IT IS 32 years since Pak Doo-ik secured a place in World Cup folklore with his goal in North Korea's 1-0 win over Italy at the 1966 World Cup, a result which is still regarded by many as the biggest upset in the tournament's history. Pak's 41st-minute strike at Roker Park sent North Korea into a quarter-final showdown with Portugal. It also put Italy out of the tournament and on the first flight back to Rome, where upon arrival they were pelted with fruit by their outraged fans. Back in England, the Koreans looked on course for another upset when they stormed into a 3-0 lead against Portugal inside the first 22 minutes at Goodison Park. Tactical naivete was to prove Korea's undoing however, and with Eusebio hammering in four goals, Portugal survived the scare to win 5-3 and advance to the last four. North Korea's performance in England remains arguably the best by an Asian side in the World Cup finals. Only one other Asian team - Saudi Arabia in 1994 - have ever made it out of the group phase. Asia's history at the World Cup has, so far, been a litany of defeat peppered with the odd shock victory. In 32 matches played by Asian teams at the World Cup since 1938, the continent has won three, drawn six and lost 23, statistics that will offer little comfort for South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Yet there is a feeling that 1998 might well be the tournament that puts Asian football on the map, and Saudi Arabia and South Korea have real hopes of getting beyond the first round. From east Asia, South Korea are probably the best bet to make it out of the first round. Having played in the past three finals, the Koreans are well used to the rough-and-tumble of tournament football and their recent record at the World Cup suggests that Group E foes Holland, Belgium and Mexico will need to be on their guard. In the USA four years ago, the Koreans eked out draws against both Spain and Bolivia before scaring Germany in a narrow 3-2 defeat. Whether their class of 1998 are good enough to emulate those performances is anybody's guess. Their form in qualifying was impressive - they were the first Asian side to book their place at the finals - but doubts over their ability to find the back of the net have dogged them during the build-up to France. Centre-forward Hwang Sun-hong, playing in his third World Cup, will be relied upon to find the goals along with youngster Choi Yong-soo. Under the shrewd direction of Cha Bum-kun, a wily coach who starred with Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen during the early 1980s, they will not want for tactical savoir-faire. Putting Cha's know-how into practice is another matter however, and if Korea play as badly as they did during a 3-1 defeat against Yugoslavia earlier this year, Holland are the sort of team who will run them ragged. Nevertheless, the Koreans will fancy their chances of picking up points against an ageing Belgium side and an unheralded Mexico team. And if they do, they could find themselves in the second round. 'We will sweat blood and tears to do well in France,' Cha said during a Korean training session earlier this year. They might well have to. An added pressure for Cha's men is the presence of Japan at the finals for the first time. It will be a massive embarrassment for South Korea if Japan manage to get out of the group stages at the first attempt, while Korea fail in what is their fourth attempt in a row since 1986. Such a scenario appears unlikely, however. To embarrass the Koreans, it seems certain that Japan will have to beat either Argentina or Croatia to advance to the second round. And although their shock 1-0 win over a strong Brazil team at the 1996 Olympics will be a warning to the heavyweights, the Japanese will do well to repeat that sort of performance in France. Japan's best chance of picking up three points appears to be in their final group game, against Jamaica in Lyon. There is plenty of talent in the Japanese ranks, with the exciting midfielder and Asian Player of the Year Hidetoshi Nakata likely to provide the cutting edge. But again there have to be questions as to whether Japan have the class to trouble either Argentina or the stylish Croatians. How the Japanese respond to the pressure of playing in their first World Cup will be critical. From west Asia, Saudi Arabia are preparing for France with high hopes of repeating their performances at USA 94, where they beat Belgium and Morocco to advance to the second round. The core of that side have been retained, and their two strikers Sami Al-Jaber and Saeed Owairan will not be out of place among the best forwards in the tournament. Saudi Arabia face France, Denmark and South Africa in Group C, which is one of the most difficult first-round groups to call. But with Owairan and Al-Jaber in attack, the Saudis - who are coached by Brazil's Carlos Alberto Parreira - will possess enough firepower to scare their opponents. Although Saudi Arabia's buildup received a nasty jolt when they crashed 6-0 to Norway, it should be pointed out that that result owed more to having their centre-half and goalkeeper sent off than Scandinavian goalscoring genius. A more accurate guide of Saudi Arabia's potential had been in their 0-0 draw with England three days earlier, when they were unlucky not to have snatched a win against Glenn Hoddle's men at Wembley. Joining Saudi Arabia from west Asia are Iran, who will arrive in France today in a state of disarray. Since qualifying for the finals with a gutsy 2-2 draw against Australia in December, Iran's preparations have gone from promising to bad to worse. Having reached the finals, Iran promptly sacked coach Valdir Vierra, the man who had led them there. Vierra's replacement, the highly experienced Croat Tomislav Ivic, lasted until May before being fired after watching his team crash 7-1 against AS Roma in a friendly. At 300-1 to win the tournament, the Iranians are not being given much chance of progressing out of Group F, where they meet Germany, Yugoslavia and the USA. But there is an edge of talent in the Iran side that could surprise their opponents. Strikers Ali Daei and Khodadad Azizi provide the class in attack, while in midfield Karim Bagheri is capable of unpicking the tightest of defences. All three players are currently plying their trade in the German Bundesliga, and Daei is reported to have signed for Bayern Munich. 'I am holding a diamond in my hands,' Ivic had said before his untimely dismissal. 'All it needs is some polish.'