Johannesburg: North Korea coach Kim Jong-hun has paid tribute to the side that captured the soccer world’s imagination 44 years ago, saying their glorious run to the World Cup quarter-finals convinced him to devote his life to the game.
Speaking a day ahead of North Korea’s opening Group G clash against Brazil, Kim Jong-hun told reporters on Monday that the surviving members of the 1966 side had given the current team advice on what to expect at the World Cup in South Africa.
The “Chollima” reached the last eight in England after beating Italy in their group and led Portugal 3-0 before a Eusebio-led fightback saw them exit the tournament 5-3.
“There are quite a few players from the England World Cup still alive, we met them before coming here,” Kim Jong-hun said.
“They came quite often to our training camps and they gave us lots of advice and told us what it would be like.
“They also gave us a lot of encouragement so that we could make our Great Leader Kim Jong-il very proud.”
North Korea have been handed a tough draw in South Africa and few have given them a chance of advancing from a group that features Portugal, Ivory Coast as well as five-times champions Brazil.
However, equally little was expected of the North the last time they qualified for a World Cup finals and the coach said he still remembered the impact of that shock run.
“I still have very vivid memories of the 1966 World Cup,” recalled the coach, warming to the subject.
“At that time I was 10-years-old. I was very young but I felt that our players had done very well.
“I was very proud of them and I was envious of them too. That’s what pushed me and made me realise that football was very important and could inspire the people of my country.
“And so that’s when I decided I would devote my life to football, and that is why I think I became the coach of the national team.”
At 105th in the world, North Korea are the lowest ranked team in the tournament and will face top-ranked Brazil at Johannesburg’s Ellis Park on Tuesday.
Despite the gulf in class, on paper at least, the North Koreans have been exuding confidence, with striker Jong Tae-se even predicting a win over the Brazilians.
The coach recognised Brazil’s strength but said they did not outshine his own players.
“Of course Brazil are a very strong team and a perennial favourite. It’s not that I don’t know this, or my players don’t know this,” he added.
“But we have a really strong mentality and I think that’s what will prevail.
“Their talent and qualifications will be shown if we win tomorrow and this will bring great happiness to our Great Leader Kim Jong-il.”