On Tuesday, the English national team will step into Estadio Mineirao for a shot at international glory. Well, sort of.
Though they have been eliminated from World Cup group play, a win against Costa Rica in their final group match will give The Three Lions their 21st UFWC title.
UFWC stands for the Unofficial Football World Championships. The international competition puts teams against one another in continuous “boxing-style” title matches. The winning nation becomes the new champion, just as they would in boxing or MMA. Any FIFA-sanctioned match involving a title holder’s “A” team counts as a title defense, whether it be a World Cup match or a friendly. If a title matches ends in a draw, the defending champion retains the title. Two-legged playoffs are treated like individual matches, so it’s possible for defending champions to win on aggregate, but still lose the title by losing the second leg and vice versa.
Freelance journalist Paul Brown wrote about the title in a 2004 issue of FourFourTwo magazine, but its history traces back to the first international soccer match, England vs. Scotland, in 1872. While it ended in a 0-0 draw, England emerged victorious in their next meeting and became the first UFWC title holder. Since the first 98 title matches were between nations of the British Isles, Scotland and England are well ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to the number of title matches and title reigns.
The title has changed hands 219 times between 48 different nations. Costa Rica won the title in their 3-1 win against Uruguay last week. It’s only their second title reign ever and first since 1962. Should England win Tuesday, it will be their first title since 2000.
The World Cup title may be out of the question for England, but they still have a shot at making unofficial history.
A few other UFWC notes:
- The U.S. has won the title twice, with the first coming from their classic 1950 World Cup win over England.
- Uruguay’s loss shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise—the country that enters the World Cup as the UFWC champion has never remained champion all the way through the tournament. Only the Netherlands has entered the tournament as the champion and made the final (1974, 2010).
- Should Costa Rica defeat England, they’ll likely face Ivory Coast — currently second in Group C — in the Round of 16. The Ivorians have never held the UFWC title and would become just the fourth African nation to do so.