The FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association ) World Cup is an international soccer competition contested by the men’s national soccer teams. The world cup has been held every four years since the first tournament in 1930, except in 1942, and 1946, because of World War II. The tournament involves 32 national teams playing against each other for about a month. It is the most widely-viewed sporting event in the world, with about 1.1 billion people watching the 2002 finals. The World Cup was first televised in 1954 and is now the most widely-viewed and followed sporting event in the world, exceeding even the Olympic Games. The cumulative audience of the World Cup 2002 event is estimated to be 28.8 billion.
The first official World Cup was held in Uruguay in the year 1930. The national associations of selected nations were invited to send a team, but the choice of Uruguay as a location for the competition meant a long and costly trip across the Atlantic Ocean for European sides. A total of 13 teams took part in the first World Cup, seven from South America, four from Europe and two from North America. The first two World Cup matches took place at the same time, and were won by France who beat Mexico 4-1 and the USA who beat Belgium 3-0, respectively. The first goal in World Cup history was scored by Lucien Laurent of France. In the final, Uruguay defeated Argentina 4-2 in front of a crowd of 93,000 people in Montevideo, and became the first nation to win a World Cup.
The issues facing the early World Cup tournaments were the difficulties of worldwide travel and war. Few South American teams were eager to travel to Europe for the 1934 and 1938 tournaments, with Brazil the only South American team to compete in both. The 1942 and 1946 competitions were cancelled due to World War II and its after effects. The finals were expanded to 24 teams in 1982, then 32 in 1998, allowing more teams from Africa, Asia and North America to take part. This year, 198 teams have attempted to qualify for the 2006 World Cup.
The choices of location for early World Cup competitions were highly controversial, given the three week boat journey between South America and Europe, the two strongest countries for soccer. The decision to hold the first cup in Uruguay, for example, led to only four European nations competing.
The next two World Cups were both held in Europe.
In seventeen World Cup tournaments held, only seven nations have ever won the World Cup. Brazil is the current holder, as well as the most successful World Cup team, having won the tournament five times, while Germany and Italy follow with three titles each. The other former champions are Uruguay, Argentina, England and France. Of the nine World Cups held in Europe before the current tournament, only one saw victory by a non-European team, that being Brazil in 1958. When held outside Europe, the competition has only ever been won by South American teams. Only two teams from outside these two continents have ever reached the semi-finals of the competition: the USA (in 1930) and South Korea (in 2002).
Six of the seven champions have won at least one of their titles while playing in their own homeland, the exception being Brazil, who lost the deciding match (known as Maracanazo) when they hosted the 1950 tournament. England (1966 World Cup) and France (1998 World Cup) won their only Cups while playing as host nations. Other nations have also been successful during their spell as hosts. South Korea made it to the semifinals as a co-host in 2002 despite never previously passing the first round. The success of the host in the Cup is a major reason why nations try to be selected as hosts, as they attempt to gain the advantage of a supportive crowd to win the World Cup.
At the end of each World Cup final tournament, awards are presented to the players and teams for accomplishments other than winning the tournament. The Adidas Golden shoe, for top goal scorer, the Adidas Golden Ball for best player, and the FIFA Fair Play Award for the team with the best record of fair play are just some of the different awards handed out after the World cup.