It was on, and then it was off, and now it’s back on again. The Kirin Cup 2011, which kicks off this week, will see Unofficial Football World Champions Japan return to competitive football for the first time since the country was hit by the earthquake and tsunami in early March.
Having eventually withdrawn from the Copa America, this short tournament represents Japan’s only warm-up fixtures ahead of the World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign.
The 2011 Kirin Cup features just three teams and three fixtures, and will be decided on a round-robin basis. UFWC champions and tournament hosts Japan are joined by Peru and the Czech Republic. The Cup, by the way, is so-named because it is sponsored by the Kirin Brewery Company. The three fixtures are:
01/06/11 Japan vs Peru, Nissan Stadium, Yokohama, 19:20 (11:20 BST)
04/06/11 Czech Republic vs Peru, Matsumoto Stadium, Matsumoto, 15:00 (07:00 BST)
07/06/11 Japan vs Czech Republic, Tohoku Denryoku Big Swan Stadium, Niigata, 19:30 (11:30 BST)
The UFWC title holders are, of course, Japan, and the path the title will take through this short tournament will depend on results. There will be at least two UFWC title matches. If Japan lost to Peru, and Peru lose to the Czech Republic, all three games will be title matches. What is certain is that Japan, Peru and the Czech Republic all have a chance to leave the Kirin Cup as Unofficial Football World Champions.
Current champs Japan have won 6 previous UFWC title matches, and Peru have won 7. The Czech Republic, however, have won 15 (having assimilated the records of Czechoslovakia). Peru haven’t been unofficial champions since 1982, and the Czechs last held the title in 2004. The UFWC rankings place Japan, Peru and the Czech Republic 26th, 22nd and 14th respectively. FIFA ranks Japan highest, placing the three sides 14th, 54th and 32nd.
Japan are unbeaten in six games this year, winning five and drawing one. Peru are also unbeaten, although they’ve only played two – winning one match and drawing the other. The Czech Republic have played three and lost two, winning their last game against Liechtenstein.
So the Kirin Cup will kick off on Wednesday with the UFWC title match between Japan and Peru. We’ve taken at some of the players expected to feature in previous posts. You can find out more about Peru here and here, and read about Japan’s squad changes here.
Can Japan retain their title, or will Peru become champions? And what part will the Czech Republic play? We’ll be covering all of the permutations relating to the UFWC right here.