Wild World Cup: That Time North Korea "Beat" Brazil

Wild World Cup: That Time North Korea "Beat" Brazil
North Korea's Ji Yun-nam celebrates his goal in June 2010 that helped "defeat" powerhouse Brazil

World Cup 2014 is in full swing. Soccer, also known as football, footie, calcio, voetbal, and fύtbol to the Spanish-speaking world is typically dominated by squads from Europe and South America. No one else really figures in(usually).

Brazil, to make a crude comparison, are soccer's equivalent of the New York Yankees. They have won five World Cups --the most overall, in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002. Brazil, too, has not lost a single game in the first round since 1966.

Even though Brazil and a handful of few others tend to run the table, the World Cup is still a chance to showcase what you've got, along with a little national pride. And four years ago yesterday, a World Cup match in Johannesburg sprung a little surprise while also becoming a thing of socialist propaganda.

2010 pitted Brazil within the toughest round-robin group, aka "The Group of Death" alongside other top teams like Portugal and the African stand-out Ivory Coast. The fourth team in this Group of Death was the lowest-ranked country in the tournament: The Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea.

Not much what expected of the June 15, 2010 match between Brazil and the DPRK during the first round. As is typical Brazil made their mark, scoring first and then going up 2-0 on goals from Maicon and Elano. But then a little known fullback from named Ji Yun-Nam, did something that every soccer player that has ever lived dreams of.

What was his big feat? He scored against Brazil in the World Cup, that's what.

Narrowing the score with 10 minutes left, everyone was a little shocked at North Korea's feat. Kim Jong-Il's men had barely touched the ball in 90 minutes, much less gotten anywhere near the goal. And Ji himself nearly had a heart attack it seemed, and  would become a short-term national hero.

Shortly after the full time whistle the North Korean state news agency reported the the final score, North Korea 1- Brazil 0, and published their own interpretation.


Crushing Brazil, Kim Jong-Il's men were victorious.

In truth, Brazil won the match, 2-1, moving eventually the semi-finals. Meanwhile, North Korea exited the World Cup after getting crushed 7-0 by Portugal and 3-0 by the Ivory Coast.

Worse yet, playing sports for a dictatorial regime ain't that great a gig. States like North Korea, Belarus, or Iraq under Saddam Hussein, have had a tendency to punish the players themselves for doing things like not winning world championships.

And, while North Korea's women's World Cup team was given a pass for allegedly being struck by lightning,  stories emerged that the Team that beat Brazil was harshly punished for not beating Brazil.

Remarkably, Ji scored one of only three goals against Brazil in the first round of the World Cup since 2003. Yet, little has been heard from Ji about his post- 2010 World Cup career. Word has it that for all of Ji's efforts, his salary as a soccer player for North Korea was a whopping $34 a year.


Andy Frye writes for ESPN.com and more recently has started writing posts for the Chicago Tribune's daily RedEye.

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