World Cup 2018: Betting Tips, Stats & History

German Players Lifting World Cup Trophy
Credit: Celso Pupo, Bigstock

The World Cup is the pinnacle in international football and one of the biggest and most watched sporting events in the world. The tournament is run by FIFA, the sport’s governing body and takes place every 4 years. 

The World Cup Finals brings together teams from Europe, South America, Africa, North America, Asia and Oceania to the host nation, each hoping to be crowned World Champions.

Each of the teams must enter a qualifying event to make the final shortlist of 32 teams. Each area within the FIFA precedence will earn the right to allow a set number of nations, but with each the format of qualification might vary somewhat, mainly between tournament and league formats. 

The beautiful game's biggest prize has been lifted by some of the greatest players to have ever played the game including Diego Maradona for Argentina, Pele for Brazil and England's Bobby Moore.

World Cup Betting Tips

After much anticipation and preparation, the 2018 World Cup from Russia is here. From the group stages kicking-off with the host nation playing on the 14th June to the World Cup Final on the 15th July, we'll preview each of the 64 matches in detail as they approach. The tips that are currently available are shown below.

Match tips will appear here shortly before the next game.

Format of The Finals

The finals are the stage that comes after the qualification process and are widely regarded as the World Cup ‘proper’. This is the time when the 211 eligible nations that can qualify have been whittled down to just 32. The majority of these will qualify for the event on merit, but there are a couple of exceptions, of which we speak about later in this article within the ‘Qualifying section’. 

Group Stage

Groups for the 2018 World Cup in Russia
2018 World Cup Finals Groups

The current structure of the finals has been in place since 1998 and with it the 32 teams are split up into groups of 4. Within each of the 8 groups there will be one team within that group that will be seeded. The seeds are based on an algorithm depending on records in previous World Cups and also the FIFA World Rankings system. The top seven seeds from this system means that they cannot play each other within the group stages. It’s worth noting that the hosts are also classed as a seeded team, often being drawn in the Group A as the first team. 

The remaining 24 teams are then distributed between each group. But, again, this isn’t just a random process and whilst teams aren’t seeded, they are often encouraged to be kept apart based on world rankings and geographical locations. The change in 1998 was to make sure that not more that 2 teams from each geographical location or FIFA constituency were drawn in the same group where possible. The table below shows how teams were grouped in the draws for the last three World Cup Finals.

Draw Details for the Last 3 World Cups

1 Russia, Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Poland, France
2 Spain, Peru, Switzerland, England, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay, Croatia
3 Denmark, Iceland, Costa Rica, Sweden, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, Iran
4 Serbia, Nigeria, Australia, Japan, Morocco, Panama, S. Korea, Saudi Arabia
1 Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Switzerland
2 Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Chile, Ecuador, Italy
3 Australia, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, USA
4 Bos & Herz, Croatia, England, France, Greece, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia
South Africa
1 South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain
2 Australia, Japan, N. Korea, S. Korea, Honduras, Mexico, USA, New Zealand
3 Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay
4 Denmark, France, Greece, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland

Once the group stages start, each team will be required to play each other once, in a round robin format. As teams will be playing in a single country, it means that the games will be held at neutral locations. There will be three games played by each team within this stage and for the final match, both games will be played at the same time. 

The points system for the World Cup is pretty straight forwarded in that each team will get 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and zero points for a loss. The top 2 ranked teams in the group will progress to the knockout stages. If two or more teams are tied for either place then it goes down to goal difference, before then switching to goals scored if not result has still been found. 

Knockout Stage

Player Placing Ball on Penalty Spot

The next stage is the knockout phase and for this the winners of one group will play against the runners up of another group. This will create 8 games in total, with 16 teams remaining. The winners of each game will progress through to the, quarter finals, semi-finals, then final. It’s worth noting that for all the knockout games, should the game be tied after 90 minutes then extra time will be played. Again, a tie after extra time will result in a penalty shoot out to decide the winner. 

