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Weird World Cup Facts Every Fan Should Know

Thanks to its storied history, the FIFA World Cup is a goldmine for fascinating facts and memorable moments. And some pretty strange stuff has gone down at the tournament over the years, too. To celebrate the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, we’ve gathered 40 of the weirdest, wackiest, and strangely interesting facts we could find. You’re welcome.

1. The trophy was stolen in 1966

Before England could get their hands on the Jules Rimet trophy at the 1966 tournament, something unthinkable happened. Yes, the iconic prize was snatched after being displayed at a stamp showcase in London ahead of the World Cup’s kick-off. And it gets stranger. In the end, a dog named Pickles randomly uncovered the missing trophy while being taken for a walk in the city nearly a week later.

2. Age is just a number

When Essam El Hadary took to the field for Egypt at the 2018 tournament, he made a significant bit of history. At 45 years of age, the goalkeeper became the World Cup’s oldest player. That’s not all, though. During that same match, El Hadary saved a penalty against Saudi Arabia, too. To borrow a soccer commentary cliché, you really couldn’t write scripts like that.

3. The Zidane headbutt

You’d be hard-pressed to name a more infamous World Cup moment than Zinedine Zidane’s shocking headbutt in the 2006 final. The French icon flattened Marco Materazzi of Italy, leaving the referee with little choice but to send him off. Why did Zidane lose his cool in such a violent way, though? Well, after the dust settled, it was discovered that Materazzi had wound him up with an insult about his sister. 

4. Hitting double figures

At the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Hungary took on El Salvador. On paper at least, it didn’t look like a fixture that would get the pulse racing. But by the final whistle, it certainly captured everyone’s attention. You see, Hungary won the game 10-1! They’re the first team — and the only one so far — to hit double figures at the tournament.

5. That losing feeling

No one likes losing — especially at a World Cup. But every team that’s competed in the tournament has been beaten at some time or other: even soccer giants such as Brazil. But which nation holds the record for the most defeats at the event? That unwanted honor belongs to Mexico. Prior to the 2022 World Cup, El Tri had lost no fewer than 27 games. 

6. England as hosts

From Manchester City to Liverpool, England has boasted some of the best soccer teams on the planet for a long time now. So, that makes it all the more surprising that the World Cup has only been hosted there once, back in 1966. And unfortunately for fans across the pond, the tournament after Qatar is already taken, meaning the wait will go on for a while yet.

7. Peppino’s priceless penalty

Giuseppe “Peppino” Meazza was a real character during his playing career: he spearheaded Italy’s World Cup triumph back in 1934. But this weird moment came at the 1938 tournament. After the Azzurri won a penalty in their match with Brazil, Meazza was set to take it. As he ran up, though, his shorts dropped! Despite the embarrassment, “Peppino” still managed to beat the giggling goalkeeper.

8. One and done

The World Cup hasn’t always included a group stage prior to the knockout games. During the earlier iterations, it started as a winner-goes-through contest from the off. So that brings us to 1938. Indonesia, or Dutch East Indies as they were known then, qualified for the round of 16. They ultimately lost, and have never featured in the tournament since. That makes them the only nation to have played just one World Cup match!

9. Oleg Salenko runs wild

While he might not be as famous as some other World Cup legends, Oleg Salenko made his own bit of history at the 1994 tournament in America. Yes, the Russian forward scored five goals in his team’s thumping victory over Cameroon. No other player has managed to hit the back of the net that many times in one World Cup game.

10. The India boots controversy

After earning a spot at the 1950 World Cup, India opted to pull out before a ball was kicked in Brazil. Money issues were flagged up as one of the biggest reasons, yet that wasn’t all. At that time, none of the Indian players wore boots in their soccer games: they were completely barefooted. That went against tournament rules, and the team didn’t plan on changing.

11. A very young host city

Compared to a lot of host nations from the past, Qatar is home to some very young cities — not least Lusail. This is where the 2022 World Cup Final is set to be played. But prior to 2006 the city hadn’t even been constructed. It’s yet another example that the coming tournament will be like no other.

12. The tournament’s fastest red card

No soccer team wants to pick up an early red card, especially in a World Cup match. Yet that’s exactly what happened to Uruguay at the 1986 event in Mexico. When La Celeste faced Scotland, Jose Batista was sent off by the referee just 56 seconds into the game. Unsurprisingly, it still stands as the tournament’s fastest dismissal.

13. Giving back to the people

Croatia were one of the big success stories at the 2018 World Cup. Despite boasting a very talented squad, it was still surprising to see them progress all the way to the final. France ultimately came out victorious, but it wasn’t all bad news for the Croats. After finishing as runners-up, the team earned over $28 million. They didn’t keep it, though — every cent was donated to charitable organizations.

