The home side outperformed the visitors to earn a face-saving win following elimination from the final round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup
The hosts pressured from the opening whistle, with Jong Tae-Se creating several attacking opportunities in the first half hour. North Korea impressed with their physicality, repeatedly threatening and showing a much different posture than in their loss at Saitama Stadium in early September.
Japan struggled to find their rhythm with an experimental lineup that featured six changes from Friday’s victory at Tajikistan, including Ryoichi Maeda starting up top and Masahiko Inoha at right back. With home supporters banging drums, waving flags, and even enacting a massive card display in the stand, this was possibly the most hostile environment ever played in by the Samurai Blue.
In an unexpected move that confused some, Tae-se was substituted in the 34th minute despite no apparent injury. Despite continuous pressure by North Korea, the half ended scoreless.
The opening minutes of the second half saw Japan take their first corner kick of the game; Ryoichi Maeda nearly broke the deadlock when his attempt went just wide.
But it was North Korea that pulled ahead with a 50th-minute header by Pak Nam-Chol that was poorly handled by Japan’s Shusaku Nishikawa.
Play got more intense as the second half progressed. Referee Nawaf Shukralla did his best to control the match, handing out cautions to six North Koreans, and eventually dismissed Jong Il-Gwan in the 78th minute.
Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni attempted to spark Japan’s attack by adding Mike Havenaar and Tadanari Lee, but despite the man-advantage the visitors failed to add a goal. They suffered their first defeat since falling to Paraguay at the 2010 World Cup.