The World Cup of football – that’s soccer to the Americans, Canadians, Irish, and Aussies – has been held every four years since 1930, with the exception of two years during World War II, and from relatively humble beginnings it has turned into the most-watched sporting event in the world.
Because the World Cup is held only every four years, there have only been 18 tournaments since it began in 1930. It’s an exclusive club of countries that have competed in any World Cup, and an even more exclusive club of countries that have won it. Out of 18 tournaments, there have been only seven countries to claim four years’ worth of bragging rights. Only one country has won five times (Brazil), one has four titles (Italy), and one has three (Germany). Brazil has the added honor of being the only country to have participated in every single World Cup.
This tournament has a history that’s ready-made for trivia lists – but rather than turn into a walking encyclopedia of soccer, we thought we’d focus on the “world” part of the World Cup. The 2010 tournament is a short two months away, and is being hosted in Africa for the first time in its history. But what about the 15 countries that have hosted the World Cup in the past?
Hosting the World Cup is a major source of national pride for any country, both because it has the history of giving the home team a bit of an advantage and because the influx of footy fans can mean a corresponding influx of money. So we thought we’d take a walk down World Cup memory lane and look at the countries that have played host to the World Cup, including memorable moments from games held in each country.
If you’ll be going to South Africa for the World Cup this year, this will be a nice primer to get you even more excited about the 2010 tournament (and potentially make you that thoroughly annoying “trivia nut” at dinner parties and whatnot until then). If, like the rest of us, you won’t be in South Africa this summer, we hope this article will provide inspiration for visits to the former World Cup host countries listed below.
Years Hosting the World Cup: 1930
Memorable Moments from Uruguay:
Uruguay hosted the first ever World Cup after all the other countries that had bid on the tournament withdrew. The final game between Uruguay and Argentina ended 4-2 to the host country, so those withdrawals clearly paid off for Uruguay. The inaugural World Cup saw the US finish in third place – which remains the United States’ best World Cup performance to date.
Years Hosting the World Cup: 1934, 1990
Memorable Moments from Italy:
In the 1934 World Cup, Italy won the title after beating Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the final. And there was one player on the Italy squad who was especially happy about the host team’s win – Luis Monti had played for the losing Argentina side in the 1930 World Cup, so was pleased to finally be hoisting the trophy in 1934.
The 1990 tournament didn’t go as well for host country Italy, as West Germany took home the title after beating Argentina 1-0 in the final. 1990′s World Cup saw an African team advance further than any had done to that point – Cameroon got to the quarter-finals with 38-year-old striker Roger Milla, who’d been persuaded to “un-retire” when Cameroon’s president phoned him prior to the tournament. Milla’s goal celebrations involved dancing with the corner flag, which he got to do in the game vs. Colombia that ensured Cameroon’s place in the quarter-finals.
Years Hosting the World Cup: 1938, 1998
Memorable Moments from France:
Italy won the 1938 World Cup, defeating Hungary 4-2 in the final and making them back-to-back champions. The game of the tournament, however, was probably the first round game between Brazil and Poland – it was a highlight, that is, for anyone who likes goals. It finished 6-5 in favor of Brazil.
The 1998 World Cup gave France its only win thus far (it’s an especially sweet victory when you’re the home team) when they beat soccer powerhouse Brazil 3-0 in the final. But it was another game entirely that produced one of the most memorable moments in 1998. During the match between England and Argentina, a 23-year-old English phenom called David Beckham ended his tournament early by retaliating for a foul by an opposing player with a swift kick to said player’s calf. Beckham got a red card for the offense and his team didn’t get any further in the World Cup that year.
Years Hosting the World Cup: 1950
Memorable Moments from Brazil:
Although Brazil has the most World Cup wins of any country, they’ve only hosted the tournament once – in 1950. (That will change in 2014, when the World Cup returns to Brazil.) This was the first World Cup after the 12-year hiatus during World War II, and the structure of the tournament was different.
There was no final match in 1950 to determine the winner – there was a series of games between four teams, and the last game between Uruguay and Brazil ended up being the one that decided the winner. Uruguay beat the host nation 2-1, winning their second World Cup – this despite how well Brazil had played that year. Uruguay’s game-winning goal silenced the Brazilian crowd.
