Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Sweden expressed interest in hosting the tournament. Swedish delegates lobbied other countries at the FIFA Congress held in Rio de Janeiro around the opening of the 1950 World Cup finals. Sweden was awarded the 1958 tournament unopposed on 23 June 1950.
The hosts (Sweden) and the defending champions (West Germany) qualified automatically. Of the remaining 14 places, nine were allocated to Europe, three to South America, one to North/Central America, and one to Asia/Africa.
This World Cup saw the entry and qualification of the Soviet Union for the first time, and the only qualification of all the United Kingdom's Home Nations: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Aside from the main European zone matches, Wales, which finished second in its group behind Czechoslovakia, was drawn into a play-off with Israel after Israel won its group by default because its three opponents, Turkey, Indonesia and Sudan, refused to play. FIFA had imposed a rule that no team would qualify without playing at least one match, something that had happened in several previous World Cups. Wales won the play-off and qualified.
On 8 February 1958, in Solna, Lennart Hyland and Sven Jerring presented the results of the draw where the qualified teams were divided into four groups. Seeding was geographical rather than by team strength, with each group containing one western European team, one eastern European team, one of the four British teams that had qualified, and one from the Americas.
This tournament saw the first, and, as of 2014, the only, appearance of Wales at a World Cup finals, and the only time that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have qualified for the same tournament. It also marked the debuts of the Soviet Union and Northern Ireland. Argentina appeared for the first time since 1934. This would be Paraguay's last finals appearance until 1986, Northern Ireland's last until 1982, and Austria's last until 1978.
This FIFA World Cup finals remains the only occasion on which Italy failed to qualify (Italy did not take part in the 1930 tournament but there was no qualification for that competition). Other teams that failed to qualify included Uruguay, Spain and Belgium.
The format of the competition changed from 1954: 16 teams still competed in four groups of four, but this time each team played each of the other teams in its group at least once, without extra time in the event of a draw. Two points were awarded for a win and one point for a draw. If the first two teams finished on equal points then goal average would decide who was placed first and second. As in 1954, if the second and third placed teams finished on the same points, then there would be a play-off with the winner going through. If a play-off resulted in a draw, goal average from the group games would be used to determine who went through to the next round. If the goal averages were equal then lots would have been drawn. These arrangements had not been finalised by the time the tournament started and were still being debated as it progressed. Some teams complained that a play-off match, meaning three games in five days, was too much, and before the second round of group matches FIFA informed the teams that goal average would be used before resorting to a play-off. This was overturned when the Swedish Football Association complained, ostensibly that it was wrong to change the rules mid-tournament, but also because it wanted the extra revenue from playoff matches.
This was the first time that goal average was available to separate teams in a World Cup. It was used to separate the teams finishing first and second in one of the groups. However all three playoffs finished with decisive results and so it was not needed to separate the teams involved in a tied playoff.
Almost all the matches kicked off simultaneously in each of the three rounds of the group phase, as did the quarter-finals and semi-finals. The exceptions were Sweden's three group matches, all of which were televised by Sveriges Radio; these started at other times so Swedes could attend other matches without missing their own team's. Apart from these, one match per round was televised, and relayed across Europe by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Many Swedes bought their first television for the World Cup.
The official ball was the "Top-Star VMbollen 1958" model made by Sydsvenska Läder & Remfabriks AB (aka "Remmen" or "Sydläder") in Ängelholm. It was chosen from 102 candidates in a blind test by four FIFA officials.
In Group 4, Pelé did not play until the last of Brazil's group games, against the Soviet Union. He failed to score, but Brazil won the game 2–0 (much thanks to an impressive exhibition of dribbling prowess by his partner Garrincha) and the group by two points. Previously, they had drawn 0–0 with England in what was the first ever goalless game in World Cup history. Eventually, the Soviet Union and England went to a playoff game, in which Anatoli Ilyin scored in the 67th minute to knock England out, while Austria had already been eliminated. The English side had been weakened by the Munich air disaster earlier in the year, which killed three internationals on the books of Manchester United, including England's young star Duncan Edwards.
Playoffs were also needed in Group 1 (Northern Ireland beat Czechoslovakia to join the defending champions West Germany in the quarter-finals) and Group 3 (Wales topped Hungary to advance with hosts Sweden). Hungary had become a spent force after their appearance in the final of the previous tournament. They had lost their best players two years before, when they fled in the wake of the failed uprising against the communist regime. In a rather restrictive sense, from the 1954 team, only goalkeeper Gyula Grosics, defender Jozsef Bozsik and forward Nándor Hidegkuti remained.
