North Korea vs Japan World Cup qualifier called off

Japan vs North Korea
Japanese, blue jersey, and North Korean players greet each other after their World Cup qualifier in Tokyo on Thursday. Photo: AFP/Philip Fong

North Korea's World Cup qualifier against Japan that was scheduled to be held in Pyongyang next week has been called off, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said on Friday.

According to a report from Kyodo News, North Korea, which has no formal diplomatic relations with Tokyo, decided not to stage the match in Pyongyang over worries about infectious diseases in Japan.

"The decision, taken in consultation with FIFA and relevant stakeholders, comes after the AFC was informed on March 20 by the DPR Korea Football Association of the need to move the match to a neutral venue due to unavoidable circumstances," the AFC said in a statement.

"The matter will now be referred to the relevant committees in FIFA with further updates to be communicated in due course."

DPRK is the abbreviation for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Japan and North Korea are in Group B of 2026 World Cup qualifying, along with Syria and Myanmar. Japan beat North Korea 1-0 in another qualifying match in Tokyo on Thursday.

North Korea last hosted a men's soccer international in Pyongyang in 2019 during the qualifying competition for the 2022 World Cup.

The country pulled out of that competition citing health concerns related to the COVID pandemic.

The North Koreans are also scheduled to stage home qualifiers against Syria and Myanmar in June.

In February, an Olympic qualifier between the women's teams of the two countries scheduled for Pyongyang was switched at the last minute to a neutral venue in Saudi Arabia.

There was similar confusion over that match, with the Japan team departing for Jeddah four days before the scheduled kick-off without any confirmation of where the match would be played.

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