SportsPulse: Americans get a lot of flak for calling the beautiful game ‘soccer’ and not ‘football,’ but it turns out we can lay the blame on the English.
USA TODAY Sports
The 2018 World Cup final is set, with France taking on Croatia at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Sunday.
Will France win its second World Cup title, or will Croatia become just the ninth different nation to win the tournament?
Here’s a look at every World Cup, a trip through the world’s biggest sporting event’s history that includes a wild bit of U.S. soccer trivia.
Final: Germany over Argentina, 1-0 (extra time)
After knocking on the door of greatness for nearly a decade (two third-place World Cup finishes, one runner-up finish in the Euro), Germany finally earned that elusive championship. A stunner of a semifinal against Brazil — a 7-1 dump trucking of the hosts — was followed up by a grind-it-out extra-time win over Lionel Messi and Argentina. You know how U.S. presidents appear to age rapidly while in office? Yeah, that seemed to happen to Bastian Schweinsteiger in the final. Germany collected its fourth World Cup win, tying it with Italy with the second most behind Brazil’s five championships. That also means that three nations have won 13 of 20 World Cups.
Location: South Africa
Final: Spain over Netherlands, 1-0 (extra time)
This is the crowning achievement of an incredible run of success for Spain. Over a four-year span, Spain won the 2008 Euro, 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro. The only blemish for Spain was losing to the U.S. in the 2009 Confederations Cup. Spain’s win
also marked the first time a European nation had won the World Cup when it was hosted outside of Europe, a feat matched four years later by Germany.
Final: Italy over France, 1-1 (Italy won penalty shootout, 5-3)
It’s one of the most indelible moments in sports, a “where were you when?” experience that separates the final of this World Cup from any other. In the most unforgettably crazy World Cup moment since Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” play in 1986, one of the greatest to ever play the game was sent off in shame after being red carded for a head-butt. Even 12 years later, people are still making memes about Zinedine Zidane’s shocking head-butt of Italy’s Marco Materazzi in extra time of the World Cup final.
Location: South Korea/Japan
Final: Brazil over Germany, 2-0
Sure, the final featured two bluebloods, but this was a wild World Cup. Upsets highlighted the group stage, as defending World Cup champion France and another tournament favorite, Argentina, did not make it to the round of 16. Neither did Portugal, which was upset in its opener by the U.S., which had its best World Cup performance since 1930. Turkey and South Korea each reached the semifinals, with Turkey — which was playing in its first World Cup since 1954 — winning the third-place game. Featuring Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo — who scored both goals in the final — Brazil cruised to the title.
Final: France over Brazil, 3-0
France became the sixth nation to win the World Cup as a host nation, joining Uruguay, Italy, England, Germany and Argentina. Until Germany’s 7-1 rout of Brazil at the 2014 World Cup, the 3-0 loss in the final to France was Brazil’s most lopsided World Cup
defeat. For France, this started an impressive run that also featured a 2000 Euro win and that infamous 2006 World Cup final appearance for a core of players that included Zidane, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Fabien Barthez.
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Final: Brazil over Italy, 0-0 (Brazil won penalty shootout, 3-2)
A generation before soccer games the world over could be found on multiple national TV networks, the game was still a bit of a curiosity when this World Cup was played in the U.S. The tournament was an overwhelming success, despite concerns over
playing it in a nation where soccer was considered a niche sport. The 1994 tournament — even with increasing the field from 24 to 32 teams for 1998 — still remains the most attended World Cup. The tournament capper was the first goalless final in World
Cup history, and first decided by a penalty shootout. Italian Roberto Baggio’s penalty kick miss secured Brazil’s first World Cup win in 24 years.
Final: Germany over Argentina, 1-0
The lowest-scoring World Cup ever had a sloppy conclusion, which featured the first red-card ejection in a final (watch Jurgen Klinsmann make a meal out of this foul). The only goal came on a penalty kick, and Argentina became the first team to fail to net a goal in a World Cup final. After 40 years in the wilderness, the USMNT qualified for its first World Cup since 1950.
Final: Argentina over Germany, 3-2
Diego Maradona’s opening goal in a 2-1 Argentina win over England in the quarterfinal is the most infamous and controversial goal in World Cup history. The “Hand of God” was so incredible that it was voted the “World Cup Goal of the Century” in 2002. Argentina went on to win its second World Cup in eight years.
Final: Italy over Germany, 3-1
Italy’s run to World Cup glory came at the expense of an impressive list of vanquished opponents: Defending World Cup winners Argentina, and perennial favorites Brazil and Germany. Germany advanced to the final after an epic semifinal against France, in
which German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher administered a vicious hit on Patrick Battiston that would make Jack Tatum proud.
