Everything you ever wanted to know about the history of the World Cup but were afraid to ask (in most recent order) ...
The tournament: Germany was a genial host last time out, attracting massive crowds to street parties in its host cities. On the pitch, Argentina's Esteban Cambiasso scored one of the World Cup's best-ever goals, though teammate Maxi Rodriguezdid his best to better it against Mexico. The first 90 minutes in Germany's 2-0 extra-time loss to Italy offered arguably one of the most absorbing goalless draws in history. Portugal and the Netherlands kept the bar brawlers entertained with their second-round match: 16 yellow cards, four red yards and just the one goal.
The favorite: Brazil was the bookies' choice to win, with playmaker Ronaldinho tipped to hit the heights of other individual stars such as Maradona and Pele. England, Germany and Argentina were all talked about as contenders.
The winner: Italy went unbeaten in the group stages and was then inconsistent through the knockouts, but deservedly took an extra-time victory over the host in the semis before beating France 5-3 on penalties in the final. The French had started to dominate into extra time, but Zinedine Zidane's now-infamous headbutt on Marco Materazzi left them a man down, and David Trezeguet's missed penalty handed Italy a fourth World Cup.
The best player: Fabio Cannavaro took Italian defending to new heights as he kept his team steady at the back. He made a crucial interception as Italy, then only 1-0 up, held off Ukraine in the quarterfinal. Down to 10 men in the round beforehand, Cannavaro's composure was crucial to Italy's survival in the face of Australian pressure.
The tournament: Japan and South Korea became the World Cup's first co-hosts, and the first in Asia, and they produced a tournament full of surprises, if not amazing soccer from the usual suspects. The fervent home crowds made for a wonderful atmosphere, and the unexpected success of newcomer Senegal, as well as Turkey, USA and South Korea, added to the novelty of the event. In the end, though, the final was contested between old faces Brazil and Germany, despite the relative weakness of their lineups.
The favorite: Having followed up its 1998 World Cup victory by winning Euro 2000, France was the white-hot favorite to make it three in a row. Once again Argentina attracted attention in qualifying, powering ahead of the rest of South America.
The winner: Brazil never looked to be in too much trouble as it reached another final, with Ronaldinho producing an inch-perfect free kick from a full 35 yards to dispatch England in the quarterfinal. Ronaldo scored both goals in a 2-0 win as it all went to pot for Germany in the final.
The best player: German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn was named player of the tournament, having conceded only one goal before the final. His flap at Rivaldo's shot was what let Ronaldo in for his first, mind you, so he didn't smile too much at the presentation.
The tournament: The finals expanded again, making room for eight more teams, including first-timers Croatia, Japan, South Africa and Jamaica. Host France hadn't qualified since 1986, but helped to light up a more tantalizing World Cup than its immediate predecessors. Argentina, Denmark and Holland also played some exciting stuff, Nigeria surprised everybody by topping Group D, debutant Croatia raised eyebrows further by reaching the semifinals and David Beckham kicked Diego Simeone.
The favorite: As usual, the home nation and Brazil topped the list, though Argentina's strong qualification campaign (and faultless group-stage form) made it a contender.
The winner: France came back from a goal down against Croatia in the semifinal to set up its first final appearance, against Brazil. Rumors that Ronaldo suffered a fit immediately before the match abounded, but the French deserved their win after completely dominating the match thanks to two first-half headers from Zidane.
The best player: Zidane was sent off for stamping on Saudi Arabia's Amin Faud-Anwar, but was otherwise imperious. He outfoxed Amin's teammate Khalid Al-Muwallidwhile on his knees; such was his command of the ball.
The tournament: Those who loved football couldn't fathom the decision to give the land of soccer the World Cup, and there were plenty in the U.S. who didn't want it, but the competition set a record average attendance of 69,000 that stands today. Only Diana Rossembarrassed the host; Brazil and Italy embarrassed themselves with a mediocre final. Maradona failed a drug test, but had no shame.
The favorite: Take your pick of Brazil, Italy, Germany and Argentina. The world went crazy for Colombia after its 5-0 victory against Argentina in qualifying, but a first group record of 1-2 meant an early exit for the Colombians.
The winner: Brazil was unpopular back home for its lack of flair, and the fact that it reached the final with a knockout goal difference of plus-3 from three games tells its own story. Mauro Silva mustered Brazil's only decent effort on goal in the final, which was saved by Gianluca Pagliuca. Italy's Roberto Baggio's skied effort in the penalty shootout decided the match.
