50,000 spectators fit into the Kim Il Sung Stadium in the North Korean capital Pyongyang. But when the South Korean national team arrive here on Tuesday (10:30 CET), their fans will be missing out on the ranks. They were not allowed to travel with their crew, only spectators from North Korea are admitted.
This is one of many bizarre details of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier, which will face North Korea to South Korea.
Neither supporters nor journalists from South Korea are allowed to follow the meeting in Pyongyang - the North Korean leadership has denied it. At the usual before such games press conference with the South Korean coach Paulo Bento sat on Monday, only five reporters. All came from North Korea.
Only an automated FIFA ticker
Although the South Korean government, according to its own statements, has made efforts "several times over different channels", the game can not be broadcast live. Only an automated ticker from Fifa will be available.
The hospitality of the internationally isolated North Korean regime is very limited - this also affected the South Korean players and their supervisors. Although only about 200 kilometers are located between the capitals of Seoul and Pyongyang, the professionals first had to fly to the Chinese capital Beijing to pick up their visas there. Only one day later they traveled to Pyongyang.
Precisely because North Korea is so strictly isolating the game, the speculations are flourishing. Will ruler Kim Jong Un watch from the stands? After all, he has already watched football matches in the stadium.
Question about the behavior of the fans
How much is the game exploited for domestic propaganda? Like many other communist countries in the past, North Korea uses sporting events time and again to demonstrate strength; the Football Association is interspersed with military and political officials.
How will the North Korean football fans throw bottles and cans at the referee and opposing players in 2005 following a losing match against Iran at the Kim Il Sung stadium? Another such outbreak seems unlikely in the surveillance state.
It will probably be loud in the stadium. So loud that the women's South Korean football team used North Korean propaganda on their training ground in 2017 to be perfectly prepared for their match in Pyongyang.
When North meets South Korea, a football game becomes an overheated duel, political and athletic. Since both countries "ready for battle", the North Korean center forward Han Kwang Song is stylized as "Ronaldo of the North".
Formally still in a state of war
In fact, it is difficult to exclude politics in this game. Both countries have been bitter opponents for decades; Formally, they are still in a state of war because the Korean War in the early 1950s ended with a truce.
Since last year, both states are approaching again. The reconciliation began with a sporting event: At the Olympic Games in February 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the athletes of the two Koreas came under one flag. The "Peace Games" heralded several summits between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In.
But for several months, the euphoria has given way to disillusionment. Long been buried plans for a joint, inter-Korean football team. North Korea refuses many other important projects planned jointly with the South - so that neither separate families can see each other more often nor does economic cooperation progress.
Instead, Kim Jong Un is again testing missiles - which could theoretically hit South Korea's capital Seoul - and his negotiators are cracking talks with the US over the North Korean nuclear program. In short, tensions on the Korean peninsula are on the rise again, giving the Tuesday match a bleak note. Because the leadership separates the football game so, is a clear signal to the South Korean President Moon. The rapprochement is over for now.
Joint team for Tokyo seems doubtful
Moon had been a negotiator between North Korea and the US last year, making reconciliation with the North a major goal of his term. A role model for him also German reunification. Like South Korea, the Federal Republic of Germany has been trying hard since 1974 to meet people from both countries. "The West and East Germans have already exchanged and maintained contacts in many areas before reunification," said South Korean Unity Minister Kim Yeon Chul at the celebration of the 30-year anniversary of the fall of the wall in Seoul last week. "This led to mutual understanding and trust."
But that's exactly what is lacking. A joint team for the 2022 Olympic Games in Tokyo seems doubtful. And while South Korea welcomed Fifa President Gianni Infantino's proposal to jointly organize the 2023 Women's World Cup. The north has, but not surprisingly, so far not responded.
South Korea is the favorite in the game. The record against North Korea speaks for itself: seven wins, eight draws and one defeat. One of these victories succeeded South Korea in April 2009 in Seoul. The North Korean coach accused the South Korean government of poisoning the food of his players: their food poisoning is further evidence of the aggression of the South.
Because if North Korea plays against South Korea, then nothing is apolitical.