Ranking All 19 World Cup-Winning Sides
The World Cup. The most prestigious football tournament on the planet. Those who perform well on the biggest stage are immortalised for life, forever pored over and romanticised by those fascinated with the history of the game. It's said to be the ultimate test of a player's ability, and winning it most certainly the highlight of any career.
This summer in Brazil, 32 countries will attempt to become the 20th winners of the trophy, joining an illustrious list of great sides who have conquered world football, starting with Uruguay, the very first victors in 1930.
Historical comparisons in football are notoriously difficult to make. Players are now fitter and stronger, the game played at a much faster pace, with sports science and improved training regimens central to the advancements. It's impossible to say with any certainty, for example, just how well a player from the first World Cup in 1930 would fare at this summer's tournament, given the obvious developments which have taken place since.
However, in this special Bleacher Report list, we take a look at the 19 previous winners of the tournament and attempt to rank them on the quality of the players at their disposal, as well as the style and entertainment they provided.
Far less is known of the teams which played pre-World War Two, but here goes...
Uruguay won the first World Cup after trailing 2-1 to Argentina at half-time in the final before coming back to win 4-2. The capacity crowd of 93,000 packed into the Estadio Centenario to witness history being made.
Just 13 teams started the tournament, with Uruguay beating Peru, Romania and Yugoslavia before their showdown with Argentina in the final. It was a new tournament which captivated those fortunate enough to see the games, all of which were played in Montevideo.
Pablo Dorado, Pedro Cea, Santos Iriarte and Hector Castro scored Uruguay's all-important goals in the final. It was Cea's fifth of the tournament.
Italy beat Czechoslovakia to become only the second winners of the Jules Rimet trophy. Raimundo Orsi and Angelo Schiavio scored the goals to seal a 2-1 extra-time win in Rome.
After destroying the United States 7-1, Italy then saw off Spain (needing a replay) and Austria before heading into the final. The Italian side featured the great Giuseppe Meazza who played just off the main striker 2-3-4-1 formation.
Italy's second consecutive World Cup win cemented their temporary dominance after beating Hungary in the final in France. A 4-2 win, with braces from Silvio Piola and Gino Colaussi, was enough to hand them the trophy in what was a hard-fought final.
Italy's progress was fairly serene, posting victories over Norway, France and Brazil before their famous final win.
Held in Brazil and won by Uruguay, their second success in four tournaments, the 1950 World Cup was the first one to be staged in 12 years due to the war. By beating Brazil on their own patch during the final round, a group of four teams, Uruguay ensured it was they who would be looked back upon as the dominant force of the early World Cup era.
Brazil beat Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1 during the unusual final group format, but Uruguay managed a 2-1 win when the two sides met and finished at the top with seven points.
West Germany 1954
A 3-2 win over Hungary in Switzerland saw West Germany seal their first World Cup win, with goals from Max Morlock and two from Helmut Rahn lighting up the final.
Hungary were strong favourites having embarked on a 32-game unbeaten run prior to the final, with Olympic gold proving their class. They had beaten the Germans 8-2 in the group stage, but the final was to be much different, played in wet conditions that suited the underdogs.
Not a spectacular side, but one dogged and determined enough to go all the way.
The 1978 World Cup was held in Argentina and won by Argentina, as Mario Kempes' double saw his side beat Holland in extra time of a pulsating final. It was the 11th staging of the World Cup and, for many, it will go down as one of the most controversial.
The Netherlands were calling for a boycott of the event before it had even started after alleged human rights breaches, with General Omar Actis, chairman of the World Cup organising committee, assassinated in the buildup to the finals.
Add to that Willie Johnston being banished from the tournament after traces of a banned stimulant were found in his body, and some dodgy refereeing, and this was one of the most troublesome World Cups there's been.
It was a win for Argentina, the fifth home nation to do so, but it was mired in controversy.
Brazil's first World Cup win came in Sweden in 1958, beating the home nation 5-2 in the final, with Pele and Vava both grabbing two.
It was the beginning of a legacy. Between 1958-1970, they won three titles, announcing themselves as the home of football. This one, like their other triumphs, was delivered in style.
At 17 years and 249 days, Pele became the youngest-ever goalscorer in a World Cup match, a precursor to the extraordinary career he was about to embark on.
West Germany 1974
In sport it's usually just the winners who are remembered, but the 1974 World Cup in West Germany bucks that trend, with runners-up Holland fondly remembered for their electrifying style. Led by Johan Cruyff, arguably the greatest footballer on the planet, their attacking ability was undeniable, yet it was the Germans who lifted the trophy.
Cruyff was an artist—a movie-star and enigmatic footballer all rolled into one. The hosts, though, were in no mood for sentiment, and it was they who triumphed, winning 2-1 after falling behind early on, the great Gerd Muller scoring the winner. Total Football was usurped by the Germans' pragmatic philosophy—led, of course, by their captain and hero, Franz Beckenbauer.
England's one-and-only win came on home soil in 1966, with a side full of quality led by skipper Bobby Moore. Bereft of width but full of determination, the home nation defeated West Germany 4-2 in the final at Wembley, Geoff Hurst bagging a hat-trick.
They were worthy winners, too, having beaten Mexico, France, Argentina and Portugal en route to the final. With Martin Peters, Bobby and Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles, as well as Hurst and Moore, this will take some beating as the greatest-ever England World Cup side.
