Beginnings – The first World Cup took place in Uruguay in 1930 (picture) inspired by FIFA president Jules Rimet. The inaugural tournament was contested by 13 teams but the event has since expanded considerably. There are now nearly 200 teams entered in the competition which are whittled down to the 32-team finals.
FIFA and the IOC failed to agree over the status of amateur players so football was left out of the Olympic Games in 1932. The World Cup came about as a direct result of this exclusion with official world champions Uruguay named as hosts in the centenary of independence. Rimet persuaded European teams from Belgium, France, Romania, and Yugoslavia to make the trip, joining seven from South America and two from North America.
The opening goal in World Cup history was scored by Lucien Laurent of France with Bert Patenaude of the USA scoring the first hat-trick in a 3–0 win over Paraguay. Uruguay beat Argentina 4–2 in front of 93,000 spectators in Montevideo.
The 1934 World Cup included a qualification stage with 16 teams going through to the finals in Italy, a figure that would remain the same until 1982. Italy won the tournament, becoming the first European team to do so.
In 1938 the title holders and the host country were given automatic qualification for the first time. The tournament was held in France with Italy retaining their title with victory over Hungary in the final. Polish striker Ernest Willimowski became the first player to score four goals in a World Cup game but finished on the losing side as Poland went down 6-5 to Brazil.
The World Cup resumed with the 1950 tournament in Brazil in which England played for the first time. Uruguay defeated Brazil to become champions for the second time. The Switzerland World Cup in 1954 World Cup was the first to be televised with Scotland making their debuts. West Germany won the title with a 3-2 win over Hungary.
Brazil became the first team to lift the trophy outside of their own continent in 1958 when they won in Sweden. The great Pelé announced his arrival on the world scene with two goals in the final. French striker Just Fontaine scored 13 goals in the tournament, a record that still stands today.
The 1962 World Cup was held in Chile with Brazil retaining the title with a 3-1 win over Czechoslovakia. The 1966 World Cup was hosted and won by England with a dramatic final against Germany, Geoff Hurst becoming the first and only player to score a hat-trick in the final.
1970’s and 1980’s
Mexico staged the 1970 World Cup, a tournament still remembered as much for the group clash between England and Brazil as the final itself. Gordon Banks produced a memorable save to deny Pelé from six yards. Italy beat Germany 4–3 winners in the semi final but were beaten 4-1 by a brilliant Brazilian side in the final. As the first nation to win three World Cups, Brazil were permanently awarded the Jules Rimet trophy.
Germany hosted and won the competition in 1974 with a 2-1 victory over Holland in the final. The 1978 World Cup was held in Argentina with the hosts once again taking full advantage and beating Holland 3-1.
Spain hosted the 1982 World Cup with the number of qualifying teams now extended to 24. Cameroon, Algeria, Honduras, New Zealand and Kuwait all made their first appearance. In the group stages, Hungary beat El Salvador 10–1 to record the only double-figure score in a World Cup match to date. Italy beat Germany in the final.
The tournament was back in Mexico in 1986 with Canada, Denmark and Iraq making their first finals. The quarterfinal match between England and Argentina is remembered for the famous “Hand of God” goal by Diego Maradona. Argentina beat West Germany 3–2 in the final.
1990’s and 2000’s
The 1990 World Cup was staged in Italy with Cameroon becoming the first African country to reach the quarter finals. West Germany beat Argentina 1–0 in the final to gain revenge for their defeat four years earlier. Republic of Ireland also appeared in the tournament for the first time.
The 1994 World Cup was held in the USA with the final being decided on penalties for the first time. Brazil defeated Italy in the final but the competition was marred by a drugs ban for Maradona and the tragic murder of Colombian defender Andrés Escobar, believed to be retribution from a fan for his own-goal in their first round match.
The 1998 tournament was held in France with the first ever golden goal decided the second round match between France and Paraguay. France secured victory in that game and went on to win the tournament by beating Brazil 3–0 in the final.
The 2002 World Cup was held in Asia for the first time with the joint-hosts being South Korea and Japan. Brazil beat Germany 2–0 in the final for record their fifth World Cup triumph. The World Cup was back in Germany in 2006 with Togo, Cote d’voire, Angola and Ghana who all making their first appearance. Italy beat France in a stormy final encounter, eventually winning on penalties after the sending off of Zinedine Zidane for an attempted headbutt.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was the first time it had been held on African soil. Spain emerged as winners, thanks to a goal from Andres Iniesta deep into extra-time against Holland. Spain had been expected to produce attractive attacking football but only scored eight goals in their seven matches.