As the countdown continues to the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and Holland in Johannesburg, we rank the previous 18 World Cup finals.
Often the lasting impression left by a World Cup tournament is that of its final match.
So it is a pity that memories of the 1994 World Cup, which featured lots of goals and a number of classic games, should be tempered by this absolute stinker of a final.
There was no reason for fans to expect that two teams featuring the tournament's stars Romario and Roberto Baggio would bring the competition to a close with such a turgid scoreless encounter.
But little of note happened in a tense match until the decisive penalty shootout, when the half-injured Baggio blazed his spot-kick over the crossbar, handing the World Cup to Brazil.
The 1990 World Cup in Italy is considered one of the worst tournaments of all time, thanks to the negative tactics and foul play of most of the competing teams.
As such, it got the final it deserved as an Argentina team led by Diego Maradona, who was a shadow of the player that lit up the 1986 finals in Mexico, tried to bully its way to a scoreless draw against a solid, if uninspiring, West Germany.
Pedro Monzon became the first player to be sent off in a final, after a brutal challenge on West German striker Jurgen Klinsmann.
West Germany won the match with a dubious penalty earned when Rudi Voller fell over in the penalty area.
The spot-kick was coolly dispatched by Andres Brehme with five minutes remaining.
There was still time for another Argentinean, Gustavo Dezotti, to be shown the red card before West Germany lifted the World Cup for a third time.
1938 was a triumph for fascism as Italy claimed its second successive world title in front of an uninterested French crowd.
The Azzurri had become very unpopular with the local crowd after Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had insisted the team wear provocative black shirts during its quarterfinal win against France.
Despite six goals being scored, the French did not miss much of a game as Italy raced to a 3-1 lead by halftime.
Though Hungary pulled a goal back on 70 minutes, Italian striker Silvio Piola sealed the win eight minutes from time with his second of the match.
The host nation’s triumph to win France’s first-ever World Cup will always be overshadowed by the question, "What happened to Ronaldo?
Brazil had been the team of the tournament ahead of the final at the Stade de France in Paris. In Ronaldo it had a phenomenal player who would win the tournament’s Golden Ball.
However, about an hour before kick-off reports began to come in that the player had been withdrawn from the Brazilian starting team, only for subsequent stories to reveal that he had been reinstated.
While details of what exactly occurred will forever remain obscured, the player suffered a fit before the game and was deemed unfit to play by the team’s medical staff.
Whether it was the player himself, the Brazilian FA or even corporate interests that insisted he start, Ronaldo took to the pitch but both he and Brazil looked withdrawn and unable to get into the game.
France took full advantage and the lead by two Zindeine Zidane goals at halftime, virtually ending the game.
Little else happened until substitute Emmanuel Petit added a third goal in injury time.
France’s victory sparked off wild celebrations. For a brief moment, the success of a team made up of players from a variety of ethnic backgrounds united a country mired by deep racial divisions.
The 2002 World Cup final was less of a soccer match and more the glorious culmination of an epic four-year tale of redemption.
At the 1998 World Cup in France, Brazil’s star striker Ronaldo had a fit before the World Cup final match against the host country.
Though he was deemed well enough to play, Ronaldo didn’t look right and neither did his teammates as they lost 3-0 to France.
Four years later Ronaldo was back (sporting a bizarre haircut) and his six goals had helped Brazil reach the final.
Brazil’s opponent was Germany, who had surprisingly reached the final with what most observers considered a very mediocre team.
The European team was mostly inspired by the heroics of its goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, who would later be named the best player of the tournament.
So it was unfortunate for the German keeper that, with a close game tied with no score, he spilled a second-half shot from Rivaldo right into the path of Ronaldo, who gave Brazil the lead.
The Brazilian’s remarkable recovery from that awful night in Paris was complete when he scored a second with 11 minutes remaining.
Brazil lifted the World Cup for a record fifth time.
On an occasion that had eerie parallels with fascist Italy’s 1934 triumph in Rome, the host nation of Argentina won the 1978 World Cup, as demanded by the country’s ruling military junta.
