How North Korea Defied The Odds To Beat Italy In One Of The Great World Cup Upsets

How North Korea Defied The Odds To Beat Italy In One Of The Great World Cup Upsets
07:05, 19 Jul 2019

Rarely has an international football result had such far-reaching consequences as on this day in 1966.

While English fans will forever look back on the year as one of Bobby Moore being carried shoulder-high around Wembley, soundtracked by The Beatles, for Italian fans it represents one of their worst ever tournaments.

Having started the summer as favourites to lift the trophy, the nature of Italy’s demise in the showpiece event on July 19, 1966, could not have been more tame.

Pak Doo-Ik scored the only goal of the game three minutes before half-time to seal a famous win for the team which didn’t have diplomatic relations with many countries following the relatively recent Korea War. In fact, the Foreign Office wasn’t going to issue visas for the North Koreans to enter the UK.

Even though they were eventually allowed to compete, Britain refused to play their national anthem before matches and replaced it with another - unidentified - song. However, the people of Middlesbrough took the players - none of whom could speak English and were all 5ft 5” or under - to their hearts, mainly because they wore red shirts like the Ayrseome Park outfit. 

Italy had arrived in England with the weight of expectation on their shoulders after poor performances in World Cups since the Second World War. They failed to qualify in 1958 and in 1962 were knocked out in the first round.   

North Korea had proved surprisingly competitive in the tournament ahead of the game against the Italians having held Chile to a draw. But the challenge of Italy was seen as an altogether different proposition.  

Italy only needed a draw from the game at Middlesbrough to reach the knock-out stages. But with the words of their leader Kim Il-Sung relayed to them, the Koreans felt inspired even if the words were hardly Churchillian: “European and South American nations dominate international football.  As representatives of the Asian and African region, as colored people, I urge you to win one or two matches.”

In the game itself, Italy had the best early chances but couldn’t find a way through. Celebrated Italy midfielder Giacomo Bulgarelli got injured making a tackle on Pak Seung-Jin which meant he had to go off. Because substitutions were not a thing yet, Italy had to play on with ten men for an hour which naturally benefited the Koreans.

A hopeful Korean kick upfield was returned only as far as defender Pak Doo-Ik who produced a cool finish, slotting the ball past Enrico Albertosi in the Italy net.

There was enough time for Italy to come back but they looked out of sorts and struggled to cope with the extra man of an energetic Korean side who looked the more likely to score another. 

Italy flew home to a storm of abuse and the manager was soon sacked but that wasn’t the end of North Korea’s World Cup adventure. Around 3,000 Middlesbrough fans travelled to support their adopted team at Anfield for the quarter-final. They gave the mighty Portugal a huge scare in the quarter finals - leading 3-0 at one stage before eventually succumbing to the magic of Eusebio who got four of his side’s five goals in a 5-3 win.   

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