First 7 World Cup Final Stadiums: Then and Now

 
 
A general view of the stands prior to the first leg of the FIFA 2006 World Cup Playoff between Uruguay and Australia at the Centenario Stadium November 12, 2005 in Montevideo, Uruguay.

The World Cup didn’t begin until 1930, despite the fact the first international took place in 1872. The tournament has taken place every four years since the first finals in 1930, with the exception of 1942 and 1946, when the tournament was withheld due to the Second World War. In total, seventeen different countries have hosted the World Cup, including South Korea and Japan who jointly hosted the finals in 2002, and Mexico, Italy, France, Germany and Brazil, all of whom have hosted the finals twice.

This video just focuses on the first seven editions of the World Cup, however, between 1930 and 1962, in which the host nations were Uruguay, Italy, France, Brazil, Switzerland, Sweden and Chile.

Here are the first 7 World Cup final stadiums: Then and now…

7. Estadio Centenario

Uruguay were chosen as the host of the inaugural FIFA World Cup for three key reasons. The country had dominated the last two Olympic Games, winning gold in both Paris and Amsterdam, which were - and still are - considered world titles by FIFA. Uruguay was also celebrating 100 years of independence, and they offered to subsidise the costly travel involved for European nations who made the journey to South America. Despite that, no European nation obliged, up until FIFA president Jules Rimet convinced Belgium, France, Romania and Yugoslavia to do so.

The Estadio Centenario was the venue for the World Cup final between Uruguay and Argentina, which the hosts won 4-2 despite having trailed 2-1 at half-time. The stadium, which is named the Estadio Centenario in celebration of 100 years of Uruguay’s constitution, was built in just nine months by mostly migrant workers. It hosted ten games at the 1930 World Cup, with the record attendance of 79,867 being set for Uruguay’s 6-1 defeat of Yugoslavia in the semi-finals.

Eighty-nine years on, the Estadio Centenario is still standing and remains largely unchanged. This is likely to change if Uruguay, Argentina and Paraguay prove successful in their bid to host the 2030 World Cup, with suggestions the Centenario would be either demolished or majorly renovated if the finals returned to Uruguay a century on. Today, the Estadio Centenario is still the home of the Uruguayan national team, and occasionally both Penarol and Nacional. The ground has a capacity of 60,235, and since 1983 it is the only stadium in the world to be granted the status of ‘historical monument of world football’ by FIFA.

6. Stadio Nazionale PNF

The Italian team performing a fascist salute before the 1934 World Cup Final, at the Stadio Nazionale PNF, Rome, Italy, 10th June 1934.The Italian team performing a fascist salute before the 1934 World Cup Final, at the Stadio Nazionale PNF, Rome, Italy, 10th June 1934.

If you thought picking morally bankrupt World Cup hosts was anything new, let the 1934 World Cup which was handed to Benito Mussolini’s Italy serve as a reminder that FIFA has always been dreadful at this kind of thing. Although the Second World War hadn’t yet started and Mussolini hadn’t yet signed a pact with Adolf Hitler, he had already assumed dictatorial powers, began spreading Italian fascism in Africa by force, and bombed Corfu.

The Stadio Nazionale PNF, which literally translates as the National Stadium of the Fascist Party in full, was not the biggest stadium at the 1934 World Cup, that would be the still standing San Siro in Milan. However, despite only hosting three games, one of them was the final between Italy and Czechoslovakia. The entire 1934 finals were highly controversial, with Mussolini reportedly selecting the referees and meeting with them himself, and the final was no exception. Italy beat Czechoslovakia 2-1.

The Stadio Nazionale PNF had a regular capacity of 47,300, although a crowd of 55,000 apparently packed in for that final 85 years ago. Having been built in 1911 and renovated in 1928, the stadium was closed in 1953. Both Lazio and Roma played at the ground up until it’s closure, and in 1959 it was replaced by the Stadio Flaminio on the same site. The Stadio Flaminio was the Italian rugby teams home stadium for more than a decade, but has been without a regular occupant since 2011.

