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:  2022-05-17 06:00:30

The FIFA World Cup is the most-watched event on our planet, period. Every four years, the best national teams play a tournament to determine the best among them. While there are tons of iconic moments, 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

There were only 21 World Cups, so 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 the 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 was stolen, even though it was luckily recovered. Also, how could we forget the final and Geoff Hurst 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

If this was the ranking of the most brutal and toxic FIFA World Cups, Chile 1962 would be on top. During the tournament, many teams resorted to violence 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 with the youngest World Cup player, Gianni Rivera. Remarkably, there were only two red cards in the game, both for Italian players.

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 that allowed 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 tournament by far, 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

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 some radical changes for the next edition of the competition. With only 2.21 goals per match, this was the lowest scoring FIFA World Cup, and it will likely keep that title forever. The worst example was the group F, in which 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 took place in uncertain times, as it featured teams that will 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 single Argentina match, who somehow managed to get into the finals, once again with Maradona. Oh, the final is still considered as 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

In 1978, Argentina won its first title, but not a lot of people 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 is 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, and to this day, there are many rumors about bribes and even threats to Peruvian players. Surprisingly, the final was decent, but as the Netherlands played the whole 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

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 as one of the worst tournaments. The country barely managed to prepare stadiums in time, and the quality of action was lacking. Only 2.27 goals per match were scored, with many sides resorting to highly defensive football. By far, Spain was the worst offender, as they've played most of the tournament without a single attacker! This worked well for them as they won in the end, with only eight goals scored in seven matches.

5. Brazil 1950 - The Unwanted Tournament

1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil logo
The World Cup reputation was at its lowest in 1950

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, later 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 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, this weird system was never used again.

4. Italy 1934 - Fascist Celebration

1934 FIFA World Cup Italy logo
Everything was wrong with the 1934 FIFA World Cup

Everyone pretty much knew that the 1934 FIFA World Cup in Italy would be an ugly affair. Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was already in power, and he 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 in total.  

3. France 1938 - When Hitler Helped Sweden

1938 FIFA World Cup France
1938 FIFA World Cup was another strange edition of the tournament

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've previously qualified, their place remained empty. This meant that 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 indeed a deserving champion, 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

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

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

The semifinals were an ugly affair, with both Uruguay and Argentina trashing their opponents by six goals to one. It's rumored that the hosts had huge help from referees, especially in the game against Yugoslavia. Finally, to this day no one knows who took the 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.

When Japan and South Korea won the bid to host the 2002 FIFA World Cup, no one thought that things would go so wrong. Almost all the best national teams qualified for the tournament, which featured many stars, including Brazilian Ronaldo as the best of them. 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 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 were allowed to brutally beat Italians as the ref turned the blind eye. They were even rewarded with a non-existent penalty, which they missed. Simultaneously, the Italians had their best player Franceso 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, 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 ugly side of a beautiful game. We just hope that 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!

Photo: FIFA

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