50 Best Moments in World Cup History
The World Cup is the greatest sporting event in the World. The next edition of the tournament is now less than two-and-a-half years away.
The 2014 World Cup will no doubt give us many great moments to build onto the games’ glorious past.
Here are my 50 best moments in World Cup history from the first World Cup in 1930 to the present:
Moment No. 50: Sports Trumps Politics
One of the beautiful things about the World Cup is that it allows people from all over the world to come together to share their love of the game. The World Cup gives people common ground and can bring them together in a way that politicians fail to. No event symbolizes this better than when Iran played the USA in 1998.
When these two nations were drawn into the same group, the world was stunned. There were perhaps no two nations on earth that had worse relations at the time. As soon as they were drawn against each other, people envisioned the match being an ugly and rough affair. In addition to that, the French officials heightened security for the match, as they feared violence in the crowd. What ended up happening was far from what anyone expected.
The match was playing in amazingly good spirits. Both teams displayed an amazing amount of sportsmanship throughout the entire match. Iran and the USA teams both posed together for their team pictures, and the captains exchanged gifts at the center circle. It was an incredibly moving image.
In addition to that, the players were very friendly throughout the game, and there was no nastiness between them. The fans were also very well behaved and got along very well with each other. Everyone was stunned by the amount of respect the two nations showed each other.
As for the match itself, Iran defeated the USA 2-1. However, that took a back seat to the amazing amount of sportsmanship that was seen on that night. What will be remembered is the amazing ability that the World Cup has to bring hostile nations together and let sports triumph over politics.
Moment No. 49: Uruguay Takes the First Trophy
The old saying goes you must learn how to crawl before you learn how to walk. All great things in life have to start somewhere, and for the World Cup, it began in 1930.
Prior to 1930, the Olympics were viewed as the most important football tournament. After years of negotiations, FIFA finally were able to organize the tournament that spectators had long dreamt for.
However, the World Cup was not always the spectacle that it is today. In fact, it was hard to even find teams that wanted to take the long trip to Uruguay to compete in the first tournament. However, FIFA was able to find 12 participants who were willing to join the host nation and compete.
On July 13, 1930, the World Cup got under way with two matches starting simultaneously. There was great anticipation for the tournament in Uruguay, but the matches not involving the hosts or their neighbors failed to attract large crowds. The hosts performed well, as did their arch nemesis Argentina. Both of these teams made it to the semifinals, and both had convincing 6-1 victories to reach the final.
On the day of the final, the tension was palpable throughout Montevideo. Thousands of Argentines poured across the border to see their beloved homeland try to win the trophy on rival soil. An audience totaling 93,000 fans would pack into the Centenario Stadium to watch the final, which still remains as one of the largest crowds in history.
Uruguay opened the scoring after just 12 minutes and sent the home fans into frenzy. However, the Argentines hit back scoring two before halftime to take the lead. The Uruguayans were able to settle down at halftime and played inspired in the second half.
They railed to score three goals after the break, with the last one by Hector Castro in the 89th minute sealing the victory. Celebrations broke out instantly throughout the country and the next day was declared a holiday. The reaction in Argentina was vastly different. In Buenos Aires, angry supporters hurled stones at the Uruguayan consult to show their displeasure.
The decision by FIFA to create the World Cup turned out to be a major success. Without the first World Cup, the game would never have evolved into the enormous spectacle that it is today.
Moment No. 48: Croatia Stuns Germany
There are few teams in world football that have had a more glorious history then Germany. The Germans had won at least one major in every decade since the 1950s (ended in the 2000s). Going into the 1998 World Cup, they were the reigning European Champions and their expectations were high as they always are.
Croatia is better known for their beautiful beaches and the brutal war that devastated the country than for football. The 1998 World Cup was the first time that Croatia were even eligible to participate as an independent nation. At the time, the football mad nation was desperate for a distraction that could help give them escape from the horrors of war. Despite the fact that Croatia had performed well at Euro 96, no one expected them to do much in the World Cup. Their performance would take the world by storm.
In the quarterfinals, Germany and Croatia met, and it was viewed as David against Goliath type match. The match started as expected with Germany creating a series of good chances, but were kept at bay.
In the 40th minute, the Croatians got a big break as Christian Worns was sent off for a wild challenge on Davor Suker. This would turn out to be a pivotal point in the match. In stoppage time, Robert Jarni found himself with space outside the box and launched a beautiful strike in the corner to give Croatia the lead. Seconds after the goal, the referee blew for halftime. Croatia knew they had struck a vital blow, and they had Germany on the ropes.
In the second half, Croatia was simply stunning. They piled on the chances looking for a second goal that would kill off the match. Germany also had a couple close calls—the best coming when goalie, Drazen Ladic, made a point blank save off a corner.
In the 80th minute, the second goal came. It was similar to the first goal, but this one was scored by Goran Vlaovic. He picked up the ball just inside the top of the box and fired a lovely curling shot inside the left post.
Just five minutes later, Suker put the icing on the cake. He picked up a pass by the byline and cut it back before slipping a shot past the keeper which he could only deflect into the goal. When the full-time whistle blew, the underdogs had knocked out the European champions in convincing fashion.
For Germany this would signal the end of an era for German football. This would be the last World Cup for their aging stars such as Klinsmann, Matthaus, Kohler and Hassler. Despite coming close on a number of occasions, Germany has not been able to win a major since this generation of players retired.
Croatia would go on to lose in the semifinals, but their third-place appearance was a major success. They were the surprise team of the tournament, and Davor Suker would win the Golden Boot award. This match would be the defining moment of the tournament for Croatia and stamped their place as a rising power in the world’s game.
Moment No. 47: A Perfect 10
10-1. That couldn’t possibly be the score of a game at the World Cup…right?
A score like that could only take place on the playground or in an Oceania World Cup qualifier. It’s inconceivable to think a match could finish with a score like that at the World Cup, considering this is the tournament for the best teams in the world.
However, in 1982 Hungary would prove that it's possibly to hit double digits at a World Cup match, as they trounced El Salvador in the biggest margin of victory in the history of the tournament, 10-1.
Hungary’s golden years in the game came in the 1950s. They had world class players such as Ferenc Puskas, and in 1954, they were one of the favorites to win it all. Hungary made it to the final where they played West Germany but went down in one of the biggest upsets in finals history. Since that point, they had fallen off considerably and were not expected to go far in 1982.
El Salvador was one of the minnows at the World Cup. They had stunned the football world by qualifying for the World Cup in the midst of a brutal civil war. The success of the national team was a great source of pride to the people and had provided them with a welcomed distraction to their troubles.
However, in their opening match of the tournament, public opinion would change drastically on the team, in one of the most embarrassing performances in their history.
From the beginning, El Salvador attacked with reckless abandon. They pushed forward right away and were exposed at the back. It took just four minutes for Hungary to score the opener. Then, two more came before the first 25 minutes, and the rout was on. El Salvador was able to steady the ship and not concede again for the rest of the first half. However, a nightmare would unfold after the break.
El Salvador continued to throw everyone forward without any caution whatsoever. At one point, they were even playing four strikers. Five minutes into the second half, a fourth would come and four minutes after that a fifth. El Salvador would pull one back courtesy of Luis Zapata.
His goal remains the only one ever scored by El Salvador in the World Cup to this day. Zapata enjoyed the feat, but it would only serve to aggravate the Hungarians. They answered the goal with another five of their own, to complete the scoring at 10-1. Laszlo Kiss led the team in scoring with a hat trick.
The El Salvador team was mocked by the press and fans from all of the world. At home, fans were outraged by what they had seen. At one point, the team that had been a source of national pride was now an utter disgrace. El Salvador would restore some credibility with respectable performances in their next two matches but would lose both of them.
Hungary could not build on their performance and only took one point in their next two matches, which was not enough to advance. However, this match will always stand out as one the most memorable in the history of the World Cup for the incredible scoreline.
Moment No. 46: The Best Decision That No One Saw
There are few jobs in the world that our more thankless than being a referee. When a referee gets a decision wrong, they get put under intense scrutiny. That scrutiny is greatly magnified when the error comes at the World Cup.
However, rarely do you see the media and the fans praise an official for a correct decision. In 1998, Esse Baharmast, an American official, made one of the bravest decisions in the history of the game, and as a result, should be given his proper credit.
Going into the last round of games in Group A, the defending world champions Brazil had already qualified for the second round. Norway were just a single point ahead of Morocco. Norway knew that there was a possibility they would have to beat Brazil if they were to qualify as well. Simultaneously, Morocco and Scotland played their match.
The night started badly for Norway, as Morocco took a big lead against Scotland in the second half. In the 78th minute, Norway looked done for, as Bebeto put Brazil in front.
However, five minutes later, Tore Andre Flo hit back with a beautiful strike to level the score, and suddenly, it was game on. Then, with two minutes of normal time remaining, controversy struck.
Tore Andre Flo went down in the box under a challenge from Junior Biano and Baharmast awarded in penalty. Everyone watching the match was stunned. No one could figure out what he had blown for, as it appeared, Biano had never touched him.
Replays seemed to confirm this decision, and it looked as if Norway had won a scandalous penalty. Kjetil Rekdal stepped up and slotted home the penalty to send Norway through to the next round. The media siege on Baharmast started immediately after the match.
After the game, newspapers and television stations attacked him from around the world. Some people even suggested that the game was fixed. There was an anti-American backlash from the media as well, who said that Americans did not know enough about the game to be able to referee a World Cup match.
Baharmast stood firm to his decision. He stated, “I was only about six yards away, looking straight at it. For me, there’s no question. It can’t be any more blatant than that. I would make the same call 10 times over.” Little did he know that he was about to be proven right to the World.
Days later, a Swedish television station was reviewing their footage of the game. One of the people examining the video realized that they had an angle of the play that no one else had. The angle was from behind the goal and showed that Biano clearly pulled Flo down from behind.
It was a stonewall penalty, that amazingly no other camera angle had picked up. The Swedes passed the footage onto a Norwegian TV station, which broadcast it to the world. Baharmast literally had the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders.
