March 31, 2005 17:42
An angry mob of thousands of furious North Korean football fans rioted throwing chairs and water bottles at referees and Iranian players following North Korea's 0-2 loss to Iran in a World Cup qualifying match at Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung Stadium on Wednesday.
Most international press quoted Iran coach Branko Ivankovic as saying, "The atmosphere on the pitch and outside the pitch was not a sports atmosphere. It was a very dangerous situation."
Agencies gave detailed accounts of the violence, describing it as a "rare glimpse of mob violence in North Korea" (Reuters) and explaining, "News of outbreaks of public unrest in North Korea, which is one of the most isolated nations in the world, rarely reach the international media" (AFP).
Japan is paying close attention since it is due to play a June 8 match in North Korea. Japan's Sankei Sports quoted Japan Football Association Vice President Ogura Junji it was likely the AFC would give North Korea a ticking off for the riot during the Iran game. Ogura said if the AFC gets an inspection report that raises security issues at North Korean stadiums, it would likely give Pyongyang a warning, and the venue could be changed.
Nikkon Sports said, "Dozens of fans invaded the pitch where Iran coach Ivankovic was being interviewed, causing an extraordinary situation in which the press conference was suspended."
The Sankei went one step further.
"With North Korea suffering three straight losses and their passion for making the World Cup finals for the first time in 40 years dying, they have nothing more to lose... They will risk their lives and come out attacking in their home game against Japan on June 8."
The Japanese media is reacting sensitively because Japan, in second place in Group B with a 2-1 record, needs a win against North Korea on June 8 in order to safely earn a ticket for the World Cup finals in Germany.
Ultimately, analysts say the Japan Football Association also has the hidden intention of using the security issue to pressure the AFC to change the venue from North Korea, with which Japan has a rather particular relationship politically.
In an interview Thursday with Football Asia.com, Iran's coach said he was certain that North Korea would be punished by the AFC for the riot.
Meanwhile, the North's Korea Central Broadcasting reported Thursday that fans at Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung Stadium protested bad calls by the referees during the qualifier. "Yesterday, there was a football match between the Korean team and the Iranian team. The Iranian team won by a score of 2-0," it said.
"As soon as the match ended, all the fans were furious at bad calls by the Syrian referee and assistant referees and expressed strong protest." Korea Central TV broadcast an edited recording of about an hour of the Iran match at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.
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