Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Friendly But Dull Korean Derby In Seoul



North Korean striker Jong Tae-se was battling with a throng of reporters in the bowels of Seoul World Cup Stadium after the 0-0 2010 World Cup qualification draw. He was obviously not enjoying himself. No sooner had he been presented with a bunch of CDs from South Korea’s finest bands, he then had to field questions such as “Have you been to Lotte World?”

Jong Tae-se wishes he were somewhere else

The Kawasaki Frontale goalgetter grimaced, closed his eyes, and replied that he had not, in fact, seen the theme park in south-east of Seoul. “The People’s Rooney” is a star in the south and obviously unused to the attention of the press. The same could be same about defenders. Watched more carefully than before, Jong battled hard but got little change out of Lee Jung-soo and Kang Min-soo in the centre of the home backline.

It was a friendly occasion. The home fans applauded the northern anthem, one of the very few times it has been heard in public south of the 38th Parallel. The match was played in good spirits though at the end it was noticeable that, unlike at Shanghai on March 26, the DPRK players applauded their fans only and not the Red Devils. The Taeguk Warriors paid respects to both sets of fans.

shaking hands after another 0-0

The game was dull. North Korea preserved their impressive record of not conceding a goal in the group. The closest that came to being ruined was in the second half when Park Chu-young missed a glorious chance near the penalty spot. The visitors threatened little. Jung was quiet as was Hong Yong-jo. Ri Kwang Chon went the closest with a second half header.

Hong Yong-jo gets ready for a free-kick

That was about as exciting as it got the 48,000 fans in the stadium. 40,000 tickets had been sold relatively quickly but once it became apparent that both teams had already qualified for the next stage, not many more people thought that traveling to the north-west edge of Seoul for a game that would finish around 10 pm on a Sunday was something they wanted to do.

Lee Jung-soo (left) and Kim Do-heon

North Koreans can be surly visitors. At the airport, just a few ‘nice to meet yous’ and ‘we will do our bests’ and that is it as far as talking to the media is concerned until after the match itself. If you have a chance to chat to the DPRK’s overseas players individually, not possible while they are on national team duty in the south, they are friendly and full of questions but as a team, they give as much away off the pitch as the defence does on it.

Due to the unique political situation between the two nations, arranging such games is a headache, especially for officials south of the border. Multiple meetings take place in Kaesong to thrash things out but even just four days before kick-off, a KFA official told me that he thought the North Koreans would ‘probably’ come.

So, the thought of doing it all again would probably not be well-received in Seoul or Pyongyang. Maybe Jong will have to wait a little longer to sample the delights of ‘Lotte World.’

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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