Advertisement

North Korea pulls out of hosting World Cup soccer qualifier against Japan

North Korean fans cheer at the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifier against Japan at National Stadium in Tokyo on Thursday. North Korea withdrew from hosting a follow-up match in Pyongyang next week, the Asian Football Confederation confirmed on Friday. Photo by Franck Robichon/EPA-EFE
North Korean fans cheer at the FIFA World Cup 2026 qualifier against Japan at National Stadium in Tokyo on Thursday. North Korea withdrew from hosting a follow-up match in Pyongyang next week, the Asian Football Confederation confirmed on Friday. Photo by Franck Robichon/EPA-EFE

SEOUL, March 22 (UPI) -- North Korea canceled plans to host a scheduled World Cup qualifying match against Japan next week, Asia's governing soccer association confirmed Friday, leaving organizers scrambling to find a neutral venue with just days to spare.

The two sides played the first leg of back-to-back qualifiers for the 2026 World Cup on Thursday in Tokyo, which Japan won 1-0. However, North Korean officials abruptly notified their Japanese counterparts and the Asian Football Confederation that they were not going to host the follow-up in Pyongyang, which had been scheduled for Tuesday.

Advertisement

The match "will not take place as scheduled due to unforeseen circumstances," the Asian Football Confederation said Friday in a statement.

"The decision, taken in consultation with FIFA and relevant stakeholders, comes after the AFC was informed on March 20 by the DPR Korea Football Association of the need to move the match to a neutral venue due to unavoidable circumstances," the statement said.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.

No further information on a venue was given. UPI has reached out to the AFC for comment.

Advertisement

Japan Football Association President Kozo Tashima told local media Thursday that he had received a message from North Korean officials earlier that day saying they were withdrawing because it would be "difficult" to host the contest in Pyongyang.

Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that North Korea is believed to have pulled out due to the outbreak of a lethal streptococcus infection in Japan, citing an article Thursday in the North's Rodong Sinmun newspaper on a "malignant infectious disease" in the country.

In a separate article on the same day, the newspaper also reported on a "highly contagious measles outbreak" in Japan.

North Korea sealed its borders at the very outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in January 2020 and only slowly began allowing cross-border traffic with China to resume in August 2023.

The Pyongyang match would have been the first international soccer contest held in North Korea since 2019, when it hosted a qualifying competition for the 2022 World Cup.

Last week, Japan's Foreign Ministry said it would send 14 officials to support the team and Japanese media members in North Korea, as the countries do not have diplomatic relations. However, the ministry advised fans to refrain from traveling to Pyongyang for the match.

Advertisement

North Korea is still scheduled to hold home qualifiers against Syria and Myanmar in June.

The cancellation comes after an Olympic soccer qualifier between the Japanese and North Korean women's teams was also relocated from Pyongyang last month.

The Japan Football Association requested the move to a neutral venue, citing a lack of flights for its fans and delays in working with the North Korean hosts. The match was held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The Japanese men's team is ranked number 18 in the world by FIFA, while North Korea is farther down the list at 114. North Korea has participated in the World Cup twice, in 1966 and 2010.

Latest Headlines

news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news
news