Japan vs North Korea
Saitama Stadium 2002, Saitama
2 September 2011
Kick-off 19:20 local (11:20 BST)
Unofficial Football World Champions Japan resume the defence of their title, and begin their qualification campaign for the 2014 World Cup, with this match against North Korea.
Alongside Japan and North Korea in Asian Qualifying Group C are Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The latter were only instated last week following the disqualification of Syria, who were found to have fielded an ineligible player in both legs of their knock-out qualification tie between the two nations.
Japan will go into the match against North Korea as strong favourites. One more title match win will push Japan into the top 20 in the UFWC all-time rankings. The North Koreans, meanwhile, have only ever played in two UFWC title matches, and have never held the title. However, Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni has made it clear that North Korea will be no pushovers. “We shall never make the mistake of underestimating our opponents,” he said. “North Korea are fierce and so mentally tough that they don’t give up.”
Like Japan, North Korea qualified for the 2010 World Cup, although they lost all three group matches. This year, the side also went out of the 2011 Asian Cup at the group stage, drawing 0-0 with the United Arab Emirates, and losing 1-0 to both Iran and Iraq. Since then, North Korea has recorded wins against Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan, and drawn with Kuwait, but lost 2-0 to the more challenging opposition of China.
Japan, of course, are unbeaten in eleven UFWC games, since taking the title from Argentina in October. That run, of course, includes the nation’s Asian Cup victory in January. Most recently, on 10 August, Japan impressively defeated South Korea 3-0.
For the North Korea and Uzbekistan matches, Zaccheroni has called up 20-year-old Urawa Red Diamonds striker Genki Haraguchi for the first time, and has recalled midfielder Kengo Nakamura after longstanding injury problems. Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo misses out after suffering his own injury problems. Nagatomo hasn’t yet played for Inter this season following a shoulder injury.
Once again, the Japan squad relies heavily on Europe-based players. 12 squad members play for European teams, most notably Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund, Keisuke Honda of CSKA Moscow, Makoto Hasebe of Wolfsburg and Eiji Kawashima of Lierse.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is little news coming out of North Korea ahead of the match. We looked at the often secretive world of North Korean football in a previous post. Although we don’t yet have details of Yun Jong-Su’s squad, we expect it to include captain and striker Hong Yong-Jo of Korean league champions April 25, midfielders Ryang Yong-Gi and An Yong-Hak, both of whom play in Japan, and defender Cha Jong-Hyok, who plays in Switzerland for FC Wil.
The squad should also include Jong Tae-se, “the People’s Rooney”, known as Chong Tese in Germany, where he plays for Vfl Bochum. A striker, Jong scored 10 goals in 25 games in 2.Bundesliga last season. However, he hasn’t started any of Bochum’s six games so far this season, making only one appearance from the bench.
Should Japan retain the UFWC title against North Korea on Friday, their next defence will be against Uzbekistan on Tuesday. If North Korea take the title, they’ll make their first defence against Tajikistan, also on Tuesday. As always, we’ll have full coverage of all the UFWC title matches right here.
Japan squad: Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Lierse SK), Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shuichi Gonda (FC Tokyo); Defenders: Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata), Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo), Yuzo Kurihara (Yokohama F. Marinos), Masahiko Inoha (Hajduk Split), Tomoaki Makino (1FC Koln), Atsuto Uchida (FC Shalke 04), Maya Yoshida (VVV Venlo); Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka), Kengo Nakamura (Kawasaki Frontale), Yuki Abe (Leicester City), Makoto Hasebe (VfL Wolfsburg), Hajime Hosogai (FC Augsburg), Yosuke Kashiwagi (Urawa Reds); Forwards: Tadanari Lee (Sanfrecce Hiroshima), Shinji Okazaki (VfB Stuttgart), Keisuke Hodna (CSKA Moscow), Takayuki Morimoto (Novara), Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund), Hiroshi Kiyotake (Cerezo Osaka), Genki Haraguchi (Urawa Reds)