The UFWC title will be contested at the Copa America Centenario this month, with the CW Alcock Cup, the Copa America, and the brand new Centenario Trophy all up for grabs. Uruguay head into the tournament with the UFWC title, but without Luis Suarez – for the opening matches, at least. Suarez injured a hamstring while playing for Barcelona in the Copa Del Rey final, and is considered doubtful for the group stage. Uruguay will need to overcome some of the UFWC’s all-time greats – and perhaps some UFWC newcomers – to win the Centenario and remain Unofficial Football World Champions.
The Copa America Centenario is a special 2016 edition of the tournament arranged to celebrate the centenary of CONMEBOL and the Copa America, featuring 10 teams from CONMEBOL and six from CONCACAF, and hosted by CONCACAF nation the USA. The tournament will be contested via a four-group stage, then quarter finals, semi finals and final, with the top two teams from each group advancing to the knockout stage. It begins this Friday, 3 June, and the final is on 26 June. The 16 competing teams (with UFWC rankings) are:
United States (38)
Costa Rica (23)
The top teams in terms of UFWC rankings are Argentina and Brazil, who have won 61 and 38 title matches respectively. Current UFWC champions Uruguay, with 23 title match wins, and reigning Copa America champions Chile, with 15 wins also have strong UFWC records. Only three of the competing sides have never held the UFWC title, and therefore have no UFWC ranking. Of those three, Jamaica have made two unsuccessful challenges, in 1998 and 2004, and Panama have challenged once, back in 1952. Haiti, meanwhile, have never played in a UFWC title match.
The UFWC title will initially be contested in Group C, with holders Uruguay opening their campaign against Mexico. Uruguay’s chances of retaining the title throughout the tournament, and ultimately winning the Copa America, are inevitably hampered by the injury to Suarez. The striker – who scored 59 goals last season – is included in the Uruguay squad, but seems unlikely to play in the group stage matches, although he may return should Uruguay reach the knockout phase. In the absence of Suarez, Edinson Cavani will lead the line. Cavani scored twice in Uruguay’s last title match. And Uruguay have strength throughout their team, from Champions League finalist Diego Godin alongside Jose Maria Gimenez at the back, through midfield duo Nicolas Lodeiro and Carlos Sanchez, to Bordeaux striker Diego Rolan, who will likely partner Cavani up front.
Uruguay Copa America Centenario squad:
Goalkeepers: Martin Campana (Independiente), Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray), Martin Silva (Vasco da Gama)
Defenders: Sebastian Coates (Sporting Lisbon), Jorge Fucile (Nacional), Jose Gimenez (Atletico Madrid), Diego Godin (Atletico Madrid), Alvaro Pereira (Getafe), Maximiliano Pereira (Porto), Mauricio Victorino (Nacional)
Midfielders: Mathias Corujo (Universidad de Chile), Alvaro Gonzalez (Atlas), Diego Laxalt (Inter Milan), Nicolas Lodeiro (Boca Juniors), Gaston Ramirez (Free Agent), Egidio Arevalo Rios (Atlas), Carlos Sanchez (Monterrey), Matias Vecino (Fiorentina)
Forwards: Edinson Cavani (Paris Saint-Germain), Abel Hernandez (Hull City), Diego Rolan (Bordeaux), Cristhian Stuani (Middlesbrough), Luis Suarez (Barcelona)
Uruguay should have enough, even without Suarez, to finish above Jamaica and Venezuela, although Jamaica, led by Leicester City’s Premier League-winning captain Wes Morgan, won’t be easy to beat, and Venezuela will hope for goals from Salomon Rondon. However, Uruguay may struggle to top Group C due to the presence of Mexico – the first UFWC challengers. Mexico look like a team to watch closely during this tournament. They actually have one of the worst records in UFWC history, having played in 14 title matches and won only one, against Czechoslovakia back in 1962. They were then the victims of the biggest-ever UFWC upset when they lost the title to the tiny Dutch Antilles islands.
However, Mexico are going into this Copa America in remarkable form under new manager Juan Carlos Osorio, having gone 11 competitive games unbeaten – including eight consecutive wins and five consecutive clean sheets. They have goals in their side – notably from now-28-year-old Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez – and, for their matches in Glendale, Pasadena and Houston, they are likely to be playing in front of huge crowds of Mexican soccer fans.
Uruguay are favourites to win Group C, at 1/1 evens at the time of writing. Mexico are 6/5, with Venezuela and Jamaica relatively long shots at 10/1 and 16/1 respectively. The six Group C fixtures are as follows:
Group C Fixtures:
5 June 2016
Jamaica vs Venezuela
Mexico vs URUGUAY
9 June 2016
URUGUAY vs Venezuela
Mexico vs Jamaica
13 June 2016
Mexico vs Venezuela
URUGUAY vs Jamaica
Away from Group C, Argentina and Brazil should advance from their groups fairly comfortably, and Chile should accompany Argentina out of Group B. Ecuador look most likely to follow Brazil out of Group B. Group A has already been dubbed the “group of death”, and hosts USA may struggle to progress in a group where Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay will all fancy their chances of making the knockout stages.
And it’s not guaranteed that the UFWC title will make it to the knockout stages – it’s possible that the holder could win their last group game but fail to advance. If the UFWC title is contested in the knockout stages, it will be carried all the way to the final. (A reminder that extra time and penalty shootouts DO count for UFWC purposes, although at this Copa America extra time will only be played if required in the final, and not in the quarters or semis.)
But who will win the Copa America Centenario outright? Argentina are the bookies’ favourites, at 15/8 at the time of writing. Brazil are second favourites at 9/2, Chile are 7/1, and hosts USA and UFWC champions Uruguay are both 9/1. Mexico at 10/1 might be a decent value outside bet, and how about their striker Chicharito for top scorer at 20/1?
Our coverage of the Copa America Centenario begins this Sunday, 5 June, with the UFWC title match between Unofficial Football World Champions Uruguay and challengers Mexico. The match will be played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Kick-off is 20:00 local time, which is 01:00 in the UK. The match is being televised on Fox Sports in the US, Directv Sports in Uruguay, TDN in Mexico, and Premier Sports in the UK.