03/26/2008, 00.00
NORTH KOREA
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Park Doo-ik chosen as Olympic torchbearer: he eliminated Italy from the World Cup in 1966

The football player, who scored the winning goal against Italy in the World Cup in England, spent 10 years in a labour camp after the team lost against Portugal. He is the oldest of all those who will carry the torch to Beijing.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - Park Doo-ik, who scored the goal that eliminated Italy from the football World Cup in 1966, has been chosen as the oldest torchbearer for the upcoming Olympic Games, which will open in Beijing next August 8.  The news comes from the North Korean government: Park, aged 70, will be the last of the 56 North Koreans who will carry the Olympic torch for their country, from which it will cross into China.  The names of the others who have been selected have not yet been make public.

Park, named in 1966 as an "athlete of the people", led North Korea to the quarterfinals of the World Cup in England.  His team, which was winning 3 to 0 against Portugal, was nevertheless eliminated in the same match, which ended in a 5 to 3 loss for North Korea.  After they returned home, the North Korean players were welcomed as heroes by the regime, which gave them official honours for about a year.  But after the euphoria passed, they all fell into disgrace.

At the end of the 1960's, some of the communist leaders opened an investigation of the entire team, which was forced to undergo an extremely harsh "mental re-education": according to the party, in fact, they were unable to beat Portugal for "ideological reasons".  At the end of this process, they were all exiled to the countryside.

Park ended up in the labourers' district of Daepyong, where he was assigned to work as a woodcutter.  He remained in the district for 10 years, until Kim Jong-il came to power. Kim, who was fascinated by the "heroes of the World Cup", called the team back to the capital and made Park the head of the Yangkang athletic commission.

Later, he became head coach of the North Korean football team, but with meagre results.  The story of his life was  also the subject of a movie - "Chollima Soccer Team" - filmed by the English documentarian Daniel Gordon.

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