The criticism at the meeting was led by Ri Dong-Kyu, a commentator for state TV, which made the 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Portugal its first ever live sports broadcast.

The decision to show the game live came in the wake of an encouraging 2-1 defeat to Brazil. North Korea lost their final game 3-0 to Ivory Coast.

The Radio Free Asia report cited two unidentified sources in North Korea and a Chinese businessman named Yu, described as knowledgeable about North Korea affairs.

South Korea's National Intelligence Service said it could not immediately confirm the report.

'Ideological shortcomings'

However, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper quoted a South Korean intelligence source as saying: "In the past, North Korean athletes and coaches who performed badly were sent to prison camps.

"Considering the high hopes North Koreans had for the World Cup, the regime could have done worse things to the team than just reprimand them for their ideological shortcomings."

North Korea was competing in only its second World Cup in 44 years.

Pak Du Ik, who led his country to the quarterfinals in England in 1966, had previously told television news agency APTN that the team would receive a warm welcome in Pyongyang despite their lack of success.

"Now when the Korean team gets home, officials and crowds of people will go to the airport to welcome them," he said.

"We have learned a lesson from the three World Cup matches, we accumulated experience and we found an answer to how to improve our