We now know that Sweden are the new Unofficial Football World Champions, having defeated North Korea on penalties in a King’s Cup semi final match in Thailand yesterday. Sweden must now defend their title in Saturday’s King’s Cup final against Finland.
The response to Sweden’s success has been huge – with a surge of Swedish fans briefly bringing down our server for the first time in the ten-year history of the website. Swedish coach Erik Hamrén had jokingly stated before the match that the UFWC would be “obviously an additional motivating factor”. And he was “pretty damn happy” with his side’s triumph.
“Wonderful. I’ve gone and looked for this for many years,” Hamrén told Sportbladet after the match. “Terrific. Whoever dug this up, I owe you. I’m pretty damn happy to call myself a world champion. But we shouldn’t get carried away. We play on Saturday, too. Then we’ll see if we can defend the title.”
Goalkeeper Pär Hansson was also proud of Sweden’s title. “I heard that we are world champions now,” he told Sportbladet. “I can boast about this for a long time to come.”
(Sportbladet reporter Robbie Lauler said he was also taking the title success seriously: “I jumped out of the taxi at the hotel and shouted ‘WORLD CHAMPIONS’ to the hotel guard. He replied with a quick salute.”)
The UFWC has also received Swedish coverage in Nerikes Allehanda, Svenska Dagbladet, Göteborgs-Posten, fotbollskanalen.se and more. Erik Hamrén also mentioned the unofficial title in a post-match interview on Sweden’s TV4.
However, there was some controversy following Sweden’s victory. Despite initially classifying the King’s Cup games as “A” matches, FIFA subsequently removed them from its list of results. We are awaiting clarification from FIFA, but the implication is that they have decided they are no longer classified as “A” matches. UFWC rules state that a UFWC title match is “any international ‘A’ match involving the current UFWC title-holder”.
[UPDATE: There is no requirement in the UFWC rules for title matches to be recognised by FIFA, or to be listed on the FIFA website. The King's Cup matches met the definition of 'A' matches included in the rules, and, according to our investigations, would have been recognised as so by FIFA if not for an administrative error between the tournament organisers and the AFC. Nevertheless, the UFWC rules have been correctly applied, and the King's Cup fixtures remain valid title matches.]
There is precedent for FIFA changing the classification of UFWC title matches. In these cases, the UFWC has NOT removed games from the records. So Sweden’s victory over North Korea will remain a valid UFWC title match. And, by the same argument, Sweden versus Finland will also be a UFWC title match. We’ll pass on any clarification from FIFA as we receive it, but, in summary, Sweden are Unofficial Football World Champions.
Before we move on to celebrate Sweden’s victory, a quick word about the outgoing champions. North Korea – the Chollima – had been UFWC champions since November 2011, when they took the title from Japan. After that, they made 12 consecutive defences of the title, including a thoroughly entertaining and ultimately victorious run through the AFC Challenge Cup tournament. Many UFWC followers developed a fondness for this team, which provided us with a rare glimpse inside an often isolated state. Away from politics, on the great leveller of the football field, North Korea’s footballers were positive ambassadors for their country. For a more detailed look at North Korea’s reign see our UFWC Review of the Year.
But now it is Sweden’s turn. The Blågult are one of the most successful teams in UFWC history. Yesterday’s win was their 27th in the competition, and places them 7th in the all-time UFWC rankings table alongside Italy and Germany. Notable Swedish UFWC 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. Sweden were last UFWC champions in 2008.
On Saturday, Sweden will defend their title against Finland in the King’s Cup Final. Finland comfortably defeated Thailand 3-1 on their semi final, but, like Sweden, they will field a slightly weakened team made up mostly of Nordic-based players – several of whom actually play their club football in Sweden. 31-year-old Mikael Forssell, formerly of Chelsea and Birmingham City and now at Finland’s HJK, scored two goals against Thailand.
The match will again take place at the 700th Anniversary Stadium in Chiang Mai, with these two nations that share a border in Northern Europe meeting to play a football match in South East Asia. The sides last met in 2011, playing two fixtures, both won by Sweden. The result of this match will, of course, dictate the future direction of the UFWC. Sweden have upcoming fixtures against Argentina and the Republic of Ireland, while Finland are due to play Israel and Luxembourg.