Tensions are nothing new among North Korea and Japan. This was evident during the recent World Cup qualifying football match between the two teams, which was taken place in North Korea. The Japanese team played politely and had no penalties. North Korea played much less friendly, and earned seven yellow cards; one player was sent off..
VICTORY tastes sweet to North Koreans. As do bananas, chewing gum and instant noodles. When the Japanese national football team, Samurai Blue, arrived in Pyongyang on November 14th for their first match there in 22 years, its players' snacks were confiscated. Mobile phones and laptops were banned. And the team was delayed from entering the country for four hours, depriving it of valuable prematch training time. Guards chastised them from laughing and scolded one player for daring to lean against a wall, according to the Japanese media.
The sportsmanship on the pitch was just as welcoming. The Japanese anthem could barely be heard over the boos of about 50,000 North Koreans in the stadium. Only 150 tickets were reserved for Japanese fans, who sat in a corner, under the eyes of North Korean soldiers. The Japanese team played politely, receiving no penalties. Its host took a more rugged approach, earning seven yellow cards; one player was sent off by the referee (a Bahraini).
"It was a war zone itself," Japan's Asahi newspaper wrote about the stadium, which shook with the roar of frenzied fans. "If a Japanese supporter tried to stand up to cheer, a guard quickly noticed and pantomimed him to sit down," the paper said.
Tensions are commonplace among these neighbours. Japan imposes economic sanctions against North Korea in response to missile tests over its territory and the abductions of its citizens in the 1970s and 80s. North Korea demands compensation for Japan's brutal colonialism on the peninsula from 1910 to 1945. Neither country has diplomatic relations with the other.
But exchanges are not completely severed. A few years ago stolen bicycles from Japan were said to lap upon North Korean shores in return for matsutake mushrooms. That exchange is over, due to tough enforcement of sanctions. Yet war-minus-the-shooting is a regular feature—football matches, though often troubled, have been taking place all along. Though sometimes in third countries, since when the North Koreans were hosts they used to forbid Japan from wearing its national flag on team uniforms, or playing their country's anthem. The last time the teams competed in Pyongyang, in 1989, North Korea won 2-0. In September this year, the Samurai Blue beat North Korea 1-0 in Japan.
Back in Pyongyang this week, five minutes into the second half North Korea scored, eliciting a thunderous roar that lasted minutes. Running the field in all-red uniforms, the communist state beat the Blue Samurai 1-0, in what counted as a qualifying match for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Yet the game was entirely symbolic; Japan had already cleared for the qualifying finals while North Korea had already been eliminated. Accordingly, some of the top Japanese players took the day off.
Japan's national team is ranked 17th in the world, while North Koreans are 124th. So the dictatorship was taking no chances. It didn't broadcast the match live at home (as it was in Japan), but only after its team had won.
(Picture credit: AFP)
Did anyone watch this match? Thoughts/interesting discussion? I thought this article was interesting. Much respect to the Japanese for being classy (like they always are), and i guess given the circumstances they also had little choice...