Forget Who Actually Won. Here's Who Really Deserved To Win Every World Cup

Not all World Cup winners were the most deserving. We’re here to fix that.

It happens all the time in American college football — a school or organization retroactively decides a national championship decades after the season has completed. For decades college football didn’t have a tournament to decide the best team, so everyone made their own judgements, from current powerhouses to wannabe powerhouses. While the FIFA has had a competition to determine the globe’s best soccer team since 1930, the World Cup winners aren’t always the best team, so we thought it would be a good idea to reassess the winner of each tournament.

Tournaments are the best way to pick a world champion, particularly ones with group stages to allow for an early slip up (remember Spain losing to Switzerland on the way to its 2010 title?). That said, upsets happen, injuries derail favorites and suspensions impact matches

So we looked back at every World Cup dating back to the first edition in 1930 to determine who should have been crowned as World Cup winners. For the record, here are the teams with the most actual World Cup wins:

  • Brazil = 5 World Cup wins
  • Germany / West Germany = 4 World Cup wins
  • Italy = 4 World Cup wins
  • Argentina = 2 World Cup wins
  • Uruguay = 2 World Cup wins
  • France = 2 World Cup wins
  • England = 1 World Cup win
  • Spain = 1 World Cup win

Who Cares Who Actually Won? Here Are The Most Deserving World Cup Winners For Each Year:

1930 World Cup

Winner: Uruguay

The18’s Winner: Argentina

While Uruguay backed up a 2-1 win over Argentina in the 1928 Olympic final with a 4-2 victory over the same team in the 1930 World Cup final, Argentina’s path to the final was much more difficult. Plus, La Celeste had the advantage of playing at home. 

Argentina won Group 1, which was the only group with four teams (the others had three). La Albiceleste had to beat France, Mexico and Chile to advance from a competitive group. In the semifinals, Argentina throttled the United States 6-1 after the Americans had cruised through Group 4. 

Meanwhile, Uruguay only had to face Romania and Peru in the group stage before routing Yugoslavia 6-1 in the semifinals.

In the final, played before about 93,000 fans in Montevideo, Argentina scored two straight for a 2-1 lead only for Uruguay to roar back with three second-half goals. The atmosphere was so intense the referee only agreed to call the match when he was given assurance there would be a boat waiting for him to escape the city as soon as the match ended, so you know he was intimidated by the crowd.

1934 World Cup

Winner: Italy

The18’s Winner: Italy

Aside from a 7-1 walkover against the U.S. in the first round, Italy had a devilish path in the tournament, facing Spain and Austria before beating Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the final. 

Italy made it past the quarterfinals by beating Spain in a replay. Both matches were brutal with countless injuries on both sides (more so on the Spanish side, which didn’t have home-field advantage). Italy then beat a strong Austrian side that had just knocked off Hungary to reach the final.

Czechoslovakia meanwhile took out Romania, Switzerland and Germany on its way to the final. In the championship match, Italy scored a late equalizer to force extra time in the 100-degree heat before pulling out a victory in front of its home crowd.

1938 World Cup

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Winner: Italy

The18’s Winner: Hungary

Hungary was the best team at the 1938 World Cup, racking up a plus-10 goal differential despite a 4-2 loss to Italy in the final. 

Hungary won its first three matches of the straight knockout tournament by a combined margin of 13-1, compared to Italy making its way to the final by a margin of 7-3. Italy did have a tougher path, facing Norway, host France and Brazil. But the semifinal against the Brazil came without its top player, Leonidas, who was rested because the team was confident it would make the final without him (back then you couldn’t make substitutions during a match). 

Who would have won a final between Brazil and Hungary? We have to go with the Nemzeti Tizenegy because of their superior defense (tied with Italy for a tournament-best of 1.25 per match).

1950 World Cup

World Cup Winners, 1950 World Cup

Uruguay won the 1950 tournament in Brazil, but we all know the hosts were the real World Cup champions. Photo: @UruguayanHeroes | Twitter

Winner: Uruguay

The18’s Winner: Brazil

In one of the most notorious results in World Cup history, Uruguay broke Brazilian hearts with a 2-1 victory to round out the final group stage and win the tournament. But it doesn’t take a genius to know Brazil was the better team.

