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The FIFA World Cup, occasionally called the Football World Cup, but usually referred to simply as the World Cup, is an international football competition contested by the men's national teams of the members of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFAmarker), the sport's global governing body. The championship has been awarded every four years since the first tournament in 1930, except in 1942 and 1946, because of World War II.

The current format of the tournament involves 32 teams competing for the title at venues within the host nation(s) over a period of about a month – this phase is often called the World Cup Finals. A qualification phase, which currently takes place over the preceding three years, is used to determine which teams qualify for the tournament together with the host nation(s). The World Cup is the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world, with an estimated 715.1 million people watching the 2006 final.

Of the 18 tournaments held, seven nations have won the title. Brazil are the only team that have played in every tournament and have won the World Cup a record five times. Italy are the current champions and have won four titles, and Germany are next with three. The other former champions are Uruguay, winners of the inaugural tournament, and Argentina, with two titles each, and England and France, with one title each.

The most recent World Cup was held in Germanymarker in 2006. The next World Cup will be held in South Africa, between 11 June and 11 July 2010, and the 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazilmarker.


Previous international competitions

The world's first international football match was a challenge match played in Glasgowmarker in 1872 between Scotland and England, with the first international tournament, the inaugural edition of the British Home Championship, taking place in 1884. At this stage the sport was rarely played outside the United Kingdommarker. As football began to increase in popularity in other parts of the world at the turn of the century, it was held as a demonstration sport with no medals awarded at the 1900 and 1904 Summer Olympics (however, the IOC has retroactively upgraded their status to official events), and at the 1906 Intercalated Games.

After FIFAmarker was founded in 1904, there was an attempt made by FIFA to arrange an international football tournament between nations outside of the Olympic framework in Switzerland in 1906. These were very early days for international football, and the official history of FIFA describes the competition as having been a failure.

At the 1908 Summer Olympics in Londonmarker, football became an official competition. Planned by The Football Association (FA), England's football governing body, the event was for amateur players only and was regarded suspiciously as a show rather than a competition. Great Britain (represented by the England national amateur football team) won the gold medals. They repeated the feat in 1912 in Stockholmmarker, where the tournament was organized by the Swedish Football Association.

With the Olympic event continuing to be contested only between amateur teams, Sir Thomas Lipton organized the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy tournament in Turinmarker in 1909. The Lipton tournament was a championship between individual clubs (not national teams) from different nations, each one of which represented an entire nation. The competition is sometimes described as The First World Cup, and featured the most prestigious professional club sides from Italy, Germany and Switzerland, but the FA of England refused to be associated with the competition and declined the offer to send a professional team. Lipton invited West Aucklandmarker, an amateur side from County Durham, to represent England instead. West Auckland won the tournament and returned in 1911 to successfully defend their title, and were given the trophy to keep forever, as per the rules of the competition.

In 1914, FIFA agreed to recognise the Olympic tournament as a "world football championship for amateurs", and took responsibility for managing the event. This paved the way for the world's first intercontinental football competition, at the 1920 Summer Olympics, contested by Egypt and thirteen European teams, and won by Belgium. Uruguay won the next two Olympic football tournaments in 1924 and 1928.

First World Cup

Due to the success of the Olympic football tournaments, FIFA, with President Jules Rimet the driving force, again started looking at staging its own international tournament outside of the Olympics. On 28 May 1928, the FIFA Congress in Amsterdammarker decided to stage a world championship organised by FIFA. With Uruguay now two-time official football world champions (as 1924 was the start of FIFA's professional era) and to celebrate their centenary of independence in 1930, FIFA named Uruguaymarker as the host country of the inaugural World Cup tournament.

The national associations of selected nations were invited to send a team, but the choice of Uruguay as a venue for the competition meant a long and costly trip across the Atlantic Ocean for European sides. Indeed, no European country pledged to send a team until two months before the start of the competition. Rimet eventually persuaded teams from Belgium, France, Romania, and Yugoslavia to make the trip. In total thirteen nations took part: seven from South America, four from Europe and two from North America.

