10 August 2011, Sapporo Dome
The UFWC is back with a huge title match between reigning Unofficial Football World Champions Japan and challengers South Korea. As always with the UFWC, it’s winner takes all, and this so-called friendly match should be hugely competitive.
Japan have been UFWC champs since October 2010, when they took the title from Argentina in a 1-0 win. They’ve remained undefeated over ten games to retain the title (the record reads – won 6, drew 4). Six of those matches were at the Asian Cup Finals – with Japan going all the way to the final, and winning the tournament to become official Asian champions as well as unofficial world champions.
Last time out, Japan drew 0-0 with the Czech Republic in a match that highlighted how difficult the Japanese are to beat – but also flagged up the problems they’ve been having in front of goal. They’ve only scored once in their last three games, and Japan will need to come up with goals to be sure of retaining their title.
So far, Japan have won 6 UFWC title matches, and are ranked 26th overall in the UFWC rankings. South Korea, on the other hand, have only ever won one UFWC title match, and are ranked 41st. Even that one victory, against Colombia in January 1995, is considered controversial by some. You can read more about it here.
Japan and South Korea, or Korea Republic, have met twice within the last 12 months in the UFWC competition within the last 12 months. Last October, in Japan’s first UFWC title defence, the teams drew 0-0 , and in January, in the Asian Cup semi final, Japan won an epic match on penalties. The score was 1-1 after 90 minutes, and 2-2 after extra time. In the penalty shoot-out, South Korea failed to find the net and Japan won 3-0.
Since that match, just like Japan, South Korea have remained unbeaten, drawing with Turkey and beating Uzbekistan, Honduras, Serbia and Ghana, scoring 11 goals along the way.
Both Alberto Zaccheroni of Japan and Cho Kwang-Rae of South Korea have selected strong squads, heavily populated by overseas-based players. Shinji Kagawa has been recalled for Japan – to the apparent consternation of his Borussia Dortmund coach Jurgen Klopp – and the likes of Keisuke Honda, Shinji Okazaki, Keisuke Honda, Makoto Hasebe and Leicester City midfielder Yuki Abe are all included. Inter Milan defender Yuto Nagatomo is out with a shoulder injury.
Korea’s heavy reliance on overseas players is partly due to the match-fixing scandal that has rocked the country’s domestic game, and has seen ten K-League players receive lifetime bans. The squad has also been rocked by the serious injury to Bolton Wanderers midfielder Lee Chung-Yong, who broke his leg in a pre-season match last week as is expected to be out for up to nine months. It’s a huge blow for South Korea, already struggling to replace the recently retired Park Ji-Sung and Lee Young-Pyo. Sunderland’s Ji Dong-Won could be called into the first team – if his club manager Steve Bruce doesn’t object.
It’s expected that both sets of players will pay tribute to former Japan star Naoki Matsuda before kick-off. Matsuda died in hospital on Thursday after suffering a cardiac arrest during training with his club two days earlier. The defender played for Japan in the 2002 World Cup, and won 40 caps overall. He played for most of his career at Yokohama F. Marinos, moving to Matsumoto Yamaga this season. Tributes were paid to Matsuda at this weekend’s league matches. He was 34 years old.
The Japan and South Korea squads are:
Japan: Goalkeepers: Eiji Kawashima (Lierse); Masaaki Higashiguchi (Albirex Niigata); Shusaku Nishikawa (Sanfrecce Hiroshima). Defenders: Yuichi Komano (Jubilo Iwata); Yasuyuki Konno (FC Tokyo); Yuzo Kurihara (Yokohama F Marinos); Masahiko Inoha (Hajduk Split); Tomoaki Makino (Cologne); Atsuto Uchida (Schalke); Maya Yoshida (VVV Venlo). Midfielders: Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka); Yuki Abe (Leicester City); Makoto Hasebe (Wolfsburg); Hajime Hosogai (Augsburg); Akihiro Ienaga (Mallorca); Yosuke Kashiwagi (Urawa Reds). Forwards: Daisuke Matsui (Dijon); Tadanari Lee (Sanfrecce Hiroshima); Shinji Okazaki (Stuttgart); Keisuke Honda (CSKA Moscow); Takayuki Morimoto (Novara); Shinji Kagawa (Borussia Dortmund).
South Korea: Goalkeepers: Jung Sung-Ryong (Suwon Bluewings); Kim Young-Kwang (Ulsan Hyundai); Kim Jin-Hyun (Cerezo Osaka). Defenders: Park Joo-Ho (FC Basel); Lee Jae-Seong (Ulsan Hyundai); Kim Young-Kwon (Omiya Ardija); Kwak Tae-Hwi (Ulsan Hyundai); Park Won-Jae (Jeonbuk Motors); Lee Jung-Soo (Al-Sadd); Cho Young-Cheol (Albirex Niigata); Cha Du-Ri (Celtic). Midfielders: Lee Yong-Rae (Suwon Bluewings); Kim Bo-Kyung (Cerezo Osaka); Kim Jung-Woo (Sangju Sangmu Phoenix); Ji Dong-Won (Sunderland); Koo Ja-Cheol (VfL Wolfsburg); Ki Sung-Yueng (Celtic); Yoon Bit-Garam (Gyeongnam FC); Nam Tae-Hee (Valenciennes). Forwards: Son Heung-Min (Hamburg SV); Lee Keun-Ho (Gamba Osaka); Park Chu-Young (Monaco); Kim Shin-Wook (Ulsan Hyundai).