For the inaugural World Cup, Summer Olympics football champions Uruguay were selected as hosts after the longest-serving FIFA President ever – Frenchman Jules Rimet – sought to organise a tournament to crown the great country in world football. Due to travel issues in reaching South America, only 13 countries entered overall, over half of which from the continent. The final pitted Uruguay against bitter rivals Argentina, with an official attendance of nearly 100,000 signalling the early popularity of soccer’s greatest showcase. Uruguay came from 2-1 down to win 4-2, and were crowned the first-ever World champions.
Benito Mussolini’s Italy was awarded the hosting rights of the second World Cup ahead of Sweden. Early drama saw world champions Uruguay pull out of participation in protest against Europe’s snub four years prior, but it would have taken a huge effort to overcome Vittorio Pozzo’s dominant and physical hosts. 16 teams entered, but it was undeniably Italy’s tournament. They conceded just two goals throughout their four games -- including one in a 7-1 thrashing of the United States -- and overcame Czechoslovakia after extra-time in the final to claim the crown.
More arguments over hosting led to 1930 World Cup champions Uruguay and finalists Argentina both withdrawing from competing at the 1938 tournament held in France. Reigning champions Italy did compete however, and blew the competition away again to become the first team to retain the World Cup. Norway, France, Brazil and Hungary fell to Pozzo’s ever impressive side and they would go on to hold the World Cup until 1950, due to the outbreak of World War II.
Though the war left most of Europe in ruins, officials were keen to continue the World Cup after cancellations in 1942 and 1946. Brazil made the only bid to host the tournament, and so it was resurrected. The 1950 tournament was the first and only World Cup to feature no single-match final, instead two group stages separated the teams until a final showdown between Brazil and 1930 champions Uruguay. A packed 200,000 capacity at Maracana expected the hosts to come out on top, but it was Uruguay who became two-time champions with a comeback 2-1 win.
West Germany (1954)
This tournament heralded the return of Germany, only in the guise of a split West Germany, with East Germany unable to qualify. They won their first game, but met mega-favorites Hungary in the next group game. Led by the legendary Ferenc Puskas, the "Magical Magyars’" crushed them 8-3 on their seemingly unstoppable route to glory. They eased into the final, scoring a record 25 goals in the process, and came up against the West Germans again. A country rebuilding themselves after near destruction under a decade ago did the unthinkable, and stunned the Hungarian -- and the world -- with a 3-2 scoreline to claim their first World Cup.
Sweden 1958 went down as the only World Cup staged in Europe not to be won by a European team. It was the competition that announced Pele as the world’s greatest talent and launched Brazil as a soccer superpower. Brazil’s coach Vincente Feola insisted on three months preparation for the tournament and a pre-cup tour of Europe – it certainly paid off. Amazingly, Brazil didn’t call on the talents of Pele and Garrincha until the final group game against the Soviet Union, from then on there was no looking back. This year’s hosts scored ten goals in the last two games, dispatching the tournament’s top scorers France 5-2 in the semis and then going on to smash hosts Sweden by the same score to lift the trophy.
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In May 1960, Chile was shaken by earthquakes that took the lives of thousands and threw their capability of hosting a World Cup into doubt. Yet that didn't stop the country from throwing the global party which saw another dominant performance from Brazil, albeit without Pele. The 21-year-old pulled up with an injury in the second group game and it was down to Garrincha to guide Brazil to glory. After going behind in the final to a goal from Czechoslovakia’s Josef Masopust, Brazil then cruised to victory with goals from Amarildo, Zito and Vava.
The "inventors" of the world game triumphed in their own backyard and became the third World Cup host to win the tournament. It wasn’t without controversy, though, as doubts remain to this day over the legitimacy of England’s second goal in the final against West Germany. Nevertheless, Sir Alf Ramsey’s team of heroes won 4-2 in one of the best finals the competition has ever seen.
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A new record television audience across the globe tuned in to see their favorite superstars light up their TV sets for the first time. Yet again, it was the samba stars of Brazil that shone to victory with possibly the best team the world has ever seen. Pele, Gerson, Jairzinho and Rivelino showed their attacking prowess by securing a perfect record of six wins out of six in Mexico, whilst also remaining unbeaten in qualifying. Considering the high altitude and soaring temperatures, this was an amazing spectacle of attacking ability and goals. Mexico 1970 is widely accepted as the greatest World Cup of all-time.
West Germany (1974)
England and Russia were notable absentees in a World Cup that introduced the globe to "Total Football." Pele moved aside after Mexico 1970 to allow the sumptuous talents of Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer to take over on the global stage. It was the mercurial talents of Dutchman Cruyff and West German Beckenbauer that contested the final in front of over 75,000 fans. The final was famous for the opening goal -- with only a minute gone on the clock Cruyff was brought down in the penalty area after a mazy solo run and the Dutch were ahead before any German player could touch the ball. It was the German’s who had the last laugh, coming from behind to lift the 1974 World Cup.
