November 16, 2011 10:49
North Korea beat Japan 1-0 at home in the third round of qualifying for the 2014 Brazil World Cup on Tuesday, handing coach Alberto Zaccheroni his first loss in 16 games. Pak Nam-chol scored the winning header five minutes into the second half.
The North now has six points from two wins and three losses. Japan, which has already secured a berth in the final qualifying round, has 10 points from three wins, one draw and one loss.
The 50,000-capacity Kim Il-sung Stadium was brimming with the fervent passion of the home crowd, despite the fact that the communist country cannot progress to the next round as it trails Japan and Uzbekistan by more points than it can make up by winning its final game.
It was Japan's first trip to Pyongyang in 22 years since 1989, when it lost 0-2 at the Yanggakdo Stadium in the qualifying round for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
On Tuesday, the home crowd seemed to overwhelm the Japanese players with its thunderous cheers. The stadium's artificial grass was another handicap. North Korea played its previous matches on natural grass at the Yanggakdo Stadium, but abruptly changed the venue prior to the game against Japan. Notably, no corporate sponsorship or advertising banners were lined up around the ground.
Among the supporters were 150 members of Ultra Nippon, the nickname for fans of the Japanese national football team. Tokyo ended all exchanges with Pyongyang when the latter carried out a missile test in 2006 and discouraged visits to the country by Japanese nationals. But Japan made an exception in this case and allowed the supporters to go and cheer the team.
When the two Koreas squared off during qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the North insisted that it could not accept having South Korea’s national anthem played, nor its national flag raised, in Pyongyang. This led to North Korea's home leg being played in Shanghai.
For this week's match against Japan, the North allowed the Japanese squad and supporters to enter the country, but under stringent conditions. It limited the number of journalists to 10 and supporters to 150, and prohibited mobile phones and laptops from being brought in.
After going through about four hours of immigration procedures, the Japanese players were already exhausted when they arrived in Pyongyang on Monday. Zaccheroni was initially turned away by an immigration officer because he did not fill in his entry card properly. The team also had all their snacks confiscated, including bananas, chewing gum and instant noodles.
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