As in the first World Cup, Uruguay played in a small group. Already the only three-team group, Group 4 became a two-team group because of a late withdrawal by France. (Group 3 ended up with three teams after India withdrew while the others had four.) An 8-0 win against overmatched Bolivia was all it took to get Uruguay to the final group stage. 

Brazil, meanwhile, had to take on Mexico, Switzerland and Yugoslavia in Group 1, picking up its first blemish of the tournament when Switzerland nipped a late equalizer for a 2-2 draw. 

Brazil dominated its first two matches of the final group stage, routing Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1. Everyone expected Uruguay, which tied Spain 2-2 and beat Sweden 3-2, to be another walkover in the final. La Celeste had other plans. In front of some 200,000 at the Maracanã and needing just a draw to win the tournament, Brazil lost 2-1. 

Despite the defeat in the final, Brazil was the far superior team throughout the tournament.

1954 World Cup

World Cup Winners, 1954 World Cup

The Mighty Magyars were once again denied being World Cup champions in 1954. Photo: @FIFAcom | Twitter

Winner: West Germany

The18’s Winner: Hungary

Just like in 1938, Hungary dominated its opposition until it reached the final. Though the Mighty Magyars were upset by West Germany in the final, they were the best team overall, having beaten West Germany 8-3 in the group stages. 

By the time Hungary reached the final in Bern, Switzerland, Ferenc Puskas and company had outscored four opponents 25-7, winning by an average of 4.5 goals. 

Hungary destroyed South Korea 9-0 to open the tournament and outclassed West Germany 8-3. They beat Brazil 4-2 in the quarterfinals and Uruguay 4-2 (in extra time) in the semifinals. They led 2-0 within eight minutes in the final, only to take their collective feet off the gas and allow Helmut Rahn to score a late winner and stun perhaps the best team to never win a World Cup.

1958 World Cup

Winner: Brazil

The18’s Winner: Brazil

Despite a stumble in the group stage, incurring a 0-0 draw with England, Brazil was the deserving champion of this World Cup in Sweden. With Pelé leading the way with six goals, Brazil’s plus-12 goal differential was four better than the next best team, third-place France, which scored 23 goals thanks to 13 from Just Fontaine. 

In the knockout rounds Brazil beat Wales 1-0, France 5-2 and Sweden 5-2 in the final. This was a World Cup champion very deserving of its championship.

1962 World Cup

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Winner: Brazil

The18’s Winner: Brazil

Once again Brazil won the World Cup and deservedly so. What made this team so spectacular is it overcame an injury to Pelé in the second match, a 0-0 draw with eventual runner-up Czechoslovakia, the team’s only blemish. Brazil won its other five matches by a 14-5 margin, including a 3-1 win over England, 4-2 over host Chile and 3-1 over Czechoslovakia in the knockout rounds. 

Despite not having Pelé, Brazil scored the most goals. Just imagine if one of the greatest players of all time had stayed healthy throughout the tournament.

1966 World Cup

World Cup Winners, 1966 World Cup

This was not a goal befitting World Cup winners. Photo: @confusedHodgson | Twitter

Winner: England

The18’s Winner: West Germany

England is one of the least deserving World Cup winners because it won at home thanks to a goal that probably wasn’t a goal. While it’s tempting to give The18’s title to Portugal because of Eusebio’s brilliance, we’re going with the team that lost out because of the non-goal. 

England played well to reach the final, going 2-0-1 in the group stage (drawing Uruguay 0-0) with a plus-four goal differential before wins over Argentina (1-0) and Portugal (2-1) in the knockout rounds. The Germans were equally impressive, winning their group with a 2-0-1 record (drawing Argentina 0-0) and plus-six goal differential before wins over Uruguay (4-0) and the Soviet Union (2-1). 

