The World Cup, the greatest sporting spectacle on planet Earth – and probably another planet to boot. The 2018 event in Russia was the 21st edition of the summer tournament, the first coming nearly a century ago in 1930. Football is a game in perpetual flux, but over the years the world’s premier international competition has been a reliable constant.
We’ve seen some of the great teams go the distance. We’ve seen some great teams not quite make it. The thing about cup football is that it is not necessarily a meritocracy; the team that deserves to win does not always do so. And yet history is written by the victors.
Here we take a look at each World Cup winner in turn.
FIFA World Cup Winners
1930 – Winner: Uruguay – Final: Uruguay 4-2 Argentina
Venue: Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, Uruguay – Attendance: 68,346
With a population of just over two million in 1930, around 3.5% of Uruguay’s entire population was crammed into Estadio Centenario to witness La Albiceleste become the first World Cup champions against rivals Argentina on home turf. On the scoresheet for the final was Hector Castro – a young striker who had only one arm.
In truth, however, this was Uruguay’s third world championship. They had been triumphant at the football event in the Olympics in 1924 and 1928, both of which were officially sanctioned FIFA World Championships.
Their star at all three tournaments was Jose Leandro Andrade, a remarkable playmaker with a remarkable story and one of football’s first global superstars.
1934 – Winner: Italy – Final: Italy 2-1 Czechoslovakia
Venue: Stadio Nazionale PNF, Rome, Italy – Attendance: 50,000
In the second World Cup final, Italy continued the trend as the hosts once again scooped the biggest prize. In these days, the tournament was a straight knockout competition and Italy put seven past the previous edition’s semi-finalists USA before beating Spain 1-0 in a rare World Cup replay after a 0-0 draw in the first leg.
In the semi-finals, they overcame Austria 1-0, setting up a final in Rome with Czechoslovakia. In extra-time, they triumphed 2-1 giving Europe its first World Cup in the process.
It has been suggested that Italy’s 1934 victory was influence by corruption, with Mussolini’s hand detected in the referee selection process.
1938 – Winner: Italy – Final: Italy 4-2 Hungary
Venue: Stade Olympique de Colombes, Paris, France – Attendance: 45,000
There could be no allegations of corruption in the ’38 tournament, however. Italy triumphed again, beating an impressive Hungary side in the final after victories over Brazil, France and Norway en route.
Their triumph remains the only time a national side has won two World Cups with the same manager, Vittorio Pozzo.
1950: Winner Uruguay – Uruguay Topped Final Group Stage
Venue: Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Final match attendance: 199,854
Technically, there was no final in 1950. The competition was organised into a multi-tiered group stage format. The four table-toppers from the first groups took each other on in a decisive final group.
Those four teams were Spain, Brazil, Sweden and Uruguay. Brazil thrashed Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1, while Uruguay drew their first game before squeaking past Sweden. All Brazil needed was a draw to be crowned champions.
They lost. The 2-1 defeat to Uruguay was watched by nearly 200,000 people and is still remembered as the most painful day in the nation’s sporting history – even after the 7-1 loss to Germany 64 years later.
1954 – Winner: West Germany – Final: West Germany 3-2 Hungary
Venue: Wankdorf Stadium, Bern, Switzerland – Attendance 60,000
Hungary throughout the late 40s and early-mid 50s were known as the Magic Magyars. With the stupefying talent of Sandor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas and Gyula Grosics, the Eastern Europeans demolished nearly everything that was put in front of them. Twice they beat England, who considered themselves the best in the world at the time, once 6-3 and once 7-1.
In fact, the World Cup final loss to Germany in ’54 was their first defeat in 32 matches. And it could so easily have been avoided. Hungary went 2-0 up before half time in Switzerland, only for the Germans to roar back and win their first of four World Cups.
1958 – Winner: Brazil – Final: Brazil 5-2 Sweden
Venue: Rasunda Stadium, Solna, Sweden – Attendance: 51,000
In 1958 Brazil began to establish their storied World Cup heritage. The first of five triumphs in the competition came in Sweden. They topped their group stage, knocking out England in the process, and then proceeded to beat Wales 1-0 in the quarter-finals. In the semis, Brazil put five past Just Fontaine’s France – an impressive achievement considering the fact that Fontaine would score a record 13 goals in the tournament in total.
They triumphed by the same scoreline in the final, this time beating hosts Sweden thanks to a goal from Zagalla, two from Vava and a further two from a little-known 17-year-old. His name? Pele.
