As 2011 draws to a close, we’re taking a look back at another exciting year for the Unofficial Football World Championships. The UFWC was dominated in 2011 by one team – Japan. The Blue Samurai held the UFWC title at the start of the year, and retained it all the way through until November, when a shock result saw new, very unlikely, unofficial football world champions emerge…
New to the UFWC? Read our Beginner’s Guide.
Japan began 2011 as UFWC champions, having taken the title from Argentina in the previous October. January 2011 saw Japan take their title into Asian Cup tournament in Qatar. The group stage began with an unimpressive 1-1 draw with Jordan, followed by a narrow 2-1 win over Syria. But qualification from the group was easily secured with a comprehensive 5-0 thrashing of Saudi Arabia. Shinji Okazaki scored a hat-trick in that match, and Japan progressed to the quarter finals.
Qatar were Japan’s quarter final opposition, and the tournament hosts twice took the lead, only for the Blue Samurai to grab equalisers, both from Shinji Kagawa. Despite having Maya Yoshida sent off, Japan pushed forward, and, in the 90th minute, Masahiko Inoha pounced on the loose ball to score a late winner.
Japan then played out an amazing semi-final match against South Korea. The score was 1-1 after 90 minutes, and 2-2 after extra time, with Ryoichi Maeda and Hajime Hosogai scoring for Japan, and Hwang Jae-Won grabbing a 120th-minute equaliser for South Korea. Japan won the penalty shoot-out 3-0, with Eiji Kawashima saving two South Korean spot kicks.
Then came the Asian Cup final against Australia, another epic match of narrow margins, eventually settled by an extra-time goal from Tadanari Lee. As 1-0 winners, Japan became official Asian champions, as well as remaining unofficial world champions.
The next UFWC fixture should have seen Japan defend their title against Montenegro in March. However, that all changed, and football was forced to take a back seat following the tragic events of 11 March. The devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan that day will be remembered around the world as the defining event of the year. Almost 20,000 people lost their lives, and, as 2011 draws to a close, around 80,000 remain displaced from their homes.
In addition to cancelling friendly matches and suspending its domestic league programme, Japan was forced to pull out of the Copa America, which they were due to participate in as a guest nation. Football did return at the end of March, with the Japanese national side playing a charity game against a J-League all-star team – a non-UFWC match that ended 2-1 to the Blue Samurai.
After a hiatus of more than four months, Japan returned to competitive in June, action, and the UFWC competition resumed. A pair of friendly matches, against Peru and the Czech Republic, both finished 0-0. Than, in August, Japan rediscovered its scoring touch, beating South Korea for the second time this year, this time 3-0, with Kagawa scoring twice.
September saw Japan begin its World Cup 2014 qualifying campaign with the first of two matches against North Korea. This game ended 1-0 to Japan, courtesy of an injury-time winner from Maya Yoshida. But North Korea had proven to be difficult opponents. A 1-1 draw with Uzbekistan was followed by a 1-0 win over Vietnam. Then came two much higher scoring games.
Return World Cup qualifying fixtures against Tajikistan in October and November brought 12 goals – all for Japan. The first, in Osaka, was won 8-0, making it one of the biggest UFWC victories in the modern era. Okazaki, Kagawa and Mike Havenaar all scored braces in that game. Then, in Dushanbe, Japan won 4-0, with Okazaki grabbing another brace. Okazaki scored 8 goals for Japan in 2011, making him the UFWC’s top scorer in 2011.
But Japan’s reign as UFWC champions couldn’t last forever. The Blue Samurai had held the UFWC title for 16 matches, over more than 12 months, winning 11, drawing 5, and scoring 33 goals along the way. On 15 November, the long reign came to an end.
It was the return World Cup qualifying fixture against North Korea that changed the direction of the UFWC. Japan had already reached the next WC qualification stage, while North Korea had already been eliminated, but there was still plenty at stake. The match pitted Japan against dangerous opponents, in a hostile atmosphere, and on a plastic pitch, and, despite their best efforts, the Blue Samurai lost their grip on the UFWC title.
North Korea fought hard, and deserved their victory, with Pak Nam-Chol scoring a second-half goal to make the final score 1-0. The match was shown in full on state television so that the North Korean population could enjoy their triumph. As unlikely as it may seem, North Korea were the new unofficial football world champions.
The full list of UFWC title match results for 2011 is as follows (click for match reports):
09/01/11 JAPAN 1-1 JORDAN Asian Cup, Doha
13/01/11 SYRIA 1-2 JAPAN Asian Cup, Doha
17/01/11 SAUDI ARABIA 0-5 JAPAN Asian Cup, Al Rayyan
21/01/11 JAPAN 3-2 QATAR Asian Cup, Doha
25/01/11 JAPAN 2-2 SOUTH KOREA (JAPAN WIN ON PENS) Asian Cup, Doha
29/01/11 JAPAN 1-0 AUSTRALIA Asian Cup Final, Doha
01/06/11 JAPAN 0-0 PERU Friendly, Niigata
07/06/11 JAPAN 0-0 CZECH REPUBLIC Friendly, Kanagawa
10/08/11 JAPAN 3-0 SOUTH KOREA Friendly, Sapporo
02/09/11 JAPAN 1-0 NORTH KOREA World Cup Qualifier, Saitama
06/09/11 UZBEKISTAN 1-1 JAPAN World Cup Qualifier, Tashkent
07/10/11 JAPAN 1-0 VIETNAM FR Kobe
11/10/11 JAPAN 8-0 TAJIKISTAN WCQ Osaka
11/11/11 TAJIKISTAN 0-4 JAPAN WCQ Dushanbe
15/11/11 NORTH KOREA 1-0 JAPAN WCQ Pyongyang
Japan’s long reign as champions has altered the UFWC rankings, with the Blue Samurai climbing into the top 20. The UFWC ranking table for the end of 2011 reads:
|1 SCOTLAND 86
2 ENGLAND 73
3 ARGENTINA 51
4 NETHERLANDS 49
5 RUSSIA 41
6 BRAZIL 29
7 GERMANY 27
7 ITALY 27
9 SWEDEN 26
10 FRANCE 25
11 HUNGARY 17
11 SPAIN 17
13 URUGUAY 16
14 CZECH REP 15
15 AUSTRIA 12
15 WALES 12
17 CHILE 11
17 GREECE 11
17 JAPAN 11
20 SWITZERLAND 10
Full rankings table
Away from the pitch, 2011 saw the launch of the UFWC book, Unofficial Football World Champions. The book traces the history of the UFWC from the very first international match in 1872 via more than 800 title matches, involving legendary teams and footballing minnows, classic finals and forgotten friendlies, celebrated players and unsung heroes. It focusses on 100 key matches, uncovering some amazing stories, many of which are ignored in official football histories. FourFourTwo called the book ‘a fascinating history of football’ and awarded it five stars.
Unofficial Football World Champions is available in paperback and on Kindle from Amazon.co.uk and other Amazon stores worldwide. If you already have the book, you can get a free ‘North Korea’ update here. There’s also a Japanese language edition, available from Amazon.co.jp. You can read more about the book, and read reviews, here.
So that was the Unofficial Football World Championships in 2011: 15 matches, 40 goals, 2 champions. Japan lost the UFWC title, but gained friends and respect. North Korea lost a Dear Leader (Kim Jong-il died in December), but gained the UFWC title. North Korea’s next scheduled match is against Tajikistan on 29 February. It looks like 2012 is going to be a very interesting one for the UFWC, and we hope you’ll join us to find out what happens.