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Stirring up frenzy before 'soccer war'

Saitama, Japan, 8 February 2005 | Emphasis before the World Cup qualifier tomorrow between North Korea and Japan has fallen on the background of hostilities and bitterness. Japan is said to be readying 3,400 security forces as some among the 150,000

Spirit of readiness: Japanese riot police in Saitama. (AP)
Pyongyang-supporting Korean residents of Japan prepare to show their support. These are descendants of 2.1 million brought to Japan as forced laborers during Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula from 1910 to 1945. "In Japanese society we are suffering from invisible pressure and barriers," says Song Yun-bae, who works with other Koreans at a pachinko parlor in Tokyo. Japan, too, has its grievances, with the whereabouts of eight Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s still unknown.

Two members of the North Korean side, which last reached the World Cup finals in its scintillating run of 1966, play in the J-League: Ri Han-jae of Sanfrecce Hiroshima and An Yong-hak of Nagoya Grampus Eight. "I can't help but feel nervous," says An. This is North Korea's first attempt at qualification since 1994. "The government has paid deep attention to developing football in a systematic way," says a member of the country's physical culture and sports-guidance commission. (Update: The match ended peacefully, with Japan 2–1 victors.)

  • Pyongyang, North Korea | 15 October 2003 . . . Makers of the documentary Game of Their Lives—about North Korea's 1-0 upset of Italy at the 1966 World Cup—tell the Amateur Athletic Foundation's (Los Angeles) SportsLetter Stallone in "Victory": One of the best?that they are being allowed "total and unrestricted access to daily life" in creating a new documentary, about North Korean gymnasts. Director Dan Gordon and producer Nick Bonner had been permitted rare interviews with the North Korean players while making Game. A depressing aspect of their work is that there has been no U.S. distribution. It is "really upsetting as it has been shown worldwide (including North Korea and South Korea)," says Bonner. "Is this censorship? . . . We believe that what the film has captured is the spirit and humor of a much-maligned people. The film allows the 'outside world' to see Koreans as individuals, as real human beings." Odd that Bonner lists Victory (Escape to Victory in the U.K.), with Sylvester Stallone and Pelé, as one of his favorite football films. Can he be serious? . . . Football in the Americas will be the focus of a conference from 30–31 October in London. Among the presenters is Alex Bellos, author of Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life. He will speak on Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil's recently elected president, and the nation's first "fan-president." "Football is part of his life," Bellos writes in his abstract. "[H]e plays it at the presidential palace on weekends, and he conspicuously supports a club, Corinthians." | back to top