The popularity of the sport of Association Football, more commonly known nowadays as football or soccer, grows and grows. Today the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup tournament is the biggest single-event sporting competition in the world and is contested by the men’s national teams from the 208 Member Associations of FIFA.
The first World Cup tournament was held in Uruguay in 1930, that country being chosen to host the event as they were the reigning 1928 Olympic Games football champions and also because the other would-be hosts had withdrawn their applications.
In sharp contrast to the 208 competing teams in 2014, only 13 nations entered the tournament. Of these, only four European teams participated. The main reason for this was the sheer length of the journey and the time involved in travelling to South America.
The four European teams that made the trip by sea were Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia. The Romanians only entered the competition following the intervention of newly crowned King Carol II. He selected the squad personally, and negotiated with employers to ensure that the players would still have jobs upon their return.
The Estadio Centenario in Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo was built both for the tournament and as a celebration of the centenary of Uruguayan independence. With a capacity of 90,000, it was the largest football stadium outside the British Isles at that time. The eventual winner of the competition final, held at that stadium, was the host country Uruguay who defeated Argentina 4-2.
The 1934 World Cup was held in Italy and the first for which teams had to qualify to take part. Thirty-two nations entered the competition, and after qualification, 16 teams participated in the finals tournament. Reigning champions Uruguay did not enter. Once again the host country, this time Italy, became the World Cup champions, beating Czechoslovakia 2–1 in the final.
The competition is held every four years and to date there has only been one team that has participated in every event – Brazil. So far 20 World Cup tournaments have been held (no competition in 1942 and 1946 due to Second World War) and won by eight different national teams. Brazil have won five times, Italy and Germany four times each; Argentina and inaugural winners Uruguay, with two titles each; and England, France and Spain, with one title each.