North Korea vs Chinese Taipei
1 December 2012
EAFF East Asian Cup Semi Final Competition
Mong Kok Stadium, Hong Kong
The Unofficial Football World Championships resumes on Saturday as current champions North Korea take on challengers Chinese Taipei (better known outside of sporting circles as Taiwan). The match is part of the EAFF East Asian Cup Semi Final competition, a five-team league format tournament taking place over nine days in Hong Kong. The other tournament participants are hosts Hong Kong, Guam, and Australia. The five teams will play each other over 10 matches. The team that finishes at the top of the league table at the end of the tournament will qualify for the EAFF East Asian Cup Finals in South Korea in 2013.
The Semi Final competition opens with a double header of Guam vs Hong Kong followed by North Korea vs Chinese Taipei. The venue for the opening fixtures is the recently-renovated Mong Kok Stadium, 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.
Mong Kok Stadium, Hong Kong, photo by Ngchikit (Wikipedia)
Unofficial Football World Champions North Korea have held the UFWC title for nine matches now, and have been champions for more than a year. They took the title from Japan in November 2011, and have subsequently remained unbeaten, winning the AFC Challenge Cup along the way. The ‘Chollima’ have scored 17 goals in their nine UFWC title matches, and have risen up to 23rd in the UFWC rankings. They’ve also risen up the FIFA rankings, entering the top 100, and currently standing at 81st in the world.
Coached by Yun Jong-Su and captained by defender Ri Kwang-Chon, North Korea has several star players who have caught the eye in previous UFWC title matches, including Ri Myung-Guk, Pak Song-Chol and two Pak Nam-Chols. The attacking midfielder Pak Nam-Chol has particularly impressed in recent games, with a formidable work-rate combined with the ability to pull strings and create goals. The Chollima will be strong favourites in their first Semi Final fixture, but are likely to face tougher tests in the days that follow.
The first challengers, Chinese Taipei, are perhaps better known as the Republic of China (ROC), or Taiwan. The name ‘Chinese Taipei’ is used in sporting circles because of a disagreement between the ROC and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Chinese Taipei have played five matches so far this year, and only won one of them (a 2-0 win over Guam). They have never previously participated in the UFWC, and have no UFWC ranking. FIFA’s world rankings have Chinese Taipei at 176, one place lower than noted world football minnows American Samoa.
The team is coached by Chiang Mu-tsai and captained by Xavier Chen, a defender who plays for KV Mechelen in Belgium. Goalkeeper Lu Kun-chi is the country’s most-capped player. Taipei’s best hope for goals looks to be attacking midfielder Chen Po-liang, who plays for Philippe Troussier’s Shenzhen Ruby in China. As noted in a previous article, the squad also includes twin brother strikers called Lo Chih-an and Lo Chih-en.
The last match between the two sides, in 2010, ended in a 2-1 victory for North Korea. Chang Han scored Taipei’s goal, and he looks likely to play in the title match. It seems unlikely that this game will be as close, with North Korea having improved considerably since 2010. But experience has shown that anything can happen in the UFWC, and there is a chance that on Saturday the Unofficial Football World Champions could be Chinese Taipei.
Whether or not Taipei manage to relieve North Korea of the UFWC title, the other Semi Final competition participants are likely to get the chance to challenge for the title in subsequent games. Guam and Hong Kong would be as unlikely champions as Chinese Taipei. They’re ranked 181 and 172 respectively in FIFA’s world rankings, and again neither have participated in the UFWC. Australia, however, are a rapidly improving team. They’re currently ranked as the 33rd best team in the world by FIFA, 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.
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
North Korea have already retained the UFWC title through one tournament this year (the AFC Challenge Cup). Can they retain it through the EAFF Semi Final competition? Will they fall at the first hurdle, and lose the title to Chinese Taipei? Or will Hong Kong, Guam or Australia emerge from the tournament as Unofficial Football World Champions? Whatever happens, there look to be a few exciting days ahead for the UFWC.