Years Hosting the World Cup: 1954
Memorable Moments from Switzerland:
A short nine years after the end of World War II, West Germany was in the final of the World Cup – and not only that, they beat the favored “Mighty Magyars” of Hungary 3-2. It remains one of the biggest surprise upsets in World Cup history. In Germany, this final game is still known today as “The Miracle of Bern” after the city where it took place.
Years Hosting the World Cup: 1958
Memorable Moments from Sweden:
Even people with very little connection to soccer have heard of the player whose name is almost synonymous with the 1958 World Cup – Pelé. The Brazilian led his team to their first ever World Cup win in a 5-2 victory over host country Sweden in the final, but he did more than that. During the 1958 tournament, Pelé claimed the following milestones: youngest scorer of a World Cup goal, youngest scorer of a World Cup hat-trick (that’s three goals in one game), and the youngest scorer in a World Cup final. Just how young was he? The legendary Pelé was only 17 years old during the 1958 World Cup.
Years Hosting the World Cup: 1962
Memorable Moments from Chile:
The 1962 World Cup trophy went home in the hands of the Brazil team for the 2nd tournament in a row after they beat Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the final, but the tournament itself was something of a triumph for the host nation – even though the games themselves didn’t go their way.
Chile had been devastated only two years before hosting the World Cup by the Valvilda earthquake, which measured 9.5 on the Richter scale. The Chilean people rallied to make sure their country was ready to host the biggest sporting event on the world stage, but the “thanks” they got was an opening match against Italy known as “The Battle of Santiago” for the number of violent fouls committed during the game.
On a lighter note, 1962 wa also the year that a stray dog wandered onto the field during a quarter-final match between England and Brazil. It was left to the players to corral the dog so they could get back to the game at hand – and luckily for us there’s video of the whole thing.
Years Hosting the World Cup: 1966
Memorable Moments from England:
England proved once again that there’s some advantage to being the home team when they beat West Germany 4-2 in the final to take home their first World Cup. Nevermind that one of the goals scored by England during that final game remains controversial to this day. Did the ball cross the line? Watch the video and judge for yourself.
The 1966 tournament is also reportedly when the refereeing system of yellow and red cards was invented, after an Argentina player refused to leave the field when he was sent off for “violence of the tongue” (creates an interesting mental image, no?).
Years Hosting the World Cup: 1970, 1986
Memorable Moments from Mexico:
The 1970 World Cup is recalled with great fondness by footy fans as perhaps the best World Cup tournament. Brazil took home the trophy – their third – after beating Italy 4-1 in the final, and although the entire tournament provided some amazing moments the final itself offered several. Among them – one of the most famous World Cup near-misses in history by the Brazilian Pelé, who was a whopping 29 by then. And lest you think that World Cup rivalries are all animosity, seeing two legends swapping shirts after a game is enough to remind you that it is – after all – just a game.
The second World Cup hosted by Mexico in 1986 lived up to the reputation of the 1970 tournament. During the quarter-final game between Argentina and England, the young Diego Maradona scored what’s still called the “Goal of the Century” to help his side beat the English. That incredible goal, however, followed one of the more controversial goals in World Cup history – not least because Maradona has since admitted that he did, in fact, tip the ball into the net with his hand. The goal is known as the “Hand of God” goal, because Maradona claimed, “The goal was scored a little bit by the hand of God, a little by the head of Maradona.”
Years Hosting the World Cup: 1974, 2006
Memorable Moments from Germany:
The 1974 World Cup was held in what was then West Germany, and the home team beat the favored Netherlands squad in the final 2-1. The Dutch team was employing a strategy that they called “Total Football,” in which every player on the field could (and did) play effectively in just about any position. It was revolutionary at the time, and proved incredibly challenging for opposing teams to defeat – although obviously West Germany found a way.
In 2006 Germany hosted the World Cup, and the tournament’s final game between Italy and France is noted for two things. It was the only the second World Cup ever decided on penalty kicks, when the game ended tied 1-1 after added extra time – and the first time a final had come down to penalties, Italy had been on the losing end. Not so in 2006. But the lasting image from the 2006 World Cup doesn’t even involve anything taking place around the ball. No, it’s the infamous headbutt French superstar Zinedine Zidane gave Italy’s Marco Materazzi. Zidane was sent off, and the Italians went on to win their fourth World Cup title.
