The Five Greatest Football Finals Ever Played
We've all seen great football (not "soccer") finals over the years. We've seen games that inspired, entertained, and elated us (or deflated us, depending on whose side you were on), and it is true that the real nature of the game only reveals itself in a Cup Final.
So which Finals have stood up head-and-shoulders above the rest? Which matches have provided the best level of entertainment? Which games had us hanging on the edge of our seats until the referee sounded the final whistle?
And Finally (pun intended), which was the Greatest Final Ever Played?
5. Brazil vs. Italy—1970 World Cup
Referring to this World Cup Final as being “important” to both Brazil and Italy would be a gross understatement. At the time, both teams had claimed the Jules Rimet Trophy twice (Brazil in ’58 and 62’, Italy in ’34 and ’38) and a third victory meant the Champions would be awarded the Trophy permanently! Thus, you can see the importance of this game to the two teams—both flying the flag for their football-crazy countries, each fighting to fit their glorious footballing heritage with the proverbial crown jewel—the Jules Rimet Trophy.
Brazil were the first to score, as Pele nodded the ball home on 18 minutes. Italy though, were not to be outdone and responded with a goal of their own on 37 minutes after an uncharacteristic blunder from the Brazilian defense. Clodoaldo tried to showboat for the crowd as he attempted to back-heel the ball without looking. Much to his dismay, however, the ball struck the onrushing Boninsegna and eventually led to him finding an empty shot on goal. He duly converted and leveled the score. 1-1. The next goal came, courtesy of Gerson on 66 minutes. Jairzinho followed suit as he (just barely) pushed the ball over the line. 3-1 Brazil.
The next goal was the "piece de resistance," as a total of eight outfield players passed the ball in between themselves before Pele slid the ball to his right. The Brazilian captain, Carlos Alberto, thumped the ball home and sealed a Brazilian victory in one of the best Finals ever played. Too bad the trophy was stolen a few years later.
4. Liverpool vs. West Ham United—2006 FA Cup
The FA Cup Final of 2006 was undoubtedly one of the most exciting Cup Finals in recent years. Liverpool were certainly the favorites going into the game and a landslide victory was never really unlikely. An interesting fact to note, perhaps, is that nine of West Ham’s starting 11 were English; Liverpool on the other hand, only had three Englishmen in their first team.
West Ham, however, were gifted the initiative, as Jamie Carragher presented The Hammers a 1-0 lead, courtesy of a superb own goal in the 20th minute. (Maybe that’s why Liverpool didn’t keep Englishmen in their first squad.)
Reina was the next to screw up for The Kop, as he fumbled a relatively tame shot from Matthew Ethrington. The ball fell loose in the six yard box and Dean Ashton was quick to pounce, scuffling the ball just over the line. The Reds were down, but certainly not out.
This was realized no sooner than the 32nd minute, as Steven Gerrard floated a ball into the box. The cross was met by Djibil Cisse, who netted with his spectacular first touch on the ball.
Liverpool then slowly began to edge their way back into game. Xabi Alonso sent a cross into the box that was headed down into ground. The ball took one bounce before finding itself in the path of Steven Gerrard (again!). The captain made no mistake and smashed the ball into the back of the net. The comeback was complete. Or so you’d have thought.
Just as it seemed Liverpool had assumed control of the game, West Ham regained their advantage in freakish fashion: Paul Konchesky sent a cross into the box, which landed inside of the goal! There was absolutely no chance Konchesky meant to score such an extraordinary goal, but they do all count, don’t they?
It then seemed as if West Ham were heading for a historic victory. But alas! It was not to be. As the fourth official signaled three minutes of added time, the ball found its way to Steven Gerrard. (You’d think West Ham would have learned who to mark by now, really.) The Liverpool captain put his foot through the ball and blasted it straight into the bottom corner of the net…from a full 35 yards out! The Kop went wild and Hammers Fans crumbled in agony. The match progressed to extra time and penalties ensued. Reina then saved three crucial penalties as The Reds won the shoot-out and sealed victory in one of the greatest finals ever played.
3. Manchester United vs. Bayern Munich—1999 Champions League
Truly one of the most astonishing upsets ever in a final. Even though this would not have been considered an upset before the match, it was the manner in which Manchester United claimed the Champions League and a first ever treble that makes this one of the greatest shocks ever.
