World Cup

An Action-Packed Look at Soccer's Biggest Competition


By Matt Christopher

Formats and Prices




$8.99 CAD



  1. Trade Paperback (Revised) $6.99 $8.99 CAD
  2. ebook (Revised) $6.99 $8.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around April 3, 2018. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Dive into the thrilling history of soccer’s most famous tournament in this comprehensive guide to the World Cup!

Soccer. No other sport in the world captivates a bigger audience–and no other competition electrifies its fans like the World Cup. Jam-packed with information about each and every World Cup ever played, this revised and updated edition of a Matt Christopher classic captures all the amazing highlights of soccer’s most famous tournament.

Want to know who was behind the biggest surprise defeat of the 1950 World Cup? It’s in here. Want to know which country has won the Women’s World Cup more than any other? Just turn the page. Want to know more about the biggest triumphs and harshest defeats, all while feeling like you’re on the field with the sports legends? Wondering what the term Total Football means? You’ll find the answers here–along with much, much more.




In 1894, soccer was poised to join baseball, football, and basketball as one of the most popular sports in the United States. Everything pointed to its success. It had a set of standard rules, just like the others, and it had its own professional league, just like the others. The teams had access to newly constructed baseball stadiums, so finding big venues to play in wasn’t a problem. And soccer had a widespread fan base, particularly among European immigrants setting up new lives in the United States. In their countries, soccer was king.

In the United States, however, soccer sank into virtual oblivion while baseball, football, and basketball rose to greatness. Why?

The answer seems to lie in the way the sport was handled. In Europe, soccer clubs were organized and managed by people who loved the game. Here, it was run by the baseball team owners who cared more about making money than they did about promoting soccer itself. When the first professional league failed to turn a profit, these men shut it down to focus on baseball.

While soccer was fading far into the background of the American sports scene, it was spreading like wildfire in many other countries. In fact, it was well on its way to becoming what it is today: the most popular sport on the planet.

The sport Americans call soccer and others call football was born on December 8, 1863, in Great Britain. On that day, a group of eleven English teams formed the London Football Association and published a set of rules by which the sport was to be played. Those rules were adopted by other countries in the coming decades, and while they have been modified since, they have remained essentially the same.

Soccer’s roots stretch thousands of years further back in time, however. The oldest known form of the game, t’su chu, was played in ancient China as early as 2500 BC. Three thousand years later, the Japanese developed a different version of the game, called kemari, which was a combination of modern-day hacky sack and soccer. The ancient Greeks competed in their own kicking game called episkyros.

The Romans adopted the Greek sport, which they renamed harpastum. Harpastum was very popular with Roman soldiers. They introduced it to the peoples they conquered during the expansion of the Roman Empire, including those living on the British Isles. The Brits took to it right away—and soccer has been part of British culture, in one form or another, ever since.

The rules set down by the London Football Association in 1863 were quickly accepted by other countries. Soon, soccer blossomed from a club sport into an international phenomenon. To help fuel the fire, seven countries—France, Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden—decided to create a governing organization for the sport. They founded the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, in Paris on May 21, 1904. Within the year, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Austria, Hungary, Germany, and Italy had joined FIFA as well.

One of FIFA’s first acts was to propose an annual championship tournament among the national teams. It wasn’t a new idea. England and Scotland had played each other in just such a competition back in 1872. FIFA’s tournament, however, would be on a much grander scale and therefore would, it was hoped, increase international interest in the sport even more.

The proposal was met with great enthusiasm. The inaugural competition was set for 1906.

But that competition never took place. It was canceled for one simple reason: none of the teams sent in applications! In the wake of such a colossal failure, the tournament idea was scrapped, to be revisited at a later date.

As it turned out, that date was much, much later. The 1908 and 1912 Olympics were in part to blame for the delay. After all, the Games included soccer matches between the best teams in the world, so why would another, very similar competition be necessary? Then, from 1914 to 1918, World War I threw many nations into utter chaos. After the war, the 1920 Olympics overshadowed all other international competitions.

In 1924, however, FIFA’s new president, Jules Rimet, resurrected the tournament idea. Rimet wanted to turn soccer into an international sports sensation. The tournament was a big part of his plan to reach that goal.

The pieces fell into place soon after the 1924 Olympic soccer competition. The gold-medal winner was Uruguay, which played a fast-paced, thrilling style of soccer that captivated fans and left them clamoring for more. Rimet witnessed that enthusiasm and knew the time was right for FIFA’s tournament.

A Uruguayan diplomat named Enrique Buero agreed. He, too, had seen the crowds cheering for his country’s players. At the time, Uruguay was struggling to be accepted into international circles, but soccer had pushed his nation into the limelight as nothing else ever had. Buero realized that if Uruguay hosted FIFA’s tournament, the country would gain the attention it needed.

