Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Kids play for North Korea

Well, it looks like the North Koreans aren't taking the AFC Challenge Cup as seriously as they might - despite the comments of coach Jo Tong-sop ahead of their meeting with Turkmenistan later today.

The very fact that Jo - who works as Kim Jong-hun's assistant with the full national team and was in charge of the team that represented the nation at the East Asian Games in Hong Kong in December - is in charge underlines just how the country views the tournament, particularly in relation to their World Cup preparations.

While Jo made all the right noises about wanting to win the competition so they can qualify for the Asian Cup finals in Qatar in January next year, had such an outcome been of any real significance the North Koreans would not have sent what very closely resembles their U-23 team.

There are many who question the need for the AFC Challenge Cup, and certainly the idea that the winners can qualify for the Asian Cup finals is absurd. India, who won in 2008 to book a berth at the next Asian Cup, will undoubtedly be one of the weakest teams in Qatar, despite the very obvious talents of their experienced head coach, Bobby Houghton.

North Korea, in contrast to the Indians, are playing in the tournament by a quirk of the AFC's making and there's little Kim or Jo can learn about their team for the upcoming clashes with Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast by playing India, Turkmenistan and the like. Perhaps they've made the right decision to send the kids.

As it stands, then, the North Koreans have only three warm-up games remaining ahead of their first World Cup appearance in 44 years. On March 3 they play Chile in Santiago before travelling north to face Mexico two weeks later. Then they meet Greece on May 25. No doubt more games will be arranged.

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