With England still the dominant force in World football, the World Cup in 1930 was set to start in Uruguay without them. Although the English FA had joined FIFA in 1906, the relationship with the British associations was fraught. In 1928, the British nations withdrew from FIFA, in a disagreement over payments to amateur players and the World Cup went on without them. Thirteen teams entered the original tournament. Many European teams chose not to compete because of the difficulty of travelling to South America. Uruguay took advantage, winning every game including 6-1 in the semi-final and a 4-1 win over Argentina in the final.
In 1934, Uruguay joined the British nations in not competing in the tournament held in Italy. They withdrew in protest that many European countries did not travel to South America 4 years earlier and are still the only champions not to defend their title. Italy needed a replay against Spain in the quarter finals (24 hours after the first match – can you imagine today’s players being asked to do that?) and extra-time in the final to see off Czechoslovakia and win the cup on their own soil.
The 1938 became synonymous with politics and the debate over the future of the tournament. Uruguay and Argentina didn’t compete because of the decision to hold the tournament in Europe for the second time in succession. The British FA’s were still at war with FIFA (reminds me of recent events with Sepp Blatter) so didn’t enter, Spain were excluded because of the civil war and Germany competed under the Nazi flag. Italy retained their crown with a 4-2 final victory over the emerging Hungary, who had beaten England 6-2 at Wembley 2 years earlier.
After a break of 12 years because of World War II, the tournament returned with Brazil as the host nation. The winner was decided by a final group, and as it turned out, the deciding match in this group is notable for the size of the crowd, with a reported 173,850 packed into the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro to see Uruguay win 2-1 and top the group as World Cup winners.
This was to be Hungary’s World Cup. 1954 in Switzerland saw them defeat South Korea 9-0 and West Germany 8-3 in the group before scoring 4 past both Brazil and Uruguay (albeit after extra-time) in the knockout stages. By the time they faced West Germany again in the final they had amassed a 32 match unbeaten run. They were undone by West Germany 3-2, after being 2-0 up inside the first 8 minutes.
The 1958 World Cup was hosted in Sweden and should be remembered for the feat of one man, who is often forgotten when the history of the World Cup is told. Just Fontaine, a Moroccan-born player for France scores a remarkable 13 goals in the tournament. He is still the fourth highest goalscorer at all World Cups, only having competed in one. To put that in context, Miroslav Klose took 4 tournaments to get his 16 goals and Ronaldo took 3 tournaments to score his 15 World Cup goals. A remarkable feat that is often overshadowed by the fact that this was Brazil’s first World Cup win and the start of the Pele era – he was only 17.
The 1962 edition of the Word Cup returned to South America, Chile and this small country hosted a tournament of 16 teams in only 4 stadiums. Brazil’s team with Garrincha, Vava and Pele starring were unbeaten throughout and took the final 3-1 against Czechoslovakia and took back-to-back wins. They were immediately installed as favourites to win their hat-trick in the next World Cup.
England fans will tell you the only thing you need to remember about the 1966 World Cup was we won it. (West) Germany fans will tell you the only thing you need to remember about the 1966 World Cup was the Russian linesman. West Ham fans will tell you the only thing you need to remember about the 1966 World Cup was the fact that West Ham players dominated the final.
Mexico 70 was a one team tournament, with Brazil even winning the final 4-1 against Italy. It was the crowning glory of the Pele Brazil era, completing their third triumph after feeling that they were fouled out of the 1966 World Cup in England. The Jules Rimet trophy was given to them permanently and a new World Cup was to be designed for the next tournament.
1974 was the start of the experiment of staging groups for both the first and second rounds of the tournament. East Germany topped the group ahead of their fierce rivals, and hosts, West Germany in the first round. They couldn’t repeat these results in the second round as group winners Netherlands and West Germany qualified for the final. Gerd Muller scored the winner as the West Germans triumphed 2-1, Muller’s fourth goal of the competition to add to the 10 he scored in 1970.
Scotland travelled to Argentina in 1978 win genuine hopes of challenging for the title, but they returned home 8 days after they started with group stage elimination. Their consolation was a win over the much-fancied Netherlands in what was the Netherlands only loss on their march to the final. They couldn’t cope with the passion of the hosts and ended up losing their second final in succession. The scoreline was 3-1.
