Incheon: North and South Korea will be playing for more than just a gold medal when they clash in the Asian Games football final on Thursday.
The countries remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, and the tournament decider in Incheon takes place, symbolically, just 120 miles (195km) from the world`s most fortified border.
The rewards for giving their ideological enemies a bloody nose will have a considerable impact on both sets of players.
South Korea`s players will be excused two years of mandatory military service if they end a 28-year title drought and win the men`s competition, which is played under the same under-23 format as the Olympics.
Victory over the hosts and tournament favourites, who are under intense pressure to win, would be a valuable propaganda tool for the communist North.
Should they upset the odds, their players can expect a hero`s welcome in Pyongyang, known to lavish cars and apartments on athletes who bring glory to the state.
North Korea`s athletes and officials held a special "longing for the leader" gathering at the Asian Games, dedicating tear-jerking songs and poems to the country`s leader Kim Jong-Un, who is reportedly suffering with gout after eating too much imported cheese.
The North fired the opening volley on the eve of the football final, coach Yun Jong-Su criticising the refereeing of his side`s 1-0 extra-time victory over Iraq in the semi-finals.
"Did you people see the match against Iraq yesterday?" he asked journalists at a news conference. "What did you make of it? Correct calls are an essential part of fair play, but things are not like that here."
- `Bad calls -
"There were a lot of bad calls in the match yesterday," he added. "Perhaps the referees can`t see things from a distance, but he failed to see things happened when he was close to the play. We hope the final is refereed fairly. If so, we will fight fairly and squarely."
South Korea coach Lee Kwang-Jong insisted his players would manage their emotions in a gold medal game brimming with political and historical overtones.
"Mentally, as well as physically, the players are ready," he said the morning after South Korea`s 2-0 win over Thailand. "We have focused throughout on winning gold and we`re looking forward to a great game."
Lee will give beanpole forward Kim Shin-Wook a late fitness test as he recovers from a calf injury, while North Korea will be without prolific striker Jong Il-Gwan, sent off moments after scoring his side`s winner against Iraq.
The North last won men`s football gold at the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok when they shared it with South Korea after a drawn final.
Organisers will beef up security after South Korea fans waved a political banner during their quarter-final win over bitter rivals Japan, prompting the Japanese delegation to lodge a formal protest.
"Of course it`s a sensitive issue that the two countries (North and South Korea) are playing each other," said Kim Bae-Ok, director of the organising committee`s media support bureau. "We will do everything we can to ensure the game is conducted safely."