The outbreak and aftermath of World War II meant that Italy would have to wait 12 years for a title defense.
They would fail to make it three titles in a row, but the return of the World Cup saw the trophy return to some familiar hands, as Uruguay won a second title in a stunning upset of host and heavy favorite Brazil. The upset bug would continue four years later as well, as Hungary became one of the greatest sides to not win the World Cup.
And then in 1958, he arrived. And along with he-who-does-not-need-to-be-named-to-be-known arrived a new era in football, as Brazil took the mantle as the best in the world for much of the next decade-plus, starting with a merciless run through the field in Sweden.
But on the way to four World Cups in a row, a little blip happened, and Brazil’s blip proved to pave the way for the biggest moment in the history of English football. Well, to date, at least.
Here, we look at the postwar return of the World Cup, the massive upsets, the arrival and emergence of arguably the greatest player in football history, and the summer of ‘66.
1950 World Cup (Brazil)
Brazil hosted the first post-World War II World Cup, and it looked like the hosts would lift the coveted trophy for the first time. However, Uruguay would have other ideas.
Group play was a breeze for Uruguay, as, thanks to Scotland and Turkey withdrawing after qualifying, Uruguay had to play only one group match. That would be against Bolivia, and it’d be no contest. Oscar Miguez scored a hat trick, and Uruguay scored four goals without reply on each side of halftime in an 8-0 mauling.
The World Cup title would be determined by who finished top of a four-team group featuring the four group winners from the first group stage: Brazil, Spain, Sweden, and Uruguay. Uruguay drew 2-2 against Spain, and in their next match, needed two late goals from Miguez to defeat Sweden 3-2 and maintain their hopes of being world champions.
It all came down to a ‘final’ against Brazil, with Brazil needing only a point to claim the title after routing Sweden and Spain. A Brazil title seemed to be a formality, but it’d turn out to be anything but a day of celebration in Rio de Janeiro. After a goalless first half, Brazil went ahead in the 47th minute through Friaca, but Uruguay would not fold, equalizing in the 66th minute on a Juan Alberto Schiaffino strike. In the 79th minute, Alcides Ghiggia stunned the record crowd in the Maracana, slotting home past Moacyr Barbosa. Brazil would not be able to find the necessary equalizer, and Uruguay unexpectedly celebrated a second title.
1954 World Cup (Switzerland)
Final: West Germany 3-2 Hungary
Hungary came into the 1954 World Cup on an amazing unbeaten run and the most fearsome attack in the world, but in the end, unfancied West Germany would be the ones making history, scoring an upset that might only be surpassed by Uruguay‘s four years prior.
After falling behind early on in their tournament opener against Turkey, West Germany roared back for a 4-1 win, taking control in the second half with goals from Bernhard Klodt, Ottmar Walter, and Max Morlock. Germany coach Sepp Herberger didn’t send out a full-strength side for the next match against Hungary, and the end result would be an 8-3 defeat to the tournament favorites, who led 3-0 after only 21 minutes.
As a result, West Germany had to face Turkey in a playoff to determine who’d join Hungary in the quarterfinals, and once again, it’d be an easy win, as Morlock’s hat trick led the way in a 7-2 thumping.
In the quarterfinals, West Germany eliminated Yugoslavia with a 2-0 win that wasn’t decided until Helmut Rahn scored the second with five minutes left. But it’d be back to the beatings in the semis, with brothers Fritz and Ottmar Walter both scoring twice in a five-goal second half in West Germany’s 6-1 win over Austria.
That set up a rematch against Hungary, and early on, it looked like things would be going the way of the first meeting, as Hungary took a 2-0 lead inside eight minutes. However, West Germany struck back quickly with goals from Morlock and Rahn, and the match would remain deadlocked at 2 for more than an hour. Then, in the 84th minute, Rahn drove home the go-ahead goal. Ferenc Puskas had an equalizer ruled out for offside in the 87th minute, and West Germany held on to end Hungary’s unbeaten run and seal a first World Cup title.
