Top 10 Worst FIFA World Cups That Made History For All the Wrong Reasons

Tags: #FIFAWorldCup ,   #Soccer ,   #Football ,   #WorldCup ,   #footballislife

Michael Wendom

Michael Wendom

Last updated:  2023-11-15 16:17:26

The FIFA World Cup is the most-watched event on our planet, period. The best national teams play a tournament every four years to determine the best among them. While there are tons of iconic moments and records, many World Cups fell below expectations even before they started. Strap on your soccer boots and be ready to get down and dirty for the top ten list of worst FIFA World Cups! Also, check our top 10 Best World Cups list!

10. England 1966 - Pele As a Punching Bag

1966 FIFA World Cup logo
Even before the competition started, someone stole the trophy
Worst moment: Atrocious refereeing against Brazil
Host team performance: 8/10
Did the best team win: No
Overall rating: 6/10

As there were only 22 World Cups, being the tenth worst isn't that bad! The 1966 edition brought us memorable moments, including England finally winning the World Cup while North Korea almost got into the semifinals. It was also a tournament that broke records, as 70 nations entered the qualifying, with 16 participating in the finals. The media coverage was better than ever, and the average visit was close to 50,000!

Thank you Pickles, you were the best thing about the 1966 World Cup

However, there were some significant dark clouds. African confederation decided to boycott the World Cup as they had no guaranteed place in the finals. England was also embarrassed as the Jules Rimet FIFA World Cup trophy went missing, although it was luckily recovered. Also, how could we forget the final and Geoff Hurst's goal that gave England the victory? Finally, many have forgotten that Pelé was a victim of brutal fouls, which left him injured and sent Brazil home.

9. Chile 1962 - Ultraviolence for the Win

1962 FIFA World Cup logo
1962 FIFA World Cup will be remembered as the most violent ever
Worst moment: Violent matches
Host team performance: 8/10
Did the best team win: Yes
Overall rating: 6/10

If this was the ranking of the most brutal and toxic FIFA World Cups, Chile 1962 would be on top. Many teams resorted to violence during the tournament and were almost encouraged for it. At the time, referees tolerated so much that you really had to try hard to be ejected. It all culminated in the so-called Battle of Santiago, which saw an incredibly hostile Chilean audience and media asking for blood in a match against Italy. Remarkably, there were only two red cards, both for Italian players. Never before we saw so many FIFA World Cup incidents.

The Battle of San Diago was a disgrace for the whole sport

While Chile ultimately finished third, their success will be forever tarnished by dubious referee decisions allowing them brutal play. Many other teams applied the same strategy, which resulted in Pelé's early exit from the tournament. This was also the most defensive World Cup by then and the first with a goal average lower than three.

8. Italy 1990 - When the Forwards Went on a Holiday

1990 FIFA World Cup logo
Italia '90 gave us slow, defensive games with barely any goals
Worst moment: Highly defensive football
Host team performance: 9/10
Did the best team win: Yes
Overall rating: 6/10

Italy 1990 was a festival of defensive soccer, controversies, and poor performance of some of the world's best teams. The tournament also forced FIFA to make radical changes for the next edition of the competition. With only 2.21 goals per match, this was the lowest-scoring World Cup. The worst example was group F, where there was only a single win in six games, with seven goals scored.

West Germany and Argentina played the worst World Cup final ever in 1990

The tournament occurred in uncertain times, featuring teams that would never appear again. Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia all dissolved a year later, while West Germany united with East Germany. There were also many ugly games, including every Argentina match. Yet, they somehow managed to get into the finals, once again with Maradona. Plus, the final is still considered one of the worst in history!

7. Argentina 1978 - The One Where Argentina Had to Win

1978 FIFA World Cup logo
Many felt that Argentina had to win this World Cup
Worst moment: Blatant hosts favoritism 
Host team performance: 9/10
Did the best team win: Yes (probably)
Overall rating: 6/10

In 1978, Argentina won its first title, but not many remember it fondly. Two years before the tournament, the country became a dictatorship. Many Argentinians were held captive and executed, even during the competition. While it wasn't unusual for the host nation to get better treatment from the referees, this was taken to the extreme.

Was the 1978 FIFA World Cup match between Argentina and Peru fixed?

First, Argentina played its games last, so they always knew what result was needed to progress. The worst offender came in their game against Peru, which Argentina needed to beat by at least four goals. They scored two more and advanced, with many rumors about bribes and even threats to Peruvian players. Surprisingly, the final was decent, but as the Netherlands played the tournament without the world's best player Johan Cruyff, it's hardly considered a classic.

