The FIFA World Cup is a festival of association football. Yet, sometimes, the competition is underwhelming, as shown in ourTop Ten Worst FIFA World Cupslist. Still, more than a couple of tournaments had us enjoying (almost) every game. So, let us take you through the best moments of FIFA World Cup history and answer what the best World Cup was!
10. Brazil 2014 – Brazilian Tears, Again
Soccer finally returned to Brazil in 2014, so everyone had high expectations. Passionate local fans filled stadiums hoping the home side would win the trophy after thefamous upsetagainst Uruguay 64 years ago. Almost all the best teams managed to qualify, including every previousWorld Cup champion. The tournament produced shocking results, but the biggest was the elimination of titleholders Spain, sent home after losing the first two games. Italy and England were also awful, as Costa Rica topped their group.
Still, the knockout phase brought us almost no surprises, with favorites Brazil, Germany, Netherlands, and Argentina deciding the title. While the final wasn't particularly memorable, Germany'sdestruction of Brazil(7-1) was unreal! The other surprise was that Leo Messi was officially the tournament's best player, despite playing pretty underwhelmingly. It's worth mentioning that this tournament also has anexcellent World Cup video game.
9. Russia 2018 – The Croatian Sensation
Many were skeptical about the first World Cup in Eastern Europe, but Russia proved to be the perfect host. However, Italy, the USA, and the Netherlands couldn't experience it since they failed to qualify. On the other hand, Panama and Iceland had their debuts. The opening round featured a single surprise, but it was the biggest! Like Spain four years earlier,Germany was outafter suffering two defeats.
In the knockout rounds, the miracle happened, as England finally beat someone on penalties! Still, once they reached the semifinals, their title dreams were crushed by Croatia, the tournament's biggest surprise. However, they couldn't match France in the final, where we saw six goals! Finally, let's remember the excellentRed Devilsfrom Belgium, who won the third-place contest. While there weren't many particularly memorable moments, Russia 2018 gave us quality football and some of the best World Cup games.
8. West Germany 1974 – The Birth of Total Football
In 1974, we got the new FIFA World Cup trophy, which is still in use. Once again, 16 teams came to compete, including East Germany, Haiti, and Zaire (now DR Kongo), who all debuted. East and West Germany even played in the same group, with the hosts suffering a surprising defeat. Despite the loss, West Germany was still the second favorite, behind only the dominant Dutch side. Led by their superstar Johan Cruyff, the Netherlands demonstratedTotal Football.
This radical strategy meant that any outfield player could take any position, which was an unsolvable riddle for the competition. The Netherlands scored 14 times until the final while allowing a single goal, making it one of World Cup history's most dominant sides. However, it wasn't meant to be. After the Netherlands took the early lead, West Germany scored two and won the title. To this day, Cruyff & Co remain probably the strongest team never to lift the trophy.
7. Qatar 2022 - Argentina Finally Back on Top
The 2022 FIFA World Cup will forever remain controversial, as the country didn't deserve to host the tournament. Yet, players and teams (except the awful Qatari side) gave us many wildly entertaining games! The group phase was exhilarating, as many outsiders produced excellent results. This includes Japan and Morocco, which even topped their groups! Furthermore,Saudi Arabia humiliated Argentina, proving they are vulnerable.
Yet, these old favorites had an easy draw, not facing serious opposition until the final! Their rival there was France, who easily dominated their games, with a meaningless defeat against Tunisia. Yet, the final was a spectacular affair! While Messi scored his fourth (!) penalty kick, Mbappe netted a hat-trick to take the game to the penalties. Yet, South Americans were luckier and won their third title as one of the least impressive teams to do it. This is because Argentina won only four games in the tournament without beating a single high-ranked team. Yet, it wouldn't be fun if the best nation won every time!
6. Germany 2006 – The Tale of Two Dark Horses
As the 2002 FIFA World Cup was disappointing, everyone expected so much from the first tournament in unified Germany. The hosts weren't among the favorites this time, but they made their presence felt. An incredible eight nations debuted, including exotic sides like Togo or Trinidad and Tobago. However, no one talked about former World Cup champions Italy and France. Both teams weren't considered favorites, with almost everyone focusing on one side – Brazil.
Still, these were the squads we watched in the memorable final, which saw Italy becoming the champions for the fourth time after legendary Zinedine Zidane'sred card for headbutting. This tournament gave us many classics, beautiful long-distance goals, and a fairytale story about two giants back on top. Oh, and this World Cup had a truly bizarre moment, as Switzerland was eliminated while not allowing a goal in all four games! Finally, theWorld Cup anthemswere excellent this time.
