N.Korean Footballers Train Out of Sight in S.Africa

      June 04, 2010 12:00

      The North Korean national football team, which made it to the World Cup for the first time in 44 years, currently trains in the slum township of Tembisa in the East Rand region of Gauteng province of South Africa, about 30 minutes by car from Johannesburg.

      At the heart of Tembisa stands the Makulong Stadium, where the North Korean team has been training since Wednesday. A security guard in the front gate of the stadium told the reporter, "Nobody except for the North Korean team can enter the stadium, and the team is scheduled to arrive at 5 p.m." The walls of the stadium are spiked with barbed wire.

      When the reporter took pictures over the barbed wire, security guards tried to confiscate the camera and threatened to call the police. When asked if this was because of a request from the North Korean team he said yes. Instead the reporter moved to the four-star Protea Hotel 30 minutes by car from the stadium in Midrand, where the North Korean team is staying. There three large North Korean flags were hanging in the lobby, and some 20 police officers were on duty.

      A North Korean official accompanying the North Korean football team takes a photo with a Samsung camera out of a window in Johannesburg, South Africa on Tuesday. /AP-Yonhap

      Around 4:20 p.m., North Korean coach Kim Jong-hun appeared in the lobby. When the reporter asked him how training is going, Kim tried to avoid answering by saying, "We aren't supposed to talk in this place." Players also tried avoid eye contacts with the reporter.

      Players were dressed in Italian brand Legea, which signed a  four-year sponsorship contract with the team, but ace player Jong Tae-se was conspicuous thanks to his black Nike uniform. When the reporter asked him how he felt, Jong, who is third-generation Korean Japanese, replied with a bright smile, "I will keep my promise of scoring one goal per game. In our group, it will be Brazil and North Korea who will advance."

      Ahn Young-hak, who is also Korean Japanese, said, "I want to surprise the world" as he boarded the bus. Although the reporter followed the bus to the stadium, the steel doors were firmly shut once all North Korean players were inside.

      The sun began to set at 6 p.m., since it is winter in South Africa. The North Koreans apparently choose night training in a crime-ridden district to maintain their splendid isolation from the world.

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