As the 2022 FIFA World Cup gets closer, as teams continue to qualify and the soccer odds continue to evolve, we wanted to take a good look at the three best national teams in FIFA World Cup history. We consider how many titles each team has, how many appearances they have made, how many top-four finishes, the team’s history, and when their dominance took place. We will also delve into what the last two to three World Cups have been like and how things look for Qatar in November 2022.
Beware, some teams have topped the rankings in the last decade that are not close to the top three in history. Teams like the Netherlands and Spain are elite as of late, but they do not keep up when looking over the past hundred years. Spain did win the World Cup title in 2010, but they only have one other top-four finish (fourth place in 1950). The Netherlands has five top-four finishes, three of which are Runners-up, but the Dutch do not have a World Cup title in their history.
Outside the top three
Quite a few countries are sitting outside the top three. France, Argentina, and Uruguay come to mind. They are well-known teams who have captured the hearts of their respective countries and, at times, the world. However, longevity and consistency are crucial to making this list. Those three teams don’t make the cut.
Uruguay’s two World Cup titles came in 1930 and 1950. Argentina, of course, has an extremely rich history of winning in soccer, but the team has only five top-four finishes, two of them being World Cup titles and their last being in 1986.
France has an incredible soccer history as well, but they land just outside of the top three with only two World Cup titles and one runner-up. That said, they will be defending their most recent title in Qatar after winning the 2018 FIFA World Cup and are currently tied with Brazil for the best odds to win the title at +575 in the 2022 FIFA World Cup Sportsbook.
Time to look at the top three teams in the history of the FIFA World Cup.
With minimal hesitation, we start with Brazil at the top of our list for the top teams in World Cup history. Brazil’s five titles lead the FIFA record books; the first came in 1958, the second in 1962, the third in 1970, the fourth in 1994, and the most recent championship in 2002. They have won a title in four of the past five decades.
Brazil did play in the first-ever World Cup in 1930 held in Uruguay, but they fell to Yugoslavia. Their drought continued from there through the ‘30s and ‘40s. Despite hosting the 1950 World Cup and being one match away from claiming the title, Brazil was beaten by Uruguay in a disgraceful game that Brazilians now refer to as “the Maracanazo.”
It was not until the 1958 World Cup that the Brazilians would pop their title cherry. Marking the beginning of their dominance and the rise of Pelé, Brazil beat Wales in the quarter-final, France in the semi-final, and handled Sweden 5–2 in the World Cup final. Pelé and company became the first team to win a title from a different continent than the host country.
From there, the Brazilians defended their title and won the 1962 FIFA World Cup. The team did this without Pelé after the group round, as he was injured in an earlier game against Czechoslovakia. The 1966 World Cup in England was a different story, their worst result since the 1934 World Cup. After being physically outmatched by the Portuguese, Brazil was eliminated in round one.
Came in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. With Pelé at the helm and in his last World Cup tournament, Brazil fielded one of the best rosters of all time, with Jairzinho, Tostão, Rivelino, Gérson, and Torres. They were utterly unstoppable, winning all of the matches outright and cruising to victory 4-1 over Italy in the final. The win made Brazil the first team to win three World Cup titles.
After Pelé retired, the team’s cohesion changed, and Brazil lost to the Dutch in the 1974 World Cup semi-final and Poland in the third-place game. It marked the beginning of another cold streak, which would last multiple decades. Brazil made the tournament in 1978 and finished in third place, but it was tainted by supposed match-fixing.
The 1982 World Cup was supposed to be different, Brazil once again had the most talented roster in the tournament, but they lost to Italy in a shameful game now referred to as “Sarriá’s Disaster.” The following tournament, the 1986 World Cup, ended in the quarter-finals after a penalty shoot-out loss to France. And in 1990, under new coach Sebastião Lazaroni, they lost in painful fashion to rival Argentina in the first elimination round.
After 24 years, the Brazilians snapped their drought and won the 1994 FIFA World Cup, their fourth title. This team defied the typical aggressive, offensive style Brazil was known for, instead of installing a defense-first style of play. Beating the Dutch 3-2 in the quarter-finals, Sweden 1–0 in the semi-finals, and Italy in penalty kicks in the final, Brazilians celebrated their victory around the world.
The 1998 World Cup was the Ronaldo show, where he was famously named player of the tournament after four goals and three assists heading into the final. Then in a series of events that still lives in infamy, Ronaldo was not on the roster handed out to the media right before the game was about to start. It turns out he may have had a seizure or was suffering from an injury that Brazil had been hiding. Either way, when the game started, he was on the field and managed to play but was of little assistance. Brazil lost 3-0 to France, their worst loss in a FIFA World Cup final to that point.
The 2002 World Cup team was exceptional and would prove to be the last team to win a World Cup title. Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho were unmatched by the rest of the teams in South Korea and Japan. Brazil defeated Belgium 2–0 in the first elimination round, England 2–1 in the quarter-finals, and Turkey in the semi-final 1–0. The Green and Yellow drew the Germans in the final, where Ronaldo redeemed himself with two goals and Brazil won their fifth World Cup championship 2–0.
Since then, the World Cup has been full of disappointment for Brazil. In 2006, Ronaldo scored his 15th career World Cup goal against Ghana in the first elimination round, setting the record for most goals in World Cup games, but they lost to France in the quarter-finals 0-1. In 2010, they lost to the Dutch 1-2 in South Africa and then lost to them again in the quarter-finals. When Brazil hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup, total disaster struck.
