Japan 1-0 North Korea
Saitama, 2 September 2011
Scorer: Yoshida (90+)
Despite the arrival of Typhoon Talas, this UFWC title match / World Cup qualifier went ahead as scheduled, albeit in very heavy rain. The soaking conditions weren’t ideal for football, and this wasn’t a classic match. But Japan fought hard to retain their status as Unofficial Football World Champions, and certainly deserved to win.
Japan lined up for the game without star midfielder Keisuke Honda, who injured his knee playing for CSKA Moscow at the weekend. Also missing was Kengo Nakamura, who had been due to return to the squad after a series of injury problems – only to suffer another injury.
There were still plenty of familiar names in the Japan side, including Eiji Kawashima, Yasuhito Endo and Shinji Kagawa, with Urawa Reds midfielder Yosuke Kashiwagi brought in to replace Honda, and Tadanari Lee operating as a lone striker. Maya Yoshida played in central defence, although a mistake on the team sheet incorrectly gave his shirt to Michihiro Yasuda. Yoshida would end up being a key player in this game.
The North Korean team was less familiar, with the state’s familiar secrecy levels apparently extending to football. The North Korean team sheets contained no shirt numbers, and the players’ shirts contained no names. Vfl Bochum’s Jong Tae-se, known as Chong Tese in Germany (and Japan), and ‘the People’s Rooney’ in North Korea, played up front, with Ri Myong-Guk in goal, captain Ri Kang-Chon in defence, and Ryang Yong-Gi and An Yong-Hak, both of whom play in Japan, in midfield.
It was Jong Tae-se who had North Korea’s best, and only, chance of the first period, driving an early shot into the side netting of Kawashima’s goal. Other than that, Japan dominated the first half, having much of the possession, but mostly being restricted to long-range shots on goal.
Japan’s best two first half chance came within a minute of each other. First Lee was unable to beat the keeper with a back-header from a Kashiwagi cross, and then Kagawa went very close with a shot from the edge of the penalty area that curled just outside the right-hand goal post.
Goalless at half-time, the second half began with Japan again dominant, and Makoto Hasebe immediately tested Ri Myong-Guk with a strong shot. However, after a handful of Japanese flurries came to nothing, North Korea enjoyed a short attacking spell. First Ryang Yong-Gi saw his shot deflected wide by Yoshida, and then Jong Tae-se hit a low shot that was well held by Kawashima.
After that, though, it was pretty much all Japan again. Substitute Hiroshi Kiyotake put a shot wide, and then another sub, Mike Havenaar, lobbed a shot onto the North Korean crossbar with his first touch on his international debut. Havenaar is of Dutch descent – his father Dido moved to Japan to further his own football career before Mike was born.
Any real chance North Korea had of winning this game ended in the 83rd minute, when Pak Kwang-Ryong was shown a straight red card for his nasty tackle on Yasuhito Endo. From that point, it was all about Japan, who piled pressure on the North Korean defence, without quite managing to break through. Atsuto Uchida and Kagawa both put efforts wide, and Yasuyuki Konno hit the bar, as the final whistle approached.
Into the final few seconds, and Kagawa tried again – his header was brilliantly tipped around the post by Ri Myong-Guk. But, from the corner kick, and with 94 minutes on the clock, Japan finally broke the deadlock, with Yoshida rising to power a header into the back of the net beyond the unlucky North Korean keeper.
They had left it very late, but Japan had scored the only goal of the game. It finished 1-0, and Japan retained the UFWC title.
But there is no time for the unofficial champions to rest. Next up for Japan is another UFWC title match / World Cup qualifier, against Uzbekistan on Tuesday. Uzbekistan are playing Tajikistan in a WC qualifier today. The Uzbeks have never played in the UFWC before, although they have held the spin-off unofficial Asian title. We’ll preview the match on Monday.