It's a shame that referees are not given more credit when they deserve it. It took incredible courage for Baharmast to make that call at such a late stage in the game in such an important match. In addition to that, he showed great strength in never backing down from his decision.
While a few media outlets retracted their criticism of him, not nearly enough did. Baharmast still does not get the credit that he deserves for one of the best decisions of all time at a World Cup.
Moment No. 45: We’ve Had Enough
At each World Cup, there are always shocking moments. Moments that make you pause, rub your eyes and you ask yourself, “Did I just see that?”
There may be no more bizarre moment than in the match between France and Kuwait in 1982.
Going into the 1982 World Cup, France were considered one of the dark horses. They had lots of talented players such as Alain Giresse, Didier Six, and of course, Michel Platini. Kuwait were first-time qualifiers and expected to be one of the whipping boys.
However, Kuwait got an unexpected draw in their first game against Czechoslovakia, while France went down 3-1 to England. As a result of this, the next match became crucially important, and Kuwait entered into it confidently.
Right from the get go, France dictated the match and showed that they were the better team. France took a 3-1 lead and should have been up by more had they not had two perfectly good goals disallowed.
Late in the match, Giresse received a through ball and was clear on goal. As he was dribbling in, a whistle blew in the crowd, and the Kuwaitis momentarily stopped playing. Giresse continued on and dispatched the ball into the net. The Kuwaitis were furious that play was not stopped after the whistle, but it had no effect on the play. Clearly, none of the players would have caught Giresse, and the goal was right to count. The Kuwaitis, though, would not see it that way.
The Kuwaiti turned to the President of their FA, Sheikh Fahid Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah. He instructed them to stop playing and waved them off the pitch. The players walked over to the sideline, and chaos ensued. The referee tried to get them back on the pitch and heated arguments started between the players and coaches of both teams with the referee.
After a couple of minutes, the Sheikh came down onto the pitch. He demanded that the referee Miroslav Stupar, from the Ukraine, disallow the goal. Astonishingly, he gave in. The goal was taken off of the scoreboard and the game restarted with a drop ball at 3-1. So much for the referee’s decision being final, eh?
France would go on to win 4-1 and made it to the semifinals. Kuwait would lose their next match and were eliminated in the first round. Stupar would never referee another World Cup match again and rightfully so. Sheikh Fahid was fined for coming onto the pitch, but much worse was to come for him.
Tragically, Fahid was killed while trying to fight off the Iraqis during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The images of Fahid on the pitch demanding Stupar to disallow the goal will remain as some of the most bizarre and memorable in World Cup history.
Moment No. 44: The Bracelet Fits
Throughout the history of the World Cup, many stars players have had to perform under intense pressure and seemingly insurmountable odds. Bobby Moore is one example of that.
Moore was the one of the heroes of the 1966 World Cup. He was the captain of the team and a lockdown defender. In 1970, England had all of their big stars back including Moore. They were ready to make a run at another title, but an unforeseen event would derail their campaign.
Before the 1970 World Cup, England trained in Bogota, Colombia. During a night off, several members of the England team visited a jewelry store in the city. An employee of the store approached Moore with the owner and stated that she had seen Moore steal a bracelet. Moore denied the charge, as did the England players.
The incident soon escalated into a major scandal. Days later Colombian police detained Moore and questioned him about the alleged theft. The evidence against Moore was incredibly flimsy, and the person who accused him changed her story multiple times. It appeared that the whole thing was a big set up.
Eventually, the charges were dropped and Moore was allowed to rejoin his team who had already gone to Mexico. However, the incident was an unwelcomed distraction to the team and threatened to ruin their World Cup.
Most players in Moore’s situation would not have been able to get past the incident. Their focus would have been elsewhere and would not have been able to perform up to standard. In addition to that, it would be a physical challenge for most players to get fit with the time and playing in the extreme heat and altitude.
However, this incident revealed the character of Bobby Moore. He was an incredible leader and a determined individual. He stayed in game shape by continuing to work out while detained.
Moore’s play did not suffer at all in the games, and he performed brilliantly. His play particularly stood out in the Brazil match when Jarzinho made a wonderful run into the box, but Moore was cool as cucumber and picked the ball right off of him with a perfect tackle. Moore’s display at the World Cup was a true captain’s display.
Moment No. 43: Tears of Agony
July 4, 1990. Torino, Italy.
This was the sight of England’s biggest match since the 1966 World Cup Final. Once again, they were up against their hated rival West Germany. The catalyst for England’s success throughout the tournament, was the outstanding Paul Gascoigne.
Gascoigne could dictate the game with his wonderful midfield play and put the ball all over the pitch at any time. In the semifinal match, Gascoigne would produce one of the most memorable images in the game, but it wasn’t for making a brilliant pass or goal.
The semifinal was an incredibly even affair and finished 1-1 after normal time. Emotions were high, and every player was giving everything they had to their team’s cause. Then, in extra-time came a moment that would be replayed over and over.
In the second half of extra-time, Gascoigne went in hard for a hard challenge on Thomas Berthold. However, Gascoigne did not make a great deal of contact, and Berthold went down writhing in agony. The referee bought it and booked Gascogine.
In the first knockout-round match against Belgium, Gascoigne had also been booked. As a result, this meant that if England progressed, he would miss the final. The disappointment hit him right away. His eyes welled up and face went bright red, like a tomato. Then, the tears began to flow, as he had lost all control.
The fans watching back in England felt sick to their stomach for Gascoigne. It meant so much to him, and the whole nation was gutted for him.
The match would go to penalties, and the England manager Bobby Robson decided not to select Gascoigne for one of the first five penalties. England would go on to lose 4-3, and once again, the tears came from Gascoigne. Gascoigne crying is one of the most enduring images in the history of the game and is a moment that symbolizes the passion and determination that players have for the World Cup.
Moment No. 42: Cannavaro Puts the Clamps Down
At the 2006 World Cup, Fabio Cannavaro won the Silver Ball for his performance and arguably should have taken the gold.
Defenders often don’t get the credit that they deserve and often are underappreciated. They have to play stellar to stand out and get their proper respect. However, at the 2006 World Cup, everyone was aware of Cannavaro. His display was absolutely brilliant.
Cannavaro was a lockdown defender and steady as a rock. In five of Italy’s seven matches, they kept clean sheets, and in the other two, only conceded one. Not only was Cannavaro a great defender, but a great captain as well. His leadership kept Italy calm and focused through the tense moments of the competition.
Overall, Cannavaro had one of the all-time best performances for a defender at the World Cup.
Moment No. 41: Scream for Joy
The World Cup is all about passion. It’s where the love of the beautiful game and pride in your nation come together. Perhaps, no play symbolizes the passion of the tournament better then Marco Tardelli’s celebration in the 1982 World Cup Final.
Italy met West Germany for the biggest prize in football on July 11. The match was expected to be a close encounter, and in the first half, that's how it turned out, with neither team able to get the opener. In the second half though, the match opened up.
The hero of the tournament, Paolo Rossi, opened the scoring after 57 minutes to put Italy in front. The Italians did not sit back, and when Tardelli beat Harold Schumaker in the 69th minute, they were on their way to the championship. The celebration that followed is one of the most memorable images in the history of the game.
Tardelli sprinted deliriously all over the pitch and screamed for joy at the top of his lungs. His head shook back in forth, and his happiness was painted all over his face. Tardelli’s celebration shows what it means to the players to win the World Cup for your nation. He knew that he was going to be a hero to his people and bring them great joy and could not hide his exuberance.
Italy went on to win the match 3-1 and lifted the trophy for the third time. Tardelli’s wild run has been shown countless times since then and remains one of the signature moments of the World Cup.
Moment No. 40: Armstrong Walks on Spain
It may seem hard to believe these days, but there was a time when Spain were considered to be the biggest chokers in world football.
That reputation was greatly enhanced by their performance at the 1982 World Cup, which they hosted. Equally hard to believe, is that the tiny nation of Northern Ireland qualified for two World Cups in the 80s. The two were drawn into the same group as the host nation and met in the final match of the group stage.
Spain had essentially already qualified for the next round when they met Northern Ireland. The Irish, however, had to beat Spain, which was an unenviable task. As a result of the circumstances, the Irish were expected to gamble and throw lots of numbers forward. Therefore, they would leave big gaps at the back, which the Spanish were expected to easily exploit. A thrashing looked on the cards.
The first half was a tight and physical affair, with not a lot of openings created. Northern Ireland went into the break relatively happy to be deadlocked but knowing that they would need a goal in the second half. They would get their wish two minutes in.
Billy Hamilton fired in a shot that the goalie, Luis Arconada, could only parry right to Gerry Armstrong. He calmly tucked it away and to the shock of the home fans gave Northern Ireland the lead. The goal would be the only one, and Northern Ireland pulled off a stunning upset.
The victory still remains the best in Northern Ireland’s history and was an enormous shock. For Spain, the loss cost them dearly. They finished behind Northern Ireland and were given a much harder second-round group with West Germany and England. They finished last in this group, and their dreams of a World Cup triumph on home soil were crushed.
The stigma of this match stayed with Spain for years and complied with other disappointing performances at future World Cups. Spain were considered one of the biggest disappoints in the game. It wasn’t until their victory in Euro 2008 that they were able to finally get rid of this label.
Moment No. 39: Lions Tame the Champions
Going into the 1990 World Cup, Cameroon was not only carrying the flag for their own nation, but for all of Africa.
No African team had ever advanced past the first round, and Cameroon had never won a game at the World Cup. No one had high expectations for them in 1990, but by the end of the tournament, they were one of the biggest success stories. Cameroon won over the fans with their beautifully played attacking football, their colorful flags and jerseys and their exuberant passion.
In their opening match, they went up against Argentina—the defending world champions. They were led of course by the best footballer in the world, Diego Maradona. Inside the first three minutes of the game, Maradona created a great chance, but Argentina were foiled by the keeper Thomas N’Kono. It looked like this was going to be the first of many chances, but the Lions tightened up and kept the Argentines in check.
Throughout the course of the match, Cameroon grew in confidence. In the 61st minute, Argentina got a big break. Kana-Biyik clipped the back of Claudio Caniggia and was shown a red card.
