This is the 18th edition of the competition, by now the world’s biggest sporting event. It has happened every four years since 1930, except between 1934 and 1950.
Record holder, five-time champion Brazil will again have its hegemony challenged by current champion Italy, which has four victories, Germany, with three, Argentina, two, Uruguay, England and France, all with one championship each, or any other country that has yet to win the trophy.
The only nation present in every edition, Brazil took home for good the first cup, the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1970, which was stolen and never recovered. The one in dispute now is the not very inspiringly named FIFA World Cup. Curiously, victories have been alternated between European and South American teams.
Geniuses & Trophies
Italy won two first editions, in 1930 and 34. The World War II interrupted the tournament till 1950, when it resumed in Brazil, but the hosts were humiliated in the final by Uruguay.
1954 somehow anticipated what was to happen 20 years later. The stupendous Hungarian team, the “Magyars,” enchanted the world with its skill but was defeated in the last game by the Germans. Much like what happened in 1974, when Germany beat the Dutch “Clockwork Orange” team that had brought the game to a new level.
In 1958, Sweden was introduced to arguably the sport’s greatest player, 17-year old Pelé, who led Brazil to its first world victory. The great Garrincha helped it repeat the dose in 1962, and Pelé helped it to lift the cup in Mexico and keep it for good in 1970.
In 1966, the host England defeated the Germans and achieved its so far only victory. Argentina hosted and won everything in 1978, beating eternal second-place Netherlands. It’d prevail again in 1986, in Mexico, with the help of another football genius, Maradona and his infamous “Hand of God” goal against England, and the final victory over Germany.
Italy earned its third time in 1982 with an unremarkable lineup but a wonderful collective effort. 1990 saw the Germans winning under the baton of former world champion Beckenbauer, this time as the coach. Brazil took the lead again in the U.S., in 1994, beating Italy yet again, in the first final decided by penalty kicks.
In 1998, France celebrated Bastille Day by denying Brazil another victory in Paris in its only victory so far. But Brazil got it all back in Japan and South Korea for a record fifth time, in 2002. 2006 belonged to Italy and we’ll see who’ll win this time in South Africa.