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World Cup Month July, 10 2014

The 10 Best World Cup Matches of All Time

Heading into the 2014 FIFA World Cup final between Germany and Argentina on Sunday, we take a look back on 10 of the best World Cup matches of all time. Take a look below for each match and check out the rest of our World Cup Month features here.

10. Italy 3-2 Brazil, Second Group Stage 1982

Regarded amongst the best sides never to win the World Cup, the class of 1982 were the last great samba football Brazil team. Socrates, Zico, Careca et al produced arguably the greatest collection of goals from one team at one tournament but in Italy they met a team with the defense to match them. They still got two but the superb Paolo Rossi grabbed a hat-trick, sending the Italians through to the semis and Brazil home.

9. “They Think It’s All Over” England 4-2 (aet) West Germany, 1966 Final

England and Germany is one of the most storied rivalries in sport and – politics aside – it stems from the final of 1966 which England won but in controversial circumstances that are still debated to this day.

Germany scored first but Geoff Hurst equalized, before setting up Martin Peters to give England the lead. Wolfgang Weber forced extra-time with a goal that infuriated England ‘keeper Gordon Banks, who remained until his death adamant that there had been a handball in the build-up.

The extra-time brought even greater questions over the refereeing, as Geoff Hurst crashed a shot into the crossbar, which bounced down and then out, but was awarded as a goal by the Soviet linesman, Tofiq Bahramov. Television footage has been studied intently ever since and academics have gone as far as building computer simulations to conclusively prove that the ball did not cross the line.

It didn’t matter a jot to the English, who sealed the World Cup in the last minute, as, with many Germans upfield searching for an equalizer, Hurst raced away and finished, completing the first and (so-far) only World Cup Final hat-trick, while the BBC’s Kenneth Wolstenholme enthusiastically proclaimed “They think it’s all over – It is now!”

8. Argentina 3-1 (aet) Netherlands, 1978 Final

Political intrigue is never far away in football and never was that more true than at the 1978 World Cup. Argentina, hosting the tournament, was under the rule of a military junta, who had come to power two years previously and were widely criticized internationally for their involvement in torture, disappearances and repression of opponents. The regime had placed enormous importance on the tournament and saw success as a way of improving their global image.

Argentina’s route to the final had included a controversial result in the Group Stage against Peru, where the regime were accused of bribing the Peruvian government to help Argentina win by enough to progress and were clear second favorites to beat the Dutch, beaten finalists in 1974.

Before the game started, the Argentines were deliberately late to enter the field, forcing Holland to endure the hostile Buenos Aires crowd. They then refused to kick-off, citing the cast on Dutch winger Rene van der Kerkhof’s wrist as a hazard, further inflaming the masses in the stands. The referee, clearly bowing under the pressure of the crowd, gave decision and after decision to the home side, who took the lead through Mario Kempes.

Dick Nanninga restored parity and deep into extra-time, Kempes scored again, elevating himself to top scorer in the tournament, before Bertoni rounded the game off, leaving a 3-1 score and sending the Estadio Monumental into delirium.

7. “The Battle of Santiago” Chile 2-0 Italy, Group Stage 1962

A simple Group Stage match between Chile and Italy descended into one of the most infamous and controversial games in World Cup history.

The tone was set after just 12 seconds, when the first foul occurred and it was followed by a unprecedented level of foul play. Giorgio Ferrini went after twelve minutes, dismissed for punching Honorino Landa. The Chilean replied in kind but was allowed to remain on, while the Italian was dragged off by a policeman after he refused to leave. He was joined just before the break by Mario David, who reacted to an unpunished punch from Leonel Sanchez by kicking him in the head moments later.

The second half was marred by further punching and spitting, and three times the police had to intervene to quell the violence. That the game ended 2-0 to Chile remains secondary to the appalling scenes, dubbed by British commentator David Coleman as “the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game.”

6. Netherlands 1-2 West Germany, 1974 Final

The Dutch are football’s eternal nearly-men. Their record stands at three finals, three defeats. They possess an even worse record on penalties than England. When they have the best team, as has happened at arguably three tournaments, they’ve conspired to collapse in on themselves through a combination of infighting, bad luck and circumstance. 1974 set the trend.

The Oranje featured the bulk of Ajax’s 1971, 1972 and 1973 European Cup-winning sides (accompanied by several of Feyenoord’s 1970 champions), played what was known as “total voetbal,” a style of play based around constant interchange of positions and supreme team play. They possessed Europe’s best player, Johan Cruyff, and coach, Rinus Michels, and had made light work of the Group Stages and the knockouts, blowing away holders Brazil along the way. Germany were by no means also-rans but when Johan Neeskens put the Dutch in front before the Germans had touched the ball, it seemed like the writing was on the wall.

As much though, as it is a footballing cliché to suggest that the Dutch self-implode, so it is that one should never write off the Germans. Particularly a German team containing captain Franz Beckenbauer, Paul Breitner, who equalized after 25 minutes, and Gerd Muller, who scrambled them in front with 43 minutes gone. They held out and a key narrative of European football was drawn; the flamboyant, flawed Dutch, and the indefatigable, relentless Germans.