Also, the two losing semi-finalist will play out in a 3rd/4th place play-off the day before the World Cup final. Below is a schedule of the whole tournament: 

  • Group Stage – 32 teams are entered with the top 2 teams from each group proceeding to the playoffs
  • Last 16 – The 16 teams are split with the winners from the group stages playing the runners up
  • Quarter Finals – The last 8 are played out in knockout fashion 
  • Semi Finals – The semi-finals are the last 4 teams
  • 3rd Place Play Off – The two losers from the semi-final games play out to see who finishes 3rd
  • Final – The two winners from the semi-final play to be crowned World Cup Champions

2018 World Cup Finals Key Dates

The 2018 World Cup kicks-off in traditional style with the hosts playing the first game following the opening ceremony. This fixture will see the home nation Russia take on Saudi Arabia on the evening of Thursday the 14th June. Overall there will be 64 ties played, with the final on Sunday 15th July.

Russia 2018 Schedule

RoundDates & Details
Group stage 48 games played between Thursday 14th June and Thursday 28th June
Round of 16 8 games, 2 per day between Saturday 30th June and Tuesday 3rd July
Quarter-finals 4 games, 2 on Friday 6th July, 2 on Saturday 7th July
Semi-finals 1st semi-final Tuesday 10th July, 2nd on Wednesday 11th July
Third place play-off To be played Saturday 14th July
Final To be played on Sunday 15th July

Host Nations

Hosting the FIFA World Cup is thought of to be a massively prestigious award. Dozens of countries fight it out to host each event, but with it there are some pretty large pitfalls if countries aren’t able to get it right. You see, the issue is that FIFA has pretty high demands when it comes to the type of facilities they expect to see from a World Cup, and rightly so. It’s the pinnacle of the sport, players and fans should be in the best of the best.

Maracana Stadium in Rio Brazil

The reality is that the majority of countries who apply to host simply aren’t up to scratch from the off, with massive investment needed to bring it up to speed. Now, FIFA don’t demand that is necessary for all countries, but in order to give an equal offering of hosts around the world, the fact of the matter is that the majority won’t have 8, 10 or 12 different stadiums all ready to go hosting tens of thousands of fans from the odd. 

The costs can be astronomical, with the World Cup in Brazil being a prime example of this. In total, the 2014 World Cup cost Brazil almost $15billion to make sure stadiums and local infrastructure was in place. $2billion of this money came from FIFA itself, but the rest had to come from the government and essentially, the taxpayer. 

The 2014 World Cup was a tricky one for FIFA though and required more expansion than many that had run previously, baring possibly South Africa. But, it was reported that FIFA required the country to pull out all the stops, building 12 new stadiums and forcing the government to redirect funds from things such as the education budget to find the extra money. Obviously, FIFA repute these claims, but this gives you an idea of the politics that can be involved when hosting a World Cup, let alone the bidding process leading up to the event. 

World Cup Hosts, Winners & Runners-up

YearHostWinnerRunner-upVenue of Final (Attendance)
1930 Uruguay Uruguay Argentina Es. Centenario, Montevideo (68,346)
1934 Italy Italy (AET) Czechoslovakia Stadio Nazionale, Rome (55,000)
1938 France Italy Hungary Stade Olympique, Paris (45,000)
1950 Brazil Uruguay Brazil Maracana, Rio De Janeiro (173,850)
1954 Switzerland W. Germany Hungary Wankdorf Stadium, Bern (62,500)
1958 Sweden Brazil Sweden Rasunda Stadium, Solna (49,737)
1962 Chile Brazil Czechoslovakia Estadio Nacional, Santiago (68,679)
1966 England England (AET) W. Germany Wembley Stadium, London (96,924)
1970 Mexico Brazil Italy Azteca, Mexico City (107,412)
1974 W. Germany W. Germany Netherlands Olympiastadion, Munich (78,200)
1978 Argentina Argentina (AET) Netherlands Es. Monumental, B. Aires (71,483)
1982 Spain Italy W. Germany Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid (90,000)
1986 Mexico Argentina W. Germany Azteca, Mexico City (114,600)
1990 Italy W. Germany Argentina Stadio Olimpico, Rome (73,603)
1994 USA Brazil (Pens) Italy Rose Bowl, Los Angeles (94,194)
1998 France France Brazil Stade de France, Paris (80,000)
2002 S. Korea/Japan Brazil Germany Int. Stadium, Yokohama (69,029)
2006 Germany Italy (Pens) France Olympiastadion, Berlin (69,000)
2010 South Africa Spain (AET) Netherlands Soccer City, Johannesburg (84,490)
2014 Brazil Germany (AET) Argentina Maracana, Rio De Janeiro (74,738)
2018 Russia TBD TBD Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow (TBD)

