there are only three strong teams. Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast are all heavy favorites against North Korea, who would probably do well to score a goal and pull a point out of their three matches.

Their defensive style might keep scores down, but it doesn't lead to a lot of chances the other way, either. The lack of talent will be exposed in each match.

To stay in games, they need goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk to be at his best. At only 23 years old, he's got a bright future, but getting this team past the preliminary round would rank as one of the greatest achievements imaginable. Jon Tae-Se and Hong Yong-Jo will lead the attack.

Expect North Korea to play a 5-3-2 formation, try to pack in tightly around Myong-Guk, and see what happens. It's not likely to be pretty, as such a formation and the talent gap leave North Korea vulnerable to anyone who can control possession and create in the midfield.

June 15 vs. Brazil (Johannesburg -- Ellis Park)
June 21 vs. Portugal (Cape Town)
June 25 vs. Ivory Coast (Nelspruit)

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