The Soccer World Cup, officially known as the FIFA World Cup, is held every four years and pits the finest soccer players of each nation against each other in a global competition. National Teams from over 209 “nations” around the world compete in qualification tournaments over three years, with only 32 teams allowed to progress through to compete in the Soccer World Cup finals. FIFA has more members than the UN, as it recognises 23 non-sovereign entities as nations, including places such as Palestine and Scotland.
FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), the international governing body of the Soccer World Cup, was founded in 1904. Initial attempts to organise international matches outside of the Olympics were dismal until 2009 when Sir Thomas Lipton (founder of the Lipton tea brand) organised the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy soccer tournament in Turin, Italy. Sometimes described as the first Soccer World Cup, the competition featured professional teams (but not national sides) from Italy, Germany and Switzerland. The English Football Association chose not to participate, so Sir Thomas Lipton invited an amateur side from England, West Auckland. West Auckland went on to win the competition, and did the same again in 1911.
In 1914, FIFA became the body responsible for managing soccer competitions at the Olympics, where soccer had become an official sport in 1908. At the 1920 Olympics, the first genuine intercontinental football competition occurred, with Egypt competing alongside thirteen European teams. Belgium won that year, with Uruguay taking out the next two (1924 and 1928).
On the 28th of May, 1928, FIFA made the decision to host their own Soccer World Cup independently of the Olympics. As Uruguay were reigning Olympic champions, and 1930 represented their centenary of independence, they were named host country for the first Soccer World Cup in 1930. Thirteen nations took part in the initial Soccer World Cup; 7 from South America, 2 from North America and 4 from Europe:
- United States
The first goal in Soccer World Cup history was scored by Lucien Laurent of France against Mexico, who they defeated 4-1. Host Uruguay was the first nation to win the Soccer World Cup, defeating Argentina 4-2 in front of a crowd 93,000 strong.
Soccer was dropped from the 1932 Olympic Games (held in Los Angeles) due to the relatively low popularity of the sport in the host nation. It returned in the 1936 Olympics at Berlin, but by this point the Soccer World Cup organised by FIFA was the leading international competition.
The Soccer World Cup has been held every four years since it began in 1930, with the exception of 1942 and 1946 as a result of World War II. The current Soccer World Cup champions are Spain, who won the 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa. The 1934 and 1938 Soccer World Cup tournaments were held in Italy and France respectively. Brazil was the only South American country to compete at both, seizing third place overall in 1938.
The Soccer World Cup is one of the world’s most popular sporting events, with over 700 million people tuning in for the final. FIFA estimated in 2007 that there are over 265 million people who play soccer worldwide.
Soccer World Cup Qualification
There are six FIFA Confederations:
- AFC – Asian Football Confederation (of which Australia has been a member since 2006)
- CAF – Confederation of African Football
- CONCACAF – Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football
- CONMEBOL – Confederación Sudamericana de Fútbol (South American Football Confederation)
- OFC – Oceania Football Confederation
- UEFA – Union of European Football Associations
Each Confederation administers soccer in its own region. A prerequisite to joining FIFA is membership of one of the six Confederations. The Confederations are responsible for organising matches which enable nations to qualify for the Soccer World Cup. The host nation automatically qualifies. Overall, 820 Soccer World Cup qualification matches took place prior to the 2014 Soccer World Cup.
The Soccer World Cup qualification process differs between different Confederations. Most employ a knockout stage followed by a group system. Winners of certain groups are allowed to progress. There is some interplay between confederations. For example: for the 2014 Soccer World Cup, in the AFC, the two third placed teams out of the two final groups (from an initial group stage of 5 groups of 4 teams) played off against the fifth team from the CONMEBOL for a qualifying position.
Some Confederations use existing international competitions to determine qualifying teams. For example, the 2012 OFC Nations Cup was also a qualifying round for the OFC Confederation.
Soccer World Cup Finals
The Soccer World Cup Finals are what most people refer to as the World Cup.
Between 1934 and 1978, 16 teams competed in the Soccer World Cup Finals (with the exception of 1938, when Austria’s annexation by Germany occurred after qualification rounds, and 1950, when India, Scotland and Turkey withdrew).
