There haven’t been too many memorable World Cup games over the past three or four editions, but this was certainly one. The build-up to the match was, inevitably, dominated by talk of England gaining revenge for the 1986 quarter final and Diego Maradona’s Hand of God.
Within 16 minutes there had already been three goals. Gabriel Batistuta’s penalty put Argentina in the lead, but Alan Shearer equalised from the spot after a suspicious Michael Owen fall. The 18-year-old then lit up the tournament with a brilliant solo goal, but Argentina restored parity with another fantastic strike by Javier Zanetti.
David Beckham was sent off in the second half for kicking out at Diego Simeone, Sol Campbell had a goal disallowed for a Shearer foul on goalkeeper Carlos Roa, and the final outcome was penalties. As at Italia ’90 eight years earlier, it wasn’t meant to be for England as midfielders Paul Ince and David Batty were both denied by Roa.
9) Germany 0-2 Italy - 2006 Semi Final
There has never been a more dramatic ending to a World Cup game than the Germany-Italy clash in Dortmund in 2006.
The European giants had been locked in a titanic struggle for 119 minutes. Although there had been no goals, there had been chances galore. Gianluigi Buffon pulled off two world class saves from Bernd Schneider and Lukas Podoslki, while Italy also spurned a number of opportunities and hit the woodwork twice in extra time via Alberto Gilardino and Gianluca Zambrotta.
With the game seeming destined for penalties, the World Cup's unlikely hero Fabio Grosso curled home into the corner in the 119th minute that sparked off unforgettable scenes of joy for the Italians. Substitute Alessandro Del Piero then added a second a minute later as Italy progressed to the final where they overcame France on penalties.
8) Hungary 2-3 West Germany – 1954 Final
Gusztav Sebes’ Magical Magyars seemed unbeatable as they travelled to Berne to play West Germany in the 1954 final on the back of an incredible 31-match unbeaten run, which included a 6-3 win over England at Wembley. Hungary had revolutionised football tactically with an attacking system based around a brilliant quartet of forwards - Sándor Kocsis, József Bozsik, Nándor Hidegkuti, and of course the one and only Ferenc Puskas.
Hungary scored 17 goals in two games in their group, including an 8-3 thrashing of the Germans, before 4-2 knockout wins over 1950 finalists Brazil and Uruguay. Leading 2-0 in the final within eight minutes, it seemed as if Hungary would romp to victory but in the pouring rain they would be on the receiving end of a famous Fritz Walter-led German recovery. An 84th minute Uwe Rahn goal clinched a 3-2 triumph for Sepp Herberger’s men. The match is known as ‘The Miracle of Bern’ in Germany, so unlikely was the triumph.
7) Brazil 4-2 Peru – 1970 Quarter Final
Absorbing quarter final clash at Guadaljara’s Estadio Jalisco between 1970’s two most exciting teams. Mario Zagallo, coach of Brazil, went head-to-head against legendary former team-mate and two-time World Cup winner Didi, who was on the Peru bench.
Eventual champs Brazil, the greatest World Cup team of all time, played some spellbinding football in the opening exchanges. Pele hit the post, before Rivelino slammed home a left foot swerver and Toastao caught out Luis Rubinos at his near post. Rivelino had another free kick thunderbolt disallowed – all in the first 20 minutes.
But Peru were no pushovers – they possessed an excellent team. Hector Chumpitaz was considered by some as the best, and most elegant, defender in South America, while midfielder Teofilo Cubillas was an outrageously skilful attacking talent. Cubillas went close before Alberto Gallardo halved the advantage. Pele hit the post again, but it was Tostao who restored a two-goal cushion. Jairzinho should have made it four before the brilliant Cubillas volleyed home to make it 3-2. Peru pushed for an equaliser but Jairzinho killed them off once and for all by rounding the keeper.
6) Portugal 5-3 North Korea – 1966 Quarter Final
Benfica were the top club in Europe for a period at the beginning of the 1960s, winning successive European Cups. Much of this team formed the spine of the 1966 Portugal World Cup team, who defeated holders Brazil on the way to the semi-finals before they controversially lost to hosts England. The two star men were midfielder Mario Coluna and striker Eusebio, who finished the tournament top-scorer with nine goals and is considered by some as the greatest forward of all time.
Portugal won all three games in their group, scoring nine goals in total, and eliminating holders Brazil. They then launched a famous comeback from three goals down to beat North Korea 5-3 in the last eight – Eusebio scoring four.
North Korea had stunned Italy to qualify for the quarters, and they shocked Portugal by racing into a 3-0 lead within 25 minutes. The pace of the Asians took the Portuguese by complete surprise, but eventually their inexperience told as they continued to attack when it would have been better to manage their advantage. Eusebio’s brilliance pulled it back to 3-2 before half time, and three more goals in the second half – the final one by Jose Augusto – completed a famous comeback. The two teams will meet again this World Cup.
5) West Germany 3-3 France – 1982 Semi Final
Just three days after the Brazil-Italy five goal thriller, we were all treated to another classic at Espana ’82 in this semi final. Both countries had been getting stronger and stronger as the tournament progressed, and there were a host of world class players on show such as Michel Platini, Alain Giresse, Jean Tigana, Paul Breitner, Uli Stielike, and Pierre Littbarski.
