Book returns to international sport

Intentions for the second qualifying round of the 2026 World Cup
Possibility of qualifying with more Asian tickets
Also competing at the Hangzhou Asian Games in September
Willing to ‘open doors’ through sport

Hwang Hee-chan (left) of the South Korean national football team tries to break through the North Korean defence during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Asia Second Qualifier at Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang in October 2019. Courtesy of the Korean Football Association

먹튀검증 North Korea is opening up. North Korea is hoping to open up to the outside world through sports.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has confirmed North Korea’s intention to participate in the Asian second qualifying round for the 2026 World Cup, which will be co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on 9 September.

It will be North Korea’s first participation in a World Cup organised by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) since November 2019. North Korea participated in the second Asian qualifying round for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where they finished in Group H alongside South Korea. In October 2019, the two Koreas were due to meet in Pyongyang, North Korea, but the tournament was cancelled in April 2021 to protect players amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Korea was fourth in Group H at the time with two wins, two draws and one loss in five matches. North Korea was suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for unauthorised attendance at the Tokyo 2020 Games, so a similar punishment was expected for the World Cup, but the AFC denied any involvement.

North Korea have been drawn in Group B alongside Japan, Syria and the winners of the first round of Myanmar-Macau in the draw for the second qualifying round, which was made according to the FIFA rankings for Asia (1-26). Should North Korea progress through the second round of qualifying, they will be looking to follow in their footsteps from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

From the 2026 World Cup, FIFA has increased the size of the tournament from 32 to 48 nations. The number of tickets allocated to Asia has also increased from 4.5 to 8.5, suggesting that North Korea could be competitive enough to qualify. This could lead to some interesting match-ups, such as against the United States, which North Korea considers its nemesis. North Korea’s first game in the second round of World Cup qualifying is a home match against Syria on 16 November. It will be the first time North Korea has hosted a foreign team since COVID-19.

North Korea resumed shipments of goods in September last year, but has been reluctant to engage in people-to-people exchanges, other than hosting Chinese and Russian dignitaries last month to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Korean War armistice.

However, North Korea’s willingness to open up on the sporting stage is clear. It has announced its intention to participate in the Hangzhou Asian Games, which begin in September, earlier than the World Cup’s second Asian qualifier.

North Korea is expected to send around 200 athletes, coaches and officials to the Games, including seven judo athletes who are expected to compete in the gold-medal event.

North Korea is also expected to send a large contingent to the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) World Championships in Kazakhstan on 19 September.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *