Japan remain Unofficial Football World Champions, having battled to a draw against Uzbekistan on Tuesday. It’s been a remarkable reign – one that began last October with a 1-0 win over previous champions Argentina. If Japan can avoid defeat in the next UFWC title match, against Vietnam on 7 October, they’ll have been champions for a full year. Quite an achievement. So let’s take a look back at the reign so far.
New to the UFWC? Check out the beginner’s guide.
Japan has now gone 13 games unbeaten as Unofficial Football World Champions. Of those 13 games, 8 were wins and 5 were draws. Prior to the UFWC run, Japan had beaten Paraguay and Guatemala too, taking them to 15 games unbeaten overall. It’s an impressive record for the team, and for Alberto Zaccheroni, who has yet to lose a game as Japan coach.
There have been plenty of highlights along the way. The thoroughly-deserved victory over Argentina – Messi, Tevez, Milito and all – kicked things off. At the Asian Cup in Qatar in January, Japan thrashed Saudi Arabia 5-0, beat the hosts in a 3-2 thriller courtesy of a last minute goal, and then played out an amazing semi-final match against South Korea. The score was 1-1 after 90 minutes, and 2-2 after extra time, before Japan won 3-0 on penalties.
Then came the Asian Cup final against Australia, another epic match, settled by an extra-time goal from Tadanari Lee. Japan were AFC champions as well as UFWC champions. A couple of fairly unexciting draws followed, but a 3-0 win over South Korea in August proved that the team hadn’t lost its scoring touch. A last-gasp win over North Korea, and this week’s draw with Uzbekistan bring us right up to date.
Japan have scored 20 goals, and conceded 7, in their 13 UFWC title matches. Shinji Okasaki scored Japan’s winner against Argentina, and the equaliser against Uzbekistan – the first and last goals of the reign (so far). He also scored a hat-trick against Saudi Arabia in January, giving him a total of five, and making him Japan’s top goalscorer in the UFWC. The other Shinji – Kagawa – has four goals. Japan’s UFWC goalscorers are:
Okazaki (5); Kagawa (4); Maeda (3); Honda (2); Yoshida (2); Hasebe; Hosogai; Inoha; Lee.
The full list of Japan’s results as UFWC champions is as follows (click for match reports):
08/10/10 JAPAN 1-0 ARGENTINA Friendly, Saitama
12/10/10 SOUTH KOREA 0-0 JAPAN Friendly, Seoul
09/01/11 JAPAN 1-1 JORDAN Asian Cup, Doha
13/01/11 SYRIA 1-2 JAPAN Asian Cup, Doha
17/01/11 SAUDI ARABIA 0-5 JAPAN Asian Cup, Al Rayyan
21/01/11 JAPAN 3-2 QATAR Asian Cup, Doha
25/01/11 JAPAN 2-2 SOUTH KOREA (JAPAN WIN ON PENS) Asian Cup, Doha
29/01/11 JAPAN 1-0 AUSTRALIA Asian Cup Final, Doha
01/06/11 JAPAN 0-0 PERU Friendly, Niigata
07/06/11 JAPAN 0-0 CZECH REPUBLIC Friendly, Kanagawa
10/08/11 JAPAN 3-0 SOUTH KOREA Friendly, Sapporo
02/09/11 JAPAN 1-0 NORTH KOREA World Cup Qualifier, Saitama
06/09/11 UZBEKISTAN 1-1 JAPAN World Cup Qualifier, Tashkent
Before becoming champions last October, Japan had played in five UFWC previous title matches, but had lost them all (conceding 11, and failing to score a single goal). Since October, the team has begun to establish itself among the UFWC’s all-time best. Japan’s eight UFWC title match wins translate to eight UFWC ranking points (no points are awarded for draws). This means that, having been completely unranked a year ago, Japan has soared into the top 20 UFWC rankings, standing level on points with Colombia and Romania. The all-time UFWC ranking table currently reads:
|1 SCOTLAND 86
2 ENGLAND 73
3 ARGENTINA 51
4 NETHERLANDS 49
5 RUSSIA 41
6 BRAZIL 29
7 GERMANY 27
7 ITALY 27
|9 SWEDEN 26
10 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 10
20 COLOMBIA 8
20 JAPAN 8
20 ROMANIA 8
The team has moved up the official rankings, too. Last October, Japan were ranked 30th in the world by FIFA. Today they are ranked 15th, level with France and the Ivory Coast. It’s interesting to note that the UFWC often highlights improving teams before they make a big impression on the world stage – look at the Netherlands’ amazing run as UFWC champions from November 2008 right through to the World Cup Final in July 2010.
Japan have some way to go to match that Netherlands reign (21 matches unbeaten), but it’s not outlandish to suggest they could remain unbeaten through World Cup qualifying. Of course, Zaccheroni’s side will also need to avoid defeat in friendly matches – notably next month against Vietnam. How far can Japan go? All we know is, it’s going to be exciting finding out.