Writing Portfolio


A dozen things you never knew you wanted to know about the World Cup (part 5)

And, to round things off, we have upsets, high-scoring games, how to get knocked out of the World Cup without losing, the ball, how a replica World Cup ended up in Manchester and the question of which international organisation (FIFA or the UN) has more members…

49.   There have been a few major upsets at the World Cup over the years. Back in 1950, the USA managed to beat England. Then there have been such memorable occasions as North Korea beating Italy in 1966, East Germany beating West Germany in 1974, Algeria beating West Germany in 1982, Cameroon beating Argentina in 1990 and Senegal beating France in 2002.

50.   Brazil’s 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Germany in the 2014 semi-final is the biggest defeat suffered by a host nation. There have been a few matches with even more goals than that, though – the record number of goals scored in one game being 12, when Austria beat Switzerland 7-5 in 1954. In addition, there were three occasions on which the margin of victory was by nine goals. 9-0 wins were recorded by Hungary over South Korea in 1954 and by Yugoslavia over Zaire in 1974, while Hungary also beat El Salvador 10-1 in 1982. The highest-scoring draw has been 4-4, and it’s happened twice – England against Belgium in 1954 and the Soviet Union against Colombia in 1962.

51.   Brazil have taken part in both the highest-scoring World Cup final and the lowest-scoring one. In 1958, they beat Sweden 5-2. Then in 1994 they drew 0-0 with Italy, a match they went on to win via a penalty shoot-out.

52.   The most goals scored in a single tournament has been 171. This happened in 1998 and again in 2014. The fewest goals in a tournament was 70, in 1930 and 1934 when there were less teams and, therefore, much fewer games played. In terms of goals per game, the highest has been 5.38 (in 1954, perhaps unsurprising given some of the games mentioned in number 50) and the lowest was 2.21 (in 1990).

53.   It is entirely possible to be eliminated from a World Cup without losing a game (and I’m not trying to claim that losing by way of a penalty shoot-out doesn’t technically count as losing; of course it does). England managed to be knocked out undefeated in 1982, back when the tournament had a second group stage (they beat France, Czechoslovakia and Kuwait in the first round but could only draw against West Germany and Spain in the second). In 2010, New Zealand were knocked out after drawing all of their first-round matches.

54.   It is, of course, also possible to lose a game in the group stages and then go on to win the tournament. West Germany managed this in 1954 (they were beaten by Hungary, the team they would go on to beat in the final) and in 1974 (when they were beaten by their neighbours, East Germany).

55.   The official match ball of the 2018 World Cup is the Adidas Telstar 18. Its name and design are based on the iconic Adidas Telstar which was used in the 1970 and 1974 World Cups. That was the first football to use the now-familiar design, widely used throughout the world to depict a football, of 12 black pentagonal panels and 20 white hexagonal panels (and it was indeed a football for the modern age, for the name and design were inspired by the Telstar communications satellite).

56.   The Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen twice – once in 1966 when it was nicked from Westminster City Hall shortly before the World Cup (it was famously found several days later in South London by a dog called Pickles), the second time when it was taken from the Brazilian Football Confederation’s headquarters in Rio in 1983. It has never been recovered and is widely believed to have been melted down.

57.   A replica was made in 1966 by the FA after the first theft. This was kept secret, because FIFA had forbidden it, and after the real one was given back in 1970 it was hidden in the home of an FA executive. After his death, the replica’s existence became public knowledge and tests were done to ensure that it wasn’t the real one (it isn’t). The replica is now on display at the National Football Museum in Manchester. The Brazilians made their own replica in 1984.

58.   Getting back to the confederations, a country doesn’t necessarily have to belong to the confederation that covers the continent in which it is geographically located. Israel, for example, has been a member of UEFA since the early 1990s; originally a member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), it was expelled from that in the 1970s and for the 1980s it had attempted to qualify for the World Cup via Oceania’s qualification groups. Australia was a member of the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) until 2006, when it transferred to the AFC (partly out of a desire to play more competitive football, Australia having very much been a big fish in a small pond in the OFC which mostly consists of small island nations); by winning the AFC Asian Cup in 2015, it became the first-ever country to have been a champion of two footballing confederations.

