INCHEON, South Korea (AFP) – Hosts South Korea overpowered Thailand 2-0 on Tuesday to set up a titanic Asian Games football final against North Korea.
The two countries, which straddle the world’s most fortified border, each won their semi-finals, giving the men’s tournament a blockbusting gold medal clash with heavy political and emotional overtones.
Communist North Korea beat Iraq 1-0 in extra time in the earlier kickoff.
Striker Lee Jong-Ho headed South Korea in front after 41 minutes as the home side’s relentless pressure finally told before captain Jang Hyun-Soo held his nerve to add a penalty he was forced to take twice in first-half stoppage time.
South Korea’s players will be excused two years of mandatory military service if they end a 28-year title drought and win the tournament, which is played under the same under-23 format as the Olympics.
North and South Korea are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. But they regularly play in sporting contests.
Jong Il-Gwan scored an extra-time winner for North Korea with a curling free kick but was sent off minutes later, ruling him out of Thursday’s final.
Victory for North Korea would serve as a useful propaganda tool for Pyongyang, which frequently lavishes cars and apartments on medal-winning athletes who bring glory to the state.