World Cup 2002: The Mystery of the Red Mosquitoes

North Korea is the only Asian team to reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup. Its 1-0 win over Italy in 1966 is considered one of the great upsets in World Cup history.

North Korea's 1966 team is the great mystery team of the World Cup.

No one had heard of the North Koreans before arriving in England for the 1966 finals, and little has been heard of them since.

Some consider their 1-0 victory over Italy at Middlesbrough's Ayresome Park a bigger upset than the U.S. defeat of England by the same score in 1950, but Coach Myun Rhee Hyun's team was no fluke.

The North Koreans had been together since 1963, winning 29 of 30 preparation games.

To be sure, there was an element of luck to the win over Italy. Pak Doo Ik's goal in the 33rd minute came three minutes after Italian playmaker Giancamo Bulgarelli reinjured his knee, crippling the Italian attack. (There were no substitutions allowed until 1970.)

Italy's return home is one of the great legends of the World Cup. The Azzurri tried to sneak back home without being noticed. Authorities agreed to divert their charter flight. Instead of landing in Milan, the plane arrived in Genoa.

Someone calling himself "Cristoforo Colombo" tipped off Genovese fans, however. The Italian players were greeted by a hail of tomatoes and rotten eggs from disgusted fans at the airport.

If there were any doubts about North Korea's capabilities, it put them to rest in the quarterfinals against Portugal.

The Red Mosquitoes, as they were dubbed, took a 3-0 lead after 24 minutes, but Eusebio responded with four goals in 32 minutes, and the North Koreans went out, 5-3.

What became of the North Koreans is a matter of debate.

According to French author Pierre Rigoulot, an expert on North Korea politics, the players were jailed upon their return home. In his book "The Last Gulag," Rigoulot says North Korean leader Kim Il Sung blamed the collapse against Portugal on a night of partying after the Italy game, accusing them of being "bourgeois, reactionary, symbolic of a corrupt Western imperialism and not worthy of a Communist country."

Rigoulot says everyone except Pak was sentenced to 20 years in an internment camp. Pak was sick and skipped the party.

To refute the charges, North Korea recently displayed Myun and the seven surviving players from the '66 team, all decked out in medals.

North Korea never again played in the World Cup, but the '66 team remains the only Asian team to ever make the final eight at the World Cup.

by Soccer America Managing Editor Paul Kennedy

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications