Although games bearing similarities to soccer have existed for thousands of years, soccer as we know it today was not created until the mid 19th century in England. Soccer (or football as it is known internationally) soon became a popular sport in the United Kingdom. The first international soccer competition was held in 1872 between England and Scotland, almost 50 years before the first World Cup.
By 1900 soccer had become an Olympic sport, although only in demonstration games. Soccer would not become an official sport of the Olympics until the 1908 games. In the interim FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) was created in the year 1904.
Soccer’s international popularity had begun to rise and by 1928 FIFA president Jules Rimet decided that it was time for an international soccer competition. The need was furthered by the fact that soccer would not be included in the 1932 Olympic Games. The Games that year were to be held in Los Angeles and because soccer was not very popular in the United States it was decided not to include them in the Games. Thus the World Cup was born.
1930: The First World Cup Soccer Tournament
The first ever World Cup soccer tournament was held in 1930. This first ever competition was held in the South American country of Uruguay. It would also be the Uruguay team that would be the first winners of the World Cup.
Unlike today there were no qualification rounds for the first World Cup. Participants would be chosen from member nations of FIFA and the tournament would be by invitation. Because of its location in South America many European countries decided not to participate considering how the expense and time of the trip. Rimet and the other World Cup organizers knew this would be disastrous for their inaugural World Cup tournament, and were able to convince four European nations to send teams: France, Belgium, Romania and Yugoslavia. In total 13 countries participated.
France was the first nation to win a game in the World Cup, beating Mexico 4-1. Surprisingly considering the unpopularity of the sport in America the United States was the second team to win a game during the cup, beating Belgium 3-0. In the end, however, it would be Uruguay that would arise victorious in the first World Cup soccer tournament.
World Cup 1934-38
Like the Olympics it was decided that the time between World Cup competitions should be four years. The World Cup would be held in between Olympic competitions, thus the second World Cup would be in 1934, in between the 1932 and 1936 Olympics.
The second and third World Cup soccer tournaments were both held in Europe, after the boycott of many European nations to the first World Cup competition. 1934’s competition was held in Italy, and Italy won the tournament. 1934 also saw Egypt as the first African team to compete.
Italy also won the 1938 competition, this one held in France. Uruguay and Argentina both boycotted these two games as they were held in Europe and not in South America.
The 1934 games incorporated the first qualification stage of the World Cup. In all 16 teams qualified for the finals. This set the standard for 16 teams to be in the World Cup finals until 1982 when the finals stage was expanded.
After 1938 World Cup soccer would go on hiatus for 12 years. It was interrupted by the onslaught of World War II and its aftermath. World Cup soccer would not return until 1950. 1950 was also the first year that Britain entered the competition. The nation where soccer started had withdrawn from FIFA in 1920 and did not return until 1946.
World Cup Soccer: 1950-Present
Starting with the 1950 World Cup soccer tournament the games have taken place every four years without fail. In all there have been 16 competitions since the original 1930 World Cup. However there have only been 7 different teams that have taken home the World Cup trophy. In the past 50 years there have been many exciting moments in World Cup soccer history.
In 1950 there was an amazing upset when the United States defeated England. In 1966 the World Cup trophy was stolen only to be found a week later by a dog named “Pickles.” 1982 saw an expansion in the World Cup tournament, now having 24 teams participating in the finals rather than the traditional 16.
The United States hosted their first ever World Cup event in 1994. It was hoped that hosting the World Cup soccer tournament in the United States would increase the sport’s and the events popularity in the United States. The plan backfired. The majority of Americans knew little about the event and hardly any even knew the World Cup was being hosted in the United States that year.
France won their first World Cup in 1998, becoming the 7th team ever to bring home the World Cup trophy. The only winners prior to the 1998 games were: Uruguay, Italy, Germany, Brazil, England and Argentina. Brazil has won the most times with a total of 5 World Cup trophies.
As the years have passed the World Cup has only grown in popularity, becoming one of the most important international sporting events in the world. Even in the United States where soccer has never been exceedingly popular World Cup fever has begun to set in.
The 2006 World Cup soccer tournament will be held in Germany. Many are expecting favorite Brazil to win again.