In the second of his special Unofficial Football Continental Championships features, Peter Waring applies the UFWC format to South America.

With only ten teams competing, the South American continental UFWC title has had a very different sort of history that that of Europe. The unofficial South American title was first contested on 20 July 1902, with Argentina beating Uruguay 6-0 in Montevideo. In their very next meeting, though, Uruguay won 3-2 in Buenos Aires, and the title would go back and forth between those two nations for a long time. Not until 1910 did another country (Chile) even compete. Not surprisingly, it was Brazil who eventually broke the stranglehold, taking the title off Argentina in 1914. They didn’t defend their title for nearly two years, but when they did, it was in the first ever Copa America, in 1916.

The Copa America was held at irregular intervals from 1916 to 1967 (gaps between tournaments were anything from a few months to six years). They were all contested on a simple round-robin basis, and most were featured in this unofficial title (occasionally, however, the unofficial South American champions did not enter the Copa America). The tournament was then revived, with a new format in 1975, and was held every four years to 1987, then every two years until 2001, then 2004 and 2007. The next tournament will be in 2011, and they will be every four years thereafter.

Unofficial champions since 1914 have been as follows:
1910s: Brazil (twice), Uruguay (four times), Argentina (three times).
1920s: Uruguay (eight times), Paraguay (three times), Brazil (once), Argentina (seven times).
1930s: Uruguay (once), Brazil (twice), Argentina (once).
1940s: Argentina (seven times), Brazil (three times), Uruguay (three times), Paraguay (twice).
1950s: Brazil (once), Uruguay (twice), Paraguay (once), Argentina (once), Chile (once).
1960s: Uruguay (three times), Argentina (three times), Peru (three times), Bolivia (twice), Paraguay (once).
1970s: Uruguay (twice), Argentina (once), Brazil (twice), Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile (once each).
1980s: Brazil (twice), Uruguay (three times), Peru (four times), Chile (four times), Paraguay (four times), Bolivia (once), Colombia (three times), Argentina (once), Ecuador (once).
1990s: Argentina (four times), Colombia (twice), Bolivia (once), Paraguay (once), Brazil (four times), Uruguay (twice), Chile (once).

The world and South American unofficial championships were unified for the first time on 2 March 1955, when South American champs Argentina beat world champs Paraguay 5-3 in one of the UFWC’s classic matches. There have been many world / South American unifications since, too many to list here.

Since the turn of the millennium, the title has changed hands a total of 31 times. This high turnover rate is mainly due to the fact that the South American nations play each other, home and away, in every World Cup qualifying campaign these days. In 2002, a whole century after the competition began, Venezuela took the title for the very first time, with a 1-0 win over Uruguay. Since the latest Copa America format was introduced in 1993, the winners have always come out of the competition with both the official and unofficial titles. The only real danger to this continuing is the presence of non-South American teams, most notably Mexico, in the Copa America.

Surprisingly, Argentina have not held the title since June 2004. All the other nine countries have held it since then. There is some consolation for Argentina, though. Of the three longest runs as champions (all of which measured 17 successful defences in length), Argentina were responsible for two of them. The first lasted ten years, from 1946 to 1956, and incorporated two Copa America titles. It was an era including stars such as Alfredo di Stefano, Rodolfo Micheli and Antonio Valentin Angelillo. The second record run, from 1990 to 1993, also incorporated two Copa America triumphs, and was ended by Colombia in a qualifier for the 1994 World Cup.

The other record reign was that of Brazil between 1975 and 1979. Having also had a run of 12 successful defences from 1970 to 1975, the Samba Boys utterly dominated that decade. The Brazilians have also been the dominant team of the modern era. Since 1995, they have had a total of 32 successful title defences; no other nation has managed more than eight.

The current holders are Peru. They took the title in the final round of World Cup qualifying in October 2009, but have played only one match against South American opposition since, a draw with Colombia.

Follow the progress of the unofficial South American championships over at the UFWC Forum.

Read about the unofficial European continental championships.