FIFA: A review of the World Cups from 1930 to 2014

First 2 World Cup matches were played simultaneously; France vs Mexico and USA vs Belgium, with France and USA winning

It was in 1920 when the first international intercontinental football tournament was held, when FIFA and the International Olympics Committee (IOC) joined hands to include the event in the 1920 summer Olympics for the first time.

The first Olympic event was won by Belgium and the next two in 1924 and 1928 were both won by Uruguay. However, it was decided that the 1932 summer Olympics will not feature a football championship due to differences over a few matters between FIFA and IOC and a perceived lack of interest for the sport in the host nation, the United States; it is perhaps ironic then that the US holds the records for the highest average and total attendance of any World Cup when they hosted it in 1994, albeit six decades after that decision.

In its place, FIFA decided to hold the first ever World Cup in Uruguay in 1930. However, the first edition of the tournament was by invitation only, and featured a mere 13 teams, especially since European countries were unwilling to bear the expense of a transatlantic trip.

The first two World Cup matches were played simultaneously; France vs Mexico and USA vs Belgium, with France and USA winning the matches 4-1 and 3-0. The host nation eventually triumphed 4-2 against Argentina in the final, completing a hat-trick of world event victories.

Five biggest World Cup controversies 

1. The deaths of eight Brazilians

Eight workers have died during the hasty construction and renovation of stadiums in Brazil to host this year’s World Cup. As doubts continue around the wisdom of Brazil hosting the World Cup amidst poor living standards, the deaths have come as a stark reminder about what is truly important and has put the game, with all its passion, into perspective.

2. Zinidine Zidane’s headbutt

In the 2006 World Cup final, with the score at 1-1, French captain Zidane headbutted Italian defender Marco Materazzi after he passed some particularly unsavoury remarks about his sister. Zidane was subsequently sent off after having inspired the French team into the final. His retirement soon after meant that the headbutt was his last contribution to the game as a player, a sad ending for one of the best midfielders to ever grace the game. To make matters worse for Zidane and France, Italy would go on to win the championship on penalties.

3. England’s ghost goal against Germany

After a 2-2 stalemate in normal time in the 1966 final, Geoff Hurst’s shot hit the bottom of the upright before bouncing on the line and being cleared. However, Soviet linesman Tofik Bakhramov flagged it as a goal and England went on to win their only World Cup thanks to the decision. To add further controversy to the incident, certain reports suggest that when Bakhramov was asked on his deathbed how he knew that the ball crossed the line, he replied ‘Stalingard’.

4. Diego Maradona’s Hand of God

The famous 1986 quarterfinal between Argentina and England will forever be remembered for Maradona’s telling brace. The first of the two highlighted Maradona’s cheek as he used his hand to guide the ball past Peter Shilton. When asked about the goal after the match, Maradona answered, ‘It was the hand of God’. English fans would never get over the incident and a cross-continent rivalry was born.

5. West Germany and Austria fix the result

In 1982, Algeria pulled off the shock of the tournament by defeating West Germany 2-1. However, in what would later come to be known as one of the worst matches in the history of the game, Austria and West Germany fixed the result of the decider, since a 1-0 win for West Germany meant that both teams went through at the expense of Algeria. A similar incident had occurred in the previous World Cup when Peru lost 6-0 to Argentina, allegedly after being bribed, in order to ensure that rivals Brazil get knocked out. However, unlike the West Germany-Austria incident, nothing could be proven. To make matters worse, since neither team had technically broken any rules, there were no repercussions. Since then, all final group matches are played at the same time to avoid such an incident.

The five funniest World Cup moments

1. Pele’s predictions:

Pele is regarded as one of the best footballers of all time but he is definitely one of the worse pundits. He claimed that Columbia will win the 1994 World Cup but ended up finishing bottom of their group. In 1998, his favourites were Spain, who also couldn’t get past the first round. In 2002, he predicted a France vs Argentina final. As per the pattern, both teams also failed to go past the first round. He also predicted that Brazil would fail to make it out of the group stages in 2002; they ended up winning the tournament.

2. Romania’s hairstyle:

The Romanian team all bleached their hair in 1998 before their group match against Tunisia. Some say that the move was a show of unity, others say it was to spot each other better during a game. The prevailing reason, however, is that they lost a bet to head coach Anghel Lordanescu who shaved his head as a dare.

