North & South Korea to field unified table tennis team at World Championships

North Korea and South Korea were due to face each other in the quarter-finals of the women's World Team Table Tennis Championships, but will instead unite to contest the semi-finals as a unified Korea.

Each team has already played five group matches in the tournament, being held in Halmstad, Sweden, with North Korea having since gone on to beat Russia 3-0 in the last 16.

South Korea, who earned a bye for that round, were set to be their opponents for the last eight but the decision will now see the unified Korea take on Japan - winners over Ukraine - for a place in the final.

The leaders of each team and the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) came to the agreement to unify them following a pledge for "lasting peace" on the Korean peninsula made at a summit between the two countries last week.

Korea fielded a unified women's team for the 1991 tournament, and they defeated a China team previously seen as unbeatable to claim the gold.

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang saw North and South Korean athletes match under a unified flag at the opening ceremony. A united Korea also contested the women's ice hockey tournament.

Both teams will share the same bench in a sign of unity and South Korea's world number 12 Suh Hyo-won said: "It's really unbelievable, but now we are a united team.

"Actually, I don't know what I'm feeling now, because I heard about this news last night, but at that time, it was still unclear if it is going to happen. This morning I heard that this is going to be real, so I'm really surprised.

"I saw a movie about the united team in 1991. I feel a little bit strange that I'm in the united team now, and I hope we can make something like it was in the movie.

"I think, this united team aimed to be like unbeatable. We can share our skills. From now on, this team will be stronger than ever."

Kim Song-i, winner of a bronze medal for North Korea at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, said: "I also saw this video and I was surprised about the power of the united team.

"Who knew then that they could beat China at that time. So now we are together, and I believe now that we can do anything.

"It is an honour to be here. I've never thought about this situation before. Actually, I imagined about it, but I didn't expect that I could be a member of the united team."

The unified Korean team is guaranteed a place on the podium and medals regardless of their semi-final result.

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