The National Stadium in Buenos Aires—believed to have been one of the sites where thousands of the country’s “disappeared” had been imprisoned and tortured—was turned into a fearsome blizzard of noise and ticker tape that seemed to intimidate a talented Dutch team.
The Argentine side did its best to help matters by delaying its appearance on the pitch, leaving Holland’s players alone to face the abuse of the home crowd.
When the players did appear, they complained about a plaster cast that Dutch winger René Van De Kerkhof had been wearing throughout the tournament, which nearly caused Holland’s team to leave the pitch.
After the game finally got underway Mario Kempes opened the scoring for Argentina, who looked to be heading for a 1-0 win until Dick Nanninga equalized with eight minutes remaining.
Rob Resenbrink almost won it for the Dutch in injury time but his shot hit the post and the game went into extra-time.
Kempes became the hero when he scored his sixth goal of the tournament just before the end of the first period of extra-time.
Daniel Bertoni sealed Argentina’s first-ever World Cup win with a goal five minutes from time.
The 1934 World Cup final was a distasteful promotion of Benito Mussolini’s Italy, as the tournament’s host nation put on a celebration of fascist pomp and spectacle at Rome’s Stadium of the National Fascist Party.
A hostile Italian crowd was outraged when Czechoslovakia took the lead after 76 minutes, but Italy’s Argentinean winger Raimundo Orsi scored a lucky equalizer five minutes later.
The game went to extra-time, where Italy fulfilled its dictator’s demand for victory with a goal from Angelo Schiavio, who was playing his last game for the national team.
The following day, Orsi, who claimed he had meant the freak swerving shot that had deceived the Czech goalkeeper, tried to recreate his feat.
Twenty attempts later, Orsi gave up in disgust, much to the amusement of the specially assembled journalists and photographers.
Brazil had lost Pelé through injury earlier in the tournament, but it was the other hero of the 1958 World Cup triumph that inspired a second successive world title.
Garrincha, the Little Bird, was outstanding in his team’s semifinal win over host nation Chile, but was sent off late in the game.
Faced with a possible one game suspension, the winger escaped with a warning and took his place in the starting line-up for the final.
However, Brazil did not need to rely on Garrincha's dazzling dribbling skills as it was given a helping by the previously outstanding Czechoslovakia goalkeeper Viliam Schorjf.
The European side took the lead on 15 minutes but an error by Schorjf, who had been the hero in the quarterfinal win over Hungary, allowed Amarildo to equalize.
A close game remained deadlocked until Zito headed Brazil into a 2-1 lead on 68 minutes.
Ten minutes later, another Schofjf blunder allowed Vava to seal the game and Brazil retained its world title.
At the 1974 World Cup, the Total Football of Holland looked set to sweep all before it.
The Dutch team featuring Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, and Johnny Rep had wowed the world with its fluid playing style and was the overwhelming favorite to beat host nation West Germany in the final.
Holland took the lead before a West German player had even touched the ball as the Dutch kicked-off and Cruyff won a penalty after foul by Uli Hoeness.
Neeskens converted the spot-kick and the confident Dutch appeared to toy with a struggling West Germany.
That confidence was shattered when West Germany earned a penalty in the 25th minute, which Breitner scored, and star striker Gerd Muller gave the hosts a 2-1 lead just before halftime.
West Germany never lost control of the game after that and went on to win the World Cup for the second time.
Holland would forever be remembered, along with Hungary in 1954 and Brazil in 1982, as one of the greatest teams never to win the World Cup.
The 1982 World Cup final in Madrid was the battle of the bad guys.
West Germany had been involved in a controversial group match, when it played out a convenient 1-0 win over neighboring country Austria that saw both teams progress to the second round ahead of Algeria.
In the semifinal against France, goalkeeper Harald Schumacher infamously assaulted Patrick Battiston, leaving the French player unconscious, but the referee didn’t even blow for a foul.
