Japan Beats North Korea in Qualifying Match, in Empty Stadium

Thai police officers overlook an empty football stadium before a Worldcup game Photo: AFP

BANGKOK—Japan beat North Korea 2-0 Wednesday in a controversial qualifying match for the 2006 World Cup from which fans were banned as a penalty for North Korean rioting at a previous match against Iran.

North Korea’s assistant coach Pak Jong-Hun told reporters his team had underperformed because of the weather in steamy Bangkok.

“The biggest problem was, due to the weather, our players didn't play their full capacity,” he said.

“That was the fundamental problem today,” he said, adding that the North Korean side had played only 70 percent as well as he had expected.

Japan’s Brazilian-born coach, Zico, said the North Korean side was “good in defense and tackles… Bangkok was more difficult because of the weather, and this game being without spectators.”

“I'm pleased with the mental condition of my players. As they were mentally tough, they played good tactics,” Zico said. “I'm disappointed that the fans could not come to see the game. FIFA should have come up with another solution against North Korea.”

North Korean penalized

FIFA, soccer's world governing body, last month ordered the match, originally scheduled for the North Korean capital Pyongyang, to be played in Thailand in Supachalasai Stadium, which was closed to the public.

The decision came because fans in North Korea rioted after a World Cup qualifying loss to Iran at Pyongyang.

The biggest problem was, due to the weather, our players didn't play their full capacity... That was the fundamental problem today.

The match ended on a spiteful note when Korea's Kim Yong Su was red carded in the last minute of the game for kicking Tanaka Makoto.

A number of Japanese fans rooting for North Korea left work early to watch the match on television.

One ethnic Korean Japanese restaurateur, who asked to be identified only his surname, Tokuyama, in Saitama Prefecture, said he served only two customers Wednesday evening.

“It looks everyone went home to watch TV,” he said.

With one qualifier remaining, Japan tops Group B with 12 points. Iran follows with 10 points and needs only a draw in its match later Wednesday against Bahrain to advance to Germany in 2006. Bahrain trails on four points while North Korea has no points.

Japan hosts Iran in its final qualifying match on August 17, while North Korea travels to Bahrain.

The top two teams in each Asian group automatically qualify for the 32-team final tournament, while the top third-place teams play off for a chance at another spot.


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