The best player: Baggio's skillful play dragged Italy through the tournament by the ponytail. But an honorable mention goes to Hristo Stoitchkov, who helped Bulgaria to the semis with six goals, including a beautifully flighted free kick that helped see off Germany in the quarterfinal.
The tournament: Italia90 was a largely forgettable tournament, punctuated by West Germany's tense penalties victory over England in the semifinal and a feisty encounter between the Germans and the Dutch, in which Frank Rijkaard was caught on camera spitting at Rudi Voller. Even the final wasn't fun to watch, unless you're into blood sports. About 26 billion of us watched the competition on television, though.
The favorite: Italy was fancied to do well on home soil, though Holland, having been crowned champion of Europe two years earlier, was also short odds. Germany wasn't that good, but because it kept reaching finals regardless, nobody dared discount it.
The winner: West Germany won a dirty final that Argentina reached despite having conceded a foul every four minutes. After a dull first hour, Pedro Monzon livened things up by taking out Jürgen Klinsmann to earn himself the first red card of a World Cup final. The ref bought Voller's dive 20 minutes later and Andreas Brehme's penalty won it.
The best player: Make no mistake, Germany was not a terrific side, but Lothar Matthaus was breathtakingly good in its midfield. He cut like a scythe from one end of the pitch to the other and scored four goals in a relatively low-scoring tournament.
The tournament: For the first time, a nation hosted its second finals after Colombia backed out for financial reasons. Mexico was struck by an earthquake in 1985 but still managed to stage another success attended by almost 2.5 million spectators. Maradona was the main attraction, but France entertained by putting out the reigning champion Italy with ease before edging Brazil in a penalty shootout. Belgium's 4-3 victory over the Soviet Union wasn't a bad match, either.
The favorite: Having won Euro84, France was the European favorite, though Hungary, which qualified strongly and took out Holland in the process, was tipped to do better than its meek first-round exit. As was by now custom, Brazil was most people's pick.
The winner: Dr. Carlos Bilardo took Argentina on a month-long tour of Europe before the finals to avoid being called in and fired. But his 3-5-2 formation, built around Maradona, paid dividends unexpected in his home country. The Hand of God always helps -- Maradona's raised fist punched home Argentina's first goal in a 2-1 quarterfinal win over England.
The best player: Maradona owned the 1986 finals, playing with such fearlessness and guile that only the English still grit their teeth a little at the mention of his name. His performance against Belgium in the semis was incredible, and though the Germans kept him quiet for most of the final, it was his cross that set Jorge Barruchaga up for the winner.
The tournament: The finals expanded to accommodate 24 teams, making room for smaller nations such as Honduras, El Salvador and New Zealand. They all went home at the earliest opportunity, but Honduras held Spain to a draw that completely derailed the latter's campaign. Fortunately Argentina avoided a meeting with any British teams, the Falklands War having not long finished. It was West Germany that played the bête noire after a particularly dirty semifinal meeting with France, in which Patrick Battiston was knocked unconscious, losing teeth and breaking his back.
The favorite: Going on the principle that one European and one South American team would reach the final, West Germany and Brazil were the teams supposed to do it. Both won every game in qualifying.
The winner: The Germans fared better than the Brazilians, but in the end both were undone by highly unfancied Italy -- Italy 3, Brazil 2 was a classic as the pair traded blows from start to finish. In the final, West Germany couldn't compete with Italy's second-half attacks as the Italians notched three different scorers with three different providers.
The best player: In 1980, Paolo Rossi had been named in Italy's huge match-fixing scandal and suspended for three years, which later became two. Having returned just weeks before the World Cup, he inspired the Azzurri's unexpected run to the final, scoring six goals.
The tournament: Having wanted to host the World Cup finals since 1930, Argentina finally got its wish. Several star players, including Holland's Johan Cruyff, refused to travel because of the military dictatorship running Argentina at the time, but the junta kept its dark regime out of sight, lavishing a reported $700 million on the tournament. This wasn't a classic World Cup, but Holland provided more dream soccer and the host nation provided the emotive storyline.