It was a poor decision by the referee, and it looked like this would surely break Cameroon’s resistance. Six minutes later though, Cameroon would shock the world. A deflected free kick floated into the box and Omam Biyik rose to head it.
His header somehow squirmed passed Nery Pumpido to give Cameroon the lead. It was a terrible error, but the Lions didn’t care. The crowd in Milan, who were decidedly behind the underdogs, erupted.
Cameroon still had to hold on for 20-plus with 10 men, which was no easy task. The task was made even harder when Benjamin Massing was given his second yellow card for a horrendous challenge on Cannigia. However, with only nine men Cameroon was able to see out the last few minutes and record a historic victory.
The crowd went insane at the final whistle, hailing the triumphant Lions. Cameroon’s victory helped to break down a lot of worldwide prejudice against the African teams. Even Maradona hailed the Lions and called it a victory against prejudice.
Cameroon used the momentum from this victory to propel them to the quarterfinals of the World Cup. The success of the Lions also helped pave the way for many Africans to play in Europe, as scouts began to realize that there was a lot of hidden talent on the continent.
Moment No. 38: Luck of the Irish
In 1990, Ireland qualified for their first ever World Cup.
With them, they brought a boisterous bunch of traveling fans, which were amongst the best in the tournament. The team, however, had low expectations, and many felt that they would be just happy to be in the tournament.
Ireland were drawn into a tricky group with England, Egypt and Holland, and qualifying for the next round looked like it would be difficult. In their opening match, Ireland got a crucial point in a 1-1 draw with England. However, they could not build on this result and had a very disappointing 0-0 draw with Egypt in the next game.
It looked as if Ireland had thrown their chance away, but in their final group game, they were able to hold the defending European Champions to a 1-1 draw and progressed to the next round. Things got even better for Ireland, when Holland got the short stick to determine who would finish second and third in the group. As a result, Ireland got Romania, while the Dutch had to face West Germany.
Romania had a good squad led by Gheorghe Hagi and a collection of players that had won the European Cup with Steua Bucharest four years earlier. They were the slight favorites heading into the match.
The game turned out to be a very negative and defensive match with few good chances in 120 minutes. However, the drama would escalate as the match headed into a tense penalty shootout.
The first four kicks for each side were successfully converted. Every person in Ireland and Romania were glued to the television anxiously watching and waiting for the team to get a save. On Romania’s next kick, the save would come.
Daniel Timofte stepped up to take the kick. He barely took a run up and the shot was saved by Packie Bonner. Ireland now had the chance to win the match if they could convert their last kick. The nation, though, had a collective heart attack when they saw who was going to take the kick.
The Irish manager Jack Charlton had left it up to his players to decide who would take their kicks. David O’Leary decided that he wanted to take the fifth and decisive penalty. Not only was O’Leary a center back, but he had never taken a penalty in his entire career.
Everyone in Ireland thought he was going to miss. Many people couldn’t even watch the final kick. O’Leary took his run up and shot the ball to the goalie's left. The goalie, Silviu Lung, had guessed right. The entire nation of Ireland and everyone wearing green in Genoa erupted with joy. It was at the time, Ireland’s best moment in the sport and the nation celebrated exuberantly.
Moment No. 37: No Need To Cry Argentina
Four World Cup finals have been decided in extra time, and three of those finals were won by the host nation. The men that hold the distinguished honor of scoring the winning goal in extra-time on home soil are Angelo Schiavio, Geoff Hurst and Mario Kempes.
In 1978, Argentina hosted the tournament and were under immense pressure to win the championship. Argentina were governed by a brutal military regime, and they would not accept anything less then their nation winning it all. Prior to 1978, Argentina had reached the World Cup Finals only once, losing to Uruguay in 1930. They had a good side, but it was uncertain as to how far they would go. However, fueled by amazing home support, Argentina reached the final.
Their opponents would be the brilliant Holland. The Dutch were the masters of total football and were one of the favorites to win it all, despite not having their star Johan Cruyff for the tournament. In 1974, Holland fell just short, but this time they were determined to go one better.
Mario Kempes, who was the star of the tournament, opened the scoring in the 38th minute. The Dutch would fight back though. They tied it in the 82nd minute and had a golden chance to win it right at the death. The ball fell to Rob Rensenbrink who was so unlucky to hit the woodwork. The game nervously went into extra time.
Kempes would turn out to be the hero again for the Argentines, as he had been throughout the tournament. The winning goal does not get the credit it deserves for what a well-taken goal it was.
Kempes received a through ball and wonderfully worked his way past two Dutch defenders. His shot was originally stopped by the goalie and bounced towards the net. The reason why the goal probably doesn’t get enough credit is because it appeared that two Dutch defenders had a chance to clear away the rebound from Kempes. However, Kempes was able to stick his foot in and nod it home.
The match was sealed 10 minutes later by Daniel Bertoni, and the nation went ecstatic. Kempes is still a hero in Argentina and even has a stadium named after him in Cordoba. The memory of him scoring the winner against Holland will be remembered forever by the nation.
Moment No. 36: So Close Yet so Far
This moment isn’t a singular moment from one game, but the game itself. The match was the semifinal between France and West Germany in 1982, and few have ever been better. Both teams were star studded and the match had all the billings of a classic. It would not disappoint.
West Germany took an early lead through Pierre Littbarski, but France would hit back from a penalty by the world class player Michel Plantini. The match would stay deadlocked, but towards the end of normal time the most memorable play from the match happened.
Platini played in a brilliant ball to Patrick Battiston who was in one-on-one with goalie Harold Schumacher. His shot went wide, but Schumacher, who had run in to try to make a save, followed through and nailed him after the ball had past.
Battiston nearly died on the play and slipped into a coma after rushing to the hospital. Fortunately, Battiston would be alright, but inexplicably, no foul was given. It should have been a penalty for France and a red card and a penalty, but instead, the match went into extra time. Here the drama would continue to build.
France scored two goals in extra time and looked surely to be on their way to victory. However, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge would tap in from close range to get West Germany back in the match before halftime of extra-time. Then, just three minutes after the restart, Klaus Fischer scored on a spectacular overhead volley to tie it. It was a pulsating extra-time period that had everyone on the edge of their seat. There would be no more scoring, and the match would go into penalties.
France were devastated that they had let the Germans back into it, but everything changed after the Germans missed their third kick. However, Didier Six would miss the very next kick to lose the advantage. On the sixth kick, Maxime Bossis missed, and Horst Hrubesch dispatched the ball to send West Germany to the final.
The 1982 French side were so close to reaching the final and desperately unlucky not to get there. This team remains one of the best teams in history not to reach the final, but they also have themselves to blame for not holding the lead. The extra time and the penalty shootout from this match made it one of the most dramatic matches of all time.
Moment No. 35: A Golden Moment
The golden goal rule was introduced in the 1998 World Cup to try to get teams to play less defensive during extra-time and to produce dramatic finishes. FIFA got exactly what they wanted in their first match where the new rule was used.
In the first stage of the knockout round the host nation, France, met the underdogs Paraguay. The match was very tense as there was a ton of pressure of Les Blues to do well in the tournament. They were able to create several chances, but the South Americans kept them at bay. The match went into extra time scoreless.
Finally, in the 113th minute, Laurent Blanc got on the end of a cross and thundered in a volley past Chilavert, the Paraguayan goalie. It was the first golden goal in the history of the World Cup and the whole nation breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Three matches later France would go on to lift the trophy in Paris. Blanc’s goal became one of the most memorable and important goals of the tournament. Without it, no one knows what would have ended up happening.
Moment No. 34: West Meets East
The center of the world during the Cold War Era was Germany. It was the place where conflicting ideologies met. On one side were the Western capitalists and on the other the Eastern socialists divided by the Berlin Wall. The politics between these two nations made this one of the tensest borders in the world.
In 1974, West Germany hosted the World Cup and were one of the favorites to win it all. East Germany were able to join their rivals and qualify for their first and only World Cup. Low and behold, the two would be drawn together in the same group.
Both teams had performed well and had already qualified when they met in the final game of the group stage. However, the atmosphere on the night in Hamburg was electric. This was a brother vs. brother like matchup, and both governments were eager for their nation to win.
Supporters from the match described the setting as being like a, “war zone,” as there was an incredible security presence at the match. East German fans are very passionate about the game, but the government was cautious about who they would allow to travel to the game, as they feared defections and protests. The East German government used their secret police to hand pick high ranking members of the socialist party that they knew would not cause them any trouble at the game.
West Germany had the better of play as expected, but the East held out both heroically and luckily on a number of occasions. Then, in the 77th minute, came the moment. Jurgen Sparwasser got on the end of a long ball and beautifully controlled it past the West German defense. He was in one-on-one with the goalie and pump faked before chipping over Sepp Maier. It was a lovely goal and would be the only one of the match. The East had stunned the West and the football world.
In the end, the West would get the last laugh as they would go on to win the World Cup. In addition to that, everyone knows what would eventually happen to East Germany. On this night, however, it was the East’s moment of glory, and they would soak it all up. The government used the victory for their own propaganda and tried to use it to show their superiority to the West.
Moment No. 33: Goal or No Goal?
Just like Mario Kempes, Geoff Hurst had the distinct honor of being able to score the game-winning goal of the final in extra-time at home.
Hurst’s goal has reached the heights of fairy tail proportion in England. It gave them their first and to date, only World Cup championship. However, the reason that this moment is not higher on the list is because it's much better known for the controversy that surrounds it then the goal itself.
In the final, England met West Germany at Wembley. England were desperate to lift the trophy on home soil, and with World War II still fresh on everyone’s mind, a loss was unfathomable.
West Germany though took an early lead to the agony of the home crowd. The English fought back behind Hurst and Martin Peters to take the lead. With just seconds left, it looked as if they had won, but the Germans tied it and forced extra time. This is where the game would take a dramatic twist.
