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HOW THE GAMES BEGAN

Photos: What the earliest World Cups looked like

Johnny Simon
By Johnny Simon

Contributor

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.

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