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[FM20] - Experiment - Following the (Unofficial) World Champions

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For the first time in a year we go into a pair of UFWC fixtures with new champions. Poland played very well to win the title, but winning the gold is just half the battle. You then have to defend it. Austria are first in line, and if the title is successfully defended, the Netherlands are next.

Austria (17th in the rankings) haven't won a game yet in this group (one draw and three losses), including an unsuccessful UFWC challenge against Germany back in June, so form is not on their side.


Poland started as they meant to go on, taking the lead very early, A long ball was collected by Jozwiak on the left, he was shepherded to the byline, but then did well to beat his man and give the ball to Piatek to tap in at the near post. But it didn't last. Poland didn't take control of the first half and couldn't extend their lead, leaving the door open for Austria to pull themselves level. A corner was headed only back to the taker, Gregoritsch put in a better cross at the second attempt, and found Grillitsch who lashed home at the far post. Dawidowicz should have won the game late on for Poland, but unmarked at a free-kick, he could only put his header into the side netting.

MOTM: Florian Grillitsch (8.3)



The reward for Poland is a trip to the Netherlands (4th in the rankings). Historically the Dutch have a great record in UFWC competition, but Ronald Koeman's men have lost their last two title shots, the most recent just last month.


It was clear what gameplan both sides were bringing to the table in the first half, Poland trying to boss the game via possession while the Netherlands tried to take advantage on the counter. Neither approach proved effective though, with Poland having very little attacking play to show for their 65% possession, while the Dutch managed 13 shots, but with only three on target didn't really test Szcesny. The Netherlands took the game to Poland more in the second half, with almost constant pressure on the Polish goal, but between poor finishing and inspired defending from Bielik and Bednarek, Wojciech Szcesny was able to celebrate his 75th cap with a clean sheet.

MOTM: Hans Hateboer (7.2)



With two draws, albeit neither of them showcasing a particularly impressive performance, Poland come out of the month still the UFWC champions. Crucially though, no points are earned for draws, so they failed to move up the rankings at all. 

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2 hours ago, corinthiano said:

That's surprising, didn't think Poland would make it out of the two games still with the title!

The Netherlands have been a big letdown so far. Three title shots, three failed attempts. Only Belgium have wasted more opportunities since I started this, but at least they won once.


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We're so close to the World Cup now, as Qatar 2022 begins in just a few weeks. But before that we have a couple of friendlies to get through as each nation warms up for the big competition. Poland are taking on a couple of middle-Eastern opponents, with friendlies against Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. On first glance these look like two winnable matches, and while UFWC fans will be happy to see a couple of non-European nations finally getting a shot, they'll probably be hoping Poland get through them still holding the title. Why? Because neither of the opposition have made it to the World Cup. If anything goes wrong for the Poles here we'll see a major tournament without any UFWC action.

First up is Kuwait (unranked). They have very little UFWC history to call upon, never holding the title, drawing 1-1 with North Korea in their only shot back in 2012. With Yousef Nasser up front though (96 caps, 56 goals) they have a man always capable of scoring, including one in the recent 2-0 victory over India.


Kuwait turned up to try and play spoiler, to put as many men behind the ball as possible, and to try and frustrate Poland. It worked well... for about 15 minutes. Then they gave away a free-kick on the edge of the area, and Robert Gumny's clever chip over the top found Kamil Jozwiak to open the scoring. Jozwiak added a second just before the break, and it could well have been more, Arkadiusz Milik and Robert Lewandowski both hitting the woodwork. The second half offered no surprises. Within ten minutes of the re-start the scoreline had doubled, Milik and Lewandowski both scoring headers, before Jozwiak completed his hat-trick in the 68th minute.

MOTM: Kamil Jozwiak (9.6)



So the last challenge before the World Cup is the United Arab Emirates (unranked). Another side to have never held the title, their one opportunity was a losing effort against Russia back in 1995. The U.A.E. have had a perfect year so far in 2022, five wins from five, star man Ahmed Khalil netting four times in this run to reach 69 goals for his country.


