North Korea, Japan Ordered To Play World Cup Match Without Fans

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February 9, 2005. North Korean youths wave their national flags before the 2006 FIFA World Cup Asian qualifying round match in Saitama, a suburb of Tokyo. PHOTO: AFP/Toru Yamanaka

SEOUL—The international soccer governing body FIFA has ordered North Korea to play its World Cup qualifying match against Japan in an empty stadium in Bangkok on June 8, as punishment for crowd trouble earlier this year.

The statement said North Korea's soccer association had failed to appeal in time an April 29 decision to punish the country for crowd trouble during March qualifiers against Bahrain and Iran in Pyongyang, and FIFA’s decision to set the next game behind closed doors at a neutral venue “is now final.”

North Korea had no immediate reaction, but its official media slammed FIFA for its recommended penalty last week. The Japanese Football Association expressed relief, but its South Korean counterpart regretted the decision.

I am worried about the absence of spectators. It is going to be a very strange match where a goal does not wow the stands,

Earlier, a group of South Korean lawmakers petitioned FIFA to let their country host the match. Chung Bong-ju of the governing Uri Party told reporters that 121 legislators had joined the petition.

“Now that the final decision to play the game in Bangkok has been made we must get on and prepare properly," Japan Football Association (JFA) chairman Saburo Kawabuchi said. "Playing in an empty stadium will be a new experience but it's down to us to make sure we're ready to deal with that."

"I am worried about the absence of spectators. It is going to be a very strange match where a goal does not wow the stands," Kawabuchi told a news conference. "The motivation of players is directly linked to crowd responses to plays," he added, proposing that a huge public-viewing television screen be set up near the Bangkok venue for Japanese supporters.

FIFA ordered the Japan tie to be played in a neutral country following crowd trouble during North Korea's 2-0 defeat by Iran on March 30. Angry fans hurled bottles, rocks, and chairs in protest at a late sending-off in the game at Kim Il Sung Stadium.

Troops were also called in to restore order as home fans prevented Iran's team bus from leaving the stadium after the game in a rare display of public disorder in the secretive communist state.

Monday's FIFA announcement said the measure also took into account unspecified incidents during North Korea's 2-1 home defeat to Bahrain on March 26.

North Korea lost both games, jeopardizing its hopes of making it to the World Cup for the first time since 1966, when it reached the quarterfinals. The national team is playing internationals for the first time since 1994.

Tensions run high between North Korea and Japan, notably over Pyongyang’s admitted abduction of Japanese nationals in past decades.


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