‘Waging a war’: South Korea’s football qualifier in Pyongyang

‘Waging a war’: South Korea’s football qualifier in Pyongyang

South Korea’s national football team has described its World Cup qualifier against North Korea in Pyongyang as a “rough” match played under strange conditions that may be raised with FIFA, football’s world governing body.

The historic match ended in a stalemate on Tuesday at the Kim Il Sung Stadium, where there were no spectators present.

The match was also under a media blackout, and the South Koreans first spoke to journalists about the playing conditions upon their return to Seoul on Thursday.

“The opponents were very rough, and there were moments when very abusive language was exchanged,” Tottenham striker Son Heung-min said.

“It was hard to concentrate on the match because you were thinking about avoiding injury first … It’s an accomplishment that we returned from a game like that without injury,” Son told reporters at Incheon International Airport.

The team’s general manager Choi Young-il said the South Korean football association, known as KFA, will discuss whether to submit a complaint to FIFA over what he described as North Korea’s failure to properly accommodate the visiting team and decision to block media and spectators.

North Korea kept out South Korean media and spectators and refused a live broadcast from the stadium.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who attended the match, issued a statement on Tuesday saying he was “disappointed to see there were no fans in the stands”.

“We were surprised by this and by several issues related to its live broadcast and problems with visas and access for foreign journalists,” Infantino said.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency published only a brief match report, saying the “game of attacks and counterattacks ended in a draw 0:0”.

North Korea did provide a DVD recording of the match to South Korean football officials, but South Korean TV channel KBS cancelled plans to broadcast the game on tape delay because of the video’s quality, according to the broadcaster and KFA.

“We probably won’t get another video from North Korea,” said Park Jae-sung, a KFA official, adding the video was unfit for South Korea’s high-definition TV services.

‘Waging a war’

Choi, a former defender who played for South Korea during the 1994 World Cup held in the United States, said the North Koreans played like they were “waging a war”, violently swinging their elbows and hands and driving into their opponents knee-first when competing for balls in the air.

“I have never seen something like this in soccer before,” he said.

When they weren’t playing or training, South Korean players and staff were holed up at the Koryo Hotel, which appeared to have no other guests, Choi said. They had no outside contact, having left their mobile phones at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing before entering the North.

Choi said North Korean officials didn’t inform the South Korean team the match would be played in an empty stadium.

“We got there an hour and a half early and kept thinking that the gate will open and a crowd of 50,000 would pour in,” Choi said. “But the gate never opened until the end.”

The game was 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.

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