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United Koreans in Japan discover draw for CONIFA World Football Cup

The group stage draw for the CONIFA World Football Cup has been held and the United Koreans of Japan have been drawn in Group D. Our columnist George Slade profiles all 16 qualifiers to see who they are up against.
(Image courtesy of conifa.org

Group A

Parishes of Jersey
Not to be confused with the Jersey Football Association, which is considered a part of the English FA, the Parishes of Jersey were formed in 2018 after the Channel Island failed in its bid to join UEFA. This will be their first major tournament, though they  played in the 2019 Atlantic Heritage Cup and will appear in the May 2020 four-team Southern Frontiers Cup. They were victorious in their first ever official match, beating Yorkshire 2-1 in a friendly in October 2018. Their biggest victory to date was a 9-2 win over fellow qualifiers the Chagos Islands.

Consisting of players from the Punjabi diaspora, Panjab were formed in 2014 and are competing in their third CONIFA World Football Cup. They first appeared in 2016 and finished as runner-ups after losing on penalties to host nation Abkhazia, with their forward Amar Purewal becoming the tournament's top scorer with seven goals. In 2018 Kamaljit Singh also became the top scorer in the competition, but the side fared worse after being knocked out of the quarter-finals to Padania, eventually finishing fifth after the placement rounds. 

Kurdistan have been entered in place of original qualifiers Western Sahara. Kurdistan are one of the oldest teams in the competition, and played in four editions of the CONIFA-predecessor, the Viva World Cup. They finished runners-up twice and were champions in the final tournament in 2012. In the CONIFA era they have been less successful, finishing sixth in 2014, eighth in 2016, and not entering in 2018.

Chagos Islands
Although their homeland is in an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, none of the players in the Chagos Islands team were born there, due to the fact that the entire local population was deported by the UK government between 1967-73. The team was founded by the Chagossian diaspora and played their first match in 2011, in a 6-1 win over Raetia. Their only official tournament appearance was in the 2016 CONIFA World Football Cup, where they finished last out of 12 teams. 

Group B

Representing the Hungarian minority in the historic region of Carpathian Ruthenia, which is largely centred on Zakarpattia Oblast in Ukraine, the Kárpátalja team was created in 2016. They first played in the 2017 CONIFA European Football Cup, finishing in fifth after bring knocked out of the group stages. A period of inactivity followed and they did not compete in qualifying for the 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup, but were offered a wildcard place after Felvidék withdrew. Kárpátalja would go on to be crowned World champions, defeating Northern Cyprus on penalties in the final after a goalless draw.

Western Armenia
The historic region of Western Armenia now lies within the eastern parts of Turkey, and the team for Armenians with connections to this region was formed in 2015. Their tournament debut came the following year in the 2016 CONIFA World Football Cup, where they came in sixth after losing their quarter-final 3-2 to Panjab. Following a 4-0 quarter-final defeat to Székely Land in 2018, they finished in seventh place. Their most successful tournament was in their debut CONIFA European Football Cup in 2019, when their 1-0 final loss to South Ossetia resulted in them being the tournament runner-ups.

Tamil Eelam
Representing the Tamil-speaking areas of Sri Lanka and the wider diaspora, Tamil Eelam were established in 2012 and competed in the last Viva World Cup, where they finished seventh out of nine teams. They have competed in two previous CONIFA World Football Cups after coming in 11th in 2014 and 14th in 2018, while they failed to qualify in 2016.

The Kabylia football team represent the Kabylie people of Northern Algeria. Their first official matches took place at their tournament debut, the 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup. Kabylia finished bottom of their group, but finished in 10th place overall, largely due to an impressive 8-1 over Tibet.

Group C

The Mapuche are an indigenous group that inhabit areas of southern Chile and south-west Argentina. They joined CONIFA in May 2019 as the first ever members from South America, and this will be their tournament debut.

The homeland of the Ndebele people is found in western Zimbabwe, and it is after these inhabitants that Matabeleland is named. They played their first official matches at the 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup, where they were knocked out of the group stages and finished 13th after the placement rounds. Shortly after the tournament, Matabeleland became one of only six CONIFA members to form an official women's team.

Kernow is the native Cornish name for the county of Cornwall in England, and a team has represented the region since 2018. This will be their tournament debut and they have impressed in friendlies, winning their first ever official match 5-0 against Barawa in May 2019, and recording a 10-3 victory over fellow qualifiers Chagos Islands in August.

Australian First Nations
Also known as Mariya, the Australian First Nations represent the indigenous people of Australia and joined CONIFA in November 2018. Their first match followed several months later, where they lost 3-2 to the Maori-side Aotearoa. This will be their official tournament debut. 

Group D

South Ossetia
The football team of the disputed territory South Ossetia (recognised as a sovereign state by five UN members), located in Georgia, played its first matches in 2013. They finished in fourth place in 2014 after losing 4-1 to Arameans Suryoye in the third-place play-off, with Arthur Elbaev the tournament's top scorer with nine goals. They subsequently failed to qualify for the 2016 and 2018 editions, and could not compete in the inaugural CONIFA European Football Cup in 2015 due to travel issues. They finished eighth (last-place) in 2017 after initially coming bottom in their group, but they then became European champions in 2019 after winning the final 1-0 against Western Armenia, with Batradz Gurtsiev winning the Golden Boot with five goals.

Cascadia is a region in North America that spans areas of south-west Canada and north-west USA. After several years of discussing the possibility of a team, Cascadia finally played their first official matches at the 2018 CONIFA World Football Cup. They made it through the group stages on goal difference then lost their quarter-final to eventual champions Kárpátalja, and eventually finished sixth after the placement rounds.

United Koreans in Japan
Founded in 2015 as the representative side of the Korean ethnic minority in Japan, the UKJ have played in two previous CONIFA World Football Cups. They were seventh in 2016 after being knocked out of the quarter-finals by Northern Cyprus on penalties. In 2018 they were knocked out of the group stages and came in 11th position after the placement rounds.

The side representing the western Sudan region of Darfur have returned after a period of inactivity. They competed in the 2012 VIVA World Cup and 2014 CONIFA World Football Cup and finished last (ninth and 12th place respectively) in both tournaments, scoring once and conceding 94 goals in seven games in total. They subsequently did not enter in the 2016 and 2018 editions. Darfur are one of only two of this year's qualifiers to have an official women's team, alongside fellow African team Matabeleland.

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