Like many of my fellow Americans, I am in the midst of a strange quadrennial affliction – actually caring about soccer. A week into the tournament and I find myself getting up early to catch the opening round games on ESPN, and one team that I’m quietly pulling for is the squad from North Korea.
Since the Hermit Kingdom is arguably the world’s strangest country, how can we expect their national team to be any different? The Guardian described an “icy” press conference with Team North Korea’s coaching staff, where they said the goal of the team in the World Cup was to “bring great happiness to our Dear Leader [Kim Jong-Il].” Speaking of Dear Leader Kim, he has been credited with helping the North Korean side qualify for the World Cup in the first place by giving the coaching staff “advice” – it is even rumored that he has a secret hotline to the North Korean bench, though this may just be the North Korean propaganda machine trying to give Kim another mystical quality in addition to his alleged ability to manipulate time (seriously). Meanwhile, North Korea’s only imported player – Japan-born Jong Tae-se, who plays in that nation professionally – has had a grand time introducing his new teammates to technology uncommon in North Korea, like cellphones and pay toilets. According to Jong, when a teammate saw a pay lavatory in Switzerland, it prompted him to remark: “this is truly what capitalist society is like.”
And you won’t find many people already on the North Korean bandwagon – the team has reportedly hired as many as 1,000 Chinese to attend the team’s matches in South Africa as “fans,” something necessary I suppose when you won’t allow your own citizens to travel outside of the country unless they are members of the ruling elite. But then again, how can you not root for a team whose players make such Stalin-esque quotes as when goalkeeper Ri Myong-Guk said he felt as though he was “defending the gateway to my motherland”?
Team NoKo takes to the field again on Monday.
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