World Cup Part 2: North Korea v Portugal, 1966

PAUL MCPARLAN recalls the day when, as a 10-year-old, he attended the Portugal v North Korea game at Everton’s Goodison Park

It is three o’clock on Saturday 23 July 1966, and a crowd of 100,000 are at Wembley to watch England play Argentina. It is the only quarter-final being shown live on television as all four games are kicking off at the same time. Yet, the crowd are more interested in checking the Wembley scoreboard than watching the host nation as they are transfixed by the news coming through almost every five minutes from Goodison Park. The television commentary team know they are screening the wrong match.

Over 51,000 fans pack into Goodison Park. I am one of them, a ten-year-old urchin struggling to get a decent view of the match. It is Portugal against North Korea and I am about to witness the game of the World Cup and possibly the game of my life. Portugal have won their three matches to top Group C and in Eusebio, the twenty-four-year-old born in Mozambique, they have the best player in the tournament.

North Korea really should not be here. The United Kingdom Government does not recognize their existence and are still officially at war with them. Yet already the North Korean team have won over fans across the North East with their verve, tenacity and determination and incredibly, after drawing with Chile and then beating Italy in Group D, they have made it to the quarter-finals. From rank 100-1 outsiders to being just two games away from a World Cup Final.

Goodison Park is intrigued by the appearance of this team from nowhere and expect a routine victory for Portugal, but they are about to witness a game that that will live in the memory forever. As the teams line up, the contrast in physicality is immense. The Portuguese tower over their Asian opponents and appear to be the epitome of footballing thoroughbreds. The Koreans look resplendent in their white shirts which only appear to accentuate their lack of height and body weight.

The North Koreans attack the Gwladys Street End from the kick-off. Within a minute they are sensationally ahead as Pak Seung Zin drives home from the edge of the box with a fierce shot into the top corner before the Portuguese keeper Pereira has time to react. He is mobbed by his teammates. The dazzling pace and attacking elan of the Koreans take the Portuguese, who are struggling to get a touch, by surprise.

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Portugal appear to have regained a degree of composure when, on 22 minutes, their goalkeeper flaps at a cross from Yang Sung-Kook and Li Dong-Woon puts Korea two ahead. Spectators look around in disbelief: is this really happening? The crowd loves it – they start chanting “We want three”.

The Koreans had shown during the group stage how much the support from the home fans inspired them. Now they are uplifted by a crescendo of noise as the roar of “Korea, Korea” echoes around the stadium. Three minutes later, Jang Sung -Kook sets off on a mazy run into the area and lashes home the third goal. Delirious fans begin shouting “We want four”. At this stage, most teams would have closed the match down but incredibly the Koreans continue to launch wave after wave of attack. It was to prove to be their undoing.

Single-handedly Eusebio drags his country back into the game. Deploying his immense physical power, he brushes off the challenges of three defenders to pull a goal back within three minutes. He does not celebrate, instead grabbing the ball from the net. Portugal’s tactics are apparent – give the ball to Eusebio. The play switches from end-to-end but, two minutes before half time, Eusebio muscles his way through the defence and is brought to ground by a last-ditch tackle. He converts the penalty. The half-time whistle sounds and North Korea’s lead has been cut to 3-2.

There is no stopping Eusebio as the opposition begin to flag. On 56 minutes he bursts into the area and fires a shot into the corner of the net to level the tie. Thirty minutes remain, but there is only going to be one winner now as the Koreans seemingly have no answer for Eusebio. They try to harass him, but he swats them away. They try to tackle him, but they just bounce off his muscular torso. Three minutes later he picks up the ball on the half way line and darts towards the area. He survives one challenge, but the second despairing lunge grounds him. Penalty. He steps up. He scores. Eusebio 4-3 North Korea.

Ten minutes from time Jose Augusto seals the outcome with the fifth goal for Portugal. At the end, the North Koreans slump to the floor but the crowd continue to roar “Korea, Korea”. As Eusebio leaves, the stadium rises as one to applaud him. They know they have seen a master at work. And for me, to this day, I have never seen a better game of football.

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