World Cup Winners: Revisiting Champions over the Past Decades
Thirty-two nations will arrive in Russia for the 2018 FIFA World Cup seeking a shiny trophy, and the team that earns it will join—or bolster its resume on—an illustrious list.
Only eight countries have secured the World Cup, with Brazil, Germany and Italy accounting for 13 of the 20 all-time winners.
But when did they win? Who played well during that World Cup? What are some of the memorable moments?
Diehard soccer fans may know the answers, but casual observers and once-every-four-years watchers may be unaware. Whether you fall into one of those categories or somewhere in the middle, there's always value in a trip down World Cup memory lane.
1930 to 1978
The first of two countries to win consecutive World Cups, Italy achieved the feat with a 4-2 triumph over Hungary. Italy's then-manager, Vittorio Pozzo, remains the only manager to win multiple World Cups.
1954: West Germany
Long considered the greatest player in the game, Pele made his World Cup debut during the 1958 tournament at 17 years old. He notched an assist during his first appearance, recorded a hat trick in Brazil's semifinal victory and scored twice in the final.
Geoff Hurst netted a hat trick in the final to propel England past West Germany 4-2. It also marked the first year since 1934 that the host country defended its home turf and won the World Cup.
1974: West Germany
The first tournament to include 24 nations—previously it was between 13 and 16 teams—1982 also brought the penalty shootout to the World Cup stage. The game-ending format appeared in one semifinal matchup, during which West Germany clipped France 5-4 to advance.
However, Italy built a 3-0 advantage in the final and earned a 3-1 victory over the West Germans. It was Italy's third World Cup crown and first since 1938.
Diego Maradona scored a pair of legendary goals during the 1986 tournament—and they happened in the same game. In addition to the Hand of God, Maradona scored the Goal of the Century during Argentina's quarterfinal matchup against England.
The captain netted both goals in a 2-0 semifinal win over Belgium, and Argentina finished off its second World Cup triumph with a 3-2 edging of West Germany.
1990: West Germany
After taking Group D with two victories and a draw, West Germany kept it interesting throughout the knockout stage. The team opened the elimination portion of the tournament with 2-1 and 1-0 wins over the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia, respectively.
West Germany needed a shootout to overcome England in the semifinal, and an Andreas Brehme penalty in the 85th minute allowed the Germans to beat Argentina in the final. Moving forward, East and West Germany would play as a unified team.
Entering the 1994 tournament, it had been 24 years since proud soccer country Brazil had reached a World Cup final. Romario and Bebeto helped snap that streak in the United States.
The duo accounted for eight goals, four of which occurred during the knockout stages. Brazil required penalties to overcome Italy in a 0-0 final, but Romario was among the three scorers in the shootout.
Brazil returned to the final in 1998, but a terrific France side prevented back-to-back championships during the first-ever 32-team World Cup. The host nation cruised through the group stage with a plus-eight goal differential before a few tight matchups.
There was the extra-time 1-0 win over Paraguay, a penalty-shootout victory against Italy in the quarterfinals and a 2-1 triumph opposite Croatia in the semis. The final had fewer nervous moments, as Zinedine Zidane scored twice in a 3-0 win against Brazil.
Four years later, however, Brazil would not be denied. The three-headed monster of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo carried the country to its fifth World Cup.
Ronaldo won the Golden Boot with eight goals, scoring four in the knockout stages—including all three across the semifinal and final. Rivaldo totaled five, and Ronaldinho had two—with the game-winner in the quarterfinal against England.
Famous for Zinedine Zidane's head-butting incident, the 2006 final featured the second shootout in World Cup finals history. Italy earned a 5-3 advantage in penalties to down France and lift the trophy.
Interestingly, only Marco Materazzi and Luca Toni scored multiple goals for Italy throughout the entire tournament. Eight other players added one apiece for the Azzurri, who broke a 24-year drought between triumphs to take home the country's fourth World Cup.
The most popular color in the 2010 final was yellow; referee Howard Webb pulled out the card 14 times. The Netherlands lost Johnny Heitinga to a second yellow card in extra time, and just seven minutes later, a defensive mistake on a clearance handed Spain the trophy.
Cesc Fabregas controlled the deflection just outside the box and sent a short ball to Andres Iniesta, who ripped a shot into the left corner for a 1-0 lead. Iniesta received a yellow card for removing his jersey, but Spain protected the advantage and won its first World Cup.
It appears that 24 years is the magic length of time to break a drought. Brazil (1994) and Italy (2006) both snapped their titleless spans after that amount of time, and Germany reclaimed its position atop the soccer world after 24 years in 2014.
The most impressive moment of the tournament happened in the semifinals, when Germany thrashed host Brazil 7-1. Mario Gotze provided the only goal of the final against Lionel Messi and Argentina, scoring in the 113th minute during extra time. Six players scored multiple goals for Germany throughout the tournament.