59.   In 2006, a one-off alternative World Cup took place for countries that aren’t recognised by FIFA. The FIFI (Federation of International Football Independents) World Cup was held shortly before the actual World Cup and was hosted by the Hamburg-based FC St Pauli, a club long known for its alternative traditions whose youth team took part as the host ‘Republic of St Pauli’ (a micronation called into existence solely for the FIFI tournament); Gibraltar, Greenland, Northern Cyprus, Tibet (a side comprised entirely of Tibetan exiles) and Zanzibar also took part. Northern Cyprus won after beating Zanzibar on penalties in the final. Of those taking part, Gibraltar later became a member of FIFA.

60.   FIFA has more member states than the United Nations (211, compared to 193). As well as the four Home Nations, which for historical reasons compete under their own flags rather than as a UK team, there are also dependent territories which play international football (Gibraltar and the Faroe Islands, for example, and also Hong Kong which had been an international side before the 1997 handover, and which has been allowed to retain this status since then) and countries that aren’t universally recognised as being independent (for example, Kosovo and Taiwan although the latter plays as Chinese Taipei which is also the name it goes under at the Olympics). There are also a few UN member states that aren’t members of FIFA, most notably the United Kingdom (see above).


A dozen things you never knew you wanted to know about the World Cup (part 4)

Yes, there’s more! The seemingly random list of World Cup-related facts continues, with a look at a certain Russian who wasn’t actually Russian, the FIFA rankings, an unofficial method of deciding who the world champions are, Pelé and a few individual awards...

37.   Four Englishmen have refereed World Cup finals – George Reader in 1950, William Ling in 1954, Jack Taylor in 1974 and Howard Webb in 2010.

38.   Tofiq Bahramov, the ‘Russian’ linesman who judged that Geoff Hurst’s second goal in the 1966 World Cup final had crossed the line, was in fact from Azerbaijan which was part of the Soviet Union at the time. Shortly after his death in 1993, Azerbaijan’s national stadium was renamed after him. England played there during their qualification campaign for the 2006 World Cup.

39.   According to the latest version of the FIFA world rankings, Germany – the reigning world champions – are the best team in the world. Brazil, Belgium, Portugal and Argentina make up the rest of the top five, and then it’s Switzerland, France, Spain, Chile and Poland filling the spots from sixth to tenth. England are 13th. The highest-ranked country not to have qualified for the World Cup is Italy (20th), while the lowest-ranked country that has qualified is Saudi Arabia (joint 67th, one spot below hosts Russia). Right down at the bottom in joint 207th place are Anguilla, the Bahamas, Eritrea, Somalia and Tonga (the lowest-ranked European country is San Marino, which is 205th).

40.   As well as the World Cup, there’s an alternative, unofficial way of defining who the footballing world champions are. Using a system similar to that used in boxing (in which you can only become a world champion by defeating a world champion, and you then hold that title until you are yourself defeated) and having been worked back to the second-ever international football match (the first one, Scotland v England in 1872, having been a draw), the Unofficial Football World Championship (UFWC) was unveiled in 2003. A total of 48 countries, from all six confederations, have at one time or another held the title. Any full international match – be it a tournament game, a qualifier or a friendly – counts as a title challenge if the reigning unofficial world champions are involved, so unless you’re familiar with the UFWC then you might not even know that your country is in with a shout. The UFWC is not in any way sanctioned by FIFA. For what it’s worth, the current unofficial world champions are Peru, who’ve held the title since they beat Bolivia in a World Cup qualifier last year. They’ll be unofficially (maybe unknowingly) defending their title at this year’s World Cup, providing they can avoid being defeated by Sweden in a pre-tournament friendly on Saturday. An alternative to this is a virtual trophy called Nasazzi’s Baton which runs on similar lines but has been worked back to the first World Cup final in 1930, which was won by Uruguay; it is named after their captain in that tournament, José Nasazzi. The current ‘holders’ of that one are Costa Rica, or at least that’s according to the competition’s website which hasn’t been updated for two years.

