North Korean soccer that has chosen to be isolated again.

The fourth match of Group B, the second qualifying round for the 2026 North-China World Cup between North Korea and Japan, was scheduled to be held on March 26 in Pyongyang. On March 20, North Korea abruptly informed the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) that the match could not be held. It was only a day after the team lost 0-1 to Japan in the third match (an away match to Tokyo). It kicked the possibility to play in the World Cup for the first time in 16 years.

In general, requests for postponement of games are made when variables such as war, unrest, and bad weather occur that cannot be held responsible for the safety of players. The North was entitled to both the right and obligation to host a home game. However, the North only insisted on not proceeding with the game in Pyongyang without even making an opinion such as setting up an alternative venue. AFC has transferred the issue to FIFA, a higher-ranking organization. FIFA declared cancellation of the game and tied Japan to a 3-0 bye in compliance with the regulations. The North, which had abandoned its obligation to host the home game, ended up with forfeiture without giving the North a chance to play an alternative game. At the same time, the North also sent the North Korean team to the disciplinary committee, leaving open the possibility of additional disciplinary action.

The last time the North Korean national soccer team (A team) appeared on the world stage was in the second round of the Asian regional qualifying round for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. It drew attention as it belonged to the same group as South Korea. During the October 2019 qualifying round, North Korea proceeded normally with its schedule in Pyongyang. The South Korean national team, led by head coach Paulo Bento, played in an away match against Pyongyang for the first time in 29 years after a friendly match at the 1990 South-North Unification Football Championship, and had a 0-0 draw. However, North Korea banned South Korean reporters from entering the country and broadcasting the game. “blind broadcasting,” in which Son Heung-min and Kim Min-jae participated, was a hot topic of conversation, in which officials from the national team at the site texted to convey the situation. Since then, North Korea has lost in an away match against Turkmenistan and drew in Lebanon. This is the North’s last A match record before participating in the second qualifying round for the World Cup last year.

Meanwhile, North Korea has disappeared on the international stage. The World Cup qualifying schedule has been postponed for a while due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in May 2021, the North informed AFC that it would give up both the remaining World Cup qualifying schedule and the upcoming Asian Cup. At the time, North Korea was highly likely to advance to the final qualifying round as the second-ranked team in Group H with two wins, two draws and one loss. However, the North withdrew in protest of AFC’s decision to allow the two-week COVID-19 postponement to take place in South Korea. The South Korean national team by age group also held the same stance. The world’s leading women’s soccer team, which consistently maintained its top 10 ranking in FIFA rankings, either skipped most of the tournaments or withdrew from the event.

A top-rated promising player suddenly disappeared during the process, which had attracted global attention. A case in point is Han Gwang-seong, who had the nickname “Ronaldo of North Korea.” After studying in Europe, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un put a lot of effort into promoting his country as a “normal country through sports” after his inauguration. He exposed his friendship with his favorite NBA star Dennis Rodman in various ways. He let North Korean soccer players advance to Europe through Italian and Spanish politicians and businessmen.

Han Kwang-sung is one of the representative figures. He entered the Italian stage at the age of 18 and was recognized for his potential. In 2019, just two years after entering Europe, he also wore a uniform for Juventus, the most prestigious Serie A club. It was an incident that drew keen attention from the soccer community. However, Han did not perform as well as expected at Juventus. Afterwards, he performed in the Middle East. He joined Al-Duhail, a powerful Qatari player. Juventus F.C. recovered his investment in Han, and North Korea can expect to earn a lot of foreign currency in the Middle East, where it pays him a lot of money for his skills. Han signed a contract with Al-Duhail for an annual salary of 2 billion won. However, he reportedly transferred all of his money except for the monthly living expenses of around 2 million won to North Korea. Han’s life in Qatar lasted less than a year. In accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2397, Al-Duhail decided to release Han Kwang-sung.

In November 2023, Han Kwang-sung’s latest situation was reported. Han’s name could be confirmed from the list of North Korean national soccer teams that returned to international sports while participating in World Cup qualifiers. Han played in an away match in Syria, the first Group B match of the second qualifying round. In the away match in Myanmar, he scored one goal and two assists. Later, the “Joseon Sinbo” published by the Chochongryeon also revealed that he was a member of the April 25th sports team. The player who drew the most attention in the last away match in Japan was Han Kwang-sung. In fact, he showed the most threatening move. North Korea allowed Japan to score the first goal, but Han Kwang-sung displayed a sharp attack. There was also a situation where the goal was canceled due to an offside foul. The elite players’ skills were still heavy. 토토사이트

His presence, which had been glistening, disappeared again through the tightly closed door when the North refused to host the Pyongyang game. After three consecutive away games against Syria, Myanmar, and Japan, the North had three more games to play at home. It was the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic that the North had to lift the closure of the North through sports. If the North held out well in its fourth match against Japan, it had a good chance of advancing to the World Cup final qualifying round. The home game against Syria, scheduled for June, seemed to be the actual match for second place in the group.

There is a lot of speculation over the reason why he refused to host the game. There is a theory that he was conscious of an epidemic from Japan. North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun recently reported on the streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STS), which is an increasing number of infected people in Japan, showing a sensitive atmosphere. Analysts say that they were worried that the Japanese team would visit North Korea and spread the epidemic. However, some refute that it is not right to refuse to play only home games for this reason at a time when about 30 North Korean athletes have already entered Japan and played away games. Some speculate that he might have been reluctant to disclose the current situation in Pyongyang. They say that due to the nature of North Korea, which only shows its extremely controlled situation externally through the Rodong Sinmun and Chosun Joongang TV, more than 20 Japanese reporters’ visits are inevitably burdensome. According to Japan’s Sankei Shimbun, North Korea did not allow Korean and American reporters, including the third generation of Koreans in Japan, to enter the country.

There are also observations that it is a backlash against the situation of not being able to make real profits.

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