5. Mexico 1986 – One Man Show
Initially awarded to Colombia, the World Cup tournament moved to Mexico, making it the first country to stage it twice. It was a massive challenge for the nation suffering from a devastating earthquake in 1985. Despite this, they heroically managed to prepare for the event in the year of theChernobyl Nuclear Plant Disaster. The competition also had a new format. Like in the previous tournament, 24 sides participated, but now 16 advanced to the knockout stages. This also meant that Bulgaria and Uruguay qualified for the elimination round, despite only scoring two points in their groups!
But what makes this tournament legendary is a player considered the best ever. No one in the history of World Cups was such a key factor asDiego Armando Maradona. In seven games, he scored five times and made as many assists, with the last giving his side the win in the final. Still, many will remember hiscontroversialquarterfinalperformance against England. First, he scored the ugliest goal in history (using his hand!) before netting the best one. Receiving the ball at his half, he passed five players before scoring. No man in the history of World Cups had such a god-like performance!
4. Mexico 1970 – Pelé and The Strongest Team Ever
This was the last tournament where the Jules Rimet trophy was awarded, and it was the best by then. Once again, 16 teams fought for the title, with eight advancing from the group stages to the quarterfinals. While many feared that the quality of play would suffer due to high heat and altitude, there were almost three goals per game. Even though the tournament brought back all previous champions, Brazil was a huge favorite.
Once Pelé finally decided to come back, the dream team was complete. The biggest reason Mexico 1970 is highly ranked was this Brazilian team, scoring more than three goals per game. Their attacker Jairzinho made history bynetting in every match, which hasn't been repeated since. Finally, this was the first WC tournament broadcasted in color!
3. France 1998 – Fan Favorite Final
France 1998 introduced the new format, allowing 32 teams to compete for the title. For the first time, we saw Croatia, Jamaica, Japan, South Africa, and FR Yugoslavia. The quality of teams was probably the best in history after the 1994 edition. Brazil and France were among the favorites, but we also saw the new generation of England, Argentinian, or Netherlands players. Many also pointed to FR Yugoslavia, which had its best team ever. However, they disappointingly bowed down in the round of 16.
Other favorites progressed steadily, with Croatia winning the bronze medal as the only surprise. France's dispatching of Brazil in the final (3-0) is among the most memorable moments, but there are so many FIFA World Cup matches we want to watch again and again. Despite the stupid, short-livedGolden Goal rule, it was a great competition.
2. Spain 1982 – The Triumph That No One Expected
For the first time, 24 sides qualified for the World Cup, and among them was Kuwait, which never managed to repeat this success. This was one of the strongest tournaments judging by the teams and players participating. Maradona was finally introduced to the world, but everyone talked about the mightyBrazilian side. Many consider this team on par with the one winning the title in 1970.
However, it wasn't meant to be. Italy surprisingly eliminated them after the second group stage before winning the title that no one expected. The hero was the striker Paolo Rossi who claimed six goals as the leading scorer. So, why is this tournament not on top? For several reasons, including scandalous referee decisions in the host's games and the disgraceful, fixed match between Germany and Austria.
1. USA 1994 – A True Superstar Festival
Even the biggest optimists doubted that the 1994 FIFA World Cup would be memorable. After all, soccer wasn't among the favorite sports in the States. But once the competition started, everyone realized how wrong they were. On average, almost 70,000 watched every game and had so much to see! Never before and after so many soccer legends gathered, despite England and Yugoslavia (suspended) not participating.
Despite the heat, matches were exciting, and it's hard to list the most memorable ones. We've seen Roger Milla score at 42, setting aWorld Cup record, as Russia trashed Cameron 6-1. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia advanced from the group stage, and Diego Maradona was back. His suspension remains highly controversial, costing his team an early elimination. Meanwhile, it was a joy to watch Brazil demonstrating explosive, attacking soccer while the Italians showed their defense art. The final won by Brazil (with a very youngRonaldo) wasanticlimactic, but the 1994 World Cup is still the best in history! Oh, and who could forget about thelegendary penalty miss?
We enjoyed remembering all these World Cups on our top ten list, as they remind us why soccer is the biggest sport on Earth. Watching these classics will always be exciting, and we hope that future tournament editions will be close to this level.
What was your first World Cup? Besides your home country, what nations do you usually support?
Cover photo: Stock-Freelr/Pixabay