Kathmandu: DPR Korea confirmed their place in the 2012 AFC Challenge Cup semi-finals by defeating Tajikistan 2-0 on Sunday with a performance that justified the defending champions' status as one of the pre-tournament favourites.
A goal in each half from Pak Nam-chol and Jang Kuk-chol gave Yun Jong Su's side their second 2-0 victory of the campaign following their opening win over the Philippines.
Tajikistan overcame a sluggish first-half to defeat India 2-0 in their opening match and gain a modicum of payback for their defeat in the 2008 final in their opening match and again the Tajiks were also slow out of the blocks at the start of an entertaining first-half.
Cheered on by a small, but impressively noisy, band of supporters the North Koreans took a sixth minute lead when Pak Nam-chol was given too much time and space by the Tajikistan defence, allowing the midfielder to fire low past keeper Alisher Tuychiev.
DPR Korea dominated the opening exchanges and saw Pak Song-chol's powerful volley blocked on its way to the goal three minutes later before goal-scorer Pak flashed an effort wide after a neat flick from Jang Myong-il on the quarter-of-an-hour mark.
A minute later it was the Tajiks turn to threaten when a Fatkhullo Fatkhuloev strike hit the underside of the crossbar before the ball was eventually hacked away following a goalmouth scramble.
With 30 minutes gone Alexey Negmatov's foul on Jon Kwang-ik gave the Koreans a free-kick on the left which was curled invitingly to the back post where Pak Song-chol's header drew a point-blank save from Tuychiev.
DPR Korea could have gone into the interval with a two-goal cushion but Pak Song-chol's was off target with an acrobatic effort after connecting with Pak Nam-chol's miscued attempt to chip the keeper three minutes before the break.
Eight minutes after the restart an unmarked Jong Il-gwan should have extended DPR Korea's lead but misplaced his downward header before the forward's drive from a tight angle was blocked by Tuychiev a minute later.
Substitute Jang Kuk-chol had the ball in the net in the 67th minute but Kuwait referee Yousef Al Marzouq ruled out the effort for what appeared to be a foul on the Tajik keeper.
After displaying some nimble footwork Jong Il-gwan had another effort at goal but his low effort in the 73rd minute flashed wide of the right upright before the North Korean got the second their performance deserved when Jang Kuk-chol overcame a poor first touch to create space and beat Tuychiev from inside the penalty are with four minutes left on the clock.