What to expect from North Korea ahead of the EAFF Championship

There is a certain fascination about North Korea that is unmistakable and unmissable. From its traditions to unknown future, the worldwide media has centred itself on the famous state for generations. And that includes its football team.

Surprisingly, their footballing history is rich, dating back to prominent success at the 1966 World Cup, advancing to the quarterfinals after shocking Italy 1-0 in the previous round.

After taking a 3-0 lead against Portugal they collapsed under the pressure, failing to advance to the final stages of the tournament.

The country proudly holds the record as the first Asian country to qualify beyond the first stages of a World Cup and returned home in 1966 as national heroes.

With qualification to football’s biggest tournament proving almost impossible, the 1976 Olympics in Montreal gifted North Korea another chance to make a statement on the international stage.

Like ten years earlier, the side reached the quarterfinals, finishing second in the group in the process, but eventually crashed out with a 5-0 defeat to Poland.

A spell in football’s abyss lasted for 34 years, but in 2010 North Korea finally qualified for the World Cup again, booking the plane tickets to South Africa on just goal difference.

With a pre-tournament ranking of 105th in the world, they were the lowest ranking side to qualify for the competition since the early 1990s.

Although the country suffered a humiliating 7-0 loss to Portugal and were battered 3-0 by the Ivory Coast, a 2-1 loss to Brazil brought them accolades across the footballing hemisphere. The team finished bottom of the group, with just one goal.

Ahead of the upcoming EAFF E-1 Football Championship in Japan, events off the field are bound to overshadow that on it with North Korea.

In all truth, they are the weakest of the nations in the tournament, and the only one out of the four (South Korea, Japan and China being the others) not to reach the final stages of the recent World Cup qualifying for Russia 2018.

The squad finished second in their pre-qualification group to Uzbekistan, placed above the Philippines, Bahrain and Yemen, but only the winner advanced to the final placings and so North Korea waved goodbye to football’s grandest tournament for another four years.

Having said that, although they did finish second the team did lose just two of its eight matches, so if they can repeat that form, which included an impressive win over Uzbekistan then they may just surprise a few.