6. South Africa 2010 - Attack of the Mosquitos

2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa logo
2010 FIFA World Cup gave us the worst stadium atmosphere ever
Worst moment: Every match involving Spain
Host team performance: 3/10
Did the best team win: Yes
Overall rating: 5/10

We'll be polite, so let's say that blowing vuvuzelas for every game's duration was incredibly annoying. This was the first, and hopefully, the last, tournament where you could rarely hear fans cheering. It was all about the monotonous noise, which sounded like a massive cloud of mosquitoes.

This dirty, but smart move is better remembered than the final

Even without it, South Africa 2010 would be considered one of the worst tournaments and among the worst World Cup hosts. The country barely managed to prepare stadiums in time, and the play quality was lacking. Only 2.27 goals per match were scored, with many sides resorting to highly defensive football. Spain was the worst offender by far, as they've played most of the tournament without a single attacker! This worked well for them as they ultimately won, with only eight goals scored in seven FIFA World Cup matches. Therefore, they are among the worst World Cup winners. Well, at least the official songs and video game were excellent.

5. Brazil 1950 - The Unwanted Tournament

1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil logo
The World Cup reputation was at its lowest in 1950
Worst moment: Many teams withdrawing from the tournament
Host team performance: 8/10
Did the best team win: No
Overall rating: 4/10

The first FIFA World Cup after WWII was a disaster even before it started. The qualifying process was the worst in history, as many nations didn't participate. Germany and Japan were occupied, while Eastern European countries were all boycotting, except for Yugoslavia. Even more bizarrely, some teams withdrew during the qualifiers, including three South American and Asian nations. But, the most astonishing was the case of Austria. They pulled out, claiming they were too inexperienced, whatever that meant. Somehow, 16 teams qualified for the tournament, but the dark clouds were still there.

This final wasn't even a real final!

Scotland, India, and Turkey decided to withdraw, followed by France. As a result, group 4 only had two teams, meaning that Uruguay qualified for the final round with a trashing of the weak Bolivian side. Oh, and Bolivians were at the tournament only because other teams withdrew! As for the games, many will remember only the final match and the massive upset when Uruguay beat Brazil in front of 200.000 fans in Rio de Janeiro. This wasn't even a real final, as the best four teams played in the group stage. Luckily, we never saw this weird system again.

4. Italy 1934 - Fascist Celebration

1934 FIFA World Cup Italy logo
Everything was wrong with the 1934 FIFA World Cup
Worst moment: Unpunished brutal actions
Host team performance: 9/10
Did the best team win: Yes
Overall rating: 3/10

Everyone knew that the 1934 FIFA World Cup in Italy would be ugly. Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was already in power and did everything he could to help Italy win the tournament. The allegations of bribery and threats run wild! Admittedly, the host did have a strong team that won this and the next World Cup while also triumphing at the Olympic Games.

Fascism was in the air at the 1934 FIFA World Cup

This tournament is also remembered as being marred with brutal actions, resulting in numerous injuries. Also, the competition format was the worst possible, as there was only a knockout stage. Half of the teams went home after a single game, with only 17 matches played.

3. France 1938 - When Hitler Helped Sweden

1938 FIFA World Cup France
1938 FIFA World Cup was another strange edition of the tournament
Worst moment: Throwing out Austria
Host team performance: 6/10
Did the best team win: Yes
Overall rating: 3/10

If 1934 was all about Fascism, 1938 added Nazism too! Germany even tried to host the competition, so things could have been even worse! However, Hitler still played a significant role in the tournament. In 1938, Austria became a part of Germany, and as they'd previously qualified, their place remained empty. Thus, Sweden automatically progressed to the quarterfinals!

At least the best team won in 1938

Again, there was no group stage, so the tournament had only 18 games played by such exotic sides as Cuba and Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia. Both teams never again played at this level. The best thing about France 1938 is that Italy was a deserving FIFA World Cup winner, soundly beating Hungary in the final.

2. Uruguay 1930 - Not Really a World Cup

1930 FIFA World Cup Uruguay
1930 tournament is historical, but was also poorly organized
Worst moment: Awful organization
Host team performance: 9/10
Did the best team win: Yes
Overall rating: 2/10

The first FIFA World Cup will forever have an important place in history, but it was far from the best. This was the first and the only invitational tournament, featuring only South America, North America, and Europe. As some teams withdrew, only 13 nations played for the title.

Well, at least the 1930 FIFA World Cup final was exciting

The semifinals were ugly, with Uruguay and Argentina trashing their opponents by six goals to one. It's rumored that the hosts had massive help from referees, especially in the game against Yugoslavia. Finally, to this day, no one knows who took third place! At least the final provided some entertainment, with six goals scored.

