The World Cup is perhaps the biggest sporting event on the planet and more than a billion people typically tune in to watch the final. Some argue that the Champions League and possibly even the Premier League offer a higher standard of football but nobody can argue with the scale, magnificence and indeed magic of the World Cup.
Held once every four years, it is something that excites fans around the globe. There have been discussions to play it with greater regularity but surely its infrequency is part of what makes it so special? It is every player’s dream to represent their nation at a World Cup and to score at one, or even, for the very lucky few, to lift the trophy, which is surely an unbeatable career highlight.
In this article, we take a look at this wonderful event, including betting on the World Cup, the tournament format and its history. We will also explain how the hosts are chosen – an issue not without some controversy – as well as what impact being the home side has.
World Cup Results
|1974||West Germany||West Germany||Netherlands|
Betting on the World Cup
The FIFA World Cup is arguably the biggest tournament in any sport on the planet. The competition comes around every four years and is watched by millions of people worldwide – it is truly a wonderful spectacle.
In 2014, Joachim Low’s Germany came out on top, beating Argentina in the final by a goal to nil after extra-time at Brazil’s Maracana Stadium. Mario Gotze’s 113th-minute winner secured the Germans their fourth World Cup crown, having previously won the prestigious trophy in 1954, 1974 and 1990.
The 2018 World Cup took place in Russia for the first time. With the hosts already participating, 31 other countries from Africa, Asia, Europe, North and Central America, plus the Caribbean and South America battled it out to join them. The final was staged at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, in front of almost 80,000 fans.
So it’s safe to say that the tournament is popular. Betting on the World Cup has become more and more popular too as the years have rolled by. Whether you are picking the outright winner, group winner, top goalscorer, team to be eliminated first, or the nation to finish bottom of their group, you can bet on just about anything and everything happening in the World Cup these days.
Even before all 32 participating nations have been decided, the bookies open up their World Cup markets nice and early so bettors can get stuck in. For instance, if you fancy backing the winner 18 months prior to a ball being kicked, the majority of bookies already have ante post World Cup markets open and prices available. Is this a great way to snatch some brilliant odds before they disappear, or is it a mistake to play your hand so early while so much can still change? Your call.
It’s always worth keeping an eye out for various offers and deals as the competition draws closer though, as practically all bookies will be running promotions leading up to the tournament. Whether that’s enhanced odds, boosted prices, money back deals, improved free bets or other new customer offers, some have an awful lot of fun with it as a matter of fact (see above).
So next time around, whether you fancy France to retain their crown, Brazil to top the scoring charts, England to fall in the group stage, or you think you know who will take the Golden Boot, betting on the World Cup has never been easier.
World Cup History
The first ever international football match took place in Glasgow in 1872, as rivals England and Scotland played out a 0-0 draw. Prior to the first World Cup, the initial international tournament was the British Home Championship. FIFA was founded in 1904, and 1930 was the year of the first ever FIFA World Cup, which took place in Uruguay. The hosts went on to win the first tournament, beating fellow South American side Argentina in the final.
It was not until the 1950 World Cup in Brazil that a British team participated. In their first World Cup, England were knocked out in the group stage – a sign of things to come, perhaps? Since 1950 the World Cup has been competed every four years spread across five different continents. Brazil have hosted two competitions, the most recent in 2014, while France and Germany have also staged two tournaments each.
The current format initially involves a qualification phase that takes place over a three-year period prior to each tournament. 31 international sides will make it through this round to join the hosts and compete in World Cup Finals, with all matches played at venues within the host nation(s) over a period of around a month.In terms of winners, Brazil have won the World Cup more than any other nation in history. However, the last of their five wins came back in 2002, so they seem to have come off the boil somewhat. Germany and Italy are tied with four victories each, while Argentina, France, and Uruguay have all won football’s ultimate accolade on two occasions.
England’s only victory came in their own tournament in 1966, and Spain, during their golden generation from 2008 to 2012, won the 2010 World Cup in South Africa in between winning back-to-back European Championships.
World Cup – Format
World Cup Tournament Format
The World Cup in 2026, which is being hosted jointly by the United States, Canada and Mexico, will see more teams than ever before at the tournament proper. In the seven World Cups from 1998 to 2022, there were 32 teams, but from 2026, this will increase to 48. In this section, we’ll explain the format of the tournament finals, but first we’ll take a look at how nations can qualify for the World Cup.
