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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 112 (June 24, 2010)
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

N. Koreans Dejected after Humiliating Defeat to Portugal at World Cup

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- Despite football fever sweeping the country, North Koreans were disappointed and dispirited when their football players failed to advance to the round of 16 in the World Cup finals in South Africa early this week. North Korea crashed out of the competition after a humiliating defeat to Portugal by 7-0 in their second Group G match on June 21.

   The setback pushed North Korea to the bottom of the standings of Group G, which also includes Brazil and Ivory Coast. The North Koreans earlier had lost to Brazil 1-2, while Portugal had fought a scoreless draw with Ivory Coast.

   North Korea now are scheduled to play Ivory Coast in their final group-stage match but its result wouldn't affect the team's elimination from the tournament, effectively ending its hopes.

   It is first time in more than four decades that North Korea has qualified for the World Cup, a rare point of pride for a nation struggling to feed its people, locked in a standoff with world powers over its nuclear ambitions.

   Pyongyang citizens were hugely disappointed after their national football team suffered a 7-0 pounding from Portugal at the World Cup, a report said on June 22.

   Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper printed in Japan, reported from the North Korean capital that as Pyongyang citizens watched the live coverage on the team's second Group G game on (North) Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station (KCBSTV), their emotions quickly went from "anticipation and excitement to frustration and disappointment."

   The North kept the game close after allowing only one goal in the first half, but Portugal exploded with six scores in the second half for the most lopsided win at this year's World Cup so far. North Korea has been eliminated from the tournament, regardless of its result against the Ivory Coast in the final group match.

   "High expectations only bred huge disappointments," the report said. "After watching the opponent's great skills with their own eyes, they (Pyongyang residents) were at a loss for words." Football is the most popular sport in North Korea.

   The game was billed as the rematch of the quarterfinal showdown from the 1966 World Cup. North Korea made its World Cup debut at the 1966 tournament in England, where it became the first Asian nation to advance to the top eight after upsetting Italy 1-0. In their attempt to reach the semifinals, however, the North Koreans that year lost 5-3 to Portugal, despite an initial 3-0 lead. To this day, the North Koreans are the only Asian team to progress beyond the first round at the World Cup finals.

   Choson Sinbo added, however, that the North's valiant showing during the 2-1 loss to the World Cup favorite Brazil in the opener still remained in the hearts of many fans and that the North Koreans believe the performance was not a fluke.

   In a separate item, the paper reported from Cape Town, South Africa, that the team's striker Jong Tae-se offered a tearful apology to the North Koreans for the loss. Jong, a forward for Kawasaki Frontale who is dubbed the "People's Rooney," usually has been open about his team's hopes in South Africa.

   "I felt we were virtually even in the first half, but we lost our concentration in the second half and committed many mistakes," Jong told the paper. "We wanted to take revenge for the 1966 game and we're sorry to our supporters that we couldn't pull it off. We will win the next match against the Ivory Coast and meet the expectations."

   The normally loquacious Jong, who has failed to score during the World Cup, later slipped out of another entrance, away from the crush of reporters without showing up for the media event, heading straight for the team bus.

   Dejected and dispirited, the North Korean team left the stadium in Cape Town as fast as it could, shuffling past reporters with heads bowed.

   Yet North Korea's coverage of this World Cup has been unprecedented, with state TV airing delayed footage of many matches in full -- including that of its rival, South Korea. In the past only snippets of World Cup matches were shown, sometimes weeks later.

   After showing the team's 2-1 loss to Brazil last week a day after the match was played, state TV announced on June 21 that the much-anticipated match against Portugal would be aired alive. It was the first North Korean soccer match played overseas to air live back home.

   This year, the North Koreans made a notable splash as they defeated Asian strongholds Iran and Saudi Arabia in the regional qualifiers. But that record seemed irrelevant on June 21, even after putting up a tough battle against Brazil last week.

   "The team that took part in the 1966 World Cup was loved (by the people of North Korea) as it was well combined with personal technique and teamwork," North Korean coach Kim Jong-hun recalled in a post-match press conference.

   Kim, appearing somber throughout the conference, took blame for his team's loss, saying he failed to control his players' strong emotions and to implement proper countermeasures.

   Asked if countermeasures really mattered in the face of Portugal's goal rally, the coach responded by repeating that he failed to control the formation.

   Preparing for the Portugal showdown, the North Korean players had shown strong motivation to avenge their loss 44 years ago. "Revenge," said midfielder An Yong-hak at a recent press conference. "We will try to get revenge for 1966."

   But at the post-match mixed zone conference, most of them refused to speak. "Not today, please," team captain Pak Nam-chol said as he whisked past reporters.

   An, one of the few who spoke, acknowledged the match result was "unexpectedly bad." "We should self-reflect for having collapsed in the final moments and not doing our best," said An, the midfielder for the Japanese pro club Omiya Ardija.

   Despite recording their biggest World Cup loss ever and effectively falling out of the competition, the North Koreans expressed their will to fight on in the remaining match for their compatriots back home.

   An said that his teammates will "let go of regrets" and go chin-up against the Ivory Coast. "We may not be able to reach our goal, but with the final match remaining, we will prepare for it well," said An, adding that the team enjoys Pyongyang's full support.

   After an impressive performance against Brazil last week, North Korea's players feasted on noodles delivered by their top envoy in South Africa as they geared up to avenge the 1966 World Cup loss to Portugal, reports said on June 21.

   Choson Sinbo said North Korean Ambassador to South Africa An Hui-jong brought noodles to the squad and expressed hope that the food made from local rice and corn would shore up their strength against Portugal.

   The paper did not say when the envoy brought the noodles, but quoted the players as calling the taste "special."

   Last week, the North's Korean Central TV Broadcasting Station aired the recorded footage of its side's first group match against Brazil, in which the team lost by one goal despite having the lowest ranking among the 32 World Cup finalists.

   According to Choson Sinbo report, the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, looked like "a deserted city" on June 16, when its citizens went home early to watch the Brazil match.

   North Korea has been given the rights to broadcast all matches of the South Africa World Cup under an agreement with the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union. Disputes arose last week when South Korean broadcaster SBS said it had the exclusive World Cup broadcast rights to the Korean Peninsula. SBS later retracted its claim.

  (END)