1962 – Winner: Brazil – Final: Brazil 3-1 Czechoslovakia
Venue: Estadio Nacional, Santiago, Chile – Attendance: 68,679
Brazil became only the second team to retain a World Cup title in 1962, this time on South American soil in Chile. By this time, Pele was one of world football’s global superstars. Along with Garrincha, Zito and the like, Brazil swept all before them.
They reached the final after another victory over England, this time in the quarter-final, and a 4-2 win against Chile. In the final, they faced a strong Czechoslovakia side, who had held Brazil to a draw when they played each other in the group stage. This time, however, Brazil were victorious, with Amarildo, Zito and Vava scoring to ensure a 3-1 victory.
1966 – Winner: England – Final: England 4-2 West Germany
Venue: Wembley Stadium, London, England – Attendance: 96,924
English football had taken many knockbacks over the decades before their first World Cup win in 1966. Bruising defeats to the likes of Hungary and Brazil had done away with their air of superiority and highlighted the need for something of a tactical revolution.
That was brought about by Alf Ramsey, England’s manager between 1963 and 1974. He utilised the likes of Bobby Charlton, Nobby Stiles, Bobby Moore and Martin Peters to great effect in his “Wingless Wonders” system.”
England opened with a draw against Uruguay before beating France and Mexico in the remaining group stage games. In the knockouts, they battled past Argentina in a highly belligerent game before knocking out Eusebio’s Portugal in the penultimate stage. They got their long-awaited World Cup victory by beating rivals West Germany 4-2 after extra-time, with Geoff Hurst scoring a famous hat-trick.
1970 – Winner: Brazil – Final: Brazil 4-1 Italy
Venue: Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico – Attendance: 107,412
As good as England were in 1966, most commentators believed their incarnation at the 1970 World Cup was even better. It would take something pretty special to stop them, and something pretty special did.
Brazil’s 1970 team is widely considered the best of all-time. Pele was 30 by this time but was joined by the fresh talent in Jairzinho, Rivellino and Carlos Alberto. On the way to the final, they beat England in the group stages, before overcoming South American rivals Peru and Uruguay in the knockout rounds. Their 4-1 final victory over Italy is among the greatest matches in World Cup history.
1974 – Winner: West Germany – Final: West Germany 2-1 Netherlands
Venue: Olympiastadion, Munich, West Germany – Attendance: 75,200
The World Cup switched away from the traditional knockout format in 1974, instead opting for a similar system to the 1950 World Cup, with two group stage stages. The winners of the final two groups would face each other in the final. Those two teams, as it happened, turned out to be a pair of intense rivals, the Netherlands and West Germany.
West Germany, the competition’s hosts, won the match in Munich despite going a goal down inside two minutes to Johan Cruyff’s side. Channelling the spirit of Switzerland 20 years earlier, Paul Breitner and Gerd Muller got on the scoresheet to ensure a 2-1 victory and a second World Cup for the Germans.
1978 – Winner: Argentina – Final: Argentina 3-1 Netherlands
Venue: Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires, Argentina – Attendance: 71,483
There was yet more heartache for the Netherlands in 1978 as their golden generation faltered yet again. This time, there was no Johan Cruyff, but they still managed to reach the final only to be defeated by Mario Kempes’s Argentina.
Kempes, who scored twice for Argentina in the final, was the player of the tournament. He bagged four more goals in the group stages as FIFA decided to stick with a group stage format rather than revert to the knockout system.
1982 – Winner: Italy – Final: Italy 3-1 West Germany
Venue: Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Madrid, Spain – Attendance: 90,000
Forty-four years after their last, Italy won a second World Cup title in Spain in 1982. Paolo Rossi scored six goals as Italy overcame the likes of Brazil and Argentina in the second group stage.
In the first, Italy qualified despite not winning a game. Three draws against Poland, Cameroon and Peru – this was in a time before three points for a win on the international stage. This, coupled with the group stage format, meant that England went home despite not losing any of their five games at the tournament.
1986 – Winner: Argentina – Final: Argentina 3-2 West Germany
Venue: Estadio Azteca, Mexico City, Mexico – Attendance: 114,600
West Germany lost a second final in succession to Argentina in front of nearly 115,000 in Mexico City. In truth, this Argentina team was not a patch on the one from 1978. But this time there was one key difference: Maradona.
