North Korea face Sweden in King’s Cup challenge
The draw for Thailand’s 2013 King’s Cup competition has been made, and we now know that Unofficial Football World Champions North Korea will play Sweden on 23 January. Excitingly, FIFA has today confirmed that this WILL be classed as a FIFA ‘A’ match, and therefore WILL be a UFWC title match.
There had been a question mark over the status of the match, as Sweden are not technically taking a first team squad to Thailand. Instead, coach Erik Hamrén will only select players who are on winter breaks from their club sides (in the Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and US leagues). There will be no players in the squad from other European teams (so Sweden will be without the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović, Seb Larsson, Jonas Olsson and Martin Olsson), and up to nine new player could make their first team debuts.
Only international ‘A’ matches can count as UFWC title matches. FIFA’s definition of an ‘A’ match is one that ‘has been arranged between two national A associations affiliated to the Federation and for which both Associations field their first national representative team’. There is some precedent for Sweden’s ‘winter tour’ matches being classed as ‘A’ matches, despite the fact that they traditionally take a primarily domestic-based squad.
The King’s Cup tournament will feature four teams – North Korea and Sweden, plus Finland and hosts Thailand. Finland will play Thailand in the opening match on 23 January, followed by North Korea versus Sweden on the same day. Both matches will be played in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. The winning teams will progress to a final on 26 January, and there will also be third-place match. The games involving Finland and Thailand are also ‘A’ matches, so we are guaranteed a UFWC title match on 26 January, too.
Sweden will be the first European opposition North Korea have met since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when they were battered 7-0 by Portugal. The Swedes have a proud history in the UFWC, and are 9th in the all-time rankings table. Notable victories include the famous 10-0 win over Norway in 1945, in which the great Gunnar Nordahl scored four goals. Nordahl is the UFWC’s all-time top goalscorer. However, the Swedes haven’t actually participated in the UFWC since 2008, when they were champions for two matches.
On paper, Sweden should be strong favourites to end North Korea’s UFWC reign. The Swedes are ranked 20th in the world by FIFA, and in their last two matches have drawn with Germany and beaten England. North Korea are 99th (while Finland and Thailand are 83rd and 136th respectively). However, the fact that Sweden are sending a weakened side must be taken into account. In addition, UFWC-watchers will be well aware that North Korea are an obstinate opponent, and will be tough to beat. The Chollima have made 12 consecutive defences of their UFWC title since taking it from Japan in November 2011.
If Sweden could come out of the King’s Cup tournament as Unofficial Football World Champions there would be exciting times ahead for the UFWC. The Swedes have upcoming fixtures in March against Argentina and the Republic of Ireland. Finland have a couple of interesting upcoming matches, too, against Israel and Spain. Thailand could also emerge as the new UFWC title holders, or North Korea could continue their imperious reign as champions. Seasoned followers of the UFWC know better than to make predictions, but whatever happens it is likely to be very entertaining.