4 'missing' NKorean players turn up to practice

Jun 18, 2010 - 6:27 PM By JEAN H. LEE Associated Press Writer

TEMBISA, South Africa(AP) -- Four players from North Korea's soccer team put to rest questions about their whereabouts Friday simply by turning up for practice.

Speculation about the players' whereabouts began building after four players missed North Korea's first World Cup match Tuesday against Brazil.

FIFA denied that the players were missing, and video shot Thursday night by broadcaster AP Television News showed three of the four players sitting on the team bus.

All four - Pak Sung Hyok, An Chol Hyok, Kim Kyong Il and Kim Myong Won - were on the field for training as usual Friday at Makhulong Stadium in the township of Tembisa. They could be seen stretching, jogging and kicking soccer balls alongside their teammates.

FIFA said the confusion arose after North Korea handed in a squad list Tuesday with only 19 names, not the usual 23. North Korean team officials explained that they omitted the names of players who were going to sit out the game, FIFA media official Gordon Watson said.

The South Americans won the game 2-1.

Isolated and impoverished North Korea has a team in the World Cup for the first time in 44 years.

The team is sequestered in a tightly secured hotel north of Johannesburg and has largely stayed out of the public eye. Teammates dine and travel together as a group, going between their hotel and the training grounds or to a gym for sporadic workouts accompanied by team officials.

The team bus arrived at the stadium in to a crush of reporters, TV cameras and photographers. With curtains drawn, the bus pulled up close to the entrance, away from the media glare.

A news conference scheduled for Friday was canceled at the last minute, but reporters were allowed to watch about 20 minutes of the training session.

All four players were visible on the field. The players did not acknowledge the press, and the practice began without fanfare.

The team's participation in football's biggest event comes as North Korea faces international scrutiny over its nuclear program and the sinking of a South Korean warship in March. Forty-six sailors were killed in an explosion that a multinational team of investigators blamed on a North Korean torpedo.

North Korea's next game is against Portugal on Monday in Cape Town.

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