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World Cup

World Cup: Winners, top scorers & complete guide to football's biggest tournament

12:20 SAST 2022/04/14
Maradona World Cup
GOAL takes a look back at the biggest sporting event in the world, the most successful teams, best players and more

The 22nd edition of football's biggest tournament will take place in the winter of 2022 as Qatar prepares to join a long list of host nations in staging the World Cup.

Excitement is beginning to spread across the globe as 32 finalists prepare to open campaigns that will see them endeavour to write collective names into the history books.

With the groups now known and the tournament itself just seven months away, GOAL takes a look at the history of the World Cup as well as some of the record holders.

What is the World Cup?

The FIFA World Cup is an international football tournament featuring senior national teams from around the globe. It was first launched in 1930 and takes place every four years.

Teams under FIFA's umbrella are eligible to compete and they must qualify for the final stage of the tournament, with qualification rounds divided according to confederational affiliation. 

Aside from 1942 and 1946, when it was disrupted by the Second World War, the World Cup has run continuously since its inception.

You can check out our guide to the upcoming 2022 tournament here.

How many teams compete in the World Cup?

The current format of the World Cup sees 32 finalists take part in the competition but that was not always the case and, indeed, will not always be.

Just 13 teams competed in the first World Cup and that number was raised to 16 from 1934 to 1978 (with some exceptions).

In 1982, the World Cup expanded to include eight more teams, bringing the total number of participants to 24.

The format we are familiar with today - 32 teams - was first introduced in the 1998 World Cup in France.

That is set to change, however, with FIFA confirming that the 2026 World Cup will feature 48 finalists - a remarkable increase of 16 teams.

Who won the first World Cup?

The first World Cup in 1930 was hosted and won by Uruguay.

It was markedly different to the tournament that we know today in that it was an invitational and featured just 13 teams, seven of which came from South America.

Four teams from Europe participated, with Mexico and the United States completing the line-up.

The final, which was held at Montevideo's Estadio Centenario, was an all-South American affair as hosts Uruguay took on Argentina.

Uruguay won the inaugural World Cup thanks to a 4-2 victory in front of over 68,000 fans.

Who has won the most World Cups?

Only eight countries have won the World Cup since its foundation in 1930 and Brazil are the most successful, having been crowned champions on five occasions.

The nation that spawned talents such as Pele, Ronaldo and Romario won the World Cup for the first time in 1958 before also coming out on top in 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002.

Italy and Germany have each won the World Cup four times (though Germany won it three times as West Germany), while Argentina, Uruguay and current holders France have all won it twice.

England and Spain have won the World Cup on one occasion.

The tournament has been held 21 times since 1930 and the full breakdown of winners can be found below.

YearHostWinnerScoreRunner up
1930UruguayUruguay4-2Argentina
1934ItalyItaly2-1 (AET)Czechoslovakia
1938FranceItaly4-2Hungary
1950BrazilUruguay2-1Brazil
1954SwitzerlandWest Germany3-2Hungary
1958SwedenBrazil5-2Sweden
1962ChileBrazil3-1Czechoslovakia
1966EnglandEngland4-2 (AET)West Germany
1970MexicoBrazil4-1Italy
1974West GermanyWest Germany2-1Netherlands
1978ArgentinaArgentina3-1 (AET)Netherlands
1982SpainItaly3-1West Germany
1986MexicoArgentina3-2West Germany
1990ItalyWest Germany1-0Argentina
1994USABrazil0-0 (3-2 P)Italy
1998FranceFrance3-0Brazil
2002Japan & South KoreaBrazil2-0Germany
2006GermanyItaly1-1 (5-3 P)France
2010South AfricaSpain1-0 (AET)Netherlands
2014BrazilGermany1-0 (AET)Argentina

2018

Russia

France

Note: There were no World Cups in 1942 or 1946 due to the outbreak of World War II.

World Cup winners breakdown:

TeamTitlesRunners-up
Brazil5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)2 (1938, 1978)
Germany*4 (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)4 (1966, 1982, 1986, 2002)
Italy4 (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)2 (1970, 1994)
Argentina2 (1978, 1986)3 (1930, 1990, 2014)
Uruguay2 (1930, 1950)-
France2 (1998, 2018)1 (2006)
England1 (1966)-
Spain1 (2010)-

* Three of Germany's World Cup triumphs came as West Germany (1954, 1974 and 1990)

Who is the World Cup's all-time top goalscorer?

