The Best and Worst of World Cups Gone By

The decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar yesterday have caused quite a stir in the press. Ever since Uruguay were awarded the inaugural tournament in 1930, bidding to become the host nation has always been more about politics and economics, than it is prestige and geography. So, with this momentous decision made, it is worth bearing in mind that not every nation has made an unequivocal success of it.

The Five Best

Italy 1934

Mussolini's Italy saw the propaganda potential of hosting the tournament in 1938, and seized it with relish. The Fascist government offered to pick up the bill for the entire tournament that could no longer, as in 1930, be confined to a single city.

The Italian Federation (FIGC) promised to "use as its theatre the numerous and flourishing Italian cities, all provided with magnificent stadiums", and duly won the privilege.

You can say what you like about those Fascists, but they made the trains run on time......and they won the thing as well.

Mexico 1986

True, the pitches were awful, most of the games were played in the searing heat of the Mexican mid-day sun, and England were, once again, knocked out in a quarter-final. But, with four months until the finals, Mexico were not even meant to be hosting the tournament. Columbia, initially, were given the opportunity to host, but due to a huge earthquake in 1984 and their struggling economic recovery, Mexico were given the competition for the second time in 16 years.

And what a job they did. Their first World Cup in 1970 was arguably the greatest of all time, mainly because of the Brazil side that won. But '86 more than matched it. The 'Hand of God', 'The Goal of the Century', the best side never to have won the World Cup (Denmark, seriously. Watch the YouTube clips) and an English Golden Boot winner.

The great players are defined by their World Cups, and Mexico '86 was where Diego Armando Maradona staked his claim to the title of Greatest Player of All Time.

USA 1994

The 15th World Cup was held across nine cities in those great United States. Despite misgivings about football not being the national sport, the tournament was a rip-roaring success.

The average attendance of nearly 69,000 set a new record, reflecting the larger capacity of stadias in America (which included the Pontiac Silverdome, the first indoor stadium to be used in the World Cup). The total attendance of 3.6 million is still the highest in World Cup history.

FIFA hoped that staging the tournament in America would lead to a growth of interest in the game, and imposed a condition that a professional league be set up; the MLS duly kicked off in 1996

France 1998

France got the chance to host its second World Cup in 1998, when the tournament was expanded from 24 to 32 teams, and from 52 to 64 games.

New features were the introduction of the 'golden goal' rule and that all teams had to travel to different cities in the group stages. Fans from all over the world travelled to France, with new 'fan parks' being offered to supporters without tickets.

There were some serious issues with fan violence, but on the whole, hooligans were kept under control, and fans mingled in generally positive spirits.

The French public themselves were initially sceptical about hosting the tournament, but became increasingly passionate the further their team progressed. Ultimately winning the competition, and staging a huge street party on the Champs-Elysee's.

Germany 2006

A unified Germany won the right to host the tournament for the first time in 2006, albeit contentiously by a single vote from South Africa.

But, having won it, by general consensus they did an absolutely wonderful job. The country had an abundance of stadia that met FIFA's 40,000 minimum capacity that are still used today by the majority of the nation's Bundesliga clubs.

The tournament was a huge success for the country as a whole, and Germany enjoyed an upsurge in patriotic fervour as a result. The visiting supporters from other countries also enjoyed themselves too, with very little violence being reported, and plenty of that famous German beer being drunk.

The Five Worst

France 1938

FIFA's 1936 conference in Berlin, capital of Nazi Germany, awarded France the World Cup of 1938 in preference of Argentina, who argued, unsuccessfully, that it should alternate between Europe and South America , and then spurned the tournament in protest. When it began, Europe was in turmoil of a looming World War.

The introduction of a straight knock-out was a deterrent for many countries, as they could travel thousands of miles by boat, only to be knocked out after a single game.

Ten French cities hosted the tournament over 15 days. And for the first time, both the holders and the hosts were given automatic qualification.

Brazil 1950

The first tournament to proceed after the Second World War was held in Brazil. And it was to be the most chaotic and disorganised of them all.

Although the format was changed from a straight knock-out to group based, it was deeply flawed. Groups and venues were not matched, so teams had to criss-cross one of the largest nations on earth, clocking up thousands of miles to fulfill fixtures just days apart from each other.

A rash of withdrawals, including holders France, meant only 13 teams competed; split irrationally into two groups of four, one of three and one of two. Brazil though, played all their games in Rio, whose climate did visiting teams no favours.

Staggeringly too, FIFA failed to schedule an actual World Cup final. Though luckily for them , Brazil faced Uruguay in the final game of the pool, and because of previous results, the winner of the game would win the group and thus the cup.

The Maracana stadium, designed to be the showpiece, was still under construction when the final game was played. And yet, a record 199, 854 people still rammed in to the unfinished ground. The game finished 2-1 to Uruguay, and was seen as such a shock in Brazil (a newspaper had published the headline: 'Brazil, Champions of the World' the morning of the game), that over 50 people committed suicide.

Switzerland 1954

Switzerland won the honour of hosting the next tournament in 1954 because it was the 50th anniversary of FIFA, and their headquarters, as they are still, were in Zurich. The country's accessibility made it a good choice, but in other aspects, the challenge was way beyond the Swiss.

The police were deemed over-zealous on many occasions towards fans - ironic given some of the fouls committed on the pitch - and many teams were, albeit posthumously, deemed to have been doping during the tournament.

FIFA again tried to meddle with the format of the tournament, seeding two teams in the group, but ensuring that they played the two other teams in the group and not each other. It was a blatant recipe for manipulation, and ensured that only the best teams had a chance of qualifying.

The final, too, between Hungary-Germany, was a complete farce. The pitch was an absolute disgrace, with virtually half of it underwater. 'The Battle of Bern' as it would become known, became a kicking match, with Hungary, the best team in the world at the time, being beaten 3-2.

Chile 1962

The tournament returned to South America in 1962, with Chile beating off competition from Argentina and Colombia. The choice of host surprised many, with the Chile having very few quality stadia, or any sort of international footballing heritage.

The country was hit by a huge earthquake in 1960, which wrecked many of the stadiums to be used in the tournament. And, in truth, looked like that was still the case two years later.

Cases of corruption within games and over-pricing for accommodation were a constant thorn in FIFA's side.

Argentina 1978
Argentina finally won the right to host the tournament in 1978, ending nearly 50 years of hissy-fits and disappointments.

But the country's notorious military dictatorship, meant that many, including Johan Cruyff and Amnesty International, were opposed to the decision.

There were also major security issues as anti-government guerrillas were active throughout the country, threatening to kidnap many famous names. Luckily, none of the threats were actually put through; but the general atmosphere of conspiracy and corruption was hard to shake off.


1 comment:

  1. It is true that one of the most exciting ones was Argentina 78! The country was going to a rough period and the government had put a lot of emphasis on soccer. When I travelled to Argentina last year, i saw how citizens live the World Cup. In the hotel in buenos aires all the employees were pretty emotional about the games and used to talk about it with the tourists all the time. It was so funny!