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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 15:56 GMT
North Korea's secretive footballers
North Korean soccer coach Ri Jong Man, center left, and his Singaporean counterpart Jan Poulsen
The two football coaches did hold a news conference

Singapore 2 - 1 North Korea

In this day and age it is usually pretty easy for the manager of a football team to suss out foreign opposition.

He can go to one of their matches and see them up close, analyse the strengths and weaknesses of their defence and the prowess of their strikers.

Or he can get a video out. Most football leagues around the world televise matches.

But when it comes to football and North Korea - well it's a different ball-game.

The national squad was in Singapore on Thursday for a friendly match, before taking part in the King's Cup in Thailand.

But Singapore's coach knew absolutely nothing in advance about the side he was up against.

Jan Poulsen said the last time he saw North Korea play was in 1966, when they famously reached the quarter finals of the World Cup. The team caused one of the biggest shocks of the cup, knocking out Italy but eventually losing 5-3 to Portugal.

A lot has changed since then. The hardline Stalinist country's self-imposed political isolation, economic stagnation and chronic food shortages due to famine have contributed to the virtual collapse of organised sport.

And what little sport does exist is seldom seen by foreigners.

So for the benefit of BBC News Online readers and Jan Poulsen here is what the outside world knows about North Korean football:

  • North Korea has no professional league - all players are amateur;
  • There are 60 clubs, with 12 in Division One;
  • The team is ranked 136th in the world.

Er... that's about it.

So little is known about the North Koreans that South Korea sent a delegation to Singapore to check out the squad, just months before the start of the World Cup.

The South has said it is willing to include players from the North - part of continuing moves to use the World Cup as a catalyst for reconciliation. But that is proving difficult for the two nations who are still technically at war.

North Korea was one of only six countries not to enter the qualifying competition for this year's Finals. Why? Because the competition is being jointly hosted by Japan and of course South Korea.

At one stage it was suggested some of the games might be played in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital. That idea went nowhere.

If the South Korean "technical committee" were to spot North Korea's answer to David Beckham or Zinadene Zidane it is highly unlikely they would be allowed to play in the World Cup for a "unified" Korean side.

The North Korean manager Kim Jong Man insists his team's focus is on qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in Germany - so South Korea is out of the question.

See also:

15 Nov 00 | World Cup 2002
Koreans may share World Cup
11 Sep 00 | Football
World Cup boost for North Korea
16 Aug 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: North Korea
09 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea: A political history
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