14. Brazil’s perfect run

With the group stages at the start of the tournament, teams can afford to lose or draw a match and still go on to lift the World Cup. Mind you, Brazil didn’t have to worry about their performances in 2002. They went on a perfect run in South Korea and Japan, winning all seven of their games. No other nation has that many victories at a single World Cup.

15. The Black Spider’s pre-match routine

Lev Yashin is without doubt one of the greatest goalkeepers to ever play soccer. This man was an impenetrable wall between the sticks for the Soviet Union, earning the fearsome nickname “Black Spider.” He featured at the 1958, 1962, and 1966 World Cups, and his preparation never changed. Yashin was quoted as saying, “[You] have a smoke to calm your nerves, then toss back a strong drink to tone your muscles.”

16. Three in a row? Nope

While several nations boast multiple World Cup titles, none of them have lifted the trophy three times in a row. Brazil and Italy have come closest, following their respective back-to-back victories in 1958/1962 and 1934/1938, yet neither could get over the line. Will it ever be done? Never say never! It might take a while, though...

17. Penalty shoot-out pain

Some of the World Cup’s most dramatic moments involve penalty shoot-outs. For the neutrals, they’re gripping ways to decide a drawn knockout game. But for the fans of the teams taking part? They’re agonizing! And no supporters know that feeling better than those of England, Spain, and Italy. They jointly hold the unwanted tournament record of having been beaten three times via spot-kicks.

18. Just Fontaine, the goalscoring machine

The race to become top scorer at a World Cup is usually pretty close: there normally aren’t that many goals in it. Then again, you couldn’t say that at the 1958 event. French striker Just Fontaine went on to bag 13 goals in Sweden, making him the runaway winner. His nearest challengers were Pelé and Helmut Rahn with six. No one’s topped that total at a single tournament since.

19. Compact tournament

If you’ve ever followed your nation to a World Cup, then you’ll know that the travel between stadiums can be a bit of a logistical nightmare: they’re not always close to each other. In Qatar, though, that shouldn’t be an issue. Everything can be found within a 34-mile radius. How helpful! Only the very first tournament back in 1930 can match those compressed figures.

20. 3 million bottles of beer on the wall

It’s fair to say that a lot of soccer fans love the odd beer when watching a game: the two go together like peanut butter and jelly. But even so, we’re still rubbing our eyes looking at the following number. During the 2010 World Cup, it’s believed that roughly 3 million bottles of alcoholic beverages were bought in South Africa. 

21. Wasting no time

The World Cup has seen its fair share of fast goals since the inaugural tournament kicked off. Yet none have been quicker than this one from the 2002 event. When Turkey took on the co-hosts South Korea, Hakan Sukur wasted no time putting them in front. He netted after 10.89 seconds. We wonder how many fans missed it taking their seats?

22. An audience of billions

The global appeal of the World Cup can never be questioned: there are few sporting events that can attract the sort of numbers it does every four years. But with that being said, the figures from the 2014 tournament in Brazil are absolutely mind-boggling. More than 3 billion people around the world watched the games on TV. 

23. Roger Milla makes history

Remember the 1994 World Cup game between Russia and Cameroon that we mentioned earlier? Well, as it turns out, Oleg Salenko wasn’t the only player to make history that day. Roger Milla put the ball in the back of the net for the Indomitable Lions, and became the tournament’s oldest goalscorer in the process. He was 42 at the time.

24. Pay disputes and government interference

All teams go into the World Cup qualifiers with dreams of making the event. But for Indonesia and Zimbabwe, their hopes were dashed before a ball was kicked a few years ago. Ahead of the 2018 tournament’s qualifying stages, the south-east Asian country was banned because of “government interference” in their games. As for Zimbabwe, they suffered the same fate after blocking their manager’s salary.

25. Rise in pregnancies

After the 2006 World Cup ended in Germany, something remarkable happened. There was a dramatic rise in pregnancies across the nation, leading to a baby surge some nine months on from the tournament. The birth rate jumped roughly 10 percent. That’s incredibly high compared to the normal figure there — 0.7 percent is the standard bump. You can’t say the event didn’t leave a legacy behind!

26. Diana Ross once took a penalty

The opening ceremonies at World Cups can be a bit hit and miss. Some of them are great, while others are totally forgettable. Then, there’s the bizarre, disastrous effort from 1994 which deserves its own category. Diana Ross was meant to fire a ball into a giant goal, which would subsequently burst open. But the music legend completely fluffed her penalty and the net broke anyway. It was hilarious!

