With the 2023 World Cup about to begin, it's time to pick our perfect starting eleven of tournament anthems
World Cup anthems. Spirited sambas filled with chants, whistles and vuvuzelas, bittersweet ballads that seem to sigh “Ah well, better luck next time”… For decades, pop music has been key to rousing an entire nation to get behind the 23 guys and girls carrying their hopes into battle on the global stage.
On the eve of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, we’ve taken the opportunity to revisit the greatest tunes in World Cup history. There have been shockers and bangers, sometimes at the same time, but here’s our starting 11 of World Cup songs.
‘Mas Que Nada’ – Sérgio Mendes feat. The Black Eyed Peas
Never an official tournament song, when this Jorge Ben Jor classic got a new lease of life around the 2006 Germany World Cup it still had suburban schoolkids up and down the country thinking they were bouncing balls off the buzzing streets of Sao Paolo, shouting Joga Bonito! A Tamba Trio version of the song also appeared on a Nike ad for the 1998 Brazil World Cup, so it’s firmly in the canon.
‘Do It Again’ – BENEE ft Mallrat
With New Zealand and Australia sharing hosting duties, it makes sense for both to be represented on the 2023 tournament’s official song. This is the second time New Zealand’s BENEE and Australia’s Mallrat have teamed up (after 2020’s ‘Winter’) and it’s definitely a cut above your average sporting event anthem. It’s empowering and energising, marrying a driving electronic beat to BENEE’s genuinely inspirational lyrics.
‘Sven Sven Sven’ – Bell & Spurling
On the subject of timelessness, has ever there been a paean so inspired and incisive as Bell & Spurling’s ‘Sven Sven Sven’? An ode to the man who took England to the 2002 World Cup after the historic 5-1 qualifying win against Germany the year before, this cheeky chappy anthem features genius lines such as “Upfront there’s Michael Owen and Heskey that’s his pal/ He should shave off Seamans tash and cut his ponytail” and “Eins zwei drei vier funf thats five in German”. It’s pretty awful, but one play and it’ll be stuck in your head all tournament.
‘Don’t Come Home Too Soon’ – Del Amitri
Ah, Scotland. Nothing quite says ‘We can do this!’ than a slow acoustic ballad that’s the musical equivalent of a rainy day. Suffice to say Scotland did come home too soon during the 1998 France World Cup after securing just one point in the group stage. You’ve got to respect the dream, though.
‘Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)’ – Shakira
Vibe shift. The official song of South Africa 2010, ‘Waka Waka’ outlived the tournament perhaps more than any other, and is still likely to be heard in beach bars and clubs on your next nondescript European getaway. It’s a body-mover, pure and simple.
‘Vindaloo’ – Fat Les
From Shakira to… Fat Les. A supergroup (sort of) featuring actor Keith Allen, Blur‘s Alex James and artist Damien Hirst, this was one of Cool Britannia’s more bizarre moments, but there’s no doubt this spicy tongue-in-cheek offering gets you shouting EN-GER-LAND.
‘World At Your Feet’ – Embrace
“You’re the first in my life, to make me think/ That we might just go all the way,” sang Embrace’s Danny McNamara in 2006, shot to the heart like a clinching penalty shootout.
‘World In Motion’ – New Order
A favourite among the Mundial-reading, Classic Football Shirt-wearing brigade thanks to its associations with the retro and mythical Italia 90 (the shirts were fantastic, to be fair), ‘World In Motion’ feels like it’s hardly aged. John Barnes’ ‘rap’ is probably the best bit, though Peter Beardsley’s attempt is worth a listen.
‘Futbol’ – Maryla Rodowicz
A deep cut dating back to the 1974 tournament in West Germany, this one screams of long sleeves and even longer moustaches. There’s a vintage go-go dancing vibe to this from the Polish singer, and though we don’t know what exactly she’s singing about, it’s definitely probably about football.
‘La Copa de la Vida’ – Ricky Martin
“Here we go/ Ale, ale, ale!” You don’t need to speak Spanish to get the jist of this one. Widely considered to be one of the best World Cup anthems of all time, Ricky has us eating out of his hands with this Puerto Rican carnival blast. Looking back, it was a bit of an odd choice given that the 1998 tournament was held in France, but if you were the big cheese at FIFA, would you turn it down?
‘Three Lions’ – Baddiel, Skinner & Lightning Seeds
Having tried to avoid songs from the Euros, which this technically is, the resurgence of “It’s coming home” in recent years has made this ‘Three Lions’ England’s biggest anthem regardless of tournament, and one that will certainly be played loudly and proudly in pubs nationwide in the coming weeks. Now there’s even an updated 2022 version to warm the cockles just before Christmas.
Photo credit: Visionhaus / Getty