The last time these two teams met in Pyongyang in 1989, the Japanese Men’s soccer team lost to North Korea, 2-0. Tuesday’s match was not much different. A shorthanded and feisty North Korean team upset the Samurai Blue 1-0 at Kim Il Sung Stadium, in front of a raucous crowd of 50,000. The lone goal was scored five minutes into the second half, after the North Korean squad was reduced to 10 players following the ejection of a midfielder for an aggressive tackle.
The atmosphere was tense for game of little consequence. The 17th ranked Japanese have already secured their place in the next round of qualifications for a spot at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, while the 124th ranked North Koreans have been eliminated from contention. Five yellow cards were given in this match, in addition to the red card assessed to North Korea.
A tiny contingent of 150 Japanese fans, and a few dozen journalists, were allowed to attend the match, but were prohibited from bringing banners or noisemakers. They sat quietly in the bleachers, guarded by North Korean security. This game marked the first loss under Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni, ending his 16 game unbeaten streak. It was the fourth match played in Pyongyang between the two countries.