27. Host nations making their World Cup debuts

When the 2022 tournament finally kicks off in November, Qatar will become the latest nation to play in their maiden World Cup. But wait — there’s more! They’ll also be the first host country since Italy back in 1934 to make their debut at the event. That’ll surely end up as a future quiz question.

28. 2026’s huge jump

At the moment, the World Cup is contested by 32 nations who have successfully made it through the qualifying rounds. For the next tournament, though, it’s going to be a very different story. The 2026 event, which is set to be held in America, Canada, and Mexico, will welcome a whopping 48 teams. 

29. History repeats itself for Germany

Germany have been one of the most consistent performers at the World Cup since it started. They’re always a dangerous team. So that’s why it was such a shock to see them go out at the group stages in 2018. That never happens! Yet weirdly enough, the last time Die Mannschaft performed this badly at the tournament was 80 years before, at the 1938 World Cup. History somehow repeated itself.

30. Goals galore when Austria met Switzerland

Without wishing to sound disrespectful, Austria vs. Switzerland isn’t exactly a glamor fixture in international soccer. But in the past, the pair served up an eye-catching thriller at the 1954 World Cup. Yep, the Austrians beat the tournament hosts 7-5 when they played each other. No other game has produced this many goals in the competition’s long history.

31. The most common World Cup Final

As a neutral, it’s always nice when a new team makes it to the World Cup Final: it shakes things up a bit. Mind you, it doesn’t happen that often. A clutch of the same nations are always buzzing around the latter stages. So what’s the most common final at the tournament? It’s Germany vs. Argentina. They’ve met three times so far: in 1986, 1990, and 2014.

32. Only one player has lifted the trophy three times

For international soccer players, winning the World Cup is the ultimate dream: nothing can beat it. How about doing it three times, though? That’s uncharted territory for almost everyone, barring one man. Yes, Pelé is the only person to have achieved that feat. The Brazilian icon lifted the trophy in 1958, 1962, and 1970. Good luck matching him!

33. Romance restrictions

It isn’t unheard of for sports stars to abandon their love lives for a spell in a bid to heighten their performances at events. Some nations are said to adopt this strategy for World Cups, with teams such as Germany, Mexico, Chile, and Spain implementing the restrictions. Then again, the likes of Brazil are rumored to be a little less strict, only barring “acrobatic” romantic positions...

34. Juventus’ starring role

If you support a successful soccer club, then there’s a good chance that many of the players will be full-blown internationals. There’s no better example than at the 2018 World Cup, when it was reported that Italian giants Juventus had sent more stars to the tournament than anyone else since 1930: a total of 128. Barcelona were just behind them on 126.

35. The demountable stadium

When it comes to unique World Cup stadia, Stadium 974 has to be near the top of the list. This arena, which we’ll be seeing at the 2022 tournament, was constructed with repurposed parts. The most eye-catching materials have to be the cargo containers outside! Anyway, the other notable feature is that it’s demountable. Once the soccer ends, Stadium 974 will be carefully taken down.

36. The smallest country to qualify

Who doesn’t love a good soccer underdog story? Going into the 2018 tournament, Iceland certainly fit that bill. It was their first World Cup appearance, coming off the back of their thrilling efforts at Euro 2016. But while they couldn’t repeat those efforts, the country did make history in Russia. Yep, with a population of little more than 300,000, they became the smallest nation to ever play in the competition.

37. Draw specialists

Not all draws are boring. In fact, if they’re high-scoring affairs, those matches can be extremely exciting. Still, though, everyone likes to see a winner, right? Anyway, as it turns out, two teams at the World Cup have a knack for drawing games more than anyone else. Italy and England hold the record with 21 each. Will the Three Lions add to that in Qatar?

38. Pain in Spain

Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of excitement around Spain when the 1982 World Cup started. They were the hosts, after all! But that buzz soon made way for feelings of real disappointment. La Roja had a nightmarish tournament, picking up just a single victory from five games. They finished rock-bottom during the second group stage, in what’s considered the worst display by a host country.

39. 1,500 miles separated two host cities in 2018

While Qatar might be the most compact World Cup in over 90 years, Russia was pretty much the complete opposite in 2018. Those stadiums and cities had some major distances between them. Yet nothing could rival the gap between Kaliningrad and Ekaterinburg. Incredibly, they were separated by more than 1,500 miles. Imagine making that journey without an airplane!

40. The World Cup’s most consistent qualifier

Every so often, a significant soccer nation does miss out on World Cup qualification. You only have to look at the 2022 tournament for examples of that. None of Italy, Sweden, Chile, Nigeria, or Colombia made it to Qatar. But Brazil have. In fact, the The Seleção have qualified for all 22 World Cups — a feat no other country can match. What a run!