41.   Edson Arantes do Nascimento – Pelé to you and me – is the only man ever to have won three World Cups, for Brazil in 1958, 1962 and 1970 (admittedly he didn’t play in the 1962 final due to injury, but he was in the squad and had played in the earlier games). He was just 17 when he won the World Cup for the first time, becoming the youngest player to score in a World Cup final in the process (twice, as it happens). By scoring Brazil’s first in the 1970 final, he became the second person to have scored in more than one World Cup final, the first having been Vava, his 1958 team-mate and fellow-double-scorer who also scored one in the 1962 final.

42.   The 1958 final, in which Brazil beat Sweden 5-2, was the first time a South American country had won the World Cup in Europe. It wasn’t until 2014 that a European country won the World Cup in South America. Germany beat Argentina 1-0 on that occasion, replicating the scoreline of the 1990 final. FIFA reckons that, globally, over a billion people watched the 2014 final on TV.

43.   The Golden Boot is awarded to whoever scores the most goals at a World Cup. The record for one tournament is 13 which was set by Just Fontaine of France in 1958; four years later, six players shared the honours with just four goals apiece. The 2014 winner was James Rodriguez of Colombia, who scored six. Only one English player has ever won it – Gary Lineker, who scored six goals at the 1986 World Cup.

44.   The only player to have won the Golden Boot while playing for a team that was knocked out in the first round was Russia’s Oleg Salenko, who scored six in 1994. This included five against Cameroon – a record for a player in one World Cup match. Those were the only goals Salenko scored for his country (for which he made eight appearances, having previously played for Ukraine in that country’s first-ever international match).

45.   Germany’s Miroslav Klose has scored more World Cup goals – 16, over four tournaments – than anyone else. Second on this particular list is Ronaldo of Brazil, with 15. Pelé is in fifth place with 12, and the highest-placed Englishman is Gary Lineker, who’s in joint eighth place with ten goals, scored over the course of two tournaments.

46.   Geoff Hurst of England remains the only player ever to have scored a hat-trick in a World Cup final. You know when.

47.   In addition to the Golden Boot, there’s the Golden Ball which is awarded to whoever is judged to have been the tournament’s best player. It was first introduced in 1982 but has since been applied retrospectively to previous tournaments. The winner of this award is usually announced before the final, which has at times back-fired as the winner’s appearance in said final ended up being memorable for the wrong reasons, as witness Ronaldo in 1998 (he played in the final despite having suffered a convulsive fit hours before the kick-off) and Zinedine Zidane in 2006 (he scored a penalty early on, but was sent off for head-butting Italy’s Marco Materazzi in extra time).

48.   There’s also a Golden Glove award, given to the tournament’s best goalkeeper. Initially called the Lev Yashin Award (in honour of the legendary Soviet keeper), it was first awarded in 1994. On four occasions – 1998, 2006, 2010 and 2014 – it has been awarded to the goalkeeper of the winning team. In 2002, Germany’s Oliver Kahn won both the Golden Glove and the Golden Ball.


A dozen things you never knew you wanted to know about the World Cup (part 3)

And it continues, looking this time at the Home Nations, the Women’s World Cup, on-field violence and red cards...

25.   The only time all four Home Nations qualified for a World Cup was in 1958. Back then, Northern Ireland and Wales both made it through to the quarter-finals while England and Scotland were eliminated at the group stage. This was Wales’s only appearance at a World Cup. Northern Ireland have since qualified twice – in 1982 and 1986 (those years being the two occasions on which three of the four Home Nations qualified). The last time all of the Home Nations failed to qualify was in 1994.