5. Stade Olympique de Colombes

Following Mussolini’s 1934 World Cup, Hitler’s Germany did at least lose their 1938 World Cup bid. France won by a landslide over Germany and Argentina, causing outrage in South America, where those involved in football felt the finals should alternate between the two continents every four years. The Stade Olympique de Colombes was the largest venue for the finals, and the 60,000 capacity arena hosted the final as Italy retained their crown against Hungary.

The Stade Olympique de Colombes was, as its name suggests, the main stadium for the 1924 Paris Olympics. Opened in 1907, French rugby club Racing 92 played at the ground from 1907 until 2017. In 1972, the Parc des Princes overtook the Colombes as the largest stadium in France, and the grounds capacity has been shrinking and shrinking since the 1960’s. The French rugby team last played at the Colombes in 1972, whilst the French football team last played there in 1975.

Now limited to a maximum capacity of just 15,000, 1936 French champions, but now fifth tier side Racing Club de France Football - better known simply as Racing - are the stadiums only current occupants. Almost a hundred years on from hosting the 1928 Olympics, the Colombes is planned to be a field hockey venue the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

4. Maracana

A general view of the stadium during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group F match between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina at Maracana on June 15, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.A general view of the stadium during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group F match between Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina at Maracana on June 15, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Argentina, Brazil and Germany all bid to host the 1942 World Cup, but as mentioned in the introduction, both the 1942 and 1946 finals were postponed due to a state of total warfare involving more than 30 countries and over 100 million people. The 1950 World Cup was a curious one for a number of reasons. Originally scheduled for 1949, Brazil won the rights to host the finals completely unchallenged, before FIFA immediately postponed them until 1950. These finals weren’t officially referred to as a World Cup, but rather as the Jules Rimet Trophy, to celebrate the FIFA presidents 25-year anniversary. It was also the only World Cup to adopt a round-robin system, meaning there was no actual ‘final’ to speak of at all.

Although there was no official final, there was a de facto final, since the last game of the World Cup between Brazil and Uruguay would decide who won the World Cup. Unlike most finals though, Brazil only actually needed to avoid defeat to win the World Cup, since they were a point ahead of Uruguay going into the game. In one of football’s greatest ever shocks, the plucky Uruguayans stunned their hosts, coming back from 1-0 down to win 2-1, winning the second consecutive World Cup in which they had entered.

The Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, then the largest stadium in the world, was built for the purpose of hosting the 1950 World Cup. With a capacity of 200,000, the stadium hosted eight games in total, setting a world record attendance for the final which is unlikely to ever be beaten. Despite hosting the finals in 1950, building on the Maracana wasn’t officially complete until 1967, some 17 years later. Unlike the Estadio Centenario, major renovations have been made to the Maracana over the years, particularly in the build-up to Brazil hosting the 2014 World Cup. In the all-seater era, the grounds capacity has now been more than halved, down to 78,838. The stadium fell into a state of disrepair following the 2016 Olympics, with disputes over whose responsibility it was to carry out maintenance. It’s back in action now, being used variously by Flamengo, Fluminense and the Brazilian national team, and it remains the largest stadium in Brazil.

3. Wankdorf Stadium

Switzerland won the 1954 World Cup bid unchallenged back in 1946, becoming the smallest European nation to have hosted the finals. The Swiss still had six impressive stadia for the time, the smallest of which still had a capacity just under 35,000. The Wankdorf Stadium first opened in 1925, but was demolished in anticipation of the 1954 World Cup with a capacity of 42,000. The new Wankdorf would be among the largest stadiums in Europe, with a capacity of 64,000.

