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No fans will watch Japan-N. Korea game
Updated: 2005-06-07 09:34

When North Korea plays Japan in a World Cup qualifying "home" game Wednesday, there won't be any North Korean fans in the stadium to cheer their team on — or Japanese fans for that matter.

FIFA, soccer's world governing body, last month ordered the game, originally scheduled for the North's capital, Pyongyang, to be played in Thailand in a stadium closed to the public.

The decision came after fans in North Korea rioted after a World Cup qualifying loss to Iran at Pyongyang.

FIFA ordered North Korea to play its next match in a neutral country — and with no spectators — for safety reasons and as punishment for crowd trouble against Iran and an earlier match against Bahrain.

Lee Gang Hong, assistant secretary-general of North Korea's football association, said he'd proposed holding the match against Japan either in Beijing or having a no-spectator game in Pyongyang as alternatives, but FIFA rejected the requests because they were made too late.

Japan readily accepted Bangkok as a new venue. It couldn't have been too keen on Pyongyang's proposed alternatives.

"Now that the decisions to hold the game in Bangkok is finalized, we will make preparations so that we can play the perfect game in Bangkok," said Japan Football Association chairman Saburo Kawabuchi. "The main issue is how the team can overcome the condition that there will be no audience."

Japan is the reigning Asian Cup champion and needs only one point on Wednesday to secure a spot in the World Cup finals for the third consecutive time.

North Korea hasn't qualified for soccer's marquee event since its crowning moment in 1966, when it stunned much favored Italy to reach the final eight of World Cup competition.

The North has been struggling in this campaign, conceding seven goals and scoring only twice in four losses.

Before his team played in Pyongyang in May, Iran coach Branko Ivankovic had predicted it would be North Korea's "last chance" to keep its qualifying hopes alive.

So the pressure was on when kickoff came, 10 minutes late because a massive crowd was still finding their seats,

At the 85th minute, with Iran up 2-0, mayhem arose when North Korea's Nam Song Chol charged toward the Iranian goal and fell down — apparently pulled by an Iranian defender.

When the referee did not award North Korea a penalty, nearly the entire team charged the official, and reports said fans began ripping up their seats and tossing them on the field.

Bottles and rocks were thrown onto the field, and masses of North Koreans surrounded the Iranian team's bus after the match — a rarely seen display of public violence in the authoritarian country.

It took riot police two hours to clear a way for the Iranians and the referees to make their way back to their hotel.

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