North Korea down Japan in a bad-tempered battle

North Korea downed bitter rivals Japan 1-0 on Tuesday in a bad-tempered World Cup qualifier dripping with political tensions.

Updated: November 15, 2011 16:48 IST
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Tokyo: North Korea downed bitter rivals Japan 1-0 on Tuesday in a bad-tempered World Cup qualifier dripping with political tensions.

Pak Nam Chol's 50th-minute strike avenged North Korea's September defeat in Tokyo and sparked jubilation in the seemingly capacity crowd at Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Stadium.

But the hosts' first win in qualifying came too late to save their campaign, which was killed off last week by Uzbekistan, while Asian champions Japan were already through to the last round with 10 points from their first three games.

And the match was a spiteful affair with Bahraini referee Nawaf Shukralla showing eight yellow cards to North Korean players including Jong Il Gwan, who was dismissed for his second caution on 77 minutes.

"It was a physical match in a tough environment," Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni told Japanese broadcaster TBS.

"I suppose our opponents were also feeling pressure for this match against Japan. Their spirit might have showed in the number of yellow cards they received," he said.

Japan's national anthem received a deafening round of boos before the game, while their team were also held up for four hours by a baggage and immigration inspection at a Pyongyang airport on Monday.

The Blue Samurai touched down in the capital of the hermit state around 3:00 pm, but were not able to leave the airport until after 7:00 pm, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun, Kyodo News and other major media on Tuesday.

Dour local officials warned players when they laughed, and confiscated items including bananas, chewing gum, and instant noodles, the Nikkan Sports and Sports Nippon newspapers reported.

The airport experienced three power outages during the lengthy process.

The team began their official practice around 8:00 pm -- three hours later than intended -- wearing hats and gloves in a bitterly cold Kim Il Sung Stadium, reports said.

Just 150 tickets were allocated for travelling Japanese fans at Tuesday night's game, with visitors being warned to tone down their usual spirited support to avoid potential conflict with the authorities.

The raucous crowd cheered wildly every time North Kore pushed forward, with one stand of the stadium regularly transformed into a living poster, as fans held up a red or yellow card to form a giant Korean-language slogan.

A Korean state broadcaster, whose 10 cameras were supplemented by two from the private Japanese TBS network, provided professional-looking coverage of the game but steered clear of anything other than the action on the pitch.

In 2005, angry North Korean fans rained stones, bottles and other debris on to the pitch and demonstrated in large numbers outside the stadium when their team lost a home World Cup qualifier against Iran.

Japan does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, which still demands reparations from its former colonial rulers for wartime atrocities.

The communist regime is widely despised in Japan, where feelings run high over the unresolved abductions in the 1970s and 80s of young Japanese citizens who were used to train Pyongyang's spies in Japanese language and customs.

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