HONG KONG (Reuters) - South Korea coach Paulo Bento has told his players to be wary of a counter-attacking North Korean side ahead of Tuesday’s historic meeting in Pyongyang in 2022 World Cup qualifying.
The two Koreas are still technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean war ended with a truce rather than a peace treaty.
Their national football teams have faced off before in World Cup qualifying, with their last meeting coming in 2009, but Tuesday’s game will be the first time the countries will have met in the competition in Pyongyang.
It will also mark the first time the men’s national teams have played in the North’s capital since a friendly in October 1990.
“North Korea are a physical and aggressive team, and they can be especially dangerous on counter-attacks,” Yonhap news agency quoted Bento as saying.
“But North Korea also have holes that we can exploit, and I think we’re prepared to do just that.”
Both teams have won their opening two games in the second round of qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar, with South Korea notching up an 8-0 win over Sri Lanka on Thursday having already defeated Turkmenistan.
North Korea, meanwhile, beat Lebanon in Pyongyang in their opening game of the campaign before securing a narrow victory over the Sri Lankans to stand level on six points with their neighbours.
“Our players are well prepared, and the team atmosphere is great,” said the coach.
“Above all, our players are in great physical condition. The most important thing for us is to have everyone healthy before going on the road.”
Fans in South Korea will not be able to watch Tuesday’s game, however, after broadcasters failed to agree a deal with North Korean authorities to show the match live.
This is the second World Cup qualifying campaign in the last decade that the two nations have been drawn to face one another.
South and North Korea met in the third and fourth rounds of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, with the two games due to be played in North Korea relocated to Shanghai.
Across their four meetings in 2008 and 2009, three were drawn - including both games played at Shanghai’s Hongkou Stadium - with South Korea winning the second meeting in Seoul 1-0 as both nations qualified for the Finals in South Africa.
That remains the only time both countries have progressed to the finals of the same World Cup.
Reporting by Michael Church, Editing Peter Rutherford