Embrace the schmaltz: The best and worst World Cup songs


Colombian pop star Shakira, centre in red, performs during the closing ceremony before the World Cup final soccer match between Germany and Argentina at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 13, 2014. (Themba Hadebe/AP)

A FIFA World Cup is only as good as its song.

So, that might not be entirely true (Editor’s note: it most certainly is not), but with the World Cup drawing in even the most casual of sports fans, the festivities surrounding the actual games deserve our attention.

The 1964 World Cup in Chile was the first to feature an official song, and in more recent years, World Cups have featured official songs, anthems, and even albums. An Atlanta-based soft drink company (and FIFA sponsor) has even left its corporate stamp on the songs in recent years.

The 2018 anthem is sung by Jason Derulo and it’s… fine.

But the list of songs dedicated to soccer’s signature event is a lengthy one, filled with jams and ballads way more memorable than Derulo’s for their own unique reasons.

Today, we’ll look at the best and worst FIFA World Cup songs, looking for which tunes pack the most inspiring and entertaining beats, while capturing the grandness of the moment, no matter how cheesy it may seem.

The World Cup isn’t a place to be skittish, so let’s embrace the schmaltz and enjoy some heartfelt power ballads.

The FIFA World Cup in Russia runs from June 14 to July 15, and Sportsnet.ca will have in-depth daily coverage.


La Cour des Grands (Do You Mind If I Play) – 1998

We’re going kick this off right with the greatest World Cup song of all time.

This is an English website, so we’ll roll with the English version of Youssou N’Dour and Axelle Red’s masterpiece for the 1998 World Cup, won by host nation France. (The song was also recorded in French.)

Ricky Martin’s “The Cup of Life” seems to get a lot more remembrance from the 1998 World Cup musical entries, but “Do You Mind If I Play” gets the nod here as the better of the two.

Choice lyrics: “Emotion and passion growing stronger every day, the skills on display… I can’t believe my eyes”

Waka Waka (This Time for Africa) – 2010

This ditty reached No. 1 on at least 15 different charts worldwide, making it by far the most commercially successful World Cup song.

Shakira’s tune wastes no time, grabbing your attention right away and capturing the pulse of one of the world’s most prestigious events.

There was some criticism at the time that Shakira, a Colombian, would get the honours of singing the official song of the first World Cup held in Africa, but you can’t argue with how well-received this composition was.

Choice lyrics: “The pressure’s on, you feel it. But you’ve got it all, believe it.”

Sign of a Victory (2010)

Elephant in the room: R. Kelly is a bad person.

But, this song is nice, if a bit slow to get going. And for all his faults, Kelly has shown in his career to be rather adept at inspirational theme songs, from Space Jam‘s “I Believe I Can Fly” to Ali’s “The World’s Greatest”. So, we’ll look past the man and just focus on the music:

Considering all the controversy surrounding Waka Waka’s lack of African representation, South Africa’s Soweto Spiritual Singers show up well here in performing the anthem’s catchy chorus.

Sappy, yes. But that’s what we’re after.

Choice lyrics: “When darkness is all around you, you still find your way, that’s the sign of a victory (eh eh eh eh eh eh eh eh eh eh eh eh)”

World Cup Willie (1966)

This song is silly, catchy, and most definitely British.

World Cup Willie was also the name of the mascot for England’s 1966 World Cup, which was won by the hosts.

Choice lyrics: “He’s tough as a lion and never will give up, that’s why Willie is favourite for the Cup”


Boom (2002)

The 2002 World Cup was hosted by both Japan and South Korea which makes it doubly disappointing that this is what the official song sounded like.

Bonus demerit points for a bad music video in which people are Thanos’d away into the sun.

Choice lyrics: “Oh I’m, boom boom boom, here to rock ya”

A Special Kind of Hero (1986)

The World Cup seems like an odd place to have a discount Disney princess song, but the ’80s were an odd decade.

Choice lyrics: “Can you see the gap between right and wrong, tearful sounds and a joyful song”

The Time of Our Lives

It took five people to sing this song.

It’s actually not that bad (better than “Boom,” anyway), but you have to wait until halfway through the three-minute song for the tune to really pick up.

Choice lyrics: “Let’s light the fire, find the plain, let’s come together as one in the same”

Memorable, but not good or bad enough

El Rock del Mundial (1962) – The original.

Gloryland (1994) – If all we wanted was sappiness, this would be No. 1.

We Will Find a Way (2014) – Also called “Dar um Jeito”, and it’s a pretty nice, upbeat tune.

Favourite World Cup song slighted, or worse not listed at all? Let us know in the comments below.

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