Fixtures for the semi final competition of the EAFF East Asian Cup have been confirmed. Included among the fixtures is the next UFWC title match, with current Unofficial Football World Champions North Korea facing Chinese Taipei (better known as Taiwan). The semi final competition will take place in Hong Kong between 1 December and 9 December 2012. North Korea will play Chinese Taipei on 1 December at Mong Kok Stadium.
Also taking part in the league-format competition are Guam (who qualified via the preliminary competition), hosts Hong Kong and invited participants Australia. The five teams will play each other over 10 matches, and the team that finishes top of the league will qualify for the 2013 East Asian Cup Finals in South Korea in 2013.
The full semi-final competition fixture list is shown below. The first four matches will be played at the Mong Kok Stadium, and the remainder at the Hong Kong Stadium. All times are GMT+8.
1 December 2012 14:30 Hong Kong v Guam
1 December 2012 17:10 North Korea v Chinese Taipei
3 December 2012 17:50 North Korea v Guam
3 December 2012 20:30 Hong Kong v Australia
5 December 2012 17:50 Chinese Taipei v Guam
5 December 2012 20:30 North Korea v Australia
7 December 2012 17:50 Guam v Australia
7 December 2012 20:30 Hong Kong v Chinese Taipei
9 December 2012 14:20 Hong Kong v North Korea
9 December 2012 17:00 Australia v Chinese Taipei
So we are guaranteed at least four UFWC title matches over the nine days of the competition. Subsequent title matches matches will, of course, depend on who retains or takes the title, but it will all start with North Korea vs Chinese Tapei on Saturday 1 December. The venue, the recently-renovated Mong Kok Stadium, is the home ground of Hong Kong First Division sides Citizen and Sun Hei. It’s located in Kowloon, north of Hong Kong Island, and has a capacity of 6,664.
UFWC followers know all about North Korea, but what about the challengers? First, let’s tackle the name. Chinese Taipei is the name used in sporting circles for the Republic of China (ROC), or Taiwan. The name ‘Chinese Taipei’ is used because of a disagreement between the ROC and the People’s Republic of China (PRC), or China. The PRC doesn’t like the name ‘Republic of China’ because it doesn’t regard the ROC as a sovereign state. The ROC doesn’t like ‘Taiwan’ because it thinks that indicates subordination to the PRC. The compromise is ‘Chinese Taipei’. Complicated enough for you? Let’s move on to the football.
The country joined FIFA in 1954 as Taiwan, and, as the Republic of China, reached the semi finals of the Asian Cup in 1960 and 1968. Apart from those two brief highlights, the country’s record at international tournaments can pretty much be summarised using three words: did not qualify. FIFA’s world rankings have Chinese Taipei at 176, one place lower than American Samoa. (North Korea are ranked at 86.) Chinese Taipei have never participated in the UFWC, and have no UFWC ranking.
Looking for star players among the Chinese Taipei squad is a difficult task. The country’s most-capped player is goalkeeper Lu Kun-chi, who plays his club football for the excellently-named Taiwan Power Company FC. The captain is Xavier Chen, a defender who plays for KV Mechelen in Belgium. The nearest the squad has to a reliable goalscorer is attacking midfielder Chen Po-liang, who plays for Philippe Troussier’s Shenzhen Ruby in China. Perhaps most interestingly, the squad includes twin brother strikers called Lo Chih-an and Lo Chih-en.
Current form isn’t great. Chinese Taipei have played five matches so far this year, and only won one of them. That was a 2-0 win over Guam in the Philippines Football Peace Cup. Chinese Taipei were then beaten 3-1 by the hosts, with the Philippines winning the friendly tournament. The scorer of Chinese Taipei’s consolation goal in that match was Chang Han, who also scored against North Korea in the most recent meeting between the two nations, in 2010. However, North Korea won that match 2-1.
It seems unlikely that Chinese Taipei will be strong enough to relieve North Korea of the UFWC title. But what about the other participants? Well, Guam and Hong Kong don’t have much to offer either. They’re ranked 178 and 160 respectively in FIFA’s world rankings, and again neither have participated in the UFWC. But Australia are a different matter. They’re ranked as the 34th best team in the world by FIFA, way ahead of North Korea. And they’re 42nd in the UFWC rankings, having won the title once, in 1992. They last played a UFWC title match in January 2011, losing 1-0 to then-champions Japan.
Australia are likely to get at least one shot at the UFWC title during this East Asian Cup semi final tournament. They look to be a much stronger team than any of the other participants. Can the Socceroos be the team that finally takes the title from North Korea to become Unofficial Football World Champions?
But, as ever, we are getting ahead of ourselves. First up is North Korea vs Chinese Taipei. It seems unlikely that the team we are not supposed to call Taiwan can unseat the team we’re supposed to call DPR Korea. But in football – and especially in the UFWC – anything is possible.