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.