Cagliari striker, 18, makes history
Scores against Torino
Is Serie A's first North Korean goalscorer
Cagliari striker Han Kwang-Song made history Sunday, becoming the first North Korean player to score in Italy’s Serie A, just a week on from his professional debut.
Han, a native of North Korea’s capital Pyongyang, had only eight minutes of regulation time remaining when Cagliari coach Massimo Rastelli sent him into the fray during Sunday’s 3-2 defeat by Torino.
But that didn’t stop him beating England goalkeeper Joe Hart in the fifth minute of injury time, powering home a deft header and wheeling away in celebration.
“I am very happy with my first Serie A goal,” Han enthused, revealing his footballing hero is Cristiano Ronaldo.
“I thank the team, the manager and my teammates. I feel at home in Cagliari.”
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The 18-year-old only made his Serie A debut for the Sardinian club on April 2 – becoming the division’s first ever North Korean player when he replaced Marco Sau in the dying embers of the match.
He now has a goal to his name for Cagliari despite playing fewer than 20 minutes of top-flight football.
‘Eye for goal’
Han’s rise has been swift, but that’s not to say he hasn’t always shown considerable promise.
After captaining North Korea to glory at the Under-16 Asian Championship in 2014 – finishing second top scorer to Barcelona’s South Korean prodigy Lee Seung-woo – Han also shone at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, helping his country reach the round of 16 against the odds.
Those performances caught the attentions of European clubs and earned him a trial at Cagliari, over 9,000 kilometers (5,600 miles) from home.
There, playing for the Italian club’s Under-19 squad in March, he impressed immediately at the Torneo di Viareggio, an annual youth tournament held in Tuscany.
Cagliari didn’t waste any time putting a deal on the table, describing Han – the first Asian in the club’s 96-year history – as “a versatile striker with good dribbling, vision and an eye for goal.”
North Koreans abroad
Han may be hitting the headlines but he isn’t the first North Korean footballer to appear in European football.
Japanese-born North Korean Jong Tae-Se – famed for breaking down in tears during the national anthems ahead of North Korea’s match against Brazil at the 2010 World Cup – later appeared for VFL Bochum and FC Köln in Germany.
A North Korean has also played in the UEFA Champions League, with Pak Kwang-Ryong, 24, coming on for FC Basel against Romanian side FC Oțelul Galați in 2011 before appearing in the 3-3 draw against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Arguably Han has some way to go before he emulates the most famous North Korean player in Italian football history
Pak Doo-Ik, now 73, scored the goal that eliminated the Azzurri at the 1966 World Cup, sending his country into the quarterfinals for the first time ever.
To recognize his services, Pak was the first person to bear the Olympic torch as it passed through Pyongyang ahead of the Beijing 2008 Games.