Portugal and North Korea seek inspiration from 1966 World Cup for vital Group G match

By Barry Hatton, AP
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Portugal, NKorea seek inspiration from 1966 WCup

MAGALIESBURG, South Africa — Their World Cup ambitions on the line, Portugal and North Korea are looking to recapture the Spirit of ‘66 when they meet in their next Group G game.

Portugal drew 0-0 with Ivory Coast in its opener, and North Korea lost to Brazil 2-1, making Monday’s game in Cape Town a crucial match.

As they get ready for that meeting, the players of both teams are drawing inspiration from their countries’ deeds at the 1966 World Cup, which provided national sporting milestones, even though no member of the current squads was born yet.

Both countries were making their debuts on soccer’s biggest stage, and their standout performances in England have endured in national lore. North Korea upset Italy 1-0 at the tournament, becoming the first team from Asia to advance to the quarterfinals. Portugal unexpectedly got as far as the semifinals.

But what has lingered longest in the memory is Portugal’s 5-3 win over North Korea in the quarterfinals, regarded as one of the greatest comebacks in World Cup history.

By the 23rd minute of that match, North Korea — as much an unknown team then as it is in South Africa — was leading 3-0. Four goals in just over 30 minutes by Eusebio set the Portuguese on the path to an incredible comeback and guaranteed their place in soccer history.

North Korea midfielder An Yong Hak knew just what he wanted when asked about his hopes for the meeting with Portugal 44 years later.

“Revenge,” he said. “We’ll try to get revenge for 1966.”

The slogan on the side of North Korea’s team bus in South Africa, where the reclusive country has come once again into the world’s view with its second World Cup appearance, clearly states the country’s intentions: “1966 Again! Victory for DPR of Korea!” it says, using North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

On paper, the Cape Town game looks uneven. Portugal boasts some of Europe’s top talent, including the world’s most expensive player in Cristiano Ronaldo. Ranked third in world, the Portuguese are playing at their fifth World Cup.

“In theory, we’re better than them, but we have to prove that on the pitch,” Portugal midfielder Pedro Mendes said.

Ranked 105th, the lowest among teams competing in South Africa, North Korea nevertheless showed against Brazil that, while it may not possess the stars or sophistication of more successful countries, it’ll be no pushover.

It took Brazil almost an hour to breach the entrenched North Korean defense, and the five-time world champions had to be alert against counter-attacks led by forward Jong Tae Se.

The North Koreans certainly don’t lack self-belief.

“I believe we will advance to the next round,” said the Japan-based Jong, North Korea’s biggest international soccer star since Pak Doo Ik, who scored the goal that sent Italy out in 1966.

Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz acknowledged his team will have to work hard against the North Koreans.

“It’s always difficult to play against a team that stacks its defense and waits for its opponent to make a mistake,” Queiroz said. “We’ll have to take more risks. We have one point so far and we need to win the second game.”

Only three of the North Koreans play overseas, and the team has made few international appearances in recent years, giving opponents little chance to study its strengths and weaknesses.

Adding to Queiroz’s worries, Portugal, which reached the semifinals in 2006, has lacked consistency recently. That shortcoming proved costly in its World Cup qualifying as it limped into the tournament through the playoffs.

Another concern is Ronaldo’s international goal drought. The Real Madrid forward hasn’t found the net for his country in an official game since the 2008 European Championship.

The North Koreans are determined to prove their mettle. Like the 1966 team, they call themselves the “Chollima” in a cultural reference to a mythological winged horse symbolizing the nation’s iron resolve and military-style discipline.

“Like the football players of Chollima Korea in 1966, I will also display the might of North Korea’s ‘Army First’ policy in the World Cup,” goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk told APTN.

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