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World Cup: South Korean players swap training jerseys to confuse Swedish soccer spy

The South Korean soccer team seen in Aug. 31, 2017. South Korea's coach said he got his players to swap jersey numbers in training to throw off a watching Swedish spy.



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The South Korean soccer team seen in Aug. 31, 2017. South Korea's coach said he got his players to swap jersey numbers in training to throw off a watching Swedish spy. . AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

The annals of elite sport are filled with stories of teams spying on their opponents to gather every bit of intelligence they can about their tactics, so there’s no reason why the FIFA World Cup would be any different.

So when the coach of the South Korean team learned that a Swedish scout was spying on his team’s pre-tournament training camp, he came up with a wily ruse to befuddle the sneaky Scandinavian soccer snooper.

“We switched our players’ jersey numbers around to confuse them… it is very difficult for Westerners to distinguish between Asian faces,” coach Shin Tae-Yong revealed on Sunday.

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Turns out Tae-Yong’s measure wasn’t driven by paranoia. The Swedes admitted to sending a scout to set up shop in a house in the mountains near South Korea’s training base in Austria, from where he spied on their training sessions using a high-end telescope and video camera.

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The scout had previously tried — and failed — to convince the South Koreans to let him witness a training session by convincing them that he was a tourist.

South Korea’s national soccer team players run during a training session at the Spartak Stadium in Lomonosov near St. Petersburg, Russia, June 13, 2018.
South Korea’s national soccer team players run during a training session at the Spartak Stadium in Lomonosov near St. Petersburg, Russia, June 13, 2018. AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

Sweden coach Janne Andersson apologized for the reconnaissance on Sunday, saying his staff didn’t mean to disrespect their opponents, but were simply trying to do their due diligence.

No offence taken, said his South Korean counterpart.

“All coaches probably feel their opponents are always spying on them,” Tae-Yong said. “I think it’s perfectly natural that we all try to get as much information on each other as we can.”

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Sweden and South Korea face off in a Group F fixture on Monday.

— With files from Reuters