Buero approached Rimet with an offer to hold FIFA’s tournament in Uruguay in 1930, his country’s one hundredth birthday. Rimet was delighted but cautious. After all, while he wanted the tournament to happen, FIFA hadn’t seriously considered the idea for nearly twenty years. And even if the Fédération did decide to hold the competition, there was no guarantee that it would accept Uruguay as the host nation.

The first hurdle was cleared in 1927, when FIFA officially agreed to pursue a world championship. The second hurdle, however, proved more difficult.

In 1929, five other countries expressed interest in playing host. It took all of Rimet’s powers of persuasion to convince them to withdraw. When they did, Uruguay was selected as the host of the first FIFA tournament—or “World Cup,” as it was already being called.

But selecting a country in which to play soccer and actually playing in that country turned out to be two very different things. In 1929, Europe and the United States were wading waist-deep in economic disaster, and most of their players could not afford a journey to South America. The trip to Uruguay was also very time consuming; it would leave many European teams without their best players for two months.

As the date for the World Cup neared, the European teams began pushing for a change of location.

“Hold the World Cup in Rome,” they suggested, “and then we’ll play.”

But by then, plans were already in place for Uruguay to host. Changing the location, with the tournament so near, was not feasible.

Once more Rimet stepped in. He managed to get four European nations—Belgium, France, Romania, and Yugoslavia—to commit to playing in the tournament in Uruguay. With the United States, Mexico, and seven South American countries also on board, that brought the total number of teams competing in the first-ever World Cup to thirteen.

It had taken twenty-four years—or thousands, if you went back in time far enough—but at last, the dream of an international soccer competition was about to come true.




On July 15, 1930, Argentina and France met to play the second game of the first World Cup—a match that would go down in soccer history, not because of its exciting action or high score, but because it produced one of the oddest endings to any match ever played.

The teams were equals in every way, leading to a scoreless first half. It wasn’t until the eighty-one-minute mark, in fact, that Argentina’s Luisito Monti booted the ball into the net. Argentina 1, France 0.

France redoubled its efforts and, as the clock wound down to the final minutes, got within striking range of Argentina’s goal. They had just launched their attack when suddenly the referee blew his whistle to signal that the game was over. Time, it seemed, had run out for the French.

Or had it? It turned out that the referee had misread the clock. There were actually six minutes left to play!

Players were called back to the field—some of them out of the locker-room showers—and the game resumed half an hour later. Much to France’s disappointment, however, the final result was the same. Argentina defeated them, 1–0.

France’s loss came on the second day of the 1930 World Cup. That same week, nine of the thirteen participating teams were forced out of the competition, leaving Yugoslavia, Uruguay, and the United States to join Argentina in the semifinal round.

That two South American teams, Uruguay and Argentina, had made it so far in the competition was no surprise. After all, Uruguay was the reigning Olympic champion and boasted top scorer Pedro Cea. Argentina had offensive might, too, including Luisito Monti and Guillermo Stábile, who was nicknamed El Infiltrador, or “the Infiltrator,” for his ability to worm his way past the defense.

The United States, still a newcomer to soccer, had reached the semifinals by literally muscling its way past the competition. Its players were big, but not as skilled as those on other teams. Argentina ran roughshod over them, outscoring the bewildered Americans six goals to one.

Yugoslavia was a surprise team and something of a mystery to the other nations. No one had seen enough of its style of play to know how it might fare against Uruguay. But how it fared was badly: the host country trounced the Yugoslavs, 6–1.

That victory set the stage for one of the most anticipated and highly charged finals the soccer world had ever known.

Uruguay and Argentina had been rivals on and off the pitch for years. All of South America was watching to see which country would come out on top. Nothing less than national pride was on the line.

In fact, when the Uruguayans found out that Argentina’s star player, veteran Pancho Varallo, had a broken foot, they rejoiced in the streets. In response, the Argentine coach ordered Varallo to play despite his injury. To do otherwise, the coach intimated, would make Argentina appear weak.

Eighty thousand fans packed into Centenario Stadium, a brand-new arena built especially for the finals (and completed just days before the match!). Emotions in the stands were running hot—so hot, in fact, that police were ordered to search spectators for weapons in order to prevent violence.

The first World Cup finals began at three thirty on July 30. Within the first minutes, Argentina lost one of its key players when Varallo fell to the ground, writhing in pain from his foot injury.

The loss of Varallo gave Uruguay an instant boost. Twelve minutes into the first half, they attacked the goal. Pablo Dorado got his foot on the ball and kicked. One second later, Uruguay was on the board—and Dorado was in the record books for scoring the first-ever World Cup finals goal.

But Argentina didn’t let up. Eight minutes later, Carlos Peucelle answered with a goal for his side. El Infiltrador added a second one for Argentina and in doing so caused the first disagreement of the game. Uruguay claimed that Argentina had been offside—that is, there hadn’t been two defenders between the offensive player and the goalie when the shooter received the pass. Therefore, they argued, the goal didn’t count.

