10 Interesting World Cup Facts From History (and Some Quick Facts)

Last Updated On: July 8, 2018

The FIFA World Cup is the most widely watched sporting event. As per reports by FIFA, over 3.2 billion people viewed at least one minute of the 2014 World Cup coverage (2.1 billion viewed 20+ consecutive minutes). And 1.013 billion watched a minimum of one minute of the Germany-Argentina final match alone.(1) Here, we dive into the history of the massive event and note some remarkable and obscure World Cup facts. The following list presents ten interesting World Cup facts from history. Moreover, a few quick facts are appended to supplement the article.

Note: For the sake of simplicity, the term “football” is used throughout the article to refer to Association football or “soccer” – a game played on foot by two teams of eleven players.

1. Luis Monti played for different countries in two consecutive World Cup final matches. He represented Argentina in 1930 (lost) and Italy in 1934 (won).

World Cup history facts: Luis Monti played for Argentina and Italy in two consecutive World Cup final matches.
Image credits: El Gráfico via Wikimedia

Some countries that played consecutive World Cup final matches include Italy, Brazil, Netherlands, Argentina, and Germany. And a few players have achieved the feat of playing in both the games. But Luis Monti holds the unique record of playing for two different countries.

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An Italian Argentine, Monti played as a defender as well as a deep-lying playmaker. Along with technical skills, he also possessed strong tackling ability. In the 1930 World Cup, he played for Argentina. The team lost to Uruguay (Uruguay 4-2 Argentina) in the final contest.

In 1931, Monti signed for the Italian club Juventus. Despite being overweight, the then Italian manager Vittorio Pozzo called him up to represent Italy. Consequently, Monti played as a center back in the 1934 World Cup. The Azzurri1triumphed in the World Cup, beating Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the finals.(1,2,3,4)

2. Italian Vittorio Pozzo is the sole manager to lead a country to two World Cup triumphs. Furthermore, he did it consecutively in 1934 and 1938.

Vittorio Pozzo lifts the 1938 World Cup trophy.
Image credits: Le Miroir des sports/Wikimedia

The Italian managed the national football team that won the World Cup twice. In the 1934 final game, Italy went behind when Czech forward Puč scored in the 71st minute. The Azzurri replied with a goal in the 81st minute, and forward Angelo Schiavio scored the winner in the 95th minute. The 1938 World Cup final was a goal fest – Italy beat Hungary 4-2 to retain the title as world champions.

Furthermore, he led Italy to an Olympic gold medal in the 1936 tournament and triumphs in the Central European International Cup2(1930 and 1935). By achieving this remarkable feat, Vittorio Pozzo cemented his place as one of the greatest managers in football history.

Pozzo established the philosophy of pragmatism and efficiency in his national side. And it is still a characteristic of Italian football.(1,2,3)

Additional fact: Two figures have won the World Cup as a player as well as manager – Mário Zagallo (Brazil) and Franz Beckenbauer (Germany). In fact, Zagallo won the World Cup twice as a player – in 1958 and 1962. Also, he won the World Cup as Brazil’s assistant manager in 1994.(1,2,3,4)

3. FIFA canceled the World Cup plans in 1942 and 1946 due to World War II. However, both the years saw unofficial versions of the World Cup.

World Cup history facts: No World Cup in 1942 and 1946 due to World War II
Image credits: Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)/Wikimedia, A photo from Eva Braun’s Albums, ca. 1913 – ca. 1944, seized by the U.S. government. Access Restrictions: Unrestricted, as per NARA/Wikimedia

FIFA had not made a decision for the host country for 1942 World Cup. Both the 1934 and 1938 editions were held in Europe (Italy and France). Hence, the South American folk were furious that FIFA was considering Germany as a host. The onset of World War II on 1 September 1939 terminated all the plans for the World Cup.

