IT’S the case of the disappearing footballers – an entire squad enveloped in as much mystery as you might expect when they hail from the world’s most repressive regime.
North Korea’s football team will arrive in Sydney ahead of the Asian Cup early next week – but so far every part of their planned whereabouts has been treated appropriately like a state secret.
Where the other 15 competing nations have notified organisers and media of their training venues and pre-tournament friendlies, North Korea will apparently arrive and simply hide away until their opening game against Uzbekistan at ANZ Stadium on January 10.
The team is currently training in the Chinese province of Hainan, before heading to Sydney to finish their preparations.
It may not be a surprise, given the iron secrecy with which North Korea treats all of their affairs, and officials at the Asian Football Confederation say the Communist state’s football team simply ignores many strictures that relate to openness and media access.
How easy it will be to hideaway once the team is here remains to be seen, but then this is hardly a side not used to controversy.
Head coach Yun Jong Su is serving a one-year ban by the AFC for apparently abusing match officials after his side lost the Asian Games final to hated rivals South Korea two months ago.
Brilliantly though Su will be allowed to register as a team official and still conduct training sessions – just not coach the team on match days – though his predecessor Jo Tong-sop has been registered with the AFC as “head coach”.
It will also be interesting to see the support the team gets in that first game, after rows of “fans” in suspiciously identical garb at the 2010 World Cup were revealed to be hand-picked Chinese supporters there to support their “Communist cousins”.