TOKYO, Japan - North Korea downed bitter rivals Japan 1-0 on Tuesday in a bad-tempered World Cup qualifier dripping with political tensions.
Pak Nam Chol's 50th-minute strike avenged North Korea's September defeat in Tokyo and sparked jubilation in the seemingly capacity 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.
"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.
Japan's national anthem received a deafening round of boos before the game, while their team were also held up for four hours by a baggage and immigration inspection at a Pyongyang airport on Monday.
The Blue Samurai touched down in the capital of the hermit state around 3:00 pm, but were not able to leave the airport until after 7:00 pm, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun, Kyodo News and other major media on Tuesday.