x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Excitement for Koreans on both sides

North Korean fans got the chance to see their team in the World Cup for the first time in 44 years - but had to wait almost a day after the game was played.

North Korean fans got the chance to see their team in the World Cup for the first time in 44 years - but had to wait almost a day after the game was played. The Tuesday afternoon starting time in South Africa translated to 3.30 am Wednesday in Pyongyang. So the state-controlled TV station - the only one in the nation - delayed the broadcast of the 2-1 defeat to Brazil until a more popular time slot on Wednesday night.

Two announcers provided mostly dry and matter-of-fact commentary. But there were hints of excitement in their voices when Yun-nam Ji scored for North Korea in the second half, leading them to note their team was playing "on equal terms" with mighty Brazil. On the Korean peninsula, divided since the 1950/53 Korean War, the sport is doing its part to unite the north and the south: it is the first time both nations are playing in the same World Cup.

The Japan-based Choson Sinbo newspaper - considered a mouthpiece for the North Korean government - reported earlier this week after South Korea's 2-0 win over Greece that citizens of the communist country "cheered the South Korean team with no exception". Malaysia-based Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union came to an agreement with Fifa, the sport's world governing body, to beam the games into North Korea free of charge. It is up to the state network, however, to decide what to show. "We want them to see what life is on the other side of the curtain," said John Barton, sports director of the broadcasting union.

Just over the border in South Korea, as many as 1 million fans have poured into the streets of Seoul for matches. Such enormous rallies have been a tradition in South Korea since 2002, when the team surprisingly reached the semi-finals. Red, naturally, is the clothing colour of choice. Women have fashioned the flag into miniskirts and men are using it as a toga. The South Korean Justice Ministry is even turning a blind eye to a 9pm curfew for the nation's 50,000 convicts on game nights.

* AP