After a prolonged absence from the global soccer scene lasting over three years, North Korean forward Han Kwang Song has made a comeback, showcasing his skills in two recent World Cup qualifiers and notably scoring in the 6-1 victory against Myanmar on Tuesday.
Han made his return to the Chollima squad in a match against Syria on November 16, held in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. Sporting a white away uniform adorned with the North Korean flag on his chest and the number 10 on his back, Han’s presence marked his resurgence on the international stage. Although North Korea suffered a 1-0 loss in their bid to qualify for the World Cup, Han played a pivotal role, securing a powerful header in the 38th minute during the dominating win against Myanmar at Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon.
The enigmatic striker, who gained global recognition for his stints with various Italian soccer teams, notably disappeared from the soccer scene after playing for Qatar club Al-Duhail on August 21, 2020. An investigation by CNN revealed that Han had returned to Rome following his deportation from Qatar in early 2021, residing in an unspecified North Korean embassy until flights to Pyongyang resumed in August. Details surrounding his return remain unclear.
Despite inquiries, the North Korea football federation, the Asian Football Confederation, and FIFA have yet to comment on Han’s reentry into international football.
The unexpected return of the North Korean prodigy has surprised both soccer pundits and fans who had concerns about his well-being and the potential truncation of his promising career. Max Canzi, Han’s former coach at Serie A club Cagliari’s Under-19 team, expressed joy at the striker’s return, expressing curiosity about his performance after such a prolonged absence. Nicholas Pennington, Han’s ex-teammate at Cagliari, hoped that Han’s return to the spotlight would see him reclaim his rightful place in the soccer world. You can bet on youth Serie A matches using Mosbet AZ.
The roster for North Korea’s World Cup qualifiers included not only Han but also Pak Kwang Ryong and Choe Song Hyok, players who had been forced to halt their careers due to UN sanctions requiring the repatriation of overseas North Korean workers by the end of 2019.
Han’s disappearance in 2020 left fans questioning his whereabouts, especially considering his remarkable achievements. His career had been affected by UN sanctions imposed against North Korea in response to its sixth nuclear test in 2017. The sanctions mandated the repatriation of North Korean nationals working abroad by the end of 2019. Compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, North Korea sealed its borders, preventing Han and other repatriated nationals from returning home.
Han’s last game for Al-Duhail was on August 21, 2020, and he disappeared from the professional soccer scene until now. Questions arose about whether he had been sending money back to North Korea, a concern highlighted by the UNSC due to the regime’s practice of compelling overseas workers to contribute to government funds.
The mystery surrounding Han’s disappearance was partly unraveled in a UNSC report in March 2021, confirming his termination from Al-Duhail and deportation from Qatar. Deported in January 2021, Han’s inability to return home led him to Rome, as North Korea had closed its borders due to the pandemic.
In May 2021, North Korea withdrew from the qualification for the 2022 World Cup and abstained from the Tokyo Summer Olympics and Beijing Winter Games, citing the pandemic. The country, which had isolated itself due to the pandemic, recently eased restrictions to repatriate its nationals, including Han.
Han’s return coincided with North Korea’s participation in the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, after its athletes were unable to compete in previous international events. While the women’s team had an impressive run, the men’s national team faced challenges, receiving six yellow cards and exiting the competition after a confrontational match against Japan.