Han Kwang Song looks on during the Serie A match between Cagliari and Chievo at Stadio Sant’Elia on April 15, 2017 in Cagliari, Italy. Enrico Locci/Getty Images CNN —
After more than three years of going missing from world soccer, North Korean striker Han Kwang Song has reappeared, playing for his country in two recent World Cup qualifiers and scoring in the 6-1 win over Myanmar on Tuesday.
Han first featured for the Chollima against Syria on November 16 – a match played in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah – wearing a white away uniform with the North Korean flag on his chest and the number 10 on his back.
Attempting to qualify for the World Cup for a third time, North Korea lost 1-0. Han then started and scored a powerful header in the 38th minute for the nation in its dominating win against Myanmar in the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon.
After playing for Qatar club Al-Duhail on August 21, 2020, the young striker – who came to world prominence after playing for a number of Italian soccer teams – had gone missing, nowhere to be seen or heard of.
A CNN investigation found that he had returned to Rome when he was deported from Qatar in early 2021 and had stayed at an unspecified North Korean embassy until flights back to Pyongyang resumed just this August. It is unclear when and how he returned home.
The North Korea football federation, the Asian Football Confederation and world soccer governing body FIFA didn’t respond to CNN’s request for comment on Han’s return to international football.
The return of the North Korean wunderkind has surprised soccer pundits and fans, who worried about his safety and promising career being cut short.
Max Canzi, who coached Han at Serie A club Cagliari’s Under-19 team, said he is “very happy” for the striker to return.
“Very curious about the level of his performance after being out for so much time,” Canzi told CNN Sport, after learning that Han had reappeared in the loss against Syria.
Han’s former teammate Nicholas Pennington at Cagliari told CNN Sport: “Hopefully, Han stays in the spotlight and the fact that there is concern helps him get back to where he should be.”
Listed in the roster for North Korea’s World Cup qualifiers against Syria and Myanmar were not just Han, but also Pak Kwang Ryong and Choe Song Hyok – who played for Austria’s SKN St. Pölten and Italy’s SS Arezzo, respectively, until they were forced to stop due to the UN sanctions that ordered the repatriation of all overseas North Korean workers by the end of 2019.
Han played for North Korea against Syria and Myanmar in November. Alberto Mier/CNN
Where in the world was Han?
In 2017, Han became the first North Korean to score a goal in one of Europe’s five major soccer leagues and even made a shock transfer to Italian giant Juventus in 2019, then later to Qatar’s Al-Duhail.
The young striker from Pyongyang quickly drew attention from soccer pundits and fans – not just for his unique background, but for his technical prowess as well.
But his promising career was cut short when he disappeared from the world soccer stage in 2020, leaving fans with a question: “Where in the world was Han?”
Han’s career was affected by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) imposing sanctions against North Korea for conducting its sixth nuclear test in 2017.
The sanctions ordered member states to repatriate all North Korean nationals working in their respective jurisdictions amid concerns that foreign money was being transferred to support Kim Jong Un’s nuclear and weapons programs. The UNSC resolution set the end of 2019 as the deadline for repatriation.
The Covid-19 pandemic led to North Korea fully sealing its borders, making it impossible for Han and fellow repatriated North Korean nationals to return home.