Nicaragua, who have no Premier League or European football stars and have never before competed in a UFWC title match, will have two chances to become Unofficial Football World Champions following the announcement of two back-to-back friendly matches against Bolivia on 2 and 7 June. Bolivia are the current holders of the UFWC title having defeated previous champions Argentina 2-0 in a shock win in March. The UFWC works on a continuous title match basis, where winners of title matches become title holders and Unofficial Football World Champions, and defend that title in their next match.
The majority of the Nicaragua squad play their club football for domestic sides, many of them for top club Real Estelí. Captain Juan Barrera plays for Communicaciones FC in Guatemala. Barrera, Nicaragua’s star man, scored a 9-minute hat-trick against Haiti in the country’s last international. The only European-based players in and around the Nicaragua squad are Daniel Cadena, who partners Barrera up front for the national team and plays for Njarovíkur in Iceland, and striker Jaime Moreno, who was in the Nicaragua team during the Copa Centroamericana in January and plays for Lorca in Spain’s third tier. Another player to watch is 21-year-old Real Estelí midfielder Bryan García, who scored twice during Nicaragua’s disappointing Copa Centroamericana campaign.
Nicaragua finished fifth out of six teams in the Copa Centroamericana round-robin table. They won only one match, against bottom-placed Belize. They then went into a two-legged CONCACAF Gold Cup qualification play-off against Haiti. Nicaragua lost the first leg 3-1 in Port-au-Prince, and looked all but eliminated. In the return leg in Managua the score was 0-0 after 82 minutes. Then came an incredible comeback, courtesy of that Juan Barrera hat-trick – a penalty, a brilliant back-header, and a 91st-minute breakaway strike – meaning Nicaragua qualified for the 2017 Gold Cup, hosted in the USA.
Nicaragua are currently 100th in the FIFA rankings, and has never ranked higher than 92nd. However, they are improving. Nicaragua’s average FIFA ranking is 163rd. Much of the improvement is credited to Costa Rican coach Henry Duarte, who took the job in December 2014 and has win percentage of more than 50%, which is impressive given Nicaragua’s overall standing. In comparison, Bolivia are ranked 73rd by FIFA, which is also their average position – they have been as high as 24th and as low as 108th. Coach Mauricio Soria has been in place since 2016. He should know what it takes to make Bolivia successful – he was the national team’s goalkeeper in the 1990s when Bolivia had their highest FIFA rating.
In terms of the players, like Nicaragua, Bolivia have no English Premier League or other European stars, and almost all of the squad play for domestic sides. However, they do have a former Premier League player – striker Marcelo Martins Moreno plays for Wuhan Zall in China, but had a brief, goalless spell at Wigan Athletic in 2009-10. (Players from 106 different nations have played in the Premier League. You can view all English Premier League betting at William Hill.) Bolivia captain and defender Ronald Raldes plays for top-supported side Bolívar, as does striker Juan Carlos Arce, who – alongside Marcelo Martins Moreno – scored against Argentina in the UFWC title match win. Midfielders Diego Wayar and Pablo Escobar (not that one) play for current Bolivian champions The Strongest.
Bolivia are ranked 29th in the all-time UFWC table with 6 wins in 15 title matches. Nicaragua, of course, having never competed in the UFWC, have no rank.
The first of the two friendlies will be played in Nicaragua, at the Estadio Nacional de Fútbol in Managua, on 2 June. Five days later, the second friendly will be played in Bolivia, at the Estadio Olímpico Patria in Sucre, on 7 June.
If Bolivia retain the UFWC title through the two friendlies against Nicaragua, the next UFWC title match will be a World Cup Qualifier between Peru and Bolivia. Interestingly, if Nicaragua emerge as champions, the next UFWC title match will see them play Curaçao, who took over the FIFA record of the Netherlands Antilles after the Antilles were dissolved in 2010. The Antilles hold the distinction of being the smallest nation ever to win the UFWC, pulling of the competition’s biggest-ever shock when they beat Mexico in 1963.
In the meantime, if you’re new to the Unofficial Football World Championships you can find out all about the UFWC here. And you can keep up to date with all things UFWC by following us on Twitter or Facebook.