Nothing beats the rush of watching a World Cup match live. The atmosphere of thousands of fans gathering in the stadium cheering (or booing) in unison, the thrill of seeing the soccer greats run the field — the stadium experience is a must for die-hard fans and bandwagon jumpers alike.
Being a truly international game, World Cup history has been made in every corner of the globe.
A sport for some, a religion for others, many travel hundreds of miles just for a chance to see the tournament live and step inside a soccer stadium, where culture, architecture and the love of the game coalesce.
We’ve assembled a list of some of the most famous stadiums from around the planet that saw the greatest World Cup matches ever played. These were places where the sport was changed forever.
Estadio Centenario, Montevideo, Uruguay
Photo: Flodigrip’s world/Flickr
Original Capacity: 100,000
Current Capacity: 76,609
Construction Notes: Crowned by FIFA as a historical monument of world football, Estadio Centenario was built to host the first ever World Cup finals and commemorate the 100th anniversary of Uruguay’s independence. Despite a 24-hour construction schedule, the stadium wasn’t finished until after the 1930 World Cup began.
Famous Game: 1930 World Cup Final, Uruguay vs Argentina, final score 4 – 2
Wankdorfstadion, Bern, Switzerland
Original Capacity: 22,000
1954 Reconstruction Capacity: 64,000
Construction Notes: In 2005, the new Stade de Suisse stadium was built in place of Wankdorf for $415,893,900 USD.
Famous Game: 1954 World Cup Final, Germany vs Hungary, final score 3 – 2. After having conceded two goals before the starting ten minute mark of the final game in Wankdorf, West Germany defeated Hungry in a glorious comeback in what became known as the Miracle of Bern.
Ullevi Stadium, Gothenburg, Sweden
Construction Notes: Construction began in 1957 and was finished by the spring of 1958 for the World Cup games. In 2007, a 680 acre meter solar-powered generating facility was built at Ullevi, producing eco-friendly electricity for the stadium.
Famous Game: 1958 World Cup Quarter Finals, Brazil vs Wales, final score 1 – 0. At 17 years of age, Pele made his debut on the international stage in Ullevi, scoring a goal against Wales. Brazil went on to win their first of four World Cup trophies, thanks in large part to Pele who was the youngest footballer to play in the World Cup at the time.
Wembley Stadium, London, England
Photo: Herry Lawford/Flickr
Original Capacity: 127,000
Current Capacity: 90,000
Construction Notes: The original stadium was built in under a year and cost $1,287,187 USD while later reconstruction expenses in 2007 amounted to $1,297,815,940 USD.
Famous Game: 1966 World Cup Final, England vs West Germany, final score 4 – 2. In what’s perhaps the most controversial goal in World Cup history, England striker Geoff Hurst’s tie-breaker against Germany in the 90th minute of extra time didn’t appear to go in the net. Instead is seemed to land right on the goal line after bouncing off the crossbar. While the linesman initially refuted the goal, the referee went on to award the point to England. Hurst scored another goal in Wembley, cementing his place in soccer lore as the only player to score a hat trick during a World Cup final.
Estadio Azteca Stadium, Mexico City, Mexico
Original Capacity: 114,600
Current Capacity: 104,000
Construction Notes: $20,046,262 USD was spent on the stadium’s development.
Famous Game: 1986 World Cup Quarter Finals, Argentina vs England, final score 2 – 1. Diego Maradona’s notorious Hand of God goal and Goal of the Century both took place in Estadio Azteca. In the 1970 Mexico World Cup, Estadio Azteca was also where the first ever yellow and red cards were issued by referees after being introduced by Ken Aston.
Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, Madrid, Spain
Construction Notes: Real Madrid president Florentino Perez announced plans earlier this year of a $540 million USD renovation for the stadium.
Famous Game: 1982 World Cup Final, Italy vs West Germany, final score 3 – 1. After scoring the second goal for Italy, Marco Tardelli went on a famous celebratory run across the stadium to the Italian team’s bench. Teary eyed and overwhelmed with emotion, the event has become known as the Tardelli cry. “Where was I running? I don’t know. I was just going mad in that time,” said Marco Tardelli. “In sport or in life, nothing compares to that moment.”
Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy
Photo: Doc Searls/Flickr
Original Capacity: 100,000
Current Capacity: 82,000
Construction Notes: While the stadium broke ground in 1901, World War II put construction on hold until 1950
Famous Game: 1990 World Cup Final, West Germany vs Argentina, final score 1 – 0. The largest stadium in Rome, the Stadio Olimpico saw the first ever red card to awarded during a final match.
Olympiastadion, Berlin, Germany
Original Capacity: 65,000 (100,000 standing)
Current Capacity: 76,000
Construction Notes: When built in 1936, original costs were 42,000,000 Reichsmark or $108,963,405 USD (adjusted for inflation). Later refurbishment in 2000 cost $330,000,000 USD.
Famous Game: 2006 World Cup Final, Italy vs France, final score 1 – 1 (Penalties). Unquestionably the most memorable moment of the whole tournament, Zinedine Zidane received a red card for headbutting Italian centre back Marco Materaazi. Olympiastadion was also where Jesse Owens ran his way into the record books, winning four gold medals during the 1936 Olympics.
Soccer City, Johannesburg, South Africa
Construction Notes: Cost of construction was $424,000,000 USD. As the main stage for Africa’s first World Cup Games, the design of Soccer City was inspired by the Calabash, a plant commonly cultivated in the continent. The stadium was also built in the same area where Nelson Mandela made his first speech in Johannesburg after being released from prison.
Famous Game: 2010 World Cup Quarter Finals, Germany vs Argentina, final score 4-0. The loud, monotonous screech of Vuvuzelas were heard throughout the tournament filling up stadiums and irritating television viewers to no end, overall, making its mark on world cup history for all the wrong reasons.
Arena das Dunas, Natal Brazil
Construction Notes: Costs were $450,000,000 USD.
Famous Game: 2014 World Cup Group Stage, Uruguay vs Italy, final score 1 – 0. Luis Suarez is currently making headlines for having bitten Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini shoulder during their meeting in the group stages.