Italy won the trophy for the fourth time in 2006, beating France on penalties in the final in Germany. Fabio Grosso hit the winning spot-kick in one of the most memorable World Cup moments of recent times. It was a tournament in which Fabio Cannavaro, one of the finest defenders the world has ever seen, proved his class on the highest stage and etched his name firmly into the history books with a string of wonderful displays.
In truth, they were second-best for much of the final against an aging France side, but the quality of their defending and their penalties in the shootout, meant it was they who returned home victorious.
Brazil became the third team to win two consecutive World Cups when they defeated Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the final. After two consecutive European-held tournaments, Brazil came out on top in Chile and thoroughly deserved their victory.
Garrincha and Vava both scored four goals during the competition, with Brazil outscoring everyone en route to success.
West Germany 1990
Italia '90. One of the most eventful and memorable finals in a long time saw West Germany triumph, beating Argentina 1-0 in the final.
This was a German side with their usual pragmatism and discipline, exemplified by the likes of goalkeeper Bodo Illgner and captain Lothar Matthaus, with the brilliance of Rudi Voller and the goalscoring ability of Jurgen Klinsmann thrown in for good measure.
It was a bad-tempered final that saw two Argentinians dismissed, as Franz Beckenbauer's side scored a late penalty to lift the trophy.
In Spain '82, it was Italy who came out on top, overcoming West Germany in the final after a 3-1 win, with 40-year-old goalkeeper Dino Zoff becoming the oldest winner of the competition in its history.
Paolo Rossi, who opened the scoring in the final, won the Golden Ball and was given an award for being the best player in the tournament, which was remarkable given that he'd missed two months prior to the event due to injury.
There was an increase in the number of teams taking part, up from 16 in '78 to 24 in Spain, meaning it was the most physically demanding World Cup in history. Brazil started as pre-tournament favourites, but Italy, who stuttered early on which led to a stand-off with the Italian press, clicked at the right time.
A World Cup in the USA, way before the game took on any credibility there, was always going to be interesting, and Diana Ross' missed penalty during the opening ceremony suggested those suspicions were correct. On the field, though, the quality of the football was as high as usual, and it was the Brazilians who triumphed, once again demonstrating their ingenuity and brilliance to topple all-comers.
The final with Italy in Pasadena was won on penalties after a 0-0 draw. Roberto Baggio, who had been one of the stars of the tournament, missed the decisive spot-kick and Brazil were the deserved champions.
With Bebeto, Romario, Dunga and Claudio Taffarel, this was a truly great Brazil side.
France won their first World Cup on home soil, with a side which had a little bit of everything. From the strength and discipline of Emmanuel Petit and Didier Deschamps, to the brilliance of Zinedine Zidane and Lilian Thuram, it was a well-balanced XI that were dominant from the off.
They won all their group games, before seeing off Paraguay, Italy and Croatia. The final against Brazil was overshadowed by the mystery illness suffered by Brazil striker Ronaldo, but France were superior in every department, winning 3-0 at the Stade de France.
The story of Mexico '86 was dominated by one man: Diego Armando Maradona. Although one man can never win a World Cup on his own, this was about as close as anyone will come. Maradona was inspired throughout.
In the quarter-final against Bobby Robson's England, a match politically charged given the situation in the Malvinas, Maradona almost single-handedly tore the Three Lions apart, scoring two goals and generally looking unplayable throughout. His first was famously scored with his hand, the second was a sublime solo goal that will forever be entrenched in World Cup folklore.
In the final, a 3-2 win over West Germany saw Argentina lift the trophy for the second time, capping a tournament memorable for the attacking style employed by most teams involved.
Football is capable of writing some of the most beautiful stories imaginable, and this was one of them. Argentina, inspired by the great Maradona, triumphant in one of the most remarkable World Cups in history.
Brazil's win in Japan and South Korea, their fifth triumph and their third consecutive appearance in the final, was the result of some mesmerizing all-out attacking football, led by their trio of forwards: Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. As total football goes, this was about as close as we've seen.
With Cafu and Roberto Carlos, two of the most attacking full-backs in the history of the game, supporting their array of attacking stars, Brazil completely dominated this World Cup, beating Germany 2-0 in the final. They brought colour and excitement to the event, and thoroughly deserved to win it.
After decades of spectacular underachievement, Spain finally won their first World Cup in 2010, after an extra-time win over Holland in South Africa. Spain had become the dominant force in football having won the 2008 European Championships and redefining football tactics, often operating without a recognised striker but still providing exhilarating moments of breathtaking football.
Their ability to pass teams to death was their defining feature, with self-expression and beautiful artistry overcoming the strength and pragmatism of the Dutch. It was a triumph of true footballing values, and most neutrals were happy to see a side with stars such as Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Xabi Alonso win the greatest prize of all.
Back home in Spain, the economic downturn had hit them particularly hard, and this was an example of football providing some relief for the Spanish people. The quality of that side will never be forgotten.
Mexico 1970—the first World Cup to be broadcast in full colour, with substitutions also introduced for the very first time. It's seen as the World Cup which brought the tournament into the modern era, with the TV coverage establishing its position as a cultural institution around the world.
Fitting, then, that a very special team, dressed in eye-catching yellow, lit up the tournament and returned home as champions. Brazil, led by arguably the greatest player ever, dazzled and delighted the crowds and will forever be remembered as the greatest winners of all time.
They beat Italy 4-1 in the final, with Pele, Gerson, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto scoring the goals in a one-sided affair. With Felix in goal and Rivelino alongside Pele upfront, this was a wonderful side, full of brilliance in attacking areas. The quality of the goals they scored, and the excellence of their play, are still marvelled at today.
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