The favorite: Nobody was quite sure who of Holland, Argentina, Brazil or West Germany might prosper. Scotland was in the mix, too, though that might have been as much due to manager Ally MacLeod's insistence that his team could win as to the exploits of Archie Gemmill and Kenny Dalglish.
The winner: There was a whiff of controversy about Argentina's second-phase 6-0 thumping of Peru, which was enough to see it through on goal difference. And the Dutch came within the width of the post of winning the final, before Mario Kempes and Daniel Bertoni sealed a cathartic victory for the host nation.
The best player: Kempes won the Golden Boot with six goals for Argentina, despite failing to score in the initial group stage. His height enabled him to plunder goals with his head, though he had "good feet for a big man." His two goals and one assist won the final.
The tournament: This year brought us a new trophy (Brazil held onto the last one) and a new group stage to replace the quarter- and semifinals. Torrential rain poured down for most of the tournament, and a sloppy pitch marred the second-phase game between the host and Poland, whose star was rising after winning Olympic gold two years earlier. England failed to qualify when it failed to beat Polish keeper Jan Tomaszewski at Wembley Stadium, previously described by Brian Clough as "a clown." With Brazil looking a shadow of its former self, aesthetes turned to the Oranje for entertainment.
The favorite: Playing their mesmerizing "Total Football," the Dutch were the ones to beat, despite their lack of World Cup pedigree. But West Germany was the sensible favorite, having won the 1972 European Championship at a canter.
The winner: Boasting the talents of Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller, West Germany overcame the aftereffects of losing to East Germany in the first group stage to go unbeaten in the second, despite Sweden's best efforts in a 4-2 showdown. Holland's casual possession play in the final cost it dearly when Müller latched onto a Rainer Bonhof free kick to score the winner.
The best player: Cruyff epitomized the effortless wonder of Holland under Rinus Michels -- when Uli Hoeness brought him down for a penalty in the second minute of the final, no German player had yet touched the ball. His skill on the edge of Sweden's penalty area became known as the Cruyff turn.
The tournament: It was widely regarded as the best World Cup ever. Opening with a dull 0-0 draw between Mexico and Soviet Union wasn't a great start, but Brazil's free-scoring run through the rounds, a scintillating semifinal between Italy and Germany and Gordon Banks' "save of the century" from Pele all made for compelling viewing. The quality of the soccer belied the baking conditions.
The favorite: Reigning world champion England and former world champion Brazil were the picks of their continents, with England the more fancied after Brazil's poor showing four years earlier. Being drawn in the same group didn't go down well but their meeting, which Brazil won 1-0, is probably the best group game ever played.
The winner: Brazil recovered from its 1966 nightmare with glorious attacking soccer, cramming Pele, Tostao, Gerson, Rivelino and Jairzinho into a ridiculously talented front line with a return to 4-2-4. Brazil's fourth goal while beating Italy in the final remains mind-bogglingly good.
The best player: Beckenbauer established himself as a sublime attacking sweeper, elegantly dismantling opposition moves and creating forward momentum for West Germany. His decision to play on with a dislocated shoulder against Italy made him a hero.
The tournament: England went into its home tournament insisting it would win, and ended up being embarrassed not by the folly of such predictions but by the theft of the World Cup trophy before things kicked off. Fortunately, Pickles the dog found it in a hedge. On the pitch, North Korea became the finals' first Asian representative in 12 years and made its mark by eliminating Italy before playing Portugal tough in a pulsating quarterfinal.
The favorite: In the run-up to the tournament, all three two-time winners, Brazil, Italy and Uruguay, were being talked up as possible champions. But Brazil and Italy went home after the groups, while Uruguay took a beating from West Germany in the quarterfinals. As host, and boasting impressive results since switching to 4-3-3, England also enjoyed short odds.
The winner: England triumphed on home soil under Alf Ramsey, who'd revolutionized the national team. The 4-2 win over West Germany after extra time in the final remains the defining moment in English soccer, though the containment of Portugal a game earlier was equally decisive.
The best player: England's Bobby Charlton took home the Golden Ball in 1966 and was voted European Footballer of the Year, too. His performance in the semifinal defeat of Portugal -- which saw tournament top scorer Eusebio leave the field in tears -- was definitive: trickery, speed and a rifle shot.
