Thursday, 27 May 2010


by Brendan Hunt

(Author's Note: This column is a review of World Cup History. For the blog that equates US Sports teams to 2010 World Cup Teams, click here.)

I have a lot of respect for Bill Simmons, and high hopes for him as someone who will help middle America get into soccer. Unlike sportswriters of his stature of previous generations (your Kornheisers and Defords), Simmons actually likes soccer, or at least respects it, and has for some time. So when he unwittingly puts a call out as to what my next blog should cover, I answer.

At the end of his last podcast with Seth Meyers (always an excellent BS Report guest), he waxed wistful for a digest of the history of the World Cup, a World Cup for Dummies if you will.

I will.

Though, truth be told, Bill’s colleagues at have already been doing an exemplary job of that, with a fantastic feature called World Cup 101. It’s been an ongoing series since we began counting down the 101 days to the start of the tournament, and for the most part they’re the kind of universally informative and historically educational articles that will be just as good to read now as they were when they came out. I recommend the series to you, all of you, not just to Bill Simmons. (I also just came across their "I Scored a Goal in the FIFA World Cup Final" series, which looks fanfuckingtastic.)

But until then we present, with apologies to the considerably higher-brow Brian Glanville:

The History of the World Cup for Dummies/Americans.

For each rendition of the Big Enchilada I’ll tell you who hosted, who won, who came in second, who was the best player and the top scorer, and whatever else seems like the minimum relevant information. Sometimes I’ll tell you even less. Oh, and since the bulk of my soccer learning has come from living in Holland and reading English soccer publications, there will likely be a slightly unavoidable slant towards those two countries.

In the interest of expedience and the philosophy of digests, I will unfortunately have to skip most of the interesting side stories. But you can find many of them recounted nimbly at World Cup 101 (among many other places, I’m sure).

There will also be Fun Facts, some of which won't even be all that fun. 'cause I'm tricky. So tricky, that I've decided to give each section a title from an Elvis Costello song. TRICKY!


At the risk of sounding like the guy who disregards any NFL Championships that didn’t come with roman numerals on them, these first three Cups are more of a pre-history than a history. The tournaments were not comprehensive enough in their representation, through various issues (in no particular order):

- England and Scotland, the widely recognized best teams of the era, not condescending to participate.
- travel difficulties of the day, with Atlantic crossings taking two to three weeks at a time.
- relatively few countries having active professional leagues of a decent standard, thus further reducing the amount of countries who could mount a credible title challenge.
- irregular qualification and Finals format.
- a lack of iconic photography or footage that really cements this sort of thing in immortality, and
- a rather dispiriting dose of Mussolini.




Host: Uruguay.
Champion: Uruguay
Runner-Up: Argentina
Golden Ball (that’s fancy soccer-talk for Tournament MVP): José “The Great Marshall” Nasazzi (ARG)
Golden Boot (more of that foreigner-lingo, this time meaning tournament top-scorer): Guillermo Stábile (ARG), 8 goals
Format: 13 teams, group stage + knockout rounds
How’d we do (the “we” being the U.S.): Third place! Which sounds a lot better before you realize that there were only two good teams in this tournament.

Only thirteen teams participated, only four of them being travel-weary European squads. Uruguay, having won the previous two Olympic gold medals, cement their status as best-team-in-the-world-that-actually-deigns-to-compete-in-a-tournament.

Still, it was a successful enough event, to be sure. Sure, only 300 people attended the Romania-Peru match, but over ninety thousand attended the final, an apparently fantastic game with two lead changes that Uruguay and their one-armed striker won 4-2.

Fun Fact: An American player, Bert Patenaude, scored the first hat-trick in World Cup history.



Host: Italy
Champion: Italy
Runner-up: Czechoslovakia
Golden Ball: Giuseppe Meazza (ITA)
Golden Boot: Oldřich Nejedlý (CZE), 5 goals
New Format (already): 16 teams in single-elimination knockout rounds; no group stage.
How’d we do: Lost to Italy in the first game, 7-1, and that was it. For the next 16 years.

