Japan anthem booed in North Korea

2011-11-15 11:00

Tokyo – Japan’s national anthem was roundly booed by a seemingly capacity crowd in Pyongyang today as the former colonial power took on North Korea in a dead rubber World Cup qualifier.

Live television footage from the hermit nation showed tens of thousands of North Korean fans at the Kim Il Sung stadium booing loudly as the Japanese national anthem was played ahead of the match.

In marked contrast, the crowd, dressed largely in muted colours, joined in enthusiastically with the North Korean anthem moments later.

Men in uniform with large hats could be seen behind the players as they stood on the sidelines of the pitch ahead of kick-off in a stadium entirely devoid of advertisements.

The raucous crowd cheered wildly every time the North Koreans pushed forward, with one entire stand of the stadium regularly transformed into a living poster, as fans held up a red or yellow card to form a giant Korean-language slogan.

A Korean state broadcaster, whose 10 cameras were supplemented by two from the private Japanese TBS network, provided professional-looking coverage of the game but steered clear of anything other than the action on the pitch.

In one of the few close-ups of the crowd several young Korean women wearing heavy coats smiled and cheered as they waved large national flags.

The game came after Japan’s players were held up for four hours by a baggage and immigration inspection at a Pyongyang airport on yesterday evening.

The Blue Samurai touched down in the capital of the hermit state at about 3pm, but were not able to leave the airport until after 7pm, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun, Kyodo News and other major media today.

Dour local officials warned players when they laughed, and confiscated items including bananas, chewing gum, and instant noodles, the Nikkan Sports and Sports Nippon newspapers reported.

The airport experienced three power outages during the lengthy process. The team began their official practice at abut 8pm – three hours later than intended – wearing hats and gloves in a bitterly cold Kim Il Sung Stadium, reports said.

Asian champions Japan have already secured their passage to the fourth and final qualifying stage of the tournament but North Korea cannot now progress.

But the North Koreans will be looking to avenge a 1-0 loss in their previous encounter with Japan in September.

Speaking after the training session yesterday, Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni said the first match for Japan on North Korean turf in 22 years was just a regular game.

“I am not planning on asking the players to do anything differently in this match. I am just going to tell them to enjoy themselves, grow together and play for the sake of the national team,” he said.

Just 150 tickets were allocated for travelling Japanese fans at Tuesday night’s game, with visitors being warned to tone down their usual spirited support to avoid potential conflict with the authorities.

Japan does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, which still demands reparations from its former colonial rulers for wartime atrocities.

The communist regime is widely despised in Japan, where feelings run high over the unresolved abductions in the 1970s and 80s of young Japanese citizens who were used to train Pyongyang’s spies in Japanese language and customs.

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