1. Japan & South Korea 2002 - The Undeserving Semifinalists

2002 FIFA World Cup Japan & South Korea
It's hard to remember 2002 World Cup without thinking about all the fixed games and the unexciting final.
Worst moment: South Korea's win in the elimination round
Host team's performance: 6/10
Did the best team win: Yes
Overall rating: 2/10

When Japan and South Korea won the bid to host the 2002 FIFA World Cup, no one thought it would become the worst World Cup ever. Almost all the best national teams qualified for the tournament, which featured many stars, including Brazilian Ronaldo. However, many favorites had a poor display in the group round, so Argentina, France, Uruguay, and Portugal were all eliminated. But by then, strange things had already started to happen, and they involved one of the hosts.

Such and ugly and corrupted event that even FIFA later recognized the wrongdoings

You see, South Korea won their group after beating Portugal 1-0. But Portugal was brutally mistreated with red cards and played the last half an hour with only nine men. Even then, South Korea barely won. Still, the worst was yet to come. In the round of 16, the Red Devils brutally beat the Italians as the ref turned a blind eye. They were even rewarded with a non-existent penalty, which they missed. Simultaneously, the Italians had their best player Francesco Totti ejected for allegedly simulating instead of being awarded a penalty. Oh, and the Italians had their regular golden goal disallowed! The same thing happened in the quarterfinals, where the Spaniards had their two goals dismissed. South Korea shamefully finished fourth after some of the most controversial games ever, and Brazil easily won the title against a modest German team.

The World Cup is the celebration of the most popular sport worldwide, and that won't change anytime soon. However, some controversies will live forever, reminding us of the unflattering side of a beautiful game. We can only hope we won't need to change this top-ten list anytime soon!

How many World Cup tournaments have you watched, and which one was the worst, in your opinion? We'll be happy to hear your thoughts!

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your level Says:

The official name of the 2002 World Cup is KOREAJAPAN. Korea chose the name and Japan chose the stadium for the finals. Let's use the correct expression

November 15 at 04:08:26 PM

Aiden Moon Says:

2002 is the only year Korea got in the top 4. But how did they win against Italy and Spain? Anyway, yay.

August 30 at 10:17:27 AM

italy Says:

so what?

November 15 at 04:17:26 PM

Luca Rossi Says:

I'm Italian and it was a sad watching the game live in 2002 but we were also bad (not just the ref)n and this ranking is a joke. It's unfair to say 2002 is the worst because of a few terrible decisions. You need to watch it overall. Many underdogs showed themselves to the world like Senegal and Turkey (also making it through to the semis). There were also so many stars and iconic moments like the R9 cut. South Korea were a really good team that time (players like Park jisung and ahn junghwan) and won several matches before the world cup against good teams. It might not have been a great world cup but to put it first before for example in Uruguay where not 5% but 99% had been rigged is a joke and literally a definition of racism.

August 28 at 05:57:03 PM

Luca Rossi Says:

what about Mussolini paying the refs in 1938 for my nation Italy to win the world cup? why are you not mentioning that? racism

August 28 at 06:00:31 PM

This site is reash Says:

1934 cuz italycould definitley lose. the judge canceled a goal when italy was losing even if it was not a offside

August 24 at 10:36:44 PM

lolololol Says:

1978 cuz its same thing as 1936 Berlin olympic.
(Argentina was Military junta)

June 07 at 12:12:23 PM

Lucas Says:

I'm pretty sure that the US got third place in 1930

April 23 at 07:01:26 PM

Adam Ibrahim Says:

Qatar world cup was good because this was the best world cup

April 14 at 08:13:48 PM

Aiden Moon Says:

Yeah. It was good- if Korea hadn't been beaten by Brazil. I thought we would be beaten. I 'm Korean.

August 30 at 10:19:45 AM

Adam Says:

The 2018 world cup was the best world cup because the host was great

April 14 at 08:10:29 PM

Mohamed Says:

The 2014 world cup in Brazil was a disaster because the host lost 7-1

April 14 at 08:06:26 PM

Bob Says:

There are so many things missing from the world cup 1966 story here. During the meeting to decide the games between Uruguay and Germany, and Argentina and England, the South Americans were told to arrive by a certain time. When they arrived they had already held the meeting. The decision? Argentina vs England, referee from Germany. Uruguay vs Germany? Referee from England. Rocha, best Uruguayan player was red carded. Ratin best Argentinian player, who died saying he never insulted the referee, was red carded. Both teams ended up with 10 players. Highly unethical or plain robbery. Also, the Uruguayan team was not picked up as arranged for the game. The players had to go to the stadium in any possible way the could. By taxi and and so on. And we all know who continued on. The fact that England hasn't won anything other than that, EVER, says it all.

February 28 at 10:09:03 PM

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