Remember all those stories about Hitler using the 1936 Olympics as a commercial for the Nazis? This tournament, held in Mussolini’s fascist Italy, was the tournament that gave him the idea. Do you really think the Americans were going to be allowed to win that game?

Mind you, the Italians were surely better than the US anyway. But maybe they weren’t better than the Czechs, who sent them into extra time, before losing 2-1.

Fun Fact: Another reason these World Cups seem illegitimate is the weak eligibility rules. One of the players for Italy in the Final was a guy named Luis Monti. You may recall him from the previous Final. Playing for Argentina.



Host: France
Champion: Italy
Runner-up: Hungary
Golden Ball and Boot: Leônidas (BRA), the alleged inventor of the bicycle kick, 7 goals.
Format: 16 teams in KO rounds again.
How’d we do: We did not.

Lots of teams sat this one out. England and Scotland refrained, as usual. Austria qualified, but then withdrew due to the Anschluss taking up an unexpected amount of their schedule. Finally, Argentina and Uruguay refused in protest of Europe getting to host the event for a second straight time, rather than alternating with South America. (The preceding absences were not listed in order of importance or validity.)

France became the first host country not to make the final after losing to eventual-champ Italy in the quarters. Not sure we can blame them for that one. As described in a particularly informative World Cup 101 article (from whence the above picture comes):

As both teams sported blue jerseys, Italy was asked to bring its alternate shirts which were traditionally white. Instead, on Mussolini's orders, the team took to the field in black shirts, the Maglia Nera, a symbol of the feared and despised Italian fascist paramilitary. It was a gesture purposefully designed to goad the thousands of French and Italian protestors in the crowd. As an additional flourish, Il Duce ordered his players to hold the fascist salutes they effected before kickoff until the howling protestors had run out of energy.

In a word: yikes.

Fun Fact: In the 12 years between this and the next World Cup, a FIFA official named Dr. Ottorino Barassi hid the trophy in a shoebox under his bed. Hm. Not that fun, really.



Host: Brazil
Champion: Uruguay
Runner-up: Brazil
Golden Ball: Zizinho (BRA)
Golden Boot: Ademir (BRA), 9 goals
New Format: 16 teams in 4 groups; top team from each group advances to final group stage, meaning, quite oddly, no formal final was on the schedule.
How’d we do: Bounced after group stage, but not until recording THE BIGGEST UPSET IN WORLD CUP HISTORY (as far as you need be concerned). After which we took a break. For 40 years.

But that’s not the story of this tournament. The main thing is “The Final That Was Not a Final.” It wasn’t officially a final due to the tournament being decided by a second group stage- but Brazil v. Uruguay was the last match scheduled, and by the time it came along, they were the top two teams in the group- the winner of their match would win the whole thing. In fact, Brazil only needed a draw. At home. In front of 200,000 fans.

It’s best explained by this video (it’s long, but you’re worth it). But if you don’t have time to watch something cool (and who does, really) just know that the people of Brazil remain by their failure. Apparently the five titles they’ve won since have done nothing to assuage the hurt. Whattayagonnado.

Fun fact: one of the US players was a man named Walter Bahr, who had two sons (Chris and Matt) who went on to Super Bowl winning careers. As placekickers, of course.



Host: Switzerland
Champion: West Germany
Runner-up: Hungary
Golden Ball: Ferenc "The Galloping Major" Puskás, Hungary (one of the all-time greats).
Golden Boot: Sándor Kocsis, Hungary, 11 goals.
New Format: 16 teams in 4 groups; KO rounds restored to the system.

Hungary had come to be seen as the unofficial Best Team in the World after becoming the first non-British team to beat England at Wembley. Known as the Mighty Magyars and led by the legendary Puskás, they got to the final on the back of a five-year, 32-match unbeaten run. But, in the end, they they were undone by adidas.

Mind you, they had beaten West Germany in the group stage, by a fairly decisive score of 8-3. The Germans, who had not been allowed to compete in the previous Cup, were not seen as a threat. It was a poor and shattered country, after all.

In the Final the match started in a familiar way, as Hungary went ahead 2-0 after eight minutes. But by then, heavy rain was already affecting the pitch. The Germans had come prepared.