As hosts, Canada, Mexico and the United States automatically qualify for the World Cup, leaving 45 places to play for. Most of these are split between the six regional confederations, as follows:
- CAF (Africa) – 9
- AFC (Asia and Australia) – 8
- UEFA (Europe) – 16
- CONCACAF (North & Central America and the Caribbean) – 6 (including the three hosts mentioned above)
- OFC (Oceania) – 1
- CONMEBOL (South America) – 6
That accounts for 46 of the 48… but what about the final two? They will be decided by a play-off tournament (the Inter-confederation play-offs) that will see six sides competing for the last two spots at the tournament. The play-offs will include one side from the AFC, one from the CAF, two from the CONCACAF, one from CONMEBOL and one from the OFC (and no teams from UEFA).
Each regional confederation runs its own qualifying tournament (under the overall authority of FIFA), and there are differences in how each confederation organises its qualifying process. In general, qualification will involve some kind of round-robin process with teams separated into groups. The group winners and some of the runners-up (or the best lower-placed sides) will qualify for either the World Cup or a play-off tournament. We won’t go into the full details of each confederation’s qualifying tournament, but we’ll instead give a brief summary of each:
At the time of writing, the exact process is yet to be decided for the CAF qualification competition for the 2026 World Cup. For the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the CAF ran a three-round qualification competition, the third round of which featured the best 10 teams who were split into five two-legged ties to determine the qualifiers for the tournament proper.
AFC (Asia and Australia)
The AFC will have a five-round qualification process. The first round will feature the 22 lowest-ranked sides only who will play one another home and away. The best 11 sides will progress to the second round where they’ll be joined by the top 25 teams (based on rankings), with the 36 teams divided into nine groups, and the winners and runners-up of each set to progress to the next round. Here there will be three groups of six and – after each team plays the others in their group home and away – the top two teams from each group go through to the next round.
At this stage, the six teams are divided into two groups of three, and after home and away matches against the others in their group, the top side from each group qualifies for the World Cup. The runners-up move on to the Inter-confederation play-offs.
For the qualification competition for the 2026 World Cup, UEFA will split their teams between 12 groups of four or five teams. After each has played the other teams both home and away, the top team from each group will go to the World Cup. The runners-up will get the chance to compete in UEFA-run (as opposed to inter-confederation) play-offs to determine the other four places.
CONCACAF (North & Central America and the Caribbean)
Given that the hosts all come from this confederation, there are only three places up for grabs. These will be determined by way of a three-round qualification process. The lowest-ranked four sides will be drawn into two-legged play-offs, the winners of which will progress to the second round, alongside the 28 best-ranked sides in the confederation.
These 30 teams will be split into six groups of five teams and a single round-robin process will be played (so each team plays two games at home and two away, rather than four at home and four away). The group winners and runners-up (12 in total) progress to the next round, where they will go into three groups of four teams. They play each of the other sides home and away and the group winners of the three groups go to the World Cup. The best two runners-up go through to the inter-confederation play-offs.
Due to the tournament’s expansion, 2026 will be the first time the OFC has a guaranteed place at the World Cup. However, at the time of writing, the process for deciding that team is yet to be confirmed.
CONMEBOL (South America)
This is arguably the most logical and fairest of all the qualification competitions. It is certainly the simplest. All the teams in the confederation are placed in the same group and each side plays each of the others twice, home and away. Once the games have been played, the top six sides will go to the World Cup and the seventh-placed side will go into the Inter-confederation play-offs.
This will be a four-game mini-tournament featuring six teams and will be played in one of the host countries. The six teams will be put in order of world ranking and the top two will be seeded. The other four will face off in single knockout matches, with the winners of those facing one of the seeded teams. The winners of those matches will progress to the World Cup finals in North America.
World Cup Tournament Proper
The World Cup, like virtually all events of long standing, has undergone many changes to format and structure over the years. The decision to expand to 48 teams brought a number of challenges. Initially, FIFA proposed 16 groups of three but after the brilliant tension and excitement of the four-team groups at Qatar 2022, they decided to have a rethink.
