North Korean missiles

North Korean missiles fly on soccer battlefield

Penelope Debelle, Adelaide
July 29, 2006

NORTH Korea's women's soccer players and officials have disgraced themselves in Adelaide by karate kicking a referee and hurling bottles when a decision went against them.

Shocked Asian Football Confederation officials yesterday banned three players from a World Cup qualifying match tomorrow and cautioned three others after the team became violent in the final minutes of an Asian Cup semi-final against China in Adelaide on Thursday night.

Goalkeeper Hye Yong Han was caught on video chasing Italian referee Anna De Toni, and then kicking De Toni in the back as the referee was escorted off the pitch by security guards and police.

A witness said Han had "blood in her eyes" as she and at least three others ran towards De Toni after the game. "She looked as if she was going to kill someone," the witness said.

With the game already into injury time and China leading 1-0, the North Koreans scored a goal, but it was disallowed by an assistant referee who waved the offside flag.

The players ran towards the assistant referee yelling abuse but De Toni restored order, issuing a yellow card warning, and the game was played out.

Photographer Tom Miletic, a former soccer referee, said he saw players surround and push De Toni when the match finished and watched in alarm as Han ran past looking furious.

He said De Toni confirmed later she was kicked.

"I've been involved in the game for many years and I have never seen anything like it," Miletic said.

While Chinese officials calmed their supporters, North Korean team officials on the bench joined in the fracas as water bottles and other missiles were hurled into the crowd. Three players, including Han, were suspended for violent conduct, two were cautioned for dissent and another for unsporting behaviour.

The incident has been referred to the Asian Football Confederation disciplinary committee, which could impose fines or additional bans.

Confederation media director Clare Kenny Tipton banned the North Korean team from a post-match news conference. Confederation president Mohamed bin Hammam from Qatar said yesterday the players' behaviour should not reflect on North Korea and was an issue only for the individuals concerned. "One has to be fair also to North Korea," he said. "I think they are the best players in the competition. From my point of view they are always disciplined …"

North Korea, which plays under the name the Democratic People's Republic, is defending the championship title which it has held over two competitions since 2001.

They go into their match against Japan tomorrow night seeking third or fourth place in the Asian Cup.

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