In the first period of extra-time, Hurst received the ball to the right of the goal from about 12 yards out. He fired a shot that came off the crossbar and bounced off the line and out. The referee did not make a decision and decided to consult his linesman. The linesman had incorrectly thought that the shot had initially hit the top netting of the goal and did not even look to see where it had bounced. Inexplicably, the goal was given, and England took the lead.
On the final kick of the game, Hurst would seal the deal on a breakaway to give the English a 4-2 win. However, the controversy surrounding the game-winning goal will never die. For the English though, it was a glorious moment that will always be remembered and looked back on with delight.
Moment No. 32: Senegal Upsets France 2002
On the final day of May the 2002, World Cup kicked off.
The defending World Cup and European champions, France, began the tournament as one of the favorites to lift the trophy. They were absolutely star-studded and had several world class players such as Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira.
Their opponents were first-time qualifiers Senegal. Many of the Senegalese players played in France, but none of them were stars. There was only going to be one winner on this day. It was inevitable that France would win by a heavy scoreline on their way to another great tournament…or so it seemed.
The game got off to an exciting start with both teams creating chances. El Hadj-Diouf was a handful for the French, and his pace down the flanks gave them headaches all game. However, France were able to create chances, and David Trezeguet was unlucky to see his shot hit the wood work.
In the 30th minute, the football world was brought to a stand still. Diouf went on a brilliant run down the left flank and crossed the ball to an unmarked Papa Bouba Diop. His shot was initially saved by Fabien Barthez, but the rebound came right back to him, and from the seat of his pants, he tapped into give Senegal the lead. It was a stunning moment.
In the second half, France through everything at the Senegalese goal, but it was to no avail. The Senegalese keeper, Tony Sylva, had the game of his life and kept them at bay. However, the keeper’s best friend would also help him when the French struck the bar again. Senegal held on for one of the biggest upsets in the history of the game.
The upset would have greater implications than just this match. Senegal used this match to propel them to the quarterfinals. This was only the second time in World Cup history that an African team made it that far.
France never recovered from this match. They drew with Uruguay and then lost to Denmark. In addition to that, France had a disappointing campaign in Euro 2004 and got off to a slow start in the 2006 World Cup. May 31 will always be remembered as the day of one of the greatest upsets in the history of the game.
Moment No. 31: A Performance for the Ages
When people think of the 1958 World Cup, they typically think of the brilliant performance of Pele.
However, there was another player in the tournament who performed amazingly that does not get his proper credit. That player was the French striker, Just Fontaine. Fontaine scored 13 goals in the tournament. That’s not a typo. 13 goals!
Fontaine broke the record for most goals at a World Cup, which had previously been set by Sandor Kocsis of Hungary with 11. Fontaine’s record still stands to this day. To put this achievement in better perspective, Fontaine only played in one World Cup and is still fourth on the all-time goals scored list. The three players ahead of him all played in two or three World Cups.
Fontaine scored in all six matches for France, with the most coming in a 6-3 victory against West Germany in the third-place match. Unfortunately, Fontaine is often forgotten because Pele was sensational, and his team won the championship.
In addition to that, Brazil would take two of the next three after this one, and Fontaine’s achievement became an afterthought.
Just Fontaine had one of the best performances of all time, and his record will never be broken, and he should therefore get the proper credit that he deserves.
Moment No. 30: Platt’s a Winner
Imagine this for a moment: your favorite soccer team is tied with only seconds remaining. It looks for sure like the match is going to finish as a draw and head into penalties. Then, out of nowhere your team scores a winner!
There's no greater joy for a soccer fan than when this happens. At the 1990 World Cup, the English fans were able to experience this feeling against Belgium. On this occasion, David Platt was the hero.
The match was tense and hard fought the entire night. Although chances were at a premium, both teams narrowly missed breaking the deadlock. John Barnes had a goal controversially denied for England, and Belgium twice hit the post. It looked like this would be as close as either team would come to scoring. That was until right at the death…
England won a free kick, which Paul Gascoigne took. He floated the ball into the box aimlessly just hoping that someone could get on the end of it. Platt was able to get free and had a chance to strike it from a tight angle to the right of the goal. A big problem, though was that the ball was over his right shoulder, which meant that it would be very difficult for him to turn and strike the ball while getting it on target. Not to mention that he was going to have to volley it out of the air.
Somehow, Platt pulled it off. He struck it perfectly out of mid air and knocked it past the Belgian goalie, Michel Preud’homme. It was an absolute stunner!
Belgium had no time to respond, and England advanced to the quarterfinals. The goal was one of the most dramatic late winners in World Cup history. Besides being one of the biggest goals in his nations history, the goal also helped Platt in his club career. Platt later said that he had dreamed about playing club football in Italy and he believed this goal helped to get the attention of several Italian club owners. Platt fulfilled his dream by being able to play with Bari, Juventus, and Sampdoria.
Moment No. 29: The Game of Their Lives
June 29, 1950, was one of the greatest days in World Cup history for the USA. It was the day the USA defeated England in one of the most astonishing upsets of all time.
The 1950 World Cup was the first one after World War II. Since the war ended, England had gone 23-4-3 and were the favorite to lift the trophy. The USA, on the other hand, had a very different outlook on the tournament. The US only had to qualify by finishing ahead of Cuba, in a three-team group, and they had been slaughtered at the 1948 Summer Olympics.
The Americans were entirely semi-professional players, and it was a difficult task to assemble a team. They were surely going to be destroyed by the English and even their coach Bill Jeffrey said, according to Geoffrey Douglas' book The Game of Their Lives, “We have no chance.”
The opening matches for each team seemed to reaffirm the inevitable. England comfortably beat Chile 2-0, while the US were beaten 3-1 by Spain. At 6:00 p.m. local time, the match got under way, and from the start, England laid siege to the American goal.
They forced several good stops from the keeper Frank Borghi and were unlucky to hit the woodwork twice. The US held out though, and in the 37th minute, would stun the football world.
Walter Bahr took a shot from distance and had his shot deflected by Joe Gaetjens. The deflection wrong footed the English goalie, Bert Williams, who couldn’t keep it out. The crowd in Belo Horizonte, who were behind the underdogs, roared, and the Americans took the lead into the break.
In the second half, the USA clung to their slim lead. England threw everything at them to get an equalizer but couldn’t do so. The USA pulled off an impossible upset. Members of the crowd ran onto the field to celebrate with the Americans and carried Gaetjens off the field.
The Americans could not build on their upset, however, and were knocked out after a 5-2 thrashing by Chile. The loss stuck with the English, however, and were eliminated by losing to Spain 1-0 in the next match.
Unfortunately, this match does not get its proper credit in America. Only one American journalist covered the tournament, and the match has remained largely anonymous to the American public. The English were outraged by the result and protested that the team was made up of foreigners as they found it incomprehensible that they could lose to the USA.
However, FIFA would clear the Americans of the charge later that year after investigating the claim. The USA would not make it back to the World Cup until 1990 and would not win another match until they beat Colombia four years later, which adds to the significance of the upset. It will always remain as one of the all-time classic upsets in the history of the game.
Moment No. 28: “Has Ever a Goal Been More Golden?”
“Goal! Golden Goal! Has ever a goal been more golden?” That was the call by the ITV announcer after Ahn Jung-Hwan scored a golden goal to beat Italy in the 2002 World Cup.
It was a reasonable question. Jung-Hwan’s goal was incredibly dramatic and set the nation into raptures. The feverish enthusiasm that the South Korean fans showed for their team in 2002 has perhaps never been matched by another nation. It culminated with this moment. Jung-Hwan’s goal put South Korea into the quarterfinals for the first time and was the biggest goal in their history.
Italy took the lead after just 18 minutes when Christian Vieri headed home from a corner. The Azzuri’s lead looked comfortable throughout the match, and the lead was seemingly safe. With just two minutes of normal time, however, Seol Ki-Hyeon equalized and saved South Korea. The match would then head into a tense extra time.
Both teams had chances to win the game, and with three minutes left, the moment came. Ahn Jung-Hwan outjumped his defenders and headed a cross past Gianluigi Buffon. It was a moment of sheer ecstasy for the Koreans.
South Korea would go on to defeat Spain on penalties before falling to Germany in the semifinals. It had been a very successful tournament for the hosts. The defeated team, however, would not take the loss well.
The Italians were outraged at several controversial calls that did not go their way and decided that something had to be done. They took out their anger on the golden boy of South Korean football, Ahn Jung-Hwan, who was playing his club football for the Italian side Perugia at the time.
The club owner was so irate about Italy’s loss that he got rid of Jung-Hwan. Jung-Hwan tried to find another European club to play on but was unsuccessful at doing so until 2005.
Moment No. 27: A 6-Star Performance
This moment is one that's surrounded in controversy and debated by conspiracy theorists to this day. However, since nothing has ever been conclusively proven, this moment remains untainted.
In 1978, Argentina hosted the World Cup, and the pressure on them was enormous. The format for the tournament then was very different than it is now. There were two group stages in 1978, and in the second stage, you had to finish at the top of the group to advance to the final.
Going into the final round of the second group stage, Brazil and Argentina were on top of the table with four points. Argentina did have an advantage, however, because their game came after Brazil’s match with Poland.
Therefore, going into their match with Peru they would know the result they would need to be able to advance. Brazil though, would go onto win 3-1 and forced Argentina to win by four goals to be able to advance. A daunting task…
The crowd in Rosario that night was terrific and gave the Argentine team a huge lift. The team, though, got off to a troubling beginning. Peru had a golden chance to take the lead, but they were denied by the woodwork. Argentina were able to settle down, and after 21 minutes, Mario Kempes put them in front. Then, right before halftime, Alberto Tarantini, headed home from a corner to give Argentina a 2-0. They were halfway there and had a real shot at progressing.
In the second half, more was to come. Kempes got the third after just four minutes, and the writing was on the wall. Only a minute later, Leopoldo Luque gave Argentina the fourth goal that they needed. They would not stop there though and would get two more goals to ice the match. With the weight on their shoulders, the Argentines had delivered.
After the match, the Brazilians claimed that the match had been thrown by Peru. There was also immediate suspicion surrounding the match, because the Peruvian goalie was born in Argentina. However, the evidence remains strictly circumstantial at this point. As a result, Argentina coming through with the result while needing such a wide margin of victory remains one of the most clutch performances of all time.