Italian football had been tainted by a match-fixing scandal of its own in the late 1970s, with striker Paolo Rossi banned from the game for two years.
Italy had been largely unimpressive at the tournament. It scraped through the group stages with three tedious draws before surprisingly eliminating the great Brazil side that included Socrates, Zico, and Falcao.
But Italy had started winning friends with that stunning 3-2 win over the South American favorites and a deserved triumph over West Germany at Madrid’s Bernabeu Stadium was celebrated around the world.
After Antonio Cabrini missed a first-half penalty, Rossi followed his hat-trick against Brazil and two goals in the semifinal win over Poland, with his sixth goal of the tournament to open the scoring.
Marco Tardelli added a second on 69 minutes and set off on the greatest goal celebration of all time as he ran wildly towards the Italian bench with tears streaming down his face, supposedly screaming his own name repeatedly.
Alessandro Altobelli scored a third with nine minutes remaining. A late West Germany consolation could not prevent Italy from winning its third world title.
The 1930 World Cup final began with an argument about whose ball should be used.
The host nation felt it should use a Uruguayan ball, but Argentina insisted on using theirs.
The debate was resolved by using a different ball in each half.
There was no argument about the winner of the game though.
Despite coming back from an early Uruguayan goal to lead 2-1 at half-time, Argentina once more lost to the side that had beaten it two years previously in the Olympic final in Amsterdam.
Uruguay's second-half spree goal was completed by Héctor Castro, who played with a disability having lost his right arm in an accident at the age of 13.
The forward’s last minute strike sealed a 4-2 victory and Uruguay became the very first winners of the World Cup.
In the 2006 World Cup final in Germany, Italy won a fifth world title after a tense encounter was decided by a penalty shootout.
But all anyone wanted to talk about afterward was Zinedine Zidane’s moment of madness.
The game had gotten off to a ferocious start when France won a penalty in the seventh minute, which Zidane converted by coolly chipping down the middle.
Italian defender Marco Materazzi equalized 12 minutes later, but both goalscorers would have further roles to play in the game.
Luca Toni hit the bar for Italy in the first-half and after the game had gone into extra-time Zidane had forced a brilliant save from Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
With 10 minutes left, the referee suddenly produced a red card and showed it to Zidane, who was standing close to Materazzi lying prone on the turf.
Confusion reigned until replays showed the two players talking to each other as Zidane ran past the Italian, before the Frenchman turned around and planted a head-butt into the Italian’s chest.
The image would become the defining moment of the 2006 World Cup. Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro lifting the World Cup after his team's victory in the decisive penalty shootout was a close second.
The 1958 World Cup final will forever be remembered as the game that introduced Pelé to the world.
The 17-year old had not been part of Brazil’s team at the beginning of the tournament, but his inclusion alongside the brilliant winger Garrincha for the crucial final group game against a very strong USSR team helped the South Americans to a 2-0 win and transformed Brazilian soccer forever.
Host nation Sweden was a surprise finalist and despite taking an early lead, it could do little to stop the magical Brazilians from lifting their first-ever World Cup.
Vava scored twice to give Brazil a 2-1 halftime lead before Pelé lit up the final with a truly magnificent goal, chipping the ball over the head of a Swedish defender then running past him and volleying the ball into the back of the net.
Mário Zagallo, who went on to coach Brazil to victory at the 1970 World Cup, added a fourth on 68 minutes, after which Sweden pulled a goal back.
With seconds remaining, Pelé headed in his second goal of the game and then shed tears of joy as Brazil lifted the Jules Rimet trophy.
Little Argentine genius Diego Maradona had been the star of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Such was the No. 10’s astonishing ability to win games singlehandedly that final opponents West Germany charged one of its own best players Lothar Matthaus to man-mark Maradona throughout the game.
But, Argentina’s other players were able to prove that they were far from a one-man team and la Albiceleste were two goals ahead after 55 minutes.
West Germany was forced to liberate Matthaus from his assignment and the midfielder inspired a dramatic comeback.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge pulled one back on 74 minutes, before substitute Rudi Voller grabbed an equalizer with 10 minutes remaining.