Russia 2018 Stadium Guide

Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia

The 2018 World Cup will be hosted by 12 venues in 11 Russian cities. The principle stadium will be the Luzhniki Stadium in the capital Moscow. This venue, the largest football stadium in Russia will play host to the final as well as a semi-final, a round of 16 match and numerous group games. The Luzhniki will also be the destination of the opening ceremony which takes places before the first match of the tournament between Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Outside of Moscow which has two World Cup Stadiums, there are a further 10 cities which will hold matches. To the east of the capital Nizhny Novgotod, Saransk, Samara, Kazan and Ekaterinburg will play hosts. To the south the cities of Volgograd, Rostov-on-don and Sochi have matches. The most northerly city to be involved is St Petersburg, which has the second largest stadium featured in the tournament. Kaliningrad is the most westerly host, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania.

Russia 2018 Venues

StadiumCapacityGroup GamesKnockout Games
Luzhniki Stadium (Moscow) 81,000 Groups A, B, C & F Final, Semi-final, R16
St Petersburg Stadium 67,000 Groups A, B, D, E Semi-final, 3rd place play-off, R16
Fisht Stadium (Sochi) 48,000 Groups B, C, F & G Quarter-final, Round of 16
Nizhy Novgorod Stadium 45,000 Groups D, E, F, & G Quarter-final, Round of 16
Kazan Arena 45,000 Groups B, C, F, & H Quarter-final, Round of 16
Samara Arena 45,000 Groups A, C, E & H Quarter-final, Round of 16
Rostov Arena 45,000 Groups A, D, E, F Round of 16
Spartak Stadium (Moscow) 45,000 Groups D, E, G, & H Round of 16
Volgograd Arena 45,000 Groups A, D, G & H None
Mordovia Arena (Saransk) 44,000 Groups B, C, G & H None
Ekaterinburg Arena 35,000 Groups A, C, F & H None
Kaliningrad Stadium 35,000 Groups B, D, E & G None


The qualifying process for the World Cup can actually get fairly complex. The first thing that you need to remember is that there are six confederations that FIFA have grouped into zones, which include Africa, Asia, North and Central America and Caribbean, South America, Oceania and Europe. Teams from those respected areas will be required to play through the dedicated qualification process.

World Map of Football Confederations

The processes aren’t necessarily the same for each confederation. For example, in Europe they play a Group-stage, round robin format. The winners from each group will then earn and automatic spot and the best placed runners up will enter into a knockout stage for the remaining spots. But, in South America, they run a league format where all teams will play each other at some point, playing each other both home and away, with the top few spots gaining automatic qualification, then the remaining best placed in the league playing a knockout format. 

The qualification process can start up to 3 years prior to the World Cup starting, although most will be overt the course of 2 years, with other major tournaments such as the Copa America and the European Championships happening very 2 years in between the World Cup. 

The qualification process has had to evolve over the years to accommodate the increasing number of countries wanting in. When the World Cup first started the tournament was actually an invite-only event, with just 13 teams taking part. These days, there are over 200 countries that enter the qualification process in an attempt to gain one of the 32 spots for the World Cup proper. 

Below are the number of spots that each continent gets for qualification to the 2018 World Cup. You will notice that both Oceania, Asia, South America and North and Central America and Caribbean have a 0.5 reference, this is because the best placed losers will meet in a playoff to decide who goes through, so it’s possible that Oceania don’t have a representative for that World Cup should they lose the play off match. 

