North Korean soccer squad arrives in Japan for World Cup Asian qualifier

North Korea's men's soccer squad has arrived in Japan for the second round of the 2026 World Cup Asian qualifiers. The team was granted entry as an exception to Japan's sanctions on North Korea.

The visitors will face Japan's national squad at the National Stadium in Tokyo on Thursday.

Some 30 players and staff arrived at Tokyo's Haneda Airport via China's capital Beijing on Tuesday afternoon.

The players wore matching black coats and pink ties, and carried North Korean flags as they appeared at the airport lobby. They were greeted by officials from an association of Korean residents in Japan.

The Japanese government bans in principle the entry of North Korean nationals as part of its sanctions on Pyongyang over its nuclear and missile development programs.

But international sports events are an exception. Last month, North Korea's women's soccer team was allowed into Japan for the Paris Olympics Asian final qualifier.

Following Thursday's match in Tokyo, the Japanese and North Koreans are set to play at the Kim Il Sung Stadium in Pyongyang on March 26. It will be the first time in 13 years for Japan's national squad to play in North Korea.