North Korea boss preparing for 'not bad' Malaysia in Asian Cup qualifier
North Korea head coach Jorn Andersen insists he is expecting a tough match when his side finally play Malaysia in 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifying in October.
The game was originally scheduled to take place in March before geopolitical tensions and security concerns saw it postponed. The match was then rescheduled for June 8, but again put back, with issues still unresolved.
However, former Norway striker Andersen admits he has been continuing to monitor his opponents in anticipation of the Group B qualifier finally taking place on Oct. 5.
"I have been studying the Malaysian team closely since we were first scheduled to play against them," Andersen told ESPN FC. "I have seen several videos and they are not a bad team.
"I have noted that they have a new coach from Portugal [Nelo Vingada], and this is a good move for them. In the last match against Lebanon in Malaysia, they were leading 1-0 for a long time before conceding two goals at the end. It will be a tough game for us there."
Neither side got their campaigns off to the best start, with the Koreans drawing 1-1 in Hong Kong, while Malaysia lost 2-1 at home to the Lebanese. Andersen insists that all four teams in the group can qualify, though his country arguably looks to the have the strongest squad.
"I don't think we are favourites," said Andersen. "In our group, I believe that all four teams are capable of taking the first two places. Of course, our big goal is to get to the Asian Cup and we are preparing very hard for it."
Andersen is in Bangkok as his side participate in the King's Cup in Thailand -- an annual four-team tournament. He sees such games as vital in preparing to face the likes of Malaysia in competitive action. However, given that he has travelled with a weakened squad, he acknowledges that the taking part may be more important than the winning.
"For us, it's always interesting to get out and play some matches," Andersen said. "Last year, we travelled around 10 times to play matches around Asia and East Asia.
"We played against the Philippines, we played against Vietnam, we played in Malaysia against Iraq and in China against the U.A.E. It's always interesting to go out and play against Asian teams.
"But as this is not a FIFA period, we are without almost 15 players. The best Europe and Japan-based players could not come and our five best young players are not with us because they are playing in a tournament in Pyongyang.
"We are more or less here with the second team, but it's not a bad side. It will be very hard to win the tournament, but we will do our best."
Neverthless, Andersen has been happy with the progress of his side since he took charge last year. He hopes this will show when they resume their Asian Cup campaign at home to Lebanon in August.
"I have been working for the DPR for one year now and the players are stronger than before -- physically, technically and tactically," said Andersen.
"Before, they had good players, and we are now trying to formulate a good plan. I see positive steps every week and every month and I am very happy to work with this team because they are learning very quickly."
Given that Lebanon have made a fast start with two wins from two, it could come down to a battle between the North Koreans and Malaysia for the second qualifying spot for U.A.E. 2019.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK