Just as FIFA has the World Cup and continental championships, so does the UFWC. They’re running over at the UFWC Forum, and over the next few weeks we’ll be taking a look at all of them. We will be looking first at Europe. Using exactly the same rules as the UFWC, but applying them only to matches played between European teams, we can find the unofficial European Champions.
Those who know their UFWC history will be aware that the UFWC was never contested by a non-European nation until England took the title to the 1950 World Cup. After seeing off Chile, they then lost infamously to the USA, and thus the world and European titles diverged for the first time. The USA took the World title, but England were still unofficial European champions. But, three days after losing the world title to the USA, the English lost the European title to Spain. Spain went through to the final stage of the World Cup, but defeat to Sweden meant their reign as European champions was brief.
For the rest of the 1950s, the title changed hands regularly. The order was as follows: Yugoslavia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, West Germany, Turkey, West Germany, France, Belgium, Spain, Turkey, West Germany, Hungary, West Germany (taking the title in the 1954 World Cup Final), Belgium, Italy, Yugoslavia, Austria, France, Hungary, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, West Germany, Czechoslovakia, Northern Ireland, France (taking the title in the 1958 World Cup quarter-finals) and Bulgaria.
The first European Championships finals (originally called the European Nations Cup) took place in 1960. Up to and including 1976, the finals only included four teams each time, which meant the unofficial title rarely found its way there. In early 1960, the title was taken by Holland, then Belgium, then Bulgaria again, then Poland, who held the title that summer. But Poland had not qualified for Euro 1960, having earlier been eliminated by Spain.
Title holders over the next four years were: Hungary, Austria, Yugoslavia, USSR, Sweden, and USSR again. The Soviets took the title to Euro 1964, where they beat Denmark in the semi-final, and Spain in the final, to become undisputed European champions. The unofficial European title then went to Spain, Portugal, Romania and West Germany, who took the title to the 1966 World Cup. In the semi-finals, they played reigning UFWC champions the USSR, and thus reunified the unofficial world and European titles – the first time this had happened since 1950.
The titles would remain unified for twelve years, until the 1978 World Cup Final. In the meantime, the title missed out on the European Championships of 1968 (Austria didn’t qualify) and 1972 (Spain didn’t qualify), but was taken by Czechoslovakia into the 1976 finals, which they won. After losing the world title to Argentina in the 1978 World Cup Final, Holland retained the European title for a few more months, before losing to West Germany.
The Germans then embarked on the longest ever run as title holders (not just of Europe, but of any continent). They successfully defended their title 34 times in all between 1978 and 1982, before finally losing the 1982 World Cup Final to Italy. The run included 28 draws, five wins and one penalty shoot-out victory, and also included West Germany’s successful Euro 1980 campaign.
The 1982 World Cup Final also unified the unofficial world and European titles once more, and they would remain unified until Belgium’s defeat to Argentina in the 1986 World Cup semi-finals. This period saw Yugoslavia take the title to Euro 84, but France emerge victorious two weeks later. After 1986, the title went to France, Switzerland, Sweden and Portugal. The Portuguese then lost to Italy in another reunification match in late 1987.
This latest unification lasted until June 1992 (the title had bypassed Euro 88 whilst in the possession of non-qualifiers Wales). Days after losing the world title to the USA, Portugal lost the European title to the Republic of Ireland; a few days later, Euro 92 kicked off without the Irish, and thus without the unofficial European title. Subsequent holders were Spain, Croatia, Slovakia, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Czech Republic, Austria (in whose possession the title bypassed Euro 96), Slovenia, Denmark, Bosnia, Croatia, Denmark, Norway and Italy.
In the 1998 World Cup, France first took the unofficial European title from Italy (in the quarter-finals), before taking the world title from Brazil in the final. The titles were thus again unified, and remained so until June 2004. Euro 2000 was included in the title, but Euro 2004 (due to the non-qualification of Ireland) was not. Ireland lost the world title to Nigeria in May 2004, and the world and European titles have not been unified since.
The European title stayed with Ireland through 13 successful defences, then Italy (12 defences), then Croatia (13 defences). This meant just three holders in three and a half years – a rare feat indeed. Since then, Macedonia, Israel, Finland, Russia, Germany and Serbia have had the title.
The current holders are Greece, having taken the title in a friendly in August 2010. Twenty of UEFA’s 53 members have yet to take the title, although only two (Montenegro and San Marino) have yet to contest it.