In just over two weeks, UFWC champions Argentina will travel to Saitama to defend their title against Japan. It’s an interesting game, pitting the experienced current champs against an unpredictable side looking to improve a poor UFWC record.
The match has already created controversy, with Japan Football Association president Junji Ogura stating that Argentina would only receive their $200,000 fixture bonus if star player Lionel Messi plays. But Messi almost certainly won’t play, having picked up an ankle injury while playing for Barcelona at the weekend.
Even without Messi, Argentina must go into the game as favourites. Japan are currently ranked 30th in the world by FIFA, 25 places below Argentina. They don’t have a UFWC ranking, having have never held the UFWC title.
Japan have played in five UFWC title matches, losing them all, conceding 11, and failing to score a single goal. And their first UFWC match was against Argentina – a 1-0 defeat at the 1998 World Cup Finals.
Then two friendly matches in 2001 saw Japan lose 5-0 to France, and 1-0 to Spain. A friendly against the Netherlands in September 2009 ended in a 3-0 defeat. Then, at the World Cup in South Africa in June, Japan played the Netherlands again, losing 1-0.
Japan’s new coach is Italian Alberto Zaccheroni, fresh from a short and unsuccessful spell at Juventus. But Zaccheroni does have plenty of experience – he won the Scudetto with Milan in 1999. He’s stated that he’ll use the core of the squad that competed at the World Cup, with a few new faces thrown in. He’s planning to instil some European flair into the team, apparently. Zaccheroni won his first two matches as Japan coach, both home friendlies, against Guatemala and Paraguay.
Should Japan manage to win the UFWC title for the very first time, they will go on to defend their title against South Korea four days later.
If Japan fail to win, next two UFWC title matches will be a pair of mouthwatering Roca Cup friendlies between Argentina and Brazil in November and December.