The little Argentinian had a tournament for the ages. In the quarter-final against England, he scored a hugely controversial handball goal later dubbed the “Hand of God” quickly followed up by one of the best solo efforts world football has ever seen. He got another two in the semi-final against Belgium and was instrumental as Argentina ran out 3-2 winners in a thrilling final against West Germany.
1990 – Winner: West Germany – Final: West Germany 1-0 Argentina
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy – Attendance: 73,603
Argentina came so close to repeating the feat in Italy in 1990 but missed out when West Germany scored with five minutes remaining in the final in Rome. 1990 is not remembered as the best World Cup in terms of the quality of football – a record low number of goals was scored – but in terms of big moments and narratives, there were dozens.
Roger Milla’s corner flag dancing, Paul Gascoigne’s tears, Maradona’s genius. Unfortunately for the latter, it was not to be, and West Germany won their final trophy before reunification with the East.
1994 – Winner: Brazil – Final: Brazil 0-0 Italy (3-2 pens)
Venue: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, United States – Attendance: 94,194
The World Cup in 1994 is fondly remembered by millions of football fans as one of the most entertaining in recent years. Smaller teams like Romania, Sweden and Bulgaria enchanted us, but in the end the final was contested by two of the old guard: Italy and Brazil.
Brazil won on penalties after a drab final – with Roberto Baggio’s miss one of the most iconic moments of the tournament. Remarkably, the triumph is the least cherished in the country, as their fans objected to the functional style of play on show.
1998 – Winner: France – Final: France 3-0 Brazil
Venue: Stade de France, Paris, France – Attendance: 80,000
Brazil would have to wait a little longer for that famous fifth star. They reached the final in the last World Cup of the 20th century, only to be roundly thumped by the hosts France.
It was Les Bleus first triumph. It was built on a stunning squad of players: Zidane, Petit, Henry, Thuram, Djorkaeff etc.
They beat a dark horse Croatia team in the semi-finals after squeezing past Italy and Paraguay in the round of 16 and quarter-final matches.
2002 – Winner: Brazil – Final: Germany 0-2 Brazil
Venue: International Stadium, Yokohama, Japan – Attendance: 69,029
The tournament in Japan and South Korea in 2002 remains the only World Cup to be hosted by an Asian country. There was excellent entertainment on offer as South Korea reached the semi-finals where they were narrowly beaten by Germany.
On the other side of the draw, Ronaldo scored against Turkey to take Brazil to the final match. There, he scored a further two, taking his tally to eight for the tournament and stitching the fifth star above Brazil’s crest.
2006 – Winner: Italy – Final: Italy 1 (5)-1 (3) France
Venue: Olympiastadion, Berlin, Germany – Attendance: 69,000
Zinedine Zidane announced his retirement in 2006, but not before one last dance at the World Cup in Germany. After a stunning tournament from the Frenchman, it ended in red mist.
His famous headbutt on Marco Materazzi came after both men had got on the scoresheet at 1-1. Italy eventually won on penalties.
2010 – Winner: Spain – Final: Spain 1-0 Netherlands
Venue: Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa – Attendance: 84,490
The World Cup final was just four minutes away from yet another penalty shootout when Iniesta collected a loose ball and rifled home to win the tournament for Spain.
His goal cemented the free-flowing, pyrotechnic passing show that is La Roja’s legacy for years to come. Spain had beaten Germany, Paraguay and Iberian neighbours Portugal on the way to the final, but not before an early scare in their first match against Switzerland which they lost 1-0.
2014 – Winner: Germany – Final: Germany 1-0 Argentina
Venue: Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Attendance: 74,738
Germany won their fourth World Cup title in Rio, closing the gap to hosts Brazil to just one trophy. Argentina missed the chance to win a third World Cup in their arch-rival’s backyard, going down 1-0 to a Mario Gotze goal.
Germany’s was a deserved triumph in a quite magnificent tournament. Before their famous 7-1 annihilation of Brazil, they navigated tricky games against France, Algeria, Portugal, Ghana and the United States.
2018 – Winner: France – Final: France 4-2 Croatia
Venue: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia – Attendance: 78,011
There was a great degree of tension surrounding holding the World Cup in Russia ahead of the 2018 tournament. But on the football side of things, fans needn’t have worried. A thrilling tournament was capped with the most goal-heavy final since 1966.
France, the clear favourites at the beginning of the event, lifted the trophy against underdog finalists Croatia. Kylian Mbappe officially announced himself on the world’s biggest stage and there was vindication for the French stars who had lost the European Championship final on home soil two years earlier.