Trinidad and Tobago will become the latest in a long line of national football teams to make their Unofficial Football World Championships debut when they play current champions Uruguay in the next UFWC title match in May. When the game was first announced as a UFWC title match, Trinidad and Tobago were 49th in the FIFA rankings. They’ve since slipped to 53rd, but remain one of the highest-ranked FIFA sides to have never challenged for the UFWC title.
As a reminder, the UFWC works via a simple boxing-style “winner stays on” system. Winners of title matches become title holders and Unofficial Football World Champions, and go on to defend that title in their next match. UFWC lineage goes back to the very first international match in 1872, and to date there have been 911 UFWC title matches and 48 Unofficial Football World Champions.
Of the current top 50-ranked FIFA sides, 15 have never won the UFWC title, but only two have never challenged for it. The two are Cape Verde (47th in the FIFA rankings) and Senegal (43rd), both Confederation of African Football (CAF) teams. Several African sides have challenged for the UFWC title, and Nigeria, Angola and Zimbabwe are all former UFWC champions, but it’s true that in general the UFWC has been dominated by teams from Europe and South America.
Another African team, Democratic Republic of Congo, is 51st in the FIFA rankings, just two places below Trinidad and Tobago. DR Congo, formerly Zaire, has never competed in a UFWC title match. (Congo, on the other hand, ranked 59th by FIFA, have competed in a UFWC title match, losing to Angola in 2005.)
Of the remaining 13 top 50 FIFA sides who have challenged for the UFWC title but never won it, several are from nations that were part of the former Yugoslavia, Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia were part of the former Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia did win five UFWC title matches before dissolution, but its record was passed on to Serbia for FIFA and UFWC purposes. Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, whose football record was passed to Russia. Slovakia technically did win UFWC title matches while part of Czechoslovakia, but the latter’s record was passed to the Czech Republic.
There are several more African teams in the list – Algeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Egypt and Tunisia. Of these, Tunisia has come the closest to winning the UFWC – they lost on penalties to then-champions Uruguay in 2006. Elsewhere, Iceland have played in six UFWC title matches, but lost five and drawn one. Albania have played in three, and lost by a single goal each time. Iran have played only one title match, against France in 1978, and lost 2-1. But the worst record as UFWC challengers must surely belong to FIFA’s 49th-ranked side, Norway, who have played in 11 UFWC title matches and lost every single one.
FIFA top 50-ranked teams that have never won the UFWC:
Bold = have never challenged for the UFWC
34 Ivory Coast
47= Cape Verde