Soccer Diplomacy: North Korea Beats South Korea in Women's East Asian Cup
(SEOUL) -- Despite tensions on the Korean peninsula, the game of soccer brought North Korean and South Korean players together for Women's East Asian Cup on Sunday. North Korean women's soccer team won 2 to 1 against the South. The game was held in hot humid weather in Seoul and was in favor of a strong North Korean team with defense Ho Un-byol scored two goals in the latter half.
"It was not easy for our players because of weather conditions and they were very tired. But we won with strong belief that our people (in the North) are waiting for good news," said North's coach Kim Kwang-min at a press conference. "Our dear leader Kim Jong-Un gives great attention and love to our players. So our players try to fulfill that expectation with love (to him) and do our best to compensate back."
North Korea is barred by FIFA from the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada after five of their players tested positive for steroids in the 2011 Women's World Cup in Germany.
Coach Kim had said the doping was unintended and was due to a traditional medicine that contained musk deer glands to treat the five players because they had been struck by lightning while training before the match. They had lost 2-0 to the United States.
Analysts see the North's participation to the four-nation Women's East Asian Cup as Pyongyang's shot at sports diplomacy in line with recent efforts to ease tensions after bombarding South Korea and the U.S. with threats of nuclear strikes and missile tests in April.
"They are completely isolated from the world and they know that this is serious," said Yang Moo-jin, professor of politics at University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. The two Koreas are in rare talks to reopen a joint industrial park in Kaesong that closed after North Korea ordered closure as relations tumbled.
The game though did not shine any positive light in terms of easing tensions on the public level. Contrary to the strong emotional support showered by the public at times when North Korean sports teams made rare visits to the South, the 67,000 seat stadium was largely empty except for a few blocks of soccer fans and a few hundred scattered audience.
A large group of pro-North Japanese supporters were expected but only about 20 people were seen seated in a secluded area behind the goal.
"This is the harsh reality of where North-South relations stand at the moment," said Yang. "We used to greet them with open arms because Koreans are one nation even if relations were bad. But this time, both the public and the South Korean government are all in the 'let's isolate them more, they deserve it' mood."
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