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FIGHT THE URGE TO WRITE OFF THE WEAKEST LINK IN THE 2010 GROUP OF DEATH. YES, THE CHOLLIMA LACK INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE. IT RARELY LEAVES ASIA, AND ONLY A HANDFUL of starters play club ball outside their homeland. And, yes, it barely squeaked through its qualifying group. In its final game, against Saudi Arabia, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) held off a late man-advantage to draw 0-0. Yet there was manager Kim Jong-hun, needing only a tie to advance, subbing in attackers well into the 80th minute.
That match says everything you need to know about the North Koreans and why they could pull off an upset. They play pack-it-in defensive soccer, in stark contrast to their offensive-minded Group G counterparts. Ten of their 16 qualifying games ended scoreless, 1-0 or 1-1. Just as important, Kim is partial to wild maneuvers, such as those late substitutions against the Saudis, and that's something to fear. The former national star has sat key players in order to throw off opponents, drawn a fair share of intentional red cards and often erred tactically by substituting just before halftime.
Unsurprisingly, rumors abound that Kim will be replaced before South Africa, but that would not change the DPRK's volatility. The country's Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, is said to have a hand in running the team, perhaps even lending midgame advice by cellphone.
Hardly a strong point, as demonstrated by the Chollima's inability to score in its last three qualifiers (and six of 17 overall). The front line is headed by playmaking captain Hong Yong-jo and the more powerful Jong Tae-se, both of whom scored four times in qualifying.
An Yong-hak, a holding midfielder whose pretty passes carried the team through qualifying, will lead counterattacks, as will Mun In-guk. Both scored twice from midfield.
Kim's "maximize the defense and attack" philosophy places Ji Yun-nam atop an interchangeable five-man unit that allowed only seven goals in 16 games. They're fit and focused, but they offer little in terms of counterattack. Keeper Ri Myong-guk, who'd never played outside the Korea League before 2009, kept 10 clean sheets in his 15 starts.