Though the World War ended in 1945, it was September. FIFA had no hopes of organizing the World Cup the very next year. Thus, they abandoned the 1946 World Cup as well. In fact, FIFA did not conduct any meetings until July 1 of 1946 – about the time when the competition usually runs.

However, both the years saw unofficial victors of the World Cup – Sweden in 1942 and Argentina in 1946. The 1942 tournament final was a contest between the host Germany and Sweden. Approximately 98,000 people filled the Olympiastadion in Berlin. The hosts were shocked when Swedish player Malte Martensson broke the 2-2 deadlock in the 71st minute. Sweden emerged as victorious. In 1946, Argentina claimed the South American Championship by beating Brazil 2-0. In fact, many South Americans dub it as the unofficial World Cup. But FIFA does not recognize the tournaments.(1,2,3,4,5)

4. A group stage determined the 1950 World Cup winner. The final match was a must-win for Uruguay while Brazil had to avoid a loss. Uruguay won 2-1.

The Maracanã Stadium (photo taken in 2009), the venue for 1950 World Cup's decisive match.
Image credits: Arthur Boppré/Flickr CC BY 2.0

The 1950 World Cup witnessed some remarkable events. Only 13 out of 16 qualified countries participated in the tournament. A widely spread reason for India’s withdrawal is that they played barefoot, and FIFA did not allow that. However, All India Football Federation stated travel expenses and lack of practice as withdrawal reasons. The real reason appears to be a mixture of the two, but it is unclear.(1,2)

Also, Turkey refused participation due to high travel expenses. The Scottish Football Association’s secretary George Graham declared that Scotland would participate if their team won the 1950 British Home Championship, despite the rule that placing second would secure World Cup qualification.3Ultimately, Scotland finished second, and they did not participate either.

Moreover, a final group stage (robin-round format) of four teams decided the World Cup winner. FIFA organized the set up for the first and last time. Before the last match, Brazil had a one-point lead over Uruguay, which meant that a draw was sufficient for Brazil. But Uruguay needed to win.

The Maracanã Blow

The contest is considered to be one of the biggest shocks in the history of football. Brazil initiated the goal-scoring in the 47th minute, and the world expected them to seal the remainder of the match. However, Uruguay struck back twice, with right winger Alcides Ghiggia scoring the winner in the 79th minute. The event is commonly known as “The Maracanã Blow” or Maracanazo. Also, it was the last World Cup final match featuring only South American countries.(1,2,3,4,5)

5. The Walter brothers won the World Cup together in 1954. Similarly, siblings Bobby and Jack Charlton won the competition in 1966.

Left to right: Fritz Walter, Ottmar Walter, Bobby Charlton, Jack Charlton
Image credits: Franck/Opitz/German Federal Archives via Wikimedia, Benutzer:Smalltown Boy via Wikimedia, El Gráfico n° 2229 via Wikimedia, Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO) via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0

Brothers Ottmar Walter and Fritz Walter played together for the German club 1. FC Kaiserslautern. Ottmar was a striker, whereas Fritz played as an attacking midfielder. The duo was prolific. For the club, Ottmar scored 275 goals (295 appearances, 0.93 goals/game ratio) and Fritz registered 364 goals (357 appearances, 1.02 goals/game ratio). On the international level, Fritz scored 33 goals (61 caps), and Ottmar scored 10 (20 caps).

In fact, Fritz Walter captained the 1954 World Cup winning German team. Ottmar scored four goals, while Fritz struck three times on the road to victory.

Another case of siblings playing together and winning the World Cup is of Bobby Charlton and Jack Charlton. Regarded as one of the greatest attacking midfielders in history, Bobby Charlton played for Manchester United (606 appearances) at club level. Also, he is the club’s second all-time top scorer, behind Wayne Rooney. On the other hand, Jack Charlton played as a center back for Leeds United (629 appearances). Both participated in the English team that conquered the 1966 World Cup. Furthermore, Bobby Charlton won the Ballon d’Or the same year.(1,2,3,4,5,6)

6. French Footballer Just Fontaine is the record-holder for the most goals scored in a single World Cup edition – 13. In fact, he scored four goals against West Germany to win the third-place playoff.

