GANGNEUNG, South Korea, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Switzerland’s Alina Muller almost single-handedly spoiled Korea’s Olympic unity moment on Saturday, scoring four goals to power the Swiss to an 8-0 win over Korea’s unified women’s ice hockey team.
The game, played before South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, was the first ever played by a Korean hockey team at the Olympics.
It drew international attention for featuring players from both North and South Korea, who wore white jerseys with an image of a united Korean peninsula emblazoned in pale blue.
There was a carnival atmosphere as the near-capacity crowd cheered hard for their home team from the moment the puck dropped and roared each time a Korean player held possession. Some 100 North Korean cheerleaders were on hand, decked in red track suits, leading chants for the spectators and singing North Korean pop songs.
In addition to Moon and Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong, the game was attended by Kim Yong Nam, North Korean titular head of state, and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach. Earlier on Saturday, Kim invited Moon for talks in Pyongyang, setting the stage for the first meeting of Korean leaders in more than 10 years.
The countries are still technically at war since a 1953 armistice, though they have resumed talks after a year-long standoff between North Korea and the United States in which an exchange of threats between the heads of state elevated tensions and prompted the North’s continued missile and nuclear tests.
The Korean fans’ enthusiasm for Saturday’s game was not dampened by the scoreline, as many saw it marking progress toward peace on the Korean peninsula and hundreds of spectators waved unification flags.
“I feel really good and touched. I feel fortunate to see a historic game. This will contribute to inter-Korean peace,” said Jang Sung-ho, who came to watch the games with his seven other family members.
“It is a historic game. This small step will pave the way for inter-Korean peace,” 44-year-old office worker Oh Eun Seok said.
In the game itself, the Koreans proved no match for a Swiss team ranked sixth in the world by the International Ice Hockey Federation and winners of a bronze medal four years ago in Sochi, Russia.
Switzerland went up 1-0 midway through the first period with a short-handed goal when Muller broke up the left wing and ripped a wrist shot under the glove of Korean goalie Shin So Jung. By the end of the period she would have a hat trick, netting her third with just 12 seconds remaining in the period.
Muller scored her fourth early in the second period. Phoebe Staenz and Lara Stalder added two goals each to round out the Swiss scoring.
In all the Swiss peppered Shin with 52 shots, and she stopped 44.
The Korean chances were few, and they managed just eight shots on goal.
They missed a chance to take an early lead when forward Han Soojin broke into the Swiss zone on a breakaway and beat netminder Florence Schelling but then ricocheted her shot off the cross bar.
Korean coach Sarah Murray, a 29-year-old Canadian, dressed three of the 12 North Korean players assigned to her team for the game — forwards Kim Un Hyang, Jong Su Hyon and Hwang Chung Gum. To accommodate the North Koreans, she scratched three of her South Korean players — Lee Eunji, Lee Yeon Jeong and Jung Siyun.
North Korea’s Jong had one of the team’s eight shots on the night.
After the game, Moon and the two Kims came down to the Korean team bench to meet and speak with the players gathered on the ice as the cheerleaders sang in the background. They then posed for a team photo with the players sitting or kneeling on the ice and the dignitaries behind them on the bench. (Editing by Clare Fallon)