Pyongyang pining for Messi visit

Updated: 2014-12-03 07:11

By Agence France-Presse in Manila(China Daily)

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A top soccer official in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea wants megastar Lionel Messi to visit a new academy in the nation's capital, where the Barcelona striker is a huge hit with children.

Pyongyang pining for Messi visit

Barcelona's soccer player Lionel Messi takes part in a commercial event at Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona November 27, 2014.  [Photo/Agencies]

Han Un-gyong, a member of the Asian Football Confederation's executive committee, said children at the Pyongyang International Football School are avid fans of the Argentine.

"I want to invite him because our children love him," Han said during an AFC gathering in Manila.

"When I go to the Pyongyang school, I ask them who do you think is the best player. They say: 'We love Messi!' Even the girls," Han said.

"They read books about Messi and watch his games through the Internet. They can see all the games, China, Europe and everyone else at our Pyongyang International School. They can watch any football. They love the game, that's why they know all the players' names and everything."

Soccer's biggest stars frequently make trips to fast-growing Asia but a visit to the DPRK by the player nominated for a fifth world player of the year award would cause a stir.

"Lots of students love Messi because he is a very honest man. He loves children," said Han.

She said the academy is the brainchild of sports-mad supreme leader Kim Jong-un, who also likes basketball and has previously hosted ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman in Pyongyang.

About 200 boys and girls in the 9-11 age bracket train at the new facility, which opened this year and gathers the DPRK's most promising soccer talent.

"They're selected from all over the country. Our football association goes to all the provinces and chooses them," said Han.

"We have a lot of matches on weekends, we see them and choose the best. But if we see they're not developing, we send them back and choose others."

Han said it might be five years before the DPRK's senior sides start reaping the benefits of the academy. The national men's team reached the 2010 World Cup and will contest the Asian Cup in January.

The DPRK is banned from next year's Women's World Cup after five players failed drugs tests at the 2011 edition - a result they said came from taking traditional medicine, containing musk deer glands.

But Han expects the women, three-time champions of Asia, to burst back on the scene when they are next eligible for the World Cup in 2019.

"They're so good. It's a great generation. Also the Under-17s are very good," she said.

The DPRK, without a professional league and with no club teams competing in regional contests, is currently ranked 135th in the world ahead of its Asian Cup opener against Uzbekistan on Jan 10.

Forays onto the big stage include the 1966 World Cup, when it stunned Italy to reach the quarterfinals.

In October, the team narrowly lost 1-0 to cross-border rival, the Republic of Korea, at the Asian Games.