World Cup Soccer: History & Facts

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

This lesson dives into the exciting realm of World Cup soccer, better known as the game of football throughout the world. Within, you'll learn the history of the competition and a number of fun facts from World Cup trivia.

Billions of Cheering Fans

Every four years, the world goes crazy for one of the biggest sporting events of all time, the FIFA World Cup. This international soccer (or football as most of the world calls it) tournament averages 3.2 billion viewers. That's just 400 million less than the Olympics. Around the world, people gather in coffee shops, sports bars, and other public establishments to share in the triumphs and defeats of their favorite teams. The energy of such a crowd is exhilarating!

Brazil and North Korea take the field in 2010
2010 Brazil vs North Korea

History of the World Cup

To fully understand what this sporting tournament is and why it draws so many spectators, we need to know a little more about its history and how it is organized.


FIFA, or Federation Internationale de Football Association, is an organization founded in 1904 by representatives of seven European countries: France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. They codified the rules of the game in international matches and organized competitions. However, they did not originally envision hosting a World Cup event.

First World Cup

From those first international soccer games, interest in a global competition began to grow. However, the Olympic Football competitions already existed as an event every four years. Amid tense and ongoing debates between FIFA and the International Olympic Committee regarding the amateur status of athletes, FIFA elected to host their own international competition, allowing national teams to select players from local, professional football clubs.

The first FIFA World Cup tournament occurred in 1930 in Montevideo, Uruguay between thirteen total teams. This location was selected because Uruguay won Olympic gold for soccer in 1924 and 1928, and many extravagant celebrations were already planned in honor of the country's 100th anniversary. Unfortunately, only four European nations attended, owing to the economic troubles in Europe and players' fears of losing their day jobs if they took so much time off for the games.

First World Cup (1930) Team from Mexico
Mexican Team 1930

The first games of the first World Cup tournament were both played on July 13th between France and Mexico (France winning 4 -1) and the United States and Belgium (the U.S. winning 3-0). By the end of the tournament measuring the skills of the thirteen competing teams, Uruguay held the trophy for the first ever World Cup victory. This trophy would be retroactively named in honor of the FIFA president, Jules Rimet, in a 1946 ceremony to honor his commitment to the organization and the sport. After Brazil won its third World Cup, the Jules Rimet trophy was retired and a new trophy, the FIFA World Cup Trophy was used from 1974 onward.

Game Balls from 1930 Final Match
1930 Final Game Balls

The games have continued every four years to this day, with the exception of two scheduled competitions. The outbreak of WWII halted the World Cup competition while fighting intensified, canceling the games scheduled in 1942. The games would not be held again until 1950, where Uruguay won for the second time in World Cup history.

World Cup Trivia - Ten Fun Facts

1) Only 13 teams competed in the first World Cup: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, France, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, the United States, Uruguay, and Yugoslavia.

2) No country outside of Europe or South America has ever won the World Cup.

  • Brazil - 5 wins
  • Germany - 4 wins
  • Italy - 4 wins
  • Uruguay - 2 wins
  • Argentina - 2 wins
  • England - 1 win
  • France - 1 win
  • Spain - 1 win

Bastian Schweinsteiger celebrates 2014 win by Germany
2014 Winner

3) Only Brazil has qualified to compete in every World Cup since the tournament began in 1930.

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