Thanks in large part to the success of the Azkals; Filipinos can now fully relate to the ongoing frenzy that is the World Cup of football. Make no mistake, the quadrennial meet which started in 1930 is the most watched event in the world, easily trouncing the Olympic Games. The 1970 World Cup final, which took place just sixteen years after the tournament was first shown on television, attracted an estimated boob-tube audience of eight hundred million people. With the advent of cable television and pay-per-view, the cumulative audience for the 2006 World Cup tournament was estimated at nearly 27 billion. The television revenue for this year’s World Cup in Brazil is expected to be in the vicinity of $11 billion.
Of course, before football became this popular and lucrative, it went through its share of struggles. When the sport was relatively new, it was even banned by law for being too violent. The history books tell us that football had its origin in China some two hundred years before Christ. The Chinese called it isu chu which meant “kick ball.” The game was part of military training and the severed head of an enemy soldier was used as the ball.
By the 16th century, football began to spread its influence. It was known as “mob football” in England because the games were pockmarked with violence. At one point, the games became so violent that King Edward II issued Act of 1314 which outlawed football and ordered the imprisonment of anyone caught playing the game.
The rules of the game were refined in the 18th century and in 1904 the initial steps were undertaken to launch a world tournament. On May 21, 1904, four Frenchmen, Robert Guerin, C.A.W. Hurschman, Henri Delaunay and Jules Rimet, met in Paris to plant the seeds of an organization that would later be known as FIFA, the International Football Association. However, it was not until 1930 when the first World Cup tournament was staged in Uruguay.
The first World Cup featured teams from Belgium, France, Romania, Yugoslavia, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and the United States. The early matches were violent and disorganized. The first game between Mexico and France saw a French goalkeeper getting knocked out cold after taking a kick to the jaw. France won the game, 4-1, only to be robbed in its subsequent encounter against Argentina. With the score at 1-0 in favor of Argentina, France forward Marcel Langiller found himself in a one-on-one situation with the Argentine goalie. Just as he was about to score, the referee blew the whistle ending the game. As it turned out, there were still six minutes left in the game. The game was resumed, but the French players lost their momentum and bowed to eventual finalist Argentina.
The first World Cup final featured Argentina opposite host country Uruguay. Soldiers armed with bayonets surrounded the stadium to control the crowd. Uruguay bucked a 1-2 deficit in the first half to score three goals and collar the first World Cup championship.
The symbolic World Championship trophy, initially known as “Coupe du Monde” or the “World Cup” but renamed in 1946 after FIFA founder Jules Rimet, has been awarded every four years since 1930, except in 1942 and 1946 when the World Cup was not held because of World War II. To date, Brazil is the most successful team with five titles. A new champion will be crowned this year following the embarrassing elimination of defending champion Spain.