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North Korea match set for Thailand

North Korea
Bangkok (Thailand)
Franz Beckenbauer

TOKYO, Japan -- North Korea's politically charged World Cup qualifier against Japan next month will be played in Bangkok, Thai media have said.

The Bangkok Post reported that Thai officials have received a fax from FIFA requesting the match be held in Thailand after it was switched from North Korean capital Pyongyang.

FIFA ordered the June 8 clash to be played in a neutral country behind closed doors following crowd trouble after North Korea's 2-0 defeat by Iran on March 30.

FIFA punished North Korea after fans hurled bottles, rocks and other projectiles in protest at a late sending off in the game with Iran at the Kim Il-sung Stadium.

Soldiers moved in to restore calm as North Korean fans prevented Iran's bus from leaving the stadium after the game in a rare display of public disorder in the secretive communist state.

North Korea's state-run media blasted FIFA's decision as "unjust" while South Korean officials are assisting the North to file an appeal.

Neutral observers have also questioned the severity of FIFA's punishment.

Franz Beckenbauer, chairman of Germany's 2006 World Cup organising committee, suggested FIFA had "over-reacted".

"The decision was made in Zurich so maybe FIFA didn't know exactly what happened," he said in Seoul this week. "Maybe FIFA is over-reacting. North Korea should have another chance."

Japanese officials lobbied to have the game moved from Pyongyang and avoid a politically awkward visit given the bitter relations between the two governments.

Japan indicated, however, that they would protest if FIFA ordered the game to be played in China after weeks of anti-Japan demonstrations in the country.

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