North Korea 1-1 Sweden (1-4 on penalties)
Sweden are the new Unofficial Football World Champions after defeating long-term UFWC title holders North Korea. Swedish coach Erik Hamrén had said ahead of the match that the unofficial championship would provide additional motivation for his team, and they eventually managed to defeat North Korea following a penalty shoot out. North Korea had been unofficial champions since November 2011, when they took the title from Japan. Sweden last held the title in November 2008.
In addition to being a UFWC title match, this was the first fixture in the 2013 King’s Cup – a four-team knockout tournament, with all matches played at the 700th Anniversary Stadium in Chaing Mai, northern Thailand. The other participants are Finland and hosts Thailand. Sweden will now progress to the final this Saturday.
North Korea lined up for this game with a much-changed team compared to previous UFWC matches. Most notably, neither of the two Pak Nam Chols played. The attacking midfielder Pak Nam Chol had been the Chollima’s star player throughout their UFWC reign, providing goals and assists, and he was much missed today. Goalkeeper Ri Myung Guk captained the side.
Sweden fielded a team based around players from the Swedish domestic league, and missing several star men, including, of course, Zlatan Ibrahimović. Adam Johansson, Daniel Majstorovic, Anders Svensson, and Tobias Hysén were among the more established names in the starting line-up. Interestingly, 35-year-old centre back Majstorovic played in Sweden’s last UFWC victory in 2008. There were international debuts for Jakob Johansson of IFK Gothenburg and Fullerton Fejzullahu of Djurgarden. It would prove to be a debut to remember for Fejzullahu.
Erik Hamrén called the UFWC “obviously an additional motivating factor” in the build up to the match. “I always want to win games, and it would be good to be called the unofficial world champions,” he said. “We want to have a good performance, and would love to win against North Korea. If that means that we’re world champions, I’ll be very happy.”
The first half saw Sweden dominate possession without quite making it count. 24-year-old striker “Erton” Fejzullahu looked lively, creating a couple of half chances for his side. North Korea created nothing, but held the Swedes at bay with a mostly-effective offside trap.
The obviously dissatisfied North Korea coach Yun Jong Su made another of the unusually early substitutions that have been a feature of his team’s UFWC run, bringing on Pak Song Il after just 36 minutes in what appeared to be a purely tactical swap. Interestingly, North Korea made five substitutions over the course of the game – unusual for a UFWC title match, but allowed under the rules of the King’s Cup tournament.
Sweden created three good chances towards the end of the half. First, Jakob Johansson found Hysén – only for the striker to shoot straight at Ri Myung Guk. A Fejzullahu volley was also hit straight at the North Korea keeper, before a Jakob Johansson shot from distance was bundled around the post.
It was goalless at half-time, but that all changed pretty quickly in the second half. Within three minutes of the restart North Korea had the lead, with quick passing allowing Hong Kum Song to shoot past Swedish keeper Pär Hansson. 1-0 to the reigning champions.
However, the Swedes continued to dominate possession, and got their reward after 55 minutes, when Ri Myung Guk raced off his line to clear the ball, only to kick it straight to Fejzullahu, who cleverly lobbed the keeper to score an equaliser. It was an awful mistake from the North Korean captain, who had been so impressive in previous UFWC matches, but full credit to Fejullahu for taking skilful advantage. 1-1.
As the second half progressed, the game became more stretched, and both keepers were called upon to make saves. North Korea became more adventurous, but Sweden retained the majority of the possession.
Most importantly, however, there were no further goals. That meant the game would be settled via a penalty shoot out. The last UFWC penalty shoot out was in January 2011, when then-champions Japan defeated South Korea. That was pretty much a walkover – and so was this one.
Amazingly, the North Koreans, who looked so efficient throughout their long UFWC reign, seemed to lose all composure. Anders Svensson, Daniel Majstorovic, Tobias Hysén and Pontus Jansson all scored for Sweden. Only Kim Chol Bom scored for North Korea. The penalty shoot out finished 4-1, and Sweden were the new Unofficial Football World Champions.
Sweden have a great record in the UFWC, and they now get the chance to extend it. Today’s win – their 27th in the competition – pushes the Swedes up to 7th in the all-time UFWC rankings table alongside Italy and Germany. Another win would put them ahead of those two giants of world football.
The next UFWC title match comes around quick and fast, this Saturday 26 January, when Sweden play the winner of today’s Finland vs Thailand match in the King’s Cup Final. The final kicks off at 1700 local time (1000 GMT / 1100 CET). Again, we’ll have full coverage right here. Watch this space and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates.
UPDATE: Finland defeated Thailand 3-1, and will play Sweden in Saturday’s King’s Cup Final.