The U.A.E. came out strong and had Poland rattled early, Omar Abdulrahman shooting just inches wide with Szczesny beaten. After surviving this initial pressure though Poland set about turning up the heat themselves, and it didn't take long for them to take the lead through Sebastian Szymanski. The Burnley midfielder had a great 45 minutes, adding to his goal with a couple of assists from set pieces, a free-kick volleyed in by Piotr Zielinski and a corner met by a header from Krystian Bielik. Ali Saleh was a man on a mission at the start of the second half, and although his first couple of mazy runs didn't lead to anything, the third saw his cross converted by Ali Mabkhout to give the U.A.E. a lifeline. And almost immediately after, they hit back again. Ahmed Khalil was felled in the area, and Mabkhout scored from the spot to make the score 3-2 with 40 minutes left. Poland just couldn't cope with the pace and trickery of Saleh as he kept troubling the defence, and the U.A.E. were so close to grabbing a late equaliser, but Szczesny made a cracking save low to his left in the final minute to prevent the unlikely comeback.

MOTM: Ali Makbhout (8.6)



So Poland just about make it through the two friendlies intact, with their third and fourth title defences in the bag. The first tie was very one-sided, but they were given a massive scare in the second. At half-time the game looked settled, but it would not have been an injustice had the U.A.E. managed to battle back and win. Nevertheless, Poland remain the UFWC champions and pick up two points, rising to joint 28th in the rankings.

Edited by DaneBramage
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It's here! We've finally made it to the biggest event in the footballing calendar, the World Cup! Hosted in Qatar the tournament is a lot later in the year due to the temperature, but barring a poorly timed loss in the group stages we should see a lot of UFWC action taking place over the next few weeks. 

Poland are on a decent run of successful defences with two wins and two draws since gaining the title, but have been drawn into an intriguing group. Frequent UFWC challengers the Netherlands look to be in line for another shot, along with the hosts Qatar, and Costa Rica.

Of course, there's no guarantee that each of these teams will even get a title shot. Depending on how results go it's entirely possible that either the Netherlands or Qatar are completely skipped, as seen in the permutations below.


The first challenge for Poland is Costa Rica (24th in the rankings). The central-Americans are actually directly ahead of Poland in the rankings at the moment, so if the Poles win they'll go equal on points. History may be on Costa Rica's side though, their last reign was during the 2014 World Cup, including a famous win over Italy.


On the half hour mark Robert Lewandowski missed a glorious chance to open the scoring. With the Costa Rican defence pressed back into their own area he pounced on a misplaced pass to give himself a one-on-one opportunity against Keylor Navas, but then shot straight at the keeper, A few minutes later he made no mistake though, reacting quickest to a low cross to poke home from inside the six yard box. The one-way traffic continued in the second half as Costa Rica went the whole game without a single shot. When they did eventually get forward and gain a free-kick in an attacking position it backfired on them. The ball into the box was headed clear, Bielik collected the ball and played a long pass forward to Lewandowski, and the striker charged forward to hit a powerful effort past Navas for his second of the game, and his 75th international goal.

MOTM: Robert Lewandowski (8.8)



And this means the next game for Poland is the Netherlands (4th in the rankings). The Dutch won their first group game over Qatar 1-0, but have a poor recent record in the UFWC with two unsuccessful shots already this year, including a 0-0 draw with Poland seven weeks ago.


Both Cillessen and Szczesny were forced into saves in the first half, a header from Fila and a long range effort from Hateboer needing their attention, but both saves were fairly routine for the keepers as the game went into the break 0-0, neither side looking particularly good. Depay almost broke the deadlock minutes into the second half, but after his 40 yard run his scorching effort flew just wide of the post. The Netherlands switched a to a more central approach, but that gave Poland space to exploit on the wings. Szymanski had oceans of room on the right, a one-two with Lewandowski left the covering defender on the floor, and Szymanski then fired unchallenged past Cillessen to open the scoring. The Dutch didn't offer much fight back and Poland easily saw the game out from here, the most action coming from the referee as five players were booked in the second half for a succession of niggly fouls.

MOTM: Sebestian Szymanski (8.1)



Which means that in the final group game Qatar (unranked) get a shot on home turf. With no previous UFWC success, just two losing encounters in 2011 and 1996, history isn't on their side, though they did earn a point against Costa Rica last time out.


