The Weird Cup: Strange and wonderful facts about the World Cup

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With the World Cup now underway, the world is watching as we move towards crowning the next World Champions of football. The World Cup is a fantastic spectacle, and there have been some incredible things to happen during the tournament over the years.

But there have also been some very strange instances over the years, and today we will be taking a look at some of the weird and wonderful things that have happened in the last 88 years of the World Cup:

The first of many….

Uruguay was the scene of the FIFA World Cup’s first strange incident back in 1930. During the semi-final between Argentina and USA, the USA physio Jack Coll ran on to treat an injured player, but had to be helped off the field himself! An untimely trip caused him to inhale the contents of a bottle of chloroform which had spilled in his bag.

Un-Stabile Environment…

Every player dreams of representing their nation, but as far as international careers go, surely there are none more strange than Guillermo Stábile’s.

Uncapped for Argentina, Stábile was selected for the first ever World Cup in 1930. After missing the first game, he was selected for his debut as a replacement for the unfit first choice striker – and bagged a hat trick. He then scored 2 goals in the final group game to secure qualification to the semi finals (as there were less teams competing). He bagged another brace in the semi final, before netting a single goal in their unsuccessful final against inaugural World Cup winners Uruguay.

After this tournament, Stábile never played for Argentina again. This meant that in his international career, he could boast having scored a hat trick on his debut, scoring in every game he played for the national side, a goals per game ratio of two (four games, eight goals), and being the top scorer at the first ever FIFA World Cup. Quite an accolade!


Argentina and Uruguay coming out into the stadium for the first ever World Cup Final. Image from

Also, there was a very strange coincidence to the 1930 World Cup final. In the first half, the Argentinian’s ball was used, and at half time Argentina went in 2-0 up. In the second half, Uruguay’s ball was used, and they ran out 4-2 winners. Strange huh?

Bad Boys…

Giuseppe “Peppino” Meazza. Widely regarded as one of the greatest Italian footballers of all time, played a crucial role in his country’s World Cup victory but he was famous for his lifestyle off the field as well as his football skills. Legend has it that Meazza slept in brothels on the nights before matches before stumbling onto the field for practice several hours after the rest of his teammates. His most memorable moment was when his shorts fell down as he took a penalty against Brazil in the 1938 World Cup. It didn’t faze him though, as he picked them up with one hand and made the shot past the Brazilian goalkeeper. The goalkeeper was far too busy laughing and Italy were propelled into their second consecutive World Cup final.


Meazza liked to have a “good time” between games it seems… Image from Wikipedia

Indian Summer Cancelled…

India qualified for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil but the team decided to withdraw from the competition. There were two reasons for this. Firstly the developing country was not sure it could meet the financial obligations of playing in such a prestigious tournament. Secondly FIFA require all players to wear shoes during matches. Unfortunately the Indian footballers were only accustomed to playing barefoot at the time, and so did not want to wear to boots.

Getting Shirty…

The Scotland v Uruguay match at Switzerland 1954 should have been a bit more even. However, it ended in a 7-0 rout for the Uruguayans.

Scotland, as World Cup debutants, seemed to be caught out by the weather in Basel, which reached temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. However, they were wearing old-fashioned thick woollen jerseys with long sleeves and buttoned collars.

“The Scottish FA assumed Switzerland was cold because it had mountains,” explained midfielder and former Manchester United manager Tommy Docherty. “You’d have thought we were going on an expedition to the Antarctic. The Uruguayans wore light V-necked shirts with short sleeves. No wonder we lost 7-0.”


László Kubala is the only player to play for three countries (as recognised by FIFA).

Born to parents of Czech origin in Budapest, Kubala, a Barcelona icon, played for Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Spain. Former Real Madrid striker Alfredo Di Stefano played for Argentina, Spain and Colombia, however, his Colombia caps won in the early 1950s came at a time when the country’s football association was not officially recognised by FIFA.

Bad Boys II…

Lev Yashin, the great Soviet goalkeeper, participated in three World Cups (1958, 1962 and 1966) and was known as the “Black Spider” because he chose to wear an all-black outfit and had the ability to block balls as if he had more than two arms. Yashin’s pre-match routine was to “have a smoke to calm your nerves, then toss back a strong drink to tone your muscles.” He went on to be crowned best goalkeeper of the century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics.


Lev Yashin is widely regarded to be one of the best ever Goalkeepers, despite his unique pre game routine. Image from football365

The Battle of Santiago…

When Chile hosted the World Cup in 1962, the country was still recovering from the biggest earthquake ever suffered in recorded history. Two Italian journalists, who clearly weren’t very compassionate, wrote about what a dump the place was and made distasteful comments about the locals. Their articles were reprinted in Chilean papers and from that moment there was bad blood between the two sets of fans. Italians, and people the locals mistook for Italians, were jeered, abused and beaten up. As the game between the two nations got underway, the first foul came just 12 seconds into the match. English referee Ken Aston tried to take control of the situation and when Italian Giorgio Ferrini blatantly fouled Chile’s Honorino Landa, he ejected him.

