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2018 Fifa World Cup Asian qualifying

Amid rising tensions, China ready for ‘war’ with South Korea – on the football pitch at least

‘Unprecedented security’ expected for World Cup qualifier in Hunan province as relations between countries deteriorate over THAAD anti-missile system

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 11:35am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 March, 2017, 10:41pm

Amid rising tensions between China and South Korea, there will be “unprecedented” security for Thursday night’s World Cup qualifier between the two countries in Hunan province’s Changsha.

Reports in Chinese media said security preparations for the match – a must-win if China are to keep slim qualification hopes alive – were unlike anything experienced football reporters in the country had seen before.

Some 30 police officers were in attendance just for South Korea’s training sessions this week – about a 1:1 ratio between officers and members of the squad – and the Korean embassy in Beijing has issued a safety warning to travelling fans.

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated since South Korea agreed with the United States to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system in the country.

They say THAAD is for defence against North Korea, but Chinese officials believe it is a security threat to China.

Beijing has retaliated with higher trade barriers against Korean companies and a de facto ban on tour groups to Korea.

Retail giant Lotte has had to close more than 80 per cent of its stores in China after boycotts and protests against the company because it donated a golf course as a site for the THAAD battery.

Despite China’s almost non-existent hopes of qualifying from their World Cup group – they are bottom with two points from five games, with South Korea on 10 – as many as 55,000 fans are expected for the match in Hunan’s capital.

A powderkeg atmosphere is expected, with fans set to be given free red t-shirts bearing the slogan “Changsha War” in Chinese.

“South Koreans staying in or visiting China must ensure they cheer on the national team in as orderly a fashion as possible,” a message from the South Korean embassy in Beijing read, Yonhap reported.

“Please take extra caution not to cause trouble with the Chinese people with unnecessary words or actions.”

According to the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, China has become Koreans’ least preferred country after North Korea.

“The match against China will probably be our second most pressure-packed match in this qualifying round after Iran,” German coach Uli Stielike said earlier this month.

“I will try to make sure our players won’t be influenced by the stadium atmosphere or other off-pitch situations.”

Korea lost 1-0 in Iran in a febrile atmosphere in front of 80,000 fans.

“In this qualifying round, our most disappointing match was against Iran, because the players were unable to execute their jobs because they felt the pressure from the stadium atmosphere,” Stielike said.
“But I think that experience will serve as a good lesson for this match against China. The players should now know how to handle that kind of atmosphere.”

China lost 3-2 when the teams met in Korea.