The first official international game of football is said to have been played between England and Scotland in 1872. But at the time the game was barely played outside the British Isles. However, by 1900, the sport had gained popularity around the world and national associations were being founded regularly. Then on 22nd May 1904, the Federation Internazionale Football Association (FIFA) was formed in Paris comprising football associations from France, Belgium (the preceding two teams having played their first international against each other earlier in the month), Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland, with Germany pledging to join.
The first international football tournament started as a part of the Olympics meant for amateurs and took place in the 1900 and 1904 Summer Olympics. It finally became a FIFA affiliated game only in 1908. The England National Amateur Football team won the tournament in 1908 as well as in 1912. FIFA’s first attempt at holding its own international football tournament outside of the Olympics took place in Switzerland in 1906. But being the first, it didn’t have much success.
The Olympics was meant for amateurs, so a tournament meant for football clubs was started in 1908 as the Torneo Internazionale Stampa Sportiva inTurin, Italy. This was soon followed by a similar tournament organized by Sir Thomas Lipton and known as the as the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy and was also held in Turin. Although they were club sides and not national teams, they were seen as representatives of their respective countries and hence the Lipton Trophy is recognized as the forerunner of the World Cup.
The decision to stage its own international football tournament was first taken by FIFA in 1928. Then when the 1932 Summer Olympics was to be held in Los Angeles, it was decided football would not be included as the game was not popular in the US. It was then that the FIFA President Jules Rimet took it upon himself to organize the tournament separate from the Olympics. Thus the FIFA World Cup was born in 1930 when several countries were invited to send their national teams to take part in the first one to be held in Uruguay that year. In total, 13 nations took part – seven from South America, four from Europe and two from North America. Because of the distance European nations were hesitant in sending their teams but eventually Belgium, France, Romania, Hungary and Yugoslavia sent their respective teams. The United States and Mexico represented North America while Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru and Chile came from South America.
The two teams to reach the first World Cup final were the host Uruguay and Argentina. Uruguay defeated Argentina (4–2 ) in front of a crowd of 93,000 spectators in the capital Montevideo to become the first nation to win a World Cup. The United States surprised everyone by beating Belgium as well as Paraguay with an identical score of (3 -0). Uruguay was awarded the Jules Rimet trophy named after the first FIFA president.
In the 1934 World Cup, the qualifying stage was introduced and 16 teams qualified for the final rounds. Since only a few European teams took part in the first World Cup, Uruguay decided to boycott the second one which was being held in Italy and they were the title holders. Bolivia and Paraguay were also absent allowing Brazil and Argentina to qualify without actually playing the qualifying rounds. Egypt was the first African team to take part but was eliminated by Hungary. The tournament took place in Italy and as in 1930, the host country went on to win the trophy, setting a precedent.
The 1938 World Cup took place in France and it wasn’t without controversy because this time Argentina and Uruguay boycotted, dismayed by the fact that two tournaments in a row were being held in Europe. In the end only 15 teams took part and for the first time the host country did not win and also for the first time the Champions retained their title as Italy beat Hungary in the final. Polish striker Ernest Willimowski became the first player to score four goals in a World Cup game during Poland’s's( 6–5) loss against Brazil. It was only in 1994 that this record was broken. Italy beat Hungary (4-2) in the final to become the first champions to retain the trophy.
World War II had a profound impact on world football as both the 1942 and 1946 World Cups had to be cancelled. The next to host the competition was Brazil in 1950 and for the first time England decided to take part having boycotted both the previous tournaments. Surprisingly, the United States knocked the Brits out of the cup winning (1- 0). There was no knock out phase so the two that topped their groups reached the final which was played at the new Maracana Stadium. In the final, the host Brazil lost to Uruguay (1- 2) the first champions and the attendance at the stadium broke all records with an astounding 200,000 in attendance. Uruguay won for the second time.
Switzerland was the next hosts of the World Cup in 1954. There were many firsts as the games were televised for the first time and Scotland made their debut. A new record was set for the highest scoring game as Austria beat Switzerland (7- 5) in the quarter-final clash. West Germany were the eventual winners who were losing (2- 0) to Hungary in the final but went on to score three times resulting in a (3- 2) victory. The Germans called the game ‘The Miracle of Bern’.