Number of Qualification Spots by Continent

Continent ZonesConfederationQualification Spots
Europe UEFA 13
Africa CAF 5
South America CONMEBOL 4.5
Asia AFC 4.5
North & Central America & Caribbean CONCACAF 3.5
Host Nation Various 1
Oceania OFC 0.5

TV Coverage

Televised Football Match

As you can imagine, the World Cup TV rights is one of the biggest deals that can be cut for most of these TV broadcasters. It’s the most watched sporting event in the world, even taking over from that of the Olympics. In fact, in 206, over 700million people tuned in to watch the World Cup final, which is over 11% of the entire worlds’ population. 

One thing that is unique about the World Cup is that the tournament itself is one of few sports on a protected list. This basically means that it has be shown on free to air TV channels, such as the BBC, meaning in the UK, the likes of Sky aren’t allowed to bid on it. 

The likes of the BBC and ITV still have to bid on who gets the package though, but what you will see is that BBC and ITV to combine one package and then share out the games across each respected network. This almost guarantees them access each year with the likes of Chanel 4 and Five unable to keep up. 


Given that the World Cup is 87 years old, there have only ever been 8 winners of the tournament, with only 5 of those winners winning on more than 1 occasion. The standout nation is that of Brazil, who have won the tournament 5 times in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and most recently in 2002. Brazil have also been runners up twice in 1950 and 1998.

Next on the list is that of Germany and Italy with 4 wins a piece. The two European heavyweights are regarded as two of the greatest football nations of all time. Germany actually hold the record for most final appearances with 8 (includes West Germany). Other notables on the list include Argentina and Uruguay with two wins a piece, then a single victory for France, England and Spain. 

The smallest nation to have featured in a world cup is that of Trinidad and Tobago, with a population of just £1.3million. The country made history in 2006 when they managed to gain entry to the completion, knocking off previous record holders Northern Ireland, who have featured in 3 previous World Cup’s, with the most recent being in 1986.

But, that record is set to be beaten once again in 2018 when Iceland will be represented in the tournament in Russia. The nation holds 335,000 residents, making it a lot smaller than previous smallest Jamaica. To put that into context, the country has the same population as that of Wakefield in England. 

Most Successful Countries by Wins, Finals & Semi-Finals

CountryWinsFinalsSemi-FinalsTournamentsLast FinalLast Win
Brazil 5 7 11 20 2002 2002
Germany 4 8 13 18 2014 2014
Italy 4 6 8 18 2006 2006
Argentina 2 5 5 16 2014 1986
Uruguay 2 2 5 12 1950 1950
France 1 2 5 14 2006 1998
Spain 1 1 2 14 2010 2010
England 1 1 2 14 1966 1966
Netherlands 0 3 5 10 2010 -
Czechoslovakia 0 2 2 8 1962 -
Hungary 0 2 2 9 1954 -
Sweden 0 1 4 11 1950 -

Top Scorers

Golden Boot Winner James Rodriguez, Colombia
Brazil 2014 Golden Boot Winner James Rodriguez by Celsu Pupo,

The Golden Boot is awarded to that of the top scorer of the World Cup and is often regarded as the highest honour on an international stage for goalscorers. The awarded has been about since the tournaments introduction in 1930, but in that time only 90 players have ever scored 5 or more World Cup goals in their career.

Each tournament could have the top goalscorers, or second top goalscorers tied on goals. Where this occurs, the Golden Boot, or Golden Shoe as it was previously known, is decided by who had the most assists of those top goalscorers. Should the assists be level also, the number of games, then number of minutes played will decide who wins, with the player playing the least finishing on top.

The highest number of goals in a single tournament sits with Frenchman, Just Fontaine, scoring 13 goals in 6 matches in the 1958 World Cup, taking his goals per game average to 2.17, one of the highest of all time. Fontaine never went on to play another World Cup for his country after that. 

