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After 43 years, North Korea back in Europe

After 43 years, North Korea back in Europe

Having qualified for their second World Cup, North Korean footballers now want to take full advantage of their first trip to Europe in 43 years to learn about football.
The North Korean delegation has moved into its training camp on the outskirts of the western French city of Nantes and will play two friendlies, against second-division team Nantes on Friday at La Roche-sur-Yon before taking on the Republic of Congo on Oct. 13 at Le Mans.
A third game against second-division side Vannes was initially scheduled on Saturday but was scratched from the program to give the players more time to rest.
"We are here to learn some things about European football," head coach Kim Jong Hun said Tuesday during a 20-minute press conference through a translator. "During the World Cup, we are likely to play against European teams and the match against Nantes will give us a good opportunity to discover this kind of football."
In South Africa next year, the team will be playing its first World Cup since 1966, when it created a huge upset by ousting Italy on its way to the quarterfinals where it lost 5-3 to Portugal after throwing away a 3-0 lead.
"We want to revive the feat of our predecessors," Kim Jong Hun said. "And to achieve that, we are playing a football made of speed and good technique combined to the standards of modern football which include a great physical strength."
Ranked 90th in the world by FIFA, North Korea made headlines with its World Cup qualification but its return to top level competition has been overshadowed by repeated controversial actions by the communist country.
Since early April, North Korea has launched a long-range rocket, abandoned nuclear disarmament talks and conducted an underground atomic test, earning international condemnation and new United Nations sanctions aimed at punishing the regime for its nuclear defiance. North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il, however, offered on Tuesday a return to multinational disarmament talks.
And what do the North Koreans players think about this? Questioners will not find out.
"The North Koreans players and their coach don't want political questions, they don't want to be asked about politics and won't answer," said Alexandre Cadet, the boss of Sports Live Agency, the company organizing the North Koreans tour.
One-to-one interviews are banned and the North Koreans officials had even considered asking reporters to give them their lists of questions ahead of press conferences.
When asked about the North Korean league's format, team captain Nam Song Chol preferred to let his coach answer the question.
"As a captain, I think it's better to ask the coach or somebody from the federation," he said.
The government banned the team from traveling abroad following defeats to both Japan and South Korea in the qualifying stages for the 1994 World Cup in the United States. The squad returned to the international stage in 1999 but skipped the 1998 and 2002 World Cups, and failed to qualify for the 2006 tournament.
Only a few North Koreans players have signed for foreign clubs and the 19 players reunited in Nantes all play at home.
According to Cadet, their trip in France was made possible by the French ministry of foreign affairs.
"They immediately understood that the purpose of their trip was just about football," he said.
But the North Koreans will not be free to do as they please during their stay. Some outings as tourists are scheduled for them in Paris and in the Nantes area, but they always will stay together.
Earlier this month, French President Nicolas Sarkozy assigned an envoy to a special North Korea mission to evaluate ways France could help end the standoff over the country's nuclear program. Former minister Jack Lang will analyze under what circumstances France might establish relations with North Korea, "taking into account the need for progress on the nuclear question, on its relations with South Korea, and the humanitarian and human rights situation."


Updated : 2021-10-25 13:32 GMT+08:00