North Korea coach expects warm welcome back home

Jun 24, 2010 - 4:59 PM By MARK WALSH Associated Press Writer

NELSPRUIT, South Africa(AP) -- Kim Jong Hun's North Korean players have fallen far short of emulating their illustrious countrymen who reached the 1966 World Cup quarterfinals.

Still, the coach expects a warm welcome at home.

After opening with a gritty 2-1 loss to five-time champion Brazil, the North Koreans gave up six second-half goals in a 7-0 thrashing by Portugal, prompting suggestions the squad would face scorn when it returns to Pyongyang.

Ahead of their last match at South Africa 2010 against Ivory Coast on Friday, coach Kim had no such concerns.

"We were not able to go on to the next round, so both my staff and my players didn't meet the expectations of my countrymen," Kim said. "However, even though we didn't play too well, our people will welcome us with open arms."

Ivory Coast needs to score plenty of goals to have any chance of reaching the second round. But Kim predicts his players will be leaving the tournament with their heads high.

"We did concede a lot of goals (against Portugal), but nevertheless we are going to fight hard in our next game, and it's a way to avenge ourselves," Kim said. "We will try to restore our honor and do our best in the game."

Ivory Coast's physical approach is also something Kim said the players are prepared for.

"They will probably be extremely aggressive," he said. "Ivory Coast is physically a bigger team than us, but our players will also resist strongly and I don't think that will affect us that much."

Despite the Portugal defeat, the North Korean coach said he would not be making wholesale changes.

North Korea was down 1-0 at halftime against Portugal when Kim changed from a defensive 5-4-1 formation to a more attacking 4-3-3. The team conceded six goals in the second half and Kim was cagey about his approach for Friday's match.

"It will depend on how the game flows. If needed, then we will be more on the attack and more aggressive. And if it looks like we need to be more defensive, then we will play more defensively," he said. "It really depends on the match."

In 1966, the North Koreans surprised the world by beating Italy en route to the quarterfinals, then taking a 3-0 lead against Portugal. But the Portuguese rallied to win 5-3.

There were very few North Koreans in the crowd for the first rematch in 44 years between the two nations. Kim bristled when asked whether travel restrictions in North Korea affected the support his team had received in South Africa.

"I don't think you are well-informed," Kim replied. "We can travel freely. We can travel abroad freely, that's just a free choice of each Korean. So I think you are badly informed."

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