Ranking the Best-Ever World Cup Semi-Final Matches
The World Cup semi-finals have produced some of the most memorable matches in football history.
It's almost as though the desperation to reach the final produces a better spectacle than the final itself, which is often bogged down by nerves and anxiety.
It was a semi-final that made Maradona a villain in Naples; it was a semi-final that revealed Sir Bobby Charlton at his absolute finest; it was a semi-final that turned a 17-year-old Pele into an international superstar.
Following are eight of the best semi-finals to have been contested at world football's most prestigious competition. And if you have additional semi-final memories, feel free to describe them in the forum below.
8. Bulgaria vs. Italy, 1994
Four days before Roberto Baggio became the goat of Pasadena, he was the hero of East Rutherford.
After just 21 minutes against Bulgaria at Giants Stadium, the Juventus attacker cut across the 18-yard line, evaded a diving challenge and smashed the ball into the far corner of the net.
Then, only four minutes later, he got on the end of a ball to goalkeeper Boris Mihaylov's left and drilled an accurate finish inside the far post.
Hristo Stoichkov would pull one back for Bulgaria shortly before the break, but by then Baggio had already done the necessary damage, and Italy progressed to the final on the back of the 2-1 win.
7. Argentina vs. Italy, 1990
Argentina's progression through the knockout stages of the 1990 World Cup took them through Brazil and Yugoslavia (on penalties) before a semi-final showdown with host nation Italy in Naples.
Diego Maradona, who had joined Napoli from Barcelona six years prior, came into the match as a sort of adopted son, but he left it very much estranged from the San Paolo faithful.
Salvatore Schillaci and Claudio Caniggia traded goals on either side of the break, and after 120 minutes, the match went to penalties.
It had been a devastatingly physical affair, with Argentina, more often than not, the aggressors. They picked up six of the game's seven bookings.
And wouldn't you know it—it was Maradona who scored what proved to be the winning penalty for the Albiceleste.
6. Brazil vs. Netherlands, 1998
Ronaldo's 1998 World Cup campaign is best remembered for the bizarre events of July 12, which saw him play the final against France in questionable circumstances and fail to make any sort of impact in Saint-Denis.
But five days earlier, the Brazil striker scored one of his most memorable World Cup goals, fighting his way between Phillip Cocu and Frank De Boer before beating goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar with a left-footed finish.
Ronaldo then converted from 12 yards during the penalty shootout to help put Brazil into the final.
5. England vs. Portugal, 1966
With nine goals over the course of the competition, Portugal's Eusebio was the undisputed star of the 1966 World Cup.
But on July 26 at Wembley, it was Bobby Charlton who outshone the talismanic Benfica forward.
In the 20th minute, Charlton pounced on a mistake from Portugal goalkeeper Jose Pereira and stroked the ball into the back of the net to open the scoring.
An hour later, he scored what proved to be the winner when he completed a nice bit of buildup that climaxed when Geoff Hurst held the ball up at the far post before squaring for the Manchester United man to finish.
Eusebio's inevitable goal in the 82nd minute was too little, too late.
4. Brazil vs. Chile, 1962
With Pele out injured, it was Garrincha who stepped up for Brazil at the 1962 World Cup.
After scoring twice against England in a 3-1 win in Vina del Mar, the diminutive dribbler—widely regarded as the best winger of all time—dismantled host nation Chile in Santiago.
It took just nine minutes for him to get going.
With Chilean president Jorge Alessandri watching from his box, Garrincha opened the scoring with a left-footed shot from just outside the area that found the back of the net at the far corner.
Shortly after the hour mark, the Botafogo icon had Brazil two goals in front following his header from a corner.
Vava would also tally twice at Estadio Nacional as Brazil went on to win 4-2.
3. West Germany vs. France, 1982
Last week's semi-final between Germany and France didn't hold a candle to their meeting in 1982, when their showdown in Seville required penalties after a 3-3 draw through 120 minutes.
Germany were the first to strike at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan—Pierre Littbarski finishing off a sweeping, attacking move that began with Paul Breitner's run down the field.
But Michel Platini equalised from the spot just nine minutes later, and the 1-1 score held until the full-time whistle.
Then it was France who went on the attack.
First Marius Tresor found the back of the net with a spectacular volley from a deflected free-kick; then Alain Giresse put Les Bleus two goals in front in the 98th minute.
But just four minutes later, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge pulled West Germany back to within a goal with a deft touch of the ball from in close that completed a delightful bit of buildup, and six minutes after that Klaus Fischer's goal completed the comeback.
Didier Six and Maxime Bossis missed from the spot for France as Germany booked their place in the final.
2. France vs. Brazil, 1958
A 17-year-old forward—formerly a shoe-shiner—announced himself to the world when he scored the only goal of Brazil's 1-0 win over Wales at the 1958 FIFA World Cup.
Five days later, he was a bona-fide superstar.
With Brazil nursing a one-goal lead on France thanks to first-half tallies from Vava and Didi, Pele's three goals in 23 minutes ensured Brazil would contest the final in Sweden.
In the 75th minute, the player who would go on to become known as the finest footballer ever to play the game latched on to Didi’s knockdown and swept the ball into the back on the half-volley to put the finishing touches on a 5-2 win.
1. Italy vs. West Germany, 1970
It is commonly regarded as the best game of football ever played.
On June 17, 1970, the Italy of Gianni Rivera and Luigi Riva went up against Gerd Muller's Germany in Mexico City.
After just eight minutes, Italy were in front thanks to a superb, individual effort from Roberto Boninsegna. It would take West Germany until the final minute of normal time to equalise.
Shortly before the full-time whistle, Jurgen Grabowski accepted a throw-in and went on a strong run down the right before crossing to Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, who awkwardly directed the ball past goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi.
Then West Germany took the lead in extra time through Muller’s first of two goals—a corner conversion following some appalling Italian defending.
Tarcisio Burgnich would equalise in the 98th minute, and just before the end of the first period of extra time, Riva had the Azzurri back in front after controlling a cross with his left foot, jinking past a defender and finishing calmly past Sepp Maier.
Muller's second came in the 100th minute, but less than 60 seconds later, Italy notched what proved to be the winner at Estadio Azteca.
Boninsegna started the buildup with a short pass to Rivera, and Giancarlo De Sisti and Giacito Facchetti were also involved before Boninsegna regained possession down the left. He then crossed to Rivera, who beat Maier with a first-time effort with his right boot.