The usual suspects were all gunning for glory, but it was Argentina that took the crown after extra-time drama in the final. Mario Kempes -- the star of 1978 for Argentina -- scored the important second goal in the final (beating the Netherlands 3-1) to secure the title in front of a raucous Buenos Aires crowd. The South Americans were showered in ticker-tape and became the fifth side to lift the cup as a host nation.
Instantly memorable for the final celebrations of Marco Tardelli, the 1982 World Cup was Italy’s year. The Azzurri lifted the famous trophy for the third time in their history and for the first time since 1938. Paolo Rossi -- who had only just returned from a two-year global soccer ban for involvement in match-fixing -- starred for the Italians, scoring six goals. The semifinal between Germany and France was the first World Cup match to go to penalties -- something that would be key in deciding future cups.
Getty ImagesSteve Powell
Mexico was given the honor of hosting after Colombia had to withdraw because of economic problems. The 1986 edition isn’t one that England and Argentina fans will forget in a hurry. Diego Maradona lit up the world with his dazzling feet and a helping hand. It was the quarterfinal against England -- led by the free-scoring Gary Lineker -- where Maradona wrote his name into history. Argentina edged past the Three Lions 2-1 after two goals from Maradona, one of cheek and one of sheer brilliance. The first, was the infamous "Hand of God" the little Argentinian raised an arm to lift the ball over the onrushing Peter Shilton. The second, a fantastic example of skill and trickery, the playmaker picked the ball up in his own half before beating England players to slot the ball home. The Albiceleste overcame West Germany in the final 3-2 to grab their second cup.
West Germany (1990)
Franz Beckenbauer became only the second the manager to win the World Cup as a player and a manager, as Germany triumphed in the final against holders Argentina 1-0. The 1990 finals claimed the unfortunate tag of being the lowest scoring in the competition’s history with an average of 2.21 goals being scored per game.
The United States staged a hugely successful tournament in 1994. Record average crowds of almost 69,000 surpassed the previous best of 51,000 set in England in 1966. Ultimately the United States national team couldn’t replicate the success of the tournament, crashing out in the second round to eventual champions Brazil. The Brazilians eventually took the spoils with a memorable penalty victory over Italy in the final.
AFP/Getty ImagesDANIEL GARCIA
France was chosen to host the 1998 World Cup, with the showcase now including 32 teams and meant more places for various continents around the world -- Jamaica, Japan and South Africa were among the debutants. It was again the year of the host, as the home of Jules Rimet romped to their first ever success. France destroyed four-time winners Brazil in the final at the Stade de France -- the result came courtesy of a first-half double from Zinedine Zidane and a tidy finish from Emmanuel Petit.
AFP/Getty ImagesPASCAL GEORGE
The opening game in Seoul set the tone for the whole of the 2002 competition -- Senegal defeated holders France following a solitary goal from Pape Bouba Diop. In the first tournament to be held in Asia, giants Brazil and Germany would eventually contest the final. Ronaldo was the hero for Brazil, scoring both goals to down Germany in the memorable finale.
AFP/Getty ImagesOdd Andersen
The 2006 World Cup is one of most watched television events of all-time, with the final grabbing the attention of 715.1 million people. Despite Italy’s lack of attacking talent, they managed to lift their fourth World Cup title due to their miserly defense. The Azzurri only conceded two goals on the way to the glory with Gianluigi Buffon and captain Fabio Cannavaro particularly catching the eye. Italy shone through in an exciting final in front 69,000 in Berlin, unfortunately for the Italians, the final will always be remembered for another reason. It will always be the game Zinedine Zidane ended his soccer career by getting sent off for head-butting Marco Materazzi.
AFP/Getty ImagesJOCHEN LUEBKE
This World Cup marked the start of a new era in soccer -- it was Spain’s first triumph. Spain was the current European champions going into the South African tournament and didn’t disappoint an expectant nation. After years of underachievement, La Furia Roja defeated three-time finalists Netherlands in a heated final, Andres Iniesta with the winning goal in 116th minute of extra-time. Many of Spain’s heroes were part of the Barcelona side dominating European club soccer and some expect a similar outcome in 2014.
AFP/Getty ImagesGABRIEL BOUYS
Germany became the first European team to win a South American World Cup, ending a hex that had stood for 84 years after defeating Argentina 1-0 at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana. The Germans rightfully earned the World Cup, standing head and shoulders above rest of the competition and exemplifying the team football that was unmatched by other nations in the tournament.