The World Cup began in the early 20th century, and during this century gradually expanded to include more teams and more great players.[1] Jules Rimet was the president of FIFA who founded the tournament first played in 1930. Although few sides beyond South America and Europe were actually involved in this first tournament, it marked the beginning of a great international soccer cup.

After this first FIFA cup in 1930, a further two tournaments were held before 1940. The firs was in 1934, and Italy became the first European country not only to host the FIFA World Cup, but also to win it. The Italians beat Czechoslovakia 2 – 1 to win their first trophy. France hosted the 1938 tournament, and once again the Italians won it and became the first team to defend the trophy.

The outbreak of hostilities in 1939 curtailed the World Cup during the 1940s, but it would return in 1950 better than ever. This tournament had a revised format, and reintroduced group stages with four teams. It was also the first tournament that UK teams played it, so England made their début in the World Cup. Although England had little to shout about in this tournament. Despite winning their first game, the second was one of the biggest shocks in FIFA World Cup history. The American amateurs defeated England 1 – 0, and then England also lost to Spain to go out in the first round. Uruguay had much more to celebrate as they won their second Jules Rimet trophy with a 2 – 1 victory against the hosts Brazil.

Further surprises followed in the 1954 FIFA World Cup, which was one that Hungary were widely expected to win. The Mighty Magyars had already beaten England 6 – 3 in a friendly game, and had also won Olympic gold. With Puskas spearheading their forward line they were formidable opponents, and during this tournament set a scoring record of 27 goals. They put eight past the West Germans in their group game, but when the teams played again in the final Germany were a different team. Hungary lost the final 3 – 2 as West Germany won their first FIFA World Cup.

Brazil dominated the next two FIFA World Cups. In 1958, Pele inspired them to the final where they played Sweden. Pele scored a further two goals in the final, and Brazil won the game 5 – 2 to win their first Jules Rimet trophy. In 1962, Brazil defended the trophy after a 3 – 1 win in the final.

In 1966, England hosted the tournament; and Ramsey had got his side in shape for an assault on the trophy. Ramsey stated that, 'England could win the FIFA World Cup,’ and with home advantage the team excelled. Victories against Argentina and Portugal ensured their place in the final against West Germany. In that game Hurst scored a hat-trick to ensure a 4 – 2 win for England.

The last tournament to include the Jules Rimet trophy was the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico. This was a terrific tournament with some great teams, but Brazil once again emerged as champions. Pele was at his best, and Brazil won all their games en route to the final including a win against England. A 4 – 1 thrashing of the Italians remains one of the biggest World Cup final victories that won the Jules Rimet trophy.

Brazil at World CupCredit: Licensed under public domain on Wik Commons.

The 1970s was an era of Total Football as Holland lit up FIFA's cup. Holland reached two World Cup finals during the period. However, the Netherlands could not win either as they lost to West Germany and Argentina.

In 1982, the tournament expanded to include 24 teams. FIFA reorganized the format with a second group stage included with the top teams from the four groups moving into the semi-finals. One of the key games of this tournament was perhaps Italy vs Brazil in the second round, a match that Brazil only needed to draw to reach the semis. However, Rossi’s hat-trick ensured a 3 – 2 win for the Italians and they went on to win the trophy.

FIFA reorganized the 1986 finals to remove the second group stage. Consequently, the best third placed teams in the first round progressed into the second round knockout stage. This was Argentina’s tournament as Maradona inspired them to victory with a great 3 – 2 win in the final against West Germany. Other highlights included Maradona’s exhilarating second goal against England, which was one of the greatest scored in the tournament.

World Cup Stamp

In 1994, FIFA began to change its selection policy for tournaments hosts, which were previously largely limited to South American and European countries. However, in ’94 the United States hosted the cup. The US team had one of their best tournaments and progressed into the second round, and only went out to the eventual champions Brazil. Brazil’s team, spearheaded by Romario, reached the final where they played Italy. The game was somewhat dull, and remains the only World Cup final to end goalless. Brazil were the first team to win the trophy with penalties.

The final FIFA World Cup was played in France in ’98. This was the largest to date as the first to include 32 teams. The final included the host nation France against the defending champions Brazil, and France won their first World Cup trophy after an emphatic 3 – 0 win.

It was perhaps fitting that France should lift the final trophy of the century, as the French national Jules Rimet had inspired the first tournament in the 1930s. Unlike the first cup, by ’98 the tournament was truly global as it included teams from South America, Middle East, Europe, North America, Asia and Africa that battled it out for the trophy.