North Korea says can't host World Cup qualifier: Japan football chief

North Korea and <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Japan;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Japan</a> played in Tokyo on Tuesday (Philip FONG)
North Korea and Japan played in Tokyo on Tuesday (Philip FONG)

North Korea told Japan on Thursday that it cannot host next week's World Cup qualifier, Japan's football association chief said, throwing the game into doubt.

North Korea were scheduled to play Japan in Pyongyang on Tuesday in the second game of a double-header on the road to the 2026 World Cup.

But North Korean officials "told us that the game cannot go ahead in Pyongyang", Kozo Tashima said after the two sides met in a first qualifier in Tokyo, which Japan won 1-0.

"They asked us during half-time if we can organise (it) in Japan," local media quoted Tashima as saying.

"I told them it was so sudden and that I cannot give them an immediate yes.

"I told them it will take us at least two or three days (to answer). I told them it's difficult," he said.

The match in Pyongyang would have been the first game in North Korea for Japan's men's team since 2011.

Tashima gave no reason for North Korea's apparent change of heart.

But Japanese news agency Kyodo reported that North Korea didn't want to host the match over fears of bacterial infections in Japan.

Earlier this week Japan's foreign ministry warned football fans not to attempt to travel to North Korea for the match.

"As you know, North Korea takes a hostile view of Japan and travel is not recommended for the general public," it said on X, formerly Twitter.

Fourteen government officials were set to accompany the Japan team for the match as well as a small number of media outlets, broadcaster NHK reported.

The first leg of their women's playoff for the Paris Olympics was switched from Pyongyang to neutral ground in Saudi Arabia last month.

Relations have long been dogged by issues including compensation for Japan's brutal occupation of the Korean peninsula between 1910 and 1945 and more recently by Pyongyang's firing of missiles over Japanese territory.

The abduction by North Korean agents of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s -- forced to train spies in Japanese language and customs -- has also long been a major point of contention.

Despite being isolated and poor, North Korea qualified for the 2010 World Cup.

But they were knocked out at the group stage following three defeats, including a 7-0 thumping by Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal.

They also qualified in 1966 when they famously beat Italy 1-0 and made it to the quarter-finals.