Japan vs Czech Republic, 7 June 2011, 19:30 (11:30 BST)
International Stadium Yokohama, Kanagawa
Unofficial Football World Champions Japan play the Czech Republic tomorrow with both the UFWC title and the Kirin Cup at stake. This is the final match of the short three-team tournament, and so far the Kirin Cup tournament has been goalless.
Japan drew 0-0 with Peru to retain the UFWC title on Wednesday, and Peru and the Czech Republic drew 0-0 on Saturday. Peru were the better side in both games, and only standout performances from goalkeepers Eiji Kawashima and Petr Cech saved their sides from defeat.
Kawashima, who speaks fluent English, has this week been linked with a move to England and West Bromwich Albion. Cech, who already plays in England with Chelsea, was awarded the Czech Republic’s annual Golden Ball prize as the nation’s most valuable player for a record-equalling sixth time.
The Czech Republic are ranked higher in the UFWC rankings (14th) than they are in the FIFA rankings (32nd). They have won 15 UFWC title matches – nine more than Japan.
The Czech Republic took over the UFWC and FIFA records of the former Czechoslovakia, who first played in the UFWC in 1932, and first won the UFWC title in 1962. They enjoyed a particularly successful run as champions in 1975/76, taking the title into the European Championships and retaining it all the way to the final, eventually beating West Germany on penalties, with Antonin Panenka scoring one of the most famous penalty kicks of all time.
The nation’s first UFWC match as the Czech Republic was played in Liverpool at the 1996 Euro Championships and ended in victory over Italy. Again the Czechs took the title to the EC final, and again they played Germany, but this time the Germans won, with Oliver Birerhoff scoring the winner in extra time.
The Czechs were last Unofficial Football World Champions in 2004, taking the title from the Netherlands, beating Austria and Canada, drawing with Italy, then losing to the Republic of Ireland. (You can read about all of these matches in the UFWC book).
The Czech Republic are currently coached by Michal Bilek. He is without several key players for this tournament, including captain Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal and Milan Baros of Galatasaray. Against Peru, aside from Petr Cech, only 21-year-old striker Tomas Necid of CSKA Moscow and midfielder Kamil Vacek of Sparta Prague really caught the eye.
Japan and the Czech Republic last met in 2004 in Prague, with Japan running out 1-0 winners. Both sides have a point to prove after disappointing in their respective games against Peru. Japan in particular have been bruised by criticism of Alberto Zaccheroni’s so-far unsuccessful 3-4-3 formation, and by accusations of infighting among the squad. However, Zaccheroni has stated an aim to persevere with 3-4-3, and the players have denied claims of any rifts and demonstrated a keen desire to win. Keisuke Honda told the Japanese media this week, “We want to thrash them.”
There is more than the UFWC title at stake here, of course, as the victorious side will also win the Kirin Cup. If the match is a draw, it is assumed that the Kirin Cup will be shared between the tournament participants. The Cup has been shared three times previously.
A draw or a win for Japan would see the Japanese retain the UFWC title. In that case, the next title match will be Japan vs South Korea on 10 August. If the Czechs can win, they will become Unofficial Football World Champions and defend their title in Oslo against Norway, also on 10 August.