It didn't take long for Poland to take the lead, with Wojciech Szczesny picking up a rare assist. After claiming the ball at a corner he got rid of the ball quickly, picking out Szymanski who timed his run nicely to stay onside before firing past Al-Sheeb. Qatar made it to half-time without conceding again though, Al-Sheeb making a sharp stop from Bogusz's low drive, to give the hosts a fighting chance in the second half. Qatar's best chance of the game came halfway through the second period, but Boudiaf's header was safely caught by Szczesny. And again a quick ball from the keeper punished Qatar. Szczesny released Arkadiusz Milik, who played the ball forward to Lewandowski in the centre circle. Lewandowski used his strength to hold the ball up, and when Milik continued his run forward, played a precision through ball for him to control with one touch, round the keeper with the second, and knock over the line with the third. The Qatari fans continued supporting their team to the very end, but even they were silenced in the 93rd minute when a bit of goalmouth pinball saw Linetty poke home a third Polish goal.

MOTM: Arkadiusz Milik (8.3)



A perfect group stage for Poland! Three games, three wins, three successful title defences, and they qualify top of the group with ease. Their UFWC title reign is going from strength to strength as that's now seven title defences, and the Poles have shot up the rankings up to 21st place. If we're looking at just the modern era (when I started in September 2019 to present) they're now the third most successful team, only Germany and Spain have done better.

Meanwhile, the recent history of the Netherlands has gotten even more miserable. That's their third failed attempt this year, and the fourth of the modern era.

Edited by DaneBramage
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After qualifying top of the group Poland have been rewarded by avoiding one of the big buys in the second round, drawing the U.S.A. instead. But if they get through that tougher challenges are almost certainly ahead, with recent UFWC champions Portugal, Germany, and Spain all on the horizon. On the other side of the bracket, the Netherlands will be desperate to redeem themselves, but will need to get to the final to do so.

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Surprised to see Poland beat the Netherlands! If we are going to go with predictions I would say Poland beats US, then loses to Portugal, who in turn lose it to one of Germany/England/Spain.

Of course as I make the prediction the US will go and beat Poland and make everything else void haha.


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Poland are on a great run of form, but how long can it last? Since winning the title the Poles have made seven successful title defences, and momentum is really on their side with three wins already during the World Cup. Their next challenger is the U.S.A. (41st in the rankings), but few people would bet on an American win here. The Yanks hardly excelled in the group stage, winning one, drawing one, and losing the other, but still managed to make it through due to how bad their opponents were. Gyasi Zardes scored a brace against Belgium, so American hopes will be resting on him to try and win back the UFWC crown for the first time in 30 years.

Whoever makes it through will face Serbia or Portugal in the quarter-final.


Against all expectations the United States made a great start, a nicely worked move ending up with Tyler Adams unmarked in the box to slot home. It should have been two shortly after, but with time on the ball Pulisic put a really weak effort into Szczesny's arms. Poland came on strong as the first half progressed and the Americans were thankful to their keeper that they could go in at the break one-nil up, as Zack Steffen made a couple of great saves from Jozwiak and Lewandowski.

After the break Poland continued to apply the pressure, and ten minutes later they scored the equaliser. A cross came in and with his back to the goal Szymanski chested the ball down for the incoming Piotr Zielinski to hit a daisy cutter into the bottom corner. America then went to five at the back and successfully withstood the Polish attack, taking the game to extra-time. At this point the Americans suddenly became the attacking side, Pulisic twice hitting the post, but neither side could score again so the game went to penalties. And on his 50th international appearance, Zack Steffen was the all-American hero. Two penalty saves later, Poland are out and the U.S.A. are through. And more importantly, they're the new UFWC champions!

MOTM: Piotr Zielinski (8.3)



A surprise result, as Poland's run comes to a screeching halt. With Steffen on inspired form in goal the U.S.A. were able to hold on for 120 minutes, then hold their nerve from the spot. They begin their third reign as champions, and earn their third point to jump up to joint 38th in the rankings.

