The History of The FIFA World Cup

fifa world cup

The FIFA World Cup is one of the most prestigious tournaments in all sports. People from all over the world tune in to cheer on their nation in a bid to discover which nation will reign supreme and be able to claim that they have the best talent when it comes to soccer.

The World Cup has become one of the most watched events with an audience of over 20 billion throughout the tournament’s history. However, the World Cup didn’t start out as a major event and had some obstacles to overcome.

If you are a huge soccer fan and would like to learn about the history of the FIFA World Cup, read through this gallery and find out just how it got its start.

The British Home Championship

In 1872, England and Scotland squared off in a challenge match that was the first international soccer match in the world. Next came the British Home Championship, the first international tournament for countries, which was played in 1884.

At the dawn of the 20th century, soccer became a lot more popular, and it was played as a demonstration sport as part of the 1900 and 1904 Summer Olympics. Winners didn’t get any medals in the demonstration format as it wasn’t yet an official competition.

FIFA was founded in 1904

The world’s premier soccer body, FIFA, was created in 1904, and it immediately put measures in place to organize an international soccer competition between countries. Those days were some of the earliest in the history of international soccer, and in the beginning, the FIFA competition wasn’t very successful.

International soccer became an official competition at the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. The first competition was an amateur affair more like a show than a competition. The England national amateur soccer team emerged victorious nonetheless.

The Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy Tournament

Great Britain emerged victorious in the first international soccer competition, and they managed to repeat the feat at the 1912 Summer Olympics. Unfortunately, both of these early soccer competitions were amateur affairs so they were nothing like the tournaments we know today.

Sir Thomas Lipton would then step in to save the day by organizing the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy tournament in 1909. His tournament was a soccer championship that featured clubs from different countries in place of national teams, with each country having a club representative.

The first World Cup

The Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy tournament was so prestigious at the time that it is sometimes called the first World Cup. Reputable clubs from Switzerland, Italy, and Germany competed in the tournament but England’s Football Association refused to have anything to do with the competition.

The Football Association also turned down the chance to send in a professional team so West Auckland, a team from County Durham, was Britain’s representative at the tournament. Despite the controversy surrounding them, West Auckland managed to win the tournament.

The Football World Championship

Before Sir Thomas Lipton’s competition, a couple of games called the Football World Championships were played between clubs from England and Scotland. The 1895 match between Heart of Midlothian F.C. and Sunderland A.F.C, which ended in victory for Sunderland, was one such game.

This was a couple of years before FIFA would embark on a mission of organizing reputable soccer competitions. The governing body agreed to organize the Olympic tournament for amateurs in 1914, and it also recognized the tournament for the first time.

The 1920 Summer Olympics

The creation of FIFA in 1904 had an immediate effect on the organization of international soccer competitions. This was evident because it led to the organization of the first intercontinental competition between nations at the 1920 Summer Olympics.

This competition featured Egypt and 13 other European teams, with Belgium emerging as the winner. The next Olympic soccer tournament was held in 1924, and the third in 1928. Uruguay won both of those competitions, which were also the first two open World Football Championships.

The FIFA professional era

FIFA’s professional era, which started in 1924, coincided with the first two open soccer tournaments. The Olympic soccer tournaments were quite successful, and one effect of that success is that it motivated the President of FIFA, Jules Rimet, to once again start planning an international soccer tournament that would be independent of the Olympics.

In May 1928, the congress of FIFA in Amsterdam finally concluded that they’d organize an independent world championship. Uruguay was already a two-time champion so they were named host of the inaugural World Cup.

Uruguay as the host nation

The inaugural World Cup competition was held in Uruguay, which wasn’t a super-convenient location for European teams. The countries were all invited to send a team representative but no European team made the pledge to send in a team until the competition was two months from starting.

At the end of the day, the FIFA President himself had to convince countries like Romania, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and France to send in teams and make the competition but not all of them could be convinced. A total of 13 nations eventually competed in the competition.

France won the first World Cup match

The first and the second World Cup matches were played at the same time in July 1930, with France defeating Mexico 4-1 and the US defeating Belgium 3-0. Lucien Laurent of France also scored the first goal in the history of the World Cup.

However, it was Uruguay who would once again emerge victorious after defeating Argentina 4-2 in front of tens of thousands of Uruguayans in Montevideo. Uruguay became the first nation to win the World Cup as a result, proving their victories at the Olympic soccer tournaments were no fluke.

