Ok, we know that China are taking on Australia in a crucial World Cup qualifier this afternoon at 2pm, but that’s all the way down in Kunming and, frankly, we’re not too optimistic about China’s chances in this latest ‘Group of Death’ match. Therefore, match of the day has to be this evening’s fixture at Hongkou Stadium where North Korea will take on South Korea (kick-off is 7pm).
For those of you at the back of the class who haven’t been paying attention, the match is in Shanghai because North Korea (the ‘home’ side for this fixture) refused to allow the South Koreans to either fly their flag
or play their national anthem in Pyongyang. A compromise was proposed whereby a joint flag would
be flown and a bi-partisan Korean folk tune would be played instead, but, unsurprisingly, this idea was rejected. So it was then, that FIFA decided the game should be played right here in Shanghai instead.
Usually, games moved for political reasons are played behind closed doors but, luckily for us, this one won’t be, so Shanghaiist will be heading along for a chance to catch some competitive international football. Of course, while we’re expecting a slightly higher quality game than when LA Galaxy came to town, we hope it’s not too hotly contested, if you catch our drift.
Leaving aside the small matter of the two countries technically still being at war with each other, and some intriguing personal issues (see Jong Tae-se, below), the footballing rivalry between the two teams is also pretty fierce. One particular bone of contention concerns South Korea’s progression to the semi-finals of the World Cup that they co-hosted with Japan in 2002. By doing so, they took from the North the title of highest placed Asian team at a World Cup finals — a record that had stood since 1966, when the North had beaten footballing giants Italy on their way to a quarter-final defeat by Portugal.
South Korea aren’t quite the team they were six years ago, but they got off to a good start in their opening group game, thrashing Turkmenistan 4-0. North Korea should present slightly sterner opposition, having also won their opening group game, 1-0 in Jordan. The last time the two teams met in a World Cup qualifier, in 1993, the South won 3-0, but fixtures since have shown that the North are more than capable of competing — with the most recent game, at last month’s East Asian Championships, ending in a 1-1 draw (see above video).
All of this should make for a fascinating tie up at Hongkou this evening.
Players to watch:
DPRK: Jong Tae-se. The Japan-based striker has been labelled by some as North Korea’s Wayne Rooney. Luckily for him, this is due to his footballing skill rather than his looks, as the goals he scored during the East Asian Championships (including one against South Korea, see above video) demonstrated. Just to add further spice to the mix, he was actually born in Japan to South Korean parents but, after attending a pro-North school, attempted to revoke his ROK citizenship in favour of the North. This request was refused by the South but he plumped for playing football with the DPRK regardless, and is now one of their most influential players.
ROK: Park Ji-sung. We hate to stay on a Man Utd theme, but the first South Korean to play in the Premiership remains one of his national team’s strongest players and will need to be on top form if they are to overcome their regional rivals. Still struggling to find a regular place in the Man Utd line-up, he was nevertheless instrumental in the win over Turkmenistan last month and bagged himself a neatly taken goal too.