The Korea Herald


Koreas meet in historic World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang


Published : Oct. 15, 2019 - 17:51

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A historic World Cup qualifying soccer match in Pyongyang between North Korea and South Korea has been cast into media darkness in the South, with the North keeping out rival reporters and spectators and refusing a live broadcast from Kim Il-sung Stadium.

The South Korean soccer association, known as the KFA, sent two staff members to the North Korean capital to watch Tuesday's game, but ruled out live text updates on its website because of uncertainties in internet connection, said association official Park Jae-sung.

The KFA recommended that fans watch its social media accounts, where it planned to post any game information its employees manage to send from Pyongyang. Park said if that doesn't work out, the KFA would have to relay updates from the Asian Football Confederation or FIFA.

(Yonhap) (Yonhap)

"We have no idea how things will be at the stadium," Park said.

North Korea has agreed to provide a recording of the match to South Korean officials before they leave the North, which would allow South Korean networks to play the game on tape delay, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry, which deals with affairs with the North.

The game is the first competitive meeting between the national men's teams in the North Korean capital, although the North hosted the South in a friendly in 1990.

North Korea in recent months has severed virtually all cooperation with the South amid a standstill in nuclear negotiations with the United States, and repeatedly ignored the South's calls for discussions on media coverage issues and allowing South Korean cheer squads for Tuesday's game.

"There was no response from the North, and we find this regrettable and sad," Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min said Monday.

South Korea's two Group H matches against North Korea will be critical in qualifying for the World Cup. The second match between the Koreas is scheduled for June 4 in South Korea.

South Korea has a stronger team on paper, led by Tottenham striker Son Heung-min. But for Tuesday's game, North Korea will have the home advantage with the 50,000-capacity Kim Il Sung Stadium expected to be full and entirely devoid of South Korean fans.

Group H also includes Lebanon, Turkmenistan and Sri Lanka.

While the atmosphere at the stadium will likely be intimidating, that might not affect a South Korean team built around players who have experienced hostile environments in European soccer, said Kim Hyun-tae, who was South Korea's goalkeeping coach at the World Cups in 2002 and 2010.

Kim said he is worried more about the stadium's artificial grass, where balls bounce and travel differently than normal natural grass surfaces.

"It requires different touches in trapping, passing, shooting, crossing and avoiding tackles and players may find it difficult to adjust on the fly," Kim said. "This may also expose our players to larger risk of injuries, especially if North Korea decides to be physical."

During qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, North Korea chose to host games against South Korea at a neutral venue in Shanghai, refusing to hoist the South Korean flag and play the South Korean anthem on its soil.

The fate of the game in Pyongyang was uncertain until last month when the governing body of Asian soccer informed the KFA that the North decided it would host the qualifier as scheduled. (AP)