Andersen: DPR Korea have a good chance
Abu Dhabi: Former head coach Jorn Andersen has backed DPR Korea to secure a place in the knockout stage of the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019 next month despite being drawn in Group E that also features Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Lebanon.
Andersen was at the helm of the team as they secured their berth at the Finals with a 2-0 victory over Hong Kong in Pyongyang in March before standing down to eventually join K League side Incheon United.
The former Norway international striker has since been replaced by Kim Yong-jun, who will take the squad into the Finals, but Andersen is confident DPR Korea can progress to the knockout phase of the competition for the first time since 1980 as one of the qualifiers from Group E.
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“They are playing in a very difficult group but I think they have a good chance to get to the second round,” Andersen said of the task that lies ahead of his former players.
“When I was in charge they improved both tactically and physically and their strongest point is that they never give up.”
DPR Korea will be making their fifth appearance at the AFC Asian Cup and the country’s run to the semi-finals in 1980 – when they lost to Korea Republic before slipping up against Islamic Republic of Iran in the third place playoff – is their best showing.
Their three subsequent involvements in the competition, in 1992, 2011 and 2015, saw the nation exit at the group phase.
New coach Kim (pictured below), who was a member of the squad that featured at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, will seek to build on what his predecessor achieved during his two-year stint at the helm.
One of Kim’s most important tasks will be to restore his team’s morale after their surprise exit from the East Asian Football Championship qualifying rounds in November at the hands of Hong Kong.
The squad will feature a mix of players based overseas and those playing in the domestic league in DPR Korea, including Italy-based youngster Han Kwang Song and a host of players born and raised in Japan and playing for J.League clubs.
Andersen believes finding the right blend is one of the biggest challenges facing anyone who takes on the role of head coach.
“They are a hard working team, but they lack international experience,” said Andersen. “The local and the foreign players don’t have the opportunity to play together in international matches very often.
“They have many good players, but especially the foreign based players. Players like Han Kwang-song, Pak Kwang-ryong and Ri Yong-jik can be very important for them at this championship.”
One factor that has improved the standard of the DPR Korea team, says the 55-year-old, is the involvement of the country’s clubs in the AFC Cup.
For the last two years, DPR Korea has been represented in the Continental club tournament by 4.25 SC, Hwaepul SC and Kigwancha SC, with 4.25 SC losing out in the Inter-Zone Play-off final in this year’s competition.
Strikers Kim Yu-song (pictured above, left) and An Il-bom (pictured above, right), in particular, have impressed with both finishing as the tournament’s leading scorer in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
“Playing in the AFC Cup for the last few years has been very important, especially for the locally based players,” said Andersen. “It has given them the chance to gain match practice in an international competition.”
Photos: AFC, AFP
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