(ATTN: ADDS comments in paras 11-15)
JINHUA, China, Sept. 19 (Yonhap) -- North Korea defeated Chinese Taipei 2-0 to kick off the Asian Games men's football competition in China on Tuesday, marking the reclusive country's return to the international sporting scene with an easy win.
Ri Jo-guk and Kim Kuk-jin scored a goal apiece for North Korea in Group F action at Zhejiang Normal University East Stadium in Jinhua, just southwest of the main Asiad host city of Hangzhou.
This is North Korea's first appearance at a multisport competition since the 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia.
North Korea skipped the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2021, citing COVID-19 concerns. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended North Korea from competitions, and North Korea was not eligible for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The ban was lifted at the end of last year, and with the Hangzhou Asiad having been postponed by a year due to the pandemic, North Korea was eligible to compete in China. It will have nearly 200 athletes competing in China.
The opening ceremony of the Asian Games is Saturday, but preliminary action in football, volleyball, cricket and beach volleyball began Tuesday.
South Korea were set to play their first men's football match, against Kuwait in Group E, later Tuesday in Jinhua.
South Korea are favored to win Group E over Kuwait, Bahrain and Thailand. If South Korea take Group E and North Korea finish as the runners-up in Group F, which also includes Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan, then it will set up an all-Korean showdown in the round of 16 on Sept. 27.
North Korea dominated possession against Chinese Taipei and opened the scoring just seven minutes in, with Ri's shot bouncing into the goal off a Taiwanese player.
Kim doubled North Korea's lead with a volley set up by Paek Chung-song's cross.
North Korea head coach Sin Yong-nam said he was pleased with the way his players executed their plans, but it was too early in the tournament to define his team's strengths.
This was North Korea's first international football match since the Asian Football Confederation U-23 Championship in January 2020.
"We will prove ourselves with results on the pitch," Sin said at the post-match press conference. "Even though we haven't played for almost four years, we trained our players really well at home, and the players were able to maintain their potential and capabilities through domestic matches."
As for the potential showdown against South Korea, Sin said, "If the matchup materializes, we will try to win it for sure."
North Korean players did not stop in the mixed zone for interviews, though one player told South Korean reporters, "It was a good match."
In the stands were a handful of North Korean women, dressed in light purple polos and black trousers, cheering on their national team.
In sporting competitions, North Korea has been famous for its cheering squad, made up of young women who perform choreographed moves and cheers in unison.