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Japan face North Korea test

February 07, 2005 21:24 IST

Japan will be wary of the threat posed by North Korea when they meet in the opening match of the final round of Asian World Cup qualifiers on Wednesday.

The two teams last met in 1993 when Japan won a World Cup qualifier 3-0 in Doha but North Korea coach Yun Jong-su believes his side can spring a surprise in their Group B clash.

"We have trained hard and the spirit among the players is good," he told reporters after the squad's arrival on Monday.

"We have enough information about Japan and it's only logical that we've come here to win."

North Korea have achieved little success on the pitch since their shock quarter-final appearance at the 1996 World Cup.

But they progressed to the final round of Asian 2006 qualifiers in some style and the country's communist government has lavished cash, modern housing and luxury cars on the players as an incentive to reach the 2006 World Cup.

"The government gives them a colossal sum of (money), modern ... houses and luxurious cars," Ri Hi-yon, the vice-director of North Korea's physical culture and sports guidance commission said in an interview with the state-run KCNA news agency.

Security will be on high alert for the game in Saitama amid concern that a diplomatic feud between Tokyo and Pyongyang might spill over this week.

Japan has mobilised around 3,500 police and security officials to prevent any crowd trouble.

Relations between the countries have been bitter since Japan's brutal colonisation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945.

They recently clashed over North Korea's nuclear arms ambitions and ties were further strained after the reclusive state admitted it had kidnapped Japanese citizens.

INSIDER KNOWLEDGE

North Korea's team arrived in Japan with useful insider knowledge. J-League players An Yong-hak and Ri Han-jae are both expected to play against the country of their birth.

"It's not a war," said Nagoya Grampus Eight's An. "I know there are problems between Japan and North Korea but this match could have a positive effect."

Apart from ethnic North Koreans An and Ri, North Korea's squad consists mainly of members of the army team "4.25" -- named after the date on which the Korean People's Army was founded.

Japan coach Zico has left out European-based players Hidetoshi Nakata and Junichi Inamoto and kept faith with a squad largely made up of J-League players.

In Wednesday's other Group B match, Bahrain take on Iran at home. The top two teams in each of the two Asian groups qualify automatically for next year's World Cup.

Group A consists of 2002 World Cup semi-finalists South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Kuwait.

South Korea host Kuwait in Seoul in a potentially tricky opener on Wednesday while Saudi Arabia visit Uzbekistan.

The Koreans were humbled 1-0 by Egypt in a warm-up game last week but coach Jo Bonfrere said there was no cause for panic.

"We will need to be united to win this game," said the Dutchman. "Organisation and teamwork will be the key. I hope losing to Egypt will be a good wake-up call."

Alastair Himmer
Source:
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