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We take a look at the glorious past of the FIFA World Cup

 

The FIFA World Cup has been held every four years since 1930, except in 1942 and 1946, when it was cancelled due to World War II. The current format of the tournament involves 32 teams competing for the coveted title over a period of about a month. This phase is also referred to as the World Cup Finals.

In the 18 World Cups that have been held till date, only seven countries have won the crown. Brazil has the distinction of winning the most World Cups, having been champions on five occasions. It is also the only team to have featured in all the World Cups. Italy, the defending champion, is next on the list with four titles in its kitty, closely followed by Germany with three. The others to have laid their hands on the precious trophy include Uruguay, winner of the inaugural tournament, and Argentina, with two titles each, and England and France, with one World Cup win each.

The FIFA World Cup is the most widely viewed sporting event in the world. Approximately 715 million people watched the final match of the 2006 World Cup held in Germany. While South Africa is hosting this year's edition, the privilege for the 20th edition will go to Brazil in 2014.

 

CHANGING FORMATS

The number of teams and the format of each final tournament have varied considerably over the years. In most tournaments, there was a round-robin group stage followed by a single-elimination knockout stage.

Here's a look at how the format has changed over the years:
- 1930: A group stage followed by a knockout stage with four teams. Group winners proceeded to the final knockout stage and no third-place match was played.

- 1934 to 1938: Single-elimination tournament. These were the only tournaments without a group stage.

- 1950: A first group stage followed by a final group stage with four teams. This is the only tournament without an official final match.

- 1954 to 1970: A group stage followed by a knockout stage with eight teams comprising of the group winners and runners-up.

- 1974 to 1978: A first group stage followed by a second group stage with eight teams. The final was played by the second round group winners. The second round group runners-up played in the third-place match.

- 1982: A first group stage and a second group stage with 12 teams followed by a knockout stage with four teams.

- 1986 to 1994: A group stage followed by a knockout stage with 16 teams. These included the group winners, runners-up and the four best third-placed teams.

- 1998 to present: A group stage followed by a knockout stage with 16 teams including the group winners and runners-up.

 

CONTROVERSIAL GAMES

Not surprisingly, two of the most controversial World Cup games featured two legends of the game. During the 1986 quarter-final between Argentina and England, Diego Maradona scored a goal using his hand. But it wasn't penalised and is famously remembered as the 'Hand of God' goal. This is because Argentina went on to win the match as well as the World Cup that year. The second most controversial game took place during the 2006 World Cup final between France and Italy. Seven minutes into the match, Zinedine Zidane put France ahead with a penalty kick. However, he was sent off in extra-time after head-butting Marco Materazzi following verbal taunts and insults from the Italian. He wasn't allowed to participate in the penalty shootout, which Italy won 5-3 to capture the cup.

 

CLASSIC WORLD CUP MATCHES

- England 4-2 West Germany (1966) Geoff Hurst of England scored a hat-trick in one of the most memorable encounters in the history of the World Cup to destroy West Germany. 

- Brazil 4-1 Italy (1970) This is the most replayed final in World Cup history. This Brazilian side is often referred to as playing football from the gods. 

- Scotland 3-2 Holland (1978) Scottish footballer Archie Gemmill’s win was immortalised in the film ‘Trainspotting’. In the actual game, Scotland pulled off a major shock against the eventual runnersup, Holland.

- Italy 3-2 Brazil (1982) Paolo Rossi scored a hat-trick to knock out Brazil in this thrilling quarter-final.

- England 2-2 Argentina (1998) This match was all about Michael Owen and David Beckham. Teenager Owen scored a wonder goal while effigies of Beckham were burnt following him being red carded

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