This caused a delay in the announcement of how the World Cup would be played out – and a delay in us writing this article. However, on the 14th March it was reported that FIFA would stick to four teams per group, much to the delight of most fans. As we shall see, this means the World Cup will see far more games than ever before in 2026, which means plenty more great football betting to savour!
We will now run through the format for the tournament itself, as the 48 qualified teams battle it out be crown champions of the world.
There will be 12 groups, each containing four teams. Each team with play the other three in their group once. So far, so normal. The winners and runners-up from the groups will progress to the knockout phase which again, is all very traditional. However, those 24 teams will play in the new Round of 32 along with the eight best third-placed sides (based on points and then a series of tie-breakers if necessary).
The teams are split into their initial groups by way of a draw. The nations are split into four pots based on their FIFA World Rankings, with the best-ranked sides in Pot 1, the next best in Pot 2, and so on (except for the hosts, who are added to the pot with the highest-seeded sides). Each group will consist of one team from each of the pots.
Unlike in previous World Cups, there will be a new Round of 32 in 2026. This and subsequent rounds will be played as a straight knockout competition so we will be back on familiar territory again. So the 16 winners of the Round of 32 will go through to the Round of 16, with the winners of those going through to the quarter-finals, then the semis, then the final.
Once we reach the knockout phase, if a match is level at the final whistle (normal time plus any stoppage time), it will go to extra time (two 15-minute halves, plus stoppage time). Then, if still level, the match will be decided by a penalty shootout.
There will be a total of 104 games at the 2026 World Cup (including the rather pointless third-place play-off match). This is up from the aniticpated 80 the initial format was believed to have led to. It is also far more than the 64 played in Qatar and previous tournaments, so prepare yourself for a football feast like never before!
How Are the Hosts Chosen?
From the earliest editions of the World Cup, deciding who should host it has been problematic and often controversial. The first-ever tournament, in 1930, was held in Uruguay and this was a fairly straightforward pick. The South American country had won the Olympic gold medal in 1924 and having just retained that title in 1928, they were widely viewed as the de facto world champions. In addition, the nation would be celebrating the centenary of its first written constitution in 1930.
In 1934, Italy was chosen following eight meetings of FIFA’s executive committee and whilst there was no ballot this decision was straightforward enough. However, when France was chosen in 1938, we had our first-ever World Cup host controversy. South American federations were outraged that Europe would again host the World Cup so Uruguay and Argentina refused to play. Indeed, Brazil were the only South American nation to take part.
The next tournament wasn’t until 1950, due to the Second World War, and was held in Brazil. For a long time following this, the tournament did indeed alternate between Europe and Latin America (South America plus Mexico, the latter of which hosted the showpiece in 1970 and 1986).
As the game became more and more global, USA was chosen in 1994, whilst in 2002 we saw the first co-hosted World Cup finals and the first to be held in Asia. That year, Brazil were crowned champions in Japan and South Korea, whilst 2010 saw Africa host its first World Cup, South Africa doing the honours.
Controversy Around Russia & Qatar
Many of these selections have had at least some controversy surrounding them, or at the very least generated much debate and disappointment. However, the dual selection of Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022 (both host nations were announced at the same time on 2nd December 2010) was the most divisive for many years.
There were various reasons for this, with Qatar being particularly controversial due to its lack of facilities or football culture. However, both nations were accused of human rights abuses and both bids were plagued by claims of corruption. But how does the whole bidding process work?
Hosts Are Announced Seven Years in Advance
Well, as with the structure and format of the competition, this too has evolved over the years. Where the host was once decided by committee, it now comes down to a ballot of FIFA’s Congress. The hosts are typically announced around seven years in advance and indeed Canada, Mexico and USA were announced as the tournament’s first tri-hosts of the 2026 World Cup in 2018. This pick made Mexico the first nation to be selected to host three World Cup finals.
Continental Confederation Considered
In order to be considered as a host, that nation’s football association must officially submit a bid to FIFA. Since a rule introduced in 2016, a country cannot bid for the tournament if their continental confederation has hosted either of the two most recent tournaments. This means, for example, that no Asian nation, nor any North American one, can bid to host the 2030 World Cup, as Qatar hosted the 2022 tournament and the trio of North American nations will do the honours in 2026.