26.   Scotland last appeared in a World Cup in 1998. They have never got out of the group stage; in fact, they hold the record for the most World Cups competed in without having ever got out of the first round (eight).

27.   Still, it could be worse. Bolivia and Honduras have both been to the World Cup three times and never managed to win a game (their respective records are played six, lost five and played nine, lost six).

28.   1966 aside, England’s best performance was in 1990 when they reached the semi-finals (which marked the first, but alas not the last, time that they were defeated by way of a penalty shoot-out). After refusing to enter the World Cup in the 1930s along with the other Home Nations, England made their first appearance at the tournament in 1950 and were eliminated in the group stage – a feat that’s been repeated in 1958 and 2014.

29.   The first Women’s World Cup was held in 1991. The USA have won it the most times (three) and are the current champions. England’s best performance was in 2015 when they reached the semi-finals, only to be knocked out by Japan. The next Women’s World Cup will be held in France next year.

30.   Over the years, four World Cup matches have been judged to have been sufficiently violent (on the pitch) to merit being referred to as ‘battles’. The first was in 1938 – the quarter-final between Brazil and Czechoslovakia was dubbed the Battle of Bordeaux due to a series of fouls committed by both teams. This was the first time in which three players (two Brazilians, one Czech) were sent off in a World Cup match. The match ended with the scores level at 1-1 after extra time; as there were no penalty shoot-outs back then, a replay was played two days later. Both teams had to field several reserve players due to injuries  sustained in the first game; Brazil won the replay 2-1.

31.   The second ‘battle’ took place during the 1954 World Cup; the Battle of Bern between Brazil and Hungary saw three players (two Brazilians and one Hungarian) get sent off. 42 free kicks and two penalties were awarded; Hungary won 4-2 but fighting continued in the dressing-rooms after the final whistle.

32.   In 1962, the Battle of Sanitago was ‘played’ between Chile (the hosts) and Italy. Tensions were high between the two countries before the game after the host nation had been described in somewhat crude terms by some Italian journalists who’d gone to Chile to cover the tournament, to which the local press had responded by being rude about Italy. The first foul occurred some 12 seconds after the kick-off, and after 12 minutes Italy’s Giorgio Ferrini was sent off; when he refused to walk, he had to be dragged off by the police. After 41 minutes, a second Italian player was sent off. Two Chilean players escaped a similar fate in two separate instances of punches being thrown. The police had to intervene three more times. Chile won 2-0. The referee who’d struggled to keep control was Englishman Ken Aston, who would later invent the red and yellow card system (cautions and dismissals having hitherto been done by way of hand-signals).

33.   Finally, the second-round clash between the Netherlands and Portugal in 2006 would become known as the Battle of Nuremberg. It saw a record four red cards and 16 yellow cards issued (all four reds were for second-yellow offences, and the two sides each had two players dismissed). Portugal won 1-0. The overworked referee was Russia’s Valentin Ivanov, whose performance was criticised by FIFA boss Sepp Blatter (who later apologised to Ivanov for criticising him).

34.   Three English players have been given red cards in World Cup games: Ray Wilkins against Morocco in 1986, David Beckham against Argentina in 1998 and Wayne Rooney against Portugal in 2006.

35.   In 1986, José Batista of Uruguay achieved the unenviable distinction of being shown the earliest red card in a World Cup match; he was sent off after just 56 seconds against Scotland following a foul on Gordon Strachan. In 2002, Argentina’s Claudio Caniggia went one better (or worse) by receiving a red card without even setting foot on the pitch, getting himself sent off from the bench for swearing at the referee during his country’s first-round match against Sweden.

36.   Five players have been sent off in a World Cup final: Pedro Monzon and Gustavo Dezotti of Argentina in 1990, Marcel Desailly of France in 1998, Zinedine Zidane of France in 2006 and John Heitinga of the Netherlands in 2010. Of these, only Desailly ended up on the winning side. For what it’s worth, Monzon has always claimed that Jurgen Klinsmann, the player he was judged to have fouled, had dived.


