The hosts won the first World Cup, beating Argentina 4-2 in the final. Uruguay's victory in the 13-team tournament was the start of a trend: The host nation has won six of 18 World Cups, and even lesser sides that have hosted usually have exceeded expectations.
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The host nation delivered again as Italy beat Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the final thanks to an extra-time goal from Angelo Schiavo. The Italians had opened the tournament with a 7-1 rout of the United States before beating Spain and Australia en route to the final.
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Italy won its second consecutive World Cup behind striker Silvo Piola, who scored twice and set up another goal in a 4-2 victory over Hungary in the final. The tournament included Brazil's epic 6-5 win over Poland in the first round in which Ernest Wilimowski scored four goals in a losing effort and Leonidas countered with a hat trick.
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While the United States pulled off the shocker of the competition by beating England, Uruguay joined Italy as two-time World Cup winners. Alcides Ghiggia scored in every game for Uruguay, including the game-winner in the final against host Brazil.
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1954: West Germany
West Germany lost 8-3 to Hungary in the second game of the tournament, but exacted revenge in the final when it overcame an early two-goal deficit to win 3-2. This was the highest-scoring World Cup in history (5.38 goals-per-game average), with Hungary accounting for 26 in five games.
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The first internationally televised World Cup gave us Brazil's Samba soccer and 17-year-old sensation Pele, who scored six goals in the tournament. It also provided the first winner outside its home continent, Brazil, which defeated host Sweden 5-2 in the final.
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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 as the Brazilians repeated as champions.
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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.
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Brazil's free-scoring run through the rounds, a scintillating semifinal between Italy and Germany and Gordon Banks' "save of the century" against Pele in Brazil's classic group victory over England helped make this what is widely viewed as the best World Cup ever. Brazil downed Italy 4-1 in the final.
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1974: West Germany
Led by Sepp Maier, Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Müller, West Germany overcame a classy Dutch side in the final to win the title on home soil.
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The first World Cup in Argentina ended with a fifth title for a host nation. Mario Kempes won the Golden Boot with six goals, including two (to go with one assist) in Argentina's 3-1 victory over the Netherlands in the final. This was Holland's second consecutive loss in a World Cup final.
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In the first 24-team finals (eight more than in '78), Italy unexpectedly matched Brazil with its third title. West Germany and Brazil were the favorites and both won every game in qualifying, but Italy, led by Paolo Rossi, who had recently returned from a match-fixing suspension, knocked off both en route to victory.
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Maradona owned the 1986 finals in Mexico, playing with fearlessness and guile -- and a little luck, too, as his Hand of God goal helped Argentina slip past England in the quarterfinals. His performance against Belgium in the semis (two second-half goals) was incredible, and though the Germans kept him quiet for most of the final, it was his cross that set up Jorge Barruchaga for the winner.
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1990: West Germany
In a rematch of the '86 final, West Germany got the best of Argentina 1-0 in a physical match (an appropriate finish to a rough-and-tumble tournament short on goals) in Italy.
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Brazil and Italy played a mediocre final in the first tournament hosted by the United States, with the Brazilians winning in a penalty shootout after a 0-0 finish following extra time. Brazil became the World Cup's first four-time winner.
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France came back from a goal down against Croatia in the semifinal to set up its first final appearance, against Brazil. Rumors abounded that Ronaldo suffered a fit immediately before the match, but host France deserved its win after completely dominating the match thanks to two first-half headers from Zinedine Zidane.
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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 unexpected success of newcomer Senegal, as well as Turkey, the United States 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. Ronaldo scored both goals in Brazil's 2-0 victory.
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Italy went unbeaten in the group stages and was then inconsistent through the knockouts, but deservedly took an extra-time victory over host Germany in the semis before beating France on penalties in the final. The French had started to dominate into extra time, but Zinedane Zidane's headbutt on Marco Materazzi left it a man down, and David Trezeguet's missed penalty handed Italy a fourth World Cup.
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