The 2014 World Cup is getting ever closer and with so many great teams heading to Brazil for a month of top class football, it promises to be one of the best tournaments for many years. Since the competition began in 1930, the World Cup has given us some of the greatest soccer matches of all time but which encounters deserve to be listed among the best?
1. 1954 Final: Hungary 2 – West Germany 3
The 1954 tournament in Switzerland was marked by some high scoring games and some incredible performances by a Hungarian team who came to be known as the ‘Magical Magyars’. Gusztáv Sebes was in charge of a squad who had performed well in previous tournaments but heading into the 1954 competition, great players such as Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis were at their peak.
Hungary were strong from the very first match which saw them demolish South Korea by an emphatic 9-0 scoreline. West Germany were up next and Sebes’ side breezed past their opponents by an incredible eight goals to three.
Two weeks later the teams met again and anyone looking for indicators to the outcome only had to look at the previous match to suggest that the Hungarians would have a comfortable afternoon. After just eight minutes, that theory looked to be justified as Hungary raced into a 2-0 lead.
Puskas opened the scoring before Czibor added a second and it seemed as if the final would be heading for a similar outcome to the group stage game. Even when the Germans pulled a goal back through Max Morlock on ten minutes, few believed that it was anything more than a consolation but when Helmut Rahn levelled the scores eight minutes later, the comeback was truly on.
Hungary dominated possession but West German keeper Toni Turek was in inspired form and with just six minutes left on the clock, Rahn scored his second of the game to seal the trophy for the outsiders.
Sixty years later, it’s hard to really underline just what a shock this match had been for those that saw it. After the final whistle, it would come to be known as the Miracle of Bern and Germany’s comeback against the strongest team in World football was nothing short of breath taking.
2. 1982 Second Round: Brazil 2 – Italy 3
Who were the greatest side to never win the World Cup? Many teams will lay claim to that accolade but the 1982 Brazilians are hard to argue with. The greats such as Pele and Jairzinho may have gone, but this was a squad built on the same attacking and creative philosophy and those that remember them will testify that they were a joy to watch.
Zico, Socrates, Falcao, Eder – they may not be household names in the Pele sense but they were brilliant players who started the 1982 tournament in fine style. Brazil cruised to the top of their group with three wins from three including a 4-1 victory over Scotland and while this was happening, Italy barely scraped through to the next round, having drawn all of their three opening ties.
When the teams met in the second round, form therefore dictated that there could only be one winner. Paolo Rossi had other ideas however and the young Italian stunned Brazil and the watching world with an opening goal on five minutes.
The Brazilians responded well and on 12 minutes, parity was restored with a stunning strike from the skipper Socrates. Italy refused to give in to the favourites however and Rossi took back the lead with his second of the game on 25 minutes.
The Italians kept that lead until half time but Brazil continued to press and drew level again with a long range strike from Falcao. 2-2 left the tie perfectly poised but Rossi sealed it with 16 minutes to go.
The match really did have everything including a fair amount of controversy. Rossi had initially been banned from all football until 1983 due to a betting scandal but that suspension was reduced just in time for the World Cup. As for the game itself, it was end to end from the very first whistle and many look back on it as the best tie the tournament has ever seen.
3. 1970 Final: Brazil 4 – Italy 1
The 1982 Italian squad had gained revenge, of sorts, for a very one sided final in 1970 when the sublime Brazilians virtually strolled to a 4-1 victory. Italy were very much ‘bit-part’ players in the same way that teams who play the great Harlem Globetrotters must feel, but fans of Brazil and millions of neutrals simply enjoyed the feast of football on show.
The 1970 tournament was held in Mexico but in general, European teams had adapted well to the extreme heat and testing conditions. Italy were strong in their group and had made it to the final after another memorable game – a 4-3 semi win over the West Germans.
Coming into the final itself, Italy were looking to play to their strengths and hit the South Americans on the counter. Their plan, based on one of the toughest defences in World Football seemed to be working and although Pele opened the scoring on 18 minutes, the underdogs were level before half time thanks to a Roberto Boninsegna strike.
