North Korea will have to break their drought against rivals South Korea, if they are to hold aloft the East Asian Cup.
Kim Chang-bok’s men have never finished higher than fourth at the four-nation event, but opened their campaign with a shock 2-1 win over Japan – leaving them as title contenders heading to Sunday’s final matches in Wuhan.
South Korea, meanwhile, are the only unbeaten team in the tournament, after downing China and being pegged back to a 1-1 draw against Japan.
The South Koreans have not won the trophy since 2008, finishing as runner-up in 2010 and third in ’13.
The signs are good for coach Uli Stielike and his men, their only loss in 13 internationals this year coming to Australia after extra-time in the Asian Cup final in January.
And further to that, the southern neighbours have not lost to their northern counterparts since 1990 – the North’s only win over the South.
Stielike is set to reintroduce Lee Jae-sung, Kim Seung-dae and Lee Jong-ho to his starting XI.
The three will add attacking prowess to the South Koreans, who have not been held goalless since a 1-0 friendly result against Iran.
North Korea, similarly, have been prolific with goals in seven of their nine international outings this year, albeit being held in their 2-0 loss to China on Wednesday.
Stielike flagged his intentions to experiment in the tournament ahead of South Korea’s World Cup qualifiers in September and October, but a win over the old rivals would not only boost his public approval levels in Seoul – but also give them trophy-winning confidence.