Sitting on the German bench was a man named Adi Dassler- that’s ADI DASsler- and he brought with him a new invention: soccer boots with exchangeable, screw-in studs, allowing the Germans to play on the increasingly muddy surface with little problem.

Ten minutes after going down 2-0, they had tied it. With 6 minutes left, they went ahead 3-2 and held on for the upset. A World Cup dynasty was born. An athletic shoe giant was as well. As was an apparently quite good German sports film.



Host: Sweden
Champion: Brazil
Runner-up: Sweden
Golden Ball: Didi (BRA)
Golden Boot: Was it everyone from France? No. Just Fontaine.

The most important thing to know about the 1958 World Cup- besides Fontaine's amazing 13-goal tally for 3rd place finisher France- is that the tournament marked the first championship for Brazil as well as the rise of Pelé.

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of Americans know who Pelé is, but they don’t necessarily know why Pelé is.

Pelé was a poor 17 year-old when he arrived in Switzerland; by the time he left he had shook hands with the King of Sweden. He was the youngest player to appear in tournament history at the time, on a Brazil team that was (as would become typical) stacked; he remains the World Cup's youngest-ever goal-scorer. After being shut out in the group stage matches, he scored six goals in the final three matches (including a hat-trick in the semi against France) and two more in the final, the first of which being seen as one of the all-time best. The second was the final punctuation in a 5-2 win. It’s the most goals ever scored by any team in the World Cup Final.

Fun Fact: Pelé was never top scorer at a World Cup.



Host: Chile
Champion: Brazil
Runner-Up: Czechoslovakia
Golden Ball: Garrincha (BRA)
Golden Boot: Garrincha and five other dudes tied with four goals each.

Brazil win for the second time behind Garrincha, after Pelé was injured in the second match. Interesting dude, Garrincha. Second-best Brazilian of all-time, they say. Best dribbler ever. Deformed legs. Huge wang.

But the lasting images from this World Cup come from one group stage match between Chile and Italy, one known as The Battle of Santiago; this match is the reason yellow and red card were invented. Here’s what happened. And here’s why.



Host: England
Champion: England
Runner-Up: West Germany
Golden Ball: Bobby Charlton, England.
Golden Boot: Eusébio, Portugal, 9 goals

It was, like the ’62 vintage, a very physical tournament. Portugal’s game plan vs. Brazil: beat the shit out of Pelé. It worked. Argentina’s plan vs. England: beat the shit out of everyone. It failed.

England won the final 4-2 in extra time, behind a hat trick from Geoff Hurst. This extra time is one of the iconic scenes of soccer.

West Germany had scored at the end of regular time to tie things up 2-2. Then in the first extra period, Hurst rattled a shot off the bar that bounced straight down. Replays fairly squarely show the ball to be on the line, and keep in mind that the rule is that the entire ball has to be all the way past the white line to be a goal. But the referee conferred with the linesman, who paused dramatically, then nodded furiously that it was a goal (seen at 1:30 of this video with a rather England-friendly bit of editing about the ball's landing spot). One of the great fables is that the linesman, from the USSR, decided to award the goal as war-based revenge on the Germans. In one of the great soccer fables, he is rumored to have been asked on his deathbed why he awarded the goal. His alleged answer: “Stalingrad.”

England had returned to the top of the soccer world, only this time they had a trophy to show for it.

Fun Fact: There are conspiracy theories of recent vintage that England's win was a semi-fix. I tend not to believe in such things, but I never mind hearing their arguments.



Host: Mexico
Champion: Brazil
Runner-Up: Italy
Golden Ball: Pelé
Golden Boot: Gerd Muller (West Germany), 10 goals.
New rules: Substitutions allowed for the first time, though only two. Yellow and red cards instituted, though no red cards were given. Mind you, expulsions had existed already, but the cards helped to get through the inevitable language barriers.

They say that the ’66 Final rematch in the quarterfinals, with England going up 2-0 before losing 3-2 was an all-time great match.

They say that the semi-final between Italy and Germany, which was 1-1 after regulation, but finished 4-3, was the Game of the Century.

