It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times for Manchukuo’s national soccer team. In June 1940, while participating in a regional tournament in Osaka, it lost 0-7 to Japan. A few days later, it won 1-0 to China – or more correctly, puppet China, the part of the country that had been occupied by Japan since the late 1930s. In other words, the same month marked both the biggest victory and the biggest defeat in the short and almost forgotten history of the world’s most popular sport in Manchukuo under Japanese control.
Manchkuo, the vassal state established in northeast China in 1932, never had much luck being recognized by the outside world as a genuine independent state. Only a small number of governments, mostly Japan’s closest allies, ever bothered to recognize it diplomatically. But this didn’t prevent Japan from keeping up the charade and trying to get it acknowledged as a bona fide member of the international community.
There were many ways to do this: Manchukuo got its own flag, its own currency and its own military. And then there was sport. Soccer appears to have been a relatively important spectator sport in Manchukuo, and a national team was eventually set up. This may also have been in an attempt to develop an actual national consciousness in Manchukuo, although whether this met with any success is an open question.
The national team didn’t have much to do. Because of the non-recognition by most countries, it did not participate in any international events in the 1930s and only traveled abroad to participate in tournaments arranged by Japan for the small number of countries under its control. In September 1939 it took part in the ”Championship Games of Amity with Japan, Manchukuo, and China” – “China” of course being the puppet regime – and the year after it was back in Japan for games celebrating the 2600th anniverary of the Japanese empire.
Its last appearance at an “international” event was in August 1942, when it played first occupied China and then Mengjiang, another Japanese-sponsored state in Mongolia. This final tournament of the puppets didn’t leave much of an impression. The historical record doesn’t even say who won.