Moment No. 26: I’ll Have Extra Please
The two most dramatic extra-time periods both involved the West Germans. One was the match against the French in 1982, while the other was against Italy in 1970. Due to the exhilarating excitement of the extra-time period of the match in 1970, it has been hailed as the game of the century.
The match was a semifinal and played in the newly opened spectacular Azteca Stadium. Italy got off to the perfect start and took the lead after just eight minutes. Italy then fell back into their typical defensive tactics, and it looked like one goal would be enough.
With just minutes remaining, Franz Beckenbauer was brought down on the edge of the area. The Germans thought they had a penalty, but the referee said the foul was outside of the box. To add insult to injury, Beckenbauer dislocated his shoulder, but somehow found a way to keep playing.
The German freekick went wide, and it looked like that was it. However, with seconds left Karl-Heinz Schnellinger would find the back of the net to tie it up. The Italians were devastated, and the match went to extra-time.
The extra-time period was chaotic. Gerd Muller took advantage of a terrible mishap amongst the Italian defenders to put the Germans in front. Italy looked done for. However, just four minutes later, Tarcisio Burgnich equalized, and the Italians were back in it. A minute before the break, Italy went back in front again; this time Luigi Riva was the goal scorer.
The crowd at the Azteca were on the edge of their seat for the final 15 minutes of this pulsating match. There were more twist and turns to come. Muller tied the score back up. The crowd reached a fever pitch at this point. Almost straight after the kickoff, the winner came.
It would be scored by Gianni Rivera—the Italian midfielder. He was completely unmarked in the area and turned in a low cross past Sepp Maier to make it 4-3. There was still nine minutes left, but that would be the end of the scoring.
At the end of the match, the Italian manager sprinted wildly with joy around the pitch, while the players were too exhausted to move. The five goals scored in extra-time makes it the highest scoring one of all time. Italy would go on to lose to Brazil, but the semifinal against West Germany was one of the most absorbing matches in history.
Moment No. 25: The Aliens Qualify for the Quarterfinals
On the official film of the 1966 World Cup, the commentator describes the North Korean team as being so unknown to the Western world that they may as well have flown in from outer space.
Indeed, the commentator was correct, and the locals in Middlesbrough, where the team was stationed, were eager to get a glimpse of the team from this unfamiliar land. The locals flocked to their practices and their matches. No one had expected North Korea to do well, but by the end of it, they were the darlings of the tournament.
North Korea’s tournament got off to an inauspicious beginning. The British government offended the North Koreans by debating whether or not to allow the North Korean flag to be flown at their matches, since they did not recognize the nation.
Reluctantly, they would eventually give in and allow it to fly for every game. Their first match turned out to be a disaster. The North Koreans could not cope with the play of the physical Soviets and lost 3-0.
In their second match, North Korea had to take at least a point from Chile to stay alive. Things looked dim for them after they fell behind via the penalty spot. However, with two minutes left, Pak Seung-Zin was able to equalize and keep the North Koreans alive much to the delight of the crowd. In their final match, they would have to beat world heavyweights—Italy—to advance to the quarterfinals.
The North Koreans went into the match fearlessly. They battled the Italians for 90 minutes and gave everything they had. The match was a closely fought contest with only one goal. That would come from Pak Doo-Ik of North Korea. He got on the end of a through ball, and from inside the top of the box, used his right foot to blast it inside of the far post. It was an unbelievable moment, and North Korea held on for the upset.
The Italians were knocked out as a result of the loss and were greeted with a barrage of rotten tomatoes from angry fans when they returned home. North Korea advanced to the quarterfinals where they would be defeated in their next match.
However, they gave Portugal quite a scare in the match, as they led 3-0 at one point. The courageous display by the North Koreans won them fans from all over and helped present a good face for a nation previously mysterious to the rest of the world.
Moment No. 24: Total Football at Its Finest
The Dutch teams of the 1970s were some of the greatest of all time, despite being unable to win the World Cup. It's a great shame from a neutral perspective that they were unable to do so, because they have not been given their proper credit in the ranks of the best teams ever.
Their system of total football revolutionized the game, and they executed to near perfection at the 1974 and 1978 World Cup. No play better demonstrates the immense skill of these Dutch sides, then the very first play in the 1974 World Cup Final.
In the final, Holland met their arch-nemesis West Germany on their home soil. There was an absolutely cracking atmosphere, and the tension was palpable before the game. Holland kicked off the match, and the home fans were given a sucker punch right off the bat.
The Dutch patiently stroked the ball around waiting for an opportunity to attack. They passed and passed before, while the Germans couldn’t even get a touch on it. Finally, after 15 completed passes, the ball fell to the best player in the world at the time—Johann Cruyff.
He darted into the box past two German defenders before being hacked to the ground by Uli Hoeneß. Johan Neeskens stepped up to the spot and beat Sepp Maier to give the Dutch the lead. It was the fastest goal in World Cup Finals history and the first touch the Germans had when Maier picked the ball out of the back of the net.
West Germany would go on to win the match, 2-1 and lift the trophy for the second time. However, this moment remains as the one of the best in World Cup history because it epitomizes the brilliance of these Dutch teams and total football.
Total football won fans over from all over the world, as a result of watching the Dutch teams of the 70s play. In addition to that, many clubs and national teams all over the world have implemented this playing style.
Moment No. 23: No Pele, No Problem
Throughout the history of the World Cup, teams have had to deal with losing star players. No team, though, has ever had to overcome what Brazil had to in 1962. In just their second game of the tournament, Brazil lost the best player in the game and arguably the best of all time. That was of course, the brilliant No. 10, Pele.
In 1958, Pele was just 17 and thrilled the world with his dazzling display. He set the tournament alight by scoring six goals enroute to leading Brazil to their first ever championship.
In 1962, he was expected to dominate again and lead Brazil to another championship. The first game went according to plan as Pele scored in a 2-0 victory over Mexico. However, in their next match, Pele injured his knee while attempting a long shot in a scoreless match against Czechoslovakia. The injury would cost him the tournament and Brazil’s chances of repeating looked dead.
The Brazilian team, though, would not pack up the tent and go home. They still had a talented side led by the winger Garrincha, who was also one of the best players at the time. The team rallied together and refused to let the loss of Pele ruin their World Cup.
After the Czechoslovakia game, Brazil would win every game with Garrincha leading the way. His four goals were the most on the team. This World Cup would prove to be a testament to the depth and resiliency of the Brazilian team.
Moment No. 22: The Magic of Zizzou
A turning point of a team’s tournament is not always obvious.
Soccer is a grueling sport that requires 90 minutes of hard-fought play. It's rare that you can point to one moment that turns an entire player and team’s fortune around. In 2006, though, the moment that sparked France’s tournament was apparent to the entire world. It would come in the second minute of stoppage time against Spain.
France went into the 2006 World Cup with another extremely talented side. However, their confidence was very low after disappointing performances at the 2002 World Cup and 2004 Euro. The experts were undecided about whether the team could reach their potential and get out of the rut they were in.
France were very unimpressive in the group stage and limped through to the knockout stages. They had only had won one match, and that came against the minnows—Togo. In the first knockout round, they came up against a very talented Spanish team.
Many predicted that France would be knocked out, and this would be the end of the glorious career of Zinedine Zidane. It looked as if these predictions would come true when Spain took the lead from a David Villa penalty after 28 minutes. However, France and Zidane were not ready to exit the tournament without a fight.
Franck Ribery got France back on level terms before halftime, after he rounded Iker Casillas on a breakaway and tapped into an empty net. The game stayed 1-1 for most of the match, and the tension was palpable. Then, with seven minutes of normal time remaining, Patrick Vieira headed in a free kick to break the deadlock.
France hung on to the lead, and in stoppage time, the icing on the cake came and the moment that would ignite their tournament.
The ball came to Zidane who had plent of space on the left, and he raced in on goal. The whole world was paralyzed watching to see what would happen. Zidane cut inside past a defender and stroked the ball past Casillas to seal the victory. The French team and fans erupted with delight. At the end of the match, the joy and relief on the faces of the players were obvious.
France rode the momentum of this match, and Zidane played brilliantly in their next two games. He propelled a team that looked like they were going nowhere into the final and a sliver away from winning it.
Moment No. 21: A Slice of Perfection
Rarely in life are moments described as being perfect. Humans are naturally flawed and supposedly unable to create anything perfect. If Argentina’s second goal against Serbia and Montenegro wasn’t perfect, it was next best thing.
Argentina were one of the favorites going into the 2006 World Cup, due to the immense attacking skill that their offensive players possessed. Serbia and Montenegro were a solid side known for their stout defense, and it was expected to be a good test for the Argentines. It was one that they would pass with flying colors.
Argentina had defeated the Ivory Coast in their first match, while Serbia and Montenegro went down to Holland. This meant that Serbia and Montenegro would have to be more attacking then usual, as they needed the three points. This played right into the hands of the Argentines. They got the opening goal after just six minutes. Then, 15 minutes before halftime, they got a second—and one of the most memorable goals of the tournament.
On the second goal, the Argentines literally passed the Serbia and Montenegro to death. The patiently stroked it around, waiting for the opening. They were not going to force anything. In all, they completed a whopping 25 passes before finally going for goal. Once, they got there, though, it wasn’t finished off with a scrappy goal.
Hernan Crespo played Cambiasso in with a beautiful back heel, and he hammered it into the top corner of the net. It was sheer genius and a magisterial goal. If there's one criticism of the goal, it's that the defenders were too passive and did not put enough pressure on the ball. However, it seems to be much more of a case of brilliant Argentine skill than passive defending.
This goal opened up the floodgates. Argentina would go on to score four more to complete a 6-0 thrashing. It was one of the greatest performances in World Cup history and was highlighted by one of the best team goals in the history of the tournament.
Moment No. 20: Glory for Grosso
In the 2006 semifinal, Italy met the host nation Germany. The match was an incredible affair. Amazingly, the game would stay scoreless until the final moments despite several great chances created by both teams.