3. The three yellow cards:

Graham Poll became the unfortunate brunt of many a refereeing joke as he booked Croatian Josip Simunic thrice during the 2006 Croatia vs Australia group game. Simunic was first booked in the 61st minute, before receiving his second in the 90th minute. Poll somehow managed to not show him a red and his linesmen and the fourth official decided to not remind him about it. Simunic, however, was nice enough to commit his third bookable offence only three minutes later. And this time, Poll made no mistake.

4. Pitch invasion:

During the 1962 quarter-final game between Brazil and England, a stray dog managed to make its way onto the pitch, causing a brief halt to the game. Jimmy Greaves quickly grabbed the dog in order to take it out of the field. The dog, however, was to get his revenge as he urinated all over Greaves. Brazilian Garrincha was reportedly so amused by the incident that he adopted the stray.

5. Gary Linekar’s accident:

The England striker accidently shat his pants while tackling during the 1990 World Cup game against the Republic of Ireland. In Linekar’s own words; “I was very fortunate that it rained that night so I could do something about it, but it was messy. You can see me rubbing the ground like a dog trying to clean it.”

Top 5 players to never have played the World Cup

Eric Cantona (France)

The controversial Cantona enjoyed a successful career in the Premier League, especially with Manchester United, where he was affectionately known as ‘King Eric’. In his five-year spell at the Old Trafford, Cantona won four league titles and two FA Cups. He was also selected by Brazilian great Pele in his list of FIFA 100 Greatest Living Footballers. However, despite his success at club level and his 20 goals for France, Cantona was never able to represent his country in the World Cup as France failed to qualify for the 1990 and the 1994 editions, even though he was indefinitely banned during the 1990 qualification campaign for having called the then national team manager Henri Michel ‘a bag of shit’. His retirement in 1997 meant that he missed out on the 1998 edition that France hosted and eventually won.

Ian Rush (Wales)

Rush is the highest goal scorer for both Liverpool, with 346 goals, and for Wales, with 28 goals. A cornerstone of the last great Liverpool side that won five league titles, three FA Cups and two European Cups, Rush could have walked into any international team during his era but was unlucky to be in one that failed to qualify despite his best attempts. The prolific number 9 was just as instrumental for Wales as he was his club and scored a brace in a remarkable 3-0 home win against Spain during the 1986 World Cup qualifying campaign. However, Wales would miss out on the play-off spot to Scotland on goal difference, finishing only a point behind leaders Spain. Rush was equally telling in the 1994 Welsh World Cup qualifying campaign, scoring seven goals in 10 matches. Wales once again came agonisingly close but ultimately finished three points behind group leaders Romania.

Ryan Giggs (Wales)

The most decorated player in English football history, Giggs was unable to inspire his national side to the World Cup despite all of his success at club level. With a remarkable 13 league titles, four FA Cups and two Champions Leagues among the multitude of titles to his name, Giggs won all there was to win with Manchester United. However, his performances with Wales never matched those for his club as he only managed to score 12 times in 64 matches for the international side.

George Weah (Liberia)

Voted the African player of the century by international sports journalists, Weah had a long and successful career in Europe with French, Italian and English teams. In 1995, Weah won both the FIFA World Player of the Year and the Ballon d’Or; the only African to have won either of the awards. However, despite his 22 international goals, he was unable to help Liberia qualify for the 1990, 1998 and 2002 World Cups, with the Lone Stars withdrawing from the 1994 campaign.

Alfredo Di Stefano (Argentina, Columbia, Spain)

Having represented three major footballing nations and enjoying perhaps the most successful club career in history, Di Stefano is by far the best player to have never played in a World Cup. Described by many as the complete footballer, Di Stefano won 18 trophies in 11 years, which included an incredible five consecutive European Cups with Real Madrid as he scored in the final of all five triumphs. His 308 goals for Real make him their second-highest goal scorer after Raul. However, he remarkably never played in a World Cup, with Argentina opting out of the 1950 tournament due to a dispute with the football federation of hosts Brazil, and the 1954 edition. After being awarded a Spanish citizenship, he was eligible to play for Spain in the 1958 World Cup but the La Roja failed to qualify. He was part of Spain’s successful 1962 qualification campaign but an injury ruled him out of the finals.

