The International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) World Cup is the biggest single-event sporting competition in the world. This year, half of humanity is expected to tune in to at least one match.
The 209 FIFA member countries have already duked it out for a the chance to compete in the 2014 World Cup Finals, with the playing field now narrowed down to 32 teams. Between June 12 and July 13, they will compete for the 13.5 pound, 18-karat gold FIFA World Cup Trophy; cash prizes; and,most importantly, bragging rights as the world’s reigning soccer champion for the next four years.
With the event almost upon us, the time is ripe for reflecting on the weird and astonishing facts behind the competition, its history, and its foreseeable future.
10 Facts about the World Cup
1. Team USA has qualified for every World Cup since 1990. After a long, four-decade dry spell (that started in the 1950s), Team USA qualified for the the 1990 World Cup Finals. They have qualified for every tournament since, making it to the quarter-finals in the 2002 tournament hosted jointly by Japan and South Korea.
2. Our best finish was in 1930. The first-ever World Cup Finals event, held in 1930 and hosted by Uruguay, resulted in Team USA’s best showing. Coached by Jack Coll and led by goalkeeper Jimmy Douglas and Captain Tom Florie, the team stunned the word with 3-0 victories over both Belgium and Paraguay at Parque Central Stadium in Montevideo that propelled the team to the semi-finals. However they lost to soccer powerhouse Argentina. While America has never brought home the trophy, Team USA won the first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991, a feat it duplicated in 1999 to great fanfare with a team led by Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain.
3. In 1930, more than 1,600 handguns were uncovered and confiscated in the crowd of 60,000 during a security search ordered by the referee.
4. The Italian Vice President of FIFA, Ottorino Barassi, hid the World Cup Trophy under his bed during World War II. Concerned it would be stolen by Nazis during wartime, the Italian sports official smuggled the trophy from a Rome bank and safely stored it under his bed for most of the 1940s.
Soccer match outcomes have triggered no shortage of rioting and violence over the years, but the effects of this 1969 qualifying match were more dramatic than those of any other soccer match in history. More than 2,000 lives were lost and 100,000 people displaced over the four-day course of the war. While no dearth of turmoil and controversy have surrounded FIFA and the World Cup, the event has had an irrefutably positive impact on globalization. The shared love of the game has halted wars,restored peace, unified countries, and served as the foundation for numerous charities and goodwill initiatives. As for whether the game’s universal appeal can promote peace and strengthen bonds at least as much as individual match outcomes can strain them, the verdict is still up for debate.
The team didn’t get very far. The bus was reclaimed by the police before the team left West German territory.
7. At World Cup 1990, each UAE player who scored was promised a Rolls Royce. The relatively inexperienced team had little chance for global success, but managed to score a collective two goals before being knocked out of finals in three consecutive games. It is unclear whether the players who scored the goals, Ismail Mubarak and Thani Jumaa, were awarded the shiny new ultra-luxury automobiles promised by prominent statesman Sheik Mohamed.
8. The 1950 World Cup is the only one not decided in a knock-out final. Instead, FIFA experimented with a round-robin format in which the final four teams competed. Uruguay was crowned champion.
9. Qatar plans to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to host the World Cup in 2022. The FIFA World Cup 2022 budget allocated by the rich Gulf state totals more than 15 times what Brazil is spending this year and is equivalent to 60 times what was spent by South Africa in 2010. Most of the budget will be spent on new stadiums and other infrastructure, but a significant chunk will go to cooling down the outdoor air-conditioned stadiums in the middle of the Arabian summer. The average high temperature in Qatar during the month of June, when the tournament is scheduled to be held, is over 100 degrees.
Brazil has brought home the trophy five times: In 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002. It is also the only team to have qualified for all 19 World Cup Finals. Twenty, if you count this year.
Brazil also holds the record for match with the highest attendance (199,984 for a Brazil vs. Uruguay match at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium in 1950), a feat it won’t be able to match this year because the capacity of Maracana (still the largest stadium in South America) is now less than 90,000. Still, with 12 stadiums spread throughout 12 cities in the massive South American country and nearly 500,000 foreign visitors expected to visit the country for the event, the 2014 World Cup promises to be a well-attended and thoroughly exciting affair. The opening ceremony, featuring Pitbull and Olodum, will be held on June 12 and Team USA’s first match takes place against Ghana on June 16. If you are excited to watch either of these events, why not host a viewing party in your apartment?
Will you be one of the nearly 4 billion people who tunes into a World Cup 2014 event? Why or why not?
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