FIFA World Cup

A brief history of Fifa World Cup: In the 21st century, European nations assert their control

Out of the four World Cups in this century, Brazil have won one while European countries have won the remaining three.

It’s that time again! The greatest show on earth is upon us. Ahead of the Fifa World Cup in Russia, we look back at the 20 tournaments before and the standout aspects from them.

After our detailed look at the first 16 editions of the tournament played before in the 20th century, we look back at the four most recent football World Cups that are still fresh in the memory of many a football fan.

Starting with the first ever World Cup hosted in Asia...

Japan and South Korea 2002

The 2002 finals were the first ever to be staged outside Europe or the Americas and the first in Asia as South Korea and Japan co-hosted.

The build-up was dominated by fears over security following the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and Washington, and anti-aircraft missile batteries were deployed around the new stadia.

In the event, the tournament passed off peacefully and the only shocks were on the field.

Upsets were to prove the hallmark of the tournament from the outset, when World Cup debutants Senegal beat holders France with a 1-0 win in the opening match in Seoul.

France’s demise was one of the most striking surprises of the finals. They failed to score a goal and managed only a draw and two defeats to crash out miserably in the first round, the worst performance by any defending champion.

But the most notable outsiders were hosts South Korea, who recorded wins over Portugal, Italy and Spain before bowing out in the last four to Germany.

Two of the World Cup’s greatest powers – Brazil and Germany – met in the final in Yokohama.

Ronaldo, fit again after his 1998 nightmare, scored both goals as Brazil clinched a record fifth crown.

  • Leading goalscorer: Ronaldo (Brazil) – 8 goals
  • Total number of goals in the tournament: 161 (2.51 goals per match)
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Germany 2006

The World Cup finals returned to Germany after a 32-year absence and were widely acclaimed as a triumph for the host nation, sparking a huge upsurge in national pride.

The final though was scarred by a Zinedine Zidane head-butt.

The tournament heralded a return to prominence for the European super-powers, with all four semi-finalists hailing from Europe for the first time since 1982 after Brazil and Argentina went out in the quarter-finals.

Argentina captured the imagination with a peerless 6-0 thrashing of Serbia and Montenegro in the group phase but they were sent packing after a penalty shootout defeat to the hosts.

Pre-tournament favourites Brazil, meanwhile, fell to a resurgent France.

Germany’s crowd-pleasing run came to an end in a 2-0 semi-final defeat to Italy, while a Zidane penalty allowed a much-maligned France to overcome Portugal.

Marcello Lippi’s Italy won the final – their fourth success – on penalties, with left-back Fabio Grosso sweeping home the decisive spot-kick after the game ended 1-1.

The abiding image of the final, however, was Zidane’s scarcely believable head-butt on Italy goalscorer Marco Materazzi and a red card in his last ever match. In a tournament he otherwise dominated, it was a bitter ending for one of the greatest footballers of all time.

  • Leading goalscorer: Miroslav Klose (Germany) – 5 goals
  • Total number of goals scored in the tournament: 147, 2.3 goals per match
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South Africa 2010

The first finals on African soil were full of colour and noise – the drone of vuvuzelas was the soundtrack of the tournament – but the football often failed to match up to the backdrop.

South Africa started brightly but became the first hosts to be eliminated in the first round. Six African nations took part but only Ghana survived the group stages, going on to the quarter-finals where they lost to Uruguay on penalties, in a match where Luis Suarez provided a makeover to the “hand of god” with a controversial handball to save a goal.

Spain, and their talented generation that had won the 2008 European crown, won the World Cup for the first time thanks to an extra-time goal from Andres Iniesta in the final against the Netherlands.

It was Spain’s fourth successive 1-0 win after beating Portugal, Paraguay and Germany by the same score en route to the final.

  • Leading goalscorers: Thomas Mueller, David Villa, Wesley Sneijder, Diego Forlan – all with 5 goals. Mueller’s five came in six games along with 3 assists, meaning he won the Golden Boot over the others.
  • Total number of goals scored in the tournament: 145 (2.3 goals per match)
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Brazil 2014

Football’s showpiece returned to Brazil but the host nation suffered one of the greatest humiliations in its illustrious World Cup history as they were thrashed 7-1 by Germany in the semi-finals.

The team’s new star Neymar was missing after being injured in their quarter-final win over Colombia, but nothing could erase the embarrassment of that day in Belo Horizonte which was Brazil’s worst defeat in 100 years of competitive football.

In the final, Germany met Lionel Messi’s Argentina in Rio de Janeiro. The Argentines had overcome the Netherlands on penalties in the last four. A tense, closely-matched final was decided by Mario Goetze’s goal in extra time as the Germans became world champions for the fourth time. And Messi’s heartbreaking run of defeats in tournament finals began.

  • Leading goalscorer: James Rodriguez (Colombia) – 6 goals
  • Total number of goals scored in the tournament: 171 (2.7 goals per match)

Stats and trivia

  • The 2002 World Cup final between Germany and Brazil pitted two powerhouses against each other. After all, between them, they had played a 170 matches at the World Cup. But incredibly that final in Yokohama was the FIRST EVER World Cup meeting between the two storied sides.
  • The 2002 World Cup also heralded a new era in global football in more ways than one. Significantly, for the first time the quarter-finals featured teams from five different federations.
  • When Cafu led Brazil out during the 2002 final, he became the first (and only till date) to play in three football World Cup finals 
  • 21 players made match appearances for Brazil at Korea/Japan 2002 and Italy at 2006 – joint-record for World Cup-winning sides.
  • Third time’s a charm for English referee Graham Poll as he mistakenly issued three yellow cards to Croatian Josip Simunic in the match against Australia before sending off.
  • The Wall of Switzerland during the 2006 World Cup: The Swiss became the first team to be eliminated after two rounds in the finals despite not conceding a single goal. Three clean sheets in the group stages, followed by a 0-0 against Ukraine in a round of 16 shootout-defeat.
  • For a team that was expected to stun the world with their tiki-taka (they still did for some part), Spain, who netted eight times, became the lowest-scoring side to win a World Cup. A series of four 1-0 wins in the knockout stages was the reason for that (and perhaps the shock defeat in the first match against Switzerland – also a record for a World Cup-winning side).
  • Iniesta’s tournament clinching-goal for Spain was the FIRST EVER La Roja had scored in extra time in World Cup history. Spain failed to score in the additional 30 minutes against Italy in 1934, Belgium in 1986, Yugoslavia in 1990, and Republic of Ireland and Korea Republic in 2002. 
  • A long-time jinx ended in 2014 as Germany became the first ever European nation to win a World Cup hosted on North / South American soil.
  • Colombia’s Faryd Mondragon, who became the oldest man to play at the World Cup three days after celebrating his 43rd birthday.
  • Brazil’s 7-1 defeat created plenty of unwanted records. It was their worst ever World Cup defeat, the joint-worst defeat of all time, and the team that had never conceded more than 11 in any of their previous World Cups, with 14 in the goals against column, Brazil became the first hosts to end with the tournament’s worst defensive record. 
  • Germany’s win marked the first time in tournament that teams from a single continent had won three World Cup titles in a row – a mark of Europe’s domination since the turn of the century.

With AFP and Fifa.com inputs

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