Golden Boot Winners

2014 James Rodriguez Colombia 6 5 Thomas Mueller (GER)
2010 Thomas Mueller Germany 5 6 David Villa (ESP)
2006 Miroslav Klose Germany 5 7 Hernan Crespo (ARG)
2002 Ronaldo Brazil 8 7 Miroslav Klose (GER)
1998 Davor Suker Croatia 6 7 Gabriel Batistuta (ARG)
1994 Oleg Salenko Russia 6 3 Hristo Stoichkov (BUL)
1990 Toto Schillaci Italy 6 7 Tomas Skuhravy (CZE)
1986 Gary Lineker England 6 5 E. Butragueno (ESP)
1982 Paolo Rossi Italy 6 7 K-H. Rummenigge (GER)
1978 Mario Kempes Argentina 6 7 Teofilo Cubillas (Peru)
1974 Grzegorz Lato Poland 7 7 Andrzej Szarmach (POL)
1970 Gerd Mueller Germany 10 6 Jairzinho (BRA)
1966 Eusebio Portugal 9 6 Helmut Haller (GER)
1962 Florian Albert Hungary 4 3 Valentin Ivanov (RUS)
1958 Just Fontaine France 13 6 Pele (BRA)
1954 Sandor Kocsis Hungary 11 5 Sepp Huegi (SUI)
1950 Ademir Brazil 8 6 Oscar Miguez (URU)
1938 Leonidas Brazil 7 4 Gyorgy Sarosi (HUN)
1934 Oldrich Nejedly Czechoslovakia 5 4 Edmund Conen (GER)
1930 Guillermo Stabile Argentina 8 4 Pedro Cea (URU)

The top scorer of all time is that of Germany’s Miroslav Klose. From his 24 matches, he able to find the back of the net 16 times, spanning over 4 tournaments from 2002 through to 2014. Klose was able to beat Ronaldo’s record of 15 goals from 19 games in the 2014 World Cup, scoring a 23rdminute goal against Brazil in the semi-finals to put his name into the history books. 

Top World Cup Goal Scorers





Miroslav Klose



2002, 2006, 2010, 2014




1998, 2002, 2006

Gerd Muller

West Germany


1970, 1974

Just Fontaine







1958, 1962, 1966, 1970


Whilst the first official World Cup was held in 1930, the wheels in motion for the tournament were set off a number of years prior to this. Prior to the event the sport was played mainly on an amateur level and with it very few countries were taking part. England and Scotland played out the first international match in Glasgow in 1872, but it was the peak interest around the start of the 20thcentury that got nations interested in the sport and the concept. 

Football growth was pushed even further by the sport being accepted into the Olympics in 1900 and 1904. The success from these events propelled the governing body FIFA into sanctioning their won event, outside of the Olympics, must to the disgruntlement of the IOC. 10 years alter though, the IOC had managed to convince FIFA that the event within the Olympics was a proper event, and so they decided to run this as an amateur only tournament. 

It was another fall out between FIFA and the IOC that prompted FIFA to come up with their own event in 1928. The IOC had decided that as football wasn’t popular in the 1932 host nation of the USA, the sport wouldn’t be played. FIFA president Jules Rimet (for whom the current trophy is now named after) came up with the plan for 13 nations to be invited to take part in the first World Cup. As Uruguay had won the last two Olympic events and as it was their centenary of independence, it was agreed that they would host the first tournament. 

The massive crowds that the tournament drew – the final include over 93,000 fans – and the massive success meant that the World Cup was now an official event, with Uruguay winning the competition. 

It wasn’t until the 4 years later when the next World Cup ran, and this time the format had been altered. Now there were qualifying rounds for countries to play in to gain access. 16 teams were able to gain access to the event, a number which stood until another reshuffle in 1982 to expand the event. 

First Final – Uruguay v Argentina

Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, Uruguay
Credit: Archivo de El Pais, Wikimedia Commons

The final was a repeat of the 1928 Olympic final between two developing rivals. Obviously both South American, the countries passion for the game was clear for all to see, with around 15,000 Argentinian fans trying to cross the boarded by boat just to watch the match. Whilst 93,000 people were in attendance within the Estadio Centenario stadium, the majority of fans got pushed back at the border, mainly down to the sheer volume of people trying to get in, overrunning the border patrol at the time. 

The games was overshadowed in the build up somewhat, with both teams requesting that they use their ball. But, a compromise was formed in that they would use an Argentinian ball for the first half and a Uruguayan ball for the second half. The referee was another factor, who only agreed a few hours before the game to complete the role due to safety concerns. 

