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North Korea in action early at Asian Games

September 15, 2014

INCHEON, South Korea (AP) — North Koreans have already celebrated a win at Incheon, days before the Asian Games officially begin.

With play under way in the football competition, the North Korean men had a 3-0 win over China in the first round on Monday as thousands of athletes from 45 nations were either still settling in or yet to arrive in the South Korean western port city. The opening ceremony is Friday.

The North Korea lineup was cheered on by a sparse crowd at the football stadium, including South Koreans and a small contingent of uniformed North Korean supporters flying their nation’s flag.

That show of inter-Korean unity came despite tensions between the countries dating from the 1950-53 Korean War that left the sides technically still at war. Open displays of the North Korean flag remain illegal in South Korea, although an exception is being made for official Asian Games venues.

North Korea, which won the men’s football silver medal at the last Asian Games, has a squad of about 150 athletes to compete in 14 sports but pulled plans to send a squad of female cheerleaders.

The 2014 Asian Games will be inaugurated with an opening ceremony featuring Gangnam Style” singer PSY alongside other Korean pop stars and Chinese classical pianist Lang Lang and orchestrated by leading South Korean film director and playwright Jang Jin.

Nearly 10,000 athletes are registered to compete in 42 sports at the event, with China sending the largest contingent of nearly 900, including Olympic champion swimmers Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen and dominant men’s badminton player Lin Dan. As it has done in every edition of the games since 1982, China is expected to take home the most medals, with South Korea and Japan likely to finish high up in the standings.

The games are taking place against a background of concern over the more than $2 billion cost to Incheon, South Korea’s third largest city, which is west of the capital Seoul and is home to one of the world’s busiest international airports.

The city has spent heavily on 17 new venues, including the nearly 62,000-seat main stadium. There’s also a state-of-the-art aquatics center, a new golf course built over an old landfill and a cricket field.

Organizers want to draw 200,000 visitors to the games, but ticket sales have been lagging for all but a few events featuring South Korean sports stars such as Olympic champion swimmer Park Tae-hwan.

The games are also doubling as an expensive rehearsal of sorts for the 2018 Winter Olympics at the South Korean ski resort town of Pyeongchang.

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