Final: Argentina over Netherlands, 3-1 (extra time)
Losers in the inaugural World Cup final, Argentina finally were winners 48 years later, and were the third World Cup winner over a four-tournament span to win on home soil. On the other end, the Netherlands found heartbreak in the final for the second
straight World Cup against the tournament hosts.
Final: Germany over Netherlands, 2-1
Johan Cruyff-led Netherlands, with its revolutionary “Total Football” tactics, made a valiant run to the final, but were defeated by Der Kaiser, Franz Beckinbauer, and host Germany at Munich’s Olympiastadion. This was the first time that the reigning European champions won the World Cup, a feat matched in 2010 by Spain.
Final: Brazil over Italy, 4-1
Led by future teammates with the New York Cosmos, Pele and Carlos Alberto, Brazil won its third World Cup over a four-Cup span. This triumph was so impressive that the 1970 Brazil team — which also featured Tostao, Rivellino, Gérson and Jairzinho — is considered the greatest team of all time, and this tournament as a
whole is often cited as the best World Cup ever played.
Final: England over Germany, 4-2 (extra time)
England’s record in major international tournaments is not very impressive, especially given that the nation is home to arguably the best domestic league in the world. England has never won the Euro (much less even reach the final of one), and has one
World Cup win in nearly 70 years of competing in the tournament. In 1966, with the World Cup being played on its own soil, “The Three Lions” collected their lone championship. Geoff Hurst completed a hat trick with two goals in extra time as England defeated Germany. Hurst’s hat trick remains the only one ever in a World Cup final.
Final: Brazil over Czechoslovakia, 3-1
Despite losing Pele in the second group stage match of the tournament (against eventual finals opponent Czechoslovakia no less), Brazil won a second consecutive World Cup. The tournament itself was marred by on-field violence, and included a game between host Chile and Italy called the “Battle of Santiago” in which two Italian players were sent off.
Final: Brazil over Sweden, 5-2
This tournament is known as Pele’s coming-out party. The 17-year-old Pele scored six goals in three knockout stage games — including two in the final — as Brazil won its first World Cup. While the game’s greatest star emerged and Brazil came of age as a global powerhouse, another historic milestone was set in Sweden. France’s Just Fontaine scored a World Cup-record 13 goals (over six games).
Final: Germany over Hungary, 3-2
Often hailed as one of the greatest World Cup matches ever played, Germany defeated Hungary in what has become known as the “Miracle of Bern.” Sure, Germany beating Hungary in a game of soccer football is an expected result these days, but back in 1954 this was considered a major upset. This was the “Golden Team” of Hungary, and a World Cup favorite that year. In the final, Hungary stormed out to a 2-0 lead, Germany answered to tie it up and then scored the match winner in the 84th minute.
Final: Uruguay over Brazil, 2-1
After a 12-year hiatus due to World War II, the World Cup returned. There were 16 teams expected to participate, but 13 showed up in Brazil. One of those teams was the U.S., which famously defeated an England team considered to be a tournament favorite. Rather than have a knockout stage, the final round was a round robin. Going into the final game, Brazil needed only to avoid defeat in order to win the World Cup. Instead, Uruguay prevailed 2-1 and won the tournament.
Final: Italy over Hungary, 4-2
With the world on the cusp of war, France hosted the tournament two years before it would be occupied by Nazi Germany. On the field, Italy became the first nation to win back-to-back World Cups, winning the final against Hungary, which would emerge as a
world football powerhouse in the years following the war.
Final: Italy over Czechoslovakia, 2-1 (extra time)
Yes, two years before Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany got the Olympics, Italy’s Benito Mussolini got the World Cup. In a not-so-shocking development, a World Cup hosted by a fascist dictatorship had the wretched stench of foul play. Defending World Cup winner Uruguay refused to participate in this World Cup because only four European nations participated in the inaugural event in Montevideo. Italy’s run to the title started with a 7-1 demolition of the U.S., which — following this tournament — would play in just one more World Cup over the next 56 years. Italy also defeated Austria’s famed Wunderteam in the semifinal.
Final: Uruguay over Argentina, 4-2
In the inaugural World Cup, Uruguay continued its dominance of world football after winning Olympic gold at the 1924 Games in Paris and 1928 Games in Amsterdam (where they defeated their regional rival, Argentina). Uruguay’s win in the inaugural World Cup on their home soil was the first of six out of 20 World Cups won by the host nation. The USMNT might have peaked early when it came to World Cups. FIFA recognizes the U.S. as the third-place finisher of this World Cup after losing in the semifinal to Argentina, which is the best-ever finish for the U.S. And, who says American soccer has no history? The USMNT can boast about ownership of two World Cup firsts: Goalkeeper Jimmy Douglas recorded the first “clean sheet” and Bert Patenaude has the first hat trick in World Cup history.