Dec 13

Following the UFWC at the World Cup

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During the past month or so, over the course of the World Cup, the UFWC trophy has changed hands four times. Along the way I’ve managed to watch the drama unfold from three different continents as a nomadic football fan. Starting off in Hong Kong, where I watched the World Cup get underway, I then flew to London for the first weekend of the World Cup before watching the rest of it in South America.

The adventure began in the first weekend of the World Cup, when Uruguay’s surprise defeat to Costa Rica gave the Ticos the UFWC title, which they managed to take all the way to the quarter finals, where they drew 0-0 with the Netherlands before losing on penalties. It was a superb performance from the Costa Rican underdogs, who conceded just two goals in five World Cup matches, all against higher ranked teams in the FIFA rankings. After the Netherlands, Argentina took the title, before Germany triumphed at the grand finale, the 2014 World Cup Final. And I was there to see it.

I watched the first UFWC World Cup match in London. Picture the scene – I’m in a crowded bar in Leicester Square watching Uruguay go 1-0 up against Costa Rica. Everyone knows what will happen. Uruguay will score another and will win the match. Wrong. The place erupts as Costa Rica score quick-fire goals to win 3-1. It was one of the biggest shocks of the World Cup, but the best was yet to come from the Ticos.

Next stop Brazil, where I attended the Brazil versus Mexico match in Fortaleza before setting off backpacking. By the time the Costa Rica versus Italy UFWC title match came around I was in the city of Macapa. It didn’t host the World Cup, but Macapa is a city with a cool claim to fame – it straddles the Equator. Even better – Macapa has a football stadium where one half of the pitch is in the northern hemisphere and the other half is in the southern hemisphere! As I crossed the Equator, we headed on a bus into the city centre where we watched the Costa Rica match in a licensed ice cream bar. It was just unreal. The Italians looked shell-shocked as Costa Rica did what they needed and won 1-0.

After Macapa, we crossed by boat into French Guyana with the idea of watching a France match there. On route to the town of St Laurent du Maroni we stopped for a night in Kourou. It was here that we watched Costa Rica win their group as they drew 0-0 with already eliminated England. The UFWC title would have left the World Cup if England had won, but Costa Rica carried it through to the round of 16.

We were in the unknown town of Parika in Guyana to watch Costa Rica versus Greece. We saw the crazy drama unfold as the only two foreigners in a bar called Fat Head’s, having the local Bank’s Beer. We all cheered on Costa Rica for the afternoon, and the Greeks went out on penalties.

Now we were into the quarter finals, where the Netherlands had to try and take the UFWC title from Costa Rica. They did it, but only just. After a frantic 90 minutes and a dramatic 30 minutes of extra time, the Netherlands won on penalties as an inspired substitution from Louis van Gaal led to goalkeeper Tim Krul saving two penalties.

The Costa Ricans were out, and the UFWC headed into the semi finals where the Netherlands would go head to head with Argentina. Astonishingly for the third match in succession, the UFWC title match was decided on penalties. We were staying in a social and lively hostel called Hostel Green House in Foz do Iguacu in Brazil, and we watched the drama unfold from there. This time Argentina triumphed to take the UFWC title, and secure a place in football’s main event. I had secure my place, too, with tickets for the World Cup Final, Germany versus Argentina.

It was a dream come true to attend the final. Even more so because it was held at Brazil’s famous Maracana Stadium. The day started early and we decided to get the Metro over to the Maracana before noon. The two hours before the closing ceremony were used to mingle with other fans, have a few beers and soak in the atmosphere. The buzz was just electric. There seemed to be three main nationalities present on the day – Brazilians, Germans and Argentinians. We met up with lots of them, as well as a small contingent of my Northern Irish countrymen, who had made the trip over despite the fact that we didn’t qualify.

The Brazilians seemed to side with the Germans on the day, and they had completely wiped out all trace of ‘the 7-1’ that their team had been subjected to. Their aim now was to watch the Germans beat their Argentine rivals by just as emphatic a scoreline. Of course Argentina didn’t lie down the way Brazil did. The match was a more even affair. Both teams went for it, but the defences held out. For a 0-0 match, it was entertaining right up to the end of the 90 minutes, and it was into extra time yet again.

A hero was needed and he arrived in the shape of Mario Goetze, who did to Argentina what Andres Iniesta had done to the Netherlands in 2010, scoring a second-half winner in extra time, latching onto a ball into the danger zone and slotting home with a fantastic finish. The goal was right in front of us. As it hit the net the place just erupted. There was more applause and happiness than dejection. The Brazilians couldn’t face the thought of Argentina winning the World Cup in the Maracana. Now they didn’t have to. The Germans had done enough and were worthy winners. The Argentines hung around in time to applaud their hero Lionel Messi, who had fallen short of what Maradona managed in 1986 but he still got the Golden Ball award.

As the Germany team took to the stage to celebrate, there was one thing they forgot – they were not just World Champions, they had also won the Unofficial World Championships. Two for the price of one. It’s now up to the Germans now to hold onto their title as they take it into the Euro 2016 Qualifiers.

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