Japan Beats North Korea in World Cup Qualifying Then North Korea Cancels Visit by Japan, Media Says

North Korea's Ri Il Song, right, competes for the ball with Japan's Ao Tanaka during the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup 2027 preliminary joint qualification round 2 match between Japan and North Korea at the National Stadium Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Tokyo. Photo by AP/Eugene Hoshiko

TOKYO — North Korea reportedly canceled hosting Japan in a World Cup qualifier just hours after losing to Japan in Tokyo on Thursday.

Japan scored after just 90 seconds and held out North Korea to win 1-0 and maintain its perfect start in the second round of Asian qualifying for the 2026 World Cup.

Soon after, Japan Football Association chief Kozo Tashima told Kyodo News that North Korea canceled the scheduled qualifier against Japan on Tuesday in Pyongyang, giving the news in a letter to the Asian Football Confederation. 

North Korea was concerned by “a malignant infectious disease” in Japan, an apparent reference to rising cases of streptococcus infections, Kyodo said.

Ao Tanaka's strike at the National Stadium gave host Japan three wins from three Group B games. 

The midfielder fired home from inside a crowded penalty area after a Ritsu Doan pullback. 

North Korea, cheered on by a small pocket of red-shirted fans, lacked attacking power to get back in the game. North Korea has only three points from the first three group games.

“We wanted to give our fans a good result and we are sorry we could not but it was a good game,” North Korea coach Sin Yong Nam said. 

South Korea was held by Thailand to 1-1 in Seoul in its first game since Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as the coach in February. 

Son Heung-min put South Korea ahead after 42 minutes with a shot from close range. Just after an hour, Suphanat Mueanta leveled. 

“There’s no getting around the fact that it was a disappointing result but there were positives to take from the game,” Son said. 

Despite the draw, South Korea remained on top of Group C ahead of Tuesday’s game in Bangkok, three points above Thailand and China, which drew 2-2 with Singapore.

Australia has won all three of its Group I games after defeating Lebanon 2-0 in Sydney.

Keanu Baccus opened the scoring after just five minutes and Kye Rowles added the second shortly after the restart.

Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all maintained their perfect records with respective wins over the Philippines, Tajikistan and Yemen.

In Jordan's first action since losing the Asian Cup final to Qatar in February, it beat Pakistan 3-0. Qatar defeated Kuwait by the same scoreline.

The top two teams from each of the nine groups will advance to the final round. Asia’s automatic allocation at the World Cup has increased from four to eight.

Related Articles