In Group 2, Scotland faced Yugoslavia, Paraguay, and France. France topped the group, with Just Fontaine netting six goals. Yugoslavia finished second, while Scotland came in last.
The quarter-finals saw France's Just Fontaine continue in similar form as in the group stage, managing another two goals as France triumphed over Northern Ireland. West Germany's Helmut Rahn put them into the semi-finals with a single goal against Yugoslavia, while Sweden went trough at the expense of USSR. The other game in the quarter-finals saw Pelé score the only goal against Wales.
In the semi-finals, Sweden continued their strong run as they defeated West Germany 3–1 in a vicious game that saw the German player Erich Juskowiak sent off (the first ever German player to be sent off in an international game) and German veteran forward Fritz Walter injured, which further weakened the German team (substitutes were first allowed in the 1970 FIFA World Cup).
In the other semi-final, Brazil and France were tied 1-1 for much of the first half. However, 36 minutes into the game French captain and most experienced defender Robert Jonquet suffered broken leg in a clash with Vavá, and France was down to ten men for the rest of the game (substitutions were not allowed back then). Brazil dominated the rest of the match, as a Pelé hat-trick gave them a 5–2 victory. Fontaine of France added one goal to his impressive tally.
The third place match saw Fontaine score four more goals as France defeated West Germany 6–3. This brought his total to 13 goals in one competition, a record that still stands.
The final was played in Solna, in the Råsunda Stadium; 50,000 people watched as the Brazilians went a goal down after four minutes. However Vavá equalised shortly afterwards and then put them a goal ahead before half time. In the second half Pelé outshone everyone, notching up two goals, including the first one where he lobbed the ball over Bengt Gustavsson then followed it with a precise volley shot. Zagallo added a goal in between, and Sweden managed a consolation goal.
The Final holds many records in World Cup history. Pelé became the youngest player to play a World Cup Finals, the youngest scorer in a World Cup Final and the youngest player to win a World Cup Winner's Medal. Nils Liedholm became the oldest player to score in a World Cup Final (35 years, 263 Days). This final had the highest number of goals scored by a winning team (5), the highest number of total goals scored (7); together with the World Cup finals in 1970 and 1998, it also had the greatest victory margin (3).
The game is also notable for the first and only appearance of Sweden in a World Cup Final, and for the first Brazilian win of a World Cup Final. Brazil's victory also provided a first that remains to this day: It was the first time that a European team failed to win a World Cup staged in Europe.
A total of twelve cities throughout the central and southern parts of Sweden hosted the tournament. FIFA regulations required at least six stadiums to have a capacity of at least 20,000. If Denmark had qualified, the organisers had planned to use the Idrætsparken in Copenhagen for Denmark's group matches. The Idrætsparken was renovated in 1956 with this in mind, but Denmark lost out to England in qualification. When doubts arose about whether funding would be forthcoming for rebuilding the Ullevi and Malmö Stadion, the organisers considered stadiums in Copenhagen and Oslo as contingency measures.
The Rasunda Stadium was expanded from 38,000 for the World Cup by building end stands. Organising committee chairman Holger Bergérus mortgaged his house to pay for this.
The new Malmö Stadion was built for the World Cup, replacing the 1896 Malmö Stadion at a new site
The Idrottsparken had 4,709 seats added for the World Cup. The Social Democratic municipal government refused to pay for this until the organisers threatened to select Folkungavallen in Linköping instead.
At the Rimnersvallen, a stand from the smaller Oddevallen stadium was moved to Rimnersvallen for the World Cup. The crowd at Brazil v. Austria was estimated at 21,000, with more looking in from the adjoining hillside.
The most used stadium was the Rasunda Stadium in Stockholm, which hosted 8 matches including the final, followed by the Ullevi Stadium in Gothenburg (the biggest stadium used during the tournament), which hosted 7 matches.
22 match officials were assigned to the tournament to serve as referees and assistant referees.
The geographical basis of the seeding attracted criticism, especially from Austria, who were drawn against the teams considered strongest in each of the other three pots.
For a list of all squads that appeared in the final tournament, see 1958 FIFA World Cup squads.
The team of the tournament voted by journalists was as follows:Goalkeeper: Harry Gregg
Defenders: Orvar Bergmark, Hilderaldo Bellini, Nílton Santos
Midfielders: Yuriy Voynov, Horst Szymaniak
Forwards: Garrincha, Didi, Raymond Kopa, Pelé, Lennart Skoglund
Although Just Fontaine got more votes than any other forward, they were split between the left and right inside forward positions.
