Japan celebrates, Montenegro awaits
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So it’s congratulations to Japan, and kon’nichiwa to the huge number of Japan fans who have joined us in supporting the UFWC over the past few weeks. And the excitement continues, because next month Japan will defend the UFWC title against Montenegro – an increasingly impressive football force.
The Asian Cup was a great tournament, and gave us five exciting UFWC title matches. Of course Japan remained unbeaten throughout, and retained their UFWC title, but it wasn’t easy for the unofficial champions. They needed an injury time equaliser to draw with Jordan, and a late penalty to edge a win over Syria. The 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia was a rare stroll in the park, but things got much tougher in the knock-out stages.
A last minute goal beat hosts Qatar, and then Japan needed a penalty shoot out to beat South Korea on penalties. Then a tough encounter with Australia, which saw the Socceroos on top for much of the game, went to extra time. As penalties approached, and with 109 minutes played, substitute Tadanari Lee scored the brilliant goal that won the game and the tournament for Japan. This is how Japan’s Asian Cup played out:
09/01/11 JAPAN 1-1 JORDAN AC Doha
13/01/11 SYRIA 1-2 JAPAN AC Doha
17/01/11 SAUDI ARABIA 0-5 JAPAN AC Al Rayyan
21/01/11 JAPAN 3-2 QATAR AC Doha
25/01/11 JAPAN 2-2 SOUTH KOREA (3-0 PENS) AC Doha
29/01/11 JAPAN 1-0 AUSTRALIA AC Doha
So Japan left Qatar as combined Asian Cup and Unofficial Football World Champions. As it stands, Japan is the best team in Asia and (unofficially) the best team in the world. The victory over Australia was Japan’s 6th UFWC title win, and moves the Blue Samurai to 26nd in the all-time UFWC rankings.
The one title match Montenegro has played, against Hungary in August 2008, ended in a 3-3 draw. The Montenegrans were somewhat unlucky not to take the UFWC title, with Hungary needing an 87th minute penalty to rescue a draw.
Despite being a relative newcomer, Montenegro has risen impressively up the FIFA ranking table, currently standing in 25th place, ahead of the likes of the Ivory Coast, Mexico, Denmark and South Korea. Probably no international team has ever risen so quickly up the rankings – they started at the bottom, ranked 199th, in August 2007.
Montenegro is one of the smallest countries ever to have played in a UFWC title match. Only ten countries with populations of less than 1 million have participated. They are:
San Marino (30,000)
Faroe Islands (49,000)
Netherlands Antilles (197,000)
Only one of these countries was successful – the Netherlands Antilles famously defeated Mexico in 1963. (The Netherlands Antilles was dissolved as a country last year, but FIFA doesn’t seem to have noticed yet – they’re still ranked 150th in the world.)
But while Montenegro is small, there is no question its team will provide serious opposition for Japan. The Montenegrins have recently beaten Wales, Bulgaria and Switzerland, and drawn with England at Wembley, in Euro 2012 qualifying matches. They’ve got goals in them, with captain Mirko Vučinić, of Roma, leading the line. He scored the winning goals against both Wales and Switzerland, and has a habit of taking his shorts off when he celebrates…
Japan play Montenegro on 25 March, and we’ll be building up to the big match over the next few weeks, as well as providing the usual mix of UFWC news, features, classic matches and more.
You can follow Paul Brown on Twitter @realpaulbrown.