The final was tied 2-2 at the end of regulation thanks to a late goal from Wolfgang Weber. But the match will forever be remembered for Geoff Hurst’s goal in the 101st minute that did not appear to actually go over the goal line. Hurst did add another goal in the 120th minute, but that was a result of West Germany pushing forward seeking an equalizer. 

Despite the two-goal loss, West Germany finished the tournament with a greater goal differential than England. Though both teams should probably thank Portugal (and, again, Eusebio) for keeping Brazil from reaching the knockout stages.

1970 World Cup

World Cup Winners, 1970 World Cup

Pele was a three-time World Cup winner. Photo: @brfootball | Twitter

Winner: Brazil

The18’s Winner: Brazil

With Pelé back in full form, Brazil returned to the top yet again with perhaps the best performance of any of the 20 World Cup winners. 

Brazil’s 1970 team won all six of its matches, becoming the first team to win six games in a single World Cup. The plus-12 goal differential was five better than next-best West Germany, the only other team to come close to Brazil’s dominance. (Gerd Müller’s West Germany finished third, losing 4-3 in extra time to Italy in the semis.)

In the final, Brazil embarrassed Italy, which had drawn two matches in the group stage, including a surprising 0-0 tie with Israel. The final was punctuated by Carlos Alberto’s thrilling fourth goal as the Brazilians passed it around their opponent with ease for a 4-1 victory.

1974 World Cup

Winner: West Germany

The18’s Winner: West Germany

This is a tough tournament to rate. Both Poland and West Germany went 6-1-0 in the tournament while the Netherlands was equally impressive, going 5-1-1 with the best goal differential of the lot (plus-12). 

West Germany’s loss came to East Germany in a group-stage match prior to which the West Germans had already assured advancement to the second round. The loss probably helped West Germany win it all, forcing a rethink of strategy.

Poland and the Netherlands’ lone losses came at the hands of West Germany, which is why the Germans get the nod from The18 here. Poland lost 1-0 in the deciding match of Group B in the second group stage while the Netherlands lost 2-1 in the final, with Gerd Müller scoring the winner in both.

1978 World Cup

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Winner: Argentina

The18’s Winner: Argentina

As much as we’d love to give this tournament to the Netherlands so the Dutch can finally say they’re World Cup champions, Argentina just had the better tournament, albeit with dubious backing. Led by Mario Kempes’ six goals (two in the final), Argentina outscored opponents 15-4 over seven matches, compared to 15-10 for the Netherlands. Of course, Argentina was aided by the support of a raucous home crowd and a military junta that had recently taken over the country’s government. 

Argentina’s only loss (1-0 to Italy in the first group stage) came after La Albiceleste had already clinched qualification for the second round. Additionally, a 0-0 draw with Brazil in the second group stage was nothing to be ashamed of, though the hosts only advanced to the final by beating Peru 6-0 in a match some say was fixed. Argentina beat the Netherlands 3-1 in extra time in the final, Kempes scoring the winner.

1982 World Cup

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Winner: Italy

The18’s Winner: Italy

The 1982 World Cup had one of the oddest formats of any of the 20 editions. Instead of one or two groups in the second stage as had been done previously, Spain 1982 had four second-round groups of three teams each, making for some curious competition. If ever there were multiple teams with claims to the crown, it was in this tournament.

England was one of two teams to go through the tournament without a loss, going 3-0-0 in the first round but missing out on the semifinals after two draws in the second group stage (a 0-0 draw to Spain in the Bernabeu kept the English from advancing). Similarly, Brazil went 3-0-0 in its first group before a single loss to Italy kept Zico and Co. from the semifinals. 

Meanwhile, Italy didn’t win a single game in the first group stage, but advanced as the second-place finisher thanks to scoring one more goal than Cameroon after both teams tied all three matches. Italy beat Brazil and Argentina in the second group stage before topping Poland and West Germany in the semifinals and final, respectively. 

Ultimately, we have to give Italy the title because it never lost and beat some of the best teams on the way to actually winning it all. But we totally understand if England or Brazil want to claim this one.

