It’s the football tournament that every country wants to qualify for. Better still, they would all like to win it. After all, having a World Cup winner’s medal in the trophy cabinet is also the ultimate prize for any player.
It’s a tournament that has endured through the decades, gradually growing in significance and stature, reaching its pinnacle in the 2022 event in Qatar, the first to ever be held in an Arab country and possibly not the last.
Going back in time to the very first FIFA World Cup, this was held in Uruguay in 1930 and was overseen and organised by the then president of the Association, Jules Rimet. Only 13 teams took part in the initial event and the home nation emerged as eventual winners.
Incidentally, this is a feat that’s only ever been achieved five more times in the history of the tournament, and is certainly not to be repeated in 2022.
Over the years the size of the competition has steadily grown. In 1954 16 teams were included and in 1982 this increased to 24. The current 32-team format was introduced in 1998.
Up until the 1970 tournament the winning team was awarded the Jules Rimet trophy which, itself, had a fairly colourful history that included being stolen in 1966, only to be found by a dog called Pickles shortly before the tournament was due to kick off.
Iconic matches from across the years
Unsurprisingly, when the world’s best teams come together it’s going to create some memorable matches, not to mention a few major upsets.
Many of these have included England whose surely most famous game came in 1966 when they met West Germany in the final at home in Wembley Stadium. Despite going into the game as distinct second favourites, it took a hat-trick from Geoff Hurst to seal the 4-2 victory that saw fans invading the pitch even before the final whistle was blown.
In the next World Cup, held in Mexico in 1970, many of the same squad were hoping to make it a second tournament win for England. Unfortunately, they first had to overcome a Brazilian side featuring the amazing talents of players like Pele, Jairzinho and Rivelino. Despite an effort by keeper Gordon Banks to deny Pele a goal with the so-called “save of the century”, the Brazilians proved just too strong an opposition, going on to win 1-0 as well as the tournament outright. As their third win Brazil also earned the right to hold on to the Jules Rimet trophy for ever more.
England’s third notable match came in the 1986 tournament, once again held in Mexico. This involved the now legendary “hand of God” moment when the brilliant Argentinian player Diego Maradona clearly knocked in a goal with his hand to claim a 2-1 victory. Modern technology would ensure that this foul would never go un-noticed today but would rob football of one of its most famous stories.
World Cup winners
Argentina went on to win the tournament that year, their second victory having also won in 1978. Several other countries have bettered this including Italy and Germany who have both won four times.
But the undoubted champion of champions are Brazil who have carried off the trophy no less than five times, in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1990 and 2002.
Despite something of a winning drought for a couple of decades, hopes are high that 2022 could also be their year.
Anyone wanting to chance their luck on a Brazilian victory will find that they are clear favourites to achieve their aim. Various online bookmakers are offering World Cup bets, and many have Brazil as the favourites to win. After all, they seem to have breezed through the group stage with barely a hiccup and showing consistent form.
Other teams in the frame are Argentina, France and Spain who are all fairly closely ranked together in terms of their odds. However, it would seem like the sports books aren’t looking
very favourably on England’s chances of picking up the trophy. Just before the knockout stages start they’re being priced at around 10/1 compared with Brazil’s 12/5.
The special magic of the tournament
So, what is it that makes the World Cup such a special event for fans and players alike?
Well, the first aspect is the struggle that many teams need to overcome to get there. Over 200 countries play for a place in the finals so, theoretically, even the smallest footballing nations are in with a chance.
Then, once the finals begin, it gives fans the chance to see all of the world’s greatest players on one footballing stage providing a true showcase of skill and ability.
As it’s only held once every four years it has many times the cachet of other sporting events that are held annually like the Super Bowl or Wimbledon and this makes it really something worth anticipating.
Looking ahead to 2026
This is exactly what many fans are doing, even before the current tournament has reached its conclusion. In four years’, time the action is due to move to the US, Canada and Mexico when it will return to its traditional summer schedule. FIFA have also decided that the number of teams competing will rise from 32 to 48 giving even more countries a chance to qualify.
So the World Cup may be approaching its centenary in two tournaments’ time, but here’s certainly plenty of life, and even more excitement, to come in FIFA’s showpiece event.