Soccer is the most popular sport in the world – not many sporting fans would argue with this. No other sport has demonstrated the capacity to capture the world’s imagination like soccer has over the years. And the World Cup Soccer can be considered the exhibition of everything good that soccer has to offer.
The tournament, held every four years, has produced several unforgettable moments for sports fans. It has also acted as the launching pad for numerous future super-stars.
After the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament is undoubtedly the biggest spectacle in the world of sports. It is also the most expensive and the most viewed single-sport event in the world.
As of the 2018 edition, 17 countries have hosted the World Cup, and 79 different nations have participated in it. Need another stat about soccer’s global appeal? A total of 204 national teams entered the qualification phase of the 2010 World Cup.
This article looks at the history of soccer’s major tournament, starting from the first edition in 1930. We also take a look at the significant facts and records regarding the World Cup.
1930 World Cup
The 1930 World Cup Soccer was the inaugural edition of FIFA’s flagship tournament. Uruguay, who had won Gold in the 1928 Olympics, was selected as the host. Only 13 teams – seven from South America, four from Europe, and two from North America – accepted FIFA’s open invitation to participate in the tournament. Three different stadiums, all situated in Montevideo, were used to host the 1930 World Cup. With a capacity of 90,000, Estadio Centenario was the primary stadium, and it was specially built for the tournament. It was used to host both semifinals and the final. In the final, the hosts defeated Argentina 4-2 to lift the trophy. Pablo Dorado, Jose Pedro Cea, Victoriano Iriarte, and Hector Castro scored for Uruguay, whereas Carlos Peucelle and Guillermo Stabile were on target for Argentina.
Stabile also finished the tournament as the top goalscorer with eight goals. The last surviving participant of the inaugural World Cup final in 1930 was Francisco “Pancho” Varallo, who died at the age of 100 in 2011.
1934 World Cup
Italy hosted the 1934 World Cup. Hence it’s the first FIFA World Cup to be held in Europe. It is also the first World Cup to have a qualification phase. A total of 32 teams entered the qualification, and 16 qualified for the final tournament. Standing champions Uruguay refused to participate in protest of European teams who had refused to travel to the Cup four years ago. The final line-up consisted of 12 nations from Europe, two from South America, and one from North America and Africa. Egypt became the first nation to represent Africa. Eight different cities hosted the tournament.
The FIFA world cup final was contested between Italy and Czechoslovakia at Stadio Nazionale PNF, Rome. Fifty-five thousand spectators were in attendance as the hosts claimed a 2-1 win after extra time. Antonin Puc scored the first goal for Czechoslovakia. However, Raimundo Orsi equalized in the 81st minute, and Angelo Schiavio won it in extra time for the hosts.
Oldřich Nejedlý (Czechoslovakia) was the top scorer with five goals.
1938 World Cup
The 1938 FIFA World Cup took place in France. For the first time, the hosts and the defending champions were granted automatic qualification. Argentina and Uruguay declined participation because European nations had hosted consecutive tournaments, while Spain couldn’t partake because of a Civil War. Austria qualified, but Germany annexed them before the tournament. Hence, the tournament was played by 15 nations – 12 from Europe and one from Asia, North America, and South America each. This World Cup saw first-and-only appearances from Cuba and Indonesia (then Dutch East Indies).
A total of 10 venues in nine cities were used to host the World Cup Soccer. The final was played between Italy and Hungary at Stade Olympique de Colombes, Paris. Forty-five thousand soccer fans watched as the Italians claim a 4-2 win, courtesy of braces from Gino Colaussi and Silvio Piola. Pal Titkos and Gyorgy Sarosi were on target for Hungary.
It was the first World Cup to feature the third place-playoff, which ended in a 4-2 Brazil win over Sweden. Leônidas (Brazil) was the top scorer with seven goals.
The Cup was played under the looming shadow of WWII, and it took another 12 years for the next edition to take place.
1950 World Cup
Following a 12-year-hiatus, World Cup Soccer returned with Brazil as hosts. Several countries from South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia withdrew from the tournament. Eventually, only 13 teams participated in the 1950 tournament. This Cup marked England’s (or of any home nation’s) first appearance. It was also the first televised World Cup Soccer. Six venues were selected to host the tournament. Organizers adapted a different tournament structure – wherein teams were divided into four groups in the first round. Group winners were then put together in another group to fight for the trophy. Hence, this was also the only World Cup not to have a one-game final. In the final group, Uruguay emerged as Champions, and Brazil finished as runners-up. Spain and Sweden completed the top four respectively.
