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Now that the dust has settled on a marvellous Asian Cup tournament, we can reflect on what it meant for the Unofficial Football World Champions. For the very first time, the UFWC title was contested at the Asian Cup, and it was Japan who emerged as Unofficial Football World Champions and Asian Cup holders.

New to the UFWC? Check out the beginner’s guide.

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.

See Japanese coverage of Japan’s success in the UFWC at Zakzak and MSN Japan.

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Japan’s next opponents aren’t yet on the rankings table. Montenegro has only played in one previous UFWC title match – but of course the country only gained independence in 2006. Previous to that, the country was part of Yugoslavia, and then Serbia and Montenegro. FIFA and UFWC records for those periods were transferred to Serbia on independence.

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)
Liechtenstein (36,000)
Faroe Islands (49,000)
Andorra (84,000)
Netherlands Antilles (197,000)
Iceland (317,000)
Malta (413,000)
Luxembourg (502,000)
Montenegro (626,000)
Cyprus (870,000)

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.

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2 thoughts on “Japan celebrates, Montenegro awaits

  1. Samurai Blue

    “”was Japan’s 7th UFWC title win, and moves the Samurai Blue to 22nd in the all-time UFWC rankings.””

    The table says they are 26th with 6 UFWC title wins. So which one is the correct one.

    UFWC Rankings Table to 30/01/11

    1 scotland SCOTLAND 86
    2 england ENGLAND 74
    3 argentina ARGENTINA 51
    4 netherlands NETHERLANDS 49
    5 russia RUSSIA 41
    6 brazil BRAZIL 29
    7 germany GERMANY 27
    7 italy ITALY 27
    9 sweden SWEDEN 26
    10 france FRANCE 25
    11 HUNGARY 17
    11 SPAIN 17
    13 URUGUAY 16
    14 CZECH REP 15
    15 AUSTRIA 12
    15 WALES 12
    17 CHILE 11
    17 GREECE 11
    19 SWITZERLAND 9
    20 COLOMBIA 8
    20 ROMANIA 8
    22 ANGOLA 7
    22 PARAGUAY 7
    22 PERU 7
    22 ZIMBABWE 7
    26 BULGARIA 6
    26 JAPAN 6

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