1958 was the beginning of Brazil’s glorious history in world football. They were to mesmerize the spectators with their flair and amazing skills. The Europeans had not seen the swerving free kicks (known then as the Banana kick) which only South Americans could execute. The World Cup was held in Sweden and for the first time all the British teams qualified. One wonders what a team known as the United Kingdom could have achieved in world football, but they prefer to play as England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland. French star striker Just Fontaine made headlines scoring 13 goals in the tournament while a 17 year-old Pele fascinated the world with his amazing abilities and maturity. Brazil went on to win the cup beating Sweden ( 5 -2 ) in the final and became the first to win in another continent other than their own.
The 1962 World Cup went back to South America, this time to Chile, but just before the games were to begin there was a major shock, a real one; an earthquake of magnitude 9.5 struck the country damaging much of the infrastructure. After emergency rebuilding works, the games began. Major disappointments were Pele’s injury and star Russian keeper Lev Yashin’s poor form. In the final, Brazil beat Czechoslovakia (3- 1), winning the cup a second time in a row. The tournament was marred by violent play and defensive tactics and one of the games was so full of foul play that it was dubbed ‘Battle of Santiago’.
World Cup 1966 which took place in England, began in a strange way; the trophy was stolen weeks before the tournament began and was luckily found by a dog named ‘Pickles’. The biggest surprise of the games was North Korea who not only eliminated Italy from the tournament but reached the semi-finals against Portugal. During this amazing game the first half score was Korea 3 - Portugal 0. But the second half was a different story as Portugal went on to score five goals, four of which came from their star player Eusebio. England won the tournament defeating West Germany in the process but not without controversy. One of the goals has been disputed and it’s one of those age old questions: did the whole of the ball cross the line? Was it a goal? Geoff Hurst became the first and to this day, the only player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup Final.
The 1970 World Cup held in Mexico will be remembered for many things. Brazil won the cup for the third time thus winning the right to keep the Jules Rimet trophy permanently while it was replaced with the FIFA Cup. Pele was a part of all three winning teams. The tournament highlight was English keeper Gordon Bank’s incredible save from a Pele header. He was seen going one way, but suddenly turned to make a full length dive across goal in the opposite direction and punching the ball vertically over the crossbar. It seemed an impossible feat and Pele was in the six-yard box. The games will also be remembered for Franz Beckenbauer playing with a broken arm in a sling because the allowed substitutions had already been made. Brazil beat Italy (4-1) in the final with Pele playing in his third World Cup which was sadly also his last.
The 1974 World Cup held in West Germany saw the introduction of a new FIFA World Cup Trophy since Brazil had been presented the Jules Rimet trophy for good in 1970. There were many firsts as East Germany, Haiti, Australia and Zaire qualified while the Netherlands was to introduce a completely new approach to playing football. ‘Total football’ as it became known, meant that players were no longer confined to one position as they could constantly switch positions making for a fluid movement. Their star player and captain, Johan Cruyff inspired them all the way to the final which West Germany won (2 -1), Gerd Muller scoring the winning goal.
The 1978 World Cup was held in Argentina and is notable for two things: The Netherlands reached the final for the second time in a row and sadly lost again. The other newsworthy event was the way Peru let Argentina score six goals against them given the fact that their opponents needed to score four goals to progress to the final. It was rumored that the Peru team had been bribed but never substantiated. Mario Kempes became the hero of the final, scoring two goals for Argentina ensuring the host nation won the cup (3-1) in extra time.
In 1982, the new rules allowed 24 teams to qualify for the final rounds of the World Cup. Held in Spain, the star of the tournament was a man who had returned after a two year ban following a betting scandal. Paolo Rossi’s triumphant return was to haunt Brazil forever as the Brazilians had fielded one of their finest teams, but Rossi’s hat-trick eliminated the ‘Boys from Brazil” (3-2). Italy went on to win the tournament and Rossi became the Top Scorer with six goals. The highlight of the games was a (10 – 1) thrashing of El Salvador handed to them by Hungary. But the most remarkable incident was the disgraceful foul committed by German keeper Schumacher on French player Battiston who had to be carried out. Schumacher completely ignored the ball and smashed into the Frenchman and surprisingly not even a foul was given when the keeper plainly deserved a red card. Italy won the cup by beating West Germany (3-1) in the final.
The 1986 World Cup held in Mexico truly belonged to Diego Maradona the Argentinean superstar who single-handedly delivered the cup to his country. The quarter-final match between Argentina and England will be forever remembered for Diego’s ‘Goal of the Century’ when he started from half way down the field, dribbled through five players and the keeper to slot the ball into the net. He also infamously scored a goal with his hand in the same game. His pass led to the winning goal against West Germany in the final which won Argentina the trophy (3 -2). On the other hand Jose Batista of Uruguay set a record of sorts by being sent off in 56 minutes after kick-off in another game.
