Monday, February 15, 2010

Next up...North Korea

As Japan and South Korea completed the latest matches in their preparations for June's World Cup, North Korea were gearing up for their next tune up games ahead of their trip to South Africa.

However, while there was little hinging on the outcome of the East Asian Championship - other than the $500,000 first prize on offer and regional bragging rights - North Korea will be targeting a successful run at the AFC Challenge Cup in Sri Lanka. Only victory in the final on February 27 will be enough to earn them a place in next year's Asian Cup finals.

Given how contrary our friends from Pyongyang can be, there's the very real possibility they will not care too much about qualifying for the continental championship. It's been 18 years since they last qualified for the tournament - when they were knocked out in the group stages in Japan in 1992 - but on several occasions they haven't even bothered to enter the competition.

With the seedings for the various AFC tournaments made prior to their surprise qualification for the World Cup finals, the North Koreans remain rated in the lower tier of Asian countries by the confederation and, as a result, were not even permitted to enter the qualifying rounds for the 2011 finals. Instead they were shunted into a competition that also features India, Tajikistan and Bangladesh - hardly ideal preparation for a team that will be going head-to-head with Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast at the World Cup!

Kim Jong-hun's team take on Turkmenistan in their opening game on Wednesday before meeting Kyrgyzstan and defending champions India later in the competition. The top two teams from each group progress to the semifinals.

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