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A First Look at North Korea: Observations from the North Korea/Greece Friendly

May 25, 2010

Personally, I expected a 0-0 snooze fest between these two defensive-minded squads. Greece, the 2004 European champions, was the favorite and the physically and technically superior side. However, the form that knocked Greece out in the group play of Euro 2008 reared its ugly head against a spirited North Korea side. I had only seen North Korea once and that was during Asian World Cup qualifying so I was looking forward to what this secretive team was all about.

The first two things that stood out, from the beginning, was North Korea’s 5-3-2 formation with the two strikers, more or less, on an island and also how they were so physically, in terms of size, strength, and speed, outclassed by their European opponent. The mismatch of the tournament, in this regard, will most certainly be the North Korea-Ivory Coast matchup.

Tactically, North Korea conceded a lot of space and possession in the first two thirds of the fields and was responsible to Greece possessing the ball 55% of the time. Their lack of team speed left them vulnerable, particularly in the backline and when they defend set pieces (Greece scored both goals off such situations). Greece scored each of these goals in the opening three minutes of both the first and second halves and the North Korea defense then held tight, limiting the Greeks to only four shots on goal for the game. For this reason, not much is still known about keeper Ri Myong-Guk who, at times, appeared shaky in goal.

They are kind of team that could be dangerous if you let them hang around and keep it close as Greece did today. (Yeah I’m talking about you, Portugal)

Despite their defensive misgivings, (I thought they were a defensive-minded side. Perhaps not.) they were creative in the attacking third, amassing 8 shots on goal, 16 intotal. North Korea’s most skillful player, particularly in this regard, is captain and Russia-based Yong Jo Hong who takes most of the team’s set pieces and assumes an attacking midfielder role from his striker position. The team’s best finisher is “Asia’s Wayne Rooney” and Japan-based Jong Tae-Se who has now scored 14 goals in his 20 international appearances.

North Korea Fun Fact: One of North Korea’s two premier soccer clubs (April 25) is named for the country’s Military Foundation Day and belongs to the Korean People’s Army.

In other friendly action, Cameroon (without Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto’o) and Nigeria each used a 4-3-3 formation against over-matched Georgia and Saudi Arabia, respectively, but both found themselves with an unconvincing 0-0 result. Ireland avenged it’s World Cup qualifying disaster against France and claimed a World Cup scalp of Paraguay in a 2-1 win from Dublin. Maybe Ireland should have been in 32-team field after all, but that’s for a later discussion.

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