There's very little rest for the victors though. In six days time they're straight into the quarter-finals where they'll be taking on Portugal (29th in the rankings). Portugal last held the title for a month in the summer of 2020 and have been a formidable presence at the World Cup so far, with 10 goals scored and none conceded in their four wins so far.


The first big chance of the game fell to Felix, having raced up the pitch with the ball he selfishly shot into the side netting from a tight angle, ignoring a couple of teammates in better positions. Almost immediately he'd have been rueing that decision, as from the resulting goal-kick Christian Pulisic found himself one-on-one with Maximiano, and he put the ball just past the keeper's outstretched leg. It was very unlucky not to be two just minutes later, as Pulisic's free-kick was headed on to the post by McKennie, and the ball rolled along the line before being booted clear by Dias. Pulisic was at the centre of everything as the American attack assaulted the Portuguese goal, but the U.S. couldn't find a second and instead Portugal found an equaliser against the run of play. A Fernandes free-kick from deep was missed by Steffen, who'd made the wrong decision to come out and try and claim it, and was instead met by a looping header from Ferro into the far corner. Just before the break there was another blow, McKennie tripping Vinagre on the halfway line to prevent a breakaway, and picking up a second yellow card for his troubles. 

The second half saw Portugal camped out in the American half, and it was just a matter of time before they made their numerical advantage count. This came from another free-kick, Rafa's setpiece from the right being met by an unmarked Bernardo Silva at the far post. Rafa then got on the scoresheet himself, in the right place at the right time to tap into an empty net after Steffen could only parry Semedo's long range effort. On his 50th appearance for Portugal Bruno Fernandes added the final goal of the game, converting from the spot after Rafa had been felled in the area.

MOTM: Bernardo Silva (8.1)



U.S.A. looked good value for the win in the first half, but when they went down to ten men the tables turned and they didn't stand a chance. They're run as champions was over almost as soon as it had started. Portugal made the man advantage count in style, picking up a dominant win to earn their eighth UFWC point, rising up to 25th in the rankings and beginning their fourth reign as champions.

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As we get to the business end of the competition we're left with four big boys of world football remaining. Current UFWC champions Portugal take on Spain in one semi-final, while on the other side of the draw the Netherlands take on Brazil

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On 27/10/2020 at 09:19, corinthiano said:

Surprised to see Poland beat the Netherlands! If we are going to go with predictions I would say Poland beats US, then loses to Portugal, who in turn lose it to one of Germany/England/Spain.

Of course as I make the prediction the US will go and beat Poland and make everything else void haha.


Of course that was going to happen haha

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After smashing the U.S.A. in the quarter-finals to take the UFWC crown Portugal are in their fourth reign as champions, but have been thrown in at the deep end with Spain (12th in the rankings) as their first challengers in the semi-finals. Spain last held the title from October 2020 to March 2021, and only lost at this time on penalties. Their run through the group stages and early knockout rounds was quite straightforward, but they had to beat England 2-1 in the quarter-finals.

The winners of this tie will go on to face either the Netherlands or Brazil in the final.


Portugal opened the scoring with the first attack of the game. A Bruno Fernandes throughball found Gelson Martins out on the right, and his cross was headed in by Joao Felix. Just before the half hour mark there was an equaliser. Spain worked the ball into midfield before Munir played a long diagonal into the box. It looked like the long pass wasn't good enough, falling behind Ansu Fati, but the Barcelona wonderkid twisted on the spot to catch the ball on the half-volley, hitting an amazing acrobatic shot that left Maximiano routed to the spot. 

Before the break Rafa wasted a couple of chances for Portugal, but in the second half Spain were much stronger, with the best chances falling to Isco (hitting the bar from a free-kick) and Oyarzabal (blazing over after a goalmouth scramble). And it was Spain who finally made the breakthrough to secure the win. Seconds after the linesman had raised a board to indicate three minutes of stoppage time, an Isco free-kick from the left was launched at the far post, where Saul outmuscled Dias to head home.

MOTM: Ansu Fati (8.3)



For a third game in a row we have new champions, as Portugal follow the lead of the U.S.A. in failing to defend the title even once. Spain have become the UFWC champions for a 7th time, and have earned their 25th point.