The first two World Cup matches took place simultaneously on 18 July 1930, and were won by France and USA, who beat Mexico 4–1 and Belgium 3–0 respectively. The first goal in World Cup history was scored by Lucien Laurent of France. In the final, Uruguay defeated Argentina 4–2 in front of a crowd of 93,000 people in Montevideomarker, and in doing so became the first nation to win the World Cup.


After the creation of the World Cup, the 1932 Summer Olympics, held in Los Angelesmarker, did not plan to include football as part of the schedule due to the low popularity of the sport in the United States, as American football had been growing in popularity. FIFA and the IOCmarker also disagreed over the status of amateur players, and so football was dropped from the Games. Olympic football returned at the 1936 Summer Olympics, but was now overshadowed by the more prestigious World Cup.

The issues facing the early World Cup tournaments were the difficulties of intercontinental travel, and war. Few South American teams were willing to travel to Europe for the 1934 and 1938 tournaments, with Brazil the only South American team to compete in both. The 1942 and 1946 competitions were cancelled due to World War II and its aftermath.

The 1950 World Cup, held in Brazilmarker, was the first to include British participants. British teams withdrew from FIFA in 1920, partly out of unwillingness to play against the countries they had been at war with, and partly as a protest against foreign influence on football, but rejoined in 1946 following FIFA's invitation. The tournament also saw the return of 1930 champions Uruguay, who had boycotted the previous two World Cups. Uruguay won the tournament again by defeating the host nation Brazil in one of the most famous matches in World Cup history, which was later called the "Maracanazo" (Portuguese: Maracanaço).
Map of countries' best results

In the tournaments between 1934 and 1978, 16 teams competed in each tournament, except in 1938, when Austria were absorbed into Germany after qualifying, leaving the tournament with 15 teams, and in 1950, when India, Scotland and Turkey withdrew, leaving the tournament with 13 teams. Most of the participating nations were from Europe and South America, with a small minority from North America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. These teams were usually defeated easily by the European and South American teams. Until 1982, the only teams from outside Europe and South America to advance out of the first round were: USA, semi-finalists in 1930; Cuba, quarter-finalists in 1938; Korea DPR, quarter-finalists in 1966; and Mexico, quarter-finalists in 1970.

The tournament was expanded to 24 teams in 1982, and then to 32 in 1998, allowing more teams from Africa, Asia and North America to take part. The one exception is Oceania, who have never had a guaranteed spot in the tournament. In recent years, teams from these regions have enjoyed more success, and those who have reached the quarter-finals include: Mexico, quarter-finalists in 1986; Cameroon, quarter-finalists in 1990; Korea Republic, finishing in fourth place in 2002; and Senegal and USA, both quarter-finalists in 2002. However, European and South American teams have remained the stronger forces. For example, the quarter-finalists in 2006 were all from Europe or South America.

198 nations attempted to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and a record 204 will attempt to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Other FIFA tournaments

An equivalent tournament for women's football, the FIFA Women's World Cup, was first held in 1991 in the People's Republic of Chinamarker. The women's tournament is smaller in scale and profile than the men's, but is growing; the number of entrants for the 2007 tournament was 120, more than double that of 1991.

Football has been included in every Summer Olympic Games except 1896 and 1932. Unlike many other sports, the men's football tournament at the Olympics is not a top-level tournament, and since 1992, an under-23 tournament with each team allowed three over-age players. Women's football made its Olympic debut in 1996, and is contested between full national sides with no age restrictions.

The FIFA Confederations Cup is a tournament held one year before the World Cup at the World Cup host nation(s) as a dress-rehearsal for the upcoming World Cup. It is contested by the winners of each of the six FIFA confederation championships, along with the FIFA World Cup champion and the host country.

FIFA also organizes international tournaments for youth football (FIFA U-20 World Cup, FIFA U-17 World Cup, FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup), club football (FIFA Club World Cup), and football variants such as futsal (FIFA Futsal World Cup) and beach soccer (FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup).


