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Koreas draw in blacked-out World Cup qualifier

By AFP - Oct 15,2019 - Last updated at Oct 15,2019

SEOUL — North and South Korea drew 0-0 in a historic but surreal World Cup qualifier on Tuesday, played in front of FIFA President Gianni Infantino but an otherwise empty stadium and almost completely blocked off from the outside world.

The showdown between the two sides — whose countries are still technically at war — took place at Pyongyang's Kim Il-sung Stadium with no live broadcast, no supporters and no foreign media in attendance.

Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min captained South Korea in the first competitive men's match to be played in Pyongyang. But frustrated South Korean fans who were not allowed to travel to the game, will have to wait days to see it on television — after officials bring back a recording on DVD.

"North Korea promised to provide a DVD containing full footage of the match before our delegation departs," the South's unification ministry, which handles cross-border affairs, said in a statement.

The only simple way to follow the match, which the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) had billed as "one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures" for years, was via the limited online text commentary posted on FIFA and AFC websites.

The minimal updates available, however, were limited to yellow cards and substitutions. Qatari referee Abdulrahman Al Jassim booked North Korea's Ri Yong-jik and Ri Un-chol, and Kim Young-gwon and Kim Min-jae from the South.

A photo posted on the website of the South's Korean Football Association (KFA) showed the match in progress with giant floodlights illuminating the empty stands.

Among the tiny number of spectators was FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who flew in to Pyongyang earlier in the day, in what is thought to be his first visit to the country.

"It's a great pleasure to be here," said Infantino, sporting a North Korean flag lapel pin, as he was welcomed at the airport by the head of the North Korean Football Association, Kim Jang San. 

The South Korean team had arrived in Pyongyang on Monday accompanied only by their coaches and support staff.

The delegation had to leave their mobile phones at the South Korean embassy in Beijing ahead of their departure, and reaching the team in Pyongyang has been a struggle.

"Nothing is guaranteed in terms of communication so we have to use whatever works at any given moment," a KFA official said, adding they were currently relying on emails.

A Monday evening press conference by South Korean coach Paulo Bento was attended by five North Korean journalists and two KFA staff, who had to return to their hotel to get an internet connection before posting details of the briefing on the association website.

AFC General Secretary Windsor John said the restrictive arrangements were only to be expected.

"We understand DPR Korea's situation," John told AFP, using the official name for North Korea. "We are not surprised."

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