North Korea 2-0 Palestine
16 March 2012, Dasarath Rangasala Stadium, Kathmandu, Nepal
AFC Challenge Cup Semi Final
Scorer: Pak Kwang Ryong (2)

Unofficial Football World Champions North Korea comfortably defeated Palestine to retain their UFWC title in this relatively uneventful match in Kathmandu. 19-year-old Pak Kwang Ryong was the North Korean hero, scoring both of his side’s goals in an impressive man-of-the-match performance.

This match was also an AFC Challenge Cup semi final, lest we forget, and the result means that North Korea progress to Monday’s final, with both the UFWC’s CW Alcock Cup and the AFC Challenge Cup up for grabs.

We already knew ahead of kick off that the challengers in the next UFWC title match and AFC Challenge Cup Final will be Turkmenistan, who came from behind with two goals in the last ten minutes to beat the Philippines 2-1 in the other semi final earlier today.

North Korea were favourites going into this game, having comfortably dominated and won all three of their AFC Challenge Cup group matches, scoring eight goals and conceding none. North Korea are ranked 111th in the world by FIFA, while Palestine are ranked 160th. The North Koreans had won four UFWC title matches ahead of this game, while Palestine had never participated in the unofficial competition.

Palestine has only been recognised as a FIFA nation since 1998, and only played its first official home match in the Palestinian Territories in 2008. So far in this AFC Challenge Cup they had beaten Nepal and the Maldives, and drawn with Turkmenistan, scoring four goals and – like North Korea – conceded none.

The secret of North Korea’s success was very plainly laid out ahead of the match by coach Yun Jong-su, who said, ‘We have seen the matches of Palestine and have analysed their tactics and will implement our strategy accordingly.’

On the pitch, all eyes were on North Korean danger man Pak Nam Chol, who had scored in all three previous AFC Challenge Cup games. But his performance was overshadowed by his striking partner, Pak Kwang Ryong of Basel, the only North Korean to have played in the UEFA Champions League.

Palestine’s best chance of goals looked to be Fahed Attal, the nation’s all-time top scorer. Attal was the tournament’s top scorer last time Palestine qualified for the AFC Challenge Cup, and scored one of his team’s goals against Nepal last week. However, this was not to be his day.

The game was played on a poor pitch at the Dasarath Rangasala Stadium, where the Turkmenistan vs Philippines match had been played immediately beforehand. There were the traditional North Korean tears during the national anthems, with plenty of passion on display from the players. As the game got underway it was notable how vocal the Palestinian players were in organising and encouraging their team-mates, compared to the quietly efficient North Koreans.

North Korea dominated the early exchanges, as might have been expected, but neither side managed to create any sort of meaningful chance. A good twenty minutes had been played before we saw any shots on goal, and both were off target – Murad Said firing high and wide for Palestine and Jong Il Kwan shooting low and wide for North Korea.

Then, with half an hour played, North Korea finally created a decent chance, with a floating cross finding Pak Kwang Ryong in the box, only for the young striker to head wide when he should have done much better.

There were 40 minutes on the clock when North Korea managed the game’s first shot on target, and even that was a cross-shot from Pak Nam Chol that Palestine keeper and captain Ramzi Saleh gratefully rescued from under his crossbar.

But, within a couple of minutes of that half-chance, North Korea finally scored. In an amazing passage of play, the North Korean forward line swapped passes in the Palestinian box, culminating in an amazing volley cannoning off the crossbar, which rebounded to Pak Kwang Ryong, who lashed home a left foot shot. 1-0 to North Korea.

Palestine almost immediately created their best chance of the match, but Fahed Attal couldn’t quite get on the end of a dangerous low cross.

North Korea led at half-time, but it wasn’t all good news for the UFWC champions, who lost two players to injury during the opening 45 minutes.

The second half began in the same fashion as the first, with North Korea on top, but with chances few and far between. However, North Korea’s extra experience and flashes of quality eventually proved decisive.

First, a North Korean shot was blocked on the line by a Palestinian defender’s nether regions. Then, on 68 minutes, Ramzi Saleh came blundering off his line, allowing the onrushing Pak Kwang Ryong to go around him and slide the ball into the back of the net. 2-0.

After that, it was a case of seeing the game out for North Korea, who are suitably organised and defensively minded to keep much better teams than Palestine at bay. In truth, the result was never in doubt, and the best team held out for a comfortable victory. It was 2-0 at full-time, and North Korea remain Unofficial Football World Champions.

So North Korea will take their UFWC title into the AFC Challenge Cup final, where the challengers will be UFWC virgins Turkmenistan. The final takes place this Monday, 19 March, with the kick off at 18:30 local time (12:45 GMT). We’ll bring you a preview ahead of the match, and a full report afterwards. As usual, you can keep up to date by following us on Twitter (@UFWC_Football).

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