June 10, 2010
NKorea's An wants revenge for '66 loss to Portugal
By Jean H. Lee
TEMBISA, South Africa (AP) — North Korea's An Yong Hak knows exactly what he wants from his team's upcoming World Cup match with Portugal.
"Revenge. We'll try to get revenge for 1966," the lanky midfielder said with a grin, speaking to reporters before a training session Thursday at Makhulong Stadium in the township of Tembisa. "We'll do our best."
The North Koreans have been waiting four decades to avenge the loss that ended their fairytale run at the World Cup in England.
Back then, North Korea defied expectations by beating defending champions Italy 1-0 to become the first team from Asia to advance to the quarterfinals. There were three quick goals but then the Portuguese, led by Eusebio, regained their bearings and came back to win 5-3.
Qualifying for the World Cup for the first time since that loss, North Korea is keen for a different outcome when the two teams meet again on June 21.
First, though, there's Brazil to contend with at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on June 15.
"We know that all the players on the team are famous and that Brazil is the strongest team in the world," An said.
He said the team has been studying DVDs and footage of Brazil's performances in qualifiers and friendlies. Asked if he had spotted any soft spots in Brazil's playing, An tilted his head and said, "Doesn't seem like they have any weaknesses."
However, An said he has pumped Brazilian teammates who also play for Japanese club Omiya Ardija for information about the Brazil team. The 31-year-old An was born and raised in Japan but holds a North Korean passport, and was educated in the North Korean school system in Japan.
The lowest ranked team among the World Cup contenders, North Korea has had few chances to play internationally in recent years. However, An said his team has gained confidence and experience from recent matches against European and South American teams.
"Our chances may not be that great, but we can't say there's no chance at all," he said.
North Korea also faces Ivory Coast in a Group G matchup in Nelspruit on June 25.
An said he had relished the chance to play against Didier Drogba, and was sorry to hear Drogba had been injured.
"We don't often get the chance to play with such a great star like Drogba," he said. "It would be a good opportunity and a good experience," even if it makes for a tougher game.
Notoriously reclusive North Korea has been under scrutiny for how the team will comply with FIFA rules about media availability. Only one question — about chances for peace with South Korea, with which North Korea technically remains in a state of war — was deflected by a FIFA official Thursday.
Players have remained in seclusion at a four-star hotel north of Johannesburg on days when they're not training.
An said he spends his free time surfing the Internet and chatting on Skype.
-- Jean H. Lee