North and S Korea women face off on football field

PYONGYANG: South Korea’s flag flew and its anthem sounded in Pyongyang on Friday as its women’s football team played out a 1-1 draw with their neighbours, in the first ever competitive soccer match between the two countries hosted by the North.
The only previous encounter in the city between footballers representing the two was a pro-unification friendly between the men’s teams in 1990, when both used a flag showing the whole Korean peninsula.
Since then, games nominally hosted in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the North is officially known, have had to be played on neutral ground due to authorities’ reluctance to see the South’s standard fluttering in their capital.
A few hours south of Pyongyang the North Korean military faces off against US-led United Nations forces across the Demilitarized Zone, considered one of the most heavily fortified locations on Earth.
Friday’s match came as the North’s nuclear ambitions top the agenda at a meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping after Pyongyang’s latest missile launch this week.
The two Koreas remain technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, and relations have plunged in recent months.
Seoul demanded security guarantees for the players before authorities approved the trip, and the South’s coach Yoon Duk-Yeo — who was on the losing side in the 1990 game — reportedly installed loudspeakers at a training ground to replicate the expected aural barrage. But the Group B qualifier for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup offered a rare chance for a moment of detente between the two.
At the National Art Gallery in Pyongyang — where one room is dominated by a huge painting of the North’s women holding aloft the East Asian Football Championship trophy after their victory in 2015 — a guide said: “It is heartbreaking that we have to participate as two separate teams because our countries are not unified.”
A packed crowd at the 40,000-plus capacity Kim Il-Sung stadium stood to hear the South Korean national anthem in respectful silence, before belting out the North’s hymn.
In a thunderous atmosphere, every touch by the home team in attack or defence was cheered to the rafters, with supporters waving golden cardboard megaphones in unison. South Korea’s “taegukgi” flag waved gently in the breeze, just a few metres from the North’s emblem. — AFP