North Korea 2-0 Philippines
09/03/2012, Halchowk Stadium, Kathmandu, Nepal
AFC Challenge Cup Group B
Scorers: Pak Nam Chol, Jang Kuk Chol

North Korea remain Unofficial Football World Champions after defeating lively challengers the Philippines in this entertaining AFC Challenge Cup match in Kathmandu. North Korea are the current AFC Challenge Cup holders, and won comfortably, despite stereotypically plucky resistance from the Azkals.

This was international football in very reduced circumstances. The AFC Challenge Cup is intended for ’emerging’ football nations, although North Korea are officially classed as ‘developed’. The setting was perhaps more typical of non-league football. The tiny Halchowk Stadium has a capacity of just 3,500, but, its Wikipedia page proudly states, ‘boasts a grass playing surface’. Despite the setting, though, the football on display was of pretty decent quality.

North Korea were again without star man Jong Tae-Se, but Yun Jong Su’s team lined up with experienced goalkeeper Ri-Myong Guk, and striking pair Pak Nam Chol and Jong Il-Gwan.

The Philippines, coached by German Michael Weiss, lined up with several English-born players, including Fulham goalkeeper Neil Etheridge, and midfield captain James Younghusband and striker brother Phil, both of Loyola.

It was Phil Younghusband who created the first real chance of the game for the Philippines, racing through the North Korean defence and forcing a good save from Ri-Myong Guk. The Philippines then unveiled their secret weapon, the Rory Delap-style long throws of Jason Sabio, which caused problems in the North Korea penalty area.

However, after that brief Azkal flurry, the reigning UFWC champions began to take control of the game. The North Korean’s increasing share of the play was rewarded after 16 minutes, when the referee awarded what looked to be a very harsh penalty for a fairly standard challenge in the box.

Pak Song Chol stepped up to take the penalty, and scored – only for the referee to order the kick to be retaken due to encroachment into the box. And the retaken kick was brilliantly saved by Etheridge, who dived past the ball to his right, but recovered to save with a strong left hand, and quickly pounced on the loose ball.

Five minutes later, Etheridge was again the hero, this time saving well at his near post from an Il Gwan header. North Korea then had a claim for another penalty, when a Pak Song Chol shot was blocked by a crowd of Filipino defenders, apparently with the assistance of an arm. But this time the referee didn’t point to the spot.

Etheridge remained the key man in this match, first colliding with Pak Song Chol and ending up requiring lengthy treatment on the pitch. Then Etheridge clashed with another North Korean body, leading to a confrontation between several players from each side.

As half-time approached, the Philippines began to regain some possession, and carved out a couple of chances, with good work from Phil Younghusband creating a chance that forced the first corner of the game. The set piece, was wasted, though, and the first half ended 0-0.

North Korea continued to dominate in the second half, and, although the Philippines continued to bravely hold out, it seemed inevitable that the UFWC champions would eventually score. When the goal did come, it was in disappointing circumstances for the Philippines. Captain Pak Nam Chol was left completely unmarked in the box, and was easily able to meet a cross from the left to head past Etheridge and give his side a 1-0 lead.

That lead was shortly doubled, when the unfortunate Etheridge dropped a corner, and substitute Jang Kuk Chol poked the ball into the back of the net to make the score 2-0 to Korea. Etheridge claimed he had been impeded, but any contact seemed to have come from his own defenders.

Any realistic chance of the Azkals becoming UFWC champions had disappeared, but still they battled on. Etheridge was forced into another good near-post save, but overall the Philippines began to enjoy more possession as the game continued. There were few further chances for either side as North Korea saw the game out, and the final whistle blew with the score 2-0.

So North Korea retain the UFWC title, and move up the UFWC ranking table. For the Philippines it was a disappointing introduction to the UFWC, but they may get another shot at the title as the AFC Challenge Cup progresses.

The next UFWC title match comes around very quickly indeed – this Sunday 11 March. And the next challenger is a familiar one to UFWC fans – it’s Tajikistan again. North Korea play the Tajiks for the second time in as many weeks, and Tajikistan play their fourth UFWC title match in five months. The Tajiks have failed to win any of them, although the match against North Korea ended as a very creditable 1-1 draw.

Can Tajikistan go one better and finally claim the UFWC title? If they can, the Philippines will get another shot at the title, as Tajikistan’s next match is against the Azkals. If North Korea can once again retain their crown, the next UFWC title match will see them play India, who have never appeared in the UFWC before.

The remaining Group B and knock-out stage AFC Challenge Cup fixtures are:

11 March 2012 Tajikistan vs North Korea
11 March 2012 Philippines vs India
13 March 2012 North Korea vs India
13 March 2012 Tajikistan vs Philippines

16 March 2012 Semi finals
19 March 2012 Third place play-off and final

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