With the 2018 FIFA World Cup set be hosted in Russia from 14 June to 15 July, AfricanFootball.com takes a look at the history of football’s most beloved tournament.
The success of football as an Olympic Sport in the early 20th century inspired FIFA (the world governing body of football, which was founded in 1904) to create its own international tournament outside of the Olympics – the World Cup was born.
The first tournament was held in Uruguay in 1930 and featured 13 teams. A total of 18 matches were played and the hosts were crowned the first World Cup champions on 30 July 1930 in the capital Montevideo, when they defeated Argentina 4-2 in the final.
Two further World Cups were held in 1934 and 1938 (both won by Italy on European soil) before the outbreak of World War II forced the cancellation of the proposed 1942 and 1946 tournaments. The 1934 finals in Italy also featured a landmark for African football, with Egypt becoming the first team from the continent to appear at the tournament.
The World Cup was reborn in 1950 and featured one of the tournament’s most famous matches in history, the ‘Maracanazo’ when Uruguay stunned hosts Brazil in Rio de Janeiro to snatch the trophy out of their hands and claim a second world title.
Yet Brazil would shrug off the heartbreak and become the dominant force in world football, as they went on to win three World Cups in the space of four tournaments from 1958 to 1970.
The 1970 event in Mexico is widely regarded as the greatest World Cup: this is partly because it was the first to have a truly global broadcast, the first in colour television and, last but not least, it featured a truly magnificent Brazilian team.
Led by Pele, undoubtedly one of the greatest players ever, the ‘Selecao’ swept all before them and their attacking style reached a crescendo in the final in Mexico City when they crushed Italy 4-1.
The tournament has since expanded to 24 teams (1982 to 1994) and then 32 (1998 onwards), allowing further representation from North and Central America, Asia and Africa.
For the latter continent, the World Cup has remained a difficult challenge for its teams to come to terms with: Africa has yet to produce a semifinalist at the global tournament, with the high water mark being the quarterfinal appearances of Cameroon (1990), Senegal (2002) and Ghana (2010).
The expansion of the World Cup has not been limited to the number of participants – the geographic areas of the globe the tournament has been staged in have expanded as well.
The World Cup went to the United States for the first time in 1994, South Korea and Japan became both the first co-hosts and Asian countries to stage the tournament in 2002, while South Africa proved herself a worthy venue for the global showpiece with a flawless 2010 finals.
Next year will see the World Cup go to Russia for the first time – something which was almost inconceivable at the time of the Cold War – while the Middle East will have its first tournament in Qatar 2022.
Through all this change and expansion, South America and Europe remain the dominant on-field forces – the World Cup has yet to produce a champion from outside of these two traditional power bases of the sport.
It’s unlikely that this hegemony will be broken in Russia next year, but the beauty of football has always been it’s ability to produce a surprise: perhaps the 21st World Cup will be the global event where the ‘Beautiful Game’ truly defies expectation.
World Cup history: Year – Host country – Champions
1930 – Uruguay – Uruguay
1934 – Italy – Italy
1938 – France – Italy
1950 – Brazil – Uruguay
1954 – Switzerland – West Germany
1958 – Sweden – Brazil
1962 – Chile – Brazil
1966 – England – England
1970 – Mexico – Brazil
1974 – West Germany – West Germany
1978 – Argentina – Argentina
1982 – Spain – Italy
1986 – Mexico – Argentina
1990 – Italy – West Germany
1994 – USA – Brazil
1998 – France – France
2002 – South Korea & Japan – Brazil
2006 – Germany – Italy
2010 – South Africa – Spain
2014 – Brazil – Germany