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Amid talks to unify their teams, Koreas to face off on soccer field

Amid talks to unify their teams, Koreas to face off on soccer field

At the Asian Games on Saturday, North and South Korea will face off against each other on the soccer field.
Come 2008, they may be playing on the same team.
The politically charged game will determine which team goes on to the semifinals at the Asian Games soccer competition, the marquee event in the continent's biggest sports extravaganza.
Winning would be a major prize for either country. The last time the Koreas played each other in soccer was in November 2005, and the North won 2-0 in Macau at the East Asian Games.
South Korea, however, had the honor of co-hosting the World Cup with Japan in 2002 and its team made a surprising run to the semifinals, losing to eventual finalist Germany.
That was the best result by an Asian team, surpassing North Korea's quarterfinal appearance in the 1966 World Cup.
Saturday's quarterfinal comes amid a flurry of talks aimed at joining the two countries into one team at future sporting events, including the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Officials from both sides met repeatedly ahead of the start of the games in this tiny nation on the Persian Gulf to try to work out a plan to unify their teams, but made little progress.
Soccer is one of the main sticking points.
The impoverished North, with fewer facilities and opportunities to train, wants an equal share of the slots on any unified team, while the affluent South wants the slots to be decided on merit, which would likely tip the balance toward its own athletes.
Team sports like soccer present a particularly difficult dilemma because of the problems of selecting and mixing the members.
South Korean officials said that several days of talks here failed to produce any concrete compromises, although both Koreas did agree that they support the idea of a unified team in principle and will continue to discuss the matter.
Also casting a shadow over the talks was North Korea's first test of a nuclear device, which brought down harsh criticism from around the globe and resulted in tough sanctions from the United Nations' Security Council that have further isolated North Korea's ruling regime and its enigmatic leader, Kim Jong Il.
Seoul has joined in the sanctions, and the Oct. 9 test nearly scuttled plans for the Koreas to march together at the opening ceremonies of these games. A last-minute agreement resuscitated that plan, and the Koreas marched together with a basketball player from the South and a soccer player from the North carrying the blue-and-white unification flag into Doha's brand new Aspire Stadium.
Saturday's game will not be the first North-South competition here.
On Thursday, their women's teams played each other in the final game of their preliminary-round matches. North Korea won decisively.
"The South Korean side is very strong," North Korean coach Kim Kwang Min said of the 4-1 win. "But our players have the spirit to win."
Kim added that he hopes someday to play with, and not against, his fellow Koreans.
"I'd love to play an international match with unified North and South Korean players," he said.
In other men's quarterfinals Saturday, host Qatar is against Thailand, China takes on Iran and Iraq plays Uzbekistan.