The West Germans, surprise world champions four years before, were still very strong, and fielded an exciting young forward in Uwe Seeler. But this time the Germans had to contend with a real powerhouse in Argentina's team, competing for the first time since 1934. In fact, many experts thought Argentina had a very realistic chance of winning the World Cup this time.
Czechoslovakia was a fairly strong team with a rich football tradition, and was considered to be no walk-over for the Germans or the Argentinians, but nobody expected much from tiny Northern Ireland. But the Northern Irish had already shown that they could be a danger to anyone, by knocking out double world champions Italy in the qualifying tournament for the World Cup.
In the end, the Northern Irish did pull off one of the biggest upsets in World Cup Finals history by qualifying for the quarter-finals, beating Czechoslovakia in a play-off. Finishing last in the group with a −5 goal differential was a horrible blow for Argentina, and on the way home the Argentinian team met the wrath of several thousand angry football fans at Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires.Northern Ireland finished ahead of Czechoslovakia by winning a play-off
Argentina forgot to bring their change strip, and borrowed the yellow shirt of host team IFK Malmö.
The second group saw the largest number of goals scored in a single group in the 1958 World Cup with 31 goals in total (~5.16 goals per game). Just Fontaine of France scored 6 of his 13 goals in the tournament, making him the tournament's top scorer going into the quarter-finals.
None of the teams in this group had been particularly successful at previous World Cups. France, despite having hosted the 1938 event, had not achieved any real World Cup success, Yugoslavia had not been able to replicate their semi-final success of 1930 and Paraguay and Scotland were considered underdogs during the tournament.
France won the group ahead of Yugoslavia and would go on to finish third.France finished ahead of Yugoslavia on goal average
The Swedish hosts could count themselves lucky in ending up in a rather weak group, which they proceeded to win fairly easily with their powerful workmanlike football. The group did of course include Hungary, which had been considered by far the best team in the world some years ago – although the Hungarians could not beat West Germany in the final of the World Cup in 1954. But the Hungarian team had been dealt a blow by the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, after which star players like Sándor Kocsis and Ferenc Puskás left their homeland. Striker Nándor Hidegkuti was still playing, but he was by now 36 years old and nowhere near his former form.
In spite of Hungary's recent travails, everyone expected the Hungarian players to advance from their group. The success of Wales therefore was a great surprise, but the Welsh managed to draw all the group games and then beat the once-mighty Hungarians in a play-off match to decide which nation should follow Sweden into the knock-out stage. Had goal difference been the decider, Hungary would have gone through, as the Hungarians had a goal ratio 6–3 compared to 2–2 of Wales. As it was, Wales had the honour of meeting Brazil in the quarterfinals and becoming the recipient of young Pelé's first World Cup goal. The 1–1 draw between Wales and Mexico was the first point scored by Mexico in a World Cup.
The match between Hungary and Wales in Sandviken became the northern-most World Cup match in history.Wales finished ahead of Hungary by winning a play-off
In advance the experts considered the fourth group the toughest one in this World Cup. Notwithstanding the disappointments of the previous tournaments, Brazil were considered extremely powerful, as would indeed prove to be the case. The Soviet Union were the reigning Olympic champion and Austria had won the bronze medal in the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, four years earlier. And although England, weakened by the loss of several players at the Munich air disaster, were not considered at their very best, they were still always a formidable team.
In the end, this group had the highest average attendance, even higher than Group 3 with the host nation, Sweden.
The quality of the football in this group did not quite live up to expectations, however. Only 15 goals were scored in the whole group, fewer than in any of the other groups. And when England and Brazil drew 0–0, it was the first time in World Cup history that a game ended with no goals.
Brazil won the group without conceding a single goal. The teenage Pelé played Brazil's last game against the Soviet Union. He did not score but drew wild reviews for his play. The Soviet Union, in their first World Cup, took second place.The Soviet Union finished ahead of England by winning a play-off
This was the first goalless draw in World Cup finals history.
With 13 goals, Just Fontaine was the top scorer in the tournament. As of 2017, no player has ever scored more goals in a single FIFA World Cup Final stage. In total, 126 goals were scored by 60 different players, with none of them credited as own goal.13 goals
In 1986, FIFA published a report that ranked all teams in each World Cup up to and including 1986, based on progress in the competition, overall results and quality of the opposition. The rankings for the 1958 tournament were as follows: