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) has announced that “North Korea will participate in the second Asian qualifying round for the 2026 World Cup,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Monday.
“North Korea is one step closer to returning to the World Cup, the world’s biggest single sporting event,” RFA said, adding that it was the first time North Korea’s positive intentions for the World Cup 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 a November 2019 match, 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) in 2021 for its unauthorized absence from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
However, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said there was no punishment imposed by FIFA, so the team was able to participate in the World Cup qualifiers.
In the second round of qualifying, North Korea was drawn in Group 2 with Japan, Syria and the winner of Myanmar-Macao, and will play its first match of the second round against Syria on Nov. 16.
The second round will feature home-and-home matches between the same four countries. North Korea will also host three games at home.
The question is whether North Korea, which has yet to open its borders due to the coronavirus pandemic, will open them to host the second round. Of course, the possibility of hosting home games in a third country cannot be ruled out.
The AFC will consult with those countries after the results of the Myanmar-Macau match have been finalized for the second round of qualifiers.
Japan will play North Korea and Japan alternately on March 21 and 26, 2024. A trip to Pyongyang is a possibility, depending on the situation.
South Korea last traveled to Pyongyang in October 2019 for the second qualifying round. It was the first “inter-Korean derby” to be held 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 reporters to enter the country.
Pyongyang’s Kim Il-sung Stadium, which hosts North Korea’s major international competitions, is considered as notorious for away teams as Iran’s Azadi Stadium. North Korean supporters are overwhelmingly dominant in a country where foreigners are rarely allowed to travel, with 40,000 North Koreans in attendance at each event. In January, Andersen, a former Norwegian coach who served as North Korea’s national soccer team coach for three years starting in 2016, told Radio Free Asia that “North Koreans are very interested in soccer. About four to five million people, including those living outside Pyongyang and those inside, are very interested in soccer. I’ve seen a lot of spectators at the stadiums whenever we’ve had 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 soccer 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 field is to capitalize on home advantage. “As a soccer player, it’s an excuse to blame the turf,” 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%.”메이저놀이터
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.