North Korea Acquires Elimination With Oft-Open Goalmouth

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
June 22 2010 5:10 PM

North Korea Acquires Elimination With Oft-Open Goalmouth

North Korea was sent packing from its first World Cup in 44 years yesterday after a 7-0 pummeling by Portugal . The game was reportedly the insular nation's first full live broadcast of an international game , so North Koreans got to watch their team publicly humiliated in real time. (Previous World Cups have been broadcast on tape delay with large sections excluded.) According to the AP, at the close of the broadcast, the commentator merely stated: "The Portuguese won the game and now have four points. We are ending our live broadcast now."

No one is surprised that the North Korean team will not be advancing to the round of 16, but its spectacular meltdown in the second 45 minutes of the Portugal game was followed by curiosity about how the tightly controlled state media might respond to such a flogging. North Korea's previous game against Brazil, a surprisingly close 2-1 defeat, was hailed by the Korean Central News Agency as a "seesaw battle" in which "the DPRK footballers created good shooting chances, not losing their confidence even after losing two goals." And then there was this: "At about the 88th minute of the match Jong Tae Se headed the ball before passing it to Ji Yun Nam who powerfully kicked it into the rival's goalmouth, scoring a goal."

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KCNA has been following the team closely since they returned as heroes after tying Saudi Arabia to qualify for the World Cup last year. On May 10, the KCNA reported that "[t]he DPRK men's football team led by Kim Jang San, vice-chairman of the Korean Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission, left here today to participate in the 2010 FIFA World Cup." On June 1, the government issued stamps to commemorate the World Cup . Less than a week later, the news service announced a workshop for FIFA referees , who were schooled on "match rules, referee's role and signals in match warming-up exercise method, training of persevering in fast running, etc." Whoever replaces Kim Jang San as vice-chairman of the Korean Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission might want to consider holding a similar workshop for the national team, which displayed surprisingly little perseverance in fast running.

But in the wake of the worst World Cup loss in years, KCNA fell silent; not even a casual mention of the flaws in the North Korean defense that left their goalmouth vulnerable. Instead, loyal soccer fans had to settle for another segment in the innumerable-part series, "The Story of Kim Jong-il." This week's episode: Miner Inconvenience. In April of 1988, "leader Kim Jong-il received news that a young miner was on the brink of death by accident." (Was it an accident that he heard about it?) After "strong and detailed rescue measures" were taken, the miner was saved and "later he got well and began working again at the mine."

Given the conspicuous absence of sports reporting, Brow Beat is left to assume that the injured miner in the story is a metaphor for the wounded pride of North Korea's soccer team, who, after playing the Ivory Coast on Friday, will be returning to the bosom of Kim Jong-il to be nursed back to health. North Korean coach Kim Jong-hun said before the game that there would be "no further consequences" if the team lost. His players were surely relieved. Still, if the team is looking for a distraction, they might be interested in sitting through a performance of the Echo of Mountain , a new comedy that's been traveling the country. Set in the swinging '60s, it's the classic tale of mountain peasants seeking to increase grain production. "The light comedy encourages the people to turn out in making a fresh upsurge in their work," raves the KCNA. Just what the doctor ordered: An embarrassing loss on the international stage? A little extra grain production will take your mind right off that.

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