Korea DPR seemingly came from nowhere to storm into the Asian Zone's final round of qualifying, where they defied sizeable odds to take one of the continent's four automatic spots at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. In a sense they lived up to their long-standing reputation as Asia's surprise packages, their qualifying success marking a return to world football's top table for the first time since going all the way to the last eight in 1966.
After spending nearly 30 years in wilderness, the past decade saw the revival of the nation's footballing fortunes. With their women's football teams running riot at all levels on the international scene, the men's side came close to qualifying for Germany 2006 before successfully negotiating the road to South Africa 2010.
The road to South Africa
To reach the 2010 showpiece, Korea DPR went through a gruelling qualifying campaign spanning 20 months and a whopping 16 games. They made light work of Mongolia in the Asian Zone's first qualifying round, winning both home and away to earn a bye to the third round as one of the 11 highest-ranked first-round winners. Once there, they finished second in their group behind southern neighbours Korea Republic to qualify for the final round.
There they got off to a brilliant start by defeating UAE 2-1, before holding Korea Republic to a 1-1 draw. Despite losing to Iran 2-1 in the next game, they bounced back with a 1-0 home win against Saudi Arabia. Even a 1-0 loss to Korea Republic did ...