Qualifying for the FIFA World Cup™ is set to pass a significant milestone in the coming year, as national teams have done battle for places at the world's greatest sporting event for 75 years. With qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ set to begin this Saturday at the South Pacific Games in Samoa, FIFA.com has been trawling the archives relating to previous qualifying competitions, unearthing fascinating facts, star names and peculiar oddities. Join us on a guided tour of the history of FIFA World Cup qualifying.

Just 13 nations took part in the 1930 finals in Uruguay, but the inaugural qualifying matches for a FIFA World Cup followed in 1933 when Sweden met Estonia in Stockholm, a fixture Sweden won 6-2. Twenty-seven teams entered the qualifying round, contesting the same number of matches in total.

The uncertainties of the pre-war period meant only 21 nations took part in qualifying for the 1938 finals in France. In the aftermath of the Second World War, rebuilding the world game was a slow and laborious business as only 19 associations opted to compete for a place at Brazil 1950, England ultimately claiming their first-ever berth at the finals.

India ordered to boot up
India provided the oddest tale of the year. Following a spate of withdrawals in Asia and Africa, the vast nation qualified for the finals in Brazil, but declined to compete after FIFA refused to allow the players to appear barefoot.

Viewed with the benefit of hindsight, the meeting between two teams from Germany ahead of the 1954 FIFA World Cup has a distinctly peculiar feel to it nowadays. Germany were obliged to play a team from the Saarland, an autonomous entity for a brief period, coached by a certain Helmut Schon. Germany progressed to Switzerland and their first world triumph - and two decades later, Schon led West Germany to a repeat of that success.

The years preceding the 1958 finals in Sweden saw a dramatic increase in the starting field, with 50 matches played to assign the 14 qualifying places at the tournament. It was the last time all four British associations claimed berths at the finals.

The qualifying competition took another quantum leap forward four years later with the gradual de-colonisation of Africa, as 50 nations contested 100 matches in advance of the 1966 finals. Twenty years later, the starting field had expanded to 100 associations. Most recently, after the collapse of the former Soviet Union and a surge in FIFA membership comprising smaller associations from all over the globe, almost 200 hopefuls entered for the 2006 tournament, making the qualifying competition the biggest-ever global football event.

Ever-presents
Only three nations have taken part in every qualifying round so far: the Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg and Portugal, although Switzerland and Sweden are only behind the trio by one because they qualified automatically as host nation in 1954 and 1958 respectively.

Republic of Ireland

17

Contested every qualifying round from 1934 to 2006

Luxembourg

17

Contested every qualifying round from 1934 to 2006

Portugal

17

Contested every qualifying round from 1934 to 2006

Sweden

16+1

Qualified as 1958 host nation

Switzerland

16+1

Qualified as 1954 host nation

Most qualifying successes
A different picture emerges in terms of success in qualifying for the finals on sporting criteria. Italy (13), Germany and Spain (both 11) occupy the top three places.

Italy

13

1930 did not enter
1938 and 1986 as holders
1990 as host nation
1958 eliminated.

Germany

11

1930 did not enter
1950 not admitted to qualifying
1958, 1978 and 1994 as holders
1974 and 2006 as host nation.

Spain

11

1930 did not enter
1938 not admitted to qualifying
1954, 1958, 1970 and 1994 eliminated
1982 as host nation

Leading scorers
Ali Daei is the top scorer in FIFA World Cup qualifying. The Iran goal-getter has struck 30 times in qualifiers, followed at a fair distance by Kazu Miura and Daei's team-mate Karim Bagheri on 21 and 20 goals respectively.

Goals

Name

Team

Matches

Average

30

Ali Daei

Iran

47

0.6

21

Kazu Miura

Japan

25

0.8

20

Karim Bagheri

Iran

26

0.8

20

Jared Borgetti

Mexico

21

1.0

20

Paulo Wanchope

Costa Rica

31

0.6

Aussie pair boast best averages
Australian pair Archie Thompson and David Zdrilic lead the way in terms of strike rates with astounding averages of 4.5 and 3 goals-per-game respectively. But a closer look at the statistics shows that the figures are somewhat distorted by Australia's legendary 31-0 victory over American Samoa ahead of the 2002 finals, when Thompson netted 13 of his total of 18 goals and Zdrilic helped himself to eight. A player who according to his own calculations has scored 1,000 career goals also features in the list. Romario has 'only' 11 FIFA World Cup qualifying goals to his name, but rates strongly with an average per game of 1.4.

Average

Name

Team

Matches

Goals

4.5

Archie Thompson

Australia

4

18

3.0

David Zdrilic

Australia

5

15

1.8

Bayazir A Said

Syria

9

16

1.4

Ibrahima Bakayoko

Côte d'Ivoire

8

11

1.4

Romario

Brazil

8

11

Prolific Mexico
Ranked by the number of matches played, Mexico are well out in front with a total of 123 qualifiers and 81 victories. The biggest discrepancy between matches contested and wins belongs to Luxembourg, with just two victories in 104 attempts.

Team

Matches

Won

Drawn

Lost

Points

Mexico

123

81

26

16

269

Costa Rica

120

56

31

33

199

Republic of Ireland

107

43

29

35

158

Portugal

105

52

26

27

182

USA

104

46

28

30

166

Luxembourg

104

2

2

100

8

Unsurprisingly, Mexico also make the top three in terms of average points per game, topped only by current FIFA World Cup holders Italy and, at the top of the pile, the ultra-efficient Germans.

Team

Avg. points

Matches

Won

Drawn

Lost

Points

Germany

2.47

68

51

15

2

168

Italy

2.31

77

54

16

7

178

Mexico

2.19

123

81

26

16

269

Croatia

2.18

28

17

10

1

61

England

2.17

82

53

19

10

178

Brazil

2.15

74

47

18

9

159

China PR

2.14

74

50

8

16

158

That was just a glimpse into the almost inexhaustible mine of information relating to FIFA World Cup qualifying. To find out more about players, matches, facts and figures from almost 75 years of qualifying history, browse the annals of previous tournaments and surf your way through the history of the greatest tournament in the world.