Best ever player in World cups

GK: Dino Zoff, Italy (1970, 1974, 1978, 1982*) 

The 112-capped Zoff is considered by many to be the greatest goalkeeper at international level. Zoff is the oldest player to have won the World Cup, when he lifted the trophy at the age of forty years and 133 days. Having conceded only 17 goals in the four World Cups that he played in, at an average of a goal per game, Zoff was perhaps the safest goalkeeper that the world has ever seen. He also holds the record of having gone the longest time without conceding an international goal – a remarkable 1,142 minutes.


Right Back: Cafu, Brazil (1994*, 1998, 2002*, 2006)

Despite spending most of his time in the opposition half, Cafu is regarded as one of the best defenders to have played in the World Cup. He was part of the Brazil squad that won the World Cup in 1994, but the 1998 edition was his first as a regular. He won the World Cup again in 2002, this time as the captain of the side. In the four World Cups that Cafu played in, he was only knocked out twice; both times by inspired Zinidine Zidane performances.

Right Centre-Back: Bobby Moore, England (1962, 1966*, 1970)

If ever England had a natural leader then it was Moore. The captain of their triumphant 1966 home tournament wore the armband for 90 of his 108 international caps. Like all good leaders, Moore often led from the front and it was his quickly taken free-kick that led to the English equaliser in the 1966 final. Moore was regarded as the best defender of his time by players such as Franz Beckenbaur and Pele. In the dying minutes his long field pass found Geoff Hurst, who completed his hat-trick to make it 4-2, earning Moore his second assist of the night and effectively finishing off the contest. Even in his final World Cup in 1970, Moore was the standout player in an English side that was knocked out by Brazil.

Left Centre-Back: Franz Beckenbauer, West Germany (1966, 1970, 1974*)

Officially a sweeping centre-back, Beckenbauer was so gifted on the ball that he was often the creative fulcrum of the West Germany side and was also handy with the goals, finishing with a return of five goals in 18 World Cup matches. Add that to his legendary man-marking and reading of the game and it is no surprise that Beckenbauer is the most famous defender after Paolo Maldini. Beckenbauer was ever present in all the three World Cups that he played in, finishing second in the first one and third in the second, before finally captaining his side to World Cup triumph in 1974, becoming the first player to lift the new World Cup trophy. Interestingly, Beckenbauer is the only man to have won the World Cup as a player and as a coach, and also the only man to have lost in a final as both.

Left Back: Paolo Maldini, Italy (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002)

Easily the best player to never have won the World Cup, Paolo Maldini is widely considered to be the greatest defender of all time. Just as comfortable at centre-back as he was at left-back, despite being right-footed, Maldini revolutionised defending in the 90s. Holding the record of the most number of World Cup minutes played - 2,217 - Maldini’s Italy were never knocked out in normal time as he faced penalty shootout heartache in 1990, 1994 and 1998 and bowed out to South Korea after extra time in 2002 in extremely controversial circumstances. Despite several attempts, Marcello Lippi was unable to convince Maldini to come out of retirement for the 2006 World Cup, which would have handed Maldini the only trophy that he failed to win in a career that spanned 25 years.

Attacking Midfield: Johan Cruyff, Holland (1974)

Johan Cruyff was the main architect behind the total-football played by the great Dutch team of the 1970s. Even though he played only one World Cup and never won the trophy, losing to West Germany in the final, Cruyff was the standout player of the tournament and earned himself the Golden Ball award as he scored three goals in seven matches. Even though Cruyff was a centre-forward on paper, he often dropped deep to orchestrate attacks, usually ending up playing as an advanced attacking midfielder in the hole behind the striker.

Central Midfield: Lothar Mathaus, Germany / West Germany (1982, 1986, 1990*, 1994, 1998)

Having tasted defeat in the final in his first two World Cups against a Paolo Rossi-inspired Italy and a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina, Mathaus finally captained West Germany to victory in 1990 in a repeat of the 1986 final. Mathaus’ man-marking, positional sense, tackling and strength were vital as he shielded the back four, while his passing range and stinging shot also helped the team in attack. Regarded as one of the finest midfield generals, the most-capped German also holds the record for most number of World Cup matches played – 25 – and is also the only outfield player to have played in five World Cups.

