North Korean football has been competitive in international play despite having fewer chances to face other national sides due to limited diplomatic ties.

North Korean women will play for national pride and an Olympic berth when they meet Nadeshiko Japan on Wednesday at Tokyo's 68,000-seat National Stadium in the second match of their two-legged qualifier.

The winning team will get to play at the Paris Olympics after Saturday's first game ended in a scoreless draw in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where the North Koreans demonstrated their speed and physical strength.

Players of the North Korea women's national football team and their coaching staff, led by head coach Ri Yu Il (L), line up before an Olympic qualifier against Japan on Feb. 24, 2024, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Kyodo)

Football is one of the most popular sports in North Korea, with the nation's leader, Kim Jong Un, watching domestic league play.

The men's and women's clubs, supported by groups such as the military and companies, have apparently raised the level of the national teams.

Both the North Korea men's and women's teams have played at multiple World Cups. The women's team has made two trips to the Olympics.

Both the men's and women's leagues have three divisions, according to the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency and South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.

Japan's Yoshino Nakashima (R) is challenged by North Korea's Ri Myong Gum during a women's football Olympic qualifier at Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Feb. 24, 2024. (Kyodo)

In the women's season, which ended last October, 4.25, the army club named after April 25, won the title, and Naegohyang finished second.

Ri Yu Il, head coach of the national women's team, is the man who turned Naegohyang into a strong competitor. At the current squad, eight players are from Naegohyang and seven from 4.25.

His father is goalkeeper Ri Chang Myung of the North Korean squad that reached the quarterfinals of the 1966 World Cup in England, according to the Choson Sinbo newspaper published by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.

Related coverage:

Football: Japan, North Korea draw 1st leg of final Olympic qualifier