Reviewing all 18 past World Cups
In 18 tournaments, only seven different countries have emerged as winners
Brazil became the first team to win outside its home continent, in 1950
In 1966, the World Cup trophy was stolen only to be found by a police dog
2010 World Cup
Everything you ever wanted to know about the history of the World Cup but were afraid to ask (in most recent order) ...
The tournament: Germany was a genial host last time out, attracting massive crowds to street parties in its host cities. On the pitch, Argentina's Esteban Cambiasso scored one of the World Cup's best-ever goals, though teammate Maxi Rodriguez did his best to better it against Mexico. The first 90 minutes in Germany's 2-0 extra-time loss to Italy offered arguably one of the most absorbing goalless draws in history. Portugal and the Netherlands kept the bar brawlers entertained with their second-round match: 16 yellow cards, four red yards and just the one goal.
The favorite: Brazil was the bookies' choice to win, with playmaker Ronaldinho tipped to hit the heights of other individual stars such as Maradona and Pele. England, Germany and Argentina were all talked about as contenders.
The winner: Italy went unbeaten in the group stages and was then inconsistent through the knockouts, but deservedly took an extra-time victory over the host in the semis before beating France 5-3 on penalties in the final. The French had started to dominate into extra time, but Zinedine Zidane's now-infamous headbutt on Marco Materazzi left them a man down, and David Trezeguet's missed penalty handed Italy a fourth World Cup.
The best player: Fabio Cannavaro took Italian defending to new heights as he kept his team steady at the back. He made a crucial interception as Italy, then only 1-0 up, held off Ukraine in the quarterfinal. Down to 10 men in the round beforehand, Cannavaro's composure was crucial to Italy's survival in the face of Australian pressure.
The tournament: Japan and South Korea became the World Cup's first co-hosts, and the first in Asia, and they produced a tournament full of surprises, if not amazing soccer from the usual suspects. The fervent home crowds made for a wonderful atmosphere, and the unexpected success of newcomer Senegal, as well as Turkey, USA and South Korea, added to the novelty of the event. In the end, though, the final was contested between old faces Brazil and Germany, despite the relative weakness of their lineups.
The favorite: Having followed up its 1998 World Cup victory by winning Euro 2000, France was the white-hot favorite to make it three in a row. Once again Argentina attracted attention in qualifying, powering ahead of the rest of South America.
The winner: Brazil never looked to be in too much trouble as it reached another final, with Ronaldinho producing an inch-perfect free kick from a full 35 yards to dispatch England in the quarterfinal. Ronaldo scored both goals in a 2-0 win as it all went to pot for Germany in the final.
The best player: German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was named player of the tournament, having conceded only one goal before the final. His flap at Rivaldo's shot was what let Ronaldo in for his first, mind you, so he didn't smile too much at the presentation.
The tournament: The finals expanded again, making room for eight more teams, including first-timers Croatia, Japan, South Africa and Jamaica. Host France hadn't qualified since 1986, but helped to light up a more tantalizing World Cup than its immediate predecessors. Argentina, Denmark and Holland also played some exciting stuff, Nigeria surprised everybody by topping Group D, debutant Croatia raised eyebrows further by reaching the semifinals and David Beckham kicked Diego Simeone.
The favorite: As usual, the home nation and Brazil topped the list, though Argentina's strong qualification campaign (and faultless group-stage form) made it a contender.
The winner: France came back from a goal down against Croatia in the semifinal to set up its first final appearance, against Brazil. Rumors that Ronaldo suffered a fit immediately before the match abounded, but the French deserved their win after completely dominating the match thanks to two first-half headers from Zidane.
The best player: Zidane was sent off for stamping on Saudi Arabia's Amin Faud-Anwar, but was otherwise imperious. He outfoxed Amin's teammate Khalid Al-Muwallid while on his knees; such was his command of the ball.
The tournament: Those who loved football couldn't fathom the decision to give the land of soccer the World Cup, and there were plenty in the U.S. who didn't want it, but the competition set a record average attendance of 69,000 that stands today. Only Diana Ross embarrassed the host; Brazil and Italy embarrassed themselves with a mediocre final. Maradona failed a drug test, but had no shame.
The favorite: Take your pick of Brazil, Italy, Germany and Argentina. The world went crazy for Colombia after its 5-0 victory against Argentina in qualifying, but a first group record of 1-2 meant an early exit for the Colombians.
The winner: Brazil was unpopular back home for its lack of flair, and the fact that it reached the final with a knockout goal difference of plus-3 from three games tells its own story. Mauro Silva mustered Brazil's only decent effort on goal in the final, which was saved by Gianluca Pagliuca. Italy's Roberto Baggio's skied effort in the penalty shootout decided the match.
The best player: Baggio's skillful play dragged Italy through the tournament by the ponytail. But an honorable mention goes to Hristo Stoitchkov, who helped Bulgaria to the semis with six goals, including a beautifully flighted free kick that helped see off Germany in the quarterfinal.
The tournament: Italia90 was a largely forgettable tournament, punctuated by West Germany's tense penalties victory over England in the semifinal and a feisty encounter between the Germans and the Dutch, in which Frank Rijkaard was caught on camera spitting at Rudi Voller. Even the final wasn't fun to watch, unless you're into blood sports. About 26 billion of us watched the competition on television, though.
The favorite: Italy was fancied to do well on home soil, though Holland, having been crowned champion of Europe two years earlier, was also short odds. Germany wasn't that good, but because it kept reaching finals regardless, nobody dared discount it.
The winner: West Germany won a dirty final that Argentina reached despite having conceded a foul every four minutes. After a dull first hour, Pedro Monzon livened things up by taking out Jürgen Klinsmann to earn himself the first red card of a World Cup final. The ref bought Voller's dive 20 minutes later and Andreas Brehme's penalty won it.
The best player: Make no mistake, Germany was not a terrific side, but Lothar Matthaus was breathtakingly good in its midfield. He cut like a scythe from one end of the pitch to the other and scored four goals in a relatively low-scoring tournament.
The tournament: For the first time, a nation hosted its second finals after Colombia backed out for financial reasons. Mexico was struck by an earthquake in 1985 but still managed to stage another success attended by almost 2.5 million spectators. Maradona was the main attraction, but France entertained by putting out the reigning champion Italy with ease before edging Brazil in a penalty shootout. Belgium's 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union wasn't a bad match, either.
The favorite: Having won Euro84, France was the European favorite, though Hungary, which qualified strongly and took out Holland in the process, was tipped to do better than its meek first-round exit. As was by now custom, Brazil was most people's pick.
The winner: Dr. Carlos Bilardo took Argentina on a month-long tour of Europe before the finals to avoid being called in and fired. But his 3-5-2 formation, built around Maradona, paid dividends unexpected in his home country. The Hand of God always helps -- Maradona's raised fist punched home Argentina's first goal in a 2-1 quarterfinal win over England.
The best player: Maradona owned the 1986 finals, playing with such fearlessness and guile that only the English still grit their teeth a little at the mention of his name. His performance against Belgium in the semis was incredible, and though the Germans kept him quiet for most of the final, it was his cross that set Jorge Barruchaga up for the winner.