With eight goals, Ademir, of Brazil, finished the tournament as the top scorer and Juan Alberto Schiaffano finished second with 5 goals.
1954 World Cup
The focus shifted to Europe once again as Switzerland was selected as host. The 1954 World Cup Soccer marked first-time appearances from South Korea, Turkey, and Scotland. South Korea was the first independent Asian country to feature in the FIFA World Cup. Six stadiums in six different cities were used to host the event. The tournament returned to the previous format of a mix of round-robin and knockout games. However, extra time was employed even in group games.
This World Cup is remembered for the Golden Generation of Hungary, which featured legends like Ferenc Puskas and Sándor Kocsis. The Hungarians made it to the final, but they were defeated by West Germany 4-2. The final is remembered as the Miracle of Bern. Sixty-two thousand five hundred were in attendance at Wankdorf Stadium as West Germany claimed a win in rain-soaked conditions. Maximilian Marlock and Helmut Rahn (x2) found the target to join the World Cup winners list after Puskas and Czibor had given an early 2-0 lead to the Hungarians.
In the third-place game, Austria defeated Uruguay 3-1. Kocsis of Hungary claimed the Golden Boot with 11 goals.
1958 World Cup
The 1958 World Cup soccer tournament stayed in Europe as Sweden was selected as the next host. The likes of Italy, Uruguay, Spain, and Belgium were notable absentees. This World Cup also witnessed first appearances from Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Soviet Union.
The Cup was contested between 12 nations from Europe and four from South America. Twelve different venues were used to host the tournament. This event propelled Pele (17-year-old then) onto the world stage. In the final, held at Råsunda Stadium – Solna, Brazil registered a 5-2 win over the hosts. 49,737 people were in attendance for the game.
Pele(x2), Vava(x2), and Mario Zagallo scored for the winners, and Nils Liedholm and Tore Simonsson were on target for the Swedes. France defeated West Germany to claim the third spot. Just Fontaine (France) bagged 13 goals to be the top goalscorer.
1962 World Cup
For its seventh edition, the 1962 World Cup moved back to South America. This time to Chile. All participating nations were either from Europe or the Americas. Unfortunately, this tournament was marred by a toxic atmosphere on and off the pitch. The opening game between the hosts and Italy later became famous as the Battle of Santiago. Four different venues were used to host the tournament. The final took place between defending champions Brazil and Czechoslovakia, at Estadio Nacional – Santiago. The Brazilians defended their title with a 3-1 win in front of 68,679 fans. Amarildo, Zito, and Vavá scored for the hosts, and Josef Masopust replied one for Czechoslovakia. Chile defeated Yugoslavia 1-0 in the third-place playoff.
Flórián Albert, Garrincha, Valentin Ivanov, Dražan Jerković, Leonel Sánchez and Vavá were joint top-scorers with four goals each.
1966 World Cup
In 1966, England became the first English-speaking country to host the World Cup. North Korea and Portugal made their debuts while thirty-one African nations boycotted it due to the lack of guaranteed places for their continent. Eight different venues were used to host the event, with Wembley Stadium being the largest. The hosts faced off against West Germany in the final, attended by 96,924 spectators at Wembley. Alf Ramsey’s Three Lions registered a 4-2 win after extra time. Sir Geoffrey Hurst scored a hat-trick, including a brace in the extra time. Martin Peters scored the remaining goal for the hosts. For West Germany, Helmut Haller and Wolfgang Webber found the net in standard time. In the third-place playoff, Portugal won 2-1 against the Soviet Union.
Eusebio of Portugal was the standout performer and won the Golden Boot with nine goals.
1970 World Cup
Mexico hosted the ninth edition of 1970 World Cup Soccer. It was the first World Cup to be held outside of Europe and South America. El Salvador, Israel, and Morocco made their debuts. The tournament is remembered for its attacking and free-flowing football. With Pelé, Clodoaldo, Gérson, Jairzinho, Rivellino, and Tostão, the Brazilian side is still considered by many as the best football team to have played in World Cups.
