As we await the Japan vs J-League XI charity match, and confirmation of the next UFWC title match, we look back at Japan’s first attempt to win the unofficial title:
CLASSIC UFWC TITLE MATCH:
Argentina 1-0 Japan
14 June 1998
Stade de Toulouse, Toulouse
This was Japan’s first ever UFWC title match, despite the fact the nation had been playing international football since 1917. Unfortunately for the Samurai Blue, the opponents and title holders were a formidable Argentina side, regarded as one of the best not to have one a major tournament.
This was a very different Argentina side to the one that had won the World Cup in 1986, finished second in 1990, and flopped badly in 1994. Maradona had retired to battle his personal demons, but Gabriel Batistuta was still around, and there were new stars, such as Ariel Ortega and Juan Veron.
Japan arrived at France 98 as underdogs, but with an emerging team under coach Takeshi Okada. Captain Masami Ihara provided much-needed experience, while new stars like goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi and playmaker Hidetoshi Nakata were set to shine. Unfortunately for Japan, Daniel Passarella’s Argentina were just too strong.
Japan kept Argentina quiet for almost half an hour, but eventually Batistuta broke the deadlock, nipping onto a deflected Ortega pass to poke the ball past Kawaguchi and into the net.
Things could have got worse for Japan, with Batistuta flicking a header onto the post, and Kawaguchi making a series of good stops.
Japan’s best chances to equalise saw a Yutaka Akita header flash past the post, and a Wagner Lopes shot deflected wide.
Argentina held on for a narrow victory, and won all three group matches, while Japan won none and were eliminated.
In the knock-out stages, Argentina beat England on penalties after an epic 2-2 draw, but then lost to the Netherlands in the quarter finals. The Dutch took the UFWC title – but they lost to Brazil on penalties in the semi finals. The combined World Cup Final / UFWC title match saw Brazil take on France.