In the other semi-final Brazil (7th in the rankings) triumphed with a 1-0 win over the Netherlands. Brazil have made it this far in the competition with six wins and 16 goals so far, and haven't lost a game in over two years. It's been a little while since Brazil last held the title (October 2014-October 2015), and since then they've only had one shot (a draw with Uruguay in 2016).


The first half was a bit of a stalemate as their two sides cancelled each other out. Spain struggled to get the ball into the Brazil half, while Brazil were happy to sit back and not push forward themselves, just taking possession from Spain in the middle third and then keeping a hold of it. There was one chance for Brazil to score when Neymar pounced on a loose pass from Odriozola, but his effort was straight at De Gea.

The game finally opened up in the second half after a number of substitutions had taken place. Both sides started throwing men forward and either team could have gone ahead first. But it was Spain who got the opening goal. Saul found Koke on the edge of the Brazil box, he dummied one way to throw his defender off balance, then dipped the other way and curled an effort around Alisson into the bottom corner. With just a few minutes left there was a tight call when Munir tripped Sandro. The decision went to VAR, and after multiple replays a free-kick was awarded on the edge of the area, and not the penalty Brazil were hoping for. Neymar stepped up, but put his free-kick into row Z. Spain refused to play safe football to hold onto the one goal lead and continued attacking, and Brazil will have Alisson to thank that the scoreline was kept respectable. Good saves were made from Busquets, Munir, and Morata; without Alisson they could have been embarrassed. This turned out to be a double celebration for Saul (his 50th cap) and Sergio Ramos (his 150th cap).

MOTM: Koke (8.1)



A hard-fought win for Spain and they've ended the run of champions losing the title on their first defence. With this they've earned their 26th UFWC point and gone joint 11th in the rankings (with Uruguay).

Edited by DaneBramage
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There were 17 UFWC encounters taking place during 2022, with 13 different nations getting a shot at the title. With the World Cup happening late in the year there was finally plenty of opportunities for sides outside of Europe to be involved, but ultimately the year ended with the title still in Europe.

Germany came into 2022 as champions and with four consecutive 2-0 wins it looked like they could be set to hold onto the title for a long time. One of these wins was against Poland, but the Poles learned from this game and when they faced the Germans again a few months later they convincingly won 3-1 to take the UFWC crown. Between the pre-tournament friendlies and the World Cup itself games came thick and fast, and Poland swiftly earned seven successful defences. But when the knockout stages began the title turned into a hot potato.

Poland lost to the U.S.A. in the second round, the U.S.A. lost to Portugal in the quarter-finals, and Portugal then lost to Spain in the semi-finals. That was the first time in this modern era that the title changed hands three games in a row. But Spain stopped this streak in the final with a first successful defence of the current reign.


Five different nations earned UFWC points this year, but not many of them made large moves up the rankings. Germany earned four points to reduce the gap to the Netherlands, but were not able to overhaul them. Spain earned two points to go from 12th to joint 11th, and as current champions they'll fancy themselves to enter the top ten in 2023.

The one point earned by the U.S.A. helped them rise from joint 41st to joint 38th, while the one point earned by Portugal saw them make the small jump from joint 28th to joint 25th. The big movers though were Poland. With six points won this year they've leapt from joint 35th up to 21st.




Edited by DaneBramage
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I've put together a table of all nations that have been involved in UFWC action since I started this save. Germany are the runaway leaders at the moment, though they did have the advantage of coming in as champions back in 2019. That being said, even if the six points earned during that initial reign were removed they'd still be top. Spain, Portugal, and Poland have all had strong runs as champions too. Switzerland are the best of the rest, though with only two points from six games and a terrible goal difference this does flatter them a bit. They've just happened to come good at the right times, with their points coming from the Euro 2020 semi-final and final, while they had three unsuccessful shots at the title at other points in the year.

At the other end of the table there are four teams that have had more than one shot at the UFWC title without winning it. Austria, Denmark, and Azerbaijan can be excused as they may not have been expected to win any of their attempts, but below them is the biggest disappointment of all. The Netherlands have had a truly awful time in UFWC action over the last three and a half years, coming up short on four occasions during this time, including three times during 2022 alone.


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