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Women’s World Cup: North Korean coach blames loss on players struck by lightning

North Korea wore down in the second half, a factor its coach blamed on players being hit by lightning in the lead up to the World Cup. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

Guardian sports journalist John Ashdown tweeted live from the stunning press conference as Kim Kwang Min said between four and seven players, including goalkeeper Hong Myong Hui and several strikers were hit by lightning during a training match on June 8. The coach said more than five of those players were hospitalized.

’The strength of our players not sufficient so our strategy could not be implemented’ bcos 4 (or maybe 5, 6 or 7) hit by lightning #wwc2011less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet ReplyJohn Ashdown

’The doctors said players were not capable of participating in the tournament, but until the very last minute they gave their best #wwc2011less than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet ReplyJohn Ashdown

The North Koreans began the game in fine form, ripping through the U.S. defense — particularly on the right side — and forcing American goalie Hope Solo to make five first half saves to keep the game scoreless going into the half.

But the Americans’ experience shone through in the second half as they increased their pressure in the offensive third and finally found the back of the net on Lauren Cheney’s header in the 54th minute. By the time the U.S. tallied its second goal, it was clear fatigue had taken its toll on the young North Koreans.

Kim said his players will continue to compete in the tournament, and after their spirited showing against the United States, he can be sure the rest of Group A (Sweden and Colombia) won’t be taking the North Koreans lightly — full strength or not.

“With today’s game I think the players have shown that you need the will to play the game,” Kim said. “Most of the players are young and inexperienced, but we showed to everyone that we can fight with the best.”

Of course North Korea’s players are not permitted to speak to the press and Kim’s comments were filtered through a translator, so corroborating the validity of the story is difficult.

Believe it or not, there is a precedent for this type of thing, although it ended with much more than a 2-0 defeat for Bena Tshadi of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In October 1998, the team’s entire starting 11 was reportedly killed when lightning struck their field in the eastern province of Kasai. Miraculously, the visiting team from Basanga sustained no injuries.

In other Group C news, Colombian backup goalkeeper Yineth Varon has been banned from the Women’s World Cup after testing positive for banned substances.

Varon took an out-of-competition test Saturday in Leverkusen. Naturally, FIFA did not say what substance was involved in the positive test.

Tuesday Colombia dropped its tournament opener 1-0 to Sweden. The United States play Colombia in their next group match on Saturday.

Matt Brooks is the high school sports editor for The Washington Post. He's an Arlington native and longtime District resident and was previously a high school sports reporter, editor for several blogs and Early Lead contributor with The Post.


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