The inaugural match of this summer’s FIFA World Cup between hosts Russia and Saudi Arabia is set to kick off on June 14 in the Luzhniki Stadium here, the first edition in Europe since Germany hosted the tournament in 2006.
This will be the 21st edition of international football’s biggest event. But out of the 200 teams and 6,000 players that have taken part over the years, only eight countries have managed to win the title — Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Spain, England, France and Uruguay, reports Efe news agency.
Just 13 teams participated in the first edition of the World Cup, hosted by Uruguay in 1930 and coinciding with the centennial of the country’s constitution, with the majority of the European teams declining to compete because of the economic crisis at the time and the burden of travelling by ship to South America.
On June 13, 1930, the tournament started with two matches — Mexico’s 4-1 win against France and the United States’ 3-0 win over Belgium. France’s Lucien Laurent scored the first goal in the competition.
Uruguay and Argentina qualified for the final where the home team rallied from 1-2 down to win 4-2.
The tournament’s second edition headed to Europe, with Italy chosen to host it.
This time, most of the teams from the Americas, including Uruguay, declined to participate, in response to the Europeans’ attitude four years earlier.
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini used the tournament to showcase Italian fascism, and made sure Italy won the tournament at any price, even going so far as to nationalise Argentine players Luis Monti, Raimundo Orsi, Enrique Guaita and Attilio Demaría, as well as Brazilian Anfhiloquio Marques Filo “Guarisi.”
Italy clinched the title after defeating Czechoslovakia 2-1 in extra time.
World War II cast a looming shadow over the next edition in France, which was again boycotted by the majority of teams from the Americas except Brazil and Cuba.
This tournament saw German players performing the Nazi salute, while Italy successfully defended its title, defeating Hungary 4-2 in the final.
After a 12-year suspension due to World War II, the fourth edition of the tournament was held in Brazil in 1950 as Europe was still recovering from the war’s devastation.
Brazil, Sweden, Uruguay and Spain reached the final round robin, with Brazil and Uruguay playing the decisive match, in which a draw would have given the title to the home team.
However, Brazil’s hopes were dashed in front of 150,000 spectators as Uruguay rallied from a goal down to win 2-1.
In 1954, the tournament returned to Europe, specifically Switzerland, where Hungary lived up to the expectations and reached the final after defeating Uruguay, only to be stopped by West Germany’s 3-2 victory.
Brazil won its first World Cup in Sweden in 1958, the first edition to be entirely televised, and which witnessed the emergence of legendary striker Pele.
The Brazilian star pulled off a hat-trick against France in the semis and made two goals in his team’s 5-0 rout of the host nation in the final.
Brazil’s momentum continued in Chile in 1962 when they won their second title in a row, defeating Czechoslovakia 3-1.
England was chosen to host the 1966 World Cup, which saw the inventors of football win their maiden title, along with the rise of another legend Eusebio, nicknamed the “Black Panther,” who led Portugal into the semi-finals.
But it was England that went all the way and prevailed over West Germany 4-2 at Wembley Stadium.
Brazil regained the crown after defeating Italy in the 1970 World Cup final in Mexico, thanks to what was arguably its best team ever.
The 1974 edition saw the Netherland’s Johan Cruyff emerging on the international scene, but his side felt short against hosts West Germany in the final.
Four years later, the tournament travelled to Argentina amid international opposition to the country’s ruling military dictatorship.
The Netherlands’ momentum continued, but this time without Cruyff, as they reached the final but lost to the host 1-3.
Spain organised the 1982 World Cup, which witnessed the worst performance for a host team up till then as well as the emergence of several African teams.
It saw unforgettable matches, such as West Germany’s win on penalty shootouts over France’s dream team led by Michel Platini in the semi-finals, and upsets such as Brazil’s defeat against Italy, which went on to win the title.
Mexico was the first country to host the competition twice, in 1986, which was initially scheduled to be held in Colombia.
Without a doubt, that year’s tournament belonged to Diego Maradona, scoring one of the best goals in World Cup history: the “Hand of God” in the quarter-final against England.
Argentina then defeated Germany 3-2 in the final on the strength of Jorge Burruchaga’s goal with six minutes to go, earning a second World Cup title.
The tournament headed back to Italy in 1990, where Germany took revenge on Argentina in the final on a late penalty successfully converted by Andreas Brehme.
In 1994, the tournament was held in the United States, with the aim of boosting interest in the sport there.
After the shock caused by Maradona’s positive drug test, Brazil and Italy played to a 0-0 draw.
For the first time in a World Cup final, the match was resolved on a penalty shootout, which gave Brazil its fourth title.
The South American powerhouse had another dream run in France in 1998 as Ronaldo and Rivaldo led them to the final.
However, Brazil lost 0-3 to the host, guided by star Zinedine Zidane, who scored a brace, steering Les Bleus to their maiden World Cup title.
Asia emerged four years later as Korea and Japan jointly hosted the tournament where Ronaldo led Brazil to its fifth title at Germany’s expense, also claiming the top scorer award.
Germany hosted the 2006 edition, where Brazil stumbled, while Argentina and England did not make it beyond the quarterfinals.
Les Bleus and the Azzurri faced off in the final, where Italy won on a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw, earning its fourth title.
In 2010, South Africa became the first country on the continent to host the World Cup, where Italy and France did not get past the group stages, while Brazil and Argentina failed to advance into the quarterfinals.
Despite losing the first match to Switzerland, Spain moved on to earn its maiden title as a result of strong teamwork, which enabled it to defeat Germany in the semifinals and the Netherlands in the final on a goal by Andres Iniesta in extra time.
Brazil hosted the event for the second time in 2014, where Spain was ousted from the first round along with Italy and England.
One of the tournament’s most memorable highlights (or lowlights) was when Brazil was handed a crushing 7-1 defeat in the semi-final by Germany, which eventually beat out Argentina to become this year’s defending champion.