(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 11-14)
By Yoo Jee-ho
HANGZHOU, China, Sept. 21 (Yonhap) — North Korea defeated Kyrgyzstan 1-0 for their second straight victory in men’s football at the Asian Games on Thursday, stepping closer to the knockouts with the possibility of a showdown against South Korea looming.
Forward Kim Kuk-jin scored for the second match in a row to help North Korea squeeze past Kyrgyzstan in Group F action at Zhejiang Normal University East Stadium in Jinhua, southwest of the main host city, Hangzhou.
North Korea opened the competition with a 2-0 win over Chinese Taipei on Tuesday.
With six points, North Korea climbed to the top of Group F, three ahead of both Indonesia and Chinese Taipei. North Korea and Indonesia will square off with the top seed at stake on Sunday.
The top two teams from each of the six groups, plus the four best third-place teams, will advance to the knockouts. North Korea have assured themselves of at least a third seed in Group F.
Playing at the same time elsewhere in Jinhua on Thursday, South Korea eased past Thailand 4-0 to secure the top seed in Group E. If North Korea finish in second place in Group F, then the two Koreas will clash in the round of 16 next Wednesday at Jinhua Stadium in Jinhua.
It would be the first all-Korean men’s football showdown at an Asiad since the gold medal match in 2014, when South Korea prevailed 1-0 on Rim Chang-woo’s extra-time score.
North Korea have yet to concede a goal at this Asiad, their first international football appearance since the Asian Football Confederation U-23 Championship in January 2020.
Playing direct and speedy football, North Korea put pressure on Kyrgyzstan on the wings, with Kim Pom-hyok and Paek Chung-song delivering crosses for Kim Kuk-jin and Ri Jo-guk to create chances.
Kim Kuk-jin netted the match’s lone goal off a cross by Kang Kuk-chol in the 20th minute.
North Korea were in complete control of the match and could have scored more goals. Head coach Sin Yong-nam said he will take a victory any way he can.
“Since we won the match, I am satisfied with the result,” Sin said at his post-match press conference. “At least we scored a goal. It doesn’t matter how we won.”
When asked about North Korea’s goal for the rest of the competition, Sin said, “We’ll let our results do the talking from here and on. We’ll keep posting good results.”
North Korean players, for the second straight match, declined to answer questions from South Korean reporters when passing through the mixed zone.
About 30 North Korean female cheerleaders, decked out in white t-shirts bearing their national flag on the front, showed support for their national team.
Individuals who appeared to be cheermasters didn’t acknowledge a Yonhap News Agency reporter when approached.