Infantino watches goalless all-Korean World Cup qualifier in empty stadium

SEOUL – FIFA president Gianni Infantino was one of the few people to attend the 2022 World Cup qualifier between North Korea and South Korea on Tuesday which ended in a 0-0 draw.

It was the first meeting between the teams in the North Korean capital Pyongyang for 29 years but was played in an empty ground.

"I was looking forward to seeing a full stadium for such a historic match but was disappointed to see there were no fans in the stands," FIFA quoted Infantino as saying.

"We were surprised by this and by several issues related to its live broadcast and problems with visas and access for foreign journalists.

"For us, freedom of the press and freedom of speech are obviously paramount, but on the other hand it would be naive to think we can change the world from one minute to the next."

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FIFA President Gianni Infantino, left, shakes hands with North Korean Football Association Secretary General Kim Jang San at the Pyongyang Airport on Tuesday. Photo: AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin

South Korean broadcasters and journalists were denied access to the 50,000 capacity Kim Il Sung stadium while visiting fans were also excluded.

No explanation was given as to why home fans were not permitted to attend while North Korea has promised the South Korean delegation a DVD of the match as soon as they return across the border.

"We raised these questions with the local association and we will certainly keep pushing so that football can have a positive influence in Korea DPR (North Korea) and other countries around the world," Infantino said.

There were meetings between Infantino and officials from the football associations of both countries. Among the topics for discussions was a potential joint bid to co-host the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

But it is hard to see how sharing such a project can be reconciled with North Korea’s inconsistent behaviour towards its neighbour.

Every visit from a South Korean to North Korea must be approved by the government. Both states remain officially in conflict following the 1950-53 Korean war.

The goalless draw follows wins for both teams in their opening two games in Group H of the second Asian qualifying round for Qatar 2022. South Korea top the table on goal difference with Turkmenistan, Lebanon and Sri Lanka also in the pool.

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In this photo provided by the Korea Football Association, South Korean players, wearing white, shake hands with North Korean players after Asian zone Group H qualifying soccer match for the 2022 World Cup. Photo: The Korea Football Association via AP

Details of the contest remain sketchy although FIFA said each side picked up two yellow cards.

The top two in each qualifying group progress to the third, and final, round of regional qualifying to the World Cup. South Korea host North Korea in the return fixture on the penultimate matchday on June 4, 2020.

Infantino is currently on a tour of the region and FIFA said he had scheduled "visits to Mongolia, Bangladesh, China PR, Laos, Brunei and the Philippines in the coming days."


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