Korean World Cup clash overshadowed by political tensions

Tue Mar 31, 2009 4:47am EDT
 
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By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - While Pyongyang's planned rocket launch has put North Asia on edge and prompted the United States and Japan to deploy missile intercepting ships, the North Korean soccer team's arrival in Seoul for a World Cup qualifier has barely registered on the radar.

Police commandos and intelligence officers provided blanket security for the North Koreans on Sunday.

Their arrival created barely a ripple, with media far outnumbering onlookers at the airport, and little has been seen of the players since.

Wednesday's match will have a major impact on which teams qualify for the 2010 finals in South Africa but the growing tension on the peninsula over North Korea's planned rocket launch has overshadowed the clash.

The North says it will launch a satellite from April 4-8 as part of a peaceful space program but South Korea, and allies the United States and Japan, have said the launch is a disguised test of the North's long-range Taepodong-2 missile.

Any test would violate U.N. resolutions put in place after North Korea last fired the missile in July 2006 and conducted its first and only nuclear test a few months later.

"FIGHTING SPIRIT" HIGH

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, North Korean coach Kim Jong-hun refused to answer questions on whether the match would improve the icy relationship between the Koreas.   Continued...

 
<p>South Korea's national soccer team head coach Huh Jung-moo (L) and North Korean national soccer team head coach Kim Jong-hun shake hands for the media during their joint news conference before their match at the Seoul World Cup Stadium March 31, 2009. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak</p>