The 1932 Summer Olympics

The IOC and FIFA failed to come to an agreement on the status of amateur players at first so soccer was excluded from plans for the 1932 Summer Olympics. They had more discussions on the issue after that competition, and because they finally came to an agreement, soccer was featured at the 1936 Summer Olympics once again.

The World Cup had become a bigger competition at this point so it effectively overshadowed the Summer Olympics soccer tournament and was the bigger competition in every way.

The effect of war and international travel

The early World Cup competitions were dampened by issues like war and intercontinental travel. The 1934 World Cup was marred by the fact that few teams from South America were willing to travel to Europe to compete.

Four years later, the story was similar as all South and North American teams boycotted the 1938 World Cup, with the only exceptions being Cuba and Brazil. Brazil stood out as the only South American team to be represented in the 1934 and 1938 World Cup tournaments.

The canceled World Cups

The threat of war and strained international relations had an effect on how World Cup competitions were organized, but then World War II broke out and had a great effect on international soccer tournaments.

A World Cup competition which was slated for 1942, and which would have been hosted by Germany, was canceled as a result of the war and its aftermath. The 1946 competition slated for Brazil was canceled as well amidst concerns for the safety of players and competition organizers.

The return of the World Cup

Once the Second World War had officially ended and its aftermath had cooled off, a World Cup was held once again in 1950, and this time around, Britain was part of it for the first time after withdrawing from the 1920 competition in protest. FIFA invited Britain in 1946, and they accepted to rejoin the international tournament.

The 1950 World Cup also featured World Champions, Uruguay, who had declined to participate in the two previous World Cups. Uruguay won the competition once again after defeating Brazil in the Maracanazo game.

The 16-team tournaments

Between 1934 to 1978, all the international soccer tournaments except the 1938 competition, featured 16 teams competing against each other. 1938 was different because Germany absorbed Austria after qualifying, so only 15 teams competed in that tournament.

In the 1950 World Cup, Scotland, Turkey, and India all withdrew from the World Cup and left 13 teams to compete for the trophy. In those early days, most teams that competed in the World Cup were from South America and Europe, the rest came from Oceania, Asia, Africa, and North America.

Tough times for non-European and non-South American teams

Recall that a small minority of the teams that competed in the early World Cup competitions were from outside Europe and South America. Most of these teams were weak competitors so they faced some tough times as they were often defeated by the superior South American and European teams.

Before 1982, only three teams from outside Europe and South America managed to make it out of the first round. The USA did so by reaching the semi-final in 1930; Cuba reached the quarter-final in 1938, and Mexico reached the quarter-final in 1970.

The 24-team format

An average of about 15 teams competed in the early World Cup tournaments until things were switched up in 1982 when the competition adopted a 24-team format for the first time. This expansion enabled the governing body to invite more teams from North America, Asia, and Africa and it would have an effect on the success of these minority teams who would record more feats.

Mexico managed to reach the quarter-finals in 1986, Cameroon also reached the quarter-finals in 1990, and South Korea also finished fourth in 2002.

The expansion in 2013

In 2013, former FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, revealed that he’d guaranteed a position for the Caribbean Football Union in the upcoming World Cup. Next, he discussed wanting to see true globalization and bemoaned the restrictions on African and Asian teams at the World Cup.

Blatter thought it was ok that most of the teams that competed in the World Cup were South American. These revelations were conveniently made in a re-election season so Blatter’s opponent, Michael Platini, announced his plan to include 40 national teams in the World Cup.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup

The FIFA Women’s World Cup, which was the tournament for women’s soccer, was held for the first time in China in 1991. The difference is that the women’s competition was coordinated on a much smaller scale than the men’s.

In the first competition, less than 60 countries competed in the Women’s World Cup but that number had more than doubled by the time the 2007 tournament was held. However, like the men’s competition, the Women’s World Cup continued to evolve with time.

The FIFA Confederations Cup

In the beginning, the FIFA Confederations Cup was essentially a dress rehearsal before the World Cup tournaments, which were the major attractions. These Confederations Cup were played about a year before World Cup tournaments, with the participants being the winners of the six FIFA Confederation Championships, as well as the host country and the FIFA World Cup Champion.

The first FIFA Confederations Cup was held in 1992, and the Cup was held for the last time in 2017, after which the FIFA World Cup replaced it entirely.

The Jules Rimet Trophy

Between 1930 to 1970, the World Cup winners got the Jules Rimet Trophy. The trophy was simply called the Coupe du Monde or the World Cup Trophy at first but was later renamed after Jules Rimet, the FIFA President and the driving force behind the early FIFA competitions.