They say that the final goal in Brazil’s 4-1 win over Italy in the final, scored by Carlos Alberto, was the greatest team goal of all time.

They say that this Brazil team was the greatest team of all time.

They say it was the best World Cup ever.



Host: West Germany
Champion: West Germany
Runner-Up: Holland
Golden Ball: Johan Cruyff, Holland.
(AUTHOR'S GRIPE: I can't stand the British tendency to mispronounce the name of one of the five greatest players of all time. The "uy" sound in Dutch sounds like "ow," not like "oy." So it should sound like CrOWff, not CrOYff. I don't understand continuing to get his name wrong while doing the correct work on the comparably insignificant Dirk Kuyt. If you hear a Brit call him Croyff, set them straight. There's nothing more enjoyable than watching the look on an Englishman's face when he realizes he's been corrected about football by an American. It's just priceless.)
Golden Boot: Grzegorz Lato, Poland, 7 goals.
New Format: 16 teams, two group stages, then a Final.

This tournament has gone down in history as being defined more by who lost it than who won it. The losing Dutch have gone onto become one of the most beloved teams in soccer history, despite coming up short in the Final to the unfazed hosts.

Before 1974, Holland had only appeared in two pre-war World Cups, playing two games and losing them both. They brought with them to Germany their new system, called Total Football, that proved to be virtually unstoppable by anyone but themselves. Total Football was the Triangle Offense of the day, an offense based more on flow than strictly-assigned roles and positions. Defenders were free to attack, because their attacking teammates would rotate to cover; it was a philosophy that was committed to high-scoring, “beautiful” soccer. The fact that this philosophy was coming from a bunch of longhairs from free-spirited Amsterdam helped reinforce the vision that the Dutch were the coolest thing going. Cruyff was Holland’s Magic Johnson (not to mix the metaphor, but imagine how good Magic would have been in the triangle), running the show from the middle, free to score but just as likely to set up teammates. Oranje came through the six group stages with a goal differential of 16-1, and the only goal they allowed was an own goal.

When they arrived at the Final, it appeared there would be more of the same as they scored their first goal in the second minute, before Germany had even touched the ball (at the 2:15 mark). After that, they got cocky. They didn’t try to win the game- they tried to embarrass the Germans, against whom they still held some latent invasion-based hostility. Germany stayed patient in their manner and were up 2-1 by halftime. Despite an absolute barrage by the Dutch in the second half, the Germans held on. In his fantastic book Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football, David Winner explores how deeply this disappointment affected the Dutch people for over a decade to come.

Fun fact: Every country that was won the World Cup has done so on home soil at least once, except Brazil, who have won it five times other places. Even so, Germany are the only of the home-winners to have won their first Cup in another country (if you count Switzerland as another country, and you might as well).



Host: Argentina
Champion: Argentina
Runner-Up: Holland (losing to the home team in two straight Finals)
Golden Ball and Golden Shoe: Mario “The Matador” Kempes, Argentina, 6 goals.

Politics were not quite as central to this Cup as it had been in ’38, but it was in the neighborhood. Argentina was run by a military junta at the time and the country was not in good shape; they wanted a win, and bad. At the end of the second group stage, Argentina needed a 4-0 win over Peru to advance to the Final. They won by the incredible score of 6-0, and Peru magically received a few extra tons of grain that harvest. Now, maybe Peru’s hearts just weren’t in it, as they had already been eliminated- but they sure didn’t look like they were trying very hard.

In the final, the gamesmanship continued. Argentina let Holland wait ten minutes for them on the pitch- surrounded by 71,000 people shouting for their blood- before coming out of the tunnel. When they did, they filed a protest with the referee over a Dutch player’s cast- a cast that he had been wearing all tournament. It is thought by some back in Holland that there was no way the Dutch would be allowed to win that game and leave the stadium alive. This might be hyperbole- but it’s a great story, eh?

It never came to that, though it came close. Argentina took the lead through Kempes in the 38th minute. Holland equalized in the 81st minute, then dramatically hit the post in the 91st. Argentina scored twice in extra time to win their first World Cup.