A dozen things you never knew you wanted to know about the World Cup (part 2)

Continuing on the countdown-to-the-World Cup theme, and picking up from where I left off...

13.   For the first World Cup, FIFA boss Jules Rimet – the organisation’s third president and the man who inaugurated the tournament – travelled to Uruguay on the same ship as the Belgian, French and Romanian teams. And, of course, the trophy which was in Monsieur Rimet’s luggage.

14.   The original trophy was named after Rimet, although it wasn’t so named until 1946 and, prior to it being replaced, it was generally referred to simply as the World Cup. It had to be replaced after the 1970 tournament, because Rimet’s original stipulation was that the first country to win it three times would get to keep it for ever. When Brazil faced Italy in the final of that year, whichever side won would become the first three-times winner, thus necessitating a replacement. Brazil won that final 4-1.

15.   The replacement, which has been used since the 1974 tournament, is officially called the FIFA World Cup Trophy. It’s made of 18-carat gold with a malachite base. Designed by Italian artist Silvio Gazzaniga, it is 36.8cm tall and weighs 6.1kg. FIFA claims it’s solid gold, but top British chemist Sir Martyn Poliakoff (a professor at Nottingham Uni) has theorised that it must be hollow, for if it were solid gold it would be too heavy to lift. Unlike its predecessor, this World Cup cannot be won outright – the winners must give it back four years later, however many times they’ve previously won it, but they do get to keep a gold-plated replica.

16.   The highest attendance of any World Cup game was when 199,854 people crammed into the Maracana in Rio to watch the Brazil-Uruguay game in 1950 (that’s the official attendance figure, although many have estimated that the actual attendance was somewhat north of 200,000). Although technically a group game (the final stage of the tournament being a four-team group for the first and only time), this was the de facto final as whoever won that game would win the World Cup. In fact, Brazil, who were ahead on points, only needed to draw to win it.

17.   In the 1950 final, Brazil were heavy favourites to win, although premature declarations of the hosts as world champions were probably tempting fate; Uruguay won 2-1. The fall-out in Brazil was intense. Their traditional white shirts with blue collars were never used again, and Brazil did not play at the Maracana for four years after that. Interestingly, they did not play any games at the Maracana when they hosted the World Cup for a second time, 64 years later.

18.   The last surviving player from the 1950 final, Uruguayan winger Alcides Ghiggia, died in 2015, 65 years to the day after the game (in which he scored the winning goal). He had been the oldest living World Cup winner, an honour that with his death passed to Hans Schafer, who played for West Germany in the 1954 final. After his death in 2017, the oldest surviving player from a World Cup final is his team-mate, Horst Eckel. He’s 86.

19.   The 1954 final, dubbed the Miracle of Bern, saw West Germany beat favourites Hungary 3-2. Hungary had previously thrashed the Germans 8-3 in the group stage, which may have led them to underestimate their opponents (who had in fact deliberately fielded a weak team for the earlier match, figuring – rightly – that they’d get out of the group stage anyway). The German victory unleashed a wave of euphoria in a country still recovering from the Second World War and is regarded as a key moment in post-war German history.

20.   Fritz Walter, the German captain in 1954, later had a stadium named after him in his home town of Kaiserslauten; it was used for the 2006 World Cup.

21.   FIFA is the world governing body for football, but below it there are six international confederations which are responsible for football in their respective continents. They are the AFC (Asia), CAF (Africa), CONCACAF (North America, Central America and the Caribbean), CONMEBOL (South America), the OFC (Oceania) and UEFA (Europe). Each of these has their own continental championship which usually takes either in every odd-numbered year or every four years in the even-numbered year that isn’t a World Cup year.

22.   Four reigning continental champions have failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup – Cameroon (who won the African Cup of Nations last year), Chile (the current Copa America holders), New Zealand (Oceania’s reigning champions) and the USA (last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup winners).

