The 2015 Copa America – the 44th edition of the South American international football competition – gets underway today. Chile are the hosts, and Uruguay are the reigning Copa holders. Argentina and Colombia, both highly placed in Fifa’s rankings, will be among the favourites to win the tournament. But few pundits will discount the current Unofficial Football World Champions – Brazil.
Dunga’s seleção beat Mexico and Honduras in a pair of Copa warm-ups this week, retaining the UFWC title they took from Argentina back in October. Philippe Coutinho and Diego Tardelli scored against Mexico, and the increasingly-impressive Hoffenheim striker Roberto Firmino netted against Honduras. Brazil have now won ten consecutive matches since the 2014 World Cup, scoring 21 goals, and conceding just two. Eight of those ten matches were UFWC title matches. Now Brazil will take the UFWC title into the Copa America, and look to put the disappointments of the World Cup behind them.
Brazil are in Group C, alongside Colombia, Peru and Venezuela, and play their first group stage match against Peru in Temuco on Sunday 14 June. Colombia have a decent historical UFWC record, having won eight title matches, although they haven’t held the title for 20 years, since 1995. Peru have won 7 title matches, but none since 1982. Venezuela are the most recent Unofficial Football World Champions of Brazil’s three group stage opponents, having shocked Uruguay with a 1-0 win in 2006.
By comparison, Brazil have now won 37 UFWC title matches. They’ve beaten Colombia twice within the last six months, haven’t lost to Peru in more than 30 years, and have never lost to Venezuela. The two top teams from each group qualify, alongside the two best third-placed teams, so Brazil should have few problems progressing to the knock-out stages.
The 12 Copa America participants are:
Group A: Chile (hosts), Mexico (invited), Ecuador, Bolivia
Group B: Argentina, Uruguay (holders), Paraguay, Jamaica (invited)
Group C: Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela
The only participants with a higher UFWC ranking than Brazil are Argentina, who have won a huge 59 title matches, and are ranked third to Brazil’s sixth. But Brazil beat Argentina fairly comfortably in October, and are unlikely to fear any Copa America opponent. Reigning Copa champions Uruguay are 11th in the UFWC rankings with 20 title match wins, and hosts Chile are 19th with 11 wins. But Uruguay have only beaten Brazil once in the UFWC, and that was back in 1959. And Chile haven’t beaten Brazil in the UFWC since 1957.
The resurgent Brazil team is of course centred around captain and talisman Neymar. The Barcelona striker has been in sensational form since recovering from his World Cup injury, scoring eight goals in nine games for his country. But the foundations of the team can be found in a rebuilt defence. Dunga has retained David Luiz from Phil Scolari’s World Cup team, but brought in Joao Miranda and Filipe Luis of Atletico Madrid. Alongside those three, Fabinho of Monaco has made a late push for the starting eleven, while Thiago Silva is likely to be on the bench. Dunga’s first-choice goalkeeper Jefferson was in Scolari’s World Cup squad, but didn’t get a game.
Injuries to Oscar and Luiz Gustavo have forced a late rethink in midfield, with Dunga likely to pick four from Elias of Corinthians, Fernandinho of Manchester City, Willian of Chelsea, Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool and Fred of Shakhtar Donetsk. Up front, Neymar is likely to be partnered by Roberto Firmino, with Diego Tardelli also an option, as Brazil rely on skill and pace rather than a target man.
The UFWC has been competed for at seven previous Copa America tournaments, most recently in 1993 when Argentina went into the tournament as UFWC champions, and retained the title all the way through to the final, where they beat Mexico 2-1. As always when the UFWC is taken into a big tournament it’s worth recapping a few rules. Although this is tournament football, beginning with a group stage, the UFWC format of following consecutive individual matches does not change. It is therefore possible for a holder of the UFWC title to be eliminated from the tournament at the group stage, for example if they win their final group stage match but fail to qualify from the group. Once we reach the knock-out stages, extra time and penalty shoot-outs do count for UFWC purposes, as they would for any individual UFWC title match.
So UFWC participation in the 2015 Copa America kicks off with Brazil vs Peru on Sunday 14 June. Kick off is 18:30 local time, 22:30 UK time. Depending on the result, the next UFWC title match will be either Brazil vs Colombia on 17 June or Peru vs Venezuela on 18 June. Any of the following group stage matches could be UFWC title matches:
14 June 2015 Brazil vs Peru Estadio Municipal Germán Becker, Temuco
17 June 2015 Brazil vs Colombia Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Santiago
18 June 2015 Peru vs Venezuela Estadio Elías Figueroa, Valparaíso
21 June 2015 Colombia vs Peru Estadio Municipal Germán Becker, Temuco
21 June 2015 Brazil vs Venezuela Estadio Monumental David Arellano, Santiago
And then, depending on how results play out, there’s a good chance the title will be taken into the knock-out stages… You can keep up to date with all things UFWC by following us on Twitter or Facebook.