The History that Led to the 2018 World Cup
The 21st edition of the greatest Football tournament on Earth is about to take place in Russia, so now seems like the perfect time to take a look back at its rich heritage. There’s no way to cover everything in a single article, but we’ve got some fascinating highlights of the road that has brought us to the 2018 World Cup.
The Most Popular Sporting Event on the Planet
FIFA’s quadrennial championship is thought to be watched by a ninth or more of the globe’s entire population, easily putting this ultimate celebration of The Beautiful Game into a class of its own. However, this was not always the case.
Football originated in England, and was not very well known outside of this country for hundreds of years. More widespread enthusiasm for the game started around the 1900s, and the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, was founded in Paris on the 22nd of May 1904.
Over the next few decades, attempts were made at organising world events within and out of the Summer Olympics, where it has been formally recognised since 1908. From 1914 FIFA organised the Football at the Olympics, but in 1928 it was announced that they would hold their own title match and this was done for the first time in 1930.
The 1932 Games actually dropped this event from the line-up owing to its waning favour with fans, although ultimately the Olympics has become the peak for amateur and the Cup for professional players. And, of course, Football is now almost universally beloved.
Changes to the Championship Structure
The 2018 World Cup features a group stage followed by a knockout stage of 16 teams, who are the winners and runners-up of the group stage contests. This particular format has only been in place since 1998; over the years there have been several permutations to the tournament.
From 1930 to 1950 just 4 sides competed; 8 teams vied for the prize between 1954 and 1978, and this number was expanded to 12 in 1982. The current number of teams in the knockout phase, 16, has only been in place since 1998, and from 2026 this figure will double to become 32.
A Truly Illustrious Trophy
Even the award that the winning nation gets in this contest has a storied past. The original was nicknamed the Golden Goddess, and depicted the Greek goddess of victory holding up a 10-sided receptacle and standing on a base of lapis lazuli. To honour the third President of FIFA, who had pushed so hard for the global contest in the first place and was the one who voted to initiate it in 1929, the trophy was renamed the Jules Rimet Cup following the second World War.
In 1970, as per FIFA’s rules at the time, Brazil was given the Golden Goddess in perpetuity after the country won its third title. Kept on display at the Brazilian Football Confederation’s headquarters. It was stolen in 1983 and has never been found. Today, a replica stands in its place.
Given this security fail, it is perhaps surprising that the Winner’s Trophy that succeeded the Golden Goddess and is still in use was not better protected from the start. These days it is housed in the FIFA Museum, and the winners are given a gold-plated bronze replica, so the 2018 World Cup winners will not technically hoist the real thing. Before 2006, however, the Winners Trophy was kept by the reigning champions and then given to the next host country when it was announced.
Many Notable Historical Moments
Aside from memorable occasions in the contest’s own history, such as when Tunisia became the first African country to win a group stage game in 1978, there have been several important events for Football itself including North Korea defeating Italy in 1966 and the United States besting England in 1950 – both important landmarks in the worldwide spread of The Beautiful Game. The 2018 World Cup has a lot to live up to, and we are looking forward to watching what unfolds!