The closest either team came to a goal was when Italy struck the woodwork twice in the extra period. It looked as if the match was going to head into penalty kicks. Given Germany and Italy’s history of penalty kicks, the Germans would definitely have welcomed them. With a minute remaining though, Fabio Grosso would send a stake into the hearts of the host nation.
Italy won a corner kick and sent several bodies up the field to try to get the winner. The initial corner was headed out by the German defense but went right to Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo held onto the ball and sent in a good pass to Grosso that slipped through four German defenders.
Grosso hit it the first time using the inside of his foot. It was a beautiful curler that beat Jens Lehmann. The next few moments after the ball hit the back of the net were moments of sheer ecstasy for Italians everywhere. Everyone in the nation celebrated wildly, especially Grosso who sprinted all over the pitch screaming for joy.
Just a moment later, Alessandro Del Piero put the icing on the cake, as he made it 2-0. Grosso would also go on to be the hero again in the final, as he scored the game-winning penalty. His goal is the latest winner in semifinal history and one of the all-time most memorable goals in World Cup history.
Moment No. 19: The Impenetrable Goyocochea
The World Cup is the best tournament in the world for many reasons. One of the reasons is that it gives players a chance to come out of nowhere to become heroes. One of the best examples of this was in 1990. The man who became a hero was Sergio Goyocochea—the Argentine goalie.
Going into the 1990 World Cup, Goyocochea was the backup behind Nery Pumpido. In the opening match for Argentina, they were upset by underdogs Cameroon on a terrible goal-keeping error by Pumpido.
Pumpido had been Argentina’s goalie at the 1982 and 1986 World Cup and had played very well when Argentine had won it all in 1986. Therefore, Argentina had no plans on switching keepers. However, in their second game against the Soviet Union, they were forced to make the change after Pumpido suffered a horrible leg break.
Goyocochea would seize his opportunity. He would not concede against the Soviet Union and only gave up one goal against Romania on a play that he had no chance of saving. Argentina would advance to the knockout round where Goyocochea would really shine.
The Argentines had a lot of injuries and an aging squad in 1990, and as a result, they played a very defensive game. Goyocochea would be called on time and time again to bail them out. In the Round of 16, they came up against the always mighty Brazil. They were badly outplayed, but Goyocochea kept them at bay and came away with a clean sheet to send the Argentines to the quarterfinals.
Once again, Argentina were on the back foot for most of this match, and their keeper had to bail them out. This time, the match would finish scoreless and go to penalties where he would save Yugoslavia’s fourth and fifth kick to win the match.
In the semifinals, Argentina played the hosts Italy. Goyocochea would be beaten once on the night but had a fine game in goal. The match again went to penalties, and again, he saved Italy’s fourth and fifth kick to knock the hosts out.
In the finals, Goyocochea could not save Argentina despite giving it his best. The only goal scored was on a dubious penalty kick that he very nearly saved. Had the penalty not been given, the match may well have gone to another shootout. West Germany’s great record on penalties has been well documented, but Argentina would have liked their chances with Goyocochea in net.
Despite falling just short, Goyocochea’s heroics at the 1990 World Cup was one of the best performances for a goalie in the tournament’s history.
Moment No. 18: 200,000 Stunned People
It may seem hard to believe, but Brazil has actually had a couple of devastating losses in their history. The worst of all came in 1950, when they hosted the tournament. The team that gave them the heartbreaking loss was the team that won the first ever World Cup—Uruguay.
The format for the 1950 tournament was drastically different than today. Four teams advanced to the final round and played a round robin. Whoever finished first won the World Cup.
In the last match of the tournament, Brazil and Uruguay met with the winner taking the trophy. In essence, it became the de facto final. However, a tie would give Brazil the championship, and they were heavy favorites. The Brazilian media and fans were brimming with confidence. They thought it was inevitable that Brazil would take the trophy. They would turn out to be very disappointed.
An estimated crowed of over 200,000 fans poured into the Maracana Stadium, which is the most all time. Early in the second half, Brazil took the lead through Friaca, and it looked as if that was it for the Uruguayans. No one believed that they could score twice at the Maracana.
However, in the 66th minute, Juan Alberto Schiaffino tied it up and the match was up for grabs. The crowed began to tense up. Then, with just 11 minutes remaining Alcides Ghiggia went on a darting run down the right, and his shot beat the Brazilian keeper.
The boisterous crowd fell silent, praying that Brazil would tie it back up, but it wouldn’t come. Uruguay held on and won the match 2-1. The world was stunned. There was no way that anyone believed Brazil could lose at home.
Since 1950, Brazil have gone on to win five World Cups, which has helped to take the sting out of the blow. However, the fact that they lost the World Cup on home soil when they were so heavily favored has kept this as a bitter memory for Brazilian fans for all these years.
In addition to that, there will be an enormous amount of pressure for Brazil to win the World Cup in 2014 at home, since they were unsuccessful the last time.
Moment No. 17: Eusebio Carries Portugal
The World Cup in 1966 will always be a special year in the hearts of the English fans.
However, the star of the tournament was not an Englishman, but a man born in Mozambique. This man was of course Eusebio, and he played for his adopted country of Portugal.
Portugal were playing in their first ever World Cup and were one of the darlings of the tournament. Not many experts expected them to get out of their tough group, which included Brazil and Hungary.
Portugal got their World Cup campaign off to an incredible start. They scored in the first minute and defeated the 1954 runner up, Hungary, 3-1. They were able to build on the momentum of that result and thrashed Bulgaria 3-0, with Eusebio scoring his first goal of the tournament. Many more would follow.
In their next match, they played the two-time defending champions Brazil. Portugal knocked out the two-time champions with Eusebio scoring twice in a 3-1 victory. In addition to that, Eusebio would score his best goal of the tournament, which was a brilliant volley from a tight angle. His best performance though, would come in the next match and is one of the most memorable in history.
Going up against underdogs North Korea, the Portuguese were shell-shocked when they found themselves 3-0 down after 25 minutes. At this moment, Portugal could have folded up the tent and gone home.
Eusebio refused to let that happen. He pulled two goals back before halftime and then scored two more after the break. Jose Augusto sealed the victory with 10 minutes left, but it was Eusebio who had single-handedly led Portugal back from the dead.
Portugal would lose in the semifinals and go on to win in the third-place match. Eusebio would score a goal in each of those matches to raise his tally to nine. Unfortunately, he would never play in another World Cup, but due to his wonderful club career with Benfica and in the 1966 World Cup, he is rightly regarded as one of the true legends of the game.
Moment No. 16: Owen’s Solo Brilliance
It's unfortunate that some players are not able to reach their true potential due to injuries. Michael Owen is one of those players. In 1998, he was one of the best young stars in the game, and on a warm evening in Saint Etienne, he showed to the world what he could do. What made it even sweeter for the English fans was that it was against their hated rival Argentina in the Round of 16.
Both teams scored early via the penalty spot. In the 16th minute, came Owen’s moment of magic. Owen got the ball around the halfway line from a good pass by David Beckham. From there on, it was all Owen.
Owen shrugged off a challenge from Jose Chamot who tried to foul him. He sprinted past him and initially ran straight at Roberto Ayala, but then, went to his right. His pace was so great that he went right around him.
Owen’s touch was a bit heavy, and the ball rolled closer to Paul Scholes who was about to take the shot. This was Owen’s moment though. He ran in and took the pass from Scholes before he got the ball and took the shot. It was an absolutely perfect strike into the top left corner.
It was an absolute wonder goal from Owen and one of the best individual runs in World Cup history. England would go on to lose the match, and Owen’s career has been plagued by injuries since then. However, his moment of sheer brilliance will always serve as a glimpse of how much talent Michael Owen had.
Moment No. 15: Ronaldo’s Redemption
The World Cup is such a powerful tournament that it can turn you into a national hero or a national villain.
Ronaldo has experienced both sides of this coin.
In 1998, Ronaldo was one of the best players in the world and was expected to lead Brazil to another championship. Ronaldo played up to expectations and scored four goals enroute to leading Brazil to the final. When it came time for the final though, Ronaldo would be involved in one of the most bizarre incidents in the history of the World Cup.
No one knows exactly what happened before the final, but some facts have come out. Ronaldo suffered a seizure hours before the game and had to be rushed to the hospital. Fortunately, Ronaldo was alright, but he should never have been cleared to play in the final. He was though and had a poor game, as his head was clearly not in the match.
Immediately, the fans and the press wanted to know what happened and constantly pressed Ronaldo for answers. He even had to testify before the Brazilian government about what happened. Amazingly, many people criticized Ronaldo for his performance and believed he was not mentally tough enough to cope with the situation.
Fast-forward four years. Ronaldo had just come off a devastating knee injury and looked as if he may never be the same again. The World Cup would be his chance to show that he was back and get redemption for what happened in 1998. He would make the most of this chance.
Ronaldo won the Golden Boot, as he scored eight goals, including the only two goals of the final. I can remember Ronaldo’s facial expression so well when he got a congratulatory hug after he had been subbed off. His eyes were closed, and he had a big smile on his face.
The relief that he had was there for all to see, as he literally just had the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders. He had redeemed himself and rightly took his place as one of the greatest Brazilians of all time.
Moment No. 14: Zidane Uses His Head (for Good Purposes)
When people mention Zidane, his head and the World Cup Final, his performance in the 1998 final is not what usually comes to mind. However, in 1998, Zidane came through in the clutch in the biggest game of his career.
There have been so many star players that have failed to get to a World Cup final. Some once they get there, fail to make the most out of it. However, when Zidane got his chance, he took full advantage of it.
The 1998 tournament did not start well for Zidane. He was red carded in the 71st minute after he stamped on Fuad Amin of Saudi Arabia. Zidane was suspended for the next two matches, but when he returned, he was very influential in the success of the French team. He would save his best performance though for the final.
Zidane would score two headed goals, both from corner kicks, in the first half to give the French a commanding lead. As a result, he became the first player to score twice in a final, since Mario Kempes did it in 1978. Coincidentally, that was also the last time that a host nation had won the World Cup, until France that year.
