With the Hangzhou Asian Games just around the corner, North Korea’s return to the international stage will be the center of attention.

North Korea, which has kept itself behind closed doors amid the COVID-19 pandemic, will make its first appearance in the men’s soccer group F match against Chinese Taipei on Sept. 19. It will be their first appearance since the Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games five years ago.

As North Korea’s national sport, soccer is not just about the players. Han Kwang-sung (25), who has been called the Ronaldo of North Korea, was the center of attention for the foreign media.

He was the first North Korean goalie to play in the Italian Serie A. He joined Cagliari Calcio in 2017 and went on to play for Perugia and top-flight Juventus. In 2015, the British newspaper The Guardian named Han Kwang-sung in its list of 50 footballers of the next generation.

However, Han was forced to leave Italy in 2020 due to economic sanctions imposed on North Korea. He then joined Al Duhail in Qatar, where he left his last traces as a soccer player. His last steps, as tracked by the US-based CNN, were a brief stay in Rome in 2021 before returning to North Korea.

Because of this, if North Korea were to return to the Asian Games, it was expected that Han Kwang-sung would reappear, but his name was not on the North Korean roster. Of course, Han Kwang-sung is over the age limit of 24 for the Asian Games, but he was able to be selected as a wildcard (an athlete over the age of 24).메이저사이트

North Korea’s wildcard selections included DPRK national soccer team captain and defender Jang Kuk-chol (29, Torch), goalkeeper Kang Joo-hyok (26, Torch), and midfielder Kim Kuk-beom (28, 4.25), all of whom have extensive experience with the age-group national teams. All three are regulars at every international tournament North Korea has competed in.

The remaining 19 players were mostly born in the 2000s, marking a new era in North Korean soccer. The average age of the North Korean squad (22 players), including the wildcard, is 23.04 years old. This is up from 21.8 at the Jakarta-Palembang tournament five years ago, as the tournament itself was postponed by a year due to COVID-19. North Korea finished in the quarterfinals at Jakarta-Palembang.

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