World Cup history thumbnails (cont.)
The tournament: The first internationally televised World Cup gave us Brazil's Samba soccer and 17-year-old sensation Pele. The format was more like we're used to seeing today -- a group stage in which every team played the other and the top two progressed into the knockout stages. It produced the World Cup's first goalless draw (between England and Brazil in Group D, that year's designated group of death), but was generally considered to have been the best tournament to date.
The favorite: Brazil was everyone's pick after an impressive Copa America campaign (in which Colombia took a 9-0 pounding) and even more so once its exciting 4-2-4 formation was unveiled.
The winner: Finally, Brazil claimed the world title it had been sure of claiming eight years previously. France went down 5-2 in the semis, as did Sweden in the final, despite giving Brazil its first taste of being a goal down thanks to Nils Liedholm's shocking opener. Garrincha, Vava and Pele etched their names into history, as Brazil became the first nation to win outside its home continent.
The best player: Having sat out the first two group games, Pele scored the winner against Wales in the quarterfinals, a hat trick against France and a brace against Sweden. London's Times newspaper described his first goal in the final this way: "Pele, with sleight of foot jugglery, flicked up a cross from Zagalo, balanced the ball on his instep, chipped it over Gustavsson and leapt round the center half to volley home. Who can live with this sort of stuff?"
The tournament: Everything headed to Switzerland, FIFA's home, in its 50th anniversary year. It was a fittingly neutral return to Europe for the World Cup, though 1954 is remembered for "the Battle of Berne," an ugly quarterfinal between Hungary and Brazil in which three players were sent off and after which bottle fights took place in the tunnel while fans ran amok on the pitch. This was still, however, the World Cup of Hungary's Magical Magyars -- they scored 26 goals, pushing the tournament's per-game average to a still-record 5.38.
The favorite: Hungary went into this one unbeaten in four years, having unceremoniously demolished England twice to confirm its ascendancy. Hinting at Total Football with its fluidity and skill, there was virtually no discussion of anyone else winning.
The winner: After West Germany's second game, in which it trailed Hungary 3-0 inside 20 minutes and eventually lost 8-3, the rematch in the final looked terribly lopsided. Even more so when Hungary went 2-0 up inside eight minutes. But the canny Germans (who'd fielded a weakened side in the group) were level by the 18th minute, and a sharp individual goal from Helmut Rahn won it with six minutes remaining.
The best player: Hungary's Ferenc Puskas was arguably the finest player in one of the finest teams in soccer's history. He combined endless running with delightful ball control; when Hungary visited Wembley in 1953, his casual keepy-uppy before kick-off had the English awestruck. His left foot was devastating -- he fired in 83 goals in 84 international appearances.
The tournament: Following the ravages of World War II, the World Cup shifted to Brazil, a country filled with fans desperate for a first taste of the tournament. Technically speaking, this is the only World Cup without an actual final (the victor was determined in group play), though a record 199,854 people were at the decisive final pool match. The U.S. pulled off the shock of the competition by beating England 1-0 in Group B. The English had left star Stanley Matthews on the bench in a feat of cocksureness surely never to be repeated.
The favorite: England was touted to repeat its success in Europe but it was the host nation, already champion of South America, that many liked to win. The Brazilians built the world's biggest stadium, the Maracana, in Rio so that 200,000 people could see the team lift the trophy.
The winner: Uruguay scuppered Brazil's plans, however. Julio Perez admitted to being so nervous that he wet himself during the national anthems, but teammate Alcides Ghiggia owned the right flank, cooking up the game-winner with 10 minutes left for a 2-1 victory. A draw would have given Brazil the title; no wonder they remember it as '"inal fatidica" (fateful final).
The best player: Ghiggia scored in each of Uruguay's matches and utterly humbled Brazilian left back Bigode in the final, outpacing and outthinking him to create Uruguay's first and score its second.
