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Saturday, 9 February, 2002, 03:44 GMT
N Korean footballers back in spotlight
By the BBC's Simon Ingram in Bangkok

The footballers of North Korea will make a rare foray into the international spotlight on Sunday when their team takes part in a four-country tournament in Thailand.

The 33rd annual King's Cup offers fans a rare glimpse of a squad that shares many of the reclusive characteristics of Pyongyang's communist leadership.

Ranked 139th in the world, North Korea are no soccer giants. But the official rankings could be deceptive.

North Korean soldiers
Soldiers will be absent from the national squad
Some commentators say they have not seen the national team in action since the World Cup of 1966, when they defeated Italy on the way to reaching the quarter-finals - a singular feat no other Asian country has achieved before or since.

Officials travelling with the current team speak modestly of their skills.

The players are understood to be all amateurs and are used to training in what is described as a robust, almost military, manner.

World Cup hopes

Their performances will be scrutinised as well by scouts from South Korea.

If any of the players are deemed good enough, they could be included in the Pan-Korean squad for the forthcoming World Cup finals.

But the team manager, Kim Jong Man, says that is unlikely - one reason being that the squad in Thailand does not include a single player from the North Korean league's strongest team - that of the army.

Asked why no soldiers had been sent for the King's Cup competition, Mr Kim replied, without apparent irony, that the military had "other commitments".

The four teams competing in the King's Cup are North Korea, Qatar, Singapore and hosts, Thailand.

See also:

07 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea's secretive footballers
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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