23.   The World Cup isn’t the only international football tournament involving teams from different confederations. Held every four years in the year before a World Cup, the Confederations Cup is an eight-team tournament comprising of the reigning world champions and the winners of the six confederation championships, along with the host nation which is always the country which is due to host the following year’s World Cup (thus making this tournament a rehearsal of sorts for the host nation’s infrastructure).

24.   It was first held in 1997. Brazil have won the Confederations Cup the most times (four), while Germany won it for the first time last year (they beat Chile 1-0 in the final). To date, none of the Home Nations (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) has ever qualified for it.


A dozen things you never knew you wanted to know about the World Cup (part 1)

With the World Cup just around the corner, here is the first in a series of facts about the history of the tournament…

1.       This year’s FIFA World Cup will be the 21st running of the event. It’s the 11th one to be held in Europe, which hasn’t had a World Cup since 2006. 32 teams will be competing.

2.       20 of those 32 teams appeared in the last World Cup in 2014. Two countries, Iceland and Panama, are making their first-ever appearances at a World Cup.

3.       Conspicuous by their absence are Italy (who haven’t qualified for the first time since 1958) and the Netherlands (not appearing for the first time since 2002).

4.       Brazil have won the World Cup the most times (five). Germany and Italy have both won it four times (although for the Germans, the first three of those were as West Germany), while Argentina and Uruguay have won it twice each. England, France and Spain have all won it once.

5.       Brazil is also the only country to have featured in all 21 World Cups, although Germany has played in more World Cup matches (106) than any other country.

6.       The World Cup has been won by the host nation in 1930 (Uruguay), 1938 (Italy), 1966 (England), 1974 (West Germany), 1978 (Argentina) and 1998 (France). The hosts have been the runners-up in 1950 (Brazil) and 1958 (Sweden), while the hosts made the semi-finals in 1962 (Chile), 1990 (Italy), 2002 (South Korea), 2006 (Germany) and 2014 (Brazil). South Africa (in 2010) is the only host nation to have failed to get out of the group stage. Russia, by the way, have yet to get out of the group stage at a World Cup (although as the Soviet Union, they did make it to the quarter-finals on three occasions).

7.       Only two countries have won the World Cup twice in succession – Italy (1934 and 1938) and Brazil (1958 and 1962). On the other end of the scale, four countries have gone into a World Cup as reigning champions only to be knocked out in the first round: Italy (twice, in 1950 and in 2010), Brazil (in 1966), France (in 2002) and Spain (in 2014).

8.       Back in 1930, the first World Cup tournament had thirteen teams take part – seven from South America (including Uruguay, the hosts), four from Europe (the difficulty of travelling to South America at the time having put several countries off) and two from North America. It consisted of a group stage (one group of four, three groups of three) followed by semi-finals and a final. 16 teams took part in the 1934 World Cup, 15 in 1938 and 13 in 1950 although there was space for 16 teams at those tournaments. The 1934 and 1938 tournaments were the only ones to be played as straight knock-outs (which was how Indonesia – or, as it was called then, the Dutch East Indies – has only ever played in one World Cup match).

9.       The 16-nation format was the norm from the 1950s to the 1970s, with a few variations along the way – in 1950 the four group winners went into a final group stage (an innovation which was never repeated), following which the top two teams from each group progressed to the quarter-finals. Then in 1974 the format changed with the introduction of second group stage, with the top two teams from those two groups progressing to the final.

10.   The tournament was expanded to 24 teams in 1982, and then to 32 teams in 1998 – allowing more teams from Africa, Asia and North/Central America to take part, although Europe and South America continue to dominate, with no country from any other continent having ever reached the World Cup final.

11.   Penalty shoot-outs were first introduced in 1978 to determine the outcome of any match at the knock-out stage which remained a draw after extra time (previously, replays had been used). The first time a penalty shoot-out was used at a World Cup, though, was at the 1982 semi-final between France and West Germany.

12.   Two World Cup finals have been decided by way of a penalty shoot-out – 1994 (in which Brazil beat Italy) and 2006 (when Italy beat France).