North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

No Interviews of DPRK Women’s World Cup Team [UPDATED 28 June]

UPDATE [28 June]

The US defeated the DPRK teenagers 2-0, despite Hong Myo’ng-hu’i’s best efforts.  The DPRK will face Sweden on Saturday [2 July] around 8:00 am [EST].  The AP reports:

It was the fourth straight time the teams had met in group play at the World Cup, and the Americans have won all games but one.

North Korean coach Kim Kwang Min blamed his team’s failings in the second half on a June 8 lightning strike during training in Pyongyang that sent “more than five” players to the hospital. Goalkeeper Hong Myong Hui, four defenders and some of the midfielders were the players most affected, Kim said.

“The physicians actually said the players were not capable of playing in the tournament,” Kim said through an interpreter. “They’re not physically ready for this match, but they had a strong will.”

The Americans now face Colombia, which lost 1-0 to Sweden, on Saturday in Sinsheim.

The young North Koreans — only two had played in a World Cup before — looked pretty good in the first half. The Americans started the game strong, controlling play with crisp passing and good speed. But the North Koreans gained confidence as time went on, shutting down the U.S. attack in the midfield and repeatedly pushing forward in the closing minutes before halftime.

Kim Su Gyong took a shot from close range in the 34th minute, but U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo punched it away. Four minutes later, Song Jung Sun slid a shot right in front of the goal that Solo couldn’t reach. No other Americans were there to clear it away — neither were the North Koreans — and Ali Krieger finally booted the ball to safety.

“The opening to any game, emotions are going to be flying, players are going to be flying, it’s going to be ugly sometimes,” Solo said. “It was a little sloppy at the beginning, but we weathered the storm.”

U.S. coach Pia Sundhage told her players at halftime to take the ball outside and make more use of the flanks. The improvement was clear immediately.

Cheney, making her first start since March, had two shots caught by Hong in the first five minutes of the half. In the 51st minute, Abby Wambach took a sliding shot from the edge of the 6-yard box, only to watch the ball sail over the net.

Finally, in the 54th, Wambach dribbled quickly up the left flank and took a step as if to move inside, spinning a North Korean defender around. Wambach dribbled a few more steps before chipping in a perfect cross that Cheney nodded past Hong.

I’m actually not a very good header,” Cheney said. “I just knew I wanted to redirect it back to the same place it came from.”

It was Cheney’s 14th goal in her 40th appearance for the United States.

“When Lauren scored that goal, it’s obviously kind of like the monkey off your back,” Wambach said.

The Americans practically camped themselves on North Korea’s side of the field, with Wambach hitting the crossbar in the 65th and Amy Rodriguez putting a shot wide in the 73rd before Rachel Buehler scored the insurance goal in the 76th minute. A shot off the crossbar ricocheted back into the scrum and Carli Lloyd collected the ball and headed it to Buehler, who unleashed a monster strike with her right foot. Hong dove and stretched out her hand, but she never got close and the ball rolled into the net.

It was the second goal of the defender’s career.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to build confidence off this win,” Buehler said.

 

Photo: FIFA

The DPRK will face the US on Tuesday [28 June] in a Group C match  in the FIFA 2011 Women’s World Cup in gorgeous Dresden, Germany.  In the US, the match can be viewed on television on ESPN beginning at 11:45 am [EST], or via streaming video either through ESPN [http://espn.go.com/espnnetworks/] or through FIFA’s website [http://www.fifa.com/womensworldcup/video/live/index.html].

KCNA reported on 24 June that Minister of Physical Culture and Sports, Pak Myo’ng-ch’o’l [Pak Myong Chol] and a delegation departed the DPRK for Germany to “attend the opening ceremony” and, presumably, Tuesday’s match.  It is likely that Pak will be joined by newly appointed DPRK Ambassador to Germany, Ri Si-hong [Ri Si Hong].

The DPRK and US women’s teams last played one another to a 2-2 tie in September 2007.

“They’re [US] ready…I don’t have any concerns,” US Head Coach Pia Sundhage told ESPN at the end of Day Two.  Asked what was important, she replied   “Discipline, defensively.  Be compact because I think they’re (DPRK) pretty good between the boxes.  And they’ll knock it around and put some pressure on us.”

Marcus Han writes in Hankyoreh of his experiences as “administrator” for the team, which is traveling with its own chef.

The 6th FIFA Women’s World Cup has begun. Typically, the FIFA tournament steering committee appoints an administrator for each country when an international event is held. This person needs to be well-versed in the country’s language and culture. It is a gesture of consideration so that each country’s team is able to compete comfortably in a big event without any major cultural or linguistic difficulties. Since South Korea is not competing in this event, I was assigned administrative duties for the North Korean team.

North Korea has something of a strong reputation in women’s football. In particular, it has achieved major results on a number of occasions at the junior level. But it has yet to achieve a victory in the adult event. The women’s football world rankings have South Korea in 16th place and North Korea in 8th. Despite the very young average age of its players, the North Korean team is a dark horse for this event. The team recently saw a changing of the generational guard, and while it is unfortunate that there are so few veteran players, there is nothing wanting in the team’s abilities.

One of my duties has to do with the press. Because of North Korea’s political characteristics, the team is drawing some media attention, but a team official asked me to respectfully decline all interview requests. The reason given was that the players wish to focus on training and do not want to give any interviews other than those officially for FIFA.

An average of around ten interview requests per day come in the day before a tournament begins, and it is realistically difficult to have to turn them all down. Journalists and photographers wait outside the hotel, while paparazzi stand outside the training site pointing cameras at the players. Security personnel have to constantly be on their guard. On the day of a 3-0 North Korean victory in a friendly match with England last week, there was even an incident where journalists hid in the bathroom of the stadium clubhouse and attempted to secretly cover the match.

When they inevitably fall short of information on the team, journalists often write pieces based on their own preconceptions and imagination. When you open the newspaper over breakfast, you find articles with negative expressions like “military unit,” “punishment training,” and “emotionless players.” Regrettably, North Korea‘s political situation and closed-door approach to the media make it difficult to escape the preconceptions of the press here, and consequently to earn favor from the public.

What I have sensed from the North Korean team as an administrator is rather different from when I served in the same position for the South Korean team. Chief among these differences is the economic aspect. In reality, however, the North Korean team is not concerned about this. Every team is inevitably going to experience a different level of satisfaction with the economic aspect, but the North Korean players and team officials not only have no great demands, they are exceedingly grateful for very small things.

In the West, white bread and cheese are considered nutritious sports foods. But Koreans cannot eat such things at every meal. In a very happy development for me, the North Korean team came with a cook this time around. The food this cook prepares is not exactly like the things I eat in South Korea, but the taste is very similar.

The training is very long and thorough. The athletes have a perfect command of every technique and are physically strong. Still, it appears that victory in a physical battle with the larger Western athletes may be beyond them.

The DPRK roster is available here.

Additional information on both teams is available at the following:

ESPN US Team Page

FIFA US Team Page

ESPN DPRK Team Page

FIFA DPRK Team Page

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