North Korea vs Sweden
23 January 2013
700th Anniversary Stadium, Chiang Mai, Thailand
The 2013 Unofficial Football World Championships campaign gets underway this week as current UFWC champions North Korea arrive in Thailand to participate in the annual King’s Cup tournament. We’re guaranteed two UFWC title matches here, and the format of the tournament means that whichever team wins the King’s Cup will also be Unofficial Football World Champions.
Sweden, Finland, and hosts Thailand are the other participants in the four-team knockout competition. Two semi finals will be played this Wednesday 23 January, with a third-place match and the final taking place on Saturday 26. All four of the tournament’s matches will be played at the 700th Anniversary Stadium, the 25,000-capacity home ground of Chiangmai FC, in Chaing Mai, northern Thailand.
The first semi final is a UFWC title match, as defending champions North Korea take on challengers Sweden. North Korea have made 12 consecutive defences of their UFWC title since taking it from Japan in November 2011, but Sweden will be the first European challenger they have faced. The last time the Chollima played a European team was at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when they lost 7-0 to Portugal.
Sweden were last UFWC champions in 2008, and have a very good record in the competition. The Swedes are 9th in the all-time rankings table with 26 UFWC title match victories. Notable wins include a brave triumph over Germany in 1942, and 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.
The Swedish King’s Cup squad is made up of domestic-based players, and players from other leagues that are on winter breaks. So several unfamiliar faces are likely to make their debuts, and Sweden will be without star players such as Ibrahimović and company.
Brilliantly, Sweden coach Erik Hamrén is fully aware that his side has the chance to become Unofficial Football World Champions, after the UFWC was explained to him at a press conference. ‘I always want to win games, and it would be good to be called the unofficial world champions,’ he said. ‘That will be an additional motivating factor. 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.’
If Sweden were fielding their strongest team, they would undoubtedly be strong favourites to end North Korea’s UFWC reign. They’re unbeaten in five matches, and have recently drawn with Germany and beaten England. However, North Korea are unbeaten in 13, and regular UFWC watchers will know that they can be a formidable opponent. Sweden are ranked 20th in the world by FIFA, while North Korea are 99th.
The winner of the North Korea versus Sweden semi final will be Unofficial Football World Champions, and will take the UFWC title into Saturday’s final against either Finland or Thailand. Finland last participated in the UFWC in 2008, losing to then-champions Greece, and have never held the unofficial title. Thailand have never participated in the UFWC. Finland and Thailand are ranked 83rd and 136th in the world respectively by FIFA.
Can Sweden’s young players end North Korea’s imperious run as UFWC champions? It’s difficult to predict, but it should certainly be an interesting contest. North Korea have been worthy champions, but the intervention of Sweden could take the title in an exciting new direction. (Of course, Finland and Thailand could also have a say in where the title ends up.)
Certainly, North Korea versus Sweden is one of the most hotly-anticipated UFWC title matches in recent memory. The match kicks off at 1600 local time (0900 GMT, 1000 CET). TV viewers in Sweden can watch the match live on TV4 Sport.
We’ll have coverage of North Korea vs Sweden on Wednesday, and then North Korea or Sweden versus Finland or Thailand on Saturday, right here. Watch this space and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for updates.