Emmanuel Petit would add the icing on the cake with a third goal in stoppage time, but everyone knew who the hero of the game was for France. In the biggest game of his career, Zidane had risen to the challenge and had marked his place as one of the greatest players in the game.
Moment No. 13: Little Man’s Big Goal
Optimism had been sky high for the Scotts before the start of the 1978 World Cup, as they were the only British nation to qualify for the World Cup and had won the home nations series the year before.
Manager Ally MacLeod fueled this optimism as he predicted that Scotland would get a medal at the World Cup. However, when it came time for the tournament reality would set in for the Scotts.
Scotland were defeated in their first match by Peru and then drew with Iran. It looked bleak for Scotland, especially since they had to defeat Holland in their last match by three goals to qualify. Holland were of course the 1974 runners-up and one of the favorites in 1978.
Things looked even worse for Scotland when they fell behind in the first half. However, they didn’t quit and pulled a goal back on either side of halftime to give themselves a chance. Then, in the 68th minute came the moment of magic that has been replayed over and over.
Kenny Dalglish tried to dribble in from the right side of the box but had the ball tackled away from him. The ball fell to the smallest man on the pitch—Archie Gemmill. Gemmill’s first touch took it past a diving Dutch defender. Then, as he cut inside, he made a wonderful fake and took the ball through the legs of another defender.
Another Dutch defender dove in, and he tapped it around him and was clear on goal. The keeper came out, but Gemmill calmly lobbed the ball over him and in. It was a sensational goal that even the English couldn’t deny the brilliance of. With 22 minutes left, there was everything to play for.
Holland would pull a goal back moments later and would knock out Scotland. However, the moment is one that all Scotts look back on with joy. It was an absolutely brilliant goal and despite falling short in the end, showed to the world that the Scotts could play. The goal has been showed time and time again in Scotland, including in the infamous bedroom scene in the 1996 film, Trainspotting, which has added to the mystique of the goal.
Moment No. 12: A Work of Art
Some goals are so beautiful that they are not just goals, but a work of art.
Dennis Bergkamp’s goal in the last minute of normal time in the 1998 quarterfinals was such a goal. The match was played in the searing heat of Marseille against Argentina and was deadlocked at one a piece, until Bergkamp scored a goal of sheer genius.
The played started out innocent enough. Frank de Boer hit a long ball over the top that looked like it was nothing more then a hit and hope. However, it turned out to be a sensational ball that hit Bergkamp in stride just inside of the penalty box.
His first touch was immaculate, and the ball basically stuck to his foot. Humans are not supposed to be able to control the ball that well with your feet. The touch was so good, that he was able to get past the defender Roberto Ayala with his second touch, as he cut to the inside.
This left Bergkamp one-on-one with the keeper, Carlos Roa, and he made the finish look easy. He struck the ball with the outside of his foot into the top corner. It was a flawless goal in all counts, and considering the point of the game it came in, it was an all-time classic.
Some may say that the goal was lucky, and Bergkamp couldn’t do that again if he tried. However, those claims are not valid, because Bergkamp scored a virtual copy of the goal just 10 months earlier at Leicester City. Any time a player scores a goal where they control a long ball so well, it instantly takes my memory back to that stellar goal in 1998.
Moment No. 11: Beautiful Misses
The 1970 Brazil team, were in my opinion, the best team ever.
They were such an amazing team to watch that even some of their misses wowed the crowds with their amazing skill. The two that everyone remembers were both by one of the greatest players that ever lived—Pele.
It must be remembered that the 1970 World Cup was the first one to be shown worldwide in color. The fans were captivated by what they saw from the Brazilian team and by the amazing audacity that players like Pele showed to pull off plays that people couldn’t dream of.
In their first match, Brazil came up against Czechoslovakia. In the first half, Pele received a pass inside of his own half. He wasn’t being pressured and took a touch. He looked up and spotted the goalie, Ivo Viktor, well off his line.
Pele, after seeing this, tried to do the impossible and score from his own half. He darn near pulled it off. Pele struck the ball beautifully, and the shot looked to be going in. Viktor raced back, but he was beaten. He lucked out though, as the shot missed to the right by about a foot. The ball seemed to be in the air forever, and the world seemed to stop for a moment, as everyone watched to see if it would go in.
The second brilliant miss by Pele came in the semifinals against Uruguay.
Pele found himself unmarked as he made a run, and Tostao played him in with a through ball. The goalie, Ladislao Mazurkiewicz, came out to stop him, but then Pele pulled of an outrageous piece of skill.
Instead, of trapping the ball, Pele let it run. The goalie had no idea he was going to do that, and the ball rolled right past him. Pele rounded the keeper and shot the ball, but unfortunately, dragged his shot wide of the frame. It was another stunning moment that had the world roaring in celebration.
The Brazil 1970 team had a level of world class talent that may never be matched again. In addition to that, their brilliant play did so much to spread the popularity of the game and caused people to fall in love with the Brazilian style. These two plays demonstrate the enormous skill that they had.
Here's the link to the miss against Czechoslovakia (around 3:20).
Moment No. 10: The Miracle of Bern
After World War II, Germany was devastated.
The country had lost millions of people, and the nation’s infrastructure was decimated. Germany was also divided into two different nations by their occupiers at the end of the war. The people desperately needed something that they could feel good about and lift their spirits. They turned their attention to the 1954 World Cup and hoped that their beloved national team would give them such a lift.
West Germany performed brilliantly, and they were able to advance to the final. However, this was where their run was supposed to end. They were up against Hungary, who was the best team at the world at the time. Hungary had won 32 straight matches going into that game, and the gold medal at the 1952 Summer Olympics. In addition to that, they had thrashed West Germany in an earlier match at the World Cup 8-3. There was little hope amongst the German people that they could win.
Things looked even bleaker for West Germany after they fell behind 2-0 after just eight minutes. However, they would refuse to quit. Within 10 minutes, West Germany got the game tied up with goals from Max Morlock and Helmut Rahn. The game would stay deadlocked until deep into the second half.
With just six minutes of normal time remaining, Rahn did the unthinkable, as he put the Germans in front. The whole nation exploded with joy after the goal, including the radio announcer, Herbert Zimmermann. Almost every German was listening to the game on the radio, and Zimermann’s famous call of the play made him a celebrity in Germany.
The Germans hung on for the victory and won the World Cup for the first time. It was the biggest upset in final's history and is referred to as the Miracle of Bern as a result. It meant so much to the people who needed it so badly, and even people on the East German side of the border celebrated the result.
In 2003, a film (The Miracle of Bern) was made about the match and is one of the highest grossing films in German history.
Moment No. 9: A Childhood Dream
Imagine this scenario. Your playing in the World Cup Final. The score is tied, with only a couple of minutes left. The ball comes to you, and there's no one in front of you. You race in, and it's just you against the keeper. You take the shot and the ball rolls into the back of the net to give your country the World Cup.
Such a scenario could only be a dream right? Wrong. In 1986, Jorge Burruchaga was able to score such a goal, and in doing so, completed a dream that every young soccer fan has around the world.
In the final, Argentina went up against West Germany. Maradona was the best player in the world, and they were expected to win the match. Things were going according to plan as Argentina surged in front 2-0. However, the Germans can never be counted out and made a daring comeback.
They equalized with two goals from corner kicks, and the momentum of the match had completely changed. Just three minutes after West Germany had tied it, however, came one of the most dramatic moments in World Cup history.
Maradona found himself surrounded by Germans but was able to play a through ball to Burruchaga who was wide open. Burruchaga raced in clean on goal with only the goalie, Harold Schumacher, to beat.
The world was temporarily paralyzed as they watched Burruchaga run in on goal. Burrichaga took his shot and beat Schumacher to his right. It was the most dramatic goal in finals history, in arguably the best final in history.
How many kids around the world have dreamed of scoring a goal like just like that in such a scenario?
Moment No. 8: Cruyff’s Turn
Some moments in soccer are so brilliant that you need to look at the replay over an over to find out exactly how the player pulled off.
If you perform a trick like that so well that they name it after you, you know you have done something special. In the 1974 World Cup, Johann Cruyff pulled off a piece of skill that was so outrageous, the trick now bares his name.
The move came against Sweden in the first round. The match finished 0-0, but the wonder of Cruyff was worth the price of admission. The play came when Cruyff received the ball on the left side of the penalty area.
Jan Olsson was the poor man in charge of defending Cruyff on the play. Initially, Olsson defended the play well and forced Cruyff to turn his back to goal with possession of the ball. Cruyff got a bit of space and looked as if he was going to pass the ball to the top of the box. However, in one motion, he faked and dragged the ball with the inside of his foot the other way, around his plant leg.
He did this move so quickly and smoothly that Olsson was completely fooled. He was so faked out by the turn that he looked towards the top of the box initially to see where the ball had been played to, only to realize that Cruyff still had it.
By that time, he realized that Cruyff was already gone and played in his cross, which no one could get on the end of. Nonetheless, it was a moment of magic.
Johann Cruyff is one of the best players to never win the World Cup. However, that will not tarnish his legacy as one of the all-time greats to play the game. Soccer players from around the world try to pull off the Cruyff turn, but very few are able to pull it off.
Moment No. 7: Spain's Reign
On July 11, 2010, Andres Iniesta joined a select club of players who have scored extra-time winners in the World Cup Final. In doing so, he gave Spain their first World Cup championship. For Holland, they were once again so close to winning it all but fell short yet again.
The match was very tight and tense throughout. It was a physical game, and both teams struggled to create many golden chances. In the 109th minute, Spain got a big break when John Heitinga received his second yellow card for a challenge on Iniesta. With only 10 minutes left to go, Spain pressed on looking for a winner.
The Dutch though held out and looked as if the match was going to penalties. With four minutes left, Spain attacked. The ball came to Fernando Torres who tried to cross the ball into Iniesta. Iniesta was offsides, but luckily, for him, the ball did not get through and play continued.
The ball fell for Cesc Fabregas, and Iniesta took a few steps back to get back onside. No one had picked him back up, and Fabregas played in a though ball. Iniesta took one touch, and the ball bounced up. Rafael van der Vaart raced back to try to stop Iniesta, but he was too late.
