North Korea gives players medals before World Cup

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North Korea gives players medals before World Cup

North Korea bestowed awards on players and coaches of its national football team for advancing to next year’s World Cup finals, their first entry in more than four decades, state media said Tuesday.

Yang Hyong-sop, vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, awarded the merit citations and medals in a ceremony on Monday, said the Korean Central Broadcasting Station, an official radio channel.

The football players “brought glory to the homeland and encouraged our military and people who are in a great struggle to build a thriving nation,” the report said.

Among the award winners were Kim Jong-sik and Kim Jong-su, director and a vice director at the Commission of Physical Culture and Sports Guidance. They received merit citations of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and current leader Kim Jong-il, respectively, it said.

The team coach, Kim Jong-hun, and players also received honorary titles of “people’s athletic” or “merited athletic,” the report said.

North Korea qualified for next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa for the first time since 1966. In that World Cup in Britain, North Korea beat Italy on the way to the quarterfinals before losing to Portugal. North Korea had jumped to a 3-0 lead in the game before it allowed five goals to bow out of the tourney 5-3. North Korea clinched a spot in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with a 1-1 tie against Saudi Arabia in June.

The North Korean squad had fared well in the AFC regional qualifying rounds on Kim Jong-hun’s defensive strategy with a Jong Tae-se led counterattacks. However, there were rumors circulating last month of the possibility of a foreign manager replacing Kim.

As part of preparations for the finals next year, North Korea will hold a friendly with a Brazilian professional club, Club Atletico Sorocaba, at May Day Stadium in Pyongyang on Thursday.

In early October, North Korea traveled to the western French city of Nantes to face off with second-league club FC Nantes. The match ended in a scoreless draw. Yonhap
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