There may be countless sports and competitions around the world. But it’s safe to say soccer is the most popular and famous of all, while the FIFA World Cup is also the biggest sporting event on the planet. Every four years, this competition takes center stage and becomes the primary talking point, even for those who don’t usually watch the sport.
Therefore, we’re also talking about the most prestigious competition in soccer. Winning the World Cup is the ultimate goal for fans and players, but only a handful of nations know what it’s like.
The FIFA World Cup has nearly 100 years of existence, yet time has proven that winning the title is not for anyone. Soccer has seen how, throughout the years, the trophy has been claimed by just a few national teams.
The tournament has gone through many changes from its inaugural edition in 1930 to the showpiece event it is today. In its early days, only a few countries took part in the competition. With the World Cup field expanding as the years passed, the format consequently changed. More teams started to participate, increasing the tournament’s exposure and competitiveness.
For a long time, the winner received the Jules Rimet Trophy. However, since a country that got the trophy three times was entitled to keep it forever, FIFA had to move on to another prize when Brazil won their third World Cup in 1970. Since 1974, the world champions receive the FIFA World Cup trophy.
The tournament we know today will also look different next time, as it will expand from 32 to 48 teams for the 2026 event. What hasn’t changed is the fact that every World Cup has a designated host country, which in some occasions can be more than just one nation.
The competition starts with a group stage that is followed by a knockout phase, with all games played at single-legged series—with extra time and penalty shootouts if needed.
Every World Cup was highlighted not only by the team that lifted the trophy, but also by those players who stood out. Let’s take a look at the winners, runners-up, hosts, best player and top scorers in each edition.
In 26 editions of the FIFA World Cup, only eight countries have been able to win the title at least once. Brazil are by far the most successful team in World Cup history with five championships.
La Verde-Amarela had to wait until 1958 to win their first Jules Rimet Trophy, but quickly continued to find success by winning the 1962 and 1970 tournaments. After 24 years of wait, Brazil got back to the promised land in 1994 in the USA. Eight years later, the team led by Ronaldo Nazario won their fifth and so far last World Cup.
Brazil are followed in the World Cup winners list by Germany and Italy—both with four World Cup titles. West Germany succeeded in 1954, 1974, and 1990 before the country won as a unified nation in 2014. Italy, meanwhile, were among the early world champions by claiming back-to-back titles in 1934 and 1938. They later added to their cabinet in 1982 and 2006.
Argentina claimed their third title at the Qatar World Cup 2022, ending a 36-year wait. After losing to Uruguay in the inaugural edition, La Albiceleste won their first title at home in 1978. Eight years later, Diego Maradona led them to glory again in Mexico.
Below them are Uruguay and France, both with two World Cups. La Celeste are the first ever World Cup winner, claiming the first trophy at stake in 1930 in Montevideo. 20 years later, Uruguay produced one of the greatest shocks in sports history by taking down host nation Brazil in an upset that went down as the “Maracanazo.”
France, on the other hand, tasted success more recently. Les Bleus won their first World Cup at home in 1998, when they destroyed Brazil in the grand final. It took only two decades for them to add another star to their crest, as France emerged victorious at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
Meanwhile, England and Spain remain the only countries with just one World Cup trophy in their cabinet. Despite being one of the sport’s powerhouses, the Three Lions have struggled to succeed at the biggest stage as they only managed to win the 1966 event at home. Spain, meanwhile, are the most recent first-time champions as they hadn’t lifted the World Cup until South Africa 2010.
Some have won it more times than others, but at the end of the day, only eight countries have been world champions at least once.
While the men’s tournament is extremely popular, women’s soccer also has its own showpiece competition. Starting in 1991, the FIFA Women’s World Cup also takes place quadrennially one year after the men’s event. Therefore, the next edition is upon us: the 2023 tournament will be held in Australia and New Zealand from July 20 to August 20.
The stats speak for themselves. There’s a reason why the World Cup is the most coveted trophy on Earth, and it’s not only because it’s the most popular sporting event of all. Many teams have tried, many teams have wished for it, but the ultimate glory has been elusive to all but eight nations.
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