World Cup 2010 Qualifiers: A Tale of Two Koreas

by Aashish Gadhvi

World Cup 2010 is just around the corner people, and I for one can’t wait! Another magnificent summer of the beautiful game is only a year away, which means that the first batch of teams have qualified. The way that the Asian Qualifiers are structured means that often the Asian teams are the first to qualify, seeing as there is significantly less competition compared to other continents. In the last tournament, Japan were the first team (apart from hosts Germany) to qualify. This year, the first teams to qualify were once again Japan, and Australia from the first group. Our own Red Devils had a significantly harder group, along with Saudi Arabia and the bogey team Iran. But, thanks to yet another good campaign South Korea have qualified for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Let the celebrations begin! Korea never lost a single match, and finished at the top of their group.

South Korea's captain, Park Ji-sung
South Korea's captain, Park Ji-sung

The team who finish second behind South Korea also automatically qualify for the World Cup and the fourth team to qualify are… Wait a minute… this has got to be a mistake… a malfunction, an irregularity, a mathematical impossibility…North Korea! North Korea have qualified for the World Cup! North Korea! Are you processing this?! NORTH KOREA HAVE QUALIFIED FOR THE WORLD CUP! This is not an April Fool, a prank or a mistake. North Korea have qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1966 and the first time in history that both Koreas have qualified for the World Cup. This, my friends, is truly historical. As yet, the diplomatic issues have yet to be ironed out (the North’s presence caused havoc at the 1966 World Cup), but both teams have thoroughly deserved their places at football’s greatest showpiece.

South Korea went through the whole campaign without loosing a match. Amongst the three big teams in the group South Korea seemed to be playing the most cohesive football, under the leaderships of manager Huh Jung-moo and captain Park Ji-sung. After a 1-1 draw with the North, South Korea thumped U.A.E 4-1 but even more impressive, soundly beat Saudi Arabia 2-0 in Riyadh. After then beating the North in Seoul (followed by the North’s claims that the South had poisoned them before the match), U.A.E in Dubai then drawing the rest of their games, South Korea finished top of their group: four wins, four draws, no losses.

North Korea celebrates
North Korea celebrates in Riyadh

Meanwhile, the North were quietly going about their business. They also got off to a winning start, beating U.A.E in Dubai, which gave them a massive confidence boost. A loss to Iran kept them in check, but they then went on to beat Saudi Arabia in Pyongyang, U.A.E yet again, and then draw the rest of their games. This meant that on the final match, they needed just a draw with Saudi Arabia in Riyadh to qualify for the World Cup. This was never going to be an easy task, but dare I say the North Korean mentality is probably built to take on the world against the odds. Saudi Arabia huffed and puffed, but could not break down the iron curtain, and by the time the final whistle blew, the North Korean bench was running around on the Riyadh turf in ecstatic disbelief that they are going to South Africa.

As an avid South Korean supporter, I am of course elated that they have qualified for the World Cup, as I’m sure many of our readers will be, but one can’t help but wonder about North Korea. What kind of thoughts and preparations will they go through for the next year? This could be a chance for football to play peacemaker in the world and bring nations together who normally would not associate with each other. On the flip side, it could be exploited by the powers that be on either side, and result in a diplomatic mess. Time will only tell. But to add a good omen to the mix, we all know who won the World Cup the last time North Korea qualified…

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