Sadly, it wasn’t that easy. Ferrini wouldn’t leave and was eventually grabbed and pulled, kicking and screaming, off the pitch by Chilean cops. It got worse, Landa punched an Italian in full view of Aston, but he let it go. He allowed another punch by Chile’s Leonel Sánchez to Italy’s Mario David, after Sanchez had been fouled by David. Naturally David booted Sanchez in the face as soon as he could. Ken Aston couldn’t ignore this, and he sent David off. Sanchez, still seething, sent a nasty left to Italian Humberto Maschio, which broke his nose. That was it for Aston, who acted like a WWE referee from then on out. The cops did return to the pitch three more times, though, to keep things from getting out of hand. Chile won 2-0, but that was irrelevant considering what had happened throughout the match. The real reason everyone remembers the “Battle of Santiago”, as the game came to be known, was that it was the inspiration for the red and yellow cards we use today,so at least some good came out of it.

In a Bit of a Pickle(s)…

This strange fact is well known, but is worthy of being included in this piece; A dog played a key role for England, when the Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen from the Central Hall in Westminster during the Stanley Gibbons ‘Stampex’ exhibition. A week later, David Corbett’s dog Pickles pulled the missing trophy out of a holly hedge in south London – and in doing so claimed a £5,000 reward for his owner; five times as much as the bonus paid to each of the England players for winning that same Trophy just four months later!


Pickles at the bush where he found the Jules Rimet Trophy after it was stolen from an exhibition. Image from

Lacking in Qualifications (Appearances)…

Giuseppe Bergomi played in four World Cups but did not appear in ANY qualifiers!

The former Inter defender played for Italy at the 1982, 1986, 1990 and 1998 World Cups without exerting himself in any qualifiers. As an 18-year-old he was a late addition to the side in 1982, then the team qualified as holders in 1986, while Italy were the hosts in 1990. In 1998, at the age of 34, he was a late and surprising call up to the squad.

Talk about all of the glory with none of the work.


Bergomi played in 4 World Cups without ever having to play in a qualifier. Image from

Munich Represent!…

Since 1982 at least one Bayern player has been in the starting line-up in every World Cup final.

No really, this is true! Germany appeared in the 1982, ’86, ’90, ’02 and 2014 finals, while players such as Jorginho (Brazil in ’94), Bixente Lizarazu (France in ’98), Willy Sagnol (France ’06) and Arjen Robben (Netherlands ’10) have also starred.

One Minute Wonder…

Marcelo Trobbiani’s World Cup career was the shortest in the history of the tournament… just one minute long! But what a glorious experience it was! He was an 89th minute substitute for Argentina in their 3-2 win over West Germany  in the 1986 World Cup final. He is also the only player with a 100% pass accuracy in a World Cup Final…

A Disappointing Birthday…

Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola is the only player to be sent off in a World Cup finals… on his birthday!

The Italian received a red in their second round victory against Nigeria on his 28th birthday.

On the bright side, at least he got a card from the referee…

Urine Trouble…

Most people are aware of the “Tomb of the unknown soldier” beneath the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, and also that it has an Eternal Flame burning in memory of the brave soldier buried beneath.

But unfortunately, the eternal flame at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris has only been extinguished once in its history. “But Paul, how did this happen?!” I hear you ask? Well, Drunken Mexican football fans decided to PEE on it after the final of the 1998 World Cup, after France defeated Brazil.

Talk about taking the……

Being Too Cautious…

During the 2006 World Cup, referee Graham Poll booked Croatian Josip Simunic three times before sending him off. For whatever reason, Poll seemingly lost count. He later said:

“I always made sure whenever I cautioned a player that I looked at him, said his name and number to myself, and made a mental note of it,without referring to my notebook. But I wrote it in the wrong column. It was my fault.”

Divine Intervention…

No country has ever won the World Cup during the papacy of a Pope from the same country.

But then that shouldn’t worry Argentina; Messi’s broken pretty much every record going, so it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he ended up rewriting history again.

Oh Baby…

The World Cup winning country is rumoured to see a baby boom 9 months after the World Cup. In fact, Hyundai even created a commercial based on this fact.

Always Russian Around…

The distance between the easternmost host city (Ekaterinburg) and the westernmost host city (Kaliningrad) at the 2018 World Cup is over 1500 miles. For comparison, that’s about the same distance as Moscow to London.

Interestingly, Ekaterinburg is technically part of Asia, so in essence this means the World Cup is being played on two continents.

As you can see, the history of the World Cup has been just as quirky as it has been fascinating, and no doubt there will be even more weird and wonderful happenings taking place in Russia this summer. Whoever you support, we’re in for a fantastic summer of sport.

All videos sourced from

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