Picking five most memorable matches in World Cup history is no easy feat. There was so much to choose from that, ultimately, we could attempt it again and come up with an entirely different selection every time. These, however, are a decent representation of what makes the Mundial so special.
So, here are the five most memorable World Cup matches, from oldest to most recent.
Italy 4-3 Germany (1970) – the Game of the Century
World Cup finals can be rather boring affairs, with both teams wanting to avoid mistake and so playing within themselves. That’s why we have semifinals, thankfully.
The meeting of Italy and Germany in 1970 has been dubbed the ‘Game of the Century’, and it is easy to see why. Not only were there seven goals scored between the two countries, but a whopping five of those came in extra time.
Italy led for much of the regulation 90 minutes, before a late equaliser by Karl-Heinz Schnellinger pulled Germany level. What followed was the most remarkable 30 minutes, as first Germany took the lead, then Italy went ahead again, then Germany equalised again. With a penalty shoot-out imminent, it fell to Gianni Rivera to slot home the winner straight from kick-off with nine minutes left of extra time.
Beyond the goals, this was a real end-to-end spectacle, with some great saves, shocking defensive errors, as well as Franz Beckenbauer playing out the match with his right arm in a cast after dislocating his shoulder.
Germany 1-0 Austria (1982) – the Disgrace of Gijon
Memorable for all the wrong reasons, Germany’s win over Austria nevertheless sparked a reckoning in global football, and led to one of the most significant round-robin rule changes in tournament history.
A combination of results from the first two matchdays of the group meant that, going into the final fixture between Austria and Germany, both sides knew the result that would suffice for them both to go through. Algeria, the other team in the group, had done their bit by beating Chile 3-2 earlier, and so only a 1-0 victory for the Germans, who had been upset by the north Africans in the group opener, would ensure passage for the neighbours.
Striker Horst Hrubesch scored the opener after 10 minutes, and then the rest of the match was a total non-event. Neither side looked to attack, instead passing the back back and forth between themselves to a chorus of boos and disapproval from the crowd.
Following this and to forestall similar occurrences down the line, FIFA decided that all final group matches going forward would be played simultaneously.
Italy 3-2 Brazil (1982) – the death of football
If your father was old enough that he watched the 1982 World Cup, chances are he still agonises over this match. Brazil were, after all, the people’s favourite, and played an easy, fluid brand of football with positional rotations and uncommon technical mastery.
Needing only a draw to progress to the semifinal, they had to face Italy, a team that, ironically enough, started the tournament with three straight draws and scraped through instead of Cameroon on goals scored. This was billed, in keeping with the broad stereotypes, as attack against defence.
What followed was an absolute classic. At half-time, Italy were 2-1 up, a pair of Paolo Rossi goals – his first of what had, to that point, been an underwhelming World Cup – sandwiching a Socrates near-post finish. Brazil then pulled level in the 68th minute through Falcao, tying the game and affording them the result they needed.
Six minutes later, however, Rossi struck once more, decisively, to win the game and eliminate Brazil. It was a shocking outcome, and led midfielder Zico to lament “the day football died”. Italy went on to win the tournament.
Argentina 2-1 England (1986) – Hand of God
The match when a legend gave the fullest demonstration of his ability. The 1986 World Cup was, for all intents and purposes, the Diego Maradona World Cup, and in this quarter-final against England, he dominated the proceedings.
After a lively but scoreless first half, the game came to life six minutes after the restart. First Maradona knocked the ball over and past Peter Shilton with his left fist, giving Argentina the lead. To the consternation of the English, the Tunisian referee failed to spot the handball, and allowed the goal – which has come to be known as the ‘Hand of God’ to stand.
Then followed arguably the best ever goal scored at a World Cup. Four minutes after his impish, hotly contested first, he left no one in doubt for the second, picking the ball up inside his own half and dribbling past five England players before slotting home.
England would get a goal back through Gary Lineker, but in the end Argentina just about held on for a famous win, as well as a place in the semifinals. They would go on to win the tournament.
Germany 7-1 Brazil (2014) – Mineirazo
One of those outcomes that leads to a double-take. A tight semifinal in 2014 meeting turned into a rout for the ages, reawakening the trauma of a nation.
As host in 1950, 64 years earlier, Brazril had suffered a 2-1 defeat to Uruguay that denied them the World Cup trophy and entered into infamy as ‘Maracanazo’. It was a wound that not even five subsequent World Cup wins could not erase – only by winning it on home soil could the ghost be exorcised.
It all looked to be going well, as Brazil progressed to the final four in front of a passionate home support. While Germany were a tricky opponent and the Selecao were without talismanic forward Neymar, no one could have anticipated what would happen inside Estadio Mineirao.
Brazil completely lost their heads as, time and again, Germany picked them apart to score goals of embarrassing simplicity. At half time, Der Mannschaft were 5-0 up and a deathly, teary silence had enveloped Belo Horizonte. To add insult to injury, substitute Andre Schurrle came off the bench and grabbed a brace for himself to crown a surreal night.