1958 World Cup (Sweden)
Final: Brazil 5-2 Sweden
Eight years after their crushing defeat to Uruguay, Brazil finally claimed a first World Cup title, and it would not only usher in a new era in Brazilian football, but it’d also usher in a new era in world football, thanks to the emergence of Pele.
Brazil started off their campaign with a 3-0 win over Austria, in which Mazzola netted a brace. After a goalless draw with England, Brazil dispatched the Soviet Union 2-0 behind a double from Vava. As a result, Brazil finished top of the group, beating out the Soviet Union and England by two points.
In the quarterfinals, young Pele would score his first goal of the tournament, and his 66th minute goal would see Brazil past Wales by a 1-0 scoreline. In the semifinals, Brazil faced France and the tournament’s leading scorer, Just Fontaine. After Vava put Brazil up in the second minute, Fontaine equalized in the ninth minute, but from there, it was all Brazil. Didi gave Brazil a halftime lead, and in the second half, it’d be the Pele show, as he became the youngest player to net a World Cup hat trick – all in the space of a little more than 20 minutes.
That 5-2 win set up a final against Sweden. The hosts took a fourth minute lead, but as was the case against France, it was all Brazil soon enough. Vava’s first-half brace took Brazil into halftime with a lead, and in the 55th minute, Pele scored a brilliant third goal for Brazil. Mario Zagallo made it four on 68, and after Sweden pulled one back in the 80th, Pele slotted home his second to complete a resounding final win
1962 World Cup (Chile)
Final: Brazil 3-1 Czechoslovakia
Brazil got the run towards a repeat started with a 2-0 win over Mexico, with Pele scoring the second on 73 minutes to wrap up the win after Mario Zagallo opened the scoring in the 56th minute. However, there’d be a major twist in the next game against Czechoslovakia, not because of the 0-0 scoreline, but because of the loss of Pele for the remainder of the tournament.
Such a loss would have derailed many a contender, but in his absence, a trio stepped up to help deliver a second straight title. In the following match against Spain, Brazil fell behind 1-0, but two late goals from Amarildo gave the champions a 2-1 win and top spot in Group 3.
In the quarterfinals against England, it would be Garrincha and Vava, as Garrincha netted a brace and Vava scored the go-ahead goal in a 3-1 win. Those two would combine to take down hosts Chile in the semis, with both netting twice in a comfortable 4-2 win.
In the final, Brazil got a rematch against Czechoslovakia, and things didn’t start well, as Brazil fell behind in the 15th minute. Czechoslovakia’s lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Amarildo equalized in the 17th, and in the second half, goals from Zito (69) and Vava (78) saw Brazil become the second country in the World Cup’s young history to repeat as champions.
1966 World Cup (England)
Final: England 4-2 West Germany (after extra time)
The hosts opened with a goalless draw against Uruguay, but that would wind up being their only blemish of the tournament. That draw was followed by consecutive 2-0 wins over Mexico and France, with the win over France pushing England a point ahead of Uruguay for top spot in Group 1.
In the quarterfinals against Argentina, Argentina’s Antonio Rattin was dismissed in the 35th minute, but England were unable to pierce Argentina’s backline until the 78th minute, when Geoff Hurst scored the winner. England then faced Portugal in the semifinals, and Bobby Charlton’s brace led the way in a 2-1 win.
In the final at Wembley, England faced West Germany, and they would fall behind in the 12th minute thanks to Helmut Haller’s goal. But Hurst would equalize minutes later, and Martin Peters put England ahead 2-1 in the 78th minute. That lead wouldn’t last, however, as Wolfgang Weber sent the match to extra time with his 89th minute goal.
In extra time, Hurst put England ahead (or did he?) in the 101st minute, and with seconds remaining and jubilant fans already invading the pitch, he became the first – and only – player to net a World Cup final hat trick to put the finishing touches on England’s first – and only – title.
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