In 1982, the finals were expanded to include 24 teams. In 1998, the Soccer World Cup Finals allowed 32 teams to play in the finals, and it has remained at that number since.
Soccer World Cup Winners
The defending champions in the 2014 World Cup are Spain, who defeated the Netherlands 1-0 with an incredible goal from Andres Iniesta towards the end of extra time.
Only eight different countries have won the 19 Soccer World Cup tournaments. These are:
|Brazil||1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002|
|Italy||1934, 1938, 1982, 2006|
|Germany||1954, 1974, 1990, 2014|
Brazil, the most successful team, is the only nation to have played in every World Cup Finals tournament.
Australia in the Soccer World Cup
Australia has participated in the Soccer World Cup three times, and is due to participate in the 2014 Soccer World Cup. Australia’s performance on the world stage has been commendable, especially as they have regularly lined up against international soccer powerhouses such as Germany, Brazil and Spain.
In recent years, the reputation of Australian soccer has exploded, with multiple players joining squads in national competitions such as the EPL and Major League Soccer. Participating in the finals at three consecutive World Cups will only serve to bolster this growing prestige.
Australia – 1974 Soccer World Cup
Australia’s first appearance in the Soccer World Cup was in 1974, when it was hosted by West Germany. Australia was placed in Group 1, alongside West Germany, East Germany and Chile.
|14 June||East Germany||2 – 0||Australia|
|18 June||Australia||0 – 3||West Germany|
|22 June||Australia||0 – 0||Chile|
Australia was eliminated from the 1974 Soccer World Cup after the first round, partly because a majority of the team were amateur players.
Following the 1974 Soccer World Cup, Australia did not qualify for over thirty years. During this period, Australia developed a reputation for near-misses in qualifying rounds, losing playoffs in 1986 (to Scotland), 1994 (to Argentina), 1998 (to Iran) and 2002 (to Uruguay). During this period, however, the Australian national side (dubbed the “Socceroos”) were able to defeat Argentina 4-1, defeat Uruguay 1-0 and draw with Brazil 0-0.
Australia – 2006 Soccer World Cup
In 2005, Australia left the OFC and joined the AFC. However, they were still required to compete for Soccer World Cup qualification through the OFC. After winning the OFC Nations Cup, Australia was required to play Uruguay. After losing the first match at Uruguay 1-0, Australia hosted the second match. At 90 minutes, Australia was up 1-0, which meant the aggregate score across both games was tied. Still deadlocked after two periods of extra time, the game proceeded to a penalty shootout. Australia won the shoot out 4-2 and subsequently became the first team to ever qualify for the Soccer World Cup via a penalty shootout.
Australia triumphed over Japan, lost to Brazil and drew with Croatia in the Group stages of the 2006 Soccer World Cup. Unfortunately, after progressing to the Round of 16, Australia went down 1-0 to Italy following a highly controversial penalty kick, converted by Italy’s Francesco Totti in the final seconds of injury time.
Australia’s game against Croatia is significant in that referee Graham Poll awarded three yellow cards to Croatian player Josip Simunic, when he should have received a red card after his second yellow card.
|12 June||Australia||3 – 1||Japan|
|18 June||Brazil||2 – 0||Australia|
|22 June||Croatia||2 – 2||Australia|
|26 June||Italy||1 – 0||Australia|
Australia – 2010 Soccer World Cup
Australia played a significant role in their Group (D) in the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Ghana, Serbia and Germany all lost one game and won another against each other, with all scores being 1-0. As such, the results of those three teams against Australia essentially decided the competition. Germany beat Australia with a resounding 4-0 victory, and won overall. Ghana drew with Australia 1-1, finishing second overall. Serbia’s 2-1 loss to Australia left them in fourth place.
Tim Cahill’s handball in the box during the final minutes of the game against Serbia would have given them a chance to equalise, however the referees did not see the incident and no penalty kick was awarded. Tim Cahill went on to receive the award for Man of the Match.
|13 June||Germany||4 – 0||Australia|
|18 June||Ghana||1 – 1||Australia|
|22 June||Australia||2 – 1||Serbia|