Iniesta smacked the shot out of the air and passed Maarten Stekelenburg. It was an incredible release of joy for the Spanish players and fans, who celebrated wildly. The Dutch protested against the goal, claiming they should have had a corner earlier in the play and that Iniesta was offsides. It was to no avail.
The goal stood, and Spain had won the match in an incredibly climactic ending.
Moment No. 6: Saeed Goes Solo
A forward picks up the ball in his own half. He starts to go on a run. He beats one defender who dives in. Then, another defender steps up, but he can’t get the ball off of him either. The forward keeps running and two defenders converge on him. Surely, now, he will have to give up the ball. But, no!
He keeps going and splits the defenders. Now, there's only the keeper to beat. Can he finish? Yes, he can! And in spectacular fashion as he slides in to blast the ball over the keeper and into the corner. Only Diego Maradona could score a goal like that, right? Wrong.
In 1994, Saeed Al-Owarian scored the second-best individual goal in World Cup history. Al-Owarian, was from one of the most unlikely places that you would expect a player to be from that could score a goal like that. That nation, being Saudi Arabia, participating in their first ever World Cup.
The goal came against Belgium, who had kept a clean sheet in their first two matches. However, on this occasion, Al-Owarian made their defense look silly, as he went on an incredible individual run. He weaved in and out past defender after defender, before finally knocking it home.
Al-Owarian narrowly missed replicating his wonder goal, as he made another brilliant run into the box but couldn’t supply the finish. Nevertheless, the world took note of Saeed.
Al-Owarian became an instant star back home and was nicknamed, “Maradona of the Arabs.” He was in several commercials and won awards for his play, which was all fueled by that spectacular goal. However, he would become a victim of his own success and ended up going to jail for a year after breaking Saudi law.
Al-Owarian would play in the 1998 World Cup but would not do anything of note. However, his moment of individual brilliance against Belgium will forever be included on FIFA’s list of the greatest goals in World Cup history.
Moment No. 5: Bank on Gordan To Make the Save
Gordon Banks save against Pele in the 1970 World Cup remains the gold standard for all saves.
Never in the history of the World Cup has a goalie made a save as brilliant as that one. Looking at the replay today, it's still hard to believe he was able to pull it off, as it seems that even Superman would have a difficult time getting to that ball.
Brazil and England were the best teams in 1970, and the matchup served as the de facto final. Brazil would beat the defending World Champions, but the most memorable moment from the game was the save by Banks. It came in the first half.
The phenomenal Jairzinho got on the end off a pass and sent in a beautiful cross from the end line. The legendary Pele headed the cross downward with a ferocious amount of pace. The ball looked, for all the world, to be heading inside of the left post. Banks had been drawn towards the other post, since the cross came from the right-hand side.
Miraculously, Banks was able to get over there in enough time and showed cat-like reflexes to dive out and knock the ball away. In the process of making the save, Banks had to dive not only across the line, but backwards as well to prevent it from going in. The most amazing thing about the save was that Banks only got his thumb to the ball, yet, somehow managed to flick it over the bar.
Pele would describe it as the best save that he had ever seen in his life. He even admitted that more people remember that play than any of the goals that he scored. Unfortunately, Banks would get food poisoning and would miss the quarterfinal match against West Germany.
It was a match in which England would badly miss him, as they lost 3-2, after having a two-goal lead. Nevertheless, Banks will always be immortalized in the sport for pulling off the most spectacular save in the tournament’s history.
Moment No. 4: The Return of Rossi
There is no more remarkable story in World Cup history then that of Paolo Rossi. In the late 1970s, Rossi was regarded as one of the best strikers in the world. In 1980 though, he would be involved in one of the biggest scandals in soccer history.
Rossi was banned for two years from football for his role in a match-fixing scandal, while at Perugia. Everyone thought that would be the end of Rossi, and no one would hear from him again. That would not turn out to be the case, however. The football world was stunned when Italian manager, Enzo Bearzot, put him on Italy’s roster for the 1982 World Cup, just days after his ban ended.
Rossi started the tournament in very poor form, as his skills were very rusty. He didn’t score in any of Italy’s first three matches, and they barely scrapped through to the second round. The pressure on Bearzot was incredible, as people were furious that he had chosen Rossi.
In Italy’s next match, they put in a good performance and beat Argentina. In their last match of the second round, though, they would have to beat Brazil, who was the best team in the world. This is when the fate of Rossi and the Italian team would turn.
Rossi put in one of the all-time most memorable performances in World Cup history. He single-handedly won the match for Italy, as he scored a hat trick in a 3-2 win. No one could believe it. Everyone wondered where the performance had come from.
Rossi was determined to prove that it was not a one-time thing and continued his brilliant play for the rest of the tournament. He scored two goals in the semifinals and one in the final to finish as the Golden Boot winner with six. Italy would also go on to win their third World Cup, and there was no dispute as to who the hero was.
The 1982 World Cup turned Rossi’s life around. He went on to have great success in club football in Italy and a successful career in real estate after he retired. Rossi became a huge star after the World Cup, and every Italian forgot about his role in the scandal.
Moment No. 3: The Kid Is Alright
Very few things in life live up to their hype. The media always tries to sell the next big thing, whether it's an athlete, a movie, a song, etc.
However, on occasion, someone comes along who not only meets the enormous hype created for them, they blow it away. An example of this was Pele at the 1958 World Cup. The world had heard a lot about this 17-year-old from Brazil and was excited to see what he could do. He didn’t fail to disappoint.
Pele’s first goal of the tournament came against Wales in the quarterfinals. It would turn out to be the only goal of the match. Brazil did not play well in the match, but the goal would spark Pele and the team for the rest of the tournament.
In the semifinals, Brazil met a great French team led by Just Fontaine. The match was hard fought, and Brazil took a 2-1 lead into halftime. The second half would be Pele’s time. He thrilled the world by scoring a hat trick and taking Brazil into their second ever final. Pele would then show that he had saved his best performance for last.
In the final, Pele was a terror throughout. He scored two goals against the host nation Sweden, as Brazil rolled to their first ever championship in a 5-2 victory. Both of his goals were sensational, and a Swedish player even admitted that he thought about applauding Pele’s performance.
The 1958 showed the world what a great player Pele was. It would be the first big moment of what would be many throughout his career. Pele’s post-game celebration after the final is another very memorable image in the World Cup.
The tears poured out of Pele’s eyes as he was overjoyed by the moment. The 1958 World Cup also woke up the sleeping giant of world football—Brazil.
Since, that tournament, they have won four more World Cups—the most of any nation.
Moment No. 2: The Exclamation Point
The question of what's the best team in World Cup history will be debated forever. For me, the answer is without question the 1970 Brazil team.
The team was decked out in stars such as Jairzinho, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto, Tostao, and of course, Pele. They had won the World Cup in 1958 and 1962 and were determined to get it back in 1970. They would not only accomplish this task, but also play a style of football that thrilled the world.
The 1970 Brazil team is the only team to ever win every qualifying match and World Cup match. In the final, they would go up against a rugged Italian team, who was no match for the mighty Brazil.
They thrashed them 4-1 in one of the best displays in finals history. The fourth-and-final goal was a thing of perfection and the best possible way to coronate them as the kings of world football.
The play started when Tostao stole the ball from an Italian in his own half. He knocked the ball back to Piazza, who passed to Clodoaldo. He showed off some amazing dribbling skills, by going through four Italians. He then rolled it to Rivelino, who sent in a perfect long ball straight down the left side to Jairzinho. He controlled it perfectly and ran at the defender. He cut into the right before sliding it over to Pele in the middle of the field. Everyone, expected Pele to make a run at the defender, but the brilliant Pele didn’t do that.
He paused and patiently held onto the ball, as he had seen Carlos Alberto making a run out of the corner of his eye on the right. No one else had. Pele laid out a pass to seemingly no one, as Alberto was off screen at the time he had played it. From nowhere came Alberto, darting into the box and the pass hit him perfectly in stride. Right before the ball got to Alberto, it hit a divot in the grass and sat up perfectly for him.
It was as if the soccer gods had rewarded the Brazilians for their spectacular play by queuing it up for him. Alberto smacked the shot out of the air and past Enrico Albertosi in net. Magic. Simply and purely magic.
Alberto’s goal is the perfect team goal. The Brazilians had the Italians running in circles, and they could do nothing to stop it. The world fell in love with this team, and the 1970 World Cup is still regarded as one of the best ever. There could be no more perfect end for this team and for the international career of Pele, than for him to be involved in a goal of that quality.
Moment No. 1: Maradona’s Run of Glory
What's the best moment in the history of the World Cup? What else could it be? The best goal in World Cup history, scored by one of the best players in history. That is of course Diego Armando Maradona.
The goal was scored in the second half of the quarterfinal against England in 1986. And no, it is not the "Hand of God."
Maradona’s moment of magic came moments after arguably the most controversial goal in World Cup history. England were still fuming as they were certain that the ball had been knocked in by a certain part of Maradona’s anatomy, which you are not allowed to use in soccer.
The second goal, though, left the world stunned and for all the right reasons. Even the English midfielder, John Barnes, said after the second goal that it took all of his strength to prevent himself from getting off the bench and applauding the goal. It was that good.
Maradona picked up the ball in his own half and headed straight for goal. It didn’t matter how many Englishmen were in his way, they weren’t going to stop him. Maradona weaved in and out of defenders, as if they weren’t even there. It looked as if the ball was glued to his foot.
Player after player tried to take the ball off him, but it was to no avail. Finally, Maradona was in on the goalie, Peter Shilton, who was also peerless to stop him. Maradona rounded him, and before Terry Butcher could foul him from behind, he slid the ball into the empty net. It was so perfect, that it caused the Argentina announcer Victor Morales to start crying.
There was no element of luck or flukiness about the goal. It was sheer and utter brilliance. In the World Cup, stars often do not live up to their potential. That was not the case in 1986. Maradona not only showed why he was the best player in the world at the time, but he carried Argentina to the championship.
Maradona’s goal against England is the best moment in the history of the World Cup.