From 1930 to 1970, the Jules Rimet Trophy was awarded to the World Cup winner. It was originally simply known as the World Cup or Coupe du Monde, but in 1946 it was renamed after the FIFA president Jules Rimet who set up the first tournament. In 1970, Brazil's third victory in the tournament entitled them to keep the trophy permanently. However, the trophy was stolen in 1983, and has never been recovered, apparently melted down by the thieves.

After 1970, a new trophy, known as the FIFA World Cup Trophy, was designed. The experts of FIFA, coming from seven different countries, evaluated the 53 presented models, finally opting for the work of the Italian designer Silvio Gazzaniga. The new trophy is high, made of solid 18 carat (75%) gold and weighs . The base contains two layers of semi-precious malachite while the bottom side of the trophy bears the engraved year and name of each FIFA World Cup winner since 1974. The description of the trophy by Gazzaniga was: "The lines spring out from the base, rising in spirals, stretching out to receive the world. From the remarkable dynamic tensions of the compact body of the sculpture rise the figures of two athletes at the stirring moment of victory."

This new trophy is not awarded to the winning nation permanently. World Cup winners retain the trophy until the next tournament and are awarded a gold-plated replica rather than the solid gold original.



Since the second World Cup in 1934, qualifying tournaments have been held to thin the field for the final tournament. They are held within the six FIFA continental zones (Africa, Asia, North and Central America and Caribbean, South America, Oceania, Europe), overseen by their respective confederations. For each tournament, FIFA decides the number of places awarded to each of the continental zones beforehand, generally based on the relative strength of the confederations' teams, but also subject to lobbying from the confederations.

The qualification process can start as early as almost three years before the final tournament and last over a two-year period. The formats of the qualification tournaments differ between confederations. Usually, one or two places are awarded to winners of intercontinental play-offs. For example, the winner of the Oceanian zone and the fifth-placed team from the Asian zone entered a play-off for a spot in the 2010 World Cup. From the 1938 World Cup onwards, host nations have received automatic qualification to the final tournament. This right was also granted to the defending champions between 1938 and 2002, but was withdrawn from the 2006 FIFA World Cup onward, requiring the champions to qualify. Brazil, winners in 2002, thus became the first defending champions to play in a qualifying match.

Final tournament

The current final tournament features 32 national teams competing over a month in the host nation(s). There are two stages: a group stage followed by a knockout stage.

In the group stage, teams compete within eight groups of four teams each. Eight teams are seeded (including the hosts, with the other teams selected using a formula based on both the FIFA World Rankings and performances in recent World Cups) and drawn to separate groups. The other teams are assigned to different "pots", usually based on geographical criteria, and teams in each pot are drawn at random to the eight groups. Since 1998, constraints have been applied to the draw to ensure that no group contains more than two European teams or more than one team from any other confederation. Previously, due to there being fewer finals places and a bigger ratio of European finalists, there had been several occasions where three European teams were in a single group, for example, 1986 (West Germany, Scotland, and Denmark), 1990 (Italy, Czechoslovakia, and Austria), and 1994 (Italy, Republic of Ireland, and Norway).

Each group plays a round-robin tournament, guaranteeing that every team will play at least three matches. The last round of matches of each group is scheduled at the same time to preserve fairness among all four teams. The top two teams from each group advance to the knockout stage. Points are used to rank the teams within a group. Since 1994, three points have been awarded for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss (prior to this, winners received two points rather than three). If two or more teams end up with the same number of points, tiebreakers are used: first is goal difference, then total goals scored, then head-to-head results, and finally drawing of lots (i.e. determining team positions at random).

The knockout stage is a single-elimination tournament in which teams play each other in one-off matches, with extra time and penalty shootouts used to decide the winner if necessary. It begins with the "round of 16" (or the second round) in which the winner of each group plays against the runner-up of another group. This is followed by the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, the third-place match (contested by the losing semi-finalists), and the final.

