North Korea to send 230-member cheering squad in Winter Olympics

North Korea’s cheerleading squad — dubbed the Hermit Kingdom’s “army of beauties” — are handpicked by Kim Jong Un himself. (AFP)
Updated 17 January 2018
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North Korea to send 230-member cheering squad in Winter Olympics

SEOUL: North Korea plans to send a 230-member cheering squad to South Korea as part of its delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics, Seoul officials said Wednesday, the latest in a series of conciliatory gestures the North has abruptly taken recently following a year of heightened nuclear tension.
North Korea informed South Korea of the size of its Olympic cheering squad when officials from the rivals met at the border for the third time in less than 10 days to discuss how to cooperate in the Olympics.
A flurry of Olympics-related meetings has provided a tentative thaw in long-strained ties between the Koreas. But the North’s reluctance to discuss its nuclear weapons program is raising skepticism over how long this mood of reconciliation will last.
During Wednesday’s talks, the North also told South Korea that it has a plan to send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Paralympics set for March 9-18, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said in a statement. A detailed makeup of the North Korean Paralympics delegation will be determined in further talks between the Koreas, it said.
The Koreas also discussed fielding a joint women’s hockey team and having their athletes march under a “unification flag” depicting the Korean Peninsula, instead of their respective national flags, during the opening ceremony for the February 9-25 Games in Pyeongchang, the ministry statement said.
It said North Korea proposed its Olympic delegation travel to south across the heavily fortified land border. Such a border crossing would be a highly emotional event garnering global attention.
The North has said its delegation would also include high-level officials, journalists, a taekwondo demonstration team and an art troupe along with athletes. On Monday, the two Koreas agreed that a 140-member North Korean art troupe comprising orchestra members, singers and dancers would perform in the South during the Games.
Despite its plans to send big cheering and artistic groups, no North Korean athletes are currently officially qualified to come to Pyeongchang though the Intentional Olympic Committee recently said it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part in the games.
Some critics say the North may be trying to use the Olympics as a chance to launch what they call “peace offensive” to show it’s a normal country despite pursuing nuclear weapons. They also accuse Pyongyang of trying to divide Seoul and Washington to weaken international sanctions and buy time to perfect its nuclear weapons.
The International Olympic Committee is to meet with sports and government officials from the two Koreas and officials from the Pyeongchang organizing committee at its headquarters in Switzerland on Saturday.
A pair of North Korean figure skaters qualified for the Olympics, but North Korea missed a deadline to confirm their participation. The IOC said recently it has “kept the door open” for North Korea to take part in the games.
South Korea also wants the IOC to allow the hockey team’s 23-player Olympic roster to be expanded so that several North Korean players can be added without removing any of the South Korean players. If a joint hockey squad is realized, it would be the Koreas’ first unified team in an Olympics.
There are still worries in South Korea that adding new players less than a month before the Olympics would eventually weaken the team power and deprive South Korean players of due playing time.
“Adding somebody so close to the Olympics is a little bit dangerous just for team chemistry because the girls have been together for so long,” Sarah Murray, the South Korea women hockey team’s head coach, told reporters Tuesday, according to Yonhap news agency. “I think there is damage to our players.”


AS IT HAPPENED: Al-Hilal 2 v. Al-Ittihad 1 - Saudi Super Cup, London

Updated 29 min 26 sec ago
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AS IT HAPPENED: Al-Hilal 2 v. Al-Ittihad 1 - Saudi Super Cup, London

LONDON: Carlos Eduardo ended months of anguish and heartache by firing Al-Hilal to Saudi Super Cup glory at a bouncing Loftus Road stadium on Saturday night.

Eduardo has been out of action since suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury in December and he must have wondered at times if he would ever play again, let alone reach the exalted level he was playing at pre-injury.

But the Brazilian playmaker announced his return to full fitness, upstaged debutant Omar Abdulrahman, and showed there is plenty of life left in him yet by scoring the first goal after 35 minutes. The way he frenziedly celebrated, with a knee slide to the corner flag, summed up just how much this goal meant to him and was clearly a release of months of frustration. 

Gelmin Rivas made the game safe for Al-Hilal with a second just past the hour mark and although Karim El-Ahmadi pulled one back for the Tigers, there could be doubting the Saudi Pro League champions were worthy winners of this full-blooded encounter. They were just too quick, too nimble and too potent for an Al-Ittihad side who are looking to rebuild under new coach Ramon Diaz.

Al-Ittihad gave it a good go and huffed and puffed, but Al-Hilal just had too much quality in attack to the extent that they were able to leave the prolific Omar Khribin on the bench for 75 minutes. It will take some side to prevent Al-Hilal from winning the league title for a third straight season on this evidence.