Littbarski’s early opener was cancelled out by Platini’s penalty, and what followed was an absorbing contest between the two enemies. Aside from the football, there was one of the most controversial moments in World Cup history as German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher clattered French defender Patrick Battiston in a one-on-one situation rendering him unconscious and causing two of his teeth to fall out. Schumacher became the villain of the World Cup after the referee didn’t even give a free kick.
The match moved into extra time, and two goals in six minutes from Marius Tresor and Giresse seemed certain to book France’s place in the final, but a famous German comeback forced penalties through substitute Karl Heinz Rummenigge and a Klaus Fischer bicycle kick. In the shootout, France again gained the upper hand when Stielike became (still) the only German in history to miss a World Cup shootout penalty, but Schumacher saved from Dider Six and Maxime Bossis to win the day for West Germany, who would lose in the final to Italy.
4) West Germany 3-2 England AET – 1970 Quarter Final
The 1970 World Cup was full of classic matches, with three appearing on this list. One of them was the quarter final between West Germany and England in León, a re-match of the 1966 final.
England, chiefed by their four outfield stars from ‘66 – Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst – played an excellent first hour and it seemed inconceivable that they could lose as they led 2-0 through Alan Mullery and Peters.
But, as is so often repeated, never write off the Germans – especially when they possess legends such as Franz Beckenbauer, Wolfgang Overath and Gerd Mueller. Helmut Schoen’s decision to bring on Juergen Grabowski was inspired, as the winger ran riot down the wings. Beckenbauer reopened the game on 68 minutes after a solo run, before veteran Uwe Seeler forced extra time with a looping header. The Germans were unstoppable now, and goal machine Mueller clinched a memorable comeback by hooking home from close range in the 108th minute.
3) Brazil 1-1 France* - 1986 Quarter Final
In terms of pure skill, this was the greatest World Cup game of all time. The superb France side of the 1980s was in its last tournament with Platini, Giresse, Tigana and Dominique Rocheteau all now in their thirties. Meanwhile, this was also the final World Cup for many Brazil legends such as Socrates, Junior and Zico.
In the scorching sun, Brazil roared into the lead through Careca and missed a number of chances to extend their advantage. France equalised through Platini, and both teams exchanged blows in a truly epic encounter. The Guadaljara crowd chanted Zico’s name so loud and for so long, demanding that the veteran was brought on as a substitute, that Tele Santana eventually obliged. Zico rolled back the years, creating a penalty with a genius through pass. Zico stepped up to win the game for Brazil, but inexplicably saw his spot-kick saved by man-of-the-match Joel Bats.
The game went to penalties after more missed chances. The two captains both incredibly failed – Socrates and Platini – but it was France who emerged victorious.
2) Italy 4-3 West Germany AET – 1970 Semi Final
This legendary clash on June 17, 1970 has come to be known as the ‘Game of the Century’. So epic was the game that, in commemoration, there is a monument outside the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City where it was played, which reads: The Azteca Stadium pays homage to the National Teams of Italy (4) and Germany (3), who starred in the 1970 FIFA World Cup, the "Game of the Century".
The first 90 minutes were dramatic, but by no means ‘Game of the Century’ material. Italy took an eighth minute lead through a Roberto Boninsegna rocket, and then defended valiantly. Germany kept knocking on the door, star man Beckenbauer even playing on with his injured arm in a sling, and finally equalised with the last kick of the game through the most unlikely of sources in defender Karl-Heinz Schnellinger.
What followed in extra time could not be predicted: five goals in 30 unforgettable minutes in a gruelling battle of endurance and survival of the fittest. Mueller put Germany in the lead, Tarcisio Burgnich and Gigi Riva then turned things around, before Mueller made it level again in the 110th minute. Straight from the kick-off, Gianni Rivera restored Italy’s advantage and that was how it ended. Deep breath.
1) Brazil 2-3 Italy – 1982 Second Round Group C
Brazil’s magnificent 1982 team are widely regarded as the greatest side never to win the World Cup. Tele Santana’s men boasted a host of brilliant players such as Leandro, Junior, Socrates, Falcao, Eder and the world’s best player Zico. Prior to their match with Italy, they had scored 13 goals in four games and delighted neutrals with some sublime Samba football. The Selecao were hot favourites to win the World Cup in Spain, and required just a draw against the Azzurri to qualify for the semi-finals.
Italy had struggled badly in the competition, drawing all three of their first round group games and issuing a press silence after massive media criticism. They had shown some signs of improvement in defeating Argentina 2-1, but no one expected them to beat the great Brazil and go on to lift the World Cup.
Paolo Rossi, coming off two years of inactivity, burst into life with a stunning hat-trick as Italy won 3-2. Twice the Azzurri led, but twice Brazil hit back through Socrates and a Falcao screamer. With 16 minutes remaining Rossi scored the winner, turning home from a corner. This clash had everything – missed chances, end-to-end action, individual genius from Bruno Conti and Falcao, Zico having his shirt ripped in half by man-marker Claudio Gentile, a controversial disallowed goal for Italy that would have put them 4-2 up, and a heroic late save from 40-year-old Dino Zoff on Oscar’s header.