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October 23, 2019

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AFC Cup final moved to Shanghai

The final of an Asian club tournament has been moved from Pyongyang to Shanghai, football officials said yesterday, a week after the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and South Korea played out a surreal World Cup qualifier in an empty stadium.

The Asian Football Confederation said it had been “compelled” to shift the November 2 AFC Cup match between the DPRK’s 4.25 SC and al-Ahed of Lebanon to a “neutral venue” due to logistical and other issues.

Its statement did not mention the inter-Korean showdown in Pyongyang but said that commercial partners had warned of challenges in broadcasting the highly anticipated final of Asia’s second-tier continental competition.

Last week’s match — a historic encounter between two countries still technically at war — took place with no live broadcast and no foreign media in attendance, and with FIFA President Gianni Infantino one of just a handful of spectators.

Infantino said he was “disappointed” after attending the match and “surprised” by the absence of fans and lack of media access.

Tottenham Hotspur star Son Heung-min described the game, which ended 0-0, as “very aggressive.”

Last week’s debacle raised doubts over the prospects for further DPRK-South Korea sporting cooperation.

The South Koreans had expected large crowds and until the last minute had no idea that even DPRK spectators would be absent.

FIFA’s Infantino had previously proposed the idea of the two Koreas jointly hosting the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

But last week’s qualifier outraged South Korean fans. Anyone trying to follow the match had to settle for basic live updates provided by FIFA throughout that were limited to yellow cards and substitutes.

Announcing the change of venue for the AFC Cup, the Kuala Lumpur-headquartered football body said that its rights partners had advised it of challenges in “the production and broadcast delivery of the final match.”

“The AFC, after careful consideration of the challenges... is compelled to assign the final match to be played in a neutral venue,” it said.

The AFC said the Chinese Football Association has confirmed its willingness to host the match on November 2 and Shanghai was chosen as the venue for its easy access. Both clubs and their national associations have been informed of the governing body’s decision, it said.

The stadium for the final will confirmed in due course, the body added.

4.25 SC is the first DPRK team to advance to the final of the AFC Cup, which began in 2004 and involves teams from lower-ranked Asian countries.


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