5. “Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks, Pele” England 0-1 Brazil, Group Stage 1970

If the World Cup in 1966 had given English football its greatest moment, then the 1970 match with Brazil gave it its most English. The guts, the valor, the crushing disappointment.

Brazil were the tournament favorites and boasted Pele and Jairzinho, but England were the holders, and, in Bobby Moore and Gordon Banks, had arguably the best defender and goalkeeper at the tournament.

Those four would go onto to define the match. Jairzinho scored the goal that won it but Pele, thwarted first by Banks, who produced one of the greatest saves ever, plunging to his right to tip a header around the post and then by Moore, whose tackle on O Rei has become iconic.

The image that has gone down in history was not any of these moments but the handshake that followed the match, as Pele and Moore, stripped to the waist in the 98° heat of Guadalajara, exchanged shirts. The photograph has gone into World Cup lore, exemplifying the spirit of fair play and respect between two of the greatest players ever to grace the tournament.

4. “Maracanazo” Brazil 1-2 Uruguay, 1950 Final

The stage for Brazil’s first World Cup victory was set. Requiring only a draw (the format in 1950 had two group stages instead of a knockout round) to win the tournament, the selecao were confident, so confident, indeed, that the local papers had already printed editions announcing their success.

Uruguay, however, had other plans. They bought copies of the newspapers which had told of Brazil’s assumed victory and urinated on them. In front of a world record crowd of over 200,000 in the Maracana, they went behind, Brazil’s Friaca scoring early in the second half, but fought back to win 2-1 and to take the cup back to Montevideo.

The Brazilians were distraught, incapable of comprehending the result. The game, now known as the Maracanazo (The Maracana Disaster) hung heavy over the nation. In the small town of Bauru, a small boy watched his father weep after hearing the game on the radio and vowed never to let such a catastrophe happen again, and to win the World Cup for his father. Eight years later, in Stockholm, the young Pele’s promise would come true.

3. Brazil 5-2 Sweden, Final 1958

To score in the World Cup final is pretty impressive. To score twice even more so. To score twice, including one of the greatest goals of all time in the final is something extraordinary. Pele did it all at the age of 17.

He hadn’t even played until the third game of the tournament, before exploding in the knockout rounds, scoring the winner against Wales and a hat-trick against France. He was by no means thought of as Brazil’s best player, with Garrincha and Vava considered the stars. All that changed in the final.

With the score at 2-1 early in the second half, O Rei takes a high ball on his chest, lifts it over a defender and buries it on the volley, a goal so good that, when asked to recreate it the following day for photographers, even the great man himself couldn’t. Pele broke down in tears at the final whistle, looking briefly like the young boy that he was. The World Cup’s first global star and its finest ever player, had arrived.

2. “Maradona Hand of God Goal” England 1-2 Argentina, 1986 Quarterfinal

To call Argentina’s quarterfinal tie with England in 1986 politically charged would be something of an understatement. The Falklands War of 1982 was still very much fresh in the memory; in the UK, the tabloids led with militaristic and jingoistic headlines; in Argentina, the junta saw the match as perfect opportunity to restore some battered pride.

England had Gary Lineker, the tournament’s top scorer, but Argentina had Maradona. El Diego exploded the tie open with a piece of cheating that still enrages England supporters and then closed it again with arguably the finest goal in World Cup history. It started innocuously, a pass, a deflection into the air and presumably simple claim for Peter Shilton – but as the ball looped towards the England keeper, an outstretched fist, “El Mano de Dio,” the “Hand of God,” appeared, punching the ball over the stranded Shilton and into the England net. England were outraged but the referee gave the goal.

The second was a goal they could only stand and admire. Receiving the ball on the half-way line, set off weaving through the defense, finally rounding Shilton and tapping in. Lineker pulled one back, but the die was cast – as commentator Barry Davies put it: “You have to say that’s magnificent.”

1.  “The Game of the Century” Italy 4-3 (aet) West Germany, Semifinal 1970

Some games are best understood through their context – Argentina vs. England in 1986, for example, cannot be seen out with the knowledge of the Falklands conflict – and some can be taken simply for the sporting drama that they are. Italy vs. Germany 1970 is one of the latter.

The Italians went ahead after eight minutes and much as Germany pushed for an equalizer, they were thwarted by the catennaccio, the defensive tactic perfected by the Italians. It failed though, in the final minute, when Karl-Heinz Schellinger (ironically an AC Milan player) sent the game into extra-time.

Gerd Muller gave the Germans the lead but was pegged back by Burgnisch. Riva put the Azzurri in front and Muller popped up again to level the scores. As the TV cameras were replaying Muller’s goal, Rivera met a cross at the other end to regain the lead for the Italians, which they were to hold on to.

The five goals scored in extra-time remains the World Cup record and the game was honored by a plaque on the wall of the Estadio Azteca, thanking the two nations for their efforts and proclaiming it “The Game of the Century.”

See the rest of our World Cup Month features here.

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