Striker: Diego Maradona, Argentina (1982, 1986*, 1990, 1994)

The iconic five-minute spell of the England vs Argentina quarter final in 1986 summed up Maradona perfectly as both his brilliance and his penchant for controversy came to the fore. In the 51st minute, Maradona guided the ball past Peter Shilton with a blatant handball that was somehow missed by the officials. Four minutes later, Maradona skipped past half the England team, carrying the ball from inside his own half, to score a goal that would later be voted as the goal of the century. Argentina would go on to win the World Cup and skipper Maradona would receive the Golden Ball for his exploits. He came close to captaining his side to a second consecutive final but would eventually lose 1-0 in the final to West Germany as Mathaus successfully marshalled him throughout the game. He tested positive for a drug test in 1994 and was sent home after only two matches and his goal against Greece in the top corner would be his last contribution in a World Cup as a player.

Striker: Ronaldo, Brazil (1994*, 1998, 2002*, 2006)

The phenomenon was easily the most devastating attacker since Diego Maradona and his tally of 15 goals in World Cups is the highest by any player. His first involvement in a World Cup was receiving a winner’s medal at the age of 17 when he was selected for the Brazil squad but did not play. At 21, he was the driving force behind the 1998 Brazil team, but lost 3-0 to hosts France in the final. Ronaldo’s name was mysteriously not on the initial team sheet, which sparked wide spread rumours that he had died. However, he played as an amended team sheet followed, but looked out of sorts and so did the rest of the team. In 2002, Ronaldo won his second World Cup, scoring eight goals as he led the line for the Seleção. He went on to score his record-breaking 15th goal in 2006 when he rounded Ghana’s Richard Kingson in the fifth minute to slot into an empty net.

Central Midfield: Zinidine Zidane, France (1998*, 2002, 2006)

A modern great if ever there was one, Zidane was as lazy and arrogant on the ball as he was humble off the pitch. France had been struggling to score goals at home in the 1998 World Cup, with their only three goals in the knockout stages all being scored by centre-backs, and faced defending champions Brazil in the final. Always a man for the big occasion, Zidane’s headed brace in the final made up for his red card against Saudi Arabia in the group stages, which had made him the first French player to be sent off in a World Cup, helping France to a 3-0 victory. Having crashed out in the group stages in 2002, Zidane dragged France to the 2006 World Cup finals almost singlehandedly; his performance against Brazil going down as one of the best by a midfielder in World Cup history. However, his infamous headbutt on Marco Materazzi was unfortunately his last ever contribution on the international stage as Italy lifted the trophy on penalties.

Striker: Pele, Brazil (1958*, 1962*, 1966, 1970*)

The only player in history to have won three World Cup winner’s medals, Pele was the best player of a Brazilian team that is considered by many to be the greatest the sport has ever seen. The 17-year-old Pele would announce himself at the World Cup by scoring six goals in his first campaign in 1958 - finishing second in the scoring charts behind Just Fontaine’s remarkable 13-goal record tally - and spearheading Brazil to the World Cup. However, he was not as successful in the upcoming two editions as he was injured for most of the 1962 campaign and Brazil were knocked out in the group stages in 1966 as Pele was roughed up by Bulgarian and Portuguese defenders, but not before he became the first player to score in three consecutive World Cups. Personal success would return as Pele scored four in 1970 to claim the Golden Ball along with his third World Cup winner’s medal.

Best goals

1. Diego Maradona for Argentina vs England in 1986

Regarded as the goal of the century, Maradona skipped through the whole England defence with consummate ease before rounding Peter Shilton and scoring into an empty net.

2. Dennis Bergkamp for Holland vs Argentina in 1998

Everything about this goal oozed class. First Frank de Boer’s vision to see Bergkamp’s run and the raking 60-field to find him. Bergkamp then somehow managed to kill the ball that was coming over his shoulder and in the blink of an eye, he played it past Roberto Ayala’s tackle and curled it into the top corner with the outside of his foot.

3. Esteban Cambiasso for Argentina vs Serbia and Montenegro in 2006

An incredible 24 passes saw Cambiasso free inside the box, who poked it into the bottom corner. The move that started from the back slowly gained intensity and culminated in a sublime backheel by Hernan Crespo with the holding midfielder more than happy to slot it into the back of the net.

4. Nelinho for Brazil vs Italy in 1978

A stunning outside-of-the-foot curler from the adventurous right-back somehow managed to curl enough to go in off the post. The Italians were slow in closing down Nelinho, expecting a cross, but were left stunned by the effort.

5. Carlos Alberto for Brazil vs Italy in 1970

One of the most complete goals seen in football by perhaps the greatest team ever. The goal had everything; skill, dribbles, intricate passing and a crunching finish into the bottom corner at the end of it. A goal worthy of the final.

