Japan's Nadeshiko head to Jeddah for Olympic qualifier against North Korea

TOKYO: Japan's women's team are flying to Saudi Arabia today for the first leg of their Paris Olympics qualifier against North Korea even though they have not yet received confirmation of the venue, the Japanese Football Association (JFA) said.

The match, which will go half way to deciding which of the two teams will secure a berth at this year's Summer Games, was originally scheduled to be played in Pyongyang's Kim Il Sung Stadium.

The JFA, however, asked the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) to move the match to a neutral venue because of various issues including the difficulties of travelling to North Korea, which has no formal diplomatic relations with Japan.

With only four days until kickoff, JFA Women's Committee Chairman Norio Sasaki said he had finally received word from the AFC that the squad should travel to Saudi Arabia.

"We received information from the Asian federation that they are preparing to hold the event in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and we have been instructed to prepare for that," Sasaki told NHK.

"Although I am worried, we have no choice but to proceed with preparations assuming that the match will be held."

There was no immediate response from the AFC to a request for comment.

A quartet of England-based Japan players remained in London this week rather than travel back to East Asia and then potentially onto another venue, Kyodo News reported.

The rest of the Nadeshiko squad will leave for Jeddah on two flights later today and arrive tomorrow to complete their preparations for the game, the JFA said.

The return leg will take place at Tokyo's National Stadium on Feb 28.

Japan are eighth and their opponents ninth in the Fifa rankings but the North Koreans finished last year on a hot run of form, scoring 59 goals and conceding none in five games.

North Korea withdrew from the qualifying tournament for the last Olympics in Tokyo, where the hosts were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Sweden.

Uzbekistan also face Australia over two legs to decide Asia's other representative at the 12-team Olympic tournament, which will be staged at venues around France in July and August.

New Zealand secured the Oceania berth at the Games with an 11-1 win over Solomon Islands in Apia, Samoa on Monday. --REUTERS

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