The game finished in a resounding 4-2 victory for Uruguay. Whilst the nation was delighted, the real winner here was the birth of the World Cup and FIFA, firmly putting to bed whether a completion like this would have enough popularity to run. 

England 1966

Statue of England's 1966 World Cup Winners
Credit: Matt Brown, flickr

England were a nation that had seen little success on an International scale, even though they had one of the strongest domestic leagues in the world. It was the countries first opportunity at hosting a World Cup, and it is widely regarded that the fact that England were able to host the event played a huge part in them actually winning the tournament. 

The tournament didn’t get off to the best start though, as the African countries boycotted the event, stating that the number of teams that were able to qualify and the routes they had to take to qualify were not fair. Following this African countries were granted at least 1 spot in the 1970 World Cup and moving forward. 

Just to add another element to the fairytale that was the 1966 World Cup (for English fans at least), an unlikely hero in the form of a dog named ‘Pickles’ was noted for having found the Jules Remit trophy which was stolen from an exhibition display. The dog apparently found the trophy whilst sniffing under some bushed, wrapped in newspaper. You couldn’t make it up!

England had managed to get off to a solid start, drawing with Uruguay and then beating both Mexico and France to finish top of their group. A 1-0 win over Argentina in the quarter-finals, preceding a 201 win over Portugal in the semi-finals, before facing long-time rivals Germany in the final.

The final will go down as one of the most iconic of all time. England ran out eventual winners 4-2 in extra time, after being held 2-2 in normal time. England found themselves 1-0 down after 12 minutes, before Geoff Hurst evened things up some 6 minutes later. Martin Peters was able to put England in the lead on 78 minutes, before heartbreak in the 89thminute when Weber from West Germany banged it in to finish 2-2 after 90 minutes.

Extra time saw the emergence of an England legend, Geoff Hurst. It was Hurst who controversially put England 3-2, with the ball ricocheting off the crossbar and the linesman adjudicating the ball had crossed the line. Although even today, there remains strong debate if it did or it didn’t. but, the 4thgoal and Hurst’s 3rdthere was no doubt, breaking away and scoring with almost the last kick of the game. 

There were many legends born that day for England, but the standout names included the likes of Gordon Banks, George Cohen, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. 

Brazil 1970

Brazil Lineup in the 1970 World Cup Final

Brazil were already one of the best teams in the world and had 2 World Cup winners to their name already, winning back in 1958 and 1962. But, it was Mexico 1970 that really put the ‘Samba Boys’ on the map and changed how many teams and countries approached the beautiful game that is football.

The previous two World Cups were seen as physical battles. You had to be strong and fit, rather than agile or particularly talented. But, 1970 was the first World Cup where yellow and red cards were introduced, although no red cards were branded throughout. 

This protection of the players allowed them to play the game, rather than worry about being injured in a strong tackle. Brazil took this to a new level and some of their football that they played, now over 40 years ago, is still regarded as perfection, even today. In fact, many state that the 1970 was the best World Cup team of all time, including the likes of Pele, Carlos Alberto, Jairzinho, Rivellino and Gerson. 

Brazil cruised through group campaign with 3 wins from 3. A 4-2 victory over Peru in the Quarter finals before a 3-1 victory over Uruguay in the semi-finals, booked their spot in the final. For the first half, the final was fairly competitive, against Italy holding them 1-1. But the second half Brazil turned on the style, winning the game 4-1, including goals from Pele, Carlos Alberto, Gerson and Jairzinho. 

The 1970 win would be the stepping stone to the nations dominance within the tournament, winning two more titles in 1994 and again in 2002. 


Argentinian Flag

There is little doubt when we say that Maradona will go down as one of the greatest players of all time. His immense talent was a joy to behold on the football pitch and he was able to do things that no other player at the time or even since has been able to go. 

He had a decent goal scoring record at international level for Argentina, scoring 34 goals from his 91 caps, but he was far from prolific. It was more about how he went about his game rather than just simply the stats though. One of his most outstanding personal achievements was picking up the FIFA Play of the 20thCentury award alongside that of Brazilian great Pele. 