Five different venues were used to host the event, and the final was played at Estadio Azteca, Mexico City. In front of a record 107,412-strong crowd, the Brazilians claimed their third FIFA World Cup as they demolished Italy 4-1. Pepe, Gerson, Jairzinho, and Carlos Alberto scored for the winners, and Roberto Boninsegna scored a consolation goal. West Germany defeated Uruguay 1-0 to claim the third spot.
Gerd Muller of West Germany claimed the Golden Boot with ten goals.
1974 World Cup
West Germany won the rights to host the 1974 World Cup Soccer. A new format was tried at this World Cup. The first round remained as before, but the quarter-finals and the semifinals were replaced by a round-robin format consisting of two groups of four teams each. The winners of these two groups played each other in the final. This Cup saw debuts from Australia, East Germany, Haiti, and Zaire.
The 1974 edition is remembered for the Total Football demonstrated by the Dutch side and the emergence of Johan Cryuff. The event was held in over nine different venues. In the final, the hosts defeated the Dutch side 2-1.
75,200 spectators watched the game at Olympiastadion, Munich. Johannes Neeskens gave an early lead to the Dutch via penalty. However, Paul Breitner soon equalized via penalty, and Gerd Muller won it for the hosts. Poland defeated Brazil 1-0 in the third-place playoff.
Grzegorz Lato of Poland lifted the Golden Boot with seven goals.
1978 World Cup
The 1978 World Cup moved back to South America as Argentina claimed the rights to host the 11th edition. It was the last World Cup soccer to feature 16 teams, as FIFA expanded the size to 24 from the next edition.
This tournament was overshadowed by the military coup that took place in 1976 and the subsequent dictatorship in Argentina. As a result, this edition is also infamously known as the Dirtiest World Cup of All Time.
The tournament was held in over six venues in five cities. In the final, played at Estadio Monumental – Buenos Aires, Argentina acquired a 3-1 win over the Ernst Happel Netherlands after extra time. Mario Kempes scored two – once in normal-time and once in extra-time. Ricardo Bertoni also found the net in extra time. Dirk Nanninga scored the only goal for the Dutch. Meanwhile, Brazil defeated Italy 2-1 in the third-place match.
Kempes was the top scorer with six goals.
1982 World Cup
Spain hosted the 1982 FIFA World Cup. The Cup featured 24 teams, and Algeria, Cameroon, Honduras, Kuwait, and New Zealand made their debuts. This was the last World Cup to feature a round-robin system in the second stage.
The event was held in over 17 stadiums in 14 different cities. All the semi-finalists were European. Italy defeated West Germany 3-1 in the final to win their third World Cup. The final was played at Santiago Bernabeu, in Madrid, in front of 90,000 spectators. Paolo Rossi, Marco Tardelli, and Alessandro Altobelli scored for Azzurri and Paul Breitner scored one for the West Germans. Poland defeated France 3-2 to claim the Bronze.
Paolo Rossi also won the Golden Boot with six goals.
1986 World Cup
Mexico was selected to host its Second World Cup. The number of participating nations remained 24, but the structure was altered to allow round-of-16 knockout games for the first time. Canada, Denmark, and Iraq made their first appearances in the tournament.
This tournament is remembered for the brilliance of Diego Maradona, who scored the ‘Hand of God’ goal and the famous solo goal against England in the quarter-finals. The event played over 12 venues in 11 cities, also witnessed the phenomenon of the Mexican Wave.
Argentina defeated West Germany 3-2 in the final at Estadio Azteca, Mexico City. A record 114,600 spectators were in the stadium. Jose Brown, Jorge Valdano, and Jorge Burruchaga scored for Argentina. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Rudi Voller got the goals for West Germany. In the third-place playoff, France defeated Belgium 4-2 after extra time.
Gary Lineker of England won the Golden Boot with six goals in the 1986 World Cup tournament.
1990 World Cup
Italy hosted the 1990 FIFA World Cup soccer festival. The likes of West Germany, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia made their last appearances as the event was soon followed by the fall of the Eastern European Block. Costa Rica, Ireland, and the UAE made their debuts.
This World Cup was regarded poorly in terms of football played, and it still holds the record for the least goals scored. Subsequently, it led to the introduction of the back-pass rule and three points for a win. It was also the first World Cup to be televised on HDTV. The event was hosted over 12 different venues in 12 cities.