The all-time top scorer in the history of the World Cup is Miroslav Klose, who scored 16 goals for Germany over the course of four tournaments.

Former Brazil star Ronaldo follows with 15 goals in three tournaments, while Gerd Muller scored 14 in just two tournaments.

Comparatively, Germany and Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller has featured at three World Cups, scoring at only two of those, but has registered 10 goals, making him the only active player with such a tally.

A list of every player with 10 or more World Cup goals can be seen below.

Note: Players in bold are still active international players.

PosPlayerTeamGoalsMatches
1Miroslav KloseGermany1624
2RonaldoBrazil1519
3Gerd MullerWest Germany1413
4Just FontaineFrance136
5PeleBrazil1214
=6Sandor KocsisHungary115
=6Jurgen KlinsmannWest Germany/Germany1117
=8Helmut RahnWest Germany1010
=8Gary LinekerEngland1012
=8Gabriel BatistutaArgentina1012
=8Teofilo CubillasPeru1013
=8Thomas MullerGermany1013
=8Grzegorz LatoPoland1020

Who has the most World Cup appearances?

Germany midfielder Lothar Matthaus holds the record for most World Cup appearances having played in 25 games over a remarkable five tournaments (spanning 20 years).

Matthaus is closely followed by his compatriot Miroslav Klose, with Italy legend Paolo Maldini rounding out the top three.

Diego Maradona played in four World Cups and made 21 appearances, while Brazil's 2002 World Cup-winning captain Cafu and Germany's 2014 leader Philipp Lahm each played 20 times.

A full list of every player who played 20 or more World Cup games can be seen below.

PosPlayerCountryAppsTournaments
1Lothar MatthausWest Germany / Germany251982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002
2Miroslav KloseGermany242002, 2006, 2010, 2014
3Paolo MaldiniItaly231990, 1994, 1998, 2002
=4Diego MaradonaArgentina211982, 1986, 1990, 1994
=4Uwe SeelerWest Germany211958, 1962, 1966, 1970
=4Wladyslaw ZmudaPoland211974, 1978, 1982, 1986
=7CafuBrazil201994, 1998, 2002, 2006
=7Philipp LahmGermany202006, 2010, 2014
=7Grzegorz LatoPoland201974, 1978, 1982
=7Bastian SchweinsteigerGermany202006, 2010, 2014

=7

Javier Mascherano

Argentina

20

2006, 2010, 2014, 2018

World Cup trophy

The winners of the World Cup are awarded the unmistakable gold FIFA World Cup trophy. Introduced at the 1974 World Cup, it was designed by Italian artist Silvio Gazzaniga and is made of 18-karat gold with a malachite base.

Describing his creation, Gazzaniga said: "The lines spring out from the base, rising in spirals, stretching out to receive the world. From the remarkable dynamic tensions of the compact body of the sculpture rise the figures of two athletes at the stirring moment of victory."

The trophy is 36.8 centimetres tall (14.5 inches) and weighs 6.175 kilograms (13.61 pounds).

What is the Jules Rimet trophy?

As mentioned, the current World Cup trophy was first introduced in 1974 and a different prize was awarded to the tournament victors prior to that. 

From 1930 to 1970, the trophy given to the World Cup winners was the Jules Rimet Cup and it was quite different to Gazzaniga's subsequent design.

French sculptor Abel Lafleur was commissioned by FIFA to design the trophy and he produced a famous product that became the emblem of the early World Cups.

The trophy, which was named 'Victory', featured the Greek goddess for victory, Nike, holding an octagonal cup above her head.

It was made out of gold-plated sterling silver and featured a marble base (which was replaced by lapis lazuli in 1954).

'Victory' was renamed the Jules Rimet Cup in 1946 in honour of former FIFA president Jules Rimet, who played a key role in the establishment of the tournament.

In keeping with original World Cup rules, Brazil were allowed to keep the trophy when they won the tournament for the third time in 1970. However, it was stolen in 1983 and has never been found since.