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Will North Korea Go Nuclear at the World Cup?

Jong Tae Se (center) was born in South Korea. He plays in Japan. But he cries when he hears the North Korean national anthem.
AP
Jong Tae Se (center) was born in South Korea. He plays in Japan. But he cries when he hears the North Korean national anthem.
AP

Elvis haircuts are not mandatory. Long hair is banned. But there can be no cutting corners when it comes to certain concrete ideals.

Though the World Cup, which begins Friday, may have many delights, surely not even the sight of Cristiano Ronaldo's otherworldly torso can possibly compare with that of the Chollima.

Should word of the Chollima have not yet reached you, please don't explode.

For this is the nickname of North Korea's embattled but unbowed soccer team, which has qualified for the World Cup finals.

The Chollima was a mythical horse that was just too fleet-hoofed for any human to leap onto its back.

Those who are right-wingers -- not the soccer kind -- fear that perhaps the 2010 Chollima are more of a Trojan Horse.

Will they have secret microphones to record the venal gossip of capitalistic players from the West? Might they glean some vital piece of Allied strategy at a cocktail party?

Here's how little is known about this team: no one even knows what their shirts are going to look like when this horse rolls into town to play Brazil on June 15.

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The North Koreans, like true hard-bargaining Communists, played one manufacturer off against another until they persuaded Italian company Legea to manufacturer them for free.

Legea seems to specialize in designing for the demanding. It also makes shirts for the Zimbabwean national team.

Yet it would be a little too easy to dismiss the Chollima as a circus act. That's what happened the last time North Korea graced the World Cup finals in 1996.

Arriving in the England of Beatlemania, they created their own frenzy by defeating the brutally crude Italians and making the quarter-finals.

Indeed, they were unlucky not to make the semis, as they were leading Portugal 3-0, before, perhaps, succumbing to the fear of fame and the pressure to defect that a win might have engendered. The Chollima succumbed 5-3.

This time around, North Korea showed, in qualifying against the ultimate munificent capitalists of Saudi Arabia, that all that glistens is not oil.

Kim Jong Il, the great, all-powerful, everlasting son of the Eternal Leader, is reputed not merely to meddle in the team, but actually to pick it.

So what might it say for politics, and, indeed, eternity, if his selection defeats that of, say, World Cup-winning Brazilian coach, Dunga?

How might the illustrious Kim celebrate? What if he enjoys one spritzer too many and accidentally ignites some nuclear fireworks in celebration?

I am sure that the authorities will be keeping one satellite eye on developments.

However, does North Korea have a Western spy in its ranks? His name is Jong Tae Se. Officially.

Some have even described him as the North Korean Wayne Rooney. (Rooney being the strong, chunky talisman of the England team and Manchester United.)

But Jong was born in South Korea. He plays in Japan. Please grab a large paper bag and breathe into it before I tell you that he has appeared in a commercial television advertisement with Manchester United's South Korean midfielder, Park Ji-Sun.

Oh, his mother says she is North Korean. But how can Jong be regarded as being ideologically sound? How can the Chollima trust this man to be its redeemer?

Or could it be that North Korea likes winning just as much, if not more, than, say, the United States? And if the everlasting leadership finds a player who is prepared to renounce his South Korean citizenship, he's in the team, with questions being postponed until the inquest?

Jong cries when he hears the North Korean national anthem. What kind of tears might we see when North Korea plays Brazil? And will the Chollima be wearing red or white?


Chris Matyszczyk is an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing, and an avid sports fan. He is also the author of the popular CNET blog Technically Incorrect.

  • Chris Matyszczyk

    Chris has been a multi award-winning executive creative director with some of the most celebrated advertising agencies in the world. His creative work has been recognized at the Cannes Advertising Festival, the New York Festivals, Clio, the One Show, as well as many other festivals around the world. His writing has appeared in such publications as the Financial Times, the European, the Sacramento Bee and The Singapore Press Holdings Group.

    He currently advises major global companies about content creation and marketing, through his company Howard Raucous LLC.

    He brings an irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes ironic voice to the tech world.