Kuwait will make their UFWC debut when they take on current champions North Korea for the Unofficial Football World Championships title next Friday, 17 February. The Middle-Eastern nation are the first challengers in North Korea’s UFWC reign.
The match will take place in Changsha, China, and is the first of two warm-up friendlies for Kuwait (the second is against China) before their World Cup qualification showdown with South Korea. A win for Kuwait in that qualifier would see them leapfrog the South Koreans in their group and progress to the final stage of World Cup qualifying.
Al-Azraq (The Blue) have only made it to the World Cup finals once before. At Spain 1982, they were knocked out in the group stages following a draw with Czechoslovakia before a heavy defeat to a Michel Platini-inspired France and a 1-0 loss to England, courtesy of a goal from Trevor Francis.
Kuwait have had a little more success in continental tournaments. They won their sole Asian Cup on home turf in 1980, but have had few wins in the competition since then. Last year, they lost all three group matches.
However, they are the most successful country in the history of the Gulf Cup of Nations. The tournament is not recognised by FIFA, but it has been held 20 times since 1970, and Kuwait have won it 10 times, including at the most recent event in 2010.
Kuwait’s only other claim to fame is their previously-held record for the biggest international win. They thrashed Bhutan 20-0 in 2000, though this was beaten twice by Australia in 2001.
They are currently coached by Serbian Goran Tufegdzic. He took over managerial duties in 2009 and has a positive record so far. He has lost just 10 of his 57 games in charge, winning 26 and drawing 21. This can certainly be looked upon as an achievement considering his squad is made up entirely of players that ply their trade in the Kuwaiti league.
His key man is undoubtedly Bader Al-Mutwa. The 27-year-old has become a talisman for Kuwait over the past half a decade and has won 114 caps, second only to recently retired Bashar Abdullah, who has 133. The striker is Kuwait’s main attacking threat; he has an eye for goal as well as the vision and passing ability to set-up his teammates. He came close to playing in Europe in 2010, but his trial with Malaga was unsuccessful.
He was often employed as the lone striker in a 4-5-1 formation, but has recently been joined up front by 21-year-old Yousef Nasser, enabling Al-Mutwa to drop a little deeper into his preferred Trequartista role. Nasser is an out-and-out striker, and has been scoring plenty of goals both for his club and internationally.
Other players to watch over include the captain, Nawaf Al- Khaldi, and Fahad Al-Enezi. Al-Khaldi is an eccentric goalkeeper who is quick off his line and not afraid to use his feet, while the headbanded Al-Enezi plays on the wing and will look to use his pace and trickery to get behind the North Korean defence.
Kuwait come into the game against North Korea following a 1-0 win over Uzbekistan in Kuwait City last month, and should be favourites for the match. They are currently 95th in the FIFA rankings compared to North Korea’s position of 107th.
The two countries have played each other 11 times in their history. Kuwait have won four, whereas North Korea have only been victorious once. They have also twice played each other in China, with both games resulting in draws after normal time, (though North Korea won one on penalties).
Should Kuwait win, China will get their first chance to become UFWC champions. Kuwait play China on 22 February. But if North Korea keep hold of their title, Tajikistan will get their third shot at the title, following their 8-0 and 4-0 losses to Japan in 2011. North Korea play Tajikistan on 27 February.
We’ll have full coverage of Kuwait vs North Korea, and all subsequent UFWC title matches, right here.
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