North Korean women’s football team skips Olympic qualifier

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North Korean women’s football team skips Olympic qualifier

North Korea will not compete in an Olympic women’s football qualifying tournament scheduled for next February in South Korea, a source told Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday.

According to the source, North Korea recently informed the Asian Football Confederation that they will not enter the third round of the Asian qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. That competition will run from Feb. 3-9, 2020, on Jeju Island.

“North Korea didn’t give reasons for their withdrawal, and the Korea Football Association [in Seoul] will make an announcement soon,” the source added. “North Korea will not be replaced in the tournament.”

North Korea would have faced South Korea in Group A, which also includes Vietnam and Myanmar. Four other teams in the third round - Australia, China, Thailand and Chinese Taipei - were drawn into Group B and will play their matches in Wuhan, China, from Feb. 3-9.

From the third round, the top two teams from each group will advance to the final playoff round. In home-and-home series to take place on March 6 and 11, the Group A winner will face the Group B runner-up, while the Group B winner will play the Group A runner-up.

Without world No. 11 North Korea, the 20th-ranked South Korea will be favored to win Group A over Vietnam (No. 32) and Myanmar (No. 44). South Korea has had just one victory against North Korea in 19 meetings, with three draws and 15 losses. But South Korea has won all 10 meetings against Vietnam and all five matches against Myanmar.

North Korea also declined to participate in the women’s tournament East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) E-1 Football Championship earlier this month in Busan. North Korea had won the three previous EAFF titles but pulled out months before the opening kickoff.

Less than two years ago, the two Koreas marched as one at the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics and also assembled a joint women’s hockey team, the first pan-Korean squad in Olympic history. Also in 2018, the Koreas competed as one country at a handful of events at the Asian Games in Indonesia.

Such active exchanges and engagements seem like a distant memory now amid strained inter-Korean ties. Talks about having another joint march and fielding more unified teams at the Tokyo Olympics have all but died.

Women’s football was first contested at the Olympics in 1996, and South Korea, dubbed the “Taeguk Ladies,” has never played at the quadrennial event.

North Korea has played at two Olympics, in 2008 and 2012, and failed to make it past the group stage on both occasions.

The two Koreas remain technically at war, because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

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