North Korea thrash South at Asian Games as rivalries take center stage

By AFP   September 30, 2023 | 03:42 am PT
North Korea thrash South at Asian Games as rivalries take center stage
North Korea's Ri Hak (2nd, L) celebrates her goal in the women's football quarter-final match between South Korea and North Korea during the Hangzhou's Asian Games in Wenzhou, China's eastern Zhejiang province on September 30, 2023. Photo by AFP
North Korea thrashed South Korea 4-1 in women's football while India battle Pakistan in hockey later Saturday as fierce rivalries took center stage at the Asian Games.

The men's and women's 100m sprint titles will also be contested on the athletics track in Hangzhou, where rain fell on and off throughout the day.

With the Games approaching their halfway point, hosts China have raked in 108 gold medals, far ahead of the rest, with Zhang Zhizhen doing his part on Saturday by winning the men's tennis crown.

North Korea, back in major international competition for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic, clinched a fourth gold of the Games when Ri Song Gum set a world record in the women's weightlifting 49kg class.

She lifted a combined 216kg (92kg snatch, 124kg clean and jerk), one kilo greater than the previous mark, held by China's world champion Jiang Huihua.

Ri jumped with joy and punched the air in celebration, then was emotional on the podium.

There were more beaming North Korean smiles soon after when they soundly beat the South in a feisty encounter in the women's football quarter-finals.

South Korea, led by the English coach Colin Bell, included players who featured at the recent Women's World Cup, where they went out in the group phase.

The neighbours, who are still technically at war, were locked at 1-1 when South Korea forward Son Hwa-yeon was sent off for a second yellow card close to half time.

North Korea made the most of their numerical advantage to score three times in the second period for an ultimately comfortable victory, their players celebrating wildly at the full-time whistle.

They play Uzbekistan in the semi-finals.

Unfriendly neighbours

In tennis, 60th-ranked Zhang made a slow start and fell 4-1 behind in the first set of his final against Japan's Yosuke Watanuki.

But with the home crowd roaring him on, the 26-year-old from Shanghai battled back to win 6-4, 7-6 (9/7) and become the first Chinese men's singles tennis champion at the Games since 1994.

"It's been a very, very tough week, not just this match, but very tough for the whole week actually, from the first match onwards," said Zhang.

"But I'm super-happy that from the beginning of the first match, step by step, I've played better and better tennis."

Rising Chinese star Zheng Qinwen won the women's singles title on Friday for a home double.

Another title winner in the tennis on Saturday was India's Rohan Bopanna, the 43-year-old former Grand Slam mixed doubles champion.

He and Rutuja Bhosale roared back to defeat Taiwan's Liang En-shuo and Huang Tsung-hao after a super-tiebreak, 2-6, 6-3, 10-4, for mixed doubles gold.

Asked how he would celebrate, Bopanna said: "I'm going to watch the India-Pakistan hockey match.

"I can't think of a better moment to go support India."

Arch-rivals Pakistan and India face off in a men's hockey group match in what is sure to be a fierce encounter between more neighbours with fraught ties.

India already got one over Pakistan on Saturday, defeating them 2-1 in the final of the men's team squash competition.

Other gold medals will be won on Saturday in sports including diving, shooting, table tennis and eSports.

Diving is expected to be dominated by the home nation's world-class squad.

The drizzle could be a factor in the outdoor sports.

As well as the 100m titles, five other golds will be snapped up on the second day of track and field.

EJ Obiena of the Philippines, the world number two, will be hot favourite to clinch a first Asian Games gold of his career in the pole vault.

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