Sticking with 2030, the timeline for the whole process was announced by FIFA’s Council at a meeting in China in 2019. This saw bidding begin in earnest in spring 2022, with the host selected in 2024 at FIFA’s 74th Congress meeting. In April 2021, FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, detailed a number of reforms to try and make the bidding and voting process fairer, more transparent and less open to accusations of corruption.
FIFA Checks: Finances, Code of Ethics, Etc.
Some of these measures include greater openness concerning finances, a revised Code of Ethics and greater eligibility checks for officials elected to FIFA. Ultimately though it comes down to a ballot, or series of ballots, once all the accepted bids are in. Initially, some bids may be discounted due to not meeting specific requirements and regulations set out by FIFA but typically between two and five remain.
Each of the 200+ FIFA members (the exact number varies over time) votes, on a one-member, one-vote basis. Rightly or wrongly, this means that Brazil (five World Cups, one Pele and 215m people) has as much say in who hosts as the Faroese Football Association (FSF) do, despite the Faroe Islands being ranked 123rd in the world and having a population of just 53,000. Equally, China and India’s voice carries the same weight as England and France, and also as Gibraltar and San Marino.
Majority of Votes Needed
In order to be declared the host, a bid must garner a majority of the votes, something which may require multiple votes, though did not for 2026, where Morocco were the only opponents of the North American triumvirate. Normally, an exhaustive ballot system is used, whereby if no bid wins a majority in the first ballot, the one with the fewest votes is eliminated and a second vote takes place. This process continues for as many rounds as are needed for one bid to win a majority. When Qatar won the bid for 2022, four rounds of voting were needed, with first Australia, then Japan, then South Korea eliminated before the Gulf state beat the USA.
The biggest recent change to voting came for the 2026 ballot, with the switch to one vote per FIFA member. As with other recent changes, this was done to combat corruption. Previously it was the members of the FIFA Council alone who voted. This put more power in the hands of fewer people and meant that behind-the-scenes deals and agreements were often brokered. In addition to this grey-area notion of quid pro quos, it was also far easier to bribe sufficient numbers of people, as the fate of each tournament lay in the hands of around 20 to 40 (currently 37) council members, rather than more than 200.
How Do Hosts Fare & Is It an Advantage?
Does being a host matter? Well, here we are going to focus on that question from a football point of view. Of course, being a host matters a great deal on so many other levels, which is why associations, nations and even governments are sometimes so keen to win the right to host the World Cup.
Power & Legitimacy
Hosting such a huge global event confers a great deal of soft power and legitimacy upon a country. These were certainly huge factors in Russia and Qatar’s desire to host the tournament, with Qatar also keen to increase their standing as a tourist destination and reduce their long-term economic dependency on fossil fuels. Being a host nation is also a great way to grow the game in an area where football is less popular.
Lastly, there are considerable economic benefits to a host nation, with tournaments potentially attracting millions of visitors to a country. This notion is often debated because there are various other factors to consider, chiefly the cost of hosting and the fact that many non-football tourists will be put off coming that would generally have visited anyway. Indeed, the financial issues and possibility of a host being saddled with long-term debt for short-term gain can be hugely controversial, with Brazil 2014 a case in point.
Football Performance: Does Being a Host Give a Team the Upper Hand?
These issues are complex and multi-faceted but, thankfully, our chief concern here is simpler – does being the host help a side perform better at the World Cup? There are various reasons why it might: mainly familiarity with the conditions, greater support inside the stadia, longer preparation time (due to qualifying automatically and not having to travel), and often greater investment due to the desire to do well on home soil.
We can see a clear jump in the performance of the hosts at most Olympic games but how about at football’s big show? Well, Qatar 2022 was the 22nd FIFA World Cup and to date the host has won six times, a strike rate of just over 27%. At first glance, that seems rather impressive but let us take a closer look at the performance of the 22 hosts.
|West Germany||Won||West Germany||1974|
|Spain||2nd Group Stage||Italy||1982|
|Japan/South Korea||Last 16/Fourth||Brazil||2002|
|South Africa||Group Stage||Spain||2010|
Looking at the table above there are some reasonably obvious points to make. First, hosts performed far better in the earlier years of the tournament than they have of late. Since 1978, just one host has gone all the way, which was France in 1998. That one-in-12 strike rate, a little over 8%, looks a whole lot less impressive than the headline figure of 27%.
