When the draw was made for the second round groups of the Asian qualifying section of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar there were some big matches pulled out of the hat, but none more so than North Korea vs South Korea in Group H.
So we thought we’d take an in depth look at the footballing rivalry of these two teams, which over the years has had its ups and downs!
Firstly, while in men’s football the South has dominated the North, with the North only winning one match against the South, the opposite has been true of women’s football, which has been dominated by the North’s female team, with the South only beating them once.
In men’s football, the meetings between the two teams have generally been played in neutral venues as part of tournaments or because the DPRK has not allowed the flag and anthem from the South to be displayed on northern soil. The one exception to this was in 1990 for a friendly, where the North also picked up their only ever win against the South, defeating them 2-1. South Korea won the reverse fixture 12 days later in Seoul 1-0.
They have met in the Asian Games and Asian Cup in Bangkok and Kuwait, while the South won a World Cup qualifier in 1989 played in the neutral venue of Singapore.
In 1993 for the final round of World Cup qualifiers, South Korea beat the North 3-0 in Doha, Qatar, prompting the North to withdraw from international football during a period where President Kim Il Sung passed away and the country experienced famine at home.
Their next encounter was not until 2005 in the East Asia Championships in Seoul, where they played out a 0-0 draw. 10 days later they played again in Seoul to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Japan in World War Two, with the South winning 3-0.
The six games since then have been largely draws or narrow victories for the South, with the North’s “home” games being played at the neutral venue of Shanghai.
The story in women’s football has seen an inverse relationship between the two Koreas. The first ever meeting between the two teams was in 1990 during the Asian Games where the DPRK beat the ROK 7-0! Since then the North’s women’s team has dominated, winning or drawing every encounter except for one solitary 1-0 victory in Jeonju in a friendly game.
Recent games have seen the North win 4-1 in the 2006 Asian Games, 4-0 in the 2008 East Asian Championship, 3-1 (AET) in the semi-final of the Asian Games and with narrow victories in every game since bar one 1-1 draw in 2017 played in the Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang.
Now all eyes are on Pyongyang to see if the men’s qualifier takes place there or in a neutral venue. The North’s star player Han Kwang Song has recently signed for Juventus, so maybe things are looking up for the DPRK, but the sight of Son Heung-min and others in Pyongyang would surely mean as much as it does to the football community as it would to the entire relations on the Korean peninsula!