South-North face off on the football pitch todayNorth and South Korea’s second round Asian qualifying match for the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup will finally kick off at Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang at 5:30 p.m. today.
Having spent a full day traveling to the North Korean capital via Beijing, South Korea will face North Korea as the two vie for the top spot in the Group H standing.
The result of this match will determine the new leader in the Group H ranking. Currently, both South and North Korea have picked up two wins, but the South is ahead by goal differences.
South Korea started the second round of Asian qualifiers by defeating Turkmenistan 2-0 and Sri Lanka 8-0. North Korea defeated Lebanon 2-0 and Sri Lanka 1-0.
Looking at the world ranking, South Korea is ahead at No. 37, while North Korea is ranked 113th. Even in the two countries’ all-time head-to-head record, South Korea has the lead with seven wins, eight draws and a loss.
The stats may suggest it’ll be an easy win for the South, but the biggest variable is the venue. Although South Korea has only lost one match to North Korea, that was an away game on Oct. 11, 1990. At the time, South Korea allowed North Korea to pick up a come-from-behind victory.
Today’s match is not being played in the same stadium as the 1990 clash, but it probably will have a pretty similar atmosphere. Including the coaches and players, a total of 55 people travelled to North Korea. This means that other than the 11 players on the pitch, South Korea will only have 44 supporters cheering for the team, while North Korea will have tens of thousands of fans filling up Kim Il-sung Stadium.
Previously, North Korea ignored South Korea’s repeated requests on sending its cheerleading squad.
Along with the pressure of having to play at a stadium filled with North Korean fans, the South Korean team’s condition arose as another concern. As the South Korean team only arrived in the North on Monday afternoon after nearly a full day of traveling, they were only able to train for an hour. The South Korean football team left Beijing on Sunday afternoon and stayed overnight, before heading to Pyongyang on Monday.
Since Kim Il-sung Stadium uses artificial grass rather than natural grass, the South Korean players have no choice but to quickly adjust to playing on a new surface in just an hour.
In addition to the playing conditions, the players also had to leave their smartphones and tablet PCs behind.
Despite the concerns, head coach Paulo Bento showed confidence in the upcoming match.
“I feel good,” Bento told reporters at Incheon International Airport on Sunday. “Our players are well prepared, and the team atmosphere is great. Above all, our players are in great physical condition. The most important thing for us is to have everyone healthy before going on the road.”
As this match will feature South Korea’s captain Son Heung-min, who currently plays for Tottenham Hotspur, Lee Kang-in of Valencia CF and North Korea’s Han Kwang-song, who plays for Juventus FC’s under-23 squad, expectations are high for football fans. Yet despite the hype, the match will not broadcast live in South Korea.
South Korea’s three major TV networks - SBS, KBS and MBC - officially announced on Monday that the live broadcast will no longer happen.
Due to this, an official from the Unification Ministry said that the government will run an situation room at the hotel that the South Korean team is staying at in Pyongyang and at the Central Government Complex in Seoul to facilitate communications.
“We are still thinking of what would be the best way to deliver the news,” the official was quoted as saying on Yonhap.
“We will review available means to deliver as much information as quickly as possible.”
If live updates can’t be provided by the government, South Korean football fans may have to turn to the FIFA or Asian Football Confederation websites, which should both post updates on the score. These updates, however, will likely be brief and only give the names of scorers, substitutions and bookings.
The South Korean football team will leave Pyongyang at 5:20 p.m. on Wednesday, the day after the match. Once again, they’ll stop in Beijing and take a flight back to Incheon, departing at 9:40 p.m. The team is expected to arrive in Incheon at 12:45 a.m. on Thursday.
BY PARK RIN, PIH JU-YOUNG AND CHOI YONG-JAE [email@example.com]