North Korea opens the rainbow. North and South Korea are expected to start interacting with the outside world through sports.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has confirmed North Korea’s intention to participate in the Asian second round of the 2026 World Cup, which will be co-hosted by the United States, Canada, and Mexico, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Monday.

It will be North Korea’s first participation in a World Cup organized by the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) since November 2019.

North Korea participated in the Asian secondary qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where they were drawn in Group H with South Korea. In October 2019, the two Koreas were scheduled to meet in Pyongyang, North Korea, but the country pulled out of the tournament in April 2021 to protect its players amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

North Korea was fourth in Group H at the time with two wins, two draws and one loss in five matches.

North Korea was suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for unauthorized attendance at the Tokyo 2020 Games, so a similar punishment was expected for the World Cup, but the AFC denied any involvement.

North Korea will be drawn in Group B alongside Japan, Syria and the winner of the first leg between Myanmar and Macau in the draw for the second qualifying round of the World Cup, which is based on the FIFA rankings for Asia (1-26). If North Korea advances through the second round, they will be looking to repeat their performance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

For this year’s World Cup, FIFA has expanded the tournament from 32 to 48 nations. The number of tickets allocated to Asia has also been increased from 4.5 to 8.5, meaning that North Korea is more than capable of competing for a spot. This could lead to some interesting matchups, such as a matchup with the United States, which North Korea considers its nemesis.

North Korea’s first game in the second round of World Cup qualifying will be at home against Syria on November 16. It will be the first time North Korea has hosted a foreign team since COVID-19.

North Korea resumed shipments of goods in September last year, but has been reluctant to engage in people-to-people exchanges, other than hosting Chinese and Russian dignitaries last month to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Korean War armistice.

However, North Korea’s willingness to open up through the sports arena is clear. It has announced its intention to participate in the Hangzhou Asian Games, which kick off in September, earlier than the World Cup’s Asian second qualifying round. 꽁머니지급

North Korea is expected to send about 200 athletes, coaches, and officials to the Games, including seven judo athletes who are expected to compete in the gold-medal event.

North Korea is also reportedly preparing to send a large contingent to the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF) World Championships in Kazakhstan on Sept. 19. The ITF is a different organization from the South Korean-led World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), so inter-Korean exchanges or inter-Korean competitions are expected to start at the Asian Games.