Here’s a question for you all. Who are the unofficial world football champions? Spain?, Brazil?, Olympic champions Mexico?. No, the answer – which will surprise everyone – is North Korea.
Yes, the land of Pak Doo-Ik (remember him?), the late Kim Jong-il and martial art taekwondo is also the home of the unofficial world champions. How on earth did that happen, you may ask.
It may be that North Korea do not even know they hold this title. They’ve held it since November 2011 when they beat Japan 1-0 in a World Cup Qualifier. Japan had been UWFC since October 2010 after beating Argentina 1-0 in Saitama.
The UWFC (Unofficial World Football Championships) is a concept that works on the basis of “passing the baton”. The brainchild of one Paul Brown, the competition dates back to 1872 when the first international game was played between England and Scotland. It works on the basis of the title being contested in every succeeding game, with the winner moving on as the world champion – until they are beaten.
England and Scotland dominated early on and it was not until 1903 that Ireland broke the duopoly. In March 1931, Austria became the first non-British team to win the title, beating Scotland 5-0 in Vienna. This was Hugo Meisl’s “Wunderteam”.
England won the UFWC when they also won the official FIFA World Cup in 1966, but the team that went into the World Cup that year as current UFWC holders was the Soviet Union. Interestingly, four years later, when Brazil’s legendary team was inspiring the world in Mexico ’70, the UFWC champions were none other than Switzerland.
The last time England were UFWC champions was in 2000, Alan Shearer’s goal giving England a 1-0 win against Germany in the European Championship in Charleroi. Romania beat England 3-2 in the next game to take the crown.
Spain became UFWC winners in 2010 in the FIFA World Cup final, beating the Netherlands 1-0. But since September 2010, when Spain were trounced 4-1 in Argentina, the title has been out of European hands. And it’s quite tough to get it back once it goes into Asia, because it is normally only in World Cup finals that Asia and Europe meet – with the odd exception, of course.
So how did North Korea get hold of the UFWC? Japan beat Argentina and then went on a run that lasted another 15 games before meeting North Korea in Pyongyang on November 15 2011. During this sequence, Japan beat off the challenge of such luminaries as both Koreas, Australia, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Syria.
North Korea won the game with Japan 1-0 and since then have defended their title seven times, the most recent the Asian Football Confederation Challenge Cup final against Turkmenistan 2-1 in Kathmandu, Nepal.
North Korea’s next game will be on September 8 2012 when they meet Indonesia in Jakarta. Indonesian football is in turmoil and was recently threatened with international suspension due to financial corruption. The country’s football is being run from a prison cell at present!
Quite what Pak Doo-Ik, the legendary North Korean player who scored the goal that beat mighty Italy in 1966, makes of it all is anyone’s guess. And the Middlesbrough public, who so took to these footballing minnows back then might consider lending their support for their friends from the Democratic People’s Republic.