North Korea pulls out of FIFA World Cup qualifiers, reports suggest COVID-19 concerns

South Korea was supposed to host North Korea, Turkmenistan, Lebanon, and Sri Lanka in Group H qualifying matches in the city of Goyang.

A North Korean footballer (red) in a file photo. (Image: Twitter)

North Korea has officially withdrawn from the FIFA World Cup qualifiers that were scheduled to be hosted by South Korea in the month of June. Although the nation is yet to officially disclose the reason behind its withdrawal, the South Korean media has reported that it was primarily over health concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic. The North Korean government has always maintained that they have successfully managed to keep the coronavirus away from the nation’s borders to a degree. As per South Korean reports, this decision also seems like one to keep the virus away from the country.

“The (AFC) has today confirmed the withdrawal of the DPR Korea Football Association from the Asian Qualifiers,” the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) said in a statement on Sunday. Due to the destructive spread of the pandemic, Asia has not seen a world cup qualifying game since November 2019, and to check the spread of the virus, AFC had ruled that all remaining group matches would be played in separate hubs.

South Korea was supposed to host North Korea, Turkmenistan, Lebanon and Sri Lanka in Group H qualifying matches in the city of Goyang, which is just north of the capital Seoul. The games were scheduled from June 3 to June 15.

With only three games left to play, North Korea was placed fourth in Group H, level on points with South Korea and Lebanon, and one point behind leaders Turkmenistan. It is safe to say that the country had a strong chance of qualifying for the next round of the competition.

The winners from each group are guaranteed a place in the third qualification round, along with the four best runner-up sides. That round is scheduled to commence in September. The AFC said that they will contact FIFA over how North Korea’s withdrawal will affect Group H.

It also means that North Korea will not be one of the teams participating in the 2023 Asia Cup as the World Cup qualifiers and the continental cup qualifiers are combined.

This is not the first tournament Pyongyang has pulled out of. North Korea has also withdrawn from the upcoming Tokyo Olympics over coronavirus concerns.

Sportslumo Desk

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