The FIFA World Cup is nearly 100 years old. First played in 1930, the world’s biggest sporting event has been played 22 times. And eight nations have won the sport’s greatest prize. But which was the first to win the World Cup? If you don’t already know, it may not be who you think.

Welcoming the world – and winning

The first-ever World Cup in 1930 was tricky to organize. While soccer tournaments at the Olympics had been contested before, no international event specific to the sport had been attempted.

Five nations put in bids to host the inaugural tournament, but four of them withdrew their applications. This left just one – Uruguay.

The small South American country would go on to welcome twelve other nations to their capital, Montevideo. Three stadiums, the Estadio Centenario, Estadio Pocitos, and Estadio Gran Parque Central were used to stage all the games.

Three additional nations had been invited, but were unable to participate: Egypt, Japan, and Siam (Thailand). The two Asian sides withdrew, and Egypt actually missed their ride. A storm in the Mediterranean caused delays, which made the only African representative late for their ship.

Indeed, the limits of travel at the time also limited participation. Only four European countries made the trip – France, Belgium, Romania and Yugoslavia. The lack of strong teams such as England, Italy, and Germany does put a bit of an asterisk on the first World Cup.

That asterisk gets a little bigger when you consider that the host nation, Uruguay, won the tournament.

First to win the World Cup – Uruguay

When you consider that they did not have to travel from even within South America, it makes sense that the home team had a leg up. Without the burden of a long trip, Uruguay was able to outlast their opponents and take home the Jules Rimet Trophy (the original World Cup trophy, pictured above).

A stamp, from North Korea of all places, commemorating Uruguay’s World Cup triumph
A stamp, from North Korea of all places, commemorating Uruguay’s World Cup triumph

A stamp, from North Korea of all places, commemorating Uruguay’s World Cup triumph

La Celeste were perfect in the group stage, winning both of their games and not conceding a goal. Another advantage they had was being in a group with just three teams. Due to the uneven number of teams competing, one of the groups had four teams and thus an extra game on the schedule for each team.

In the knockout rounds, Uruguay smashed Yugoslavia 6-1 in the semifinals. Then, in a battle with neighbors from across the Río de la Plata, they took on Argentina in the final.

Uruguay struck early, with a 12th-minute goal from Pablo Dorado. It was the Argentines though who had a 2-1 lead in the 37th minute. However, Uruguay would score three unanswered goals to re-take the lead and eventually win 4-2.

This result made Argentina the first-ever runners-up at the World Cup, while the United States took third place.

Any doubts about Uruguay’s quality due to being the home team were somewhat silenced twenty years later. They’d win the World Cup again in 1950, this time in much more hostile territory in Brazil against a more robust field of opponents.

Photos: Imago.