To get you ready for the drama that will start unfolding on June 11 in South Africa, The Star and The Full 90 will introduce you to the teams, the key performers, what to look for and what to expect in this year's Cup.Today begins the Other Group of Death. Though, I will stand by my stance that a Group of Death must have FOUR teams that can advance to the knockout stage. There's one team in Group G that won't do that. And, let's start with them.
North KoreaGroup G THE BASICS
Chollima (A mystical horse)
Red, Blue and White
•How They Got Here:
Finished second behind South Korea in Asian qualifying and ahead of Saudi Arabia and Iran
•World Cup Pedigree:
1 World Cup ('66), reached the quarterfinals
Every World Cup needs a global pariah (Iran anyone?), but can a team that absolutely no one outside of North Korea (and possibly no oneinside
North Korea) knows anything about beat three teams that many think have the goods to win it all? And, in the process, will their supreme leader make an international scene? (Completely serious: The odds of Kim Jong-Il making an international spectacle at the World Cup have to be slightly better than England converting a penalty kick in an knockout game, right?)THE DIRECTOR
He's a defensive-minded coach. During qualifiers, he fielded a very strange lineup that consisted of three central defenders, six mobile defenders and a lone striker. The damned thing is, it kind of worked. They made it to the World Cup, didn't they?LEADING MAN
He's also a confusing character. He was born (and raised) in Japan to South Korean parents. Despite this dual citizenship, he fought hard to play for North Korea. It's also a bit confusing trying to figure out what to call him. He's known as Jong Tae-Se in North Korea, Chong Tese in Japan and Jeong Dae-Se in South Korea. Whatever you want to call him, he's North Korea's best weapon. He plays as a striker for Kawasaki Frontale in Japan and is considered "Asia's Wayne Rooney." The comparison, while a little goofy, isn't really crazy.
If you were impressed by that video... just wait a few paragraphs.SUPPORTING CAST
I'm going to frank with you: It's nearly impossible to know anything about anyone on this team outside the few players who ply their trade outside of North Korea, such as Tese. But here goes.Hong Yong-Jo
(forward, FC Rostov - Russia) is the other player who plays outside of the Koreas;Ahn-Yong Hak
(forward, Suwon Samsung Bluewings) is probably a name worth knowing;Nam-Song Chol
(defender, unknown) is a hot-tempered defender who once pushed a referee after the finish of an Axis of Evil Cup game with Iran.LIKELY BREAKOUT STAR
Some people consider Ho, the "North Korean Cristiano Ronaldo." These previews would be much easier if every player could described as "This Country's Fill In the Blank."THE LIKELY VILLAIN
. He doesn't suffer embarrassment well. He doesn't suffer anything well. North Korea will be one of the only countriesnot
broadcasting the games live. They will be edited together after the fact and then shown to the country. I would love to see the 15-second clip of the Brazil-North Korea game. Korea kicks off, passes the ball once or twice, then exchanges jerseys with the Brazilians.PRODUCTION NOTES
This is a defense-first team. Probably. Which means a 4-5-1 is likely. Even a 5-4-1. Think the Greece of Asia. Only with a worse economy and a dictator once mocked by the creators of South Park.WHAT THEY'LL WEAR
If you can find an image of the North Korea jersey, then you're a far better user of Google than I. Is it any wonder that these are the hardest jerseys to find?IT'S SORTA LIKE...
Don't pretend you've seen this movie. You haven't. Even though it stars Katherine Heigl and Tom Sizemore. It had the misfortune of being the lowest grossing movie in box-office history. Just like North Korea, it might be fantastic, but you can't find it anywhere. The most complete unknown in the world.TRAILER
I'm shocked, SHOCKED! I actually found video of this team playing.
I'm going out on a limb: Chong Tese might be the most exciting player that absolute nobody knows about. That first goal... holy schnikes.DO WHAT YOU WILL WITH THIS...
North Korea ranks first in the number of women who exclusively breast feed in the first six months.CRITICAL BLURBS
Well organized (I guess), defensive-minded (I guess) and (probably) won't embarrass themselves. ... They were given zero favors in the draw. Of course, they probably view their draw versus South Korea's draw as a capitalist plot against them. ... They will not be showing the World Cup live in North Korea. Instead, the games will be edited down into highlights for the people. I hope they have some good CGI. They're gonna have to get really creative during the Brazil-Korea game. ... I'm still stunned that they weren't drawn into the same group as the United States. I thought that was a virtual certainty. ...Best-case scenario?
Shocking the world and miraculously advancing behind Brazil. Weirder things have happened. Not many, but there have been weirder things. ...Realistic prediction?
Scoring a goal (maybe) against Ivory Coast or Portugal, but going home early.POSSIBLE HOLLYWOOD MOMENT
North Korea takes the field for their opening game. The players shake hands. And then immediately walk off the field and defect to become Americans. (Did I mention this plot twist was written by an American?) OK, real Hollywood moment for North Korea: In their game against Portugal (with echoes of the most famous game in North Korea history, a 5-3 loss to Portugal in the 1966 World Cup quarterfinals in which they led 3-0 at one point), the Koreans work and hustle their butts off and pull out a 1-1 draw with the much more powerful team. And, for 90 minutes, the entire world forgets about Korea's pariah status, realizes the players are human and undermanned, and roots for the underdog on the field. Of course, these same people will lustily boo and hope Brazil hangs 10 goals on the human-rights abusing Communists when they play.
Group A: South Africa
Group B: South Korea
Group C: Algeria
Group D: Serbia
Group E: Japan
Group F: New Zealand
North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal, Brazil
Honduras, Chile, Switzerland, Spain
Sources: World Cup 2010 (by Steven D. Stark and Harrison Stark); ESPN and Soccernet.com; FIFA; CIA Factbook