The 1990 World Cup was allotted to Italy. The competition began with the shock defeat of Argentina, the champions in the opening game at the hands of Cameroon. The tiny nation became the first African country to reach the quarter-finals. The United States qualified after an absence since the 1952 World Cup. West Germany beat Argentina 1–0 in the final to win the title a third time. The Republic of Ireland appearing in the tournament for the first time, reached the quarter-finals without winning a single game. This is the furthest a team has ever advanced in the World Cup without winning a single game.
In 1994, the United State for the first time got the chance to host the World Cup. The world had changed and there was no USSR, which was replaced by Russia. As in most World Cups there was a first; the final was decided by a penalty shoot-out. Brazil got the better of Italy in the five penalties and won the championships for a record fourth time. The saddest spectacle in this World Cup was seeing the star Diego Maradona being banned for testing positive for recreational drugs. Without their little genius Argentina were eliminated in the last 16. There was more tragedy to follow; Colombian defender Andres Escobar who had let in an own goal was murdered ten days later because Colombia was then eliminated. Roger Milla at 42, became the oldest to score a goal in a World Cup match.
France hosted the 1998 World Cup and made the most of it, becoming yet another host to win the cup. FIFA had added more teams and now 32 teams qualified for the final rounds. In the second round match between France and Paraguay the world witnessed the first golden goal in World Cup history. Brazil once again reached the final and was up against France, but their star player Ronaldo was unwell and a mere shadow of his former self throughout the game. Strangely, he was not substituted and France won the game (3- 0) with Zidane heading in two goals.
In 2002, the World cup came to Asia and was hosted jointly by South Korea and Japan which was also a first. Australia defeated American Samoa in a preliminary match scoring a record 31 goals, the highest-scoring match ever. The tournament also saw unexpected teams like South Korea, Senegal and the United States reach the last eight. Brazil once again reached the final and played against Germany. This time around, a healthy Ronaldo in top form graced the world stage, scoring two goals past the world’s best keeper Sepp Maier. Brazil triumphed ( 2–0 ) and won the title a record fifth time.
The 2006 World Cup was hosted by Germany. For the first time, the previous winner had to play the qualifying rounds. But now the host nation receives an automatic berth as before. Four African teams made it to last 16. Brazil as holders was the favorite to win the cup. Germany as always fielded a strong side and reached the semi-finals. But it was Italy and France that reached the finals. As usual there was high drama in this tournament too; French captain .Zinedine Zidane was sent off in the last ten minutes of extra time for head-butting the Italian central defender Marco Materazzi on the chest. A penalty shoot-out followed and Italy won (5–3). One can only wonder if Zidane could have made a difference. The game had ended (1- 1) after 120 minutes of playing time.
The World Cup came to Africa in 2010 and was held in South Africa. Spain lost their opening game to Switzerland but went on to lift the trophy. The games were dominated by the sound of vuvuzelas and sometimes even the whistle couldn’t be heard. David Villa was top scorer for Spain adding five goals to his team’s tally. As in the previous final of 2006, this one also went to extra time and Andres Iniesta of Spain scored the winning goal in the 116th minute of extra time. It was a violent game especially from the Dutch side that played with ten men after losing a player to a red card offence. The Netherlands had yet again lost in the finals of a World Cup; for the third time. Spain won the cup for the first time.
World Cup 2014 was held in Brazil, which was the second time that Brazil had hosted the competition. Germany once again fielded one of their strongest teams and was almost entirely made up of Bayern Munich players. This tournament will be remembered for Brazil’s infamous (7- 1) defeat at the hands of Germany, that too on home soil. Their star player Neymar was injured and missed this strange semi-final match. They even lost to the Netherlands (3–0 ) in the third place play-off. Germany defeated Argentina in the final in extra time (1- 0) winning the World Cup a fourth time. For the first time, three consecutive tournaments saw the winning side come from the same continent (Europe: 2006 Italy, 2010 Spain, 2014 Germany).
The World Cup has seen successive expansions and format remodeling since the first World Cup when only 13 teams took part. The current 32-teams final tournament is preceded by a two-year qualifying process where over 200 teams from around the world take part. The current FIFA President Gianni Infantino is already talking about expanding to 48 teams in the near future.