Brazil prepares for 2014 at the Confederations Cup, Fortaleza by Crystian Cruz / Flickr
Will the Unofficial Football World Championships be contested at the 2014 World Cup? With just 12 months to go until the official final, the unofficial title remains in the hands of Argentina. The UFWC champions look certain to qualify for the FIFA tournament, sitting in prime position at the top of the CONMEBOL table. Should they qualify, Argentina will surely be among the favourites to win the World Cup. Can they emulate Spain in 2010 and consolidate the unofficial and official titles?
Argentina’s current run of UFWC title matches has included four World Cup qualifiers. They’ve won one and drawn three, which has been enough to keep them at the top of the qualification table. The top four CONMEBOL teams will qualify automatically, with the fifth entering a play-off. Argentina currently have 26 points, ten points more than fifth-place Uruguay. Colombia, Ecuador and Chile occupy the other automatic qualification spots. Should they qualify, they will join hosts Brazil plus the four teams that have already qualified – Japan, Australia, Iran and South Korea.
CONMEBOL World Cup Qualification
Current Standings and Points:
But can Argentina hold on to the UFWC for another 12 months? There are a lot of games to be played between now and June 2014. For reference, Argentina have played 14 matches over the past 12 months. So going by the same ratio of fixtures they may have to retain the UFWC title over 14 matches in order to go into the World Cup as unofficial champions. Add in the six UFWC matches they’ve already played, and that would take their overall reign to 22 matches. Can that be done? The Netherlands almost did that – they were unbeaten champions for 21 matches, taking the UFWC title right through to the 2010 World Cup Final – only to be beaten by Spain.
Argentina currently have seven fixtures lined up – against Italy, Paraguay, Brazil (twice), Peru, Uruguay and Romania. It will be quite an achievement to remain unbeaten against that calibre of some of that opposition. Having said that, Argentina are currently ranked 4th in the world by both FIFA and the UFWC – higher than any of the teams they are fixtured to play. (Italy are ranked 6th. Brazil, despite winning the Confederations Cup, are ranked only 9th.)
The next test for Argentina is a friendly match against Italy, who are also on track to qualify for the World Cup. Like Argentina, they are currently at the top of their qualification group. Italy are four points clear of second-placed Bulgaria. Only the first-placed team is assured of automatic qualification. And just like Argentina, Italy are in good form going into the match. They’ve only lost one of the nine games they’ve played in 2013. That loss was an entertaining 4-2 Confederations Cup defeat to Brazil.
But such is the strength of the current Argentina side that few would place a bet against them making it all the way to Brazil 2014 with their UFWC title intact. Should they do so, they will be in a strong position to win the World Cup, and unite the official and unofficial titles. That has only been done at four previous World Cups. 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: Spain WC: Spain
Unification. The Netherlands took the UFWC title into the tournament and held on all the way to the final, where they lost to Spain, who became undisputed champions.
In addition to the occasions mentioned above, the undisputed title has also been won outside of the World Cup tournament. 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)
With so many matches to play between now and the start of the 2014 World Cup Finals, anything could happen – as UFWC followers know only too well. The nature of the UFWC is that it works on a match-by-match basis, with every one of those matches as important as the others. Every UFWC title match is a final. So the next official World Cup Final might still be 12 months away, but the next unofficial cup final is just a few weeks away, on 14 August, when Argentina travel to Italy. We’ll bring you all the build-up to that one right here.