In the final, West Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 to lift their third title. The final was played at Stadio Olimpico, Rome, in front of 73,603 spectators. Andreas Brehme scored the only goal from the penalty spot. In the third-place match, Italy defeated Bobby Robson’s England team 2-1.
Salvatore Schillaci of Italy won the Golden Boot with six goals.
1994 World Cup
The USA hosted the 1994 World Cup. It is considered the most successful World Cup so far, and it attracted a record number of spectators. The tournament welcomed three debutants – Greece, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia. In addition, a unified German national team took part for the first time since 1938, and Russia also made its first appearance following the dissolution of the USSR.
Nine different cities hosted the event. Due to stadiums with large capacities, this World Cup set several viewing records. The final was held at Rose Bowl, Pasadena, and 94,194 fans attended it. Brazil defeated Italy on penalties after the game had ended goalless after extra time. In the third-place playoff, Sweden won 4-0 against Bulgaria.
Hristo Stoichkov (Bulgaria) and Oleg Salenko (Russia) scored six goals to share the Golden Boot.
1998 World Cup
The 1998 FIFA World Cup, hosted by France, was the first to feature 32 nations. As a result, Croatia, Jamaica, Japan, and South Africa debuted in World Cup Soccer. This edition also witnessed the introduction of the Golden Goal rule.
Ten different venues were used to host the tournament. Zinedine Zidane-led France defeated Brazil 3-0 in the final to win their first World Cup. The final was played at Stade de France, Paris, and was watched by 80,000 spectators. Zidane scored a brace in the first half, and Emmanuel Petit added another in injury-time. In the third-place playoff, Croatia defeated the Netherlands 2-0.
Davor Šuker of Croatia scored six goals to claim the Golden Boot.
2002 World Cup
South Korea and Japan co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup. It was the first World Cup to be organized outside of Europe and the Americas and the first to be co-hosted by multiple nations. China, Ecuador, Senegal, and Slovenia qualified for the first time, whereas the Netherlands were the notable absentees.
The entire tournament was held in 20 different venues in two countries. On the back of some controversial results, South Korea reached the semifinals and became the first country outside Europe and the Americas. The final was fought between Brazil and Germany at International Stadium Yokohama. Sixty-nine thousand twenty-nine fans watched as Ronaldo-led Brazil comfortably claimed a 2-0 win and won their fifth title. Ronaldo, who scored both goals in the final, also claimed the Golden Boot with eight goals in total. In the third-place playoff, Turkey defeated South Korea 3-2.
2006 World Cup
Germany won the right to host the 18th edition. The tournament was held in 12 venues. Angola, Czech Republic, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Ukraine, Serbia, and Montenegro debuted at the FIFA tournament.
Germany was the favorite to win, but they crashed out to Italy in the semifinal after injury-time. Italy and France made it to the final at Olympiastadion, Berlin. In front of 69,000 spectators, Italy won the game on penalties after the match had ended 1-1. Zinedine Zidane scored from the spot in the 7th-minute, and Italy equalized through Marco Materazzi in the 19th-minute. In the extra time, Zidane was sent off for his infamous headbutt on Materazzi. In the third-place showoff, Germany defeated Portugal 3-1.
Miroslav Klose of Germany claimed the Golden Boot with five goals in the 2006 World Cup tournament.
2010 World Cup
The hosting rights of the 2010 World Cup were granted to South Africa. This was the first World Cup to be held in the continent of Africa. The tournament was held in 10 different venues in nine cities.
Newly formed nations of Slovakia and Serbia made their debuts at the FIFA spectacle. North Korea qualified for its second appearance at a World Cup. Spain was the favorite to win the tournament, and they lived up to the billing by claiming an extra-time 1-0 win over the Netherlands in the final. The FIFA World Cup final was played at Soccer City (Johannesburg), in front of 84,490 people. Andres Iniesta scored the only goal of the game. In the third-place playoff, Germany defeated Uruguay 3-2.
Diego Forlan, Thomas Muller, Wesley Sneijder, and David Villa scored five goals each to share the tournament’s top goalscorer honor.
2014 World Cup
Brazil was selected as host of the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament. And for the first time since 1978, the most important event in world soccer moved to South America.
