North Korea have pulled out of next month’s qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the Asian Football Confederation said Sunday.
“The Asian Football Confederation has today confirmed the withdrawal of the DPR Korea Football Association from the Asian Qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022,” the AFC said in a statement.
No reasons were given for the withdrawal but South Korean media reported earlier this month that Pyongyang had said it would skip the qualifiers over coronavirus fears.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced most of the second round of Asia’s preliminary tournament for the Qatar World Cup to be postponed until June.
The AFC said last month it would change the format of the tournaments so that each group of five nations would play in one host country.
South Korea was selected as the centralised venue host for Group H, which is led by Turkmenistan and also included the two Koreas, Lebanon and Sri Lanka.
North Korea were fourth in Asian qualifying Group H, but only a point behind Group H leaders Turkmenistan with three games still to be played before their withdrawal.
The AFC said a decision would be made later on the standings in Group H after referring the matter to FIFA’s organising committee for competitions.
The tournament doubles up as qualifiers for the 2023 Asian Cup, to be held in China.
Pyongyang’s decision to pull out comes nearly a month after the country said it would not go to this year’s Tokyo Olympics, citing concerns over the pandemic.
North Korea was one of the first countries to close its borders more than a year ago to protect itself from the virus that first emerged in neighbouring China.