Brazil just beat North Korea (note from coach Kim Jong-hun: don't call them North Korea!) in its World Cup opener 2-1, meaning there's at least one North Korean on the team who's likely bought some time away from the forced labor camp.
The ESPN announcers during the game gave us some fun knowledge gleaned about the super-secretive team from the DPRK. First, the coach claimed to have a direct line of communication from Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il to make calls on plays, etc. Not a traditional cell, mind you, but some vague, secretive device that the announcers referred to as the "invisible phone." They also made the mocking point that with 38-under-par in his first try out on the golf course, how could anyone question Dear Leader's clear superior sports judgment?
The fan section is something I've been quite curious about. No one is allowed to leave the country, basically, so how would North Korea have a cheering section? They had a small one, all right, with uncomfortably coordinated fans waving their flags while all dressed alike. The ESPN announcers said the "fans" were reportedly hand-picked Chinese actors, which is undoubtedly a relief for the kidnapped South Korean actors. When reporters tried to get close to ask the "fans" about this ... well, you got it, they weren't allowed to get close.
As Marine Hyde wrote on the Guardian's sports blog after the team's laughable presser: "As for their goal in the tournament: 'this will bring great happiness to our Dear Leader.' It would be screamingly funny, of course, were it not taking place on the very the day it emerged that His Dearness had cut off all state food rations to his people."
And I couldn't help but think it was the team's sweet, slight taste of freedom, and the plaintive strains of the Dear Leader's anthem, that choked up one player during the playing of North Korea's national anthem before kickoff. Star striker Jong Tae-se, who grew up in a community of 600,000 Koreans in Japan and was educated in pro-Pyongyang schools run by the General Assn. of Korean Residents in Japan, had to introduce his teammates to a cell phone. Sad.
(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)