In the last of our continental UFWC features, and ahead of Japan taking the UFWC title into January’s Asian Cup, we look at the unofficial Asian championships.
The unofficial Asian championships started with a sensational result. In 1917, Japan played the Philippines in Tokyo, in the first ever Asian match, and the Philippines won 15-2. Given the recent histories of the two respective nations, the result looks even more eye-catching now than it must have done at the time! After beating Japan again, but more modestly, in 1921 and 1923, the Philippines lost to China in 1925. China would not relinquish the crown for over 30 years, though they defended it only a handful of times.
China did not enter the first Asian Cup in 1956, and thus the unofficial title did not either. Indonesia, Burma, Malaysia, South Vietnam, Chinese Taipei and South Korea were the next holders, as the title stayed resolutely in the Far East. The Koreans took the title during the 1960 Asian Cup. It was not taken away from the Far East until 1962, when India took the title. They lost it at the 1964 Asian Cup to Israel (an AFC member at the time). Israel did not defend it until the 1968 Asian Cup, when the title went (via Burma) to Iran.
Burma were a force at the time, and defended the title repeatedly in 1970 and 1971. The team that eventually beat them were Singapore. Cambodia were another South East Asian team to be crowned champions (in both 1973 and 1974). Meanwhile, India had taken the title in 1971, but not participated in the 1972 Asian Cup. Iran then enjoyed a huge spell as champions from 1974 to 1980. They won the 1976 Asian Cup, but lost both the official and unofficial Asian titles to Kuwait in 1980.
The following years saw first titles for Kuwait, Thailand and the UAE. Saudi Arabia’s first title came in 1984; they would soon become the dominant force. Thailand’s ownership of the title saw the 1984 Asian Cup bypassed. However, only one Asian Cup has been bypassed since – the 2000 tournament (the unofficial champions at that time were Jordan).
Back to 1985, though, and Bangladesh became perhaps the most unlikely title holder, dispossessing Indonesia, and seeing off Thailand, before finally giving way to India. The next first-time champs were Bahrain in March 1990; they didn’t make a defence of their title until May 1992. Having participated in the first match back in 1917, it was remarkable that Japan still hadn’t held the title; that was put right in late 1992. A year later, Iraq took over, but they also defended the title only sporadically, understandably.
The 1996 to 2004 period was utterly dominated by Saudi Arabia. In that period, they made 59 successful title defences; no other nation made more than seven. In 2001 to 2004, they made 30 successful defences in a row – the Asian record. It was one of Asia’s newer nations – Uzbekistan – that put paid to that run, during the 2004 Asian Cup.
In January 2006, Australia joined the AFC, and wasted little time in laying their hands on the unofficial title. They were successful at their first attempt – a World Cup group match in Germany in Kaiserslautern against Japan in June. Since then, two more nations have added their first title: Oman and North Korea.
Iran were in possession of the title throughout most of 2010, but a whirlwind few days in October saw them disposed by Kuwait, before Bahrain and Uzbekistan took over. The Uzbeks are the current holders.
Their next fixture is a friendly against Jordan on 2 January 2011; the winner of that match will take the title into the 2011 Asian Cup. If it is Jordan, then they will play a UFWC / Asian unification match against Japan in their opening match. If not, then the chances are that the two titles will still be unified come the end of the tournament anyway. January looks set to be an exciting month.
Follow the progress of the unofficial continental championships over at the UFWC Forum.
Read more continental UFWC features.