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Return of the ‘North Korean Ronaldo’: Han Kwang Song Resurfaces After Three-Year Absence

Han Kwang-song, North Korea’s unique football talent, has rejoined the North Korean national team after being missing for three years

KBS News

On the 19th, the North Korean soccer team arrived in Tokyo, Japan, via Haneda Airport for the third round of the 2026 FIFA North and Central America World Cup Asia 2nd Round Qualifiers. This event drew the attention of football fans both domestically and around the world.

The presence of player Han Kwang Song dubbed the “North Korean Ronaldo,” who had been subject to disappearance rumors for three years, was a key reason for this attention.

A.C. Peugia

Born in 1998, Han Kwang Song is the first North Korean player in Italy’s Serie A and the first North Korean national to score in the league. In 2015, The Guardian selected him as one of the 50 next-generation footballers.

With his fast speed, excellent footwork, and ability to freely use both feet, he earned the nickname ‘North Korean Ronaldo’ as his playstyle resembled Ronaldo’s in many ways.

As a teenage prodigy, he moved to Italy in 2015 as part of North Korea’s talent program. He debuted with Cagliari at 19 in 2017, scoring his debut goal against Torino.

Juventus

In 2019, he transferred to the globally renowned soccer club Juventus. Juventus is a top-tier Italian league club where Ronaldo was playing at the time.

The transfer fee was 5 million euros (about $5.6 million), and there was an option to transfer after a two-year loan.

However, Han Kwang Song did not play in the first team and was transferred to Al-Duhail in the Qatar league. He played his last game in August 2020, and his career in Qatar was forcibly ended in March of the following year for political reasons.

The UN announced a sanction prohibiting North Korean citizens from working abroad, and Han Kwang Song’s transfer was deemed to have violated this international sanction. As a result, Han Kwang-song attempted to return to Italy, but North Korea decided to close its borders, and it is known that he turned his steps back to North Korea.

GettyImages

He had been missing for three years. In a related report, the UN Security Council stated, “Han Kwang Song was staying in Rome, Italy, waiting for the Pyongyang flight route, which was suspended due to COVID, to resume.”

Then, in December of last year, he started in a match against Syria in the 2026 North and Central America World Cup Asia qualifiers held at Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Wearing number 10, Han Kwang Song started the game on the left wing and was substituted in the second half. Later, in the qualifiers, he contributed one goal and one assist.

ANN News

Thus, his appearance at the airport on the 19th was the moment he revealed himself to the media after four years.

Japanese ANN News reported the North Korean team was transiting through Beijing Daxing Airport. The North Korean players wore black suits with pink ties and blue disposable masks.

When a reporter approached Han Kwang Song for an interview, he responded, “Let’s do it after the game,” showing a startled reaction.

The reporter then asked, “How was your preparation? Is it going well?” Han Kwang Song replied, “Yes. It’s going well,” before leaving.

Domestic soccer fans who heard the news reacted with comments such as “Thank god he’s alive,” “I feel sorry for him,” “If he was born in our country, he could have been alongside Son Heung-min and Lee Kang-in,” “It’s just sad,” and “A valuable talent unable to fulfill his dreams because of his nationality.”

Meanwhile, North Korea is in Group B for the 2026 North and Central America World Cup Asia qualifiers, facing Japan in the 3rd and 4th rounds. The match between the two countries, long-standing rivals ranked 18th and 114th worldwide, respectively, draws keen interest.

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