North Korea cancels home World Cup qualifier against Japan at last minute

March 22 – North Korea’s upcoming home World Cup qualifier against Japan was unexpectedly called off on Friday just hours after the announcement that it would be moved to a neutral venue.

“The fixture between DPR Korea and Japan, scheduled to be played on March 26, will not take place as scheduled due to unforeseen circumstances,” the Asian Football Confederation said in a statement.

It said the decision was taken after talks with FIFA and came a day after North Korea said it would not be able to stage the game in the capital Pyongyang.

No reason was given but Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that North Korea didn’t want to host the match over fears of infectious diseases being imported.

The AFC said the matter would now be referred to “the relevant committees” in FIFA with further updates expected.

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

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 game in the secretive totalitarian country.

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

The latest cancellation came just hours after the North Koreans lost 1-0 to Japan in Tokyo in the second round of Asian qualifying for the 2026 World Cup.

“They asked us during half-time if we can organise (the Pyongyang game) in Japan,” Japan FA chief Kozo Tashima said.

“I told them it was so sudden and that I cannot give them an immediate yes,” Japanese media quoted Tashima as saying. “I told them it will take us at least two or three days (to answer). I told them it’s difficult.”

Earlier this week Japan’s foreign ministry warned fans not to attempt to travel to North Korea for the match.

“As you know, North Korea takes a hostile view of Japan and travel is not recommended for the general public,” it said on X, formerly Twitter.

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

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