There have been 21 FIFA World Cups played since 1930.
Some have been utterly unforgettable. Filled with amazing goals, moments and players.
Some others have been, well, not so good.
So with that in mind, we at 90min have decided to try and rank every FIFA World Cup ever.
The first one, and probably the worst one. It’s not to say this was a disaster of a tournament, because if it had been, we wouldn’t be looking forward to the 2022 World Cup in December.
However, with only 13 teams competing across 18 days and – let’s face it – none of these games or teams being widely recognised as some of the best ever, it’s fair to say that the 1930 tournament was a bit dire.
The 1962 World Cup was explicitly Mane Garrincha’s tournament, but very little else.
Rather than being remembered for its incredible goals and games, this was a tournament largely remembered for what could have been.
Pele was at the peak of his powers in 1962, but the world was robbed of seeing the greatest player of all time during the greatest period of his career by a freak injury during a group game against Czechoslovakia.
Had Pele been fit, the 1962 World Cup might be a bit higher on this list.
The main reason this tournament has been placed ahead of the 1962 tournament is the intrigue in the political clout which shrouded Italy’s first World Cup win.
Under the guidance of Vittorio Pozzo – and unconfirmed under the table help from Benito Mussolini’s regime – Italy were crowned world champions in the Stadio Nazionale in Rome on 10 June 1934.
However, the football played during this tournament isn’t what makes it historically significant. Rather, it’s the fact that the 1934 World Cup was the first explicit permeation of politics into the sport on a global scale.
Hosted by an Il Duce ruled Italy, the 1934 World Cup proved to be a precursor for what the world would witness just two years later at the 1936 Summer Olympics: a country utilising a sports tournament as a propaganda tool.
“We’ve created the most spherical ball ever.”
“The ball is a sphere – a perfect sphere!”
“Name a more spherical ball – we’ll wait.”
Big shout out to adidas for creating the most spherical ball ever and ruining the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The first post-World War II World Cup, and arguably the most significant tournament in footballing history. That isn’t to say it’s one of the best or most entertaining World Cups ever though, as its placing on this list attests.
Significantly however, the 1950 World Cup was the stage for the greatest shock in the tournament’s history, as the host nation Brazil were beaten 2-1 by Uruguay at the Maracana in the final game, which also became a de facto final in the slightly bizarre format.
From this nadir, samba soccer would rise under the guidance of some guy called Pele.
“In hindsight, we should never have played that World Cup.” (Leopoldo Luque)
The ticker tape, painted goalposts and crew neck football tops made the 1978 World Cup the most aesthetically pleasing tournament of all time; but don’t let that fool you.
Just like the 1934 tournament, the 1978 World Cup was explicitly utilised by its host nation as propaganda.
Hosted by a country being subjected to a ‘Dirty War’ under the tyrannical rule of General Jorge Rafael Videla, alleged match fixing and war crimes committed during the summer of 1978 have rightfully dogged the memory of this tournament.
Fun fact for the ‘football hipsters’ of the world: the 1938 World Cup bore witness to the creation of the libero role.
The tournament isn’t just one for the hipsters, however, as it also was the stage upon which the most violent game in World Cup history was played: the infamous ‘Battle of Bordeaux’.
The 1938 World Cup had something for everyone.
Mario Gotze’s incredible goal and Lionel Messi’s incredible disappearing act made the 2014 World Cup final one for the ages, but it was another game that propels the tournament into 12th place on this list:
Oh my god, the 7-1.
One of the most shocking – and impressive – performances in World Cup history occurred on 8 July 2014, when Germany emphatically beat Brazil 7-1 in the semi finals of their own tournament.
For their own sake, Brazil really shouldn’t host World Cups.
It’s the first thing we think of when the 2002 FIFA World Cup is mentioned, but Ronaldo’s insanely weird haircut wasn’t the only crazy thing about this tournament.
World and European champions France’s shocking group stage exit, referee Byron Moreno’s starring role for South Korea, and the fact Republic of Ireland legitimately could’ve got to the semi finals of the tournament, are just some of the other reasons why the 2002 World Cup was weird – really, really weird.
Very few FIFA World Cups were defined by one player: USA ’94 was one of them.
The highs and lows of the tournament in USA – Diana Ross’s hilariously terrible attempt to kick a ball aside – were defined by Roberto Baggio. Il Divino Codino single handedly dragged a below-par Gli Azzurri side to the final, only to fall at the last hurdle.
Due to his penalty miss, the 1994 World Cup will forever be remembered for a player failing when on the cusp of greatness.
