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N. Korea v Japan World Cup qualifier off over ‘unforeseen circumstances’

North Korea’s home World Cup qualifier against Japan was called off on Friday, the Asian Football Confederation said, hours after announcing 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 AFC said in a statement.

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

North Korean officials did not say why.

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

It did not confirm if the fixture would be played at a future time or place.

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 football match in isolated North Korea.

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

Japanese news agency Kyodo reported on Thursday that North Korea didn’t want to host the match over fears of bacterial infections in Japan.

North Korean officials the same day told their Japanese counterparts that they could not play host, without saying why.

“They asked us during half-time if we can organise (it) in Japan,” Japan football association chief Kozo Tashima said after the teams met in a first qualifier in Tokyo, which the hosts won 1-0.

“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,” he said.

Earlier this week Japan’s foreign ministry warned football fans not to attempt to travel to the country 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 Japan team for the match as well as a small number of media outlets, broadcaster NHK reported.

Relations have long been dogged by issues including compensation for Japan’s brutal occupation of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945 and more recently by Pyongyang’s firing of missiles over Japanese territory.

The abduction by North Korean agents of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s — forced to train spies in Japanese language and customs — has also long been a major point of contention.

Despite being isolated and poor, North Korea qualified for the 2010 World Cup.

But they were knocked out at the group stage following three defeats, including a 7-0 thumping by Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.

They also qualified in 1966 when they famously beat Italy 1-0 and made it to the quarter-finals.

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