The FIFA World Cup is arguably the single largest, most popular sporting event in the world outside the Olympic Games. With soccer teams from around the world competing in the two-year qualifying tournaments, 32 teams emerge to face each other in single elimination matches to determine a winner.
This remarkable event was born out of the international love of soccer and its origins are certainly that of a match that was destined to capture the attention of the world. But to understand the history of the FIFA World Cup, you must go back a little further to see the growth of soccer from its England roots.
The Establishment of International Soccer
Although the history of soccer goes back at least 2,500 years in various forms, it didn’t really become organized into the sport we see today until the latter part of the 19th Century in England. The first international soccer match took place in 1872 between England and Scotland in the city of Glasgow.
However, it was the turn of the 20th Century that brought about the first true stirrings of international competition in soccer when it was made a part of the 1900 Olympic Games. In 1902, the first international match outside the British Isles took place between Uruguay and Argentina, setting the stage for true worldwide competition.
The Establishment of FIFA
FIFA was founded on May 22, 1904 as the world governing body for soccer. The original member nations included Belgium, France, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Spain and Switzerland with Germany soon following suit. By 1908, FIFA was supervising the soccer matches for the Olympic Games and continued to grow over the years to encompass more teams.
Initial attempts by FIFA to organize a soccer tournament outside the Olympic Games were unsuccessful due to a number of reasons, but progress towards having a separate international tournament was still being sought. During that time, the FIFA-run soccer tournament for the Olympics grew considerably with Uruguay winning both the 1924 and 1928 games.
The Establishment of the FIFA World Cup
By 1928, FIFA made the decision to once and for all establish their own international tournament. FIFA president Jules Rimet began taking the steps to separate their sport from the Olympics, which turned out to be rather simple to do since the 1932 games were being held in Los Angeles, USA, a country with little interest in soccer at that time.
The first venue for the FIFA World Cup was Uruguay, in recognition being defending Olympic champions. Because of the long distance involved, only 13 nations took part in the competition. In fact, England did not play in the first World Cup, but the USA and Mexico did. While Frenchman Lucien Laurent of France scored the first goal, it was the American Bert Patenaude who got the first hat trick. The first World Cup was won by Uruguay who defeated Argentina 4 to 2.
The Growth of the FIFA World Cup
In 1934, the World Cup was held in Italy with Uruguay, Bolivia and Paraguay boycotting the games because of poor European attendance at their own event four years earlier. The 1934 World Cup was the first to have qualification staging which led to 16 teams being qualified for the final tournament, a number that would stand until 1982 when that number was increased to 24. Italy became the first European team to win the World Cup.
In 1938, the World Cup remained in Europe and Uruguay and Argentina boycotted the event. The event was held in France, but the French could not progress and Italy successfully defended their championship. Poland’s Ernest Willimowski became the first player to score four goals in a game, a record not beaten until the 1994 World Cup event.
Unfortunately, the events of World War 2 cancelled the scheduled 1942 and 1946 World Cup games.
The Post-World War 2 Era
In 1950, the World Cup was brought back, this time to Brazil which had actually won the rights for the 1942 World Cup before it was cancelled. This was the first World Cup to have teams from Great Britain participating, although England failed to make it out of their group. Uruguay became champions once again with their victory over Brazil.
The 1954 World Cup was held in Switzerland, but won by West Germany in a match where they overcame a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 over Hungary in a game known as the “Miracle of Bern”. In 1958, Brazil became the first country to win the World Cup outside their home continent as the matches were held in Sweden. This particular World Cup saw the first appearance of Pele, arguably the greatest soccer player ever.
The 1962 World Cup was marred by an earthquake that struck before play could begin. Although their star Pele was injured, Brazil managed to capture their second championship in a row. England hosted the 1966 World Cup and was the first country to market the event as we see it today, complete with an official logo and mascot. England managed to win the tournament on their field.
The 1970s to the 21st Century
The World Cup has grown by leaps and bounds since the 1966 event. Brazil became the first three time champions in 1970. Iran and Tunisia first participated in 1978. The expansion of the qualifying teams to 24 in 1982. Mexico hosting the first World Cup on North American soil in 1986.The USA hosting in 1994 was noted for being the first World Cup to be decided on penalty points. The expansion to 32 qualifying teams in for the World Cup in 1998. And many more events that have marked the dominance and excitement of the FIFA World Cup as arguably the most popular international sport.
Today, the FIFA World Cup is more popular than ever with teams competing in two-year qualifying tournaments to be one of the 32 teams to participate in the event itself. Outside the Olympic Games, there is really nothing to compare to the excitement, thrill and wonder of the FIFA World Cup.