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After weeks of stunning upsets in group play, the World Cup begins its knockout rounds today, when 16 teams will begin play for a position in the quarterfinals.

The massive scale of the modern World Cup—currently played with 32 teams (and growing to 48 in 2026) across more than a dozen stadiums that host millions of global soccer fans—is particularly breathtaking when looking at the images of the earliest World Cups help in 1930, 1934, and 1938.

The first tournament held in Uruguay in 1930 was hosted at only three stadiums with around a half million in attendance. Compared to matches hosted brightly lit, sponsor-festooned megastadiums of today, the images of the first few World Cups show the slightly humbler beginnings of what is now one of the world’s biggest sporting spectacles.

First World Cups
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An aerial view of the Centenario stadium in Montevideo, Uruguay, a venue at the 1930 World Cup.
First World Cups
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Uruguay’s first goal in the World Cup Final against Argentina, in Montevideo, Uruguay, July 30, 1930. Uruguay defeated Argentina by four goals to two.
First World Cups
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Uruguay score during the World Cup Final against Argentina, in Montevideo, Uruguay, July 30, 1930.
First World Cups
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Italian forward Schiavio scores the winning goal as Italy went on to defeat Czechoslovakia 2-1 after extra time, in the 1934 World Cup final.
First World Cups
Action Images/Panoramic/Reuters
Team Uruguay at the first World Cup in 1930.
First World Cups
AP Photo
Italian forward Guaita scores the winning goal in the 1934 World Cup semifinal against Austria in Milan, Italy, as the home team went on to reach the final thanks to a 1-0 victory.
First World Cups
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The Italian soccer team performs the fascist salute before the kick off of the 1934 World Cup final. Italy defeated Czechoslovakia 2-1 after extra time to win the Rimet Cup on June 10, 1934, at the Fascist National Party Stadium in Rome, Italy.
First World Cups
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Italian coach Vittorio Pozzo is carried in triumph after Italy defeated Czechoslovakia 2-1, after extra time in the World Cup Final, to win the Rimet Cup, June 10, 1934.
First World Cups
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Italy’s soccer team coach Vittorio Pozzo, surrounded by his players, holds aloft the Jules Rimet Cup, after Italy won the 1934 World Cup
First World Cups
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Italy’s captain Giuseppe Meazza and Hungary’s counterpart shake hands before the start of the 1938 World Cup final, in Colombes Stadium, Paris, France on June 19, 1938.
First World Cups
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Hungarian goalkeeper Antal Szabo makes a save from Italy’s Silvio Piola during the 1938 World Cup final.
First World Cups
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Italy and Hungary soccer teams line up before the start of the 1938 World Cup Final, in Colombes Stadium, Paris, France.