The 'Asian Wayne Rooney' leads North Korea
Posted by Mike Griffin
The week of international friendlies for World Cup participants continued on Tuesday. While the United States and Paraguay looked unimpressive in their encounters -- although each were resting some star players -- little-known North Korea put on a positive display in battling back to a 2-2 draw with Greece in a match played in Austria.
A day after Cristiano Ronaldo and his Portugal teammates failed to score a goal at home against lowly Cape Verde Islands, it was enlightening to see Group G opponents North Korea put two past former European champions Greece, a side known for its defensive strength. The star man for North Korea was Jong Tae-Se, who scored both of his country's goals with brilliant individual efforts to scorch a backline that did include its regulars in the starting lineup.
Greece took an early lead in the third minute, but Jong equalized midway through the first half after cutting in from the left side to unleash a right-footed rocket from outside the box that beat keeper Michalis Sifakis and clipped the bottom of the crossbar on its way in. Angelos Charisteas gave Greece a 2-1 lead just after halftime before Jong struck again four minutes later to even the match. The physical striker known as the "Asian Wayne Rooney" expertly collected a long diagonal pass before beating his defender and blasting the ball into the net at the near post.
Jong plays for Kawasaki Frontale in Japan's J-League, and is one of the few players to ply their trade outside the closed borders of the DPR. Born in Japan and originally holding South Korean citizenship, the striker decided to seek a North Korean passport due to his parents' heritage and after attending schools partially funded by Korea DPR.
He was top scorer at the 2008 East Asian Championship, and registered four goals in each of his first two games for North Korea in international competition. Having improved his scoring in the Japanese league in recent years, Jong helped his country finish second behind rival South Korea in Group B of the Asian confederation's final round of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
Last week, Ivory Coast coach Sven-Goran Eriksson claimed that underdog North Korea could be a tough proposition for his side in Group G at the World Cup. "Nobody speaks about North Korea, but they play good football," Eriksson told reporters. "Physically they are better than anyone because they have been in the training camp for six months. I think we are going to have three very difficult games, and we have to be very organized."
The media basically dismissed the former England manager's comments as typical "coachspeak" prior to a major competition, but after Tuesday's result against Greece, maybe more teams will begin to take note of Jong Tae-Se and North Korea.