The North Koreans "created scoring chances without losing faith despite trailing 0-2" until Ji Yun-nam delivered a goal in the 88th minute, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a five-paragraph report from Pyongyang.
“The match was a fierce exchange of offense and defence from the beginning," it wrote, until Ji received a header from striker Jong Tae-se, North Korea’s Rooney, to put the final score at 2 to 1.
North Korea is in Group G with Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal, the so-called group of death, with FIFA’s top ranking team and Africa’s best team at the World Cup.
North Korea’s footballers are 105th in FIFA’s ranking, the lowest team among the 32 finalists; yet they put up a fierce fight.
Their national pride was best illustrated by North Korea striker Jong Tae-se who wept when the national anthem was played. “We did very well to hold them,” he said. Unfortunately, goalkeeper Ri Myuon-guk made a mistake Brazil’s Maicon scored, he added.
"We fought bravely" and “I’m proud of our team,” coach Kim Jong-hun said. North Korea’s goal scorer Ji Yun-nam also said he was happy.
Jo’burg’s Ellis Park Stadium was mostly a vast green-gold sea, but one section was distinctively red, the colour of the North Korean team's uniform.
“Some 100 of us arrived two days ago here. We're all from Pyongyang and regular workers that volunteered” to come, said Sun Woo-ryong, a North Korean fan, who also hopes to see the two Koreas "work together" to advance to the knockoff stage.
Many in the group were in their 40s and 50s, all males, sporting red jackets bearing the North Korean national flag, and red caps.
One member appeared to be acting as the group’s chaperon, but refused to answer questions, fuelling speculation about their presence.
The Brazil-North Korea match proved controversial another way. The Huffington Post, a progressive US news website, took to task a announcer for ESPN, a US cable television network, for belittling North Korea’s team, and turning the sporting event into a political battle, even though North Korea’s footballers put up a good show.
For HuffPo, “This is not the place for politics of any kind it is a field that showcases the excellence of athletics making it more bizarre that a network dedicated to sports coverage did not recognize that difference.”
FIFA instead knows that difference very well. One of its officials in fact tried to limit journalists’ questions to North Korea’s coach, because they were becoming “political”.
In the meantime, South Korea is getting ready for its second match of the preliminary phase. Tomorrow, it will play Argentina of striker Messi and coach Maradona.
The South Koreans would settle for a tie, but a victory would guarantee them passage to the next stage.
Their 2 nil score against Greece was also celebrated by Chosun Sinbo, a newspaper run out of Tokyo by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, which said, “What we detest is not the South Korean people,” but the conservative government in Seoul. (DS)