SEOUL - North Korea make their fourth appearance at the Asian Cup this month and if the trail of controversies that has followed the team at major tournaments in recent years is anything to go by, their campaign in Australia is likely to be far from boring.
The North arrive in Australia for the Jan. 9-31 tournament without coach Yun Jong Su, who was hit with a 12-month ban by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for his behaviour after the Asian Games final against South Korea in October.
Jo Tong Sop has been put in charge for the tournament, where the North will face Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and China in the opening group phase.
Choi Dong-ho, a South Korean journalist covering North Korea, told Reuters that the North's isolation from the international community could have an impact on how its players behave in the sporting arena. "There have been quite a few controversies and looking at it dispassionately, North Korea sees it from their perspective as bias against them," Choi said.
North Korea did not participate in many competitions and little was known about the country's athletes so they came under intense scrutiny when they did make it to a big tournament, he added.
The North's athletes are also under tremendous pressure to do well on the international stage, to raise the country's profile in the global spotlight, which sometimes causes them to cross the line in terms of sportsmanship. "The North Korean players fight so hard because they so desperately want a victory as it is used as political propaganda for the country," Choi said. "That's why sometimes they protest too strongly when decisions go against them. "From North Korea's perspective, they are just doing what they need to achieve victory, but from the outside it can look as if they don't know how to behave." FREQUENT OFFENDERS Sanctioning from the region's governing body is nothing new for the North Koreans.
They were banned from the 2007 Asian Cup after the AFC suspended them for "improper conduct" during the 2004 qualifying tournament.
North Korean immigration officials had refused entry to the visiting Jordan team, saying they did not have the correct visas. The AFC awarded Jordan a 3-0 win, suspended North Korea for one year and banned them from the next tournament.
North Korea's antics in World Cup qualifying have also proved a headache for the AFC, with their refusal to play South Korea's national anthem or raise their flag in Pyongyang forcing 2010 qualifiers to be played in China.
In the return match in Seoul, the North accused South Korea of deliberately giving their players food poisoning.
The North also caused problems for FIFA when they tried to include an additional outfield player in their squad for the 2010 World Cup by naming striker Kim Myong Won as one of their three goalkeepers.
FIFA sniffed out the ruse, however, and told North Korea that those listed as goalkeepers could only play as goalkeepers and that Kim would not be allowed to play outfield.
The governing body also had to take stern action against North Korea's women's team after five players tested positive for steroids at the 2011 World Cup.
The North, who said the drugs were administered accidentally during the treatment of players who had been affected by a lightning strike, were banned from the 2015 World Cup as part of the sanctions imposed by FIFA.