The History of the Football World Cup - Part 1
3.2 billion people worldwide watched at least one minute of the 2010 Football World Cup, representing 46.4% of the global population. The tournament is a gargantuan, the pinnacle of the international game and only really the Olympic games can hold a torch to it in terms of its global reach and relevancy. In its current guise, it brings together thirty two of the best national sides for a one month knock-out competition. For many players, you haven’t “made it” until you have graced the grandest stage of them all.
The football World Cup originally began in 1930 when it was decided that the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles wouldn’t play host to any soccer during the games, citing a lack of popularity for the sport in the country (the United States would go on to host the World Cup in 1994). Before that, the primary international competition for football was at the Olympics, albeit only amateur players were allowed in. For what it’s worth – Great Britain won three football gold medals between 1900-1912.
Uruguay was chosen to host the inaugural World Cup. 1930 marked 100 years of independence in the country and they had won the previous two Olympic tournaments. There were no qualifications; teams were invited instead, with thirteen total participants. Given the world of change in travel between now and then, only six participants were from outside of South America (and that included the United States and Mexico). Most European countries declined the trip but France, Belgium, Romania and Yugoslavia went across – the hosts Uruguay winning in the final 4-2 against Argentina.
The tournament came to Europe in 1934, with Italy becoming the second hosts to win their own competition, beating Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the final. Uruguay refused to participate following European nations declining to appear four years earlier. In 1938, Italy retained their title against Hungary, winning 4-2 in the final in Paris.
Both the 1942 and 1946 competitions were never held due to World War 2. In 1950, the World Cup returned to South America, with Brazil playing host to the only World Cup that never featured a final. It was also the first competition to feature a British side, England arriving with expectations of mounting a serious challenge to win it. Instead – shockingly – they would go out in the original group stages, after defeats to Spain and the United States. Uruguay would win the competition after topping the final group stage, although they did beat Brazil (second place) in that round-robin. Having not participated in the ’34 or ’38 competitions, Uruguay had played two, won two.
1954 saw the competition return to Europe, and the home of Fifa – Switzerland. The competition formed the basis of what most people would recognise today, albeit with only 16 teams, rather than 32 – with group stages of four teams preceding a knockout competition through to a traditional final, and a third and fourth place play-off. This would also be the competition that marked the first, embryonic, television coverage of the tournament. Uruguay looked good for a third final in a row, but ran into a terrific Hungary side, who beat them 4-2 in the semi-finals. Hungary looked set to win the final, led by the “Galloping Major” Ferenc Puskás. They went 2-0 up inside the first eight minutes against West Germany, but had let that lead slip by the 20th – and lost it with ten remaining.
The 1958 finals would mark the first won by Brazil, and also the first by a certain man named Pelé. Bizarre then that it would be Brazil facing England that would produce the first 0-0 of any World Cup match ever. Not surprising, would be another group stage exit for England in amongst admittedly a very strong group that included Austria and the Soviet Union. Even less surprising, in hindsight, was Brazil winning 5-2 over the hosts Sweden, thanks in part to a double from Pelé.
The story of 1962 is actually in the build-up. With it generally accepted that a third consecutive tournament in Europe wasn’t right, eyes turned back to South America. Argentina and Chile were in the running, but Argentina’s infrastructure was widely regarded as being superior. So when Chile was rocked by an earthquake in 1960, Argentina would walk it right? Wrong. The Chilean FA said: “We have nothing - that is why we must have the World Cup.” Brazil defeated Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the final.
1966, for many will need little introduction, the year hosted and won by England. Trouble began when the famous Jules Rimet trophy was stolen before the competition started. Thankfully, a dog named Pickles found it before a ball was kicked. The tournament was graced by two players making their World Cup debuts – Eusebio for Portugal and Franz Beckenbauer for West Germany. England, of course, would famously defeat West Germany 4-2 in the final. This was the first ever World Cup final to go to extra time and so far the only one to witness a hat-trick, by Geoff Hurst.
The World Cup reached a new continent in 1970, as Mexico became the first North American country to host the competition. 1970 would also mark the introduction of red and yellow cards and substitutions. This tournament featured that save by Gordon Banks against Pelé, along with England being turned over by West Germany in the quarter final stages after trailing by 2-0, the Germans would win it in extra time thanks to a goal from Gerd Müller. Brazil won the final 4-1 over Italy, Pelé scoring the first and setting up two more – winning his and Brazil’s third competition. Brazil got to keep the famous Jules Rimet trophy after Fifa said in 1930 that the first team to win it three times could keep it.