SEOUL (Reuters) - Full of endeavor and defensive discipline but lacking true top-class talent, North Korea will be lucky to earn a point from the group stage of the World Cup.
The North Koreans are appearing in their first World Cup finals since a remarkable run to the quarter-finals in 1966 and they could not have been handed a more difficult draw than Group G where they play Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast.
Little was also expected of them 44 years ago before the mystery men from the North beat Italy 1-0 to make the last eight, then led Portugal 3-0 before a Eusebio-inspired fightback earned the Europeans a 5-3 win.
However, this time the North Koreans may prove a handful off the pitch as evidenced by their qualifying campaign.
After they refused to play South Korea's national anthem or raise its flag for qualifiers in Pyongyang, FIFA had to move the matches to Shanghai to avoid a full-scale diplomatic row.
Following a 1-0 defeat to the South in a qualifier in Seoul last April, North Korea lodged a protest with FIFA saying that their players' food had been tampered with and that the referee had been biased.
"The match thus turned into a theater of plot-breeding and swindling," the North said in a statement.
With the eyes of the world upon them, North Korea will be under pressure to abide by FIFA's Fair Play directive on and off the field.
Increased political tension between North and South could be a backdrop to the finals after Seoul accused its neighbor of torpedoing one of its warships and vowed to take "firm" measures.
(Writing by Peter Rutherford in Singapore, Editing by Robert Woodward)