As yesterday little San Marino and giants Italy met in the latest UFWC contest, our guest author Jonny Blair took some time (and effort!) to reflect on some relatively “smaller” countries who have contested, and even won the UFWC down the years!
Did you know that more countries have been UFWC champions than World Cup winners? And it’s by 40. Officially, 9 geographical countries have won the FIFA World Cup. 49 FIFA recognised countries have won the UFWC.
Not surprisingly, Uruguay are the most successful country in terms of population per win in both competitions. With 3.5 million people, they boast 26 wins in the UFWC history and 2 World Cup wins. Following not far behind are Croatia and Denmark. You could argue Croatia’s World Cup 2nd and 3rd are somewhat incredible, given that the country itself (in terms of current borders and legislation) is less than 30 years old. But for once, even Uruguay, Croatia and Denmark seem a bit too mainstream. It’s all about the San Marinos of the footballing world today.
However, as it’s all about the minnows, and the least populated countries, we had to draw the line somewhere. Therefore only countries with a population of less than 5 million will be considered in this debate, which rules out even Scotland who top the all time chart, and Slovakia also miss the cut.
Did you know that Northern Ireland are the smallest country in terms of population to ever reach the last 8 and the last 12 of the World Cup? The country has only 1.8 million people and yet has been in the last 8 of the World Cup and they are currently ranked 31st on the overall rankings.
But Northern Ireland can only take second place in the UFWC country size charts of previous winners, as Netherlands Antilles have previously won the trophy once in their three appearances. They are by far the smallest country to win the trophy, with a population of just over 300,000.
Of the 49 countries who have won the UFWC, these are the six smallest and most successful in terms of population.
Notable mentions to – Costa Rica, Bulgaria, Paraguay and Republic of Ireland.
However, yesterday a country with a population of 33,860 was in the focus, San Marino. San Marino is the smallest country in football history to boast a European Champion – Massimo Bonini, born in San Marino won the European Cup (now the Champions league) with Juventus in 1985.
San Marino's Piazza della libertà by Patrick on Unsplash
Here are some of the previous small countries, all who tried and failed to win the UFWC and have less than 5 million people.
Jamaica (2.9 million)
Jamaica lost 2-0 to Mexico in their last UFWC match in 2016 and have yet to lift the trophy. However, they did appear at the 1998 FIFA World Cup.
Trinidad and Tobago (1.4 million)
Trinidad and Tobago lost 3-1 to Uruguay in their last UFWC match in 2016 and have yet to lift the trophy. However, they did appear at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Slovenia (2 million)
Slovenia lost 2-0 to Uruguay in their last UFWC match in 2014 and have yet to lift the trophy. However, they did appear at the 2002 and 2010 FIFA World Cups.
Guam lost 5-0 to North Korea in 2012 and have also yet to lift the trophy. Guam have also never been at a major tournament.
Palestine (4.7 million)
Palestine lost 2-0 to North Korea in 2012 in their most recent UFWC match. Palestine have yet to qualify for a major tournament and have never won the UFWC.
Qatar (3 million)
Qatar will become the smallest World Cup host since Uruguay in 1930 when they host the 2022 tournament. They lost their most recent UFWC match in 2011, but it was a close match. They lost 3-2 to Japan in Doha. Qatar may not have won the UFWC yet, but they have been at major tournaments and will contest their first World Cup in 2022.
Kuwait (4.2 million)
Kuwait is an intriguing one. Did you know that famous French three time Balon D’Or winner Michel Platini played international football for Kuwait? Yes he did that in 1988, 6 years after playing against Kuwait at the 1982 World Cup. Kuwait were actually unlucky not to win the UFWC in 2012, when they drew 1-1 with North Korea in a match played in Taiwan.
Liechtenstein lost 4-0 to Spain in the UFWC in September 2010, just months after Spain won both the World Cup and the UFWC in the 2010 World Cup / UFWC final in South Africa. Liechtenstein have yet to win the UFWC or reach a major tournament.
Northern Macedonia (2 million)
Northern Macedonia / North Macedonia / The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia lost 4-0 to the Netherlands in 2009 in their most recent UFWC match. The country have qualified for Euro 2021, the first major tournament in their history, although North Macedonian born players have appeared at major tournaments before, for Yugoslavia.
Iceland lost 2-1 to The Netherlands in the UFWC in 2009 in a match that was played in Reykjavik and achieved a draw vs France in 2018. Iceland were at the 2016 European Championships and the 2018 World Cup, reaching the quarter finals in the former but they have yet to win the UFWC.
The Faroe Islands (48,678)
The Faroe Islands played against Italy in 2007 in their most recent UFWC match and lost narrowly 2-1, at home. They have yet to qualify for a major tournament or win the UFWC, however they have won the Island Games.
Officially “Montenegro” have been at major tournaments under two different names – Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro. However, since the independence of the country their best chance of glory was if they had beaten Hungary in their 2008 UFWC match. However, they drew 3-3 and therefore Hungary retained the trophy.
Cyprus (875, 899)
Cyprus lost 2-0 to Greece in 2008 in their most recent UFWC match. The country have never won the UFWC nor qualified for a major tournament.
Malta lost 5-0 to Greece in 2007 in their most recent UFWC match. The country have never won the UFWC nor qualified for a major tournament.
Moldova (2.7 million)
Moldova drew 1-1 in their UFWC match against Turkey in 2007 and they were defeated with 0-6 by currently reigning champions Italy last year. Moldova have yet to win the UFWC, nor reach a major tournament.
Bosnia-Herzegovina (3.3 million)
Bosnia-Herzegovina lost UFWC matches by 1-0 to Hungary in 2007 and 0-2 vs reigning champions Italy in November 2020. Bosnia-Herzegovina have yet to win the UFWC, but they did reach the 2014 World Cup.
Lithuania (2.79 million)
Lithuania appeared twice in UFWC matches in 2007 and just recently in March 2021 but lost both of them by 0-2 versus Italy. Lithuania have yet to win the UFWC, nor reach a major tournament.
Armenia (2.96 million)
Armenia lost 2-0 to Romania in their most recent UFWC in 2006. Armenia have yet to win the UFWC, nor reach a major tournament.
While we didn’t want to study all the countries of more than 5 million people (there are too many), here are some of the curious underdogs with a population between 5 and 10 million, all who tried to win the UFWC but either lost or drew.
Tajikistan (9.3 million)
Tajikistan played two UFWC matches in 2012, losing both times to North Korea. At the time, North Korea went on a long run as winners. Tajikistan have also lost 8-0 in a UFWC match and they are yet to qualify for a major tournament.
Turkmenistan (6 million)
Turkmenistan lost 2-1 to North Korea in the UFWC in 2012 in a match that was played in Kathmandu, Nepal. Turkmenistan have yet to qualify for a major tournament and have never won the UFWC.
Finland (5.5 million)
Finland lost 3-0 to Sweden in their last UFWC match in 2013 and have yet to lift the trophy. However, they will appear at Euro 2021, their first ever major tournament.
Hong Kong (7 million)
Hong Kong lost 4-0 to North Korea in their last UFWC match in 2012 and have also yet to lift the trophy. I was personally at that match and wrote the report about it here. Hong Kong have yet to appear at a major tournament.
While San Marino did not manage to beat Italy yesterday, at least they had a chance to play in a UFWC match and actually performend very well especially in the first half only conceeding the first goal after 31 minutes – a victory would have surely been one of the biggest upsets in football history.
About the author:
Jonny Blair is a travel writer, author, blogger, backpacker and football geek based in Poland. He can be found groundhopping around the world, as well as supporting Glentoran, Bournemouth and Northern Ireland.