Thu, 28 Oct, 2021
Kuala Lumpur: A single goal from a 22-year-old winger called Pak Doo-ik made football history on July 19, 1966. Some 50 years later, the-afc.com looks back at DPR Korea’s famous win over Italy at the FIFA World Cup in England.
When DPR Korea arrived in England no Asian team had ever advanced beyond the Group Stage, won a match or even scored a goal at the FIFA World Cup finals, and no Asian nation had even appeared in the tournament since Korea Republic twelve years earlier.
Completely unknown to the football world – outside of the Australian team they comprehensively beat over two legs in order to qualify – Myung Rye-hyun’s DPR Korea side weren’t expected to challenge the more established nations in England, and the draw did them no favours.
The Koreans faced an exceedingly difficult group featuring 1960 European Champions and 1964 runners-up Soviet Union, Chile – who finished third in the previous World Cup - and two-time World Champions Italy, who were expected to engage in a three-way battle for the two quarter-final places.
DPR Korea kicked off their campaign at Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park – the venue for all their group matches – against the Soviet Union and were well beaten by a seasoned international team. Despite some promising attacking play from the Koreans, the Soviets scored twice before half-time and added a third late on to secure a 3-0 win.
In the second match against Chile, the Koreans showed improvement but still trailed 1-0 at half-time. Needing a result to stay alive in the tournament, and with the backing of the 14,000 Teessiders, DPR Korea’s captain Park Seung-zin lashed home a fierce volley in the 88th minute to secure a much-needed draw.
Park’s goal made history in itself – it was Asia’s first goal and won Asia’s first point in a FIFA World Cup – and gave the Koreans an outside chance of advancing to the knockout stage, but standing in their way were the Italians.
Italy had started the tournament impressively by inflicting a 2-0 defeat on Chile, but stumbled against the Soviets, losing 1-0, and came into the match against DPR Korea needing a draw themselves to progress to the quarter-finals.
Despite their draw against Chile, DPR Korea were given little hope of beating a side that included stars like AC Milan’s ‘Golden Boy’ Gianni Rivera and Internazionale duo Sandro Mazzola and Giacinto Facchetti, who had both won back-to-back European Cups in 1964 and 1965.
In DPR Korea’s favour - with the match being held, again, at Ayresome Park - was that Italy’s previous two matches had been played at Sunderland’s Roker Park. The fans in Middlesbrough, where the local club wore similarly red playing kits, had taken to the underdogs and again provided vocal support.
When the game got underway Italy nearly took an early lead through Marino Perani, but his close range shot was brilliantly saved by 19-year-old goalkeeper Lee Chang-myung. Perani then had two more excellent opportunities to score, but the Bologna forward failed to capitalize on either and the score remained 0-0, until DPR Korea winger Pak Doo-ik shocked the favourites just before half-time.
In the 42nd minute, with the Italians slightly on top, Pak made an intelligent turn that transformed a speculative long header into a shooting opportunity and allowed the 22-year-old to stroke the ball beyond goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi from just inside the penalty area, much to the delight of the Ayresome Park crowd.
In the second half, with one goal enough to change the destiny of both teams, more Italian chances followed, but so too did more excellent saves from Lee. The Koreans also had chances to double their lead, the best of them falling to Kim Bong-hwan, but neither side could find the net, and DPR Korea held firm for a result that shocked the football world.
Asia’s first ever win at the FIFA World Cup – coming at the expense of one of the tournament’s most successful teams, featuring some of the stars of the era – was arguably the biggest upset the tournament had ever seen, and the Middlesbrough crowd rose as one to applaud the history-making underdogs.
DPR Korea became the first Asian team, or team from anywhere outside Europe and Latin America, to qualify for the knockout stage and went on to meet Portugal in the quarter-final in Liverpool where they took an astonishing 3-0 lead in the first 25 minutes.
For a moment – in front of 40,000 fans, including a reported 3000 who had travelled from Middlesbrough - it looked like a semi-final against England was on the cards, but the Koreans were reeled in by four goals for Portugal’s legendary forward Eusebio, and eventually lost 5-3.
Still, DPR Korea’s tournament showed the world what Asian football was capable of, and their achievement of reaching the last eight wasn’t equaled by a team from Asia until 2002, when their neighbours Korea Republic reached the semi-finals as a host nation, ironically eliminating Italy along the way.
DPR Korea would not appear again on the world stage until 2010, but their stunning win over the Italians in 1966 remains one of the greatest moments in Asian football, and one that changed the world’s perception of its quality.