The 1982 World Cup had many high points – the Brazil v Italy match in the second phase was a great match – but the moment of the tournament was Marco Tardelli’s celebration as he scored the third Italy goal in the final against West Germany. It captures the passion that the world feels for football. The ugly side of football reared its head through Harald Schumacher’s assault on Patrick Battiston.
The 1986 World Cup belonged to one man. Loved and loathed in fairly equal measure the world over, Diego Armando Maradona won the World Cup single-handed. In a team full of players that even fanatical football fans had forgotten a year later, Maradona was a star – for me the greatest player of all time. It’s not often that an entire tournament is dominated by a single team, let alone a single player but the best goals, the best performances and the biggest controversy all belonged to one man.
Italia 90 was nearly England’s year again, but it wasn’t to be. The dominance of Maradona from four years earlier had faded and this was a World Cup lit up by stars that hadn’t been expected to shine before it began – Paul Gascogne, Toto Schillaci, Roger Milla and David Platt. But Maradona dragged every ounce out of his teammates and the West German machine worked through the gears to face each other in the final. After a (mostly) beautiful tournament played in a beautiful country, the final was an ugly affair. Argentina decided that attrition and a penalty shoot-out was their best chance of retaining their title and the match was a horrible spectacle. Fortunately the team that came to play football were marshalled through the more by Lothar Matthaus and lifted the trophy.
The decision to take the World Cup to the USA in 1994 was seen as a positive commercial move in taking the game to a new market, unlike the furore around the new market of Qatar in 2022. The tournament was considered a success in bringing the game to packed stadiums across the country. The tournament was dominated by Brazil and Italy and it was no surprise to see them face each other in the final. What was a surprise, however, was the 0-0 scoreline and THAT penalty miss – no, not Diana Ross in the Opening Ceremony, but Roberto Baggio in the final shoot-out. Brazil win again after a wait of 24 years.
France 1998 was a World Cup to behold, with global stars at the top of their game. Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Juan Sebastian Veron, Edgar Davids and Christian Vieiri all had fantastic tournaments. The biggest drama came off the pitch as Ronaldo was seemingly overcome by nerves the night before the final. Reports circulated around the press as he was omitted from the starting lineup only to be reinstated 45 minutes before kick-off. This unsettled Brazil and France (for France, read Zinedine Zidane) took control with a 3-0 win.
The 2002 edition of the World Cup took us to new frontiers as Japan and South Korea were hosts. Defending champions France crashed out of the group stage without a win and were joined on the plane home by Portugal and Argentina. Controversy followed South Korea in winning through against Italy and Spain to set up a semi-final showdown with Germany. The old guard won through and Germany faced Brazil in the final. Ronaldo put to bed his demons from four years earlier with both goals in a 2-0 Brazil triumph.
The 2006 World Cup became notable for the number of cards issued by referees, with 345 yellows and 28 red cards issued. One match between Netherlands and Portugal saw 4 reds and 16 yellows handed out – the match becoming known as the Battle of Nuremberg. English referee Graham Poll infamously showed 3 yellow cards to the same player! On a more positive note, the French were revived by the skill and grace of Zinedine Zidane to reach the final against Italy. Zidane imploded with a head butt deep into extra-time and the Italians won on penalties.
2010 saw some more of the good side (small as it is) of Sepp Blatter as the World Cup again ventured into pastures new – South Africa. The finalists from 4 years earlier – France and Italy – both finished bottom of their groups and didn’t make it to the knockout stages, that were dominated by Germany hitting 4 goals past both England and Argentina before meeting an efficient Spain team that won 1-0 in all their knockout games, including the final against an aggressive Dutch team.
Three results in particular stand out for me as the 2014 World Cup played out.
Netherlands 5-1 Spain
Germany 4-0 Portugal
Germany 7-1 Brazil
These were defining moments in a competition that rewarded attacking football. The much-vaunted battle between the best players in the World didn’t show as Cristiano Ronaldo limped into and out of the tournament and Lionel Messi’s teammates were woefully off-colour, particularly Angel Di Maria. No surprise with the results above that Germany won the cup and are current World Champions.