On the eve of the 1990 FIFA World Cup grand final, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras and Luciano Pavarotti gathered in front of the ancient Baths of Caracalla in Rome and performed for the very first time as The Three Tenors.
Their concert helped bring the iconic aria Nessun Dorma into the pop culture mainstream, thanks to a memorable encore that lifted the crowd out of their seats. But it also cemented the relationship between music and soccer, especially the World Cup.
There was something about the depth of emotion at The Three Tenors performance, held on the same night the Italian hosts defeated England in the play-off for third place, that captured the wonderful paradox at the heart of sport: the ecstasy and the pain. Whether you were watching Italian men on the football field trouncing the English, or Italian men in the ruins of an ancient bath belting out opera, the world couldn’t help but weep with joy.
Of course, as majestic as the performance was, it was far from the first time music and soccer had collided. Since 1962, when Chilean rock band Los Ramblers composed El Rock del Mundial for the World Cup in Chile, each of the quadrennial tournaments has had an official song (or songs). For the 1990 cup in Italy the song was Un’estate italiana, composed by disco legend Giorgio Moroder.
These anthems are used in the lead up to the tournament to help build national and international hype and show off local musical talent (though not all the anthems are by musicians from the host country). They’re hard to get right. They need to be catchy, distinctive, easy to sing-a-long to but not too boring and repetitive because they will be blasted approximately 500 times a day on TV broadcasts, radio and at games.
The best anthems transcend the World Cup they were originally recorded for. The worst fade into obscurity before the final whistle has even blown. With all of that in mind, here’s our ranking of seven of the best anthems from World Cup history.
#7 El Mundial – Ennio Morricone (1978)
As a World Cup anthem this song faces some tough hurdles. Chief among them is the complete lack of lyrics. But getting the world-renowned composer behind the iconic themes to classic westerns like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, as well as The Untouchables and Cinema Paradiso, to make your soccer anthem is a serious flex.
Morricone’s theme faced some backlash from locals in Argentina, the hosts of the′78 tournament, because the composer was Italian. But there are very few things in this world that aren’t improved by a Morricone score, and the soccer world is lucky to have been touched by one of the world’s greatest modern composers.
#6 Un’estate Italiana – Giorgio Moroder (1990)
From one iconic film composer to another, Giorgio Moroder stepped out of his disco/electronic comfort zone to produce this glam rock-esque banger for Italy’s cup in 1990. A catchy chorus, distorted guitars and lyrics that evoke the magic of an Italian summer make this a track that perfectly captures the turn of the decade.
The English version was written by Tom Whitlock, who Moroder had collaborated with four years earlier for Take My Breath Away which featured in Top Gun.
#5 We Are One – Pitbull feat. J Lo and Claudia Leitte (2014)
In 2014 the World Cup went to Brazil, so who better to ask for a tournament anthem than Mr. Worldwide himself, Pitbull? Pitbull, who is definitely not Brazilian, teamed up with Jennifer Lopez (also definitely not Brazilian) and singer Claudia Leitte (who is Brazilian) for this whistle-heavy tune.
For a relatively simple, and at times over-repetitive song, We Are One features a mammoth list of songwriters including Australia’s own Sia, RedOne, Danny Mercer, Dr. Luke, Cirkut and Thomas Troelsen. How else do you get magic like,“Put your flags up in the sky (Put them in the sky), And wave them side to side (Side to side)“?
Jokes aside, it’s a fun track with the right amount of vague “we’re all in this together” themes to help everyone feel warm and fuzzy.
#4 Boom – Anastacia (2002)
In 2002 the World Cup was jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan, so I guess it makes sense the anthem was done by American pop sensation Anastacia?
Leaving aside the weird choice of singer, Boom isn’t just a great soccer anthem it’s a great all round pop song. Unlike most anthems, Anastacia didn’t try to incorporate any musical elements from the host countries. She just delivered what she does best: early 2000s electro pop. And it worked.
#3 Wavin’ Flag – K’naan (2010)
Technically Wavin’ Flag by Somali-Canadian rapper and singer K’naan wasn’t the official anthem of the South Africa hosted World Cup in 2010 (more on that later). Rather, it was the Coco-Cola “promotional anthem” for that cup. But the song is so good it deserves to be on this list.
It’s a shamelessly joyous and uplifting track that acknowledges the best thing about the World Cup: cultures from all over the world coming together to celebrate themselves, each other and the magic of soccer.
#2 Waka Waka (This Time For Africa) – Shakira (2010)
Another anthem where the singer has no connection to the host country, but another anthem where it doesn’t matter because of how good it is. While the 2010 World Cup in South Africa will always be remembered for the relentless blare of thousands of vuvuzelas, it deserves to remembered for giving us two iconic anthems.
Waka Waka (This Time For Africa) is the most streamed anthem by far, and Shakira’s biggest hit after Hips Don’t Lie (which she also performed at the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2006 World Cup in Germany). There’s not much more to say about this one. Just listen to it.
#1 La Copa de la Vida (The Cup Of Life) – Ricky Martin (1998)
Do you really want it? It doesn’t matter that this was the anthem for the 1998 World Cup in France. It’s become synonymous with the tournament, whenever and wherever it’s held. In fact you can play at any sporting event. Scratch that, any event. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries.
It’s hard to pick the best thing about this song. The horns? The “Ale, ale, ale” chant? The samba rhythm? It’s all so good. It also helped usher Latin music into Western pop consciousness, paving the way for artists such as Bad Bunny and Shakira.
That’s right – no La Copa de la Vida (The Cup Of Life) means no Shakira, which means no Waka Waka. How much more bleak would our world be?
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