Top five footballers to not play in this World Cup

Radamel Falcao (Columbia)

Falcao was the driving force behind Columbia’s qualification campaign, finishing as joint third-highest goal-scorer with nine goals behind Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, as they claimed second spot in the CONMEBOL qualifying group. However, a horrific knee injury in January ruled him out for the rest of the season and left his World Cup hopes in jeopardy. Fighting against time to return to fitness for the World Cup, Falcao originally joined the 30-man preliminary squad but failed to make the cut.

Gareth Bale (Wales)

The €100 million man who recently scored the winners in both the Champions League and the Copa del Ray finals will miss the World Cup as Wales failed to qualify. Despite his four goals in the qualifying rounds, the joint highest from the group, Wales finished a disappointing fifth as they conceded 20 goals, including six in one match against Serbia.

Marco Reus (Germany)

The Borrusia Dortmund attacker was of the best players in the German league and was the standout player of a Dortmund side that finished second in both the league and the German cup. Reus was part of an exciting German squad and would have been an almost certainty to start, especially considering his pace and recent form. However, Reus suffered an injury in Germany’s warm-up match against Armenia and has been forced out of contention for the World Cup.

Frank Ribery (France)

The France and Bayern Munich star man finished third in the Ballon d’Or race behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and has been ruled out of the World Cup with an injury. Despite facing a relatively easy group and possibility of a simple Round of 16 knockout match, France’s World Cup ambitions have taken a blow with Ribery being forced to pull out. The winger was France’s most experienced player and had played a pivotal role in their run to the final in 2006.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

Having finished second in their qualifying group behind an impressive German side, thanks largely to Ibra’s six goals, Sweden were unlucky to draw Portugal in the play-offs. They lost the first leg in Portugal 1-0 thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo goal and the Portuguese captain was in inspired form for the return leg, when he scored a hat-trick. Despite, scoring a brace, Ibra was powerless to prevent his side from crashing out 4-2 on aggregate. The cocky Swede famously said, “A World Cup without me is nothing to watch,” after his side’s loss. Even though his statement is not true, the World Cup would definitely have been a better spectacle with the Ibracadabra in it.


Records and numbers

• Hosts and favourites Brazil’s World Cup tally of 5 is higher than that of any other team. History doesn’t favour the Europeans since 0 European teams have won a World Cup in South America.

• A record total of 20 cards were issued during the Round of 16 match between Portugal and the Netherlands, with 16 yellow cards and 4 red cards.

• Ronaldo holds the record of the highest number of goals in World Cups, with 15 goals spread across 3 tournaments. Just Fontaine scored a remarkable 13 goals in only 6 matches in the 1958 World Cup, the highest in a single edition.

• Russian Oleg Salenko scored 5 goals in a single match against Cameroon in the 1994 World Cup, a record for the finals. However, this number is dwarfed by Australia’s Archie Thompson, who scored 13 goals in a single match against Samoa in a qualifying match, which Australia won by 31 goals.

• The fastest goal in a World Cup stands at 10.89 seconds by Hakan Sukur for Turkey against Korea Republic.

• The 1998 World Cup holds the record for the most goals scored, with 171 goals, while the 1930 and 1934 are the joint lowest with only 70 goals apiece.

• The World Cup provides just as much joy to defenders and goalkeepers; Peter Shilton and Fabian Barthez both went a record 10 matches without conceding a goal.

• The 173,850 that officially attended the virtual final – the winner was decided by a final group stage and hosts Brazil needed a draw against Uruguay to claim the title - of the 1950 World Cup at the Maracana Stadium. Uruguay won 2-1 to be crowned champions and the match would forever be known as the Maracanazo [The Maracana Blow]. The lowest attendance, meanwhile, stands at a mere 300 in a Romania-Peru match in the 1930 edition. The highest attendance in a full tournament was 3,587,538 in USA 1994.

• Former Brazil captain Cafu has won the most number of World Cup matches, 16, and also holds the joint record of having been booked the most number of times, 6, along with Zinidine Zidane.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2014.

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Hugh | 7 years ago | Reply

The name of the South American country where Radamel Falcao was born is Colombia and not Columbia. CC is right when he wrote "Typos galore! An immensely poor piece of writing and editing."

Aditya Dasgupta | 7 years ago | Reply

I like football extremely, as I have waited for four years. This is the only game which is liked by almost the whole world. I wish Brazil will win this tournament.

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