The tournament: Chile won the right to host, despite the protestations of Argentina, after a devastating earthquake hit. "We have nothing," said Carlos Dittborn, president of Chile's organizing committee. "This is why we must have the World Cup." Chile was an amiable host, but after Italian journalists described Santiago, home to the new national stadium, as a slum full of hookers, the Group B game between Chile and Italy descended into a full-scale fist fight, with the odd karate kick thrown in for good measure.
The favorite: Brazil was favorite to retain its title because the core of the winning team of 1958 remained with the addition of Amarildo, "the white Pele."
The winner: Despite the loss of Pele to injury, the Brazilians looked as dazzling as ever, overwhelming Chile 4-2 in the semifinal. The Czechs put up more of a fight in the final, but were overcome by two second-half goals. Brazil won the first back-to-back World Cups since Italy in the 1930s.
The best player: Garrincha came into his own in 1962, when the winger took over from Pele as the scorer or provider of the majority of Brazil's goals. Garrincha moved quickly but awkwardly, leaving defenders flummoxed as to his next step -- he embarrassed England's left-siders in the quarterfinal.
The tournament: The first internationally televised World Cup gave us Brazil's Samba soccer and 17-year-old sensation Pele. The format was more like we're used to seeing today -- a group stage in which every team played the other and the top two progressed into the knockout stages. It produced the World Cup's first goalless draw (between England and Brazil in Group D, that year's designated group of death), but was generally considered to have been the best tournament to date.
The favorite: Brazil was everyone's pick after an impressive Copa America campaign (in which Colombia took a 9-0 pounding) and even more so once its exciting 4-2-4 formation was unveiled.
The winner: Finally, Brazil claimed the world title it had been sure of claiming eight years previously. France went down 5-2 in the semis, as did Sweden in the final, despite giving Brazil its first taste of being a goal down thanks to Nils Liedholm's shocking opener. Garrincha, Vava and Pele etched their names into history, as Brazil became the first nation to win outside its home continent.
The best player: Having sat out the first two group games, Pele scored the winner against Wales in the quarterfinals, a hat trick against France and a brace against Sweden. London's Times newspaper described his first goal in the final this way: "Pele, with sleight of foot jugglery, flicked up a cross from Zagalo, balanced the ball on his instep, chipped it over Gustavsson and leapt round the center half to volley home. Who can live with this sort of stuff?"
The tournament: Everything headed to Switzerland, FIFA's home, in its 50th anniversary year. It was a fittingly neutral return to Europe for the World Cup, though 1954 is remembered for "the Battle of Berne," an ugly quarterfinal between Hungary and Brazil in which three players were sent off and after which bottle fights took place in the tunnel while fans ran amok on the pitch. This was still, however, the World Cup of Hungary's Magical Magyars -- they scored 26 goals, pushing the tournament's per-game average to a still-record 5.38.
The favorite: Hungary went into this one unbeaten in four years, having unceremoniously demolished England twice to confirm its ascendancy. Hinting at Total Football with its fluidity and skill, there was virtually no discussion of anyone else winning.
The winner: After West Germany's second game, in which it trailed Hungary 3-0 inside 20 minutes and eventually lost 8-3, the rematch in the final looked terribly lopsided. Even more so when Hungary went 2-0 up inside eight minutes. But the canny Germans (who'd fielded a weakened side in the group) were level by the 18th minute, and a sharp individual goal from Helmut Rahn won it with six minutes remaining.
The best player: Hungary's Ferenc Puskas was arguably the finest player in one of the finest teams in soccer's history. He combined endless running with delightful ball control; when Hungary visited Wembley in 1953, his casual keepy-uppy before kick-off had the English awestruck. His left foot was devastating -- he fired in 83 goals in 84 international appearances.
The tournament: Following the ravages of World War II, the World Cup shifted to Brazil, a country filled with fans desperate for a first taste of the tournament. Technically speaking, this is the only World Cup without an actual final (the victor was determined in group play), though a record 199,854 people were at the decisive final pool match. The U.S. pulled off the shock of the competition by beating England 1-0 in Group B. The English had left star Stanley Matthews on the bench in a feat of cocksureness surely never to be repeated.
The favorite: England was touted to repeat its success in Europe but it was the host nation, already champion of South America, that many liked to win. The Brazilians built the world's biggest stadium, the Maracana, in Rio so that 200,000 people could see the team lift the trophy.
