The Greatest Football Competitions in the World

Sport has the unique ability to capture the world’s attention, to enflame its emotions, and to bring it together like nothing else. Each country and most sports have their own highlights and blue-ribbon events.

There is the Super Bowl and the World Series, for example, but they are mainly of interest to Americans and fans dotted around the globe who happen to have picked up interest.

The Cheltenham Festival is unquestionably the greatest horse racing festival of the year, coming, as it does, with free bets from Oddschecker, and it captivates every racing fan but few other people. Football, and only football, has truly transcended all boundaries and borders. In this article, we will look at the greatest footballing tournaments that take place across the globe. They are listed in no particular order.

The FA Cup

The world’s oldest football competition, the FA Cup, or The Football Association Challenge Cup to give it its official title, has taken place in England every year since 1871. One of the things that makes this competition so special is the fact that every club in the English footballing pyramid down to the tenth tier takes part.

That means that there are 735 matches overall; they start in August before the final two teams come together in May at Wembley to fight it out for the honor of lifting the famous trophy. The competition is famous for its upsets, shocks, fairytales, giant killings, and other romantic or heartbreaking stories.

One of the most famous finals to take place was the so-called White Horse Final of 1923. The first one to be held at the new Wembley Stadium had an official attendance of 126,047 but unofficial figures put that figure at 300,000.

The club that has won the FA Cup the most is Arsenal with 14 wins, while a total of 44 different clubs have lifted the trophy at some point in the tournament’s history.

The World Cup

fifa world cup trophy
The FIFA World Cup trophy

If no other sport captivates the world like football, then the FIFA World Cup does so more than any other competition. When the World Cup takes place, no matter what far-flung part of the globe you are in, there will be a television in a bar or restaurant with a crowd around it watching the games.

The first tournament took place in Uruguay in 1930 after the Olympics had featured football, a competition that FIFA officially recognized in 1914.

Held every four years, and originally alternating between Europe and South America, 16 teams competed each time, with nations going through qualification in order to gain their place. In 1982 the number of countries was increased to 24; in 1998 it expanded to 32 and the 2026 competition will have 48 teams.

Teams go through qualifications according to their geographical location, with more than 200 countries attempting to make it to the finals.

To date only teams from Europe and South America have won the tournament, picking up 12 and 9 wins respectively. Brazil with five successful campaigns has been the most dominant nation, with Germany and Italy just behind on four each.

The European Championships

The UEFA European Championship, or Euros as they are more commonly known, started as late as 1960, and then it was only contested between four teams that had qualified. The format stayed more or less as it was, taking place every four years with four teams qualifying for the tournament proper, until 1980 when it was expanded to eight teams.

In 1996 the number of teams was expanded again, this time to 16, and in 2016 it increased again to 24. There was some dismay and resistance to these ongoing expansions, as it was felt that they were changing and watering down the competition.

The Euros were considered a harder competition to win than the World Cup in many ways, as every game was against very tough opposition. The opening group games of a World Cup are often against lower-ranked teams who are unlikely to progress from the group stages, and though they represent a potential banana skin for the “bigger” nations, rarely does that transpire.  

Copa América

The oldest continental football tournament, the Copa América began life in 1916. Originally a competition between eligible South American nations, it was held each year.

The tournament was plagued with political unrest, with teams boycotting the tournament and the event not taking place at all on several occasions. It eventually settled into a biennial cycle, and since the 1990s the tournament has expanded to include teams from North America and Asia to make up the 12 teams competing.

The competition has been staged a total of 47 times, with eight teams having been victorious. Uruguay and Argentina have been the most successful with 15 wins each, Argentina leveling with their neighbors in the last tournament courtesy of a 1 – 0 win in the final over Brazil.  

Africa Cup of Nations

It may be the newest kid on the block, but the African Cup of Nations, or AFCON as it is shortened to, dates back to 1957.

Consisting of just the four founding members of the Confederation of African Football, namely Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, and South Africa, the inaugural tournament took place in Sudan. South Africa were disqualified before kicking a ball, due to political policies, meaning Ethiopia got to the final without kicking a ball.

The tournament increased to six then eight teams, taking place every two years before expanding to 12 teams in 1992 and then again to 16 in 1996. 2019 saw a further expansion to 24 teams.

Originally the tournament received little interest from outside Africa, but as African teams began to feature in the World Cup and the world opened its eyes to African football it began to gain a worldwide following.

This was further increased when African players started to play more and more in the top European leagues, becoming household names.

AFCON has been characterized by different nations having periods of dominance; Ghana in the 1960s, for instance, and Cameroon in the 80s. Egypt, the winners of the very first tournament and losers to Senegal on penalties at this year’s final, are the most successful nation with a total of seven tournament wins.