Ranking every World Cup, from worst to best

Diego Maradona of Argentina
Diego Maradona of Argentina /
18 of 20
Paolo Rossi of Italy (Photo by Mark Leech/Getty Images)
Paolo Rossi of Italy (Photo by Mark Leech/Getty Images) /

Spain 1982

Rating: 9/10

Champion: Italy 

Following a sluggish start, Italy captured their third World Cup after defeating West Germany 3-2. 

Host: Spain

FIFA awarded Spain the right to host the tournament after West Germany agreed to a deal that allowed them to host the 1974 competition. 

Best player: Paolo Rossi (Italy)

The slender striker scored six goals at the tournament, including a hat-trick against Brazil, to lead the Italians to the title. Rossi’s inclusion into the team, a year after he had been sidelined for two years following accusations he had been involved in a match-fixing ring, had been controversial. However, the move by manager Enzo Bearzot proved brilliant with Rossi carrying the team to victory. 

Iconic moment:

Rossi was at the center of this one. The tournament’s second round, highlighted by a round-robin phase rather than single-elimination, featured a group with Italy, Brazil and Argentina. It was the ultimate “Group of Death” between three of the strongest soccer nations at senior level. The Italians ultimately proved victorious, qualifying for the semifinals against Poland and ultimately the title game. Rossi’s hat-trick against Brazil helped jumpstart Italy’s run that later led to victory. 

Quality of play:

The Italians effectively used their catenaccio with a 5-1-3-1 formation that featured veteran goalkeeper Dino Zoff in net, a sturdy defense with sweeper Gaetano Scirea and right-back Claudio Gentile, one of the toughest and most physical defenders in the world at the time. Midfielder Marco Tardelli created the plays, while Rossi finished them. The team, built on a block of Juventus players, typified Italian soccer and their dominance of the European game at the time. The West Germans, similarly, used a 5-2-3. Strong defense was also the norm, but their three-man attack was much more lethal. It was a tournament where defense would win out in the end.


The early ’80s featured tight shirts and rather short shorts. The classic Italian blue-and-white kit and the West Germans white-and-black endures to this day. Regrettable ones included the Soviet Union’s white shirts, adorned with red pinstripes, and Algeria’s lime green-and-white combination.


Algeria, Cameroon, Honduras, Kuwait and New Zealand made their first appearances in the finals.