The South Korean men’s national football team is likely to face opponents without any spectators rooting for them at a World Cup qualifier to be held next Tuesday at Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang, as North Korea hasn’t granted visits by South Korean pool reporters and broadcasting crew.
“It was overwhelming to be surrounded by the audience of 50,000 shouting out loud,” said Yoon Deok-yeo, a former coach of the South Korean women’s national football team, who headed to the North’s capital when the Asian Football Confederation’s Women’s Asian Cup qualifying tournament was held in 2017. Holding gold paper trumpets and silver castanets, North Korean audience cheered by singing songs and doing the waves. Their loud chants were almost deafening, and they jeered whenever South Korean players got the ball.
A tussle or a threatening play of North Korean footballers is another thing to be careful of. “North Korea (No. 9 in FIFA rankings) is ranked higher than South Korea (No. 20 in FIFA rankings) in women’s football, but in men’s football, South Korea (No. 37) is ahead of the North (No. 121),” Yoon said. “North Korea is aware of this, so they could try to more violently tussle with South Korean players to not suffer a defeat in Pyongyang.”
Kim Il Sung Stadium, where portraits of the North’s founding leader and his son, Kim Jong Il, are hanged, is known to be a shrine of football in North Korea. “Ahead of the game, we shouted out loud ‘we never lose.’ Then the North Korean players also yelled ‘over our dead body,’” said Kim Jung-mi, who was a goalkeeper of the South Korean national team at the 2017 game in Pyongyang. “While a war of nerves is important, players also need to maintain cool-headedness.”
Yun-Cheol Jeong firstname.lastname@example.org