The First World Cups
What happened therefore that delayed a truly international tournament for 50 years or more?
FIFA was set up 26 years before the first World Cup, back in 1904. At that time the biggest, truly international, football competition was held at the Olympics and FIFA’s initial attempt to create a tournament away from the Games in 1906 failed miserably.
The political landscape in Europe over the next 15 years largely prevented any real momentum in starting an inter-continental football tournament until after the first world war.
By 1920 the Olympic movement recognised the amateur football on offer at the Olympics wasn’t suited to the professional teams and players that now dominated the top leagues. They therefore arranged the first proper inter-continental football tournament, consisting of mainly European teams, it was won by Belgium.
The inter-continental tournaments in 1924 and 1928 saw Uruguay come out as gold medalists on both occasions and the popularity of the competition began to rise. FIFA therefore had another go at creating an international tournament and invited Uruguay, as then Olympic champions, to host the new event in 1930.
Jules Rimet, the FIFA president at the time and namesake of the trophy, was integral in the setup of the first tournament, persuading twelve other top nations, including France, to join the event.
The first tournament had 13 teams, with 3 groups of 3 and a group of 4, with the winners competing in a semi-final and then a final, just 16 matches in total. Hosts Uruguay solidified their title as best in the world form the Olympics by also winning the new World Cup, beating Argentina 4-2 in the final in Montevideo.
The 1932 Olympics were held in LA and therefore football was dropped due to a lack of local interest and by the time the 1936 Olympics (yep that famous one in Hitler’s Berlin) another world Cup had taken place, Italy 1934, and all eyes were on the next one in France in 1938. The World Cup had successfully become the greatest international football tournament, beating the Olympics.
World Cup Today
The tournament was expanded to 24 teams in 1982, and then to 32 in 1998, also allowing more teams from Africa, Asia and North America to take part. Since then, teams from these regions have enjoyed more success, with several having reached the quarter-finals: Mexico, quarter-finalists in 1986; Cameroon, quarter-finalists in 1990; South Korea, finishing in fourth place in 2002; Senegal, along with USA, both quarter-finalists in 2002; Ghana, quarter-finalists in 2010; and Costa Rica, quarter-finalists in 2014. Nevertheless, European and South American teams continue to dominate, e.g., the quarter-finalists in 1994, 1998, and 2006 were all from Europe or South America and so were the finalists of all tournaments so far.
Two hundred teams entered the 2002 FIFA World Cup qualification rounds; 198 nations attempted to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, while a record 204 countries entered qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
In October 2013, Sepp Blatter spoke of guaranteeing the Caribbean Football Union’s region a position in the World Cup. In the 25 October 2013 edition of the FIFA Weekly Blatter wrote that: “From a purely sporting perspective, I would like to see globalisation finally taken seriously, and the African and Asian national associations accorded the status they deserve at the FIFA World Cup. It cannot be that the European and South American confederations lay claim to the majority of the berths at the World Cup.” Those two remarks suggested to commentators that Blatter could be putting himself forward for re-election to the FIFA Presidency.
Following the magazine’s publication, Blatter’s would-be opponent for the FIFA Presidency, UEFA President Michel Platini responded that he intended to extend the World Cup to 40 national associations, increasing the number of participants by eight. Platini said that he would allocate an additional berth to UEFA, two to Asia Football Confederation and Confederation of African Football, two shared between CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, and a guaranteed place for the Oceania Football Confederation. Platini was clear about why he wanted to expand the World Cup. He said: “[The World Cup is] not based on the quality of the teams because you don’t have the best 32 at the World Cup … but it’s a good compromise. … It’s a political matter so why not have more Africans? The competition is to bring all the people of all the world. If you don’t give the possibility to participate, they don’t improve.”
In October 2016 FIFA president Gianni Infantino stated his support for a 48-team World Cup in 2026. On 10 January 2017, FIFA confirmed the 2026 World Cup will have 48 finalist teams.
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