The backdrop of heightening political tension almost took a toll on the World Cup qualifier between the Koreas, with the North Korea coach demanding the match be delayed and moved to a neutral venue after claiming his players contracted food poisoning.
The match went ahead on Wednesday and South Korea won 1-0 on Kim Chi-woo’s floating free kick three minutes from time, lifting the 2002 World Cup semi-finalists atop Group B in Asian qualifying with 11 points, one point ahead of North Korea.
The week leading up to the Seoul qualifier was overshadowed by the reaction to North Korea’s plans to send a communications satellite into orbit sometime between April 4 and April 8. South Korea, Japan and the United States say the reclusive communist state has an ulterior motive, sparking a war of words regarding the potential for conflict in the region.
While Wednesday’s match was played in good spirit, the atmosphere was less genial off the field.
In the post-match press conference North Korea coach Kim Jong-hun refused to answer questions and instead gave a brief statement before leaving the room.
“This was a game that shouldn’t have been played,” he said. “Jong Tae-se and goalkeepers Ri Myung-guk and Kim Myong-gil were not in a condition to play. After training yesterday, and after eating at the hotel provided by Korea Republic authorities, they contracted diarrhea.”
Kim Joo-sung, head of the Seoul-based Korean Football Association’s (KFA) international department, told reporters around lunchtime on Wednesday that the condition of the three players led North Korea to request that the match be postponed and played on neutral soil.
“After the North raised the issue, we took the matter to the Asian Football Confederation and the FIFA,” Kim said. “FIFA rejected the North’s request and ordered the game be staged as scheduled.”
Kim, the KFA official, said that a professional sports doctor had examined the North Korean players and found no serious problem. More detailed examinations, including blood tests, were refused.
“The food and beverages are provided by sponsors of the AFC. The KFA is not responsible for them,” Kim was quoted saying yesterday. “Also, the North Korean officials had inspected food beforehand. If it really had been food poisoning, there would have been more players with similar symptoms.”
North Korea also complained about the decision of the referee not to award a goal early in the second half. Coach Kim claims that Jong’s header crossed the goal line before it was saved by Lee Woon-jae. Television replays were inconclusive.
A member of the North Korean coaching staff was ordered to leave the bench by the referee for overly aggressive protests during the match.