The 1954 World Cup was a thrilling tournament which Hungary always looked destined to win. Unbeaten in 32 games going into the final against West Germany, who they had already beaten 8-3 in the group stages, even a knock to Ferenc Puskas seemed unlikely to halt them. Incredibly, despite taking a 2-0 lead within 10 minutes, West Germany came back to win 3-2. In Germany, the final is known as the Miracle of Bern, since the result was so surprising and the Wankdorf Stadium is located in the Wankdorf quarter of the city of Bern. In Hungary, many consider the game to have been a disgrace, with Germany having had a seemingly illegitimate goal allowed, Hungary having had a seemingly perfectly good goal ruled out, and some reasonably good sources suggesting the West German side were guilty of doping.

The Wankdorf continued to be the home of Young Boys up until it was demolished in 2001, and the stadium also famously hosted the 1961 European Cup final, in which Benfica beat Barcelona 3-2. Following the demolition of the ground, the Stade de Suisse was built in its place. A state of the art arena, albeit with a smaller capacity, the Stade de Suisse is also the home of Young Boys, and it was the venue for three games at Euro 2008.

2. Rasunda Stadium

Brazilian forwards Vava and Pele (number 10) enter a melee in front of the French goal during the the World Cup semi-final at the Rasunda Stadion in Solna, Stockholm, 24th June 1958....Brazilian forwards Vava and Pele (number 10) enter a melee in front of the French goal during the the World Cup semi-final at the Rasunda Stadion in Solna, Stockholm, 24th June 1958....

After lobbying the likes of Argentina, Chile and Mexico into not bidding to host the 1958 World Cup, Sweden’s World Cup bid went unchallenged, making it the second consecutive finals hosted by a relatively small European nation. Some of the Swedish stadiums used at the finals were pretty tiny, but not the Rasunda Stadium in Stockholm, which was second only to the Ullevi Stadium in terms of capacity.

The 1958 finals saw a real glut of goals, and France’s Just Fontaine bagged a record 13 goals at a single World Cup. The main story was a 17-year-old by the name of Pele, though. Pele didn’t play until Brazil’s last group game, and he failed to score in that game against the Soviet Union. He came alive in the knockout stages, however, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win in the quarter-finals, a hat-trick in a 5-2 win in the semis and a brace as Brazil won 5-2 in the final. That final, which took place at the Rasunda Stadium, pitted Brazil against the hosts Sweden, and a 17-year-old Pele could have retired that day having achieved far more than most.

The Rasunda Stadium wasn’t the first stadium to have been built on that site when it opened in 1937, becoming the home of AIK and the Swedish national team for the next 75 years. The Rasunda was replaced by the stunning 50,000+ capacity Friends Arena in 2012, and was fully demolished in 2013. Flats and offices now occupy the site in which the historic ground used to stand.

1. Estadio Nacional

This seven takes us as close to the present day as 1962, which was the first World Cup in which there were multiple challenges to host the World Cup since before the war. Argentina, Chile and West Germany all bid, although West Germany later withdrew, and Chile secured more than twice as many votes as Argentina. Eight cities were originally scheduled to help host the finals, but the 1960 Valdivia Earthquake, which remains the most powerful earthquake ever recorded on Earth, devastated the nation’s infrastructure. Only four stadiums had been repaired sufficiently and could be used in 1962, and of those four, only the Estadio Nacional had a capacity greater than 19,000.

Naturally, the 66,660 capacity Estadio Nacional would be the centrepiece for the finals then, hosting ten games including the final. Opened in 1938 and expanded in 1962 for the tournament, the ground would see Brazil become the first nation since Italy to retain the World Cup, a feat no nation has achieved since.

The Estadio Nacional, or the Estadio Nacional Julio Martinez Pradanos to give it its full name, has had both a colourful and very dark past, and is still standing albeit after much renovation in 2019. During the 1973 Chilean coup d’etat, the Estadio Nacional was used as a detention centre, housing an estimated 7,000 people at maximum capacity. Inmates were tortured and even executed, and the Soviet Union refused to play against Chile at the ground in 1974 World Cup qualification. Today, the Estadio Nacional is still the home of Universidad de Chile and the Chilean national team, with a capacity of 48,665 following major renovations in 2009.

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