Brazil earned the right to keep the FIFA trophy permanently after winning the tournament for the third time in 1970, but then it got stolen in 1983, and it was never recovered after that point because it might have been melted down by those that stole it.

Intercontinental play-offs

Qualifying for the World Cup finals involves going through a whole process that starts as early as three years before the World Cup finals in some cases.

Different confederations adopt different formats for qualification tournaments, but in most cases, the winners of intercontinental play-offs are given one or two places. At the 2010 World Cup, for instance, the winner of the Oceanian zone, and the team that placed fifth in the Asian zone all entered a playoff spot.

Automatic qualification for host nations

Hosting the FIFA World Cup comes with numerous benefits, including increased revenue from tourism. Host nations also enjoy automatic qualification for the final tournament, a practice that was started in 1938.

From 1938 to 2002, defending champions also enjoyed automatic qualification but automatic qualification for defending champions was eventually withdrawn at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and champions began to compete to qualify like every other team. In 2002, Brazil became the first defending champion to compete in the qualification round of the World Cup.

The group stage

The current format for the FIFA World Cup finals has been in place since 1998. It features 32 national football teams going up against each other for weeks, and there are two stages involved, the group stage and the knockout stage.

The group stage features eight groups comprised of four national teams, they are ranked based on their performances after four games. However, starting from 1998, constraints were introduced to ensure no more than two European teams were grouped together, and to ensure no more than one team from a confederation made the cut.

The Round-Robin Tournament

In the group stage of the World Cup, each group is coordinated like a round-robin tournament as each national team gets to play three games against others in their group. As a result, a total of six games are played within each group.

The last round of the group games is played at the same time so fairness can be attained within the teams. Two teams, which are the top performers in terms of points in each group, then qualify for the knockout stages.

The knockout stage

The knockout stage of the World Cup can be described as the stage where things get serious. It is essentially a single-game elimination tournament as teams go up against each other in one-off games that go to extra time and penalty shootouts whenever a winner doesn’t emerge in regulation.

The round of 16 is the first stage of the knockout round, followed by the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, the game of the losing semi-finalists, and the final. This has been the format for a while now.

Televised in 1954

The World Cup is now the most widely followed and viewed sporting event on the planet but TV wasn’t yet widespread in the early days of the World Cup. The first time the World Cup was televised was in 1954, and it has been broadcast ever since.

In the 2006 World Cup alone, total cumulative viewership of 26.29 billion was recorded, and 715.1 million people tuned in to see the final match; 300 million people also saw the 2006 World Cup draw that decided how the teams would be divided into groups.

The World Cup mascots

Ever since 1966, every FIFA World Cup has had its own logo or mascot. The World Cup Willie was the mascot adopted for the 1966 World Cup, and this was the first World Cup mascot.

There are also official match balls designed for each World Cup tournament; Adidas became FIFA’s official supplier after Slazenger produced the FIFA World Cup ball for the 1966 Finals. Each World Cup also typically has an official song performed by famous artists like Will Smith and Shakira.

The FIFA awards

The FIFA World Cup Trophy isn’t the only prize up for grabs at the end of each World Cup. There are loads of awards given to players and teams that manage certain feats and accomplishments at the tournament. One of them is the Golden Ball, given to the best player.

The Silver Ball is given to the second-best player, and the third-best player goes home with the Bronze Ball. The top goalscorer gets the Golden Boot, the best goalkeeper gets the Golden Glove Award, and the Best Young Player Award goes to the best player aged 21 or under.

The 1930 FIFA World Cup

The FIFA World Cup tournament in 1930 was the inaugural edition of the men’s national soccer teams championship. The games were played in Uruguay from the 13th to the 20th of July in 1930. Uruguay was selected by FIFA because it was celebrating the centenary of its first constitution.

Another reason Uruguay was chosen as host is that their national team had won and defended its Summer Olympics Football tournament title in 1928. The capital of Uruguay, Montevideo, hosted most of the World Cup matches.

The 1934 FIFA World Cup

The second edition of the FIFA World Cup was played in Italy from May to June 1934. 16 teams from four confederations were represented at the competition which was held in eight cities in Italy. This was the first time in teams had to qualify to compete in the tournament.

A total of 32 teams were invited but only 16 would eventually qualify for the finals. Uruguay, the host of the inaugural champions, decided to boycott the competition because some European teams declined the chance to play in the 1930 World Cup.

