TOKYO (AP) Japan beat North Korea 1-0 Saturday with a 93rd-minute goal in the East Asian Championship amid a backdrop of serious tensions between the two nations.
There were doubts the game could even go ahead with North Korean nationals currently banned from entering Japan as part of the sanctions against Pyongyang.
Special visas were issued at the Japanese embassy in Beijing earlier in the week.
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Yosuke Ideguchi scored in injury time to deliver hosts Japan victory in front of more than 20,000 fans, including pro-Pyongyang ethnic Koreans living in Japan, who chanted and waved North Korean flags.
The championship features Japan, China, North Korea and South Korea. It comes amid a backdrop of North Korea performing a series of missile tests in recent months and South Korea and the United States undertaking military exercises.
Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic was keen to promote the peace-making role of soccer.
”The world is strange but by playing football we can enjoy the best parts of it, which are joy and friendship,” the Bosnian said.
”We are not here to talk about politics. Through football we like to communicate friendship and good feeling. The players of both teams greeted each other and shook hands, and I shook hands with the opponent too.”
North Korea’s Pak Myong Song missed a clear chance from a one-on-one in the 70th.
North Korea’s Norwegian coach, Jorn Andersen, credited the amount of time he is given to work with his squad as key to its impressive showing.
”I have the advantage that I can work with the national players every day, twice a day and we work very hard on the physical parts and the running parts, as well as the tactical parts,” said the 54-year-old Anderson.