TOKYO (AFP) – North Korea fell to a 1-0 defeat by South Korea on the football pitch yesterday in a full-blooded international given added spice by simmering political tensions between the two countries.
An own goal by defender Ri Yong-Chol 25 minutes from time in Tokyo proved the difference in a tempestuous East Asian championship clash bristling with pent-up emotion.
The result dashed any faint hopes North Korea had of winning the four-team tournament after they were sunk by a deflected late goal in a 1-0 loss to hosts Japan at the weekend.
“It was a special game for us – special for the players and for the country,” North Korea coach Jorn Andersen told reporters.
“I think for the first 30 minutes the players were a little bit nervous. They weren’t as free, like the game against Japan,” added the former Norway striker.
“We were unlucky to lose against Japan but I’m less satisfied today. I don’t know what the whole reason is that we didn’t play well.”
Studiously avoiding eye contact in the tunnel before kickoff, both sets of players belted out their national anthems with gusto before a grudge match played out against the backdrop of Pyongyang’s recent missile launches and spiralling war of words with Washington.
North Korea tore into their cousins with forward Kim Yu-Song booked for elbowing South Korean captain Jang Hyun-Soo in an early flashpoint.
But it was the South who looked the likeliest to score, despite missing several key players such as Tottenham forward Son Heung-Min.
Lee Chang-Min fired a shot just wide with the best chance of the first half, and then a snap shot from striker Jin Seon-Guk rattled the post.
The match was decided by the scrappiest of goals as a Kim Min-Woo cross ricocheted off centre-back Ri and trickled into the net.