The 1938 FIFA World Cup

The 1938 FIFA World Cup was hosted by France, and the games were played from June 4th to June 19th, 1938. Italy emerged victorious after defeating Hungary 4-2 in the final game.

In the process, they set a record of being the only men’s national soccer team to win multiple World Cup tournaments under one coach. The third edition of the World Cup was the last one held for a while because subsequent ones were canceled as a result of the Second World War.

The 1950 FIFA World Cup

The Second World War halted a lot of things, including the planned 1942 and 1946 World Cup tournaments. The 1950 World Cup was the fourth edition of the tournament, played in Brazil from June to July 1950.

Uruguay once again emerged victorious after defeating Brazil in the final game of the final round. It was the first time a winner would emerge without a one-match final format, the trophy awarded to Uruguay was also called the Jules Rimet Cup to celebrate his anniversary at FIFA.

The 1954 FIFA World Cup

The 1954 FIFA World Cup was played in Switzerland from June to July. This competition was characterized by numerous goal-scoring records, including the highest goals average per game. West Germany won the tournament by defeating Hungary 3-2 in the final even though Hungary was everyone’s pick to win it all.

Switzerland qualified automatically for the tournament because they were the hosts, and Uruguay also qualified automatically because they were the defending champions. The tournament featured national teams from South Korea, Turkey, and Scotland for the first time.

The 1958 FIFA World Cup

The 1958 World Cup was the sixth edition of the international soccer competition. It was hosted by Sweden, and games were played from June 8th to June 29th, 1958. This was the first time the competition would be hosted by a Nordic state.

However, this time the hosts couldn’t eke out a victory as they fell 5-2 to Brazil. This World Cup featured a young Pele making his debut for the first time, and he would soon emerge as a superstar to reckon with.

The 1962 FIFA World Cup

The 1962 FIFA World Cup was played in Chile from May 30th to June 17th, 1962. A total of 56 teams from six confederations were invited, from which only fourteen emerged for the finals competition with the hosts, Chile, and defending champions, Brazil.

The defending champions managed to defend their title by defeating Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the Chilean city of Santiago. They managed to join Italy on the list of teams to win consecutive World Cup tournaments; they remain the only teams to have managed the feat since.

The 1966 FIFA World Cup

The 1966 FIFA World Cup was hosted by England from July 11th to July 30th, 1966. Hosting the competition certainly had an effect on the English soccer team as they defeated West Germany 4-2 in the final to win their first and only World Cup tournament.

The game was tightly contested, as the teams were level at 2-2 after 90 minutes when Geoff Hurst scored two extra-time goals to complete his hat-trick and win it for England. Winning the game made England the fifth country to win the World Cup, and they were also the third host nation to win it.

The 1970 FIFA World Cup

The 1970 FIFA World Cup was the first edition of the World Cup to be played outside South America and Europe. It was hosted by Mexico and games were played from May 31st to June 21st; 75 nations from six continents were represented at the tournament.

Fourteen teams emerged from the qualification rounds, and they got to join Mexico and England in the competition. Countries like Morocco, El Salvador, and Israel all made their debut World Cup appearances at the competition.

The 1974 FIFA World Cup

This was the tenth edition of the FIFA World Cup, and it was played in West Germany from June 13th to 7 July 7th. The FIFA World Cup Trophy, created by Silvio Gazzaniga, debuted at this tournament and replaced the Jules Rimet Trophy which had been in use previously.

It also marked the first time two rounds of group stages would be used to determine who qualified for the group stages. The Hosts won the 1974 FIFA World Cup by defeating the Netherlands 2-1 in the final game.

The 1978 FIFA World Cup

The 1978 FIFA World Cup was the 11th edition of the World Cup competition, and it was hosted in Argentina in June. After a total of 38 matches played and 102 goals scored between the 16 teams that made it to the final tournament, hosts Argentina emerged the winner by defeating the Netherlands 3-1 after extra time.

The final game was played at the River Plate stadium in Buenos Aires, and the triumph marked the first time Argentina would win the World Cup title, and they also became the fifth country to host and win the World Cup.

The 1982 FIFA World Cup

The 12th edition of the FIFA World Cup was hosted by Spain, and the games were played from June 13th to July 11th, 1982. Italy defeated West Germany 3-1 in the final game played at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, the Spanish capital.

This was the third time Italy would win the World Cup, and it was also their first win in nearly five decades. Argentina, who were the defending champions, didn’t put on a remarkable show but countries like Kuwait, Honduras, and Algeria made their first World Cup appearances.

