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Mongolia, North Korea picks up wins in World Cup qualifying

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Mongolia and North Korea both started the second round of Asian World Cup qualifying with wins on Thursday.

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Mongolia, ranked 187th in the world and playing in the second round of qualifying for the first time, beat Myanmar 1-0 in Ulaanbaatar. Amaraa Dulguun scored the lone goal in the 17th minute of the Group F match. It’s only Mongolia’s second World Cup qualifying win overall, having won a first round first-leg match in 2011 (for the 2014 World Cup), before losing the second leg, 2-0 to Myanmar. This time, payback was on the cards.

North Korea defeated Lebanon 2-0 in Group H with Jong Il Gwan scoring both goals in Pyongyang.

The winner of each of the eight groups and the four best second-place teams will advance to the next round.

2 Koreas move toward meeting in World Cup qualifying

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) Before a meeting of the Korean neighbors in the second stage of 2022 World Cup qualifying, North Korea must navigate a potentially tricky opening fixture against Lebanon in Pyongyang on Thursday.

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Forty teams are still active on the road to Qatar but only the eight group winners and four best-placed teams progress to the next stage where Asia’s four automatic places in the World Cup are up for grabs.

South Korea, the favorite in Group H, is scheduled to visit Pyongyang on Oct. 15 in a meeting between two countries technically at war.

“We know that North Korea will be tough at home and have World Cup history but we want to get a good start,” Lebanon coach Liviu Ciobotariu said. “In a group that also has South Korea, every game is vital.”

South Korea, looking for a tenth successive World Cup appearance, sits out the first round of games this week, as do all eight top-ranked teams in Asia, and kicks off against Turkmenistan on Tuesday.

Also Thursday, Turkmenistan takes on Sri Lanka, the world’s 200th ranked team. Unlike South Korea, the South Asians are unlikely to progress to the next stage but there is still much at stake.

After the Easter Sunday suicide bombing in Colombo that killed more than 250 people, first round opponent Macau refused to travel to the island for the return leg of their first-round qualifier in June and forfeited the match. Sri Lanka is keen to show that life has returned to normal.

“Terrorists have attacked many developed countries in the past and this does not affect carrying out the affairs of any sport,” the country’s football federation declared in a statement. “Sri Lanka shall enjoy its right to host the home game in Sri Lanka and every county shall respect each other’s right to host similar games.”

Southeast Asia also has plenty to play for. The biggest crowd this week will likely be in Jakarta as Indonesia takes on rival Malaysia in front of what is expected to be 80,000 fans.

Feelings between the two neighbors can run high. According to reports in Malaysia, Football Association of Malaysia president Hamidin Mohd Amin has requested that an armored personnel carrier be on standby.

“We are not worried about the situation at the stadium itself as there are a lot of security personnel from both Malaysia and Indonesia guarding the perimeter,” Hamidin told local media. “But there is a risk of provocation and chaos en route.”

Thailand hosts Vietnam in the same group while Mongolia plays its first ever game in the second round of World Cup qualifying and faces Myanmar.

Elsewhere, 2022 World Cup host Qatar is placed in Group E and kicks off against Afghanistan. Regardless of how the Asian champion performs, it will not progress to the next stage of World Cup qualification. Qatar is involved as the path to the 2022 World Cup has been combined with qualification for the 2023 Asian Cup which will take place in China.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Korean plan among nine possible bids for 2023 Women’s World Cup

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says nine soccer federations are interested in hosting the 2023 Women’s World Cup including South Korea, which could jointly bid with North Korea.

Brazil and South Africa are in the contest, suggesting underused stadiums built to host the 2014 and 2010 World Cups could be picked.

Other contenders are Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Colombia, Japan and New Zealand.

South Korean officials said this month that FIFA approached them to explore a joint bid with North Korea.

Potential candidates have until April 16 to register to bid, then until Oct. 4 to submit bid books.

FIFA now includes a human rights evaluation when assessing World Cup bidders.

The 37-member FIFA Council will pick the host in March next year.

The next Women’s World Cup is played June 7-July 7 in France.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

North Korean national soccer teams in Japan for tournament

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TOKYO (AP) North Korea’s national soccer teams have arrived in Tokyo as an exception to Japanese sanctions against Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear development.

North Korea is competing against Japan, China and South Korea in the E-1 Football Championship, which starts Friday.

The arrival of North Korea’s men’s and women’s teams comes amid growing tension in the region. Pyongyang test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that landed within Japan’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, which experts said could hit Washington if launched on a standard trajectory. The U.S. and South Korean militaries are holding a major air force exercise.

Japan has banned North Korean nationals from entering the country as part of its sanctions against Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests.

NKorea to host Malaysia in soccer after diplomatic dispute

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) North Korea has finally been approved to host a 2019 Asian Cup qualifying match against Malaysia following political tensions between the countries.

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The Asian Football Confederation says the game can go ahead in Pyongyang on June 8 after the Malaysian soccer federation confirmed it was not subject to “government travel restrictions.”

Diplomatic tensions escalated amid investigations into the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother in Kuala Lumpur. Both countries imposed travel bans on the other’s citizens.

The original March 28 qualifier was postponed and a neutral venue sought.

The game opens both teams’ program in a four-nation Asian Cup qualifying group that also includes Lebanon and Hong Kong.