North Korea Seeks Victory -- on the Soccer Field

Did North Korea blink?

Wedged between its threat to launch a "merciless" nuclear attack, its sentencing of two American journalists to hard labor and growing evidence that its on the verge of yet another missile test comes word that the North Koreans recently reached out to their bitter enemies in the South with a personal appeal:

Beat Saudi Arabia!

South Korea, Japan and Australia already have filled three of Asia's four automatic World Cup qualification spots with two rounds still to play, and the last slot will be filled by one of the three remaining tournament heavyweights: Saudi Arabia, North Korea or Iran.

South Korea, the 2002 World Cup semifinalist, hosts Saudi Arabia on Wednesday and Iran a week later, and two home wins would leave neighboring North Korea just needing a draw in its remaining game in Saudi Arabia on June 17 to qualify for its second World Cup.

Cho Chung-yeon, president of the Seoul-based Korean Football Association, told reporters he had been contacted by his counterparts from the North.

"We received a request from North Korea that we help them qualify by winning against Saudi Arabia,'' Cho said.

National team coach Huh Jung-moo publicly said after the UAE win that he wanted both Koreas to go to South Africa and the domestic media supports him. He also wants to win for other reasons.

"I know about North Korea's request,'' said Huh, who has led South Korea on a 23-match unbeaten run, "but I am not going to dwell on it.

We will do our best to win against Saudi Arabia and Iran. We want to win for ourselves to maintain this good form and our levels of confidence.''

At the moment, however, Saudi Arabia is in the best position for second place and is aiming for a fifth successive appearance on the global stage.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.