The 1986 FIFA World Cup

The 13th FIFA World Cup was played in Mexico from May 31st to June 29th, 1986. Colombia was initially selected to host the competition but it was unable to do so because of economic reasons and after it officially pulled out in 1982, Mexico was named the new host a year after.

The competition featured a 24-team format, and it was only the second World Cup tournament to do so. Argentina won the 1986 World Cup courtesy of their Captain, Diego Maradona, and his magical goals that sealed Argentina’s second World Cup triumph.

The 1990 FIFA World Cup

This was the 14th FIFA World Cup competition, and it was hosted in Italy, which became the second country to host the event twice. A total of 116 national soccer associations had team representatives before qualification began in 1988; 22 teams would then emerge from the qualifications round to compete against Italy and Argentina.

After 52 matches played and 115 goals scored between them, West Germany won the tournament, beating Argentina 1-0 to do so. The 1990 World Cup was also the last time a team from West Germany would compete before the reunification with East Germany.

The 1994 FIFA World Cup

The 1994 FIFA World Cup was an American affair hosted by the United States, with games played from June 17th to July 17th. The US was chosen as host even though soccer has never been the most popular sport in the country and the decision paid off because the 15th FIFA World Cup was a huge success financially.

An average of 68,991 people attended each game, and tournament records for attendance were broken in the process. Brazil won the tournament by overcoming Italy 3-2 in the final game.

The 1998 FIFA World Cup

France hosted the 1998 FIFA World Cup from June 10th to July 12th, 1998. It overcame competition from Morocco in the bidding process to become the host nation, hosting the tournament for the second time in the process. The 1998 tournament stands out because it spanned 32 days and was the longest World Cup ever as a result.

An expansion was in effect that would see 32 teams compete in the group stage, up from the regular 24 teams. The hosts won the competition after overcoming the defending champions, Brazil, 3-0 in the final.

The 2002 FIFA World Cup

The 17th FIFA World Cup was hosted by South Korea and Japan, and games were played from May 31st to June 30th, 2002. A total of 32 teams qualified for the World Cup, which marked the first time the World Cup would be hosted in Asia, and outside Europe and the Americas.

It featured teams from Slovenia, Ecuador, Senegal, and China making their debut at the World Cup. This wasn’t the most predictable World Cup tournament as there were loads of surprise results and upsets along the way until Brazil emerged as the winner.

The 2006 FIFA World Cup

The 2006 FIFA World Cup was hosted by Germany, and the competition was held from June 9th to July 9th. 198 national soccer associations were represented in the qualification rounds, and 31 teams would eventually qualify for the finals along with Germany, which enjoyed automatic qualification as the host nation.

Italy would eventually emerge as the winner after defeating France 5-3 in the final. Countries like Trinidad and Tobago, the Ivory Coast, Angola, and Ghana all made their World Cup debuts in 2006.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup

The 19th FIFA World Cup was hosted by South Africa, and games were played from June 11th to July 11th, 2010. Only African countries were permitted to compete in the bidding process for hosting the World Cup and South Africa was chosen over Morocco and Egypt as the host nation.

A total of 32 teams made the finals after making it out of the qualification tournament. 16 teams then made it to the knockout stage and Spain emerged victorious after defeating the Netherlands 1-0 in the final.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup

The 20th FIFA World Cup was hosted by Brazil, which won the right to host in 2007. The tournament was held from June 12th to the 13th of July, and it marked the second time the World Cup would be hosted by Brazil.

A total of 31 teams emerged from the qualification round to compete against the hosts in the final, and after a total of 64 matches and 171 goals scored, Germany outscored Argentina 1-0 in the final to win the World Cup for the fourth time.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup

Russia hosted the 2018 World Cup tournament from June 14th to July 15th, 2018. It marked the 11th time that the competition would be held in Europe and the first for Eastern Europe. After gulping roughly $14.2 billion in costs, this was the most expensive World Cup ever.

Defending champions Germany were knocked out early, and the hosts also bowed out in the knockout stage. Led by Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, and Antoine Griezmann, France emerged champions after defeating a strong Croatian team 4-2 in the final.

The Netherlands’ unfortunate World Cup history

The Dutch national team hasn’t been very fortunate at the World Cup tournament despite being one of the top ten teams in terms of World Cup performances. Holland went up against hosts West Germany in the final of the 1974 World Cup and lost 2-1.

Four years later, they returned to the World Cup final with a chance at redemption but they were humbled 3-1 by Johan Cruyff and England. They made the World Cup final once again in 2010 but once again, they lost, this time to Spain, who defeated them 1-0.