North Korea beats Japan in World Cup qualifier
In a game that was more about politics than the result, North Korea beat Japan 1-0 in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, with Pak Nam Chol scoring the winner early in the second half.
Playing before a capacity crowd at Kim Il Sung Stadium, Pak put North Korea a 1-0 lead in the 50th minute with an angled header beyond the reach of Japan goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa.
The match had no bearing on the outcome of the group - Japan has already qualified for the next stage while North Korea can not make it - but there is always tension in this fixture between two nations that do not have diplomatic ties. This was the first time the Japanese men's team had played on North Korean soil since 1989.
That tension bubbled over at times, with several shoving skirmishes breaking out. North Korea had Jong Il Gwan sent off in the 77th minute for an aggressive tackle on Atsuto Uchida.
The result ended the unbeaten run of Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni, who took over from Takeshi Okada after the 2010 World Cup.
''It was a very tough atmosphere for us,'' Zaccheroni said. ''The opposition was very physical, especially their forwards. We were already able to achieve our goal of qualifying but the opposition just had one thing to play for today.''
North Korea controlled the flow of play against a Japan team resting several of its regulars.
Tadanari Lee appeared to have equalized for Japan late in the second half but the goal was disallowed when Mike Havenaar was judged to be offside.
The North Koreans then held on through four minutes of stoppage time before the stadium erupted, celebrating a victory that restores some national pride after a disappointing qualifying campaign by the team that made last year's World Cup in South Africa.
With many in the 50,000-seat Kim Il Sung Stadium holding up sheets of colored cardboard, the match had the atmosphere of one of North Korea's choreographed Mass games. After the match, several North Korean players ran onto the pitch waving the national flag.
The small contingent of Japanese fans was barely audible.
Four of the North Korean players, including star striker Jong Tae Se, were born into ethnic Korean communities in Japan, and bitterness still runs deep over Japan's 35-year occupation of Korea, which ended in 1945.
More than 200 Japanese citizens, including 150 fans and two dozen journalists, traveled to Pyongyang for Tuesday's game - the largest Japanese delegation in years. As a precaution, Tokyo sent a team of Japanese diplomats to North Korea to watch over them.
Japan is Asia's top-ranked team and No. 17 overall while North Korea is ranked 124th in the world, according to FIFA.