They were by far the busier and more progressive of the two sides early on and Al-Ittihad were struggling to keep up with their slick movement. Indeed, crude fouls on Eduardo and Salem Al-Dawsari neatly summed up how they were desperately clinging on to Al-Hilal's coat tails. 

Al-Ittihad's defenders had their work cut out with the fluid movement of Al-Hilal's attacking players and it look a last-ditch tackle from the excellent Hassan Moaz to prevent Rivas from connecting with Andre Carrillo's low centre and scoring what would have been a certain goal after ten minutes. From the resulting corner, Al-Dawsari, unmarked and unchallenged, should have buried a header from an Abdulrahman corner, but he failed to even find the target.

Then Al-Dawsari, back from a loan spell at Villarreal, saw a shot deflected wide when he really should have played in Yasir Al-Shahrani on the overlap. But the goal you felt was coming and it arrived on 35 minutes, Eduardo ramming home a cross from Carrillo. It was the least Al-Hilal deserved for their vibrant start. 

The nearest Al-Ittihad came to troubling Ali Al-Habsi in the Al-Hilal goal was when Wanderson looped a header straight into his arms. It wasn't exactly one-way traffic, but it wasn't far off.

Diaz needed to make a change at half-time as Al-Ittihad were being over-run, but instead of shoring things up, the coach made an attacking switch, bringing on Serbian summer Aleksandar Pesic to spearhead the attack. It was a bold move.

It did nothing to shift the momentum, really. Just four minutes into the half, Al-Hilal were on the front again, Mohamed Kanno latching onto a through ball from Al-Dawsari to fire a rising half volley at Assaf Al-Qarni. You felt it was only a matter of time before Al-Hilal scored against and they did so on 62 minutes, Rivas rounding Al-Qarni to roll the ball into the empty net. The Al-Hilal fans went wild, believing that was game, set and match. The trophy, they felt, was theirs.

But Al-Ittihad refused to roll over and just minutes after Jonas forced a flying save from Al-Habsi, Moroccan international El-Ahmadi pulled one back. It was now game on with 23 minutes remaining.

Yet Jorge Jesus, the Al-Hilal coach, showed no signs of shutting up shop and he went for a third instead of holding onto the 2-1 lead by introducing Khribin for Abdulrahman with 15 minutes left. It made for a thrilling finale, as both sides threw the kitchen sink at each other, but Al-Hilal held on to win the trophy for the second time. 

STARTING LINE-UPS:

Al-Hilal: Al-Habsi; Al-Burayk, Botia, Al-Bulayhi, Al-Shahrani; Kanno, Abdulrahman; Carrillo, Al-Dawsari, Eduardo; Rivas.

Al-Ittihad: Al-Qarni; Moaz, Jurman, Hassan, Thiago; Jonas, El-Ahmadi, Villanueva, Wanderson, Al-Muwallad; Romarinho. 

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20:15 - FULL-TIME: AL-HILAL 2 V. AL-ITTIHAD 1: No, they can't - and it's a first Super Cup trophy for Al-Hilal! Omar Abdulrahman wins his first trophy with the Saudi club and it's the Blues who take the first title of the year...

20:00: GOAL - Karim El-Ahmadi gives Al-Ittihad hope of a famous come-back...can they turn this match around?

19:55: GOAL - 2-0 to the Saudi champions, Rivas with the goal this time...

19:45: It's still 1-0 to Al-Hilal, Al-Ittihad pressing to get back into the game, but nothing doing so far...

 

19:35: We're under way in the second half, and Al-Hilal are looking comfortable. Will it be back-to-back league titles for the 'Crescent' this season?

HALF-TIME: It's Al-Hilal who go into the break ahead, thanks to that Eduardo goal.

19:05: GOAL - Al-Hilal take the lead in the 35th minute through Eduardo after he smashes home from a Carillo cross. Advantage to the champions of Saudi Arabia...

19:00: Ever wondered what Loftus Road and west London looked like? The Saudi Super Cup official channel have made this very handy video...

18:55: Both teams working hard, but little end-product from either. Tentative start from both sides.

18:45: Look who's working tonight's game - former Chelsea and England star John Terry and Egypt's Mido...

 

 

18:40: Cagey start from both sides, crowd in good voice. Al-Hilal looking slightly better, but Al-Ittihad's fans making more of the noise...

18:20: Excitement is building in west London ahead of the Saudi Super Cup, with both teams looking for their first title...

 

 

 

18:15: Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad go head-to-head in the Saudi Arabian Super Cup at Loftus Road in west London on Saturday evening, follow live updates here with Arab News.