North Korean team to be sent to work in coal mines. Maybe

It was reported Thursday that Kim Jong-il personally delivered tactics to North Korean players via "invisible" phones - a scurrilous press rumor at best. And, if an equally scurrilous press rumor is to be believed, the players aren't going to be needing invisible cellular technology where they're going:

Moon Ki-Nam, a former North Korean coach who fled the country in 2004, told AP: "The players and coach are rewarded with huge houses when they win.

"But they have to atone for losing by being sent to work in the coal mines."

Yes, for the heinous crime of losing 7-0 in a World Cup game and failing to uphold the fine footballing tradition of the state, the players will be banished to a life of subterranean manual labor. Bild continues:

"The families of the players have reportedly been under close observation in North Korea during the tournament. Well informed Japanese secret service circles believe that the danger of severe punishment for the players is very real."

Since the Democratic People's Republic hides itself behind a cloak of secrecy and terrifying displays of military prowess, it's very difficult to tell whether this punishment will actually happen, or whether they will be punished at all. Heck, we don't even know if they have coal mines.

As you can see, the coal mine story has been picked up by Europe's largest newspaper Bild, and it also featured in the South African press a few weeks ago. However, in light of the fact that qualification for the Asia Cup begins soon and star players like Jong Tae-se will return to the J-League, the harsh punishment seems pretty unlikely.

Dig a little further into the Internet's vast web of lies and half-truths, and you will see that the coal mining rumor was also reported following the 1966 World Cup, in which North Korea suffered a spectacular 5-3 loss to Portugal. The BBC quotes North Korean defector Shim Joo-il:

"People said that during their time in England they were drinking and womanizing," Mr Shim recalled.

"It was rumoured that some of them were sent to the coal mines as a punishment, and that was why our team never again achieved such greatness."

Contrary to Mr Shim's rumor, a BBC film crew were recently granted access to North Korea, where they located all seven surviving members of the original 1966 team, none of whom had coal-stained hands or the black lung. As for those members of the squad who are no longer with us? Well, who knows what happened to them ...

Image: Reuters

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