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North, South Korea Football Match Ends in Scoreless Draw - 2002-09-07

North and South Korea have played a scoreless soccer match in the South Korean capital, underscoring the organizers' hope it will help improve relations between the two countries. This is the latest in a number of recent exchanges signaling warming ties between the two Koreas.

The soccer friendly, was dubbed the "reunification" match and the two teams drew loud cheers as they entered the Seoul World Cup stadium, hand-in-hand. Many supporters wore headscarves with the words "One Korea," while they waved the blue and white reunification flag.

The South Korean politician Park Geun-Hye, who helped arrange the game, has likened it to the ping-pong diplomacy of 30 years ago when China played the United States at table tennis. He said it would help improve relations between the two Koreas.

The Korean peninsula was divided between the communist North and the U.S.-backed South in 1945. They fought a bitter civil war which ended without a peace treaty in 1953.

Among the estimated 60,000 people crowd at the stadium was Guus Hiddink, the Dutch coach who guided the South Korean team to the semifinals of the World cup. He spoke about the symbolic value of the match at half time. "I don't care so much who wins," he said. "I think it's more than a football game. It's trying to unify people."

The match ended in a no-score draw.

The two teams have met six times before at international level with the South winning four games and drawing twice. In the past, North Korea also boasted a powerful squad that beat Italy 1-0 during the 1966 World Cup in England.

This soccer game is the latest event in a flurry of recent exchanges between the North and the South, following months of stalled negotiations earlier this year. Last month the two sides decided to reconnect severed transport links across the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas.

The head of the South Korea Red Cross, Suh Young-Hoon, is in negotiations with his North Korean counterpart for two permanent venues to reunite families separated by the division of the Peninsula. And North Korea has sent its largest delegation yet to the Asian games, due to begin at the end of September in the Southern port city of Busan.