Superstar goalscorer Neymar had a terrific start to the tournament but was carried off the field in the quarter-final against Columbia, not to return. Things collapsed from there as the Brazilians lost 1-7 to Germany in the semi-final and 0-3 to the Dutch in the third-place play-off match.
In 2018, Brazil’s World Cup hopes were ended by Belgium 1-2 in the quarter-finals after Fernandinho scored.
With Tite still managing and slowly turning things around, Brazil hosted and won the 2019 Copa América. Outlook for this Brazilian squad has been dialed up again, and they have their sights set on Qatar. Being a soccer superpower means you always have to be on top of your game, and Brazil is looking like one of the best teams in the world right now.
Germany was an easy decision for the top three teams ever, with World Cup Championships in 1954, 1974, 1990, and 2014. We should note these wins include results when they were represented as West Germany. Their four titles are second to only Brazil.
Germany has played in 17 consecutive World Cup tournaments; their overall record is 67 wins, 20 draws, and 22 losses. Their overall goal difference is second best in the FIFA record books, behind Brazil, at +101 goals. Goal differential alone separates them from many other national teams.
Germany’s World Cup history from 1930-1950 is complicated. The national team did not have the resources to attend the first World Cup ever 1930, as it was during the Great Depression. In their first World Cup appearance in 1934, they finished third, beating Austria in the third-place game. Shortly after that, Austria was taken over by Germany, and in the 1938 World Cup, the Nazi leadership took players from both countries to field a World Cup team. They lost 2–4 in the first round of elimination to Switzerland. Then World War II happened, and FIFA did not recognize Germany until the 1950s.
“Miracle of Bern”
In 1954, not long after the end of WWII, the Federal Republic of Germany, referred to as West Germany, qualified for the 1954 World Cup and ended up winning the title. The 1954 FIFA World Cup Final is now called the “Miracle of Bern” and was won with a winning goal from Helmut Rahn, beating Hungary, who had a 32 match winning streak coming in this final. The victory was Germany’s first title and established them on the world stage.
It would take another twenty years for Germany to win again. In the 1970 World Cup, Gerd Müller had ten goals, and the Germans finished third. In 1974, led again by Müller, West Germany hosted the World Cup and won their second title, beating the Dutch in the final 2–1.
The German Democratic Republic
Known as East Germany, also fielded a national team but only qualified for the World Cup in 1974. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the East Germans were reintegrated into the German national team.
West Germany would return to the final in 1982 but lose to Italy 1-3, ending as the runners-up. Runners-up again in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, losing to Argentina 2-3 in the final, might have been disappointing to some of the German faithful. Still, many national teams around the world did not have even one 2nd-place finish. In their third-straight final appearance, the West Germans won the 1990 World Cup, defeating Argentina 1-0 in an epic final game.
From there, the Berlin Wall fell, and the next two World Cup tournaments did not include Germany in the final four. In 2002, the Germans shocked the world and returned to the World Cup final but lost to Brazil 0-2. They finished in third in 2006 and 2010, beating Portugal 3-1 and Uruguay 3-2, respectively, in the third-place playoff.
Their fourth World Cup title came in 2014, in their fourth-straight World Cup final appearance. Behind Thomas Müller and Miroslav Klose, this German team cruised through the group play, then beat Algeria 2–1 in the first elimination round and France 1-0 in the quarter-final. This set up a semi-final with host-country Brazil, who they beat 7-0 and advanced to the final. Here they met Lionel Messi and the Argentinian national team. In a slow but intense game, a goal in the 113th-minute by Mario Götze pushed Germany to victory.
German legend Miroslav Klose has 16 career goals in his numerous World Cup appearances, the most of any player in FIFA history. Gerd Müller, from the West Germany days, had 14 career World Cup goals, third on the all-time goals scored list.
Despite a disappointing performance at the 2018 World Cup, Germany is still very much one of the best teams in the world, and they will be a force in Qatar. Oddsmakers have their odds at +950 to win the 2022 FIFA World Cup title.
Italy rounds out the top three teams, with World Cup titles in 1934, 1938, 1982, and 2006. Their four championships tie them with Germany for the second-most ever. The Italians have played 83 games in the World Cup, won 45 games, drawn 21 times, and lost 17. Their overall goal difference is third-best in the FIFA record books, behind Germany & Brazil, at +51 goals.
Italy’s first two World Cup titles came in 1934 and 1938, only the second and third times the tournament had been held after they declined to be a part of the first-ever World Cup in 1930. Then World War II happened, and Italy did not return to the World Cup finals until 1970, where they lost to Brazil 1-4. Italy’s third World Cup title came in 1982 when they beat West Germany in the final 3-1. And their fourth (and last) title came in the 2006 World Cup, when they defeated France in the Zidane game, winning in penalty kicks (5-3).
Things proceeded downhill after that, including being quickly eliminated in the 2010 World Cup and the 2014 World Cup. Italy failed to qualify for the tournament altogether in 2018. The Italian club has been working to turn things around and is trending in the right direction, though. Oddsmakers still have them as a long shot for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but +1500 is not bad for a team that did not make the most recent tournament, especially one with Italy’s legacy.
The 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held in Qatar in November 2022. The tournament should be one for the ages, likely the last appearance for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, to name just a few. It will, of course, also be the first FIFA World Cup held in the Middle East and November.
Make sure to check out the soccer sportsbook for early 2022 World Cup team odds and more World Cup action.