But the referee stood by his call. The goal stayed on the board.

Argentina went into the second half with a one-point lead over the world champion. They didn’t keep that lead for long, however. At the fifty-seven-minute mark, Pedro Cea of Uruguay booted the ball into the net to tie the game. Eleven minutes after that, teammate Santos Iriarte did the same. Now Uruguay had the lead, 3–2!

That was too much for Pancho Varallo to bear. He signaled to his coach that he wanted to go back into the game, pain or no. When he limped onto the field, he did more than change the lineup: he brought new life back to the flagging Argentines, inspiring them to play harder. He himself played as hard as he could despite his injury and, late in the game, very nearly tied the score.

In fact, according to Varallo, he had tied the score. Uruguay’s goalkeeper, he argued, had knocked one of his shots back after it had crossed the goal line. But once again, the referee had the final word on the play. He said the ball had been deflected before it crossed the line and, therefore, was not a goal.

Uruguay sealed the win with another goal a minute before the game ended, making the final score Uruguay 4, Argentina 2. The Olympic champs were victorious again!

Raucous celebrations erupted throughout the stadium, in the streets, and throughout the host country. Jules Rimet presented the Victory Cup (renamed the Jules Rimet Cup in 1946) to the Uruguayan Football Association’s president, beginning a tradition that remains unbroken today.

By all accounts, the first World Cup had been a huge triumph for the sport of soccer. The only question now was, how could FIFA build on this success and make the second competition even better?


AP/Wide World Photos

Uruguay in a historic moment: a goal in the first-ever World Cup final




The first World Cup had seen participation by only thirteen teams. Four years later, despite troubles caused by the crumbling world economy, a total of thirty-two nations sent in applications to take part in the 1934 World Cup.

FIFA was delighted that interest in soccer had grown so dramatically. But a pool of thirty-two teams was simply too large for one event (or so they thought at the time; later on, thirty-two teams would seem just right). So the Fédération decided to hold a series of qualifying rounds to whittle the number of participants down to sixteen. That practice continues on a much larger scale today.

Sadly, one team chose not to take part in the competition at all. Uruguay had felt insulted when some European countries, including Italy, had refused to travel to South America for the 1930 World Cup. When Italy was chosen as the host for 1934, Uruguay withdrew in retaliation.

Uruguay wasn’t the only nation dismayed by the choice of Italy. FIFA itself had some serious misgivings about the host. It wasn’t the country’s ability to hold the tournament that concerned the Fédération, but its leader, Benito Mussolini. Mussolini was a fierce dictator intent on turning Italy into a dominant world power (Mussolini would later side with Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany during World War II). FIFA feared Mussolini would use the World Cup to promote his goals. But, unfortunately, no other nation stepped forward to play host; it was Italy or nowhere.

Italy welcomed fifteen other national teams to the second World Cup. Twelve of those teams, including the host nation, were from Europe. The remaining four were the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and the first African nation to compete, Egypt.

Play began on May 27 with eight elimination matches taking place in eight different Italian cities. At the end of the day, Italy, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Hungary emerged victorious. These eight teams competed in a second elimination round that left Italy, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Germany standing while the others returned home.

Next up was the semifinal round. The first match saw Czechoslovakia beating Germany three goals to one. Then came the most anticipated match of the competition between the sport’s two biggest powerhouses, Austria and Italy.

Austria used an innovative offense based on short passes, a strategy perfected by its best player, Matthias Sindelar. With Sindelar leading the charge, the Austrian team had won eighteen consecutive games. One of those victories was a 4–2 win over Italy four months earlier. The Austrians entered the match hoping to hand the Italians another defeat.

Italy looked more than able to deny them that satisfaction, however. Thanks to a unique law that allowed people to claim Italian citizenship if they could prove they descended from an Italian family, their roster was stacked with talented imports that included star Luisito Monti as well as fellow Argentine Raimondo Orsi. Leading the charge was coach Vittorio Pozzo, who had single-handedly launched his country’s soccer program years earlier.

The Italian team got a break even before the match began. One of Austria’s top scorers, Johann Horvath, was sidelined with an injury. As an added bonus, the pitch was a soggy, muddy mess. The field conditions slowed Austria’s short-passing game and made Monti’s job of disarming Sindelar’s attack that much easier.

Italy scored first. The goal came when the ball squeaked past Austria’s goalkeeper to reach Italy’s Enrico Guaita. All Guaita had to do was knock the ball into the net—which he did.

Try as they might, the Austrians couldn’t even things up. After ninety minutes of rough play, Italy was on the way to the finals to face Czechoslovakia.


On Sale
Apr 3, 2018
Page Count
192 pages

Matt Christopher

About the Author

Matt Christopher is the best-selling name behind more than 100 sports-themed books for young readers.

Learn more about this author