Selection of hosts

Early World Cups were given to countries at meetings of FIFA's congress. The choice of location gave rise to controversies, a consequence of the three-week boat journey between South America and Europe, the two centres of strength in football. The decision to hold the first World Cup in Uruguay, for example, led to only four European nations competing. The next two World Cups were both held in Europe. The decision to hold the second of these, the 1938 FIFA World Cup, in France was controversial, as the American countries had been led to understand that the World Cup would rotate between the two continents. Both Argentina and Uruguay thus boycotted the tournament.

Since the 1958 FIFA World Cup, to avoid future boycotts or controversy, FIFA began a pattern of alternating the hosts between the Americas and Europe, which continued until the 1998 FIFA World Cup. The 2002 FIFA World Cup, hosted jointly by South Korea and Japan, was the first one held in Asia, and the only tournament with multiple hosts. In 2010, South Africa will become the first African nation to host the World Cup. The 2014 FIFA World Cup will be hosted by Brazil, the first held in South America since 1978, and will be the first occasion where consecutive World Cups are held outside Europe.

The host country is now chosen in a vote by FIFA's Executive Committee. This is done under a single transferable vote system. The national football association of a country desiring to host the event receives a "Hosting Agreement" from FIFA, which explains the steps and requirements that are expected from a strong bid. The bidding association also receives a form, the submission of which represents the official confirmation of the candidacy. After this, a FIFA designated group of inspectors visit the country to identify that the country meets the requirements needed to host the event and a report on the country is produced. The decision on who will host the World Cup is usually made six or seven years in advance of the tournament. However, there have been occasions where the hosts of multiple future tournaments were announced at the same time, as will be the case for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

For the 2010 and 2014 World Cups, the final tournament is rotated between confederations, allowing only countries from the chosen confederation (Africa in 2010, South America in 2014) to bid to host the tournament. The rotation policy was introduced after the controversy surrounding Germany's victory over South Africa in the vote to host the 2006 tournament. However, the policy of continental rotation will not continue beyond 2014, so any country, except those belonging to confederations that hosted the two preceding tournaments, can apply as hosts for World Cups starting from 2018. This is partly to avoid a similar scenario to the bidding process for the 2014 tournament, where Brazil was the only official bidder.

Organization and media coverage

The World Cup was first televised in 1954 and is now the most widely-viewed and followed sporting event in the world, exceeding even the Olympic Games. The cumulative audience of all matches of the 2006 World Cup is estimated to be 26.29 billion. 715.1 million individuals watched the final match of this tournament (a ninth of the entire population of the planet). The 2006 World Cup draw, which decided the distribution of teams into groups, was watched by 300 million viewers.

Each FIFA World Cup since 1966 has its own mascot. World Cup Willie, the mascot for the 1966 competition, was the first World Cup mascot. Recent World Cups have also featured official match balls specially designed for each World Cup.


Summaries of previous tournaments

Year Host Nation(s) Final Third Place match
Winner Score Runner-up 3rd Place Score 4th Place

Uruguaymarker 4–2

Italymarker 2–1


Francemarker 4–2 4–2


Switzerlandmarker 3–2 3–1

Swedenmarker 5–2 6–3

Chilemarker 3–1 1–0

Englandmarker 4–2


Mexicomarker 4–1 1–0

West Germanymarker 2–1 1–0

Argentinamarker 3–1


Spainmarker 3–1 3–2

Mexicomarker 3–2 4–2


Italymarker 1–0 2–1

United Statesmarker 0–0


(3–2 pens.)

Francemarker 3–0 2–1

Korea Republicmarker

& Japanmarker
2–0 3–2

Germanymarker 1–1


(5–3 pens.)


Map of winning countries

In all, 76 nations have played in at least one World Cup. Of these, seven national teams have won the World Cup, and they have added stars to their crests, with each star representing a World Cup victory. (However, Uruguay are an exception to this unwritten rule; They choose to display four stars on their crest, representing their two gold medals at the 1924 and 1928 Summer Olympics and their two World Cup titles in 1930 and 1950). With five titles, Brazil are the most successful World Cup team and also the only nation to have played in every World Cup to date. Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962) are the only nations to have won consecutive titles.

