Dec 14

Sorry England, but Japan are unofficial football world champions

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England’s win over World Cup holders Spain yesterday kicked off a light-hearted debate, particularly on Twitter, regarding football’s unofficial champions. Some English fans, including journalists and TV personalities, suggested that the win over the official champions made England “unofficial champions”. Plenty of other fans chipped in to point out that, in fact, the unofficial champions were Japan. Many were kind enough to point folk in our direction. So here’s a brief introduction to the Unofficial Football World Championships.

First of all, if you’re new to the UFWC, what on Earth is it about? Basically it’s an alternative way of working out the best team in the world. It works in a continuous boxing-style title match system, where winners of title matches become title holders and champions, and move up the rankings. The UFWC goes right back to the very first international match in 1872, 58 years before the first World Cup. You can find a lot more information in our Beginner’s Guide to the UFWC.

Of course the UFWC is primarily just a bit of fun, and FIFA has kindly acknowledged the tournament as such. But it also fills in that long four-year gap between World Cup finals, and it turns seemingly meaningless friendlies and “dead rubber” qualifying matches into exciting cup finals. One of the most appealing aspects of the UFWC is that the title can be won and lost over the course of every single match. As a result there have been some incredible shock results and some very unlikely champions. You can find lots of great stories form the UFWC’s 139-year lineage here on this site and in the UFWC book.

The current Unofficial Football World Champions are Japan. The Japanese reign began last October with a 1-0 win over previous champions Argentina (the Argentinians having previously beaten official champions Spain). Japan have now gone 16 games unbeaten as UFWC champions, and have retained the title for more than 12 months.

For the record, the last time England were unofficial champions was in June 2000, at the European Championships when they beat beat Germany 1-0. You can read a history of England in the UFWC here. Of course, if a rumoured friendly match between England and Japan in early 2012 is confirmed, England may get the chance to become unofficial champions again very soon…

The UFWC also operates an all-time ranking system, in which teams are awarded one point for each title match win. Perhaps surprisingly, the team at tops the all-time rankings is Scotland, followed by England in second place. This is largely because those two nations dominated international football in the years that preceded the first World Cup. Argentina are third, followed by the Netherlands and Russia. You can see the full list at the UFWC Rankings Table.

The next UFWC title match, this Tuesday 15 November, sees champions Japan take on challengers North Korea. The two sides last played each other in September, when Japan narrowly won 1-0 courtesy of an injury-time goal. This rematch, in North Korea, is likely to be even tougher for Japan. So there is a chance that from Tuesday the unofficial football world champions may be North Korea… The match kicks off at 7am GMT, and we’ll have full coverage right here, starting with a match preview on Monday.

If you’d like to read more about the UFWC, the book UFWC T-shirt too…) And you can keep up with all things UFWC by following us on Twitter or joining us on Facebook.

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