October 17 – South Korea’s players say their World Cup qualifier against North Korea in Pyongyang was physically brutal and included abusive language.
In the absence of any fans or media, it was left to the players to describe the atmosphere in what has been dubbed the “ghost derby”.
The historic match, the first ever men’s competitive fixture in the north Korean capital, ended in a scoreless draw Tuesday at the Kim Il Sung Stadium.
South Korean players spoke to journalists about the playing conditions upon their return to Seoul on Thursday.
“The opponents were very rough, and there were moments when very abusive language was exchanged,” said Tottenham striker Son Heung-min.
“It was hard to concentrate on the match because you were thinking about avoiding injury first. It’s a shame not to have won, but on the pitch it was so brutal that it’s an accomplishment that we returned from a game like that without injury.”
“The North Koreans were really on edge, and they insulted us badly.”
The Vice President of the Korean Football Federation, Choi Young-il, went even further. “It looked like a war. I have never seen such a level of aggression in a football game,” he said.
The Korean FA are now deciding whether to submit a complaint to FIFA over what he described as North Korea’s failure to properly accommodate his team and the decision to ban media and spectators.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency published only a brief match report, saying the “game of attacks and counterattacks ended in a draw 0:0.”
When they weren’t playing or training, South Korean players and staff were holed up at the Koryo Hotel, which appeared to have no other guests, Choi said.
They had no outside contact, having left their mobile phones at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing before entering the North. Choi said North Korean officials didn’t inform the South Korean team the match would be played in an empty stadium.
“We got there an hour and a half early and kept thinking that the gate will open and a crowd of 50,000 would pour in,” Choi said. “But the gate never opened until the end.”
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