Team Titles Runners-up Third place Fourth place
5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002) 2 (1950*, 1998) 2 (1938, 1978) 1 (1974)
4 (1934*, 1938, 1982, 2006) 2 (1970, 1994) 1 (1990*) 1 (1978)
^ 3 (1954, 1974*, 1990) 4 (1966, 1982, 1986, 2002) 3 (1934, 1970, 2006*) 1 (1958)
2 (1978*, 1986) 2 (1930, 1990)
2 (1930*, 1950) 2 (1954, 1970)
1 (1998*) 1 (2006) 2 (1958, 1986) 1 (1982)
1 (1966*) 1 (1990)
2 (1974, 1978) 1 (1998)
# 2 (1934, 1962)
2 (1938, 1954)
1 (1958*) 2 (1950, 1994) 1 (1938)
2 (1974, 1982)
1 (1954) 1 (1934)
1 (1966) 1 (2006)
1 (1930)
1 (1962*)
1 (1998)
1 (2002)
# 2 (1930, 1962)
1 (1950)
# 1 (1966)
1 (1986)
1 (1994)
1 (2002*)
* = hosts'' :
''^ = includes results representing West Germany between 1954 and 1990''
''# = states that have since split into two or more independent nations

Performances by host nations

Six of the seven champions have won one of their titles while playing in their own homeland, the exception being Brazil, who finished as runners-up after losing the deciding match on home soil in 1950.

England (1966) and France (1998) won their only titles while playing as host nations. Uruguay (1930), Italy (1934) and Argentina (1978) won their first titles as host nations but have gone on to win again, while Germany (1974) won their second title on home soil.

Other nations have also been successful when hosting the tournament. Sweden (runners-up in 1958), Chile (third place in 1962), Korea Republic (fourth place in 2002), Mexico (quarter-finals in 1970 and 1986), and Japan (second round in 2002) all have their best results when serving as hosts. So far, all host nations have progressed beyond the first round.

Best performances by continental zones

To date, the final of the World Cup has only been contested by European and South American teams. The two continents have won nine titles apiece. Only two teams from outside these two continents have ever reached the semi-finals of the competition: USA (North, Central America and Caribbean) in 1930 and Korea Republic (Asia) in 2002. The best result of an African team is reaching the quarter-finals: Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002. Only one Oceanian qualifier, Australia in 2006, advanced to the second round.

All World Cups won by European teams have taken place in Europe and the only teams to have won outside Europe come from South America. The only non-European team to win a tournament in Europe is Brazil in 1958. Only twice have consecutive World Cups been won by teams from the same continent – when Italy and Brazil successfully defended their titles in 1938 and 1962 respectively.


At the end of each World Cup, awards are presented to the players and teams for accomplishments other than their final team positions in the tournament. There are currently six awards:
  • The Golden Ball for the best player, determined by a vote of media members (first awarded in 1982); the Silver Ball and the Bronze Ball are awarded to the players finishing second and third in the voting respectively;
  • The Golden Shoe (sometimes called the Golden Boot) for the top goalscorer (first awarded in 1982, but retrospectively applied to all tournaments from 1930); most recently, the Silver Shoe and the Bronze Shoe have been awarded to the second and third top goalscorers respectively;
  • The Yashin Award for the best goalkeeper, decided by the FIFA Technical Study Group (first awarded in 1994);
  • The Best Young Player Award for the best player aged 21 or younger at the start of the calendar year, decided by the FIFA Technical Study Group (first awarded in 2006).
  • The FIFA Fair Play Trophy for the team with the best record of fair play, according to the points system and criteria established by the FIFA Fair Play Committee (first awarded in 1978);
  • The Most Entertaining Team for the team that has entertained the public the most during the World Cup, determined by a poll of the general public (first awarded in 1994);
An All-Star Team consisting of the best players of the tournament is also announced for each tournament since 1998.