Years Hosting the World Cup: 1978
Memorable Moments from Argentina:
Argentina may have needed extra time in the 1978 World Cup final to beat the Total Football of the Netherlands, but the home team ended up winning 3-1 with the help of their hero from the 1986 tournament, Diego Maradona. This time he used his feet only to score goals.
The 1978 World Cup has the distinction of being the only one in history where a team wore something other than their official country’s jersey for a game. By 1978, the games were being televised regularly – but only in black and white. Before a game between France and Hungary it was determined that the two countries would have looked identical to TV viewers, so the French team borrowed the green and white striped jerseys of a local Argentinian club to play in for that one game.
Years Hosting the World Cup: 1982
Memorable Moments from Spain:
1982 saw Italy beat West Germany 3-1 in the final to take home their third World Cup trophy, but it’s a different game involving West Germany that provided arguably the most memorable moment of the 1982 World Cup. Unfortunately for one of the players, it’s an unpleasant memory.
During the semi-final game between West Germany and France, the West German goalkeeper leaped out of his goal to defend against an oncoming French player – and the French player ended up unconscious on the ground, missing a couple of teeth, and with damage to his vertebrae. The foul is obvious to just about anyone watching the video – but, as you can see, the referee inexplicably gave the ball back to West Germany. To this day, the keeper has kept mostly quiet about that game, although when he does talk about it he maintains he was going for the ball. You can decide whether he’s fibbing or not when you watch the video yourself.
Years Hosting the World Cup: 1994
Memorable Moments from the US:
The 1994 World Cup was the first ever decided on penalty kicks – Brazil beat Italy after the legendary Italian Roberto Baggio, who could be counted on to score penalties, missed his shot. (Incidentally, he wasn’t the only person to miss a penalty kick during the tournament – Diana Ross missed a point-blank shot during the opening ceremonies.)
Unfortunately, the 1994 World Cup is also remembered for likely having led to the death of a Colombian player. Andrés Escobar scored an own-goal in a game against the United States, which led to Colombia being knocked out of the tournament. 10 days after that game, Escobar was shot 12 times outside Medellin. News reports at the time speculated that he was killed as punishment for the own-goal, and some eyewitnesses said the killer shouted, “Gol!” with each bullet fired. The man was convicted of murder and sentenced to more than 40 years, but was later released after only serving 11.
South Korea & Japan
Years Hosting the World Cup: 2002
Memorable Moments from South Korea & Japan:
“Wait, what? What’s with listing two countries at once?” You’re asking. We know you are. The 2002 World Cup marked the first time the tournament was hosted jointly by two countries, as well as the first time it had been hosted in Asia. Both Japan and South Korea had submitted bids to host the World Cup that year, and in the end they agreed to co-host the tournament. There were, as you can imagine, problems that resulted from the various venues being so far apart, and in 2004 the World Cup’s governing body even amended its rules so that co-hosting bids are no longer allowed.
But back to the tournament.
2002 gave Brazil their record-setting fifth World Cup win, after they beat Germany 2-0 in the final – and this after almost not qualifying for the tournament in the first place. This was the year that introduced the young Brazilian called Ronaldinho to the world stage, and any Ronaldinho highlight reel contains plenty of footage from the 2002 World Cup (including this amazing goal against England).
It was another Brazilian, however, who really stole the show in 2002. Ronaldo had played in the 1998 World Cup, and in the four year gap he had been sidelined with two serious injuries to his knee. Many players don’t come back from those kinds of injuries, but Ronaldo did – and he was fantastic. Ronaldo was the top goal scorer in 2002, putting the ball in the back of the net eight times on the way to Brazil’s win in the final.
Years Hosting the World Cup: 2010
Memorable Moments from South Africa:
There will undoubtedly be memorable moments from this year’s World Cup – the first in Africa. You’ll have to stay tuned on the World Cup Blog just like the rest of us to find out what they are!
Going to the World Cup in South Africa?
Here are a few things you might find useful.
- 2010 World Cup Travel Guide to South Africa
- Cheap Flights to South Africa
- Guide to South Africa World Cup Host Cities
- World Cup Travel Deals
- World Cup Travel Deals from Europe
- World Cup Jerseys
- How to Say “World Cup” in 36 Languages