Blatter welcomes North Korea qualification

JOHANNESBURG - FIFA president Sepp Blatter welcomed North Korea's qualification for the 2010 World Cup, saying it showed the game's development around the world was continuing unabated.

"I think to have the Democratic Republic of Korea at the World Cup is a confirmation that the development of football will not stop, and North Korea has always had good footballers," Blatter told a media briefing on Monday.

"In the past they have been in FIFA's women's competitions, they have had great players in the women's Under-17 and Under-20 teams."

North Korea famously beat Italy 1-0 in the group stage on their previous appearance in the finals in 1966. They also led Portugal 3-0 in the quarter-finals of the tournament before losing 5-3 to a Eusebio-inspired fightback.

They secured a place in the finals again when they drew 0-0 with Saudi Arabia in Riyadh last week, taking them through from Asian qualifying along with South Korea, Australia and Japan.

North Korea is a notoriously closed society but FIFA rules mean the squad will have to hold regular, open media briefings at the finals in South Africa next year.

"I don't think there will be a problem with North Korea," Blatter said. "Whether we can make a draw and bring them together with Italy again, we'll have to wait and see whether Italy qualify," he joked.