Mitoma plays in Pyongyang… North Korea declares World Cup participation

After missing the FIFA World Cup, North Korea has thrown its hat in the ring for the 2026 North American Cup. The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) 먹튀검증 has announced that North Korea will participate in the second Asian qualifying round for the 2026 World Cup, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on 9 September.

“North Korea is one step closer to returning to the World Cup, the world’s biggest single sporting feast,” RFA said, adding that it was the first time North Korea’s positive intentions for the tournament had been confirmed.

North Korea competed in the same group as South Korea, Lebanon, Turkmenistan, and Sri Lanka in the second round of Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The qualifiers were suspended due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic after the November 2019 matches, and North Korea withdrew in June 2021 when the tournament resumed. All of North Korea’s matches at the time were invalidated, causing confusion.

North Korea’s absence from international competition was followed by a suspension from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for unauthorised absence from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021.

However, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said there was no punishment imposed by FIFA, and the country was cleared to take part in the World Cup qualifiers.

In the second round of qualifying, North Korea has been drawn in Group 2 with Japan, Syria and the winner of Myanmar-Macao and will play their first match of the second round against Syria on 16 November.

The second round will feature home and away matches between the same four nations. North Korea will also host three matches at home.

The question is whether North Korea, which has yet to lift its border lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, will do so in order to host the second round. Of course, the possibility of hosting home games in a third country cannot be ruled out.

The AFC will hold discussions with these countries after the outcome of the Myanmar-Macau match confirms the two secondary qualifiers.

The South Korean national team against North Korea at the 2015 East Asian E-1 Championship.

The North Korean national team at the 2015 East Asian E-1 Championship.

Japan will play North Korea on 21 and 26 March 2024, alternating between Japan and North Korea. Depending on the situation, a trip to Pyongyang is a possibility.

South Korea last travelled to Pyongyang in October 2019 for the second qualifying round. It was the first ‘inter-Korean derby’ to be played in Pyongyang in 29 years since the reunification of the two Koreas in October 1990.

However, the game was played without a broadcast as North Korea refused to allow South Korean journalists to enter the country.

Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Stadium, which hosts North Korea’s major international competitions, is as notorious a venue for away teams as Iran’s Azadi Stadium. North Korean supporters are overwhelmingly dominant in a country where foreigners are rarely seen, with 40,000 North Koreans in attendance at each event. Andersen, the Norwegian-born coach who served as North Korea’s national football team coach for three years from 2016, told Radio Free Asia in January: “North Koreans are very interested in football. About four to five million people, including those living outside Pyongyang and those inside, are very interested in football. I’ve seen a lot of spectators at the stadiums whenever we have internal league matches and national team matches.”

Not only that, but the condition of the pitch also hinders the away team’s players. Unlike most football stadiums with natural grass, Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Stadium has artificial turf. The reason why North Korea hosts major matches at the Kim Il Sung Stadium despite having a natural grass pitch is an analysis of home advantage. “As a footballer, it’s an excuse to blame the grass,” Son Heung-min said after a match in Pyongyang in October 2019, “but it’s true that it was an environment where the players couldn’t show their 100 per cent performance.”

One of the reasons for North Korea’s decision to participate in the World Cup is that the number of tickets for the tournament has increased. With the expansion of the 2026 World Cup from 32 to 48 nations, the number of qualifying spots for the Asian region increased from 4.5 to 8.5.

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