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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 February, 2005, 12:59 GMT
Football clash for Asian rivals
Ethnic Koreans resident in Japan wave North Korean flags at Saitama stadium, 9/2/05
North Korea's fans were mainly ethnic Koreans living in Japan
A potentially explosive football match between Japan and North Korea, who are locked in a diplomatic stand-off, has ended without incident.

The World Cup qualifier, which Japan won 2-1, was played amid heightened political tensions between the rivals.

In recent years, North Korea test-fired a missile over Japan and admitted it abducted several Japanese in the 1970s and 80s, to help train its spies.

Some 3,500 security officials were mobilised for the match near Tokyo.

The mood during the match itself was calm.

Some Japanese fans booed when the North Korean team was introduced, but they were quiet while the North's national anthem was played, and some even clapped afterwards, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Precautionary measures had included a buffer zone of empty seats in the stadium in Saitama, outside Tokyo, to keep the two sets of fans apart.

The stadium was overwhelmingly blue - the Japanese fans' colours. But some 5,000 seats were given to North Korea's supporters, clad in red, although almost all of them are thought to have been members of Japan's North Korean community.

JAPAN'S MISSING
Megumi Yokota
Snatched in the '70s and '80s
Used as cultural trainers for N Korean spies
Five allowed home in 2002
Five children now freed from N Korea
Eight said to be dead, others missing

'Last resort' The row over the abducted Japanese, and Pyongyang's failure to account for a number of the missing, has outraged Japanese popular opinion.

Pressure has mounted for the Japanese government to impose sanctions on North Korea. On Tuesday, the administration received a petition signed by at least five million people calling for such economic action against the North.

However, Tokyo has signalled that sanctions would only be used as a last resort. North Korea says they would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

Meanwhile official propaganda in North Korea continues to rail against Japan's past misdeeds during its often brutal colonisation of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945.

North Korean football achieved worldwide fame with its historic victory over Italy in the 1966 World Cup finals, but the team has failed to match that achievement since.

A former North Korean football coach who defected to South Korea has said that after the North's team failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il ordered them to train hard for 10 years before trying again.

Most of North Korea's players came from the army's 4.25 squad, but two players were from Japan's ethnic Korean community, and normally play in Japan's J-League.

Japan and North Korea are in Group B, along with Bahrain and Iran. South Korea, the 2002 World Cup semi-finalists, are in Group A with Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Kuwait.

Each team in each group plays the others twice, home and away. The Japan-North Korea re-match is scheduled to take place in Pyongyang in June.

The top two teams in each of the two Asian groups will qualify automatically for next year's World Cup in Germany.



SEE ALSO:
Japan fury over abductee remains
08 Dec 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Heartbreak over Japan's missing
11 Aug 04 |  Asia-Pacific


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