In less than a month’s time, on 1 June, Japan will resume their defence of the Unofficial Football World Championships title against South America’s Peru. The UFWC title match is the first fixture in a three-team Kirin Cup friendly tournament, also featuring the Czech Republic.
Peru haven’t participated in the UFWC since 1993, but they’re actually veterans of the competition, and have won more UFWC title matches than Japan. So what do we need to know about challengers La Blanquirroja (The White and Red)?
The Pacific-coast nation has a population of 25 million, about five times smaller than that of Japan. FIFA rankings place Peru 54th, some 41 places behind Japan. But Peru are higher than Japan in the UFWC rankings, sitting in 22nd place ahead of Japan’s 26th having won 7 UFWC title matches to Japan’s 6.
Peru’s first UFWC title match saw them lose 3-2 to an excellent Chile side in 1952. But, less than a year later, in March 1953, Peru registered their first title match win and became Unofficial Football World Champions, beating Brazil 1-0 courtesy of a goal from Luis Navarrete. The reign didn’t last long, though, and Peru lost to Uruguay in their next game. (All covered in detail in the UFWC book…!)
After three failed attempts to regain the UFWC title, Peru eventually managed to wrest it from Argentina in 1957 with a 2-1 win, although again they immediately lost it in their next match – handing it back to Argentina.
Save for a 2-2 draw with then-champions Brazil in 1959, Peru then disappeared from the UFWC scene, re-emerging to lose 3-2 to Paraguay in 1979. But it was the early 1980s that saw Peru enjoy its most successful UFWC stint.
In August 1981, Peru beat Uruguay 2-1 to become UFWC champions for the third time. This time they managed to hold onto the title, drawing with Uruguay in a return World Cup qualifier fixture the following month. These two results helped Peru qualify for the 1982 World Cup finals.
Moving into 1982 Peru briefly lost the title, but then regained it, over the space of two friendly matches against Chile. The Peruvians then beat Hungary in Budapest, drew with Algeria, and then clocked up one of the greatest results in the nation’s history, beating a France side featuring the likes of Platini, Tigana and Rocheteau – in Paris – by a goal to nil. The scorer was Juan Carlos Oblitas, the outstanding player of Peru’s UFWC history.
Peru won another title match, against Romania, and then took their title to the World Cup Finals in Spain. Draws with Cameroon and eventual champions Italy saw Peru intially hold onto the unofficial title, before they were crushed 5-0 by Poland.
La Blanquirroja played a couple of title matches in 1993, losing to Argentina and Colombia, but that was the sum of their UFWC involvement until now. So Peru’s return to the UFWC competition is long overdue. But can they prise the title away from current Unofficial Football World Champions Japan?
Since failing to qualify for World Cup 2010 (they were the first team to be eliminated during qualification and the squad was call the worst in the national team’s 82-year history by the Peruvian press) Peru have displayed something of a resurgence. By the time of the WC qualification failure, the nation had fallen to 91st in the FIFA rankings – it’s lowest ever position. However, seemingly responding to criticism from fans and former players, within 12 months Peru had soared to 38th place, before settling back to the current 54th.
Peru are unbeaten this year – although they’ve only played two matches, beating Panama 1-0, and drawing 0-0 with Ecuador. Prior to that they’d beaten Canada, Jamaica and Costa Rica, and drawn with Colombia, so they’re certainly no mugs.
Stars of the Peru squad include Hamburg striker Paolo Guerrero and veteran Werder Bremen striker Claudio Pizarro, who is the current squad’s most capped player and top goalscorer. As with the Japan squad, there are a lot of Bundesliga links, and a couple of other German-based players may also make the Peru squad for the Japan match – striker Jefferson Farfan of Schalke 04, and young defender Carlos Zambrano, who is currently on loan from Schalke to FC St Pauli. Also keep an eye out for Fiorentina midfielder Juan Manuel Vargas and defender Walter Vilchez of Sporting Cristal.
Oddly, due to Japan’s eventual acceptance of an invitation to appear as a guest nation, following the Kirin Cup both Japan and Peru will participate in the Copa America in Argentina in July (although they have been drawn in different groups). So will Japan or Peru take the UFWC title to Argentina, or will the Czech Republic put a stop to that? Keep it here and don’t forget to tell your friends.