JAKARTA: A joint Korean women’s basketball team recorded their first loss at the Asian Games on Friday but their coach insisted the players have put aside their national identities and are determined to win as a united squad.
A 200-strong army of Korean fans — sporting T-shirts bearing the unified Korean flag and the slogan “One dream, one Corea” — cheered on the team, fresh from a thunderous win against hosts Indonesia on Wednesday.
But the drums and chants were in the end not enough and the team went down to Taiwan 87-85 in their second league encounter.
Nevertheless, Korea’s assistant coach Ha Sook-rye told AFP there is a feeling of togetherness among the players.
“Everything is fine and we have a really good team,” she said in response to a question on how the North and South players get along.
“I don’t know what people feel but it is one team and we never think about North or South Korea.”
The hard-fought encounter saw the Koreans get off to a winning start in the first quarter but Taiwan quickly bounced back.
North Korean Ro Suk Yong, one of three Pyongyang-based players, was once again the team’s top-scorer with 32 points, after bagging 22 against Indonesia.
Chief coach Lee Moon-kyu said better communication between the players would improve their chances in the 5×5 basketball.
“Communication is a problem because they were short of practice time. There was just two weeks of preparation before coming here,” Lee, who hails from South Korea, told reporters after the loss.
“Ro Suk Yong played really well for us. Among the players there is no other feeling than to play well together. So with more on-court time they will improve,” he said of his side, who will play India next on Monday.
Kyungeun Lee, a 19-year-old fan from South Korea, told AFP that “it feels so good to be watching our sport as one country”.
“I don’t find any difference while cheering for South Korea or United Korea,” she added with a smile.
Fellow fan Junyoung Park, a 20-year-old student from South Korea, told AFP he was disappointed but he still had high hopes for the tournament “as our unified team is more stronger”.
South Korea are the defending champions in women’s basketball, defeating China on home turf at the Incheon Games in 2014.
North and South Korea are also fielding united teams in canoeing and rowing at the Asian Games in the latest sign of thawing relations on the troubled peninsula. —AFP