Every four years, the soccer collecting world is blessed with unique sets to commemorate the biggest sporting event on earth. To celebrate the start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup on Sunday, Nov. 20, we’ve decided to pinpoint our favorite World Cup sets ever produced. Since the inception of the very first World Cup in 1930, countless card sets and sticker albums have been created to connect fans to the beautiful game. Because of this passion, we created a two-part blog series highlighting our favorite vintage (Part 1) and modern (Part 2) World Cup sets. Our lineup of top modern World Cup sets will follow in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned for that entry.
Our choices for this post are based on imagery, collectability, importance and personal preference, and we did not select more than one set per World Cup. Note: Only sets PSA has graded were eligible for this list.
1930: El Titan 1er Campeonato Mundial de Football
Jules Rimet, in 1930, proposed the idea that countries all over the world should come together to compete for a world championship. The idea was born due to the fact that soccer was not recognized as part of the Olympic summer games, and Rimet believed a tournament between the international soccer teams was needed. There were not a lot of sets created for this tournament due to the fact that it only consisted of 13 teams and it was the first time the event was held. One set that speaks to me as famous and important is the ‘El Titan’ set from Uruguay. This set came in a packet with the whole Uruguay team connected in a long sheet. Collectors had to hand cut the players to make the cards. Not only did Uruguay host the first World Cup, but they won it too!
Key Cards From the Set: Jose Andrade, Jose Nassazzi
Arguably one of the most iconic World Cup moments was the Maracanazao in which host country Brazil, heavy favorites to win the tournament, lost 2-1 to Uruguay in the final. This World Cup also features one of the most famous soccer sets of all time, the Tinghalls set from Sweden. This set was produced by the Tinghalls candy company, and the back of the cards sometimes feature the stamp of the factory at which they were distributed: Tinghalls, Flamingo Fabriken or RAIA. This set highlighted greats from across the world and notably features the seldomly seen USA National team in the vintage soccer world. This set is highly collectible for vintage soccer lovers.
Key Card From the Set: Joe Gaetens (USA) and Zizinho (Brazil)
The 1958 World Cup, hosted by Sweden, brought arguably the greatest player of all time to the limelight: 17-year-old Pelé. The teenager scored key goals for Brazil in the quarters, semis, and the final to hoist Brazil’s first ever World Cup trophy. That same year, a Swedish company known as Alifabolaget had their hand in several different industries manufacturing candy, cough drops and cards. Little did they know at the time that they produced one of the most important trading cards of all time, which happens to be Pelé’s most iconic rookie card.
The 1958 Alifabolaget multi-sport card set features crisp, beautiful color portrait shots of the players from only a handful of participating teams. From 1949 to 1961, miniature cards were inserted into “Alfa Pastill” packages (cough drops) which many people bought just for the cards and not the pills. It’s no surprise that many of the cards did not survive, and if they did, it’s very rare to find one in good condition. Pelé has many rookie stickers and cards issued throughout the world but collectors seem to prefer this card due to the fact that it was produced and distributed in the country where he made himself a global household name. (As of this writing, Pelé’s Alifabolaget card #635 is currently the most expensive soccer card ever sold for over $1.33 million dollars in a PSA 9 holder.)
Key Card From the Set: Pelé #635
1962: Lampo Calcio Mondiale/Editora Vecchi Futebol Mundial
Nothing is more important about the World Cup than the fact that it brings the best players from across the world into one tournament. The 1962 Lampo Calcio and Editora Vecchi set design beautifully reminds collectors about this with its unique flag border that features the flags of teams in the competition. The Lampo set was created in Italy and has a blank back while the Brazilian version, made by Editora Vecchi, features a sticker number with the player’s information on the back of the card. Overall, the use of vibrant colors and beautiful photography, combined with the country flags as a border, makes this set highly collectable.
Key Cards From the Set: Garrincha #43, Pelé #44. Jascin #162
1970: Panini World Cup Mexico
Of all the sets on this list, the 1970 Panini World Cup Mexico sticker set is considered by many as the most historically significant World Cup set ever created. This was Panini’s very first World Cup sticker album that started the tradition many collectors enjoy every four years. Besides the colorful images and great photography, Panini sticker collecting is popular because it’s relatively cheap and provides just enough of a challenge to complete.
To finish an album, many collectors rely on trading or “swapping” stickers with each other, which also has an indirect effect on building a sense of community amongst one other and even within families. This particular set, 1970 Panini World Cup Mexico, consists of 271 stickers. However, there are four variations to the color and text on the back of the stickers. Three of the different variations can be found in packs: green back, red/black back, and Bisvalda back. However, the rarest was red/blue back because it could only be found in albums released in Italy. Given the nature of the stickers and adding them into albums, not many have lasted in decent condition. The 1970 Panini World Cup Mexico Pelé, in any variation, is considered his most iconic non-rookie collectable.
Key Card From the Set: Pelé (red & blue back)
1978: FKS Argentina 78/Crack Campeonato Mundial de Futebol
Sharing the same design, the FKS and Crack sets feature bold colors on each sticker, with a great headshot of the best soccer players on the planet. In 1978 Argentina hosted the World Cup and also won the tournament, but this was without rising young star Diego Maradona. The 17-year-old up-and-comer was left off the squad due to Argentina’s coach believing he was too young for the tournament. While Maradona was left out of this World Cup, he made his mark years later. Because he was left off the squad, Maradona is not featured in the FKS version of the set from the United Kingdom. However, the Crack version from Argentina happened to feature the phenom, which ended up creating one of his most desired stickers in the hobby.
Key Card From the Set: Diego Maradona
Several of these sets are featured in the PSA Set Registry. Click on the links to begin or further expand your collecting journey!
Do you agree or disagree with our selections? Please feel free to let us know your thoughts by emailing [email protected]
If you could replace one set on the list, which World Cup would take its place?