Records and statistics

Two players share the record for playing in the most World Cups; Mexico's Antonio Carbajal and Germany's Lothar Matthäus both played in five tournaments. Matthäus has played the most World Cup matches overall, with 25 appearances. Brazil's Pelé is the only player to have won three World Cup winners' medals, with 20 other players who have won two World Cup medals.

The overall leading goalscorer in World Cups is Brazil's Ronaldo, scorer of 15 goals in three tournaments. West Germany's Gerd Müller is second, with 14 goals in two tournaments. The third placed goalscorer, France's Just Fontaine, holds the record for the most goals scored in a single World Cup. All his 13 goals were scored in the 1958 tournament.

Brazil's Mário Zagallo and West Germany's Franz Beckenbauer are the only people to date to win the World Cup as both player and head coach. Zagallo won in 1958 and 1962 as a player and in 1970 as head coach. Beckenbauer won in 1974 as captain and in 1990 as head coach. Italy's Vittorio Pozzo is the only head coach to ever win two World Cups. All World Cup winning head coaches were natives of the country they coached to victory.

As of the end of the 2006 tournament, Brazil and Germany have both played 92 matches, the most by any nation, with Brazil scoring the most goals, 201.

See also

Notes and references

  1. 2006 FIFA World Cup broadcast wider, longer and farther than ever before, Retrieved on October 11, 2009.
  2. England National Football Team Match No. 1, England Football Online. Retrieved on November 19, 2007.
  3. History of FIFA – FIFA takes shape, Retrieved on November 19, 2007.
  4. 'The First World Cup'. The Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy. Shrewsbury and Atcham Borough Council (October 10, 2003). Retrieved on April 11, 2006.
  5. History of FIFA – More associations follow, Retrieved on November 19, 2007.
  6. Reyes, Macario (October 18, 1999). VII. Olympiad Antwerp 1920 Football Tournament Statistics Foundation. Retrieved on June 10, 2006.
  7. History of FIFA – The first FIFA World Cup, Retrieved on November 19, 2007.
  8. FIFA World Cup Origin (PDF), Retrieved on November 19, 2007.
  9. The Olympic Odyssey so far... (Part 1: 1908–1964), Retrieved on January 8, 2008.
  10. Glanville, p45
  11. Glanville, p238
  12. Glanville, p359
  13. Record number of 204 teams enter preliminary competition, Retrieved on November 19, 2007.
  14. FIFA Women's World Cup, Retrieved on December 22, 2007.
  15. Regulations Men's Olympic Football Tournament 2008 (PDF), Retrieved on December 22, 2007.
  16. FIFA Confederations Cup, Retrieved on December 22, 2007.
  17. Jules Rimet Trophy, Retrieved on November 19, 2007.
  18. FIFA World Cup Trophy, Retrieved on November 19, 2007.
  19. FIFA Assets – Trophy, Retrieved on November 19, 2007.
  20. This practice has been installed since the 1986 FIFA World Cup. In some cases during previous tournaments, for example, Argentina 6–0 Peru in 1978 Argentina and West Germany 1–0 Austria in 1982 Spain), teams that played the latter match were perceived to gain an unfair advantage by knowing the score of the earlier match, and subsequently obtaining a result that ensured advancement to the next stage.
  21. Regulations of the 2010 FIFA World Cup (PDF), (page 40–41), Retrieved on November 19, 2007.
  22. France 1938, BBC. (April 17, 2002). Retrieved on May 13, 2006.
  23. Socceroos face major challenge: Hiddink, ABC Sport, December 10, 2005. Retrieved on May 13, 2006.
  24. FIFA Assets – Mascots, Retrieved on November 19, 2007.
  25. This follows FIFA's consideration that the national team of Russia succeeds the USSR, the national team of Serbia succeeds Yugoslavia/Serbia and Montenegro, and the national teams of the Czech Republic and Slovakia both succeed Czechoslovakia.

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