This match stayed particularly even throughout. However, on six minutes, Mario Basler struck home a wonderful swerving free-kick from just outside the box, handing Bayern the lead. This result remained as the game headed into its final minutes. As the clock reached 90 minutes and three extra minutes of stoppage time were signaled, it seemed evident that Bayern would be champions.
United, however, had other ideas. They kept up the attack and soon won a corner in the first minute of stoppage time, as the ball went out of play. As the corner came in, it hit a couple of bodies before bouncing outside of the box. Ryan Giggs volleyed the ball but his effort was weak. The ball zipped into the six yard box where Teddy Sheringham pushed it on…into the net!
Manchester United had leveled the game in the dying minutes, but it wasn’t over just yet. Around a minute and a half later, Manchester United again won a corner. The tension was palpable. As the corner swooped into the 18 yard box, Ole Gunnar Solskjær got a clean touch onto that sent it into the roof of the net. The entire Bayern Munich squad collapsed to the ground in disbelief. Game-Set-Match: United.
2. Liverpool vs. AC Milan—2005 Champions League
Another final featuring The Reds and truly one of the greatest Champions League Finals ever, “The Miracle of Istanbul,” as it is often referred to, was played out on the 25th of May 2005. Both teams were pretty even going into the match, but it was generally accepted that Milan were the slightly stronger of the two. This was proven as soon as the match kicked off, the Italians taking the lead through Paolo Maldini as he volleyed in an Andrea Pirlo free kick. The advantage was later doubled, as Hernan Crespo scored after receiving a pass at the far post, courtesy of Andriy Shevchenko. Crespo soon added a third goal as he chipped over Jerzy Dudek to make it 3-0. Checkmate…or so you would have thought.
The second half began with the Reds a tremendous three goals behind. At first, it seemed as if the game would slowly fizzle out as the clock ticked away and Milan kept possession. But soon, Steven Gerrard provided the spark that would set the game alight as he headed into the top corner from a Riise cross. 3-1.
Liverpool soon stuck again a couple of minutes later, as Vladimir Smicer scored from a long range shot that was fumbled by Dida. 3-2. Three minutes after this, Gerrard was pulled down in the box by Gattuso and Liverpool were awarded a penalty. Xabi Alonso struck a tame shot that was saved by Dida, Alonso however, scored on the rebound. The score became 3-3 and the comeback, complete.
Liverpool’s villain of the first half, Jerzy Dudek, soon became their hero and savior as he continuously blocked off Milan’s attempts on goal (including two Andriy Schevchenko shots from extremely close range). The match then progressed to penalties and Dudek proved his credentials once again, as he stopped two crucial penalties (from Andrea Pirlo and Andriy Schevchenko, respectively) that ultimately won the Champions League. What a night in Istanbul.
1. Uruguay vs. Brazil—1950 World Cup
Of course, whenever Brazil loses, it has to be counted as an upset. I mean, who in their right mind would fix Brazil as the underdogs, in any match and against any opposition?
This was exactly the case in the 1950 World Cup "Final," as Brazil played host to Uruguay at their impenetrable fortress, the Maracana Stadium. To make things clear, this match was not actually a Final as we refer to it in the rigidness of the term used today; rather, it was the last match of the final group stage of the World Cup.
(In 1950, the World Cup didn’t actually have a proper final. Brazil only needed a draw to win the World Cup, whereas Uruguay needed to beat Brazil if they wanted to become World Champions. I counted it anyway.)
No one expected Uruguay to even come close to toppling the soon-to-be World Champions. Such was the atmosphere before the match that newspapers had already predicted Brazil as the winners. Even Jules Rimet, the founder of the World Cup, had prepared a speech in Portuguese to congratulate Brazil (I hope you know they speak Portuguese in Brazil!). Not only this, but a victory song had also been composed a few days prior to the Final, "Brasil os vencedores" ("Brazil The Victors"). Oh yes, as if this wasn’t enough, The Brazilian Football Federation also already printed 22 medals with the names of the entire Brazil squad on them (since FIFA did not give out winners’ medals at the time).
Too bad the song was never played, the medals had to be thrown away, and after Alcides Ghiggia inspired a Uruguay comeback to victory, Jules Rimet was left on the pitch, literally speechless (since his speech was in Portuguese, not Spanish!) to congratulate the winners. Big shock, no?
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