Japan clinch Olympic spot beating North Korea in rare visit to Tokyo

Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

TOKYO: The Japanese women’s soccer team won a spot at the Paris Olympics on Wednesday after beating their North Korean rivals in a match that also marked the first visit by one of its football teams to Japan in seven years.

The 2-1 victory, following a first leg draw in Saudi Arabia last week, was played at the stadium built for Tokyo Olympic Games. North Korea declined to join that sports gathering, which took place in 2021, citing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rekindling of sports ties comes as Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida mulls a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a renewed effort to uncover the fate of Japanese citizens abducted in the 1970s and 1980s by Pyongyang.

It would be the first such face-to-face leaders summit in two decades during which Pyongyang developed nuclear weapons and regularly test fired ballistic missiles into waters near Japan. In 2016, Tokyo banned North Koreans from visiting with exceptions including participating in sport events.

In display of the close but troubled relations between the two countries, the North Korean team was supported by hundreds of cheering fans at the Tokyo stadium, descendents of Koreans brought to Japan as workers, many during World War Two.

Hong Hyo Gi, 51, a third generation Korean living in Tokyo was one of them. “I am excited about North Korean team being here after such a long time,” he said outside the 68,000-seat stadium. “I think people from both countries want a relationship that each can accept,” he added.