The Greatest Show on Earth: A history of the FIFA World Cup


Pele is hoisted on shoulders of his teammates after Brazil beat Italy in the 1970 World Cup final. (AP)

The FIFA World Cup is the biggest sporting event on the planet.

Nothing compares to it. Not the Stanley Cup. Not the Super Bowl. Not the World Series. Not the Olympics. Nothing.

But how did the World Cup come to be the biggest and greatest show on earth? Sportsnet offers this comprehensive history of the World Cup, looking at the birth of the competition and reviewing each and every tournament.

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From humble beginnings: The birth of the World Cup

Soccer is the world game, the beautiful game, and the World Cup is its showcase event, surpassing even the Olympics in terms of popularity, size and spectacle. || FULL STORY

1930 World Cup: Uruguay welcomes the soccer world

Uruguay welcomed and then conquered the world, using home-field advantage to defeat South American rivals Argentina in the final of the inaugural World Cup. || FULL STORY

1934 World Cup: Italy wins for Il Duce

Buoyed by the hometown crowds — and possibly the undue influence of dictator Benito Mussolini — Italy won the first of its four World Cups, defeating Czechoslovakia in the final in Rome. || FULL STORY

1938 World Cup: Italy repeats as champions

Vittorio Pozzo cemented his legend as one of the greatest national team managers by guiding the Azzurri to a win over Hungary in Paris as Italy became the first country to repeat as champions. || FULL STORY

1950 World Cup: Getting back on track after World War II

The modern era of the World Cup was born in 1950 as Uruguay reclaimed soccer’s greatest prize for the first time in 20 years after beating Brazil in Rio. || FULL STORY

1954 World Cup: The Miracle of Bern

In a World Cup that many thought would serve as the coronation of a Hungary side that won the Olympics and swept aside all before them in the buildup to the tournament, West Germany stunned the field to come out on top in Switzerland. || FULL STORY

1958 World Cup: The legend of Pele is born

A 17-year-old Pele announced his presence to the world by guiding Brazil to victory over Sweden in the final in Stockholm. || FULL STORY

1962 World Cup: Brazil wins again

With Pele injured for most of the tournament, Brazil flew on the wings of Garrincha to victory in Chile, defeating Czechoslovakia in the final to repeat as World Cup champions. || FULL STORY

1966 World Cup: Football comes homes

England vanquished the Germans at Wembley to win their only World Cup to date, but not without a bit of controversy. Oh, and Eusebio ran riot for Portugal, scoring a lot of goals. || FULL STORY

1970 World Cup: Pele takes his final bow

Pele went back on his word never to play in the World Cup again, guiding Brazil to a 4-1 win over Italy in the final in Mexico City as the South American nation became the first nation to win the tournament three times. || FULL STORY

1974 World Cup: Beckenbauer vs. Cruyff

Twenty years after the “Miracle of Bern,” the Germans were again champions of the world, defeating the Netherlands on home soil in a battle of “Total Football” devotees. || FULL STORY

1978 World Cup: A first title for Argentina

Almost 50 years after crossing the River Plate by boat and losing in Uruguay in the inaugural World Cup final, Argentina beat the Netherlands in Buenos Aires and was crowned World champions on home soil. || FULL STORY

1982 World Cup: Rossi to the rescue for Italy

A World Cup of startling upsets, improbable finishes and unmatched drama — with a fair bit of controversy thrown in for good measure — ended with Italy claiming its third title after beating West Germany in Madrid. || FULL STORY

1986 World Cup: The Maradona Show

Mexico replaces Colombia as host in 1986, Diego Maradona puts on a show, England cries foul over “The Hand of God,” Canada competes at its first World Cup, and Argentina beats West Germany in the final. || FULL STORY

1990 World Cup: Beware of the Germans

West Germany joined Brazil and Italy as three-time winners after beating Argentina in Rome in the worst World Cup final in history. || FULL STORY

1994 World Cup: Coming to America

The World Cup came to America as record crowds watched the tournament unfold, including Brazil’s penalty shootout win over Italy in the final to become the first four-time winner. || FULL STORY

1998 World Cup: French Revolution

Buoyed by Zinedine Zidane and a Golden Generation of players, France finally fulfilled their World Cup dreams by beating Brazil in the final. || FULL STORY

2002 World Cup: Brazil and the final frontier

The World Cup went to Asia for the first time, and while South Korea captured the hearts of the locals and neutrals, Brazil ended up winning its fifth title. || FULL STORY

2006 World Cup: Italy paints the town blue

Italy quietly went about its business through the opening rounds before beating hosts Germany in the semifinals and France in the final via penalty shootout. || FULL STORY

2010 World Cup: Spain win marks new era

A World Cup of firsts: South Africa became the first African nation to host the tournament, and Spain became the first new nation to win the competition since France in 1998. || FULL STORY

2014 World Cup: Germany and Argentina together again

Germany struck a blow for UEFA, as it became the first European nation to win a World Cup on South American soil. Oh, and there was also a small matter of their 7-1 win over hosts Brazil in the semis. || FULL STORY

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