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North Korea vow to "upset expectations" at World Cup

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea are banking on team spirit, surprise and sheer determination to upset expectations and get them through to the knockout stages at the World Cup finals in South Africa. Aware his team are being written off as the weakest at the June 11-July 11 tournament, coach Kim Jong-hun is nevertheless backing them to spring a surprise.

The North caused a major upset the last time they appeared in the World Cup finals, beating Italy to progress to the quarter-finals in 1966.

"I believe we will at least pass the first round. I'm aware of the evaluations of our team," Kim told the Yonhap News agency after a training session in Altach, Austria.

"We have the strong spirit of challenge to upset expectations.

"Speaking on behalf of the players, (the team) will seek to do well and make the world see Chosun football in a new perspective and a new eye," he added.

North Korea were the sensation of the 1966 finals in England, beating Italy to reach the last eight where they led Portugal 3-0 before bowing out 5-3.

To finish in the top two of a first round Group G that also features Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast would be an even more impressive feat, said striker Jong Tae-se.

"Brazil will be first and we will win second place," said the Kawasaki Frontale forward, one of the few players in the squad who is a known quantity.

"We are a good team with traits that no other country has. ... No one knows what will happen and we have the possibility."

North Korea, who play fellow qualifiers Greece in a friendly later on Tuesday, open their World Cup campaign against the Brazilians on June 15 in Johannesburg.

(Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Beijing; Editing by Peter Rutherford)