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(LEAD) 'Korean Derby' World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang opens with empty seats

Sports 18:19 October 15, 2019

(ATTN: ADDS details throughout, photo)

SEOUL, Oct. 15 (Yonhap) -- The highly-anticipated World Cup qualifying match between South Korea and North Korea opened on Tuesday without any spectators.

The Korea Football Association (KFA) in Seoul told reporters there were no fans in the stands at Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang 30 minutes before kickoff of the Group H match in the second round of the Asian qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The KFA added that the stadium remained empty 15 minutes into the match.

The match isn't being broadcast live to South Korea. North Korea also didn't authorize travel by South Korean supporters and journalists for the match.

This photo, provided by the Korea Football Association, shows an empty Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang ahead of a World Cup qualifying match between South Korea and North Korea on Oct. 15, 2019. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

South Korea had hoped to send fans of the Taeguk Warriors to provide a buffer against what was expected to be a house full of loud North Korean supporters. But North Korea declined to authorize trips by any South Koreans other than the players and members of the support staff. Talks to have the game aired live in South Korea also fell through. North Korea didn't allow any non-Korean foreign journalists, either.

Coached by Paulo Bento, South Korean players braced themselves for a hostile environment amid some 40,000 partisan North Korean fans. It wasn't immediately clear why there were no fans in the stands, though FIFA President Gianni Infantino attended the match.

The all-Korea showdown, held against the backdrop of heightened tensions on the divided peninsula, is the first meeting between the two men's national teams in Pyongyang in 29 years. It's also a crucial match, football-wise, because both Koreas have won their first two Group H matches in the second round and the winner of this contest will take first place in the table.

South Korea started their captain Son Heung-min up front on the attack, while the North Korean lineup featured Juventus under-23 team property Han Kwang-song.

This photo, provided by the Korea Football Association, shows the locker room for the South Korean men's national team ahead of their World Cup qualifying match against North Korea at Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang on Oct. 15, 2019. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The KFA is relaying match-related information to football reporters here through the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). A match official from the AFC in Pyongyang is first sending information to the AFC headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, and then the AFC is delivering it to the KFA. The KFA said it will post goal scoring plays, if there are any, and substitutions on its social media pages, too.

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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