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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE FIFA WORLD CUP

The FIFA World Cup, usually referred to simply as the World Cup, is an international association football competition contested by the national teams of members of Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport's governing body. Considered the World Championship of football, the World Cup has taken place every four years since the inaugural event of 1930. The only exceptions have been 1942 and 1946, as a result of the Second World War and the aftermath thereof.

Uruguay triumph in inaugural World Cup


The 1932 Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles, California. Football was not included in the Olympic programme, as the sport had limited popularity in the US. Furthermore, The International Olympic Committee was at loggerheads with FIFA over the amateur status of players. As a result, Jules Rimet, the FIFA President, planned a football tournament (the first World Cup) to take place in 1930, with Uruguay as the venue. Rimet approached the football governing bodies of selected countries, inviting them to send a team to the tournament.However, Rimet's choice of a South American venue proved misguided, as it involved European teams undertaking expensive, time-consuming trans-Atlantic travel. European teams were, understandably reluctant to commit to the tournament and it took a good deal of persuasion from Rimet to convince Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia to send their national teams. In addition, seven South American teams and two from North America participated, making a total of thirteen. The first two matches were USA (3) v Belgium (0) and France (4) v Mexico (1). The inaugural World Cup final was contested between hosts Uruguay and Argentina, in Montevideo, with 90,000+ spectators. The hosts triumphed 4-2.

Back-to-back wins for Italy


Subsequent tournaments were also plagued by the difficulties of long-distance travel. In a reverse situation to the Uruguay event, South American teams were reluctant to make the journey to Europe for the 1934 and 1938 tournaments. Indeed, only Brazil played in both. The 1934 tournament was hosted by Italy. Thirty-two teams entered, with sixteen qualifying for the Finals tournament. Again, the hosts were successful, defeating Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the final.

Outrage in South America


FIFA's decision to hold the 1938 tournament in France caused outrage in South America where it was believed that the venue would alternate between the two continents. Both Uruguay and Argentina boycotted the event.
For the first time, the hosts and title holders (France and Italy) were awarded automatic qualification. Austria qualified but was subsequently absorbed into Germany, leaving 15 teams. Italy retained their title, beating Brazil 2-1 in the semi-finals and Hungary 4-2 in the final.

British teams return to World Cup action in 1950 : Uruguay cause upset


The British home nations withdrew from FIFA in 1920, as they had no desire to play against countries with which they had been at war. However, they rejoined the association following the Second World War, at FIFA's invitation. The 1950 World Cup was thus the first to involve British teams and was notable for England losing 1-0 to the USA in the group phase. Three qualifying teams withdrew from the tournament, leaving thirteen to contest the finals. Scotland withdrew as they were not British champions, having finished as runners-up to England in the Home Nations tournament. FIFA would not let India play barefoot so they opted not to play, along with Turkey. France and Portugal were invited as replacements, but declined to take part. Uruguay returned to the World Cup "fold." The Uruguay v Brazil match decided the winners of the tournament. It was not strictly a final, but a final group stage decider, with the Brazilians only needing a draw to take the title. Uruguay beat hosts Brazil 2-1 at the Maracana stadium to win the Cup. The term "Maracanazo" has come to be used when referring to this game, considered one of the biggest upsets in football history. The term comes from Portuguese, "Maracanaco" approximately translating as "The Maracana Blow".

"Minnows" prosper


Until 1982, the only non-South American / European teams to qualify from the first round were the USA in 1930 (semi-finalists), Cuba in 1938, North Korea in 1966 and Mexico in 1970 (all quarter-finalists). The finals were extended from 16 teams to 24 in 1982 and to 32 in 1998. This extension allowed more of the lesser teams from Asia and Africa to compete in the finals. However, teams from Oceania have never been guaranteed a place in the final stages. In recent years, such lesser teams have enjoyed a degree of success, with Mexico (1986), Cameroon (1990), Senegal and the USA (both 2002) reaching the quarter-finals, with South Korea boasting a fourth-place finish in 2002.

European and South American dominance continues


However, European and South American teams have dominated the tournament. In the eighteen World Cups held, only seven nations have won, all from one of these continents. Brazil are the most successful team, having won the tournament five times. Reigning World Champions, Italy, have amassed four titles and Germany three. The other former champions are Uruguay and Argentina with two each, and England and France with one each. 198 national teams attempted to qualify for the most recent 2006 World Cup Finals hosted by Germany. The tournament was won by Italy, who claimed their fourth World Cup title. They defeated France 5:3 in a penalty shootout in the final, after extra time had finished in a 1:1 draw. The German hosts defeated Portugal 3:1 to finish third. All eight quarter-finalists were from Europe or South America. The World Cup Final is the world's greatest-viewed sporting event, with an estimated 720 million people worldwide watching the 2006 final.

The next World Cup Finals will be held in South Africa starting in June 2010. A record number of 204 national teams set out on an attempt to qualify for the 2010 finals.

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