North and South Korea played to a 0-0 draw at a virtually empty Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang Tuesday, in what was surely one of the most bizarre qualifying matches in World Cup history.
As had been rumored for days, South Korean and international fans and media were barred from attending the event. Once the match started, it became evident that North Korean fans, too, had been kept from the match.
The game was not broadcast live in South Korea. But pictures and videos posted online following the match showed a sea of empty seats in the 50,000-seat stadium. Some of the pictures showed North Korean guards standing in front of their section of the stands, their backs dutifully turned away from the on-field action as if to watch over an imaginary crowd.
As many as 50 locals and 50 international diplomatic staff attended the event, one attendee told VOA. NK News, a Seoul-based website focused on North Korea, reported that so-called “complimentary” tickets were sold to some foreigners for approximately $50-60 per seat.
South Korea’s soccer association, which sent staff to the game, posted live updates on social media. But hours after the match ended, not much was known about the game other than the score and that four players received yellow cards (two from each team).
It was the first competitive soccer match in Pyongyang between the two Koreas. The two teams played a friendly in the North Korean capital in 1990.
South Korea is ranked 37th in the latest FIFA rankings, while North Korea is ranked 113th. With the draw, North and South Korea each have seven points in Group H of the Asian qualifying round for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. South Korea is set to host a return match with the North in June of next year.
Pyongyang ignored repeated South Korean requests to coordinate plans for media coverage and fan access to Tuesday’s game, officials in Seoul said.
North Korea has for months cut off almost all dialogue and cooperation with the South, as nuclear talks with the United States broke down.