The appointment of Sven-Göran Eriksson at the end of March didn’t meet with too much enthusiasm in Ivory Coast. That may change with good results, but he has had very little time to turn around a demoralised team.
Kim Jong-Hun is very famous in North Korea. As well as being national coach, he is vice-head of the athletics association and the army’s personnel section. It seems that he is expected to get his team into the last 16.
The Korean squad can be split into three groups. The largest is made up of players who were born and have remained in North Korea, their only opportunity to see the outside world being travel with the national team, given that clubs such as Pyongyang City and April 25 are not allowed to participate in the Asian Champions League.
The second group consists of Hong Yong-Jo and Kim Kuk-Jin, who play for clubs in Europe, Kim for FC Wil in Switzerland and national team captain Hong for Russian side FC Rostov. Hong said he felt that he “should train even more because the Party sent him to Russia for the betterment of North Korean soccer”.
But the squad also includes a handful of Zainichi Koreans, who were born and have lived all their lives in Japan. The key members of this group are all J-League regulars – Omiya Ardija midfielder Ahn Yong-Hak, Vegalta Sendai’s Ryang Yon-Gi and star striker Jong Tae-Se of Kawasaki Frontale. Jong, known as a keen amateur DJ, attended schools funded by Pyongyang and commented: “North Korea gives us money for our education, but the Japanese government really hates our school and they discriminate against us. They give us a difficult life.”
Jong rules out the idea of there being any friction between the Zainichi Koreans and other members of the squad. “My team-mates are interested in what we do in Japan. They want to know how much money we make and how we spend our free time. If I have money, I can spend my free time doing fun things, but they don’t have free time.”
No such problem for Didier Drogba whose dad has just opened a travel agents. That’s in addition to the nightclub he runs in Abidjan. Didier himself has a comic book on the way. Among Drogba’s team-mates Didier Zokora and Kolo Touré are the best interviewees. Yaya Touré is known for being reluctant to chat.
Ivorian goal celebrations echo the latest dances on the local music scene including recently the bobaraba (dance of the big bottoms) and fatigue fatigue (we’re tired). The Koreans will settle for group hugs. TV viewers in the Ivory Coast will see plenty of the 1992 African Cup of Nations-winning generation, especially ex-keeper Alain Gouaméné and famous dribbler Didier Otokoré. Local journalists will get government support and provide commentary to various radio stations back home via mobile phone.
There are Korean communities in South Africa and some will be expected to support the North. People in the DPRK still sing a song popular with their 1966 World Cup squad – Chisatojima Chukkudan (Faraway island Chukkudan). About 200 Ivorian fans are expected to travel according to the official supporters’ association. Expect loud chants for the supporters’ favourite player, Kader Keita, who goes by the nickname “Popito”, because he used to spend his days selling Popito ice lollies to support his family. John James & Mike Innes, with thanks to Sean Carroll