His ability on the field was often overshadowed by what he did off the field, but there’s never been quite as much controversy surrounding the game than there has with the now infamous ‘Hand of God’ incident in the 1986 World Cup. 

The game just so happened to be against England, when Maradona seemed to rise like a salmon and out jump that of goalkeeper Peter Shilton to almost punch to ball into the net. The referee and the linesman both missed it, and to be fair, many England players stated they hadn’t noticed it at first, but replays show clear as day that he deliberately handled the ball to score that goal. 

In true Maradona style though, he wasn’t to be outdone by this controversial goal. In the same game, Maradona turned on the style, taking the ball from the half way line, past 5 English players before scoring what was later voted the Goal of the Century by FIFA in 2002. 

Italia 90

Italia 1990 World Cup Ball
Credit: Sailko, Wikimedia Commons

Few World Cup’s have had more talking points than Italia ’90, especially from an England perspective. It was the second time that Italy were hosting the event and at the time, was the most watched World Cup of all time. 

The event was actually voted as one of the poorest in terms of quality, with a record low average goals per game of just 2.21, one that still stands today. With it came 16 red cards and the first ever red card in a final. 

The majority of controversy surrounded England though, and for the wrong reasons. Paul Gascoigne was rated as one of the top England midfielders for years. He’s been influential in helping them get to the Semi Final of Italia ’90, their first since winning in 1966. But, Gascoigne received a second yellow card of the campaign in the semi-final against West Germany, which meant he would have been banned for the final. In a remarkable turn of events, Gascoigne would later well up, and almost start crying with Gary Linaker signalling to then manager Sir Bobby Robson to have a word with him. England would later lose the game to West Germany on penalties. 

For his efforts throughout the entire tournament, Gascoigne would later go on to be entered in the all-star team for the World Cup that year. 

Two of the other major stories couldn’t have been further apart in terms of spirit of the game. The first one came from the unlikely heroes of the Cameroon team, who managed to make it through to the Quarter-finals for the first time of asking, narrowly being beaten by England in extra time, but picking up an iconic win against Argentina along the way. But, it was Roger Milla, a 38-year-old footballer who only came out of retirement a few days before the start of the tournament that really caught the eye.

Milla played on request of the Cameroonian president, Paul Biya. It was thought that he needed to play to help the team and with it he duly obliged, scoring 4 goals in the process. But it was his flamboyant goal celebrations that are still copied even to this day that were one of the highlights.

The other end of the spectrum came from two of the games legends, but for all the wrong reasons. The Round of 16 match between Holland and West Germany was a highly lit affair and resulted in both Rudi Voller and Frank Rijkard being sent off an altercation between the two. It was seen on TV replays that Rijkard had actually spat at Voller whilst on the pitch and then again after the pair had been sent off, a time looking back that no doubt both players massively regret. West Germany went on to win the game 2-1. 

FIFA Corruption

Entrance to the FIFA Headquarters in Switzerland

Unfortunately, in more recent times, FIFA have hardly been the figure heads of football that you would expect from such an organisation. The main issue has come in ther form brides and massive corruption, which authorities like the FBI have only recently been starting to get involved with.

These issues start at the top and work their way down, so the majority of blame has to come from the former president Sepp Blatter. Blatter was elected in 1998 as president, but throughout his time he has been controversial to say the least. He’s made some awful comments such as links to an affair by then Chelsea player John Terry, stating that Latin American countries would applaud him for doing so and that on-field racism could be sorted with a handshake. 

Whilst these are bad enough, the link to corruption in the sport, mainly in form of bribes is an even bigger focus. Blatter is reported to have been given and distributed millions of dollar’s worth of bribes in his time. One of the biggest scandals was when the award for the 2022 World Cup was given to Qatar, bearing in mind they are not a footballing nation and have summer heats that can excess 50 degrees Celsius. 

Whilst Blatter certainly isn’t the only one to blame here and others have been convicted of bribes already, the FIFA reputation is one that has been severely tarnished and mainly down to the greed of a select few. 

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