It began in Tunisia in 1977, modestly enough, with the FIFA Technical Report bemoaning the lack of spectators. But by the early 1990s the championship had grown to an event of enormous importance with worldwide television coverage.
The FIFA/ Coca-Cola Cup has swept the football globe. Securing a committed long-term sponsor was central to the realisation of a project which Dr João Havelange had promised when he took office in 1974. Above all, however, the success of the concept of this competition has always depended upon the particular flavour of the games: the flavour of youth, of spontaneity, of adventure.
The inevitable teething troubles experienced in Tunisia in 1977 were mostly smoothed out by the next competition in Japan in 1979, one of the first major international football events in that country which helped to trigger interest and enthusiasm for the sport there. And the role of the FIFA/Coca-Cola Cup as an ambassador to so-called "developing" football countries continued in 1981, when it went Down Under for the first time. In 1983, however, the event enjoyed its first really enormous success in a traditionally strong football country, Mexico, where the final between Brazil and Argentina drew a capacity crowd of 105,000.
The Soviet Union hosted the finals in 1985, in 1987 it went to South America for the first (and so far only) time when Chile was the organiser, and in 1989 the futuristic King Fahd Stadium on the outskirts of Riyadh was the spectacular setting for several matches. The 1991 final saw even the 1983 attendance eclipsed, as 127,000 - the second largest crowd ever to attend a FIFA match - crammed into Lisbon's Stadium of Light to cheer the home team to a repeat of their 1989 victory. In 1993, the Australians revived memories of the 1981 finals and surpassed them with a superbly organised championship to which the young Socceroos made their own thrilling contribution. Latin football dominated the 1995 event in Qatar which had taken over the role of hosts at barely three weeks' notice after Nigeria was considered unable to stage it.
Brazil's three wins
The list of honours over the years is led by Brazil with three gold medals and two silvers. Only Portugal with their recent two wins, and Argentina two years ago and in 1979 (with a team containing the likes of Diego Maradona and Ramon Diaz) have also claimed the trophy more than once.
The other winners were USSR (in 1977 with a line-up featuring young Vladimir Bessonov as the competition's outstanding individual), West Germany (in 1981 against a surprise team from Qatar) and Yugoslavia, whose 1987 vintage included today's Croatian stars Boban, Prosinecki and Suker.
Africa has twice supplied the losing finalists, Ghana producing a marvellous display to take the silver in Australia in 1993 and Nigeria running Portugal close in 1989.