CARDIFF (Reuters) - A major diplomatic incident marred the first day of competition at the London Olympics on Wednesday when the North Korea women’s soccer team walked off after the South Korea flag was mistakenly displayed before their match against Colombia.
The error occurred at Glasgow’s Hampden Park stadium which was hosting one of the day’s six matches kicking off the women’s tournament and led to a delay of more than an hour before the game eventually started with the Koreans winning 2-0.
In the day’s other matches, reigning Olympic champions the United States, bidding for a third successive gold, came from behind to beat France 4-2, world champions Japan defeated Canada 2-1 and hosts Britain overcame New Zealand 1-0.
Brazil, among the favourites for gold, thrashed Cameroon 5-0 and Sweden, another possible medallist, thumped South Africa 4-1.
However, the pre-match drama in Scotland overshadowed what followed on the pitch as sporting action began around Britain two days before the official opening ceremony of the Games in London on Friday.
The trouble began when the South Korea flag was shown on a giant screen before the kickoff of the Group G match at Hampden, one of five venues hosting games outside London, and Olympic organisers had to issue an apology.
“The South Korean flag was shown in the video package on the screen before the kickoff and the North Koreans were naturally very upset about that,” Hampden Park media manager Andy Mitchell told Reuters.
“We have made a full apology to the team and the North Korean NOC (National Olympic Committee). A genuine mistake was made for which we apologise. Steps will be taken to ensure it does not happen again.”
LOCOG, the organising committee of the Games, issued a statement apologising for the incident and also stressed it would not be repeated.
North Korea return to Hampden on Saturday for their next group match against France, who lost their opening game to the United States despite leading 2-0 after only 14 minutes.
France’s advantage did not last long, however, as the U.S. rallied to take all three points with Alex Morgan scoring twice, Abby Wambach once and substitute Carli Lloyd grabbing the other.
It was a memorable day for hosts Britain who won the first ever Olympic match their women have played, beating New Zealand at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium in the first event of the London Olympics.
Steph Houghton, who missed the 2007 world and 2009 European championships through injury, scored Britain’s winner with a second half free-kick.
“It was something special and I‘m sure my family are very proud. I don’t think it will sink in for a while. I‘m just glad it got us the win,” she told reporters.
Brazil, playing in the second match at Cardiff, were highly impressive in demolishing Cameroon with Marta, World Player of the Year five times, scoring twice including a penalty.
Cristiane, who came on as a substitute at the start of the second half, also scored to take her overall tally of Olympic goals to 11, the all-time women’s Olympic scoring record.
Writing by Mike Collett; editing by Ken Ferris