|Three Japanese-born players qualified to play for North Korea at the World Cup [EPA]
J-League striker Jong Tae-Se, nicknamed "Asia's Wayne Rooney", will lead a contingent of three Japanese-born Koreans to boost North Korea's World Cup bid.
The three ethnic Koreans, including J-League players, Omiya Ardija midfielder Ahn Yong-Hak and Vegalta Sendai midfielder Ryang Yong-Gi, all qualified to play for the country, a group affiliated to North Korea's national football association said on Tuesday.
Jong of Kawasaki Frontale and Ahn helped the communist nation qualify for their second World Cup finals - the first in 44 years since they upset Italy with a single-goal victory to reach the quarter-finals in England.
Kim Jong-Hun, North Korea's coach, has set his initial target at a quarter-final spot in South Africa although his country is locked in a "Group of Death" with five-time champions Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast.
"We're brimming with confidence. We're much stronger than before," Kim told the Tokyo-based Korean daily Choson Sinbo before his team, minus the J-Leaguers, left Pyongyang on Saturday for pre-World Cup training in Europe.
"The first goal for us is to make it to the quarter-finals. We will put on strong fights against any football powers," he said.
The coach said the North Korean team is now equipped with greater physical strength, skill and tactics, thanks to their year-long training that included more than 10 competitions abroad.
North Korea, known for its tight, defensive football, will be taking two other foreign-based players - Hong Yong-Jo, a striker for Russian Premier League team FC Rostov, and Kim Kuk-Jin, a midfielder for FC Wil of the second-tier Swiss league.
Captain Hong Yong-Jo told the daily: "The opening match against Brazil will be crucial. If we beat the favourites, it will be a great boon to our morale. If that happens, anything can happen."
The North Korean squad will play warm-up matches against Paraguay in Switzerland on May 15, Greece on May 23 in Austria, and Nigeria on June 6 in South Africa, Choson Sinbo reported.
'Seizing the chance'
The report said 21 other players began training in Switzerland on Monday but it did not list the World Cup lineup.
The J-League trio will leave for Switzerland on May 20 to join the main squad, the Korean Football Association in Japan said.
"I will shoot and finish whenever I get a pass," the 26-year-old Jong told the Choson Sinbo's Japanese-language edition.
"Even if I am blocked by defenders for 89 minutes, there may be one minute in which a loose ball comes. I will seize on that chance."
Jong, whose combative style has prompted South Korean media to liken him to the England and Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, has scored 12 goals in 20 matches for North Korea since his international debut in 2007.
He was born in Nagoya as a third-generation Japan-based Korean. "Now I am selected to fight on the stage of dreams which I have chased since my childhood," Jong said in a statement released by his J-League club. "I will fight for the country and for Kawasaki Frontale as well."
Ahn, 31, has played for North Korea since 2002 and even plied his trade in South Korea with K-League clubs Busan and Suwon.