PSA’s Favorite World Cup Sets: Part 2 (Modern)6 min read

Continuing the conversation of “PSA’s Favorite World Cup Sets,” for this entry, we focused on modern releases created after the 1978 World Cup. In case you missed it, Part 1 of “PSA’s Favorite World Cup Sets” featured our top vintage selections. Our choices for these categories are based on imagery, collectability, importance and personal preference, and we made sure not to select more than one set per World Cup. Note: Only sets PSA has graded were eligible for this list.

1994: Upper Deck World Cup Contenders English/Spanish

Leading up to the much anticipated 1994 World Cup, Upper Deck was a young card manufacturer, not really known for its soccer products. Upper Deck’s objective was to prove that an American card company could indeed make a great soccer product enjoyed by collectors all over the world. To tackle that task, Upper Deck released several key products: a 1993 World Cup Preview set; 1994 World Cup Contenders English/Spanish (for North American market); and a European product, featuring cards in various languages, depending on the player. 

The 1994 World Cup Contenders English/Spanish set made our list for several reasons. First, it’s due to the creativity in the card design. Sometimes portrait shots on stickers and cards become mundane for collectors. However, that is not the case with this set as it mostly features full-body action photography!  Another aspect that is unique to this set  is the bilingual, Spanish/English, text on the back of the cards, appealing to a larger North American audience. Also included in the set are popular “Honorary Captain” inserts that feature global superstar athletes from other sports such as Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Joe Montana and Mickey Mantle. And to top it all off, Upper Deck incorporated seven different prize cards! Two lucky soccer fans could win tickets to the World Cup Final! Who wouldn’t love to open a box of cards of their favorite players and possibly win tickets to see them play as well? 

Key Card From the Set: Mia Hamm #268

2002: Panini World Cup Korea/Japan Japan Exclusive

South Korea and Japan were joint hosts of the 2002 FIFA World Cup making it the first time the tournament was hosted in Asia. Panini also featured some “firsts” by releasing four notable products for collectors. Such products included their famous sticker album, an “Opening Series” product that featured cards of each stadium, and most notably two official FIFA World Cup sets. However, the two World Cup sets were unique from each other in several ways. One was a more abundant, globally released product and the other was a Japanese-exclusive product. The more worldwide product had a smaller checklist of only 140 cards compared to the larger 250 card checklist of the Japanese-exclusive set. A first for Panini, with regard to World Cup sets, was the inclusion of pack-pulled autograph cards and a redemption referred to as the “Exchange card.” Collectors got the opportunity to chase one of the 12 autograph cards, each limited to 100 copies, that feature superstars such as Brazil’s Ronaldo Nazario and Italy’s popular trio of Paulo Maldini, Gianlugigi Buffon and Francesco Totti. The “Exchange card,” numbered to 500, was a redemption that collectors could mail into Panini for a Japanese player memorabilia card.

Key Card From the Set: Ronaldo Nazario #21

2006: Panini FIFA World Cup Germany

Even though the 2006 Panini FIFA World Cup Germany product doesn’t include the bells and whistles (autographs or redemptions) like it did 2002, this set is massively popular amongst collectors. The set features the first World Cup cards of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo appearing for their beloved countries of Argentina and Portugal, respectively. Within the 205 card base set are beautiful metallized foil cards of 20 superstars that include the likes of France’s Zinedine Zidane, Brazil’s Ronaldinho and Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to name a few. Add your 2006 Panini World Cup Germany foil cards to PSA’s free Set Registry and see how your collection stacks up against other collectors! 

Key Cards From the Set: Lionel Messi #47, Cristiano Ronaldo #169, Zinedine Zidane #106

2014: Panini Prizm World Cup

Panini America announced their entrance into the soccer space loudly and clearly when it released their first soccer product, 2014 Prizm World Cup. This debut set has become one of the most popular and collected sets in the soccer hobby, especially for the younger generation. The base set features 200 cards of players from all 32 teams. Prizm introduced low-numbered parallels such as a black /1, gold power /5, gold /10, and green crystal /25 that are highly sought after for most players. The vast 77 player autograph checklist features many of the game’s all-time great players past and present such as Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Roberto Baggio, Marco Van Basten, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Bobby Charlton. Also included are “Fans of the Game” autograph cards of the late, great basketball legend and soccer fan, Kobe Bryant. 

Key Card From the Set: Cristiano Ronaldo/Lionel Messi Matchups insert  #19

2018: Panini Prizm World Cup 

Given the global success of the first Panini Prizm World Cup set, collectors had high expectations for Panini America’s 2018 product. In the eyes of many, the set met and exceeded expectations. Never-before-seen inserts, new color parallels, SSPs, and variations were introduced. Since Russia was the host country for the tournament, Panini created a short-print variation of each base card with the players name in Cyrillic text. This unique variation is unnumbered but is believed to have had less than 30 copies made for each player. Other amazing additions include the wildly popular National Landmark inserts set as well as trio and quad team autograph cards that include legends Diego Maradona and Pelé

Key Card From the Set: Kylian Mbappé #80

2022: Panini FIFA World Cup Qatar Stickers 

Collecting the complete 2022 Panini FIFA World Cup Qatar sticker set is not for the faint of heart. This massive set has a total of 670 stickers. For the first time ever in Panini’s 50-plus years of releasing World Cup albums, there are exclusive color-border parallels. These rare color parallels can only be found in the U.S. product. The black parallel is the only numbered version and it happens to be the biggest chase element because it’s the “One of One” sticker. Other color parallels, which are unnumbered,  include green, purple, red, blue, and gold. 

Key Sticker From the Set: Lionel Messi ARG20

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?


Posted by Mitch Walters

Mitch is the Associate Brand Manager for Soccer & Emerging Markets on the Set Registry team. Mitch enjoys talking about soccer and the hobby with footy fans all over the world.

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