Fun Fact: Argentina’s trembly-legged Osvaldo Ardiles plays for the Allied team in the film "Victory", the third World Cup winner (along with Pelé and England captain Bobby Moore) to do so.



Host: Spain
Champion: Italy
Runner-up: West Germany (first of three consecutive Finals for them)
Golden Ball and Golden Shoe: Paolo Rossi (Italy), 6 goals
Format: For the first time, 24 teams participate. This leads to bulky system of 6 groups of 4 in first group stage, then four groups of three, then a semi and a final; this is the beginning of these things getting unnecessarily complicated. Also, penalty kicks used for first time to settle draws in KO stages.

Poor Italy. They can’t seem to win a World Cup without there being some kind of character-based asterisk attached. If it’s not Mussolini, it’s Materazzi. And if it’s not them, it’s being led to the title by a match-fixer.

Paolo Rossi won the Silver Ball (second-best player) at Argentina ’78, and the Golden Ball at Spain ’82. In between, he served a two-year suspension for being what appears to be a small part of a large culture of, shall we say, “goal-shaving” in Italy’s top soccer division.

Rossi’s suspension ended- was, in fact, helpfully reduced from three years- in time for the World Cup. The amazing thing about his performance was that it took him so long to get going. He didn’t score at all in Italy’s first four games. Then he exploded, eliminating a very popular Brazil side with a hat trick in the process. Then he scored both goals in the 2-0 semi-final win over Poland before scoring the first in the 3-1 win over West Germany in the Final.

The Germans had again proven their relentless mettle by coming back from 3-1 down in extra-time against the French, tying the match before winning on penalties. But that was overshadowed by goalkeeper Toni Schumacher’s Jack Tatum moment, his unwarranted and cold-blooded destruction of Patrick Battiston, which the referee inexplicably did not punish in any way, as Battiston’s colleagues searched in the grass for their unconscious teammate’s teeth.

As for Paolo Rossi, I think it’s interesting how his Anglicized name- P. Rose- attaches extra weight to his story. It seems quite likely that the footballer’s crimes were far milder than the baseballer’s- but it all makes me wonder what Pete would have done with such a chance at redemption.

Let me be clear though- despite the asterisk, this was an exceptional Italian team, and deserved champions. And whether you love or hate the Azzuri, you gotta hand it to ‘em- they know how to celebrate a goal.



Host: Mexico
Champ: Argentina
Runner-up: W. Germany (again)
Golden Ball: Diego Maradona (Argentina).
Golden Boot: Gary Lineker, England, 6 goals.
Format: Convoluted 24-team affair. Six groups of four teams in typical group stage, top two advancing from each, with- stick with me here- the top four third place teams also advancing. Then a 16-team KO bracket.

Diego Maradona, for those of you joining us late, is either the best or second-best player ever, and the 1986 World Cup was his happy place.

Volumes have been written- in multiple languages- about his performance in the quarter-final match against England alone. You will hear of his famous (over-vilified) "Hand of God" goal, where he faked as though he was heading the ball while, with clear intention, he punched it with his hand. You may recall the political situation between England and Argentina at the time and see how they may have informed this performance, even explaining why, when asked after the game if he handled the ball, Maradona replied "a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God" (he has since admitted God was not involved). You may have seen his (slightly overrated) Greatest Goal of All Time. You may yet be surprised to realize that these goals came a mere four minutes apart.

But the thing is- and this is the main argument of the pro-Diego/anti-Pelé faction in the “Who’s the Baddest?” Debating Hall- is that Maradona more or less won the World Cup by himself. Pelé’s trips to the World Cup were always in the company of all-star teams. Maradona might as well have been a one-man band.

It is only somewhat anticlimactic then that he did not score in the final, but the Final itself was climactic enough. Argentina were up 2-0 until late in the second half. Then the Germans scored twice to tie before Jorge Burruchaga- set-up by Maradona- put the game away. These last three goals were all scored in a nine-minute span.



