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The Football World Cup has its roots in the Olympic football tournament contested in the early 1900s. During a period when the relatively new sport of association football was steadily growing in popularity, the sport was added to the Summer Olympics schedule as a demonstration sport.
By 1908 football had proved to be such a popular addition to the event that it was given official Olympic status, and teams of amateurs from various nations played for Olympic medals for the first time that year. However, the tournament fell short of football’s governing body, FIFA’s, desire to see professional national teams contest an international competition.
The First Football World Cup
In the 1920s a number of visionary French football administrators, led by Jules Rimet, proposed an international football tournament for the best professional players from each football-playing nation. It took Rimet’s plans almost a decade to come to fruition, before the first Football World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930.
The inaugural Football World Cup was a modest affair, with only 13 teams making the long journey to Uruguay. Latin American teams dominated the championship, with Argentina facing Uruguay in the final, in front of over 90,000 fans in Montevideo.
A Time of Change
The Football World Cup was held twice more in the 1930s, once in Italy and once in France. 16 teams participated in each of these events, with Italy lifting the World Cup on both occasions. The 1938 World Cup would prove to be the last for more than a decade as Europe was plunged into war soon after the event.
It took two years for the Football World Cup to be resurrected at the end of World War Two. The first post-war tournament was held in Brazil in 1950, and was won by Uruguay. Four years later the Football World Cup was back in Europe, where Germany claimed the first of their three World Cup titles.
The Brazil Legend Begins
The Football World Cup stayed in Europe in 1958, with Sweden hosting the event. By this time the tournament had already established itself as one of the most popular sporting events in the world, and a rapidly advancing media machine broadcast grainy live images of Brazil winning its first Football World Cup title.
With the Football World Cup capturing the hearts of increasing numbers of sports fans across the world, the 7th Football World Cup in Chile was a keenly anticipated affair. The tournament continued the trend of Latin American winning teams, as Brazil, this time on their home continent and assisted by the skills of the magnificent Pele, captured its second consecutive title.
In 1966 the Football World Cup headed to England, where the English produced the most famous moment in their sporting history, by winning the Football World Cup at Wembley where they defeated West Germany 4-2 after extra time. Four years later in Mexico, Brazil won their third World Cup, giving Pele his third World Cup winners medal.
A New Era
In 1974 West Germany staked their claim to football greatness by defeating the Netherlands in an all-European final, in front of a home crowd. Despite Germany’s victory, the 1974 World Cup will always be remembered for the Dutch display of ‘total football’, a philosophy that had Dutch clubs excelling in Europe for decades to come.
The 1978 World Cup event had to side-step political issues over FIFA’s decision to host the event in Argentina. Despite players’ protests, no teams stayed away from the event, which produced one of the most famous matches in Football World Cup history – a 6-0 drubbing of Peru by Argentina, that allowed them to edge into the final ahead of Brazil, as well as claim their maiden title.
The 80′s Expansion
The 1980s marked a period of expansion for the Football World Cup, which had consolidated its position as the biggest team sports tournament in the world. Eight additional teams were added to the 1982 World Cup in Spain, though this had little effect on the pecking order in world football, as Italy went on to claim its third Football World Cup title.
The 1986 World Cup witnessed the birth of the Maradona legend. The Argentinean player first scored the ‘hand of God goal’ in Argentina’s quarterfinal against England, before scoring what is widely regarded as the goal of the century, to eliminate the English from the tournament. Argentina went on to defeat the Netherlands 3-2 in the final.
The World Game
The 1990s witnessed three Football World Cup tournaments as the event gradually settled into an established format. West Germany won the first World Cup of the decade in Italy in 1990, after finishing as runners-up during the previous two decades. The event then moved to the United States in 1994, and North America hosted its first ever Football World Cup, which was won by Brazil.
In 1998 the Football World Cup returned to Europe, where France became the fourth home team to win the tournament in a clinical 2-0 defeat of Germany in Paris. Many will remember Croatia’s performance in this tournament, as they finished third on their Football World Cup debut.
The global expansion of the tournament continued after the turn of the millenium, as Asia hosted its first ever Football World Cup. Japan and South Korea shared the duty of hosts, and witnessed impressive performances by Asian teams, as both Turkey and South Korea progressed to the quarterfinals. Brazil emerged the victor, claiming its 5th Football World Cup title.
The 2006 Football World Cup was held in Germany and is regarded by many as one of the finest, and most competitive, to date. Unfortunately the event will probably be remembered for an incident in the final, when Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Materazzi in the chest. This attack resulted in a red card, and France went on to lose to Italy in a penalty shootout.