The World Cup in which football nearly came home, but, you know, didn’t.
Instead, Kylian Mbappe – with help from Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and co. – brought it to France by playing efficient and high quality football.
Also, shoutout to Luka Modric for being utterly amazing in the 2018 World Cup.
From Luciano Pavarotti’s rendition of ‘Nessun Dorma’, to Gazza and Diego Maradona’s tears, Italia ’90 proved to be one of the most memorable World Cups in history.
The football played was also pretty great too. Roberto Baggio scored a sublime goal against Czechoslovakia, Salvatore Schillaci surprisingly starred, and most importantly, Ireland got through to the quarter finals.
Oh, and Germany wore the nicest football kit in the history of the world.
The kits, the boots, the Zinedine Zidane, the Ronaldo. This tournament had it all.
Zidane’s two glorious headers in that France kit, while wearing those adidas Predators is enough for this World Cup to break the top ten alone.
Coupled with one of the best finals in recent memory, Davor Suker also shocked the world and guided Croatia to the semi finals during this tournament, and Dennis Bergkamp scored one of the greatest goals of all time.
The FIFA World Cup during which some 17-year-old Brazilian striker won his country its first ever Jules Rimet trophy.
He also won the tournament in 1962…and again in 1970.
Apparently he was good. Really, really good. He’s probably the greatest footballer of all time actually.
Any tournament with an Italy vs. Germany semi final is bound to be a classic.
This tournament is best remembered for Zinedine Zidane’s exceptionally brutal headbutt on Marco Materazzi in the final, but it should also be remembered as a tournament which saw a number of so-called ‘golden generations’ battle it out for World football’s top prize.
France had Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry; Italy had Fabio Cannavaro, Francesco Totti and Andrea Pirlo; Brazil had Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka; and England had David Beckham, Steven Gerard and John Terry.
These ‘golden generations’ didn’t disappoint. The tournament was awash with shocking moments (Graham Poll’s triple booking of Josip Simunic), great goals (Argentina’s team goal against Serbia & Montenegro) and ridiculously brilliant games of football (Italy vs. Germany).
The Three Lions’ crowning achievement, and an achievement that the English populace have refused to let the rest of the world forget about.
The tournament itself was – in fairness – pretty brilliant.
North Korea (yes, NORTH Korea) shocked the world with an astonishing win over Italy and Eusebio scored a million or so goals against basically every country in the world.
However, the main reason this tournament is ranked so highly, is the final between England and West Germany – even if England won it.
There’s a really good reason the 1954 World Cup has broken into the top five in this list: there were an average of 5.4 goals per game.
Also, the world bore witness to the historically brilliant Hungarian ‘Magical Magyars’, and the historically shocking way in which they lost to West Germany in the final.
Like the 1994 World Cup, the Mexico ’86 was defined by one player. This time however, it was a player who guided his nation to glory.
Diego Maradona, basically single-handedly, dragged Argentina to their second World Cup triumph.
Through his very, very funny ‘Hand of God’ goal against England, and his subsequent solo effort, which was very, very amazing, ‘El Diego’ simultaneously made himself the most significant footballer of his generation, and the 1986 World Cup one of the best ever.
In the summer of 1974, Total Football was created and then quickly dismantled by the two best German footballers of all time: Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller. This narrative alone makes the ’74 World Cup worthy of its place in the top three.
Johan Cruyff had led arguably the most exciting team in history to the World Cup final, where they would face the hosts West Germany. While the Dutch had won plaudits around the world for their expansive style of play, Beckenbauer and Muller proved to be a bridge too far for Cruyff and co.
The best team of all time.
The best player in World Cup history.
The best goal ever scored.
The ‘Match of the Century’.
But it’s not the best World Cup ever? Surprisingly, no.
Despite not being number one on this list, the 1970 World Cup is undoubtedly a classic. Pele led the greatest football team ever to glory in the Azteca Stadium. They were so good in fact, that they were allowed to keep the Jules Rimet trophy after winning the tournament.*
*Maybe that’s a lie, but they did get to keep the trophy, and they were really good.
This tournament is just the best. It just is. There’s no debating it. It’s the best. Here are some of the reasons why:
– Italy vs. West Germany is the greatest World Cup final of all time.
– Marco Tardelli’s celebration.
– The teams at this World Cup were so good that a Brazilian side which boasted the likes of Socrates, Zico and Falcao didn’t even make the semi finals.
– The France vs. West Germany semi final.
– Paulo Rossi’s unbelievable hat trick against Brazil.
Due to the aforementioned, the 1982 FIFA World is without question, the greatest international tournament ever.