But Maradona was to have the last word. Three minutes later, he sent a brilliant pass to Jorge Burruchaga, who was clear on goal to win the World Cup for Argentina.
The 1950 World Cup was unique in being decided by a mini-league of four teams rather than a knockout competition.
Strictly speaking, the tournament did not have a final, but as the last game between Uruguay and Brazil was decisive in deciding the winner, this game is generally regarded as the unofficial final.
Host nation Brazil were overwhelming favorites going into the game and only needed a point to secure the world title.
Over 200,000 people poured into Rio de Janeiro’s half-finished Maracana Stadium and all seemed to be going according to plan when Friaca gave Brazil the lead just after halftime.
However, inspired by its captain Obdulio Varela, Uruguay fought back.
Prior to the game, Varela had contested his coach Juan López’s plan to sit back and defend against Brazil’s highly regarded forward line.
Now a goal down, the Celeste captain urged his team to attack.
The brilliant Juan Alberto Schiaffino grabbed an equalizer after 66 minutes and the huge crowd suddenly became nervous.
With 11 minutes to go, Alcides Ghiggia silenced the masses with a brilliant winner that shocked the world and earned Uruguay its second world title.
The country that gave soccer to the world finally brought home the World Cup in this classic final encounter at London’s Wembley Stadium.
As host nation of the 1966 finals, England was determined to win its first world title. All looked to be going well after goals from Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters wiped out West Germany’s early lead.
The celebrations almost began in the stadium as the final minutes ticked away when West German defender Wolfgang Weber scored an equalizer with the last kick of the game.
The game went into extra-time, which featured one of the most controversial moments in World Cup history.
Eleven minutes into the additional period, Hurst crashed a shot off the underside of the crossbar, which bounced down onto the goal line.
Despite West German protests, the linesman concluded the ball had crossed the line and awarded the goal (unlike 44 years later in South Africa with Frank Lampard’s goal against Germany that never was).
With West Germany pressing for an equalizer, a counter-attack saw Hurst race clear to complete the first ever World Cup final hat-trick and win the World Cup for England.
The 1954 final produced one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history as West Germany triumphed in a match that would become known as the miracle of Berne.
Hungary was the heavy favorite to win the World Cup in Switzerland, and the Magnificent Magyars boasted a team featuring some of the world’s best players such as Ferenc Puskas, Zoltan Csibor, and Sandor Kocsis.
The two teams had already met in the group stage in a game easily won by Hungary.
However, West Germany’s coach Sepp Herberger had realized that the winner of that match would have had to face Brazil in the quarterfinals and so fielded a reserve side that lost 8-3.
As Hungary raced to a 2-0 lead within the first eight minutes of the final, it must have thought another rout was on the card.
But West Germany struck back quickly, with forward Helmut Rahn leveling the match after 18 minutes.
The scoring then stopped and the final looked to be heading for extra-time until the 84th minute, when Rahn raced through the Hungarian defense to score the winner.
A controversial offside decision ruled out an 87th minute Puskas equalizer and West Germany went on to win its first World Cup.
The greatest team ever to play soccer chose the biggest stage of all on which to display its pedigree.
A Brazil team featuring soccer legends such as Pelé, Rivelino, Jairzinho, and Gérson put on a wonderful display of soccer to beat an Italian team that was exhausted from its epic semifinal encounter with West Germany.
Brazil took an early lead through Pelé, but Roberto Boninsega took advantage of some poor Brazilian defending to equalize shortly afterwards.
The second half was all Brazil who went ahead through Gérson, before Jairzinho scored a third and set a World Cup record for scoring in every round the tournament.
The coup de grace came in the 86th minute with one of the greatest goals scored at a World Cup.
A wonderful passing movement that involved eight Brazilian players culminated in captain Carlos Alberto rocketing a shot past the Italian goalkeeper.
Brazil won its third World Cup and was allowed to keep the Jules Rimet trophy permanently.