The FIFA world cup is one of the oldest and most popular football competitions to ever exist. It was first held in 1930 and has since been the standard for international tournaments. In this article, we will discuss world cup history and all the important details that come with it.
World cup history – The early years
International football competitions were held for years in the 19th century. However, they were mostly limited to the UK where football was one of the most popular sports.
The first recorded international fixture happened in 1872 in Glasgow between England and Scotland. As football became more popular around the world, it was introduced as a demonstration sport at the Summer Olympics in 1900 and 1904. No medals were awarded as it was considered an amateur competition. In 1904, FIFA was founded and it started organizing international football competitions.
In 1914, FIFA started recognizing this Olympic event as a “world football championship for amateurs”. Its first edition happened in 1920 and Belgium won it. In the next two editions in 1924 and 1928, Uruguay took home the trophy and that’s the moment when world cup history began.
Since football became extremely popular during the Olympics, FIFA wanted to create a competition for the sport that would have no connection with the Olympics. FIFA president Jules Rimet was the driving force behind the creation of such a tournament. Thus, the world cup we know today was born. Its inaugural edition happened in Uruguay and featured 13 nations. French player Lucien Laurent scored the first goal in world cup history against Mexico. In the final, hosts Uruguay won 4:2 against Argentina in front of 93,000 fans in Montevideo which made them the first nation to ever win a world cup competition.
Format, qualification & final tournament
After the inaugural tournament, the world cup was held every four years. The only exceptions came in 1942 and 1946 as both tournaments were cancelled because of WW II. Until 1982, the number of nations that participated was random. It was then agreed for 24 nations to participate. In 1998 the number increased to 32. Since then, every world cup has had 32 nations competing in the final tournament. However, this will change in 2026 when this number will increase to 48.
Qualifications are held in all FIFA continental zones separately (Europe, Asia, Africa, North & Central America, South America, and Oceania). There is a separate confederation handling each zone. Before a world cup tournament, FIFA decides how many qualifying places each confederation gets. This depends on the strength of the nations in each confederation. Europe and South Africa usually get the most places. The record for nations trying to qualify for the final tournament is 204 and it happened in the qualification process for the 2010 world cup.
Following qualification, 32 nations are drawn into 8 groups of 4. Each nation plays one game against the others in their group. Top two sides of each group progress to the last 16 rounds and then the quarter-finals, semi-finals, and ultimately, the final.
World cup history – records & statistics
Miroslav Klose is the player with the most goals scored at the world cup. He featured in these tournaments from 2002 to 2014 and scored a total of 16 goals. Ronaldo Nazario was the previous record holder with 15 goals.
Brazil is the top nation having won 5 world cups with Germany and Italy right behind them with 4. Brazil is also the nation with the most goals scored (229), edging out Germany (206).
Brazilian Pele is the only player in history to win 3 world cups.
Didier Deschamps, Franz Beckenbauer, and Mario Zagallo are the only people in world cup history who have won the tournament both as a player and as head coaches.