The FIFA World Cup developed over the past 80 years into the 32-team spectacular we know today. It happens every four years, with each tournament preceded by a two to three year qualifying process.
When the World Cup kicked off its humble beginnings in Uruguay in 1930, only 13 teams made it to the host country’s far-off shores to compete. Uruguay won the World Cup, but decided not to defend their title in the following 1934 World Cup in Italy because of the poor European showing at their tournament. Italy won the tournament and retained the title in World Cup 1938.
The outbreak of World War II put an end to the Soccer World Cup tournament for the next 12 years. This was not the only time politics would influence the tournament. As the World Cup resumed in Brazil in 1950, countries like Hungary, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia boycotted the tournament for political reasons and Germany was not allowed to take part. The 1930 World Cup champions, Uruguay, did however set aside their differences and rejoined the tournament – which stood them in good stead as they beat the hosts in the final to take home the trophy.
The advent of media and broadcast opportunities changed the game forever as the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland became the first tournament to be televised. From that moment on there was no stopping World Cup Soccer fever. This trend strengthened as Soccer World Cup 1958 created national and international heroes from players like Pelé and Just Fontaine. The era of the Soccer Superstar had dawned, as the emergence of Brazilians Amarildo and Garrincha and Czechoslovakia goalkeeper Viliam Schrojf in the following 1962 Soccer World Cup in Brazil affirmed.
When England hosted the 1966 World Cup, a logo and mascot were created for the first time. The marketing power and income potential of the brand was now fully realised. The year 1966 also saw Soccer World Cup 2010 hosts South Africa banned because of their policy of apartheid (or separate racial development). The ban remained until 1992.
Politics again reared its ugly head at the next World Cup in 1970. The qualification stages in North Africa coinsided with the so called "Football War" between Honduras and El Salvador as simmering tensions erupted into open riots. It was also the tournament in which Brazil became the first nation to win three World Cups. This firmly cemented their reputation as one of the greatest soccer-playing nations on earth. For their achievement they were allowed to keep the Jules Rimet Trophy permanently.
A new trophy debuted at the 1974 tournament in West Germany. The tournament also saw a new format featuring a first group stage, followed by a second group stage with 8 teams (first group winners and runners-up), followed by the final (second group winners). The second group runners-up played in the third-place match. The West Germans won the tournament by beating the Netherlands at Olympiastadion in Munich at the final. This format continued into the 1978 World Cup held in Argentina, where the Netherlands once again played second fiddle to the hosts as they were beaten by Argentina.
It was time for the tournament to expand, and the 1982 World Cup featured 24 teams. This was the tournament's first expansion since 1934. The teams were divided into six groups of four, with the top two teams in each group advancing into the second round, from where they split into four groups of three. The winners of each group advanced to the semi-finals. The 1982 World Cup was held in Spain and won by Italy, who now rivalled Brazil as the most successful team in the Soccer World Cup.
At the following World Cup in 1986 in Mexico, the format altered once more to a group stage followed by a knockout stage with 16 teams. In order to ensure impartiality, the kick off times for the last matches in all groups were synchronized. The following World Cup in 1990 was held in Italy where West Germany collected a third World Cup.
The 1994 World Cup in the USA was marred by controversy. Diego Maradona was expelled mid-tournament after testing positive for steriods, and Colombian Andrés Escobar was shot to death in Medellin, Columbia a few days after scoring an own-goal in a match that eliminated his country. Soccer events and its superstars made world news around the globe.
In 1998 the World Cup was held in France and once again allowed for an expanded format of 32 teams. The hosts France won the tournament by beating Brazil 3-0 in the final. The next World Cup moved to Asia, and for the first-time ever the tournament was co-hosted by two countries - Japan and South Korea. The tournament was a highlight for the underdogs, as South Korea, Senegal and the USA all reached the final eight. Although traditional rivals Brazil beat Germany 2-0 in the final, many believed that the balance of soccer power had finally shifted.
The most recent World Cup in 2006 in Germany reaffirmed the power of the great soccer playing nations. It was the first World Cup in which the previous tournament champion had to qualify. Controversy struck in the final match between Italy and France, curtosey of French star player Zinedine Zidane. Zidane performed a headbutt to opposing Italian player Marco Materazzi's chest after some verbal taunting. The video of the incident went virial and ended up becomeing comedy fodder the world over, including Zidane being lampooned on the animated comedy Family Guy. Italy went on to win 5-3 in a penalty shootout after a score of 1-1 at extra time.
Widely known as the Greatest Game on Earth, the World Cup is soccer’s proudest moment. Nations rally behind their teams as internal strife is forgotten for one glorious month every four years. Soccer becomes much more than a game, it becomes a celebration of all that is great in humanity – our passion, drive, dedication and talent.