North Korean striker ‘didn’t even make eye contact’, all he said was “It was good” and “Thank you” [Hangzhou Report]

 The North Korean men’s national soccer team closed its mouth despite its first victory on the international stage in 3 years and 8 months. The head coach conducted the official interview normally, but the players left the stadium without saying a word after the game ended. 

North Korea won 2-0 against Taiwan in the first match of Group F of the 2022 Hangzhou Asian Games men’s soccer group stage held at Zhejiang Normal University East Stadium in Jinhua, China on the 19th. 

North Korea’s official victories in international competitions date back to the third match of Group D of the group stage up to the 2020 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 (Under 23) Asian Cup held in Thailand on January 16, 2020. North Korea defeated Vietnam, then led by coach Park Hang-seo, 2-1. Although they were unable to advance to the quarterfinals by finishing in third place in their group due to losses against Jordan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), they achieved a final result.

However, North Korea later disappeared from the international stage. Since the end of January 2020, as the global COVID-19 outbreak has entered a pandemic situation, all clocks in the sports world, including soccer, have stopped. Major competitions, such as the 2022 Qatar World Cup Asian regional second round qualifiers, as well as amateur competitions have been canceled or postponed.

North Korea withdrew from the second round of the Asian World Cup qualifiers, which were already underway, due to concerns about COVID-19 infection. Afterwards, the policy of not sending athletes to major international competitions was continued.

North Korea’s ‘sports isolation policy’ was lifted starting with the Hangzhou Asian Games. North Korea recently caused controversy by declaring its absence from the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup preliminaries without a clear reason, but sent a team to the Summer Asian Games held in China.

The North Korean men’s soccer team, which made its first start at the Hangzhou Asian Games, showed performance that exceeded expectations. Even taking into account the fact that the opponent was Taiwan, the weakest team in Group F, whose power was one level below, the overall organizational strength and individual skills of the players were not bad.

Lee Jo-guk’s first goal in the 6th minute of the first half was notable because he did not miss the space created after breaking down the opponent’s dense defense with an organic passing play. As soon as Lee Jo-guk had a chance to shoot in front of the arc, he tried to shoot without delay, and the ball hit the Taiwanese defender’s body and deflected, leading to a lucky goal.메이저사이트

Additional points came quickly. In the 12th minute of the first half, Kim Kook-jin scored an additional goal to make the score 2-0 and secure the victory early on. It was impressive to see Baek Cheong-song deliver a perfect cross into the box from the right flank, and Kim Gook-jin, who was rushing, finished with a cutback.

Shin Yong-nam, coach of the North Korean men’s national soccer team, attended an official interview after the game and said, “Our players united well as one. Everyone played well as the coach intended,” and added, “We have prepared and trained hard for the (Asian Games) so far. We will do our best in the future.” “I’m only thinking about doing my best to win,” he said, expressing satisfaction.

However, the voices of the North Korean men’s soccer players, except for coach Shin Yong-nam, could not be heard. After the game, the North Korean players quickly passed by the mixed zone and boarded the bus, as if they had made an appointment.

On this day, there were a total of five South Korean reporters who covered the first group match between North Korea and Taiwan. They all prepared in the mixed zone after the game to hear the voices of key players of the North Korean national team, including Ri Jo-guk, who scored the winning goal, Kim Kook-jin, who scored an additional point, Baek Cheong-song, who showed off his sparkling play throughout the game, and captain Jang Kook-cheol.

However, most of the North Korean players hurriedly walked away without making eye contact even though South Korean reporters waiting in the mixed zone asked them questions about their thoughts on victory and the content of the game. Although we cannot know the internal circumstances, it is presumed that there were instructions not to respond to press requests and to pass through the mixed zone.  

One of the youngest players moving in a group responded to a South Korean reporter’s question, “You won, how do you feel?” and all he could say was “It felt good” as he took a step forward. 

The same was true for North Korean athletes. A middle-aged man, presumed to be a member of the coaching staff, who was passing through the mixed zone wearing training clothes, simply responded “Thank you” to a South Korean reporter’s congratulatory words, “Congratulations on your victory.”

Director Shin Yong-nam also participated in the official interview with as restrained expressions and short answers as possible. He only briefly talked about the play of the players he liked and his resolution for the future.

Even when asked about the strengths of North Korean soccer and the tactical style pursued, he avoided giving a direct answer, saying, “It is difficult to talk about that here because the game is still in progress.” Regarding the possibility of an inter-Korean match in the round of 16, he ended with the general statement, “We will definitely try to win on the stadium.”

Meanwhile, North Korea’s men’s soccer team will play the second match against Central Asia’s Kyrgyzstan at the same stadium at 8:30 p.m. on the 21st. Then, at 5 p.m. on the 24th, the final group match will be played against Indonesia.

A total of 23 countries will participate in the Hangzhou Asian Games soccer event, divided into groups A, B, C, D, E, and F. The 1st and 2nd place teams in each group advance directly to the round of 16, and the top 4 teams among the 3rd place teams in Groups A, B, C, E, and F, excluding Group D, which consists of three countries, advance to the tournament as wild cards.

As Syria and Afghanistan, which had recently been placed in Group D, suddenly withdrew, Hong Kong and Uzbekistan were lucky enough to automatically advance to the round of 16. North Korea secured three points by winning the first game, and if it defeats Kyrgyzstan, it is highly likely that it will advance to the round of 16 early.

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