S.Korean Footballers Arrive in Pyongyang for World Cup Qualifier

  • By Yun Dong-been

    October 15, 2019 10:33

    South Korea's national football team stepped on North Korean soil for the first time in 29 years on Monday for a World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang on Tuesday evening.

    According to the Korea Football Association, the team had a one-hour training session at Kim Il-sung Stadium before moving to the Koryo Hotel, where footballers and coaching staff are staying.

    The match is part of the second round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

    The South Korean team arrived at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport via Beijing and headed to Kim Il-sung Stadium for practice, where head coach Paulo Bento held a press conference with only five North Korean reporters attending. No South Korean reporters were allowed to come to the North to cover the event.

    South Korean footballers warm up for a training session at Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang on Monday. /Courtesy of the Korea Football Association

    The last time the two Koreas played in Pyongyang was in October 1990 when they faced off in an inaugural Dynasty Cup match.

    "North Korea are a rough and strong team," Bento said before leaving South Korea. "They can be incredibly fast and sharp on counterattacks. But I feel good [about the match], and will try to come back with good results."

    The match appears to be generating a lot of excitement in North Korea as well.

    "People [in Pyongyang] are so excited over the news that Son Heung-min and Lee Kang-in are coming," the Daily NK reported last week, citing a source. "People who are interested in football know the names of all the [famous] players."

    The online newspaper also reported that some people are trying to get tickets even through scalpers, hoping to see South Korea's Son, of Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League, and North Korean striker Han Kwang-song, who play for Juventus in Italy's Serie A.

    According to a source in Pyongyang, "People are spending 50,000 North Korean won [about US$6], which can buy 10 kg of rice, to grab tickets." 

    Meanwhile, South Korean football fans' hopes of watching the Inter-Korean World Cup match live evaporated on Monday as negotiations between South Korea's broadcasting networks and North Korea, which had been difficult from the outset, finally collapsed.

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