FIFA dismiss N. Korea concerns


TEMBISA, June 9- World Cup organisers Wednesday brushed aside concerns over North Korea's tight-lipped approach to the tournament, insisting each team had its own way of preparing for the event.After banning reporters on Monday from watching training and speaking to players, a media scrum Tuesday jostled to hear the words of striker Jong Tae-Se in a desperate bid to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding the squad.

Jong, who plays in Japan’s J-League and is known as Asia’s Wayne Rooney, answered questions for just six minutes before being whisked away.

Reporters were then allowed to witness only 15 minutes of training at Makhulong stadium in Tembisa township outside Johannesburg.

A team spokesman, when pressed on the closed-door approach of the North Koreans, said the top priority was security.

While other teams have welcomed locals to watch them go through their paces, North Korea’s training sessions had previously all been behind closed doors.

Even the customary post-match briefing to reporters after Sunday’s friendly defeat to Nigeria was scrapped, all adding to the sense of mystery swirling around the side from the isolated state.

But a FIFA spokesman said there were no immediate concerns over North Korea’s approach to the media as each team made its own arrangements, balancing its commitments with training needs.

"The obligation the teams have is to hold at least one public training session. Then on match day minus one, teams have to host a press conference before or after their official training session at the stadium.

"Teams also have mandatory media commitments on the day of their matches, following the conclusion of the game."

North Korea have been handed a tough task in South Africa and face a battle to qualify from the "Group of Death" which includes Brazil, Portugal and the Ivory Coast.

But Jong, speaking in English, said Tuesday that he hopes the 105th-ranked "Chollima" can change the image of North Korea and believes they could topple mighty Brazil, such is the strength of their team spirit.

Only a handful of the 2010 squad ply their trade overseas. Apart from Jong, fellow Japanese-born ethnic Korean An Yong-Hak also plays in the J-League. Striker Hong Yong-Jo is on the books of Russia’s FC Rostov.

Jong, born and bred in Japan, has previously spoken of the culture clash in the North Korean dressing room.

"It has taken a lot to accept their culture," he said of his team-mates. "They got curious about my cell phone. When I let them use it, it changed hands among all of them. Such small matters stressed me," he said ahead of the team’s departure for South Africa.

Jong holds South Korean nationality like his parents, descendants of immigrants from colonial Korea. But he has managed to obtain a North Korean passport after growing up at patriotic pro-Pyongyang schools in Japan.

And he said the 2010 team wanted to make as big a splash as their predecessors 44 years ago, who shocked powerhouse Italy in a stunning upset.

North Korea’s qualification for South Africa is their first since their famous adventure in the 1966 World Cup in England when they reached the quarter-finals where they were eventually beaten 5-3 by Portugal with the legendary Eusebio grabbing four goals.