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Asia Minute: Korean Peninsula’s Most Bizarre Soccer Match?

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The Korea Football Association via AP, File
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In this Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, file photo provided by the Korea Football Association, South and North Korean, wearing red uniforms, players play during their Asian zone Group H qualifying soccer match for the 2022 World Cup at Kim Il Sung Stadium.

For many Americans across the country and here in Hawaii, fall weekends often include watching sports of some kind. This week on the Korean peninsula, there was a sporting event that took a very different approach with spectators.

In one of the more bizarre international sports events of recent years, the national soccer teams of North and South Korea faced off in Pyongyang this week, but they played to an empty stadium.

The World Cup qualifying match was not televised, and no reporters were allowed to cover it.

The game was played on Tuesday, but details didn’t get out to the outside world until the South Korean team arrived back in Seoul on Thursday night. The only people who were allowed to watch the action were a few officials from the international soccer group FIFA and the Korea Football Association, along with a few members of the diplomatic community.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said the match was expected to draw some 40,000 fans, and there was no explanation of why none were allowed — and why the game wasn’t broadcast.

South Korea’s team travelled through China – where players had to leave their cell phones at the South Korean embassy before flying on to North Korea.

The Chosun Ilbo reports the Korea Football Association had brought three boxes of meat and seafood to feed the players, but those were confiscated right away.

As for the action on the field, players called it very physical – with one calling it a victory to come away without any injuries.

That goal was achieved, but none were scored – the match ended in a scoreless tie.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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