The winner: Uruguay scuppered Brazil's plans, however. Julio Perez admitted to being so nervous that he wet himself during the national anthems, but teammate Alcides Ghiggia owned the right flank, cooking up the game-winner with 10 minutes left for a 2-1 victory. A draw would have given Brazil the title; no wonder they remember it as '"inal fatidica" (fateful final).
The best player: Ghiggia scored in each of Uruguay's matches and utterly humbled Brazilian left back Bigode in the final, outpacing and outthinking him to create Uruguay's first and score its second.
The tournament: Under the shadow of imminent war, the World Cup lost Austria (annexed by Hitler's Germany) and Spain (civil war) and featured a number of anti-fascist demonstrations. There were still some standout matches, including Brazil's epic 6-5 win over Poland in the first round. Ernest Wilimowski scored four and still ended up on the losing side, while Leonidas' hat trick capped Brazil's ebullient attacking play. Its quarterfinal with Czechoslovakia was memorable for rather different reasons -- three red cards and the Czechs ending the game with one broken arm and a broken leg.
The favorite: Hungary was tipped to win going into the final, having comfortably defeated a confident if not highly skilled Sweden side in the semis. Italy was the stronger side but was deeply unpopular.
The winner: Under Vittorio Pozzo, Italy had a strong team ethic and defended robustly. It reached the final with ease after semifinal opponent Brazil rested top scorer Leonidas (to save him for the final) and had little trouble dispatching Hungary 4-2 to retain its title. Hungary played with skill and neat touches; the Italians had more muscle, and it showed.
The best player: Leonidas was praised for his exciting play up front for Brazil and topped the scoring charts. But Italian striker Silvo Piola was often the difference between Italy and the rest, tearing France apart then scoring two and setting up another in the final.
The tournament: At Mussolini's World Cup, the tables were turned, and Uruguay opted not to travel in protest at the absence of so many Europeans last time around. It looked like a good decision when all four non-European sides went home after 90 minutes in a straight-to-knockout format, with Argentina and Brazil having fielded reserve sides. There was still some decent attacking talent on show, however, with Matthias Sindelar and Oldrich Nejedly lighting up the pitch for Austria and Czechoslovakia respectively.
The favorite: Austria was well fancied, but once again the host was favorite. Italy, having snaffled up several Argentines since the last World Cup, was well prepared and had tailored the classic Austrian style to suit its more defensive players.
The winner: Having opened its campaign with a 7-1 shellacking of the U.S., Italy beat Spain and then the impressive Austrians in the semifinal. The trophy was won five minutes into extra-time against Czechoslovakia (in a 2-1 win), when the injured Giuseppe Meazza was left unmarked to set off a chain of passes that led to Angelo Schiavo's winning goal.
The best player: Nejedly got the Golden Boot, but Sindelar was majestic. Known as soccer's Mozart, presumably because of the elegant ease with which he waltzed around defenders. His influence on the semifinal was muted by the close attentions of Argentina's LuisMonti, who was detailed to stick to him throughout.
The tournament: Dubbed the World Cup of the Americas (the traveling Europeans were outnumbered 9-4), this was a stereotypically rowdy affair. Argentina was brutal, putting France's Lucien Laurent and American defender Raphael Tracy out of the tournament, as well as ripping U.S. midfielder Andy Auld's lip and blinding him with smelling salts. Apart from Yugoslavia's surprise victory over Brazil, which put it through to the semis, the tournament went according to form, with host Uruguay facing Argentina in the final.
The favorite: Having been crowned Olympic champions twice in the 1920s playing fast and skillful soccer, Uruguay was favored to win the trophy on home soil. That didn't stop Argentine newspaper El Grafico from describing Argentina's journey to Uruguay as "the arrival of the world champions," mind you.
The winner: Argentina led at halftime, but Uruguay eventually won the final 4-2 amid rumors of death threats to influential Argentine hardman Monti. There had been riots at Buenos Aires docks as thousands of Argentina fans attempted to cross the River Plate to get to the final; many of those who made it left the Estadio Centenario draped in Uruguay colors in order to get home safely afterward.
The best player: Guillermo Stabile started the tournament on the Argentine bench and appeared in the second game only because captain Manuel Ferreira couldn't play. He went on to be the tournament's top scorer with eight goals and may have scored the World Cup's first hat trick. (The USA's Bertram Patenaude has been inconsistently credited with scoring one two days earlier.)
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.