Looking back to earlier tournaments we can see that the hosts prevailed in five of the first 11 World Cups, a strike rate of over 45%. There are a few simple explanations for this, one being that the range of hosts is now far wider, incorporating teams who had little real chance of winning no matter what the conditions. Certainly Qatar, Russia, South Africa, Japan and Korea, and USA, were not really given much hope of lifting the trophy.
Fewer Teams Took Part in the Earlier World Cups
That means that judging solely on whether the hosts won is perhaps unfair, as they had virtually no chance in five of the last eight World Cups. Another simple enough point is that fewer teams took part in the earlier World Cups, so the host automatically had a better chance of success. Only 13 nations played at the 1930 competition and that only increased to more than 16 for the 1982 World Cup (coincidentally or not, the start of the bad streak for hosts).
Last of all, in earlier tournaments long-distance travel was far more difficult. This gave the home nation, and to a lesser extent teams from the host continent or zone, a real advantage. This partly explains why the first win away from a nation’s “home” continent (including Mexico as South America for this purpose) was not until 1958.
Ultimately, it is hard to tell if being a host really does help a side. Logically, it certainly should and whilst there is probably enough evidence to support that idea, quantifying by how much it boosts a team is far harder. That said, we will be bold and make a subjective assessment of how each host performed compared to par, or in other words what they were expected to achieve.
We will ignore the six home winners, or rather we will class them as confirmation of the advantage of being the host. However, we would say that France in 1938 and Spain in 1982 were the only hosts who really let themselves down. In the most recent World Cup, Qatar will be disappointed to have lost all three games but, in reality, even qualifying (albeit automatically) was huge for them.
In 2014, Brazil will feel disappointed to have finished fourth, especially due to the manner of their loss in the semis. Likewise being runner-up in 1950 was not what they would have wanted but neither can that be labelled as underperforming. The same applies to third-placed Italy in 1990. South Africa’s failure to exit the group stage was not wholly unexpected either, whilst Mexico’s two quarter finals as hosts were about par too.
The Home Advantage
Sweden and Chile used home advantage well to finish second and third in 1958 and 1962, respectively, whilst America and Japan will have been content to have both made the Round of 16. In 2002, Korea did even better than their co-hosts to make the semis and Russia making the quarters in 2018 was largely unexpected given their pre-tournament results.
If we add these over-performances to the six times the home nation has won, we would certainly feel safe in saying that hosting the World Cup helps performance. It will certainly be interesting to see how USA, Canada and Mexico get on in 2026 and we would not be at all surprised if one of them made the semis… or better.
Football World Cup Trivia
- Record Crowd – In the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro at the 1950 World Cup, a staggering 174,000 people watched Brazil lose to Uruguay, the biggest World Cup final crowd to date. And probably extremely unsafe.
- Brazilian Goal Fest – Brazil’s 5-2 win over Sweden in the 1958 World Cup final in Solna produced the most goals in any final.
- King Klose – Germany’s Miroslav Klose, who hung up his international boots after the 2014 World Cup, scored an unrivaled 16 World Cup finals goals during his illustrious career.
- Age is Just a Number – 42-year-old Roger Milla became the World Cup’s oldest scorer when he netted for Cameroon against Russia during the 1994 World Cup.
- South America v Europe – Only European and South American counties have won the tournament so far, no other nation from any other continent has ever reached a World Cup final.
- Hattrick hero – Geoff Hurst remains the only player to ever score a hattrick in a World Cup Final, which he achieved in 1966 when England beat West Germany 4-2 to take home the trophy.
- 100% Record – Brazil are the only nation to have participated in all World Cups to date, hosting on two occasions and winning the trophy five times.
- It’s Just Fantastic Fontaine – The record for most individual goals in a World Cup is held by France’s Just Fontaine, with 13 goals in the 1958 tournament.
- Goals, Goals, Goals – In June 1954 at the World Cup in Switzerland, Austria beat the host nation 7-5 in the quarter-finals, which remains the most goals ever scored in a World Cup finals match.
- 17-year-old Maestro – Brazil legend Pele remains the youngest ever World Cup scorer. His goal against Wales in the 1958 World Cup came when he was just 17 years, 7 months and 27 days old. What were you doing when you were 17?