Just Fontaine during the 1958 FIFA World Cup.
Image credits: What’s The Foot via Wikimedia

The French footballer was a lethal forward, and naturally two-footed. A record that appears impossible to break, Just Fontaine bagged 13 goals in six games in a single World Cup campaign. Unfortunately, the 1958 World Cup was the only one he partook. A succession of injuries ended Fontaine’s footballing career prematurely (just before turning 29). In the play-off for third place, he hit four goals past West Germany. And the game ended 6-3 to France.

How Fontaine achieved the record:

  • Opening match vs. Paraguay: Fontaine scored three goals in France’s 7-3 win.
  • vs. Yugoslavia: Fontaine added a brace, but France lost 2-3.
  • vs. Scotland: Fontaine scored another goal, and France won 2-1.
  • Quarterfinal vs. Northern Ireland: He added two more goals to his tally, and France cruised to a 4-0 win.
  • Semi-final vs. Brazil: Fontaine scored in the 9th minute, but France lost 2-5.
  • Third place playoff vs. West Germany: Fontaine struck on four occasions. Consequently, France won 6-3.

To put this record in perspective, Miroslav Klose is the leading scorer in World Cup history with 16 goals. However, it took him four World Cup campaigns to achieve the feat. The next top-scorer Ronaldo “O Fenômeno” scored 15 goals in four World Cup editions.4(1,2,3,4,5,6)

7. The original World Cup Trophy was stolen twice in 1966 and 1983. Also called the Jules Rimet Trophy, the first trophy theft occurred a few months before the 1966 World Cup inauguration. A dog recovered the trophy in time. But it went missing again in 1983. However, this time the authorities were unable to recover the trophy.

A replica of the Jules Rimet Trophy, kept at the National Football Museum in England.
Image credits: Ben Sutherland/Flickr CC BY 2.0

The Jules Rimet Trophy was the original World Cup Trophy, named after former FIFA president Jules Rimet. On 20 March 1966, the public Stampex exhibition was held at the Westminster Central Hall in London. The theft occurred despite the security’s presence during the trophy’s display. Seven days later, Pickles the mongrel discovered the trophy wrapped inside an old newspaper under the hedge of the dog owner’s house.

In 1930, FIFA declared that any country that won the World Cup three times could outright claim the original Jules Rimet Trophy. Hence, Brazil took possession when they won the 1970 World Cup for a then-record third time. Again, the trophy disappeared in 1983. Banker and football club agent Sérgio Pereira Ayres masterminded the theft. However, authorities could never recover the trophy. An Argentinian gold dealer allegedly made gold bars out of it, but the police could not find any evidence. Consequently, Brazil received a duplicate of the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1984.(1,2,3,4,5)

8. The yellow and red card system began in the 1970 World Cup. In 1974, Chilean player Carlos Caszely became the first player to be shown a red card in the competition.

World Cup history facts: Ken Aston (left) introduced the popular card system in football.
Image credits: Aysolaw5/Wikimedia, Ian Burt/Flickr CC BY-SA 3.0

The honorable English referee Ken Aston coined the card system in football. Also, he brought some significant changes to football refereeing. Such as becoming the first League referee to adorn the black and white referee uniform, which later became conventional. He also introduced flags with bright colors for the linesmen to increase the visibility in foggy conditions. Moreover, he provided many courses, including the series “Referee is thinking” for the novice referees.

FIFA officially initiated the card system in the 1970 World Cup. But no player received the red during the entire campaign. The first player to be shown the red card in the World Cup was the Chilean striker Carlos Caszely. The match was against West Germany in the 1974 edition. Of course, players were sent off for misconduct and foul play before the system’s implementation. In fact, Peruvian midfielder Plácido Galindo was the first player to receive marching orders in the 1930 World Cup contest against Romania.(1,2,3,4)

9. No country retains the second generation FIFA World Cup trophy (post the Jules Rimet Trophy theft). FIFA preserves the original World Cup, and the winning nations receive gold-plated replicas.