1986 World Cup

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Winner: Argentina

The18’s Winner: Argentina

Brazil had a great tournament before going out on penalties to France in the quarterfinals while Mexico also went through the tournament without a loss, falling to West Germany on penalties in the quarterfinals. But Argentina was the deserved winner of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

Led by Diego Maradona at his best, La Albiceleste drew against defending champion Italy in the group stage before reeling off five straight wins to claim the title. In addition to group-stage wins over South Korea and Bulgaria, Argentina defeated, in order, Uruguay, England, Belgium and West Germany to be crowned World Cup champions a second time. 

Maradona finished with five of Argentina’s tournament-high 14 goals while the defense allowed the fewest goals of the four semifinalists. (Brazil had the best defense, allowing a single goal to France’s Michel Platini, while Mexico and Morocco both allowed two goals.)

1990 World Cup

World Cup Winners, 1990 World Cup

Jurgen Klinsmann was a World Cup champion as a player, but not as a coach. Photo: @Historo | Twitter

Winner: West Germany

The18’s Winner: West Germany

Both semifinals in 1990 went to shootouts, meaning the West Germany-Argentina final easily could have been Italy against England. (Kidding — we know England would never win a shootout at a World Cup.)

Argentina suffered a surprising 1-0 defeat to Cameroon in its opener and only advanced out of the group stage as a third-place finisher, so that knocks out Maradona’s team. 

Italy and West Germany were the only teams to go through the tournament without a defeat. We would’ve loved to have seen West Germany play Italy at some point, but they were on opposite sides of the bracket. 

Ultimately, we have to give West Germany The18’s title because it beat Maradona without the need of a shootout (though the final’s only goal was scored on a penalty kick).

1994 World Cup

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Winner: Brazil

The18’s Winner: Brazil

In the 1994 final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Brazil edged Italy in a shootout after a 0-0 draw, so you could conceivably make an argument for either team. However, Italy finished third in its group, losing to the Republic of Ireland and drawing Mexico 1-1. And the Azzurri weren’t all that impressive on their way to the final too, winning each match by a one-goal margin.

Brazil on the other hand only dropped points in one match prior to the final, a 1-1 draw with Sweden that was all the Seleção needed to secure first place in their group. Brazil was the only team not to lose a match and its plus-eight goal differential was only rivaled by Sweden’s plus-seven differential, which itself was only accumulated thanks to a 4-0 win over a disinterested Bulgaria in the third-place match. 

Plus, Brazil beat the host United States in the Round of 16, which is definitely the most impressive feat of any team in the field.

1998 World Cup

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Winner: France

The18’s Winner: France

No competition here, really. France and Italy were the only teams to go undefeated, but given Les Bleus’ head-to-head win over the Azzurri on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals, the choice is easy. 

Brazil lost in the group stage, albeit a meaningless defeat to Norway having already clinched first in the group, but no one could match France on home soil in 1998. 

Les Bleus dominated Group C with three wins by a 9-1 margin. Despite scares in the Round of 16 (extra-time win over Paraguay) and quarterfinals, France was a deserved winner over Croatia in the semis and absolutely dominant in the final, beating Brazil 3-0 thanks to two goals from some bloke named Zinedine Zidane. 

Impressively, despite leading the tournament with 15 goals, none of the French players scored more than Thierry Henry’s three as Les Bleus spread the scoring around.

2002 World Cup

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Winner: Brazil

The18’s Winner: United States

Lookit. We all know Torsten Frings used his hand to stop a sure goal for the U.S. against Germany in the quarterfinals. Given the way the Americans were pushing the Germans around the pitch in the second half of that match, it would be hard to say they wouldn’t have gone on to win had they been given a penalty kick (assuming they could get it past Oliver Kahn). 

The U.S. blitzed star-studded Portugal in the first round and drew co-host South Korea despite not playing well. A rematch against South Korea in the semifinals would’ve favored a Bruce Arena side growing with confidence. And I think we all know Eddie Pope would’ve swallowed Ronaldo in the final with young Landon Donovan scoring the winner to lead the U.S. to its first World Cup championship.

