North Korea's World Cup team humiliated after early elimination

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North Korea's World Cup 2010 squad was subjected to public humiliation on their return to Pyongyang earlier this month following their poor performances in South Africa.

The hapless players was forced onto a stage at the People's Palace of Culture and subjected to criticism from the country's sports minister, as 400 government officials, students and journalists watched the six-hour ordeal, according to the US-based Radio Free Asia.

Only Jong Tae-se and An Yong-hak were spared a dressing down as they flew directly to Japan, their country of birth and where they play club football.

In true Stalinist style, the players were forced to publicly reprimand their coach Kim Jong-hun, who is thought to have been expelled from the ruling Workers' Party of Korea and forced to work, unpaid, as a builder.

The coach was accused of betraying Kim Jong-un, the son and heir of the regime's "dear leader", Kim Jong-il.

North Korea were always favourites to lose their first three games after being drawn against Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast in a so-called "group of death".

But after narrowly lost their opening match to Brazil, the regime decided to televise the second group game against Portugal in what is believed to be the country's first live sports broadcast.

However, the few North Koreans with access to a TV had to watch the team suffer a 7-0 thrashing, a defeat some reports attributed to orders by Kim Jong-il to play a more attacking style.

Still, the squad could have been treated even more harshly than they were.

The Chosun Ilbo newspaper quoted a South Korean intelligence source saying: "In the past, North Korean athletes and coaches who performed badly were sent to prison camps.

"Considering the high hopes North Koreans had for the World Cup, the regime could have done worse things to the team than just reprimand them for their ideological shortcomings."

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