Germany lifts the 2014 World Cup Trophy. Just like previous winners, they took home a replica.
Image credits: Agência Brasil via Wikimedia CC BY 3.0 BR

In 1930, FIFA proposed that nations winning the World Cup three times earn the rights to own the original Jules Rimet Trophy. By right, Brazil claimed their trophy after the third title win in 1970. Later the rules were amended, so FIFA gets to keep the second generation original trophy. Since then, other countries that completed the World Cup trio could not become the trophy’s permanent owners.

The winning team lifts the original trophy during the post-match celebrations. But later, the country receives a gold-plated duplicate. The cup is known as the World Cup Winner’s Trophy.(1,2,3,4)

10. Former Ivory Coast striker and national icon Didier Drogba used 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifiers as a platform to end the civil war. After securing qualification to the competition, the national team urged the Ivorians for peace. The plea played a vital role in calming the civil war.


The country made history in 2005 when they secured a 3-1 victory over Sudan. For the first time, Ivory Coast qualified for the World Cup. Meanwhile, the country was in the middle of a civil war that began in 2002 and killed over 4,000. Also, the war displaced over a million people. The war split Ivory Coast’s geography into the Muslim-dominating north and the Christian-dominating south.

During the dressing room celebrations, Ivory Coast captain Cyril Domoraud allowed media inside. When Didier Drogba took to the microphone, he urged the country to bring peace. All the players kneeled in unison. Due to Drogba’s massive status in the country, the act had a significant impact. It brought a temporary peace to the country, and there was no immediate bloodshed. On 4 March 2007, a peace pact was signed that marked the end of the war.5(1,2,3,4)

Fast Facts About the World Cup (as of June 2018):

    1. The inaugural World Cup (1930) had only 13 countries as participants. Also, there was no qualification round for the particular edition.(1,2)
    2. At least one European country has featured in all but two World Cup finals – 1930 and 1950.(1)
    3. The quarterfinals of 1954 between Austria and Switzerland ended 7-5. It is the highest-scoring game in World Cup history.(1,2)
    4. Hungary national team scored a total of 27 goals in 5 games – the highest in a single campaign (1954 World Cup). In the final game, they lost 2-3 to West Germany.(1)
    5. Hungarian striker Sándor Kocsis registered 11 goals in 5 games in the 1954 World Cup, a record bettered by Just Fontaine alone.(1,2)
    6. Fastest goal in World Cup final – Johan Neeskens (Netherlands) in 90 seconds against West Germany in 1974. However, Netherlands ended the contest as runners-up (lost 1-2).(1,2)
    7. Hungary boasts the record of most goals scored in a World Cup game, reaching double digits in a 10-1 triumph over El Salvador in 1982. In the same match, László Kiss scored a hattrick in record 458 seconds. Furthermore, he achieved the feat as a substitute.(1,2)
    8.  Oleg Salenko from Russia made history by scoring five goals against Cameroon in a single World Cup match in 1994. Also, he is the sole player to win the Golden Boot (joint) for a team knocked out in the group stages.(1,2)
    9. In the same match, Albert Roger Milla of Cameroon became the oldest player to score in the World Cup – aged 42 years 39 days. The contest ended 6-1.(1,2)
    10. Fastest goal in World Cup history – Hakan Şükür (Turkey) in 11 seconds against South Korea in 2002. The match ended 3-2 to Turkey.(1,2)
    11. Spain scored only eight goals in seven matches on the road to FIFA World Cup 2010 victory – three less than the next lowest-scoring champions – Italy (four games) in 1938, England (six games) in 1966 and Brazil (seven games) in 1994.(1,2)
    12. Brazil is the only country to feature in every edition of the competition. The national team never relied on playoffs for qualification.(1,2)

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