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2014 World Cup: Mascot madness

Written by Pai Yao

This article first appeared in the May/Jun 2014 issue of World Gaming magazine.

From the cute to the cringeworthy, the World Cup is not only synonymous with football but also the weird and wonderful mascots that accompany it every four years.

Flying the flag in Brazil this year is Fuleco the three-banded armadillo. Categorized as an endangered species, the three-banded armadillo is a native of Brazil and was chosen as the mascot ahead of 46 other proposals because of his association with environmental issues. In fact, even the name Fuleco is a combination of “Ful” meaning football and “eco” meaning ecology.

Every World Cup since England in 1966 has featured a mascot whose purpose is to provide broad appeal to all – particularly children – to feature on a range of World Cup merchandise and of course to be representative of the host nation in one way or another.

Like most mascots, Fuleco has come in for criticism in some quarters but we quite like him. He certainly boasts the cute factor and the use of a native animal makes perfect sense given the desire to appeal to children while reflecting the host nation.

But it’s fair to say there have been some shockers over the years – none more bizarre than the three “Spheriks” used for the Japan/South Korea World Cup in 2002. The “Spheriks” – which looked like a combination between a Pokémon and a Teletubby – were said to live in the sky in a place called Atmozone and played their own version of football called Atmoball. Confusing? Perhaps it made sense to organizers but to the rest of us it was all very random.

What about Italy in 1990? It seems the Italians don’t go for cute, so instead they opted for a strange block-shaped stick man with a football for a head. The blocks were in the colours of the Italian flag to help you identify their purpose, but inspiring they certainly weren’t.

Germany has a proud history when it comes to their mascots. In 1974 they produced Tip and Tap, whose chipmunk features and odd-shaped heads were only as irrelevant as their names, then in 2006 came up with Goleo the romantic lion and his talking football sidekick Pille. Interesting choices to say the least.

If only they were all held in the same esteem as the mascot who started it all back in 1966, World Cup Willie.

Willie was a British lion dressed in a Union Jack shirt and was quite ground-breaking at the time – so much so that for many of those who were there it is Willie, rather than any of the players, they remember best. Created by Reg Hoye, who illustrated some of Enid Blyton’s children’s books, Willie became a global sensation and spawned the dozens of mascots that have been used in major championships the world over ever since.


1966 England – World Cup Willie

1970 Mexico – Juanito

1974 West Germany – Tip and Tap

1978 Argentina – Gauchito

1982 Spain – Naranjito

1986 Mexico – Pique

1990 Italy – Ciao

1994 USA – Striker

1998 France – Footix

2002 South Korea/Japan – The Spheriks

2006 Germany – Goleo and Pille

2010 South Africa – Zakumi