The FIFA World Cup, often simply called the World Cup, is an international association football competition contested by the senior men’s national teams of the members of Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport’s global governing body. The championship has been awarded every four years since the inaugural tournament in 1930, except in 1942 and 1946 when it was not held because of the Second World War. The current champion is Germany, which won its fourth title at the 2014 tournament in Brazil.

The current format of the competition involves a qualification phase, which currently takes place over the preceding three years, to determine which teams qualify for the tournament phase, which is often called the World Cup Finals. 32 teams, including the automatically qualifying host nation(s), compete in the tournament phase for the title at venues within the host nation(s) over a period of about a month.

The 20 World Cup tournaments have been won by eight different national teams. Brazil have won five times, and they are the only team to have played in every tournament. The other World Cup winners are Italy and Germany, with four titles each; Argentina and inaugural winners Uruguay, with two titles each; and England, France and Spain, with one title each.

The World Cup is the most widely viewed and followed sporting event in the world, exceeding even the Olympic Games; the cumulative audience of all matches of the 2006 FIFA World Cup was estimated to be 26.29 billion with an estimated 715.1 million people watching the final match, a ninth of the entire population of the planet.

The 2014 World Cup took place in Brazil. The next two World Cups will be hosted by Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. Both choices have been criticised in the media, Russia in light of the 2014 Crimean crisis and Qatar for allegations of vote-buying and poor working conditions for foreign workers.

The world’s first international football match was a challenge match played in Glasgow in 1872 between Scotland and England, which ended in a 0–0 draw. The first international tournament, the inaugural edition of the British Home Championship, took place in 1884. As football grew in popularity in other parts of the world at the turn of the 20th century, it was held as a demonstration sport with no medals awarded at the 1900 and 1904 Summer Olympics (however, the IOC has retroactively upgraded their status to official events), and at the 1906 Intercalated Games.

After FIFA was founded in 1904, it tried to arrange an international football tournament between nations outside the Olympic framework in Switzerland in 1906. These were very early days for international football, and the official history of FIFA describes the competition as having been a failure.

At the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, football became an official competition. Planned by The Football Association (FA), England’s football governing body, the event was for amateur players only and was regarded suspiciously as a show rather than a competition. Great Britain (represented by the England national amateur football team) won the gold medals. They repeated the feat in 1912 in Stockholm.

With the Olympic event continuing to be contested only between amateur teams, Sir Thomas Lipton organised the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy tournament in Turin in 1909. The Lipton tournament was a championship between individual clubs (not national teams) from different nations, each one of which represented an entire nation. The competition is sometimes described as The First World Cup, and featured the most prestigious professional club sides from Italy, Germany and Switzerland, but the FA of England refused to be associated with the competition and declined the offer to send a professional team. Lipton invited West Auckland, an amateur side from County Durham, to represent England instead. West Auckland won the tournament and returned in 1911 to successfully defend their title.

In 1914, FIFA agreed to recognise the Olympic tournament as a “world football championship for amateurs”, and took responsibility for managing the event. This paved the way for the world’s first intercontinental football competition, at the 1920 Summer Olympics, contested by Egypt and 13 European teams, and won by Belgium. Uruguay won the next two Olympic football tournaments in 1924 and 1928. Those were also the first two open world championships, as 1924 was the start of FIFA’s professional era.



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