Wow. The biggest match in world football just got even bigger. On Sunday, in Johannesburg, the Netherlands and Spain will compete not just for the World Cup, but also for the Unofficial Football World Championships title. This unification match will see the winner crowned official, unofficial and undisputed football world champions. That’s an honour that only a handful of other nations have previously held. As if either side needed any more encouragement, or any fan needed any other reason to watch, this World Cup final is going to be one of the most important in the history of football. Overstating things? Us? Never!
In this extra special, in-depth, fact-packed, second part of our big match preview we’ll look back through the UFWC archives to find out where this unification match stands in UFWC history.
First up, some numbers for you:
835: This will be the 835th UFWC title match, in a lineage stretching back to 1872.
46: The UFWC title has been held by 46 different nations.
49: The Netherlands have won 49 UFWC title matches.
4: The Dutch are currently ranked fourth in the UFWC all-time rankings.
3: But, if they win on Sunday, they’ll move up to third, level with Argentina.
15: Spain have won 15 UFWC title games.
13: The Spanish are ranked 13th in the all-time rankings.
19: Number of World Cup tournaments.
11: Number of times the UFWC has been contested at the World Cup tournament.
8: This will be the 8th time the UFWC has been contested in the World Cup final.
7: Number of nations that have held the undisputed UFWC and WC titles.
8: Whoever out of Netherlands and Spain that win on Sunday will become the eighth.
Now let’s take a quick look at the history of the UFWC at WC tournaments. The following list shows which teams were unofficial and official champions at the end of each tournament:
1930: UFWC: England WC: Uruguay
Not contested. Unofficial champions England were not invited to participate.
1934: UFWC: Wales WC: Italy
Not contested. Wales did not enter.
1938: UFWC: Scotland WC: Italy
Not contested. Scotland did not enter.
1950: UFWC: Chile WC: Uruguay
Contested but not unified. Unofficial champions England participated, but lost to the USA, who lost to Chile, who were eliminated at the group stage.
1954: UFWC: Paraguay WC: West Germany
Not contested: Paraguay failed to qualify.
1958: UFWC: Brazil WC: Brazil
Unification. champs West Germany lost to Sweden in the semi final, and Brazil won both unofficial and official titles in the final.
1962: UFWC: Mexico WC: Brazil
Contested but not unified. Spain were UFWC title holders, but lost to Czechoslovakia, who lost to Mexico, who went out at the group stage.
1966: UFWC: England WC: England
Unification. The USSR took the UFWC title into the WC, but lost to West Germany in the semi final. England won both the UFWC and WC in the final.
1970: UFWC: Switzerland WC: Brazil
Not contested. Switzerland failed to qualify.
1974: UFWC: West Germany WC: West Germany
Unification. The Netherlands went into the WC as UFWC title holders, and held on all the way to the final before being defeated by West Germany.
1978: UFWC: Argentina WC: Argentina
Unification. France were UFWC champs, but lost to Italy, who lost to the Netherlands, who again lost in the final, this time to Argentina.
1982: UFWC: Italy WC: Italy
Unification. UFWC Champs Peru lost to Poland, who lost to Italy, who won the undisputed title.
1986: UFWC: Argentina WC: Argentina
Unification. West Germany lost the title to Denmark, who lost to Spain, who lost to Belgium, who in turn lost to eventual champions Argentina.
1990: UFWC: Greece WC: West Germany
Not contested. Greece failed to qualify for the World Cup.
1994: UFWC: Colombia WC: Brazil
Contested but not unified. UFWC title holders Romania lost to Switzerland, who lost to Colombia, who were eliminated at the group stage.
1998: UFWC: France WC: France
Unification. Argentina were UFWC champions, but lost the title to the Netherlands, who lost to Brazil, who were defeated by France in the final.
2002: UFWC: Netherlands WC: Brazil
Not contested. The Netherlands failed to qualify for the World Cup.
2006: UFWC: Uruguay WC: Italy
Not contested. Unofficial champs Uruguay failed to qualify.
2010: UFWC: ? WC: ?
Unification. Whoever wins on Sunday, they will become undisputed champions as holders of both the unofficial and official titles.
No team has ever taken the UFWC title into a World Cup tournament and left with it at the end. Only one team has ever taken the title into a World Cup tournament and progressed all the way to the final. That team is the Netherlands – they did it in 1978 and they’ve done it again this year. Can they become the first team to finish the tournament undefeated?
In addition to the occasions mentioned above, the undisputed title has also been won outside of the World Cup tournament. Italy were the first side to achieve the feat, in 1939, and also the last, in 2007. The full list of undisputed UFWC and WC champions is:
West Germany 1958
West Germany 1974
Brazil 1998 (lost and regained the undisputed title in same year)
The name of either the Netherlands or Spain will be added to that list on Sunday evening. To throw another factor into play, Spain are also the current European Champions, so if they win they will be combined UFWC / WC / EC champions and unify all three titles. The only side to achieve that feat previously was France in 2000. [Correction: West Germany also achieved this in 1974.]
But let’s put the statistics aside for a moment and reflect on the match itself. This is a game between two teams that play football they way it is meant to be played – pass and move. Or at least they have tried to play this way. They’ve certainly been the two most attractive sides to watch over the course of the World Cup competition.
Underdogs the Netherlands, overlooked by many who had not been following their UFWC form, have won every match at the tournament, including beating many pundits’ favourites Brazil in the quarter finals.
Spain lost their first match to Switzerland, but have subsequently won every game, including disposing of Portugal and Germany in the knockout stages.
The two top scorers in the competition will be on the pitch on Sunday – Wesley Sneijder and David Villa have both scored five goals so far. They have been among the best players at the tournament, along with the likes of Xavi, Arjen Robben and Carlos Puyol.
Oddly, the Netherlands and Spain have never met at a major tournament before. What a way to start, with a UFWC / WC unification clash. It’s undoubtedly a difficult result to call (unless you’re Paul the psychic octopus, who has plumped for Spain in the final after a 100% correct prediction record so far this World Cup). Spain will go into the game as slight favourites with the bookies, but this one really could go either way.
This really is going to be fascinating, so book a place on the sofa, prepare the beer and snacks, take the phone off the hook, and enjoy. Who will walk away with both the CW Alcock Cup and the World Cup? Who will become undisputed unofficial and official football world champions? Netherlands versus Spain: not to overstate things again, but this just might be the biggest and best international football match of all time…
Paul will be tweeting updates during the final – follow him on Twitter @realpaulbrown.
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