Host: Italy
Champ: W. Germany (their third straight Final)
Runner-up: Argentina (it’s the only World Cup Final that was a rematch of the one before)
Golden Ball: Lothar Matthaus, West Germany.
Golden Boot: Salvatore “Toto” Schillaci, Italy, 6 goals.
How’d We Do?: We decided to stop by the party and see how everyone was doing, felt a little ill, tried to make the best of it, and eventually had to go. We did volunteer to host the next get-together, though.

This was The World Cup That Sucked. It sucked so much that the powers that be would make two subtle but crucial rule changes that would lead the game down a newer, healthier path.

But they didn‘t know that yet. All they knew was that dudes were beating the crap out of each other, diving more than dribbling and that things were getting ugly.

The final was, as our English friends might say, dour. Only one goal, a penalty. Two player sent off. A brutish, cynical, forgettable match.

Despite this, there were many iconic performances. Roger Milla’s flag-dancing for Cameroon, who finished higher than any African team had ever done. Toto Schillaci winning two awards despite starting the World Cup on the bench. And then there was the semi-final between England and West Germany, and Gazza's tears.

England hadn’t beaten Germany in a competitive match since that Final back in ’66. It would be another ten years before they would do so. In this time, Germany became their Moby Dick, an illogical obsession not unlike the Yankees for the pre-2004 Red Sox. Similar to that relationship, the dominant party didn’t quite see this as a “rivalry.” For Germany, their rival was (and remains) Holland. For England, Germany had become everything.

England were led by a man-child named Paul “Gazza” Gascoigne. With the game tied 1-1 and in extra time, Gazza was given a yellow card. This being his second of the tournament, and the World Cup having a cumulative punishment system that I find anachronistic, this meant that he would be suspended for the next game. Should England make the Final, he would be banned from the match.

Gazza wept. The game went to penalty-kicks. Germany, uh... they're pretty good at them. England? No-so-much.

Other teams have had their troubles with PKs, notably Italy and Holland, but they have gotten off the schneid of late. England (outside of the ’96 quarter finals against Spain, overshadowed by the events of the following round) still have not. Let's look at England's finishes the last 20 years:

1990 World Cup – Semi-Final loss to W. Germany on PKs
1992 European Championships – eliminated in group stage
1994 WC – did not qualify
1996 EC – Semi-Final loss to Germany on PKs (as host country!)
1998 WC – 2nd round loss to Argentina on PKs
2000 EC – eliminated in group stage
2002 WC – eliminated in quarter-finals
2004 EC – QF loss to Portugal on PKs.
2006 WC – QF loss to Portugal on PKs.
2008 EC – did not qualify

In the last twenty years, England have qualified for eight major tournaments. They have been eliminated on penalties in five of them, in four different countries, against three different teams. This. Is. Astonishing. And is in the back of everyone's mind- both of the team and their opponents- in every single elimination game England play.

And now: PART II

- Brendan Hunt
© Brendan Hunt, 2010


  1. Great work Brendan!
    In Italy 1934, there were another two argentinians... Orsi and Demaría.

    And on Italy 1990, I would add the perfomance of Goycochea (Argentina's GK) who stopped four penalty kicks in two wins against Yugoslavia and Italy.

  2. Brilliant, love the links too...That Battle of Santiago is astounding. Sweden 1958!

  3. Awesome, awesome stuff. But, no mention of Zaire in 1974?

  4. Wow, never saw England's record in major tournaments laid bare like that. Yikes. Too bad the US can't play for a shoot-out. I'd love to see Terry facing Howard in the defining moment, whispering "You'll always have Moscow"..

  5. Slightly overrated? You are out of your mind.

  6. Great compilation! As a German I am happy you left out the probably most embarrassing game of all times. Spain '82, group phase, West-Germany : Austria. A 1:0 would advance both. After 10 minutes - 1:0 West Germany. After that, the game effectively ended.

  7. Ah, Austria / West Germany. They changed the rules after that one, as well.

    In fairness to my fellow annonymous, I have never met a fan of either country who was anything less than embarassed by that "sporting contest".

    If they hadn't changed the rules, would it happen again, given two countries in similar circumstances? Every time, unfortunately.