PYONGYANG, North Korea – A British women's soccer team with a historic connection to North Korea landed Saturday in Pyongyang on a groundbreaking trip to the communist nation.
Middlesbrough Ladies is the first soccer team from Britain to visit the Asian nation, building on a tie the town has had with North Korea since the 1966 World Cup.
North Korean officials welcomed the group of 14 players and three coaches with big smiles at the airport, footage from TV news agency APTN in Pyongyang showed.
Dressed in red tracksuits, the players practiced their Korean by saying "kimchi!", a traditional Korean dish, as they posed for photos. Players wore T-shirts showing two jerseys representing their countries with the words "Friendship Football" emblazoned on the front.
"Absolutely friendship in football," Middlesbrough Ladies team manager Marrie Wieczorek told APTN. "The link with Middlesbrough and North Korea from the World Cup in '66 is pretty legendary in Middlesbrough."
Middlesbrough Ladies is scheduled to play two exhibition matches against North Korean teams, and will hold training sessions with schoolchildren during its four-night stay in the capital.
North Korea's official state media also reported on the players' arrival, saying the matches will mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of diplomatic ties between North Korea and Britain.
"It's a very exciting and historical tour because it is the first time that a U.K. team has come to North Korea to play friendly matches against North Korean teams," British Ambassador Peter Hughes told APTN.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea was making its World Cup debut in 1966 when the team landed in northeast England and settled into Middlesbrough for the first round.
Locals embraced the Asian players and adopted North Korea as their second team. The North Koreans staged a major upset by beating Italy 1-0 to reach the quarterfinals.
The man who scored the winning goal, Pak Tu Ik, will be among members of North Korea's 1966 squad to meet with the Middlesbrough Ladies during their visit, APTN said.
Surviving members of the squad had returned to Britain to visit Middlesbrough in October 2002, and were the focus of a documentary about their 1966 World Cup run called "The Game of Their Lives."
It took another 44 years for North Korea to qualify for the World Cup. They made it to the finals of the 2010 World Cup, but lost all three first-round games in South Africa: to Brazil, Portugal and Ivory Coast.