North Korean athletes arrive in the South for Paralympics
North Korean athletes arrive in the South for Paralympics
Two competitors — both of them taking part in cross-country skiing — along with four observer athletes and 18 officials crossed the land border north of Seoul before heading for the venues.
Their journey came a day after Seoul announced plans to hold a historic summit between the North’s leader Kim Jong Un and the South’s President Moon Jae-in — the latest fruit of their Olympics-fueled diplomacy.
Moon sought to use the February 9-25 Pyeongchang Winter Games to try to broker dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang in a bid to ease the nuclear standoff between them.
The North mounted a charm offensive by sending hundreds of cheerleaders and Kim’s sister to the opening ceremony of the Games, during which athletes from the two Koreas marched together under a neutral “unification flag.”
Seoul responded by sending Moon’s special envoys — including his spy chief — to Pyongyang this week, where leader Kim told them he was willing to discuss denuclearization with the US.
The North Korean athletes — Kim Jong Hyon and Ma Yu Chol — may march with their counterparts from the South during Friday’s opening ceremony for the Paralympics, which run until March 18.
The pair made their international debuts in a tournament in January in Oberried, Germany.
It is the first time the North, which has often faced criticism for its cruel treatment of disabled people, has taken part in the Winter Paralympics.
Pyongyang had previously sent athletes to the 2012 Summer Paralympics in London and the 2016 edition of the games in Rio.
Craig Spence, a spokesman for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), said the athletes had been given “bipartite” slots for the games, meaning they had not been able to meet the full qualification criteria.
“They have bipartite invitations from us due to their circumstances. They have not been traveling around the world and have not been able to take part in all the qualifying events,” he told AFP.
Saudi Arabia out to make up for wasted opportunities against Egypt in World Cup dead rubber
- Green Falcons to face Egypt in final game of Group A
- Both side already out of the World Cup after defeats to Russia and Uruguay
VOLGOGRAD: Fahad Al-Muwallad has promised to make up for wasted opportunities when he and his Saudi Arabia teammates face Middle East neighbors Egypt in their final match of the World Cup on Monday.
Al-Muwallad, the pacy forward heralded as the Green Falcons’ most dangerous goal-threat, was left on the bench for much of his team’s embarrassing opening day defeat to Russia. By the time he was introduced in the 64th minute, Saudi Arabia were already 2-0 down and would go on to concede three more without response. In their second match, the 1-0 defeat to Uruguay, the diminutive winger was recalled to the starting line-up and employed as a center forward, but struggled against a dominant defense that included the twin towers of Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez.
“The first match was very difficult,” said Al-Muwallad, who spent the past six months on loan at Levante from Al-Ittihad.
“We were surprised, taken aback and confused. We wanted to win. Our match against Uruguay then became a decisive match because we needed to get the three points, but were unable to do so. Against Egypt, we have another difficult match and hope to get the three points.”
The poor results prompted much scrutiny at the highest levels of Saudi Arabian football with Turki Al-Alsheikh, the head of the country’s General Sports Authority, simultaneously taking responsibility and blaming the players.
Al-Muwallad, when asked if the administrative issues had affected their preparations for their final Group A match, instead focused on his team’s chance to make amends.
“Everyone has done their best,” he said.
“The managers of the team gave us a great deal of support, Saudi Arabia supported us. Perhaps we wasted a few opportunities, but we have a chance to make up for what happened since the beginning. We have a bright future ahead of us as players. We want to win the three points and we want to make the Saudi fans happy and hope that we will be able to do so.”
While the Green Falcons are without a World Cup win for 12 consecutive games, a streak running back to 1994, Egypt have never won at the tournament. Yet it is the Pharaohs that have the better record against their neighbors from across the Red Sea. After six FIFA-recognized meetings, Egypt lead the head-to-head series with four wins and a draw. With English Premier League top goalscorer Mohamed Salah in their ranks, Hector Cuper’s side will enter the match at Volgograd Arena as favorites.
“Of course our match against Egypt will be a very difficult match,” Al-Muwallad said. “Every squad and team dreams of winning a World Cup game. We want those three points, regardless of the opponent and while we respect them, I think they recognize that the Saudi team a is a team to be reckoned with. We will enjoy the match.”
Juan Antonio Pizzi, the Saudi Arabia coach, said he has no specific plan to combat the threat of Salah, much like he employed no particular man-marking plan against Uruguay’s Luis Suarez. His Green Falcons, however, are well aware of the Liverpool forward’s threat.
“When you face an opposition that has high individual qualities, you have to show this to your players and prepare them so they know what to do to stave them off,” said Pizzi. “Salah has huge qualities and it is no coincidence that he has had such a wonderful career — especially this past year in England — so we will take precautions and try to contain him — although not only him — and stave off any sort of attacking play that they might try to develop.”
With midfielder Taiseer Al-Jassem pulling his hamstring against Uruguay and Omar Hawsawi and Mohammed Al-Burayk also struggling to be fit, Pizzi will likely need to shuffle his pack. Yet while the Argentine conceded he is already thinking about next January’s Asian Cup, he said he does not intend to use the dead rubber as a chance to give younger players experience.
“We will field the best team possible,” Pizzi said. “Of course, we have 23 players in the squad, but we will choose the team that will provide us our very best opportunity in a match that is very important for us. We will give our very best and play our best possible line-up.
“Regarding strategies and tactics, we know how Egypt play. I have a very good relationship with Hector Cuper and have known him for a very long time. So we will try to impose our way of playing and try to prevail with a win.”