The tournament was organized over 12 different venues in 12 cities. Bosnia and Herzegovina were the only debutants among 32 teams. In one of the semifinals, Germany famously defeated Brazil 7-1. In the final, they went on to beat Argentina 1-0 after extra time. The final was played at Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro. Seventy-four thousand seven hundred thirty-eight spectators were in attendance to witness Mario Goetze win the Cup for Germany in extra time. By doing so, Germany became the first European nation to win the World Cup in the Americas. In the third-place playoff, the Netherlands defeated Brazil 3-0.
James Rodriguez of Colombia claimed the Golden Boot with six goals.
2018 World Cup
In 2018, Russia became the latest European nation to get the privilege of hosting soccer’s premier tournament. The tournament was held in 12 venues in 11 cities.
Iceland and Panama became the newest nations to appear in the FIFA World Cup. Star-studded France won their second World Cup with a 4-2 win over Croatia in the final. The final was held at Luzhniki Stadium (Moscow) with 78,011 spectators in the stands. Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic scored for both sides. Besides Mandzukic’s own goal, Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, and Kylian Mbappe were also on target for France. Meanwhile, Ivan Perisic scored the second for Croatia. In the third-place playoff, Belgium defeated England 2-0
England striker Harry Kane claimed the Golden Boot with six strikes for the Three Lions in the World
2022 World Cup
Most World Cup Soccer Wins
A total of eight different nations have won the most prestigious trophy in International Soccer. South American powerhouse Brazil leads the pack with five trophy wins. They are the only nation to have participated in every edition of the tournament so far.
They are closely followed by European giants Germany and Italy, both of whom have four titles.
Argentina, France, and Uruguay have won the honors on two occasions each. England and Spain have succeeded once.
The FIFA World Cup is not won by a nation, not in Europe or South America. In the battle between Europe and South America, European countries currently lead 12-9.
Brazil leads the way with 73 wins in terms of games won, followed by Germany with 67 wins. Italy is third with 45 wins.
World Cup Soccer Attendances
FIFA World Cup 1994, hosted by the United States, is the most successful World Cup. The tournament attracted a record number of spectators, partially helped by the above-average capacities of all stadiums used in the tournament. None of the stadiums used in the 1994 World Cup had a capacity of less than 53,000.
The 1994 World Cup edition is followed by 2014 (Brazil) and 2006 (Germany) editions regarding total attendance. The exact order stands true for average attendance.
Concerning World Cup soccer finals, 1950 final holds the record for attracting 173,850 spectators. The game was played between Brazil and Uruguay at Maracanã Stadium – Rio de Janeiro. It was not a typical final rather the deciding match in the round-robin format.
The 1986 and 1970 finals, held at Estadio Azteca – Mexico City, attracted 114,600 and 108,192 spectators.
Most Goals In A World Cup
The 1998 World Cup and the 2014 World Cup produced the most number of goals – 171. The 2018 World Cup is in the third spot with 169 goals.
However, when it comes to average goals/game, the 1954 World Cup begs the top spot. The World Cup, held in Switzerland, saw 5.38 goals scored every game on average. This barrage of goals was primarily due to its new format. In this unique format, teams were divided into four groups, with each group consisting of two seeded sides and two unseeded sides. Furthermore, group fixtures were only contested between seeded and unseeded sides. This led to several substantial one-sided wins. For example, South Korea conceded 16 goals in their two games.
The 1938 World Cup in France saw 4.67 goals/game, and in 1934, 4.12 goals were scored every game.
Most World Cup Soccer Appearances
Former Germany captain Lothar Matthaus holds the record for most World Cup appearances. He made 25 appearances in five World Cups from 1982 to 1998 and was part of the winning squad in 1990.
Miroslav Klose, also from Germany, sits in the second spot with 24 appearances. He collected these appearances in four Cups from 2002 to 2014.
Famous Italian center-back Paolo Maldini is in the third spot with 23 appearances made during 1990-2002.
World Cup Leading Scorers
Former German striker Miroslav Klose is the leading goal scorer in the FIFA World Cup with 16 goals. He was also the Golden Boot winner in 2006.
Brazilian legend Ronaldo is in the second spot with 15 goals. The famous striker lifted the Golden Boot in 2002.
Germany great Gerd Muller played only two World Cups, in 1970 and 1974, but he scored 14 goals. Meanwhile, French striker Just Fontaine needed only the 1958 tournament to collect 13 strikes.
Brazilian legend Pele has 12 goals in his four World Cup soccer appearances.
Main image: AP