North Korea Cancels World Cup Qualifier against Japan over ‘Unforeseen Circumstances’

Total Views : 38
Zoom In Zoom Out Read Later Print

The match in Pyongyang would have been the first game in North Korea for Japan’s men’s team since 2011 and a rare international soccer match in isolated North Korea.

North Korea has called off its 2026 World Cup qualifying match with Japan next week, the Asian Football Confederation said on Friday, hours after announcing it would be moved to a neutral venue.

“The fixture between the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and Japan, scheduled to be played on March 26, will not take place as scheduled due to unforeseen circumstances,” the AFC said in a statement.

It said the decision, which left organisers frantically searching for an alternative venue, was taken after talks with FIFA and relevant stakeholders and came a day after North Korea said it would not be able to stage the match in the capital Pyongyang.

North Korean officials did not say why.

The AFC did not give a reason for the cancellation either and said the matter would now be referred to “the relevant committees” in FIFA. It did not confirm if the fixture would be played at a future time or place.

North Korea reportedly decided Friday that it would no longer host the game, which had been scheduled for next Tuesday at the Kim Il-sung Stadium in Pyongyang, a day before the teams met in Tokyo on Thursday in the first of their two Asian qualifying Group B qualifiers.

Minutes after that match, which Japan won 1-0, Kozo Tashima, the president of the Japan Football Association, told reporters that the return match in the North Korean capital would not go ahead.

Earlier Friday, AFC general secretary Windsor John said the game would proceed, but at a neutral venue.

The Nikkei Asia website also said the match had been moved to a yet unannounced neutral venue, while no date has been given for the fixture.

The match in Pyongyang would have been the first game in North Korea for Japan’s men’s team since 2011 and a rare international soccer match in isolated North Korea.

Japan and North Korea’s women’s playoff for the Paris Olympics was switched last month from Pyongyang to neutral ground in Saudi Arabia.

The Kyodo news agency reported Thursday that North Korea didn’t want to host the match over fears of “malignant infectious disease” in Japan, thought to be a reference to a potentially deadly form of group A streptococcal disease, streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS).

Experts in Japan have said cases of STSS will continue to spread, while officials are struggling to identify the cause. The number of cases in 2024 is expected to exceed last year’s record number after the presence of highly virulent and infectious strains were confirmed in Japan.

Earlier this week, the Japanese Foreign Ministry had warned fans not to attempt to travel to Pyongyang for the match.

“As you know, North Korea takes a hostile view of Japan and travel is not recommended for the general public,” the ministry said on social media.

Fourteen government officials had been set to accompany the Japan team for the match as well as a small number of media outlets, NHK reported.