Latin America has a long-standing history as a region in the World Cups. For example, a country in the region, Brazil, is the only nation in the world that has not missed any edition of the event and it holds the highest number of titles: five.
Meanwhile, Argentina and Uruguay have held the championship trophy on two different occasions. Mexico and Brazil are on the very exclusive list, next to Germany and Italy as the nations that have hosted the most sought-after tournament twice.
But throughout the history of the World Cup, which has been the best moments for Latin America? Let’s take a look at some of the unforgettable events that are part of the nine-decade history of a tournament coveted by a lot of nations around the world.
Brazil Claiming the Crown for the Fifth Time
Brazil holds many records throughout many World Cups. In addition to being the single nation that has competed in the 20 editions, it also leads the historic standings with the highest number of wins at 70. Brazil has obtained the “Jules Rimet” Cup three times and holds two FIFA Cups under its belt.
The Brazilian squad picked up its first title in Sweden, back in 1958, when they beat the locals 5-2, thanks to two goals by Pelé and two by Vavá. Then four years later, in Chile, Brazil, who was directed by Aymore Moreira, defeated Czechoslovakia 3-1, with goals by Amarildo, Zito, and Vavá once again.
Their dominance was even stronger in the Cup organized by Mexico back in 1970. Described as one of the most complete squads of all time, winning all of their six games and Mario “Lobo” Zagallo’s name will go down in history by becoming the first soccer player to score a goal in a final (in 1958) and then grab the title as a director. In the clash for the championship, the Canarinha took over Italy 4-1, with goals delivered by Pelé, Gérson, Jairzinho and the team’s captain Carlos Alberto.
After that, the Brazilian team fell into a hole and the fourth championship was won 24 years later down the line, in the World Cup hosted by the United States back in 1994.
The team was directed by Carlos Alberto Parreira and it matched Italy in the finals once again. For the first time in the history of the WC, in the final match, no goals were not scored in the regular time and the teams were required to go to penalties. Claudio Taffarel, who was their goalkeeper, was the hero and Italy has certainly not forgotten the image of a heartbroken Roberto Baggio, after shooting the last penalty up to the sky.
In 2002, during the only World Cup organized by two countries, Brazil again won all of their games, including the grand final against Germany 2-0, with goals by Ronaldo Luiz Nazario de Lima.
When taking a look at the statistics, we find that the Brazilian team is the second one with more presence on top of the podium, only surpassed by the German nation. The “Canarinha” has five titles under its belt, has lost two finals and has acquired two bronze medals.
The Magic of Argentina’s Maradona
To nobody’s surprise, Argentina is another Latin American team with a long history in the World Cup. The nation has participated in 16 editions of the Cup, in which they have won twice and have been taken down three times in the finals. The best moments for the Argentinians are the ones related to the victories in the 1978 and 1986 finals.
In Mexico 1986, after taking down the archrival England in the quarterfinals, with two goals by Diego Armando Maradona, one with the “hand of God” and the other one with the “leg of a God”, the Argentinians defeated Belgium and reached the grand final against Federal Germany. The South American squad started with a lead of 2-0, with goals by Jose Luis Brown and Jorge Valdano, but the Germans didn’t give up that easily and tied up spectacularly, thanks to goals by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Rudi Vöeller.
But a few moments later, Jorge Burruchaga appeared in the 83rd minute, and his goal granted Argentinian its second title. The national team has played in three other grand finals. In the opening edition back in 1930 in Uruguay, they were taken down by the locals 4-2. Then, six decades later, they were knocked out by the unified Germany 1-0, in that inexistent penalty invented by the Mexican referee Edgardo Codesal. In Brazil, 2014, they were later defeated by the same opponent in extra time.
Uruguay’s Indomitable Fighting Spirit
Uruguay is one of the Latin American countries that have won the World Cup. The “charrúas” hosted the inaugural version of this tournament and, in the duel for the crown, at Montevideo’s Centenario stadium, they faced their rival Argentinian team. The game was very intense and those that were led by Alberto Suppicci finished the first half with a score of 2-1. However, in the second half, the goals by Pedro Cea, Victoriano Santos Iriarte and Hector Castro gave the locals a win in their books.
Twenty years later, not a lot of people thought that the Uruguayans had any real chance against Brazil, in the final match, and it was the only time in history in which a World Cup was decided in a round-robin format.
The Brazilians only needed to score a draw to win their first Cup, so over 130,000 fans attended the Maracana Stadium, in Rio de Janeiro, hoping to celebrate the win of the Brazilian squad.
The party started when Friaca placed the locals ahead; however, the Uruguayan fighting spirit was something beautiful to watch, when Juan Schiaffino tied the game in the 66th minute and then, in the 79th, Alcides Ghiggia scored the game-winning goal. The Uruguayans will never forget the “Maracanazo” and, surely, neither will the Brazilians.
Mexico Shows The Advantages of Being the Host
Mexico and Brazil are the Latin American countries that have participated as the organizers of a World Cup on two different occasions. The Brazilians have not claimed the title in front of their audience. And both of their appearances left scars in their fan’s memory because the “Maracanazo” of 1950 must be taken into account next to the stomp by Germany in the semifinal of 2014.
Similarly, the Mexicans have never climbed to the podium while playing in a World Cup, though at least they have achieved their best historical performance on the two different occasions on which they were locals. In the 1970 iteration, the Mexicans reached the quarterfinals, where they fell 4-1 to Italy, so they had a sixth-place finish.
Then, a few years later down the line, in 1986, the Mexican squad showed their best level and knocked out Bulgaria, in the second round 2-0, with goals by Manuel Negrete and Raúl Servín. In the quarterfinals, Mexico matched Federal Germany and the game ended with a 0-0 scoreline, but during penalties, the Germans had a better performance.
Mexico has never again hosted a Cup, though it aspires to co-organize the one in 2026 with the rest of North America, nor has been included among the best eight teams in a World Cup.