TOKYO — North Korea downed bitter rivals Japan 1-0 on Tuesday in a bad-tempered World Cup qualifier dripping with political tensions and littered with yellow cards.
Pak Nam Chol's 50th-minute header avenged North Korea's September defeat in Tokyo and sparked delirious scenes from the packed crowd at Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Stadium.
But the hosts' first win in qualifying came too late to save their campaign, which was killed off last week by Uzbekistan, while Asian champions Japan were already through to the last round with 10 points from their first three games.
And the match was a spiteful affair with Bahraini referee Nawaf Shukralla showing eight yellow cards to North Korean players including Jong Il Gwan, who was dismissed for his second caution on 77 minutes.
Near the hour-mark, both tensions had threatened to boil over when both sides squared up for a tense argument, although there was no violence.
"It was a physical match in a tough environment," Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni told Japanese broadcaster TBS.
"I suppose our opponents were also feeling pressure for this match against Japan. Their spirit might have showed in the number of yellow cards they received," he said.
Fiercely nationalist North Korea were playing purely for pride after their slim hopes of making it back-to-back World Cups at Brazil 2014 were dashed on Friday in Tashkent.
But Japan's national anthem received a deafening round of boos before the game, which was broadcast live after North Korea allowed access to a limited number of Japanese journalists.
The raucous crowd cheered wildly every time North Korea pushed forward, with one stand of the stadium regularly transformed into a living poster, as fans held up a red or yellow card to form a giant Korean-language slogan.
On 50 minutes Ri Kwang Chon's long ball into the box reached the head of Pak Kwang Ryong, who set it up for a Pak Nam Chol to nod the only goal of the game, triggering an ear-splitting ovation that lasted several minutes.
North Korea had dominated Zaccheroni's youthful Japanese side with Pak Song Chol threatening from a free-kick in the 26th minute.
In the 40th minute, defender Pak Nam Chol sent over a menacing cross, but Pak Song Chol's diving header just missed.
Preparations for the game had also proved controversial after just 150 tickets were allocated for Japanese fans, who huddled silently in a corner of the stadium guarded by uniformed military officers.
On Monday, reports said Japan were held up for four hours by a baggage and immigration inspection at a Pyongyang airport while dour officials told players not to laugh and confiscated their bananas, chewing gum and instant noodles.
The airport experienced three power outages during the lengthy process, according to Japanese media.
The team began their official practice around 8:00 pm -- three hours later than intended -- wearing hats and gloves in a bitterly cold Kim Il Sung Stadium, reports said.
A Korean state broadcaster, whose 10 cameras were supplemented by two from the private Japanese TBS network, provided professional-looking coverage of the game but steered clear of anything other than the action on the pitch.
In 2005, angry North Korean fans rained stones, bottles and other debris on to the pitch and demonstrated in large numbers outside the stadium when their team lost a home World Cup qualifier against Iran.
Japan does not have diplomatic relations with North Korea, which still demands reparations from its former colonial rulers for wartime atrocities.
The communist regime is widely despised in Japan, where feelings run high over the unresolved abductions in the 1970s and 80s of young Japanese citizens who were used to train Pyongyang's spies in Japanese language and customs.
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