The tournament: Under the shadow of imminent war, the World Cup lost Austria (annexed by Hitler's Germany) and Spain (civil war) and featured a number of anti-fascist demonstrations. There were still some standout matches, including Brazil's epic 6-5 win over Poland in the first round. Ernest Wilimowski scored four and still ended up on the losing side, while Leonidas' hat trick capped Brazil's ebullient attacking play. Its quarterfinal with Czechoslovakia was memorable for rather different reasons -- three red cards and the Czechs ending the game with one broken arm and a broken leg.
The favorite: Hungary was tipped to win going into the final, having comfortably defeated a confident if not highly skilled Sweden side in the semis. Italy was the stronger side but was deeply unpopular.
The winner: Under Vittorio Pozzo, Italy had a strong team ethic and defended robustly. It reached the final with ease after semifinal opponent Brazil rested top scorer Leonidas (to save him for the final) and had little trouble dispatching Hungary 4-2 to retain its title. Hungary played with skill and neat touches; the Italians had more muscle, and it showed.
The best player: Leonidas was praised for his exciting play up front for Brazil and topped the scoring charts. But Italian striker Silvo Piola was often the difference between Italy and the rest, tearing France apart then scoring two and setting up another in the final.
The tournament: At Mussolini's World Cup, the tables were turned, and Uruguay opted not to travel in protest at the absence of so many Europeans last time around. It looked like a good decision when all four non-European sides went home after 90 minutes in a straight-to-knockout format, with Argentina and Brazil having fielded reserve sides. There was still some decent attacking talent on show, however, with Matthias Sindelar and Oldrich Nejedly lighting up the pitch for Austria and Czechoslovakia respectively.
The favorite: Austria was well fancied, but once again the host was favorite. Italy, having snaffled up several Argentines since the last World Cup, was well prepared and had tailored the classic Austrian style to suit its more defensive players.
The winner: Having opened its campaign with a 7-1 shellacking of the U.S., Italy beat Spain and then the impressive Austrians in the semifinal. The trophy was won five minutes into extra-time against Czechoslovakia (in a 2-1 win), when the injured Giuseppe Meazza was left unmarked to set off a chain of passes that led to Angelo Schiavo's winning goal.
The best player: Nejedly got the Golden Boot, but Sindelar was majestic. Known as soccer's Mozart, presumably because of the elegant ease with which he waltzed around defenders. His influence on the semifinal was muted by the close attentions of Argentina's Luis Monti, who was detailed to stick to him throughout.
The tournament: Dubbed the World Cup of the Americas (the traveling Europeans were outnumbered 9-4), this was a stereotypically rowdy affair. Argentina was brutal, putting France's Lucien Laurent and American defender Raphael Tracy out of the tournament, as well as ripping U.S. midfielder Andy Auld's lip and blinding him with smelling salts. Apart from Yugoslavia's surprise victory over Brazil, which put it through to the semis, the tournament went according to form, with host Uruguay facing Argentina in the final.
The favorite: Having been crowned Olympic champions twice in the 1920s playing fast and skillful soccer, Uruguay was favored to win the trophy on home soil. That didn't stop Argentine newspaper El Grafico from describing Argentina's journey to Uruguay as "the arrival of the world champions," mind you.
The winner: Argentina led at halftime, but Uruguay eventually won the final 4-2 amid rumors of death threats to influential Argentine hardman Monti. There had been riots at Buenos Aires docks as thousands of Argentina fans attempted to cross the River Plate to get to the final; many of those who made it left the Estadio Centenario draped in Uruguay colors in order to get home safely afterward.
The best player: Guillermo Stabile started the tournament on the Argentine bench and appeared in the second game only because captain Manuel Ferreira couldn't play. He went on to be the tournament's top scorer with eight goals and may have scored the World Cup's first hat trick. (The USA's Bertram Patenaude has been inconsistently credited with scoring one two days earlier.)
|2010 World Cup|
Georgina Turner has worked as a sports journalist since 2003. She covers the English Premier League, but also reports on tennis and women's sports for UK magazines.
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