Just kidding. We pick Brazil, obviously, which became the first team to win seven matches in a single World Cup, outscoring opposition 18-4 along the way. But seriously, America could’ve won it all.

2006 World Cup

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Winner: Italy

The18’s Winner: France

We all remember how the 2006 World Cup final unfolded, with Zinedine Zidane head-butting Marco Materazzi to earn a red card in extra time, helping spur Italy on to a victory in a shootout. But Italy was far from the best team at the tournament, not the least because they should’ve lost to the U.S. in the group stage but for some deplorable officiating. 

One could argue Germany had a better tournament than Italy — both won five matches apiece — and the hosts led the tournament with 14 goals. Germany’s only lost came in extra time to Italy without midfield enforcer Torsten Frings (comeuppance for 2002?). 

France struggled out of the gate, drawing with Switzerland and South Korea before beating Togo to ensure advancement to the knockout rounds. From there, Les Bleus routed Ghana 3-0, took out a loaded Brazil side 1-0 and edged Portugal 1-0 in the semifinals. 

We’re giving this most-deserved World Cup winners title to France, mainly because those Italians remonstrated with referees more than they bothered trying to score goals.

2010 World Cup

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Winner: Spain

The18’s Winner: Spain

We’re going to give Spain a pass for losing to Switzerland in its opening match and give La Furia Roja The18’s title because of its incredible defense-through-possession, which allowed two goals all tournament. 

Sure Germany scored twice as many goals as Spain, but Carles Puyol and Iker Casillas helped Spain to four straight 1-0 victories in the knockout rounds. 

Germany might have a claim to the title had it not lost to Serbia in the group stage. Likewise for the Netherlands had Nigel de Jong not tried to karate kick Xabi Alonso in the final. Both those teams were good, but no one could top Spain in 2010.

2014 World Cup

World Cup Winners

They beat Brazil 7-1, so obviously these guys deserved to be World Cup Champions. Photo: @FlashScore_in | Twitter

Winner: Germany

The18’s Winner: Germany

It would be great to be able to give Lionel Messi a World Cup title, but c’mon, Germany totally deserved this. 

Argentina and the Netherlands both had fantastic tournaments. Messi did just enough to get his team to the final, albeit with La Albiceleste scoring just two goals in the knockout rounds. The Netherlands went through seven matches without defeat, with a plus-11 goal differential, not to mention wins of 5-1 over Spain and 3-0 over Brazil. But the Dutch needed an Arjen Robben flop to get past Mexico and penalties to beat Costa Rica. Honorable mention to Costa Rica for going five matches without a loss despite facing Uruguay, Italy, England, Greece and the Netherlands. 

Meanwhile, Germany survived a group with powerhouse United States, with a 2-2 draw with Ghana its only blemish all tournament. Then the Germans beat two of the prior three World Cup winners on the way to the final, including that 7-1 pasting of Brazil.

2018 World Cup

Winner: France

The18’s Winner: France

There's little doubt France earned this World Cup championship. Les Bleus topped their group without really breaking a sweat, beating Australia and Peru before playing a boring 0-0 draw with Denmark knowing it was plenty to finish first. France then went through two-time champions Argentina and Uruguay before beating what was probably the best offense in the whole tournament in the semifinals, Belgium. In the final, France routed Croatia 4-2.

Belgium was probably the next most deserving team in 2018, beating England and Brazil before falling to France. If Belgium had been on the other side of the bracket, it no doubt would have met France in the final. If France hadn't been so impressive the rest of the way, an argument could be made for Belgium to be deserving. Certainly the Red Devils did more in 2018 than many actual winners of the World Cup. 

While some might argue France played negatively at times, coach Didier Deschamps did what was needed in every match. When offense was required, Les Bleus beat Argentina 4-3 and Croatia 4-2. When defensive solidity was required, they beat Belgium 1-0. The 2018 France World Cup team could do it all and deserved its World Cup title. 

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