FIFA U17: Not just football on North Koreans’ minds

Problems back home could be a big worry for young stars from North Korea and Spain.

The North Korean team trains for the marquee event in Kochi.   -  Thulasi Kakkat

With the U.S. and North Korea threatening to destroy each other, and with the words between the two getting nastier with each passing day, life must be quite hard for the Korean footballers at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup here.

With their own version of the internet controlled by the State, the Koreans had been cut off from the rest of the world but now, away from home, the players must be feeling the heat, bombarded with news that their country could be on the verge of a nuclear war.

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That could be one reason why the Koreans have been rather quiet and low key here the last couple of days, preferring a life in the shadows. While the other teams have been generous, often keeping their training sessions open, Korea has been strict and secretive, allowing only a 15-minute view.

GROUP OF INTRIGUE

Strangely, the World Cup’s Group of Death, which the group ‘D’ is, is also a group of intrigue. For Spain, one of the two heavyweights in the group along with Brazil, has been having problems of its own back home.

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After Sunday’s independence referendum in Catalonia, with the vast majority voting in favour of secession from Spain, the worry lines in the Spanish team here could be getting bigger and broader.

With the news coming in that Catalonia, in Spain’s northeastern region, could formally declare independence as early as Monday, there could be a big worry in the Spanish team: which country would they returning to, after the World Cup?

FC Barcelona, one of the world’s most popular clubs, is in the Catalan region and when it closed its doors and played a La Liga match in an empty stadium recently, it signalled its unhappiness with the Spanish Government.

There are four Barcelona players in the Spain team here, including its prolific scorer Abel Ruiz, and clearly these are uneasy times for the side ahead of its big game against Brazil on Saturday. “All good,” replied a Spanish official on Thursday when asked whether the Catalonia referendum was spreading a wave of worry in the side.

It’s hard to believe that.

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