Thursday, May 6, 2010

FIFA World Cup History

Renowned for producing some of the finest football, the World Cup is an event that enthralls the world every four years. Whilst the modern incarnation is a glitzy, all-singing, all-dancing affair, the global get-together of old were rather humbler affairs.

In 1930, then FIFA president Jules Rimet planned for the inaugural World Cup tournament to be held in Uruguay. It was to serve as a platform to promote football on the world stage.

The associations and federations of various nations were invited to send a squad each. However, the choice of Uruguay as the host nation meant an arduous and expensive trip across the Atlantic Ocean for the European teams. It was not surprising that no European nation accepted the invitation up until two months before the start of the Cup.

Rimet successfully convinced Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia to each send a squad to Uruguay. A total of thirteen nations took part in the inaugural World Cup – seven from South America, four from Europe and two from North America.

The first two matches involved France and the USA, who dispatched Mexico 4-1 and Belgium 3-0 respectively. The first goal in the World Cup was scored by Lucien Laurent, a Frenchman.

In the final, host nation Uruguay defeated Argentina 4-2 before a capacity crowd of 93,000 in Montevideo, becoming the first holders of the Jules Rimet trophy.

There were problems holding the early editions of the World Cup, namely the difficulties of intercontinental travel and war. Only Brazil participated in the 1934 and 1938 tournaments, with the rest of the South American nations highly reluctant to go the distance. The 1942 and 1946 editions of the competition were cancelled due to World War II and the aftermath.

British teams first debuted in the World Cup in 1950. Countries from the UK first withdrew from FIFA in 1920, as a boycott in protest of foreign influences on the game, as well as their unwillingness to play against countries they were at war with. Great Britain rejoined FIFA in 1946 upon invitation.

The 1950 edition of the tournament also saw the reemergence of 1930 champions Uruguay, who had also boycotted the previous two World Cups. The South American nation won the tournament in a final that would be forever known as the ‘Maracanazo’.

Between 1934 and 1978, each World Cup finals tournament only allowed for 16 teams in its format, except on two occasions: In 1938, when Austria were part of Germany after it had qualified, making it 15 teams in the finals, and in 1950, when India, Scotland and Turkey withdrew from the tournament, leaving 13 teams to contest for the coveted trophy.

Most of the early participating nations in the World Cup were from the European and South American continent, with small doses of North American, African, Asian and Oceania football on display. Teams from the minority were usually given a hiding by the stronger European and South American teams.

Until 1982, the only teams from outside Europe and South America to advance out of the first round were: USA, semi-finalists in 1930; Cuba, quarter-finalists in 1938; Korea DPR, quarter-finalists in 1966; and Mexico, quarter-finalists in 1970.

The finals were expanded to 24 teams in 1982, then to 32 in 1998, allowing equal and more participation from Africa, Asia and North America. The one exception is Oceania, which has never had a guaranteed spot in the finals.

In the more recent editions of the World Cup, teams from outside Europe and South America have had more joy in the competition, and those who have reached the quarter-finals include Mexico in 1986, Cameroon in 1990, Senegal and the USA in 2002, as well as the Korean Republic, who came in fourth in 2002.

However, European and South American sides have remained the talk of the tournament, with all the quarter-finalists coming from both regions in 2006.

For the record, 198 nations attempted to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and a record 204 attempted to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

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