However, you can’t sit back and allow teams like Brazil to come at you and Italy’s strategy fell apart in 45 minutes of the most breath taking football ever seen. Led by Pele, Brazil were irresistible and goals from Gerson, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto sealed the win. The Italians would argue that they matched Brazil for long periods of time but in reality this was the most comfortable 90 minutes of football for such an incredible side.
4. 1966 Final: England 4 – West Germany 2
The 1966 World Cup final had been a routine and largely forgettable match until the game headed into extra time. It was a fairly even tie but after Helmut Haller had given West Germany an early lead, the hosts hit back with goals from Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters.
England looked to be heading for the win but a minute remaining on the clock, the Germans were level with a disputed goal from Wolfgang Weber. The home side looked devastated but were lifted by inspirational manager Alf Ramsey.
“You’ve won it once, now go and win it again,” Ramsey said. “Look at them, they’re finished!”
Both teams had chances but the final exploded into life on 101 minutes when Hurst turned and fired a shot against the underside of the crossbar. The ball seemed to bounce on the line but after referee Gottfried Dienst consulted with his Soviet linesman Tofik Bakhramov, England found themselves in the lead.
Later studies seem to show that the whole of the ball wasn’t over the line and that the goal should have been disallowed but that won’t change the history books. In the dying seconds, Hurst became the first, and so far only man to score a hat trick in a World Cup final when he sealed the 4-2 win. A game that had started in a subdued fashion had suddenly become one of the greatest finals in the tournament’s history.
5. 1982 Semi Final: West Germany 3 – France 3
Some teams will argue that there’s nothing worse than losing in a semi final. To suffer defeat in the final itself is clearly not a pleasant thing but those teams that bow out in the last four will forever be thinking about what might have been.
Perhaps that’s why semis always seem to bring us elements of entertaining football and high drama but few could ever match this incredible tie from Spain 1982. The French were building a strong team around Michel Platini and would go on to win the European Championships two years later but here they ran into the indomitable Germans.
France were somewhat lucky to have made it this far after losing their opening game to England and scraping through the group but momentum built in the second round where they beat Austria and Northern Ireland to make the semi final stage.
West Germany meanwhile had suffered a huge shock with a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Algeria so the teams were evenly matched coming into this game. The sides started positively and after Pierre Littbarski had given the Germans an early lead, Michel Platini drew things level from the penalty spot.
An entertaining and absorbing battle ensued but the flashpoint came late on when German keeper Harald Schumacher raced off his line and flattened French defender Patrick Battiston who suffered horrific injuries as a result. Despite Battiston slipping into a coma, losing two teeth and damaging vertebrae, the referee didn’t even award a free kick and Schumacher has been seen as the villain ever since.
Back to the match and this exploded for all the right reasons in extra time when France raced into a 3-1 lead. Goals from Marius Tresor and Alain Giresse threatened to settle the tie but the Germans levelled it with strikes from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and centre forward Klaus Fischer.
In the penalty kicks that followed, Uli Stielike became the first, and so far only German to miss in a World Cup shootout but as Schumacher saved from Maxim Bossis and Didier Six, France were eliminated after playing their part in one of the most entertaining games of all time.
6. 1966 Quarter Final: Portugal 5 – North Korea 3
The North Koreans had already pulled off one of the biggest shocks in World Cup football by the time they faced Portugal in this quarter final and there was a period when they threatened to progress even further.
The underdogs rocked the 1966 tournament when a solitary goal from Pak Doo-ik sent North Korea home at the expense of the mighty Italians. In defeating Italy, this lowly side had beaten one of the game’s Super Powers but surely they couldn’t repeat their success against a Portugal team who were on top form and had eventual Golden Boot winner Eusebio in their ranks?
Within 60 seconds, it looked as if the unthinkable might happen as Pak Seung-zin scored his second goal of the tournament to put North Korea into the lead. Surely Portugal would respond quickly but the crowd at Goodison Park were stunned further as the outsiders made it 3-0 after just 25 minutes.
The favourites had been surprised by the pace of the North Koreans at a time when football was played at a more leisurely speed but a lack of experience was to
prove costly. With a 3-0 advantage, North Korea should have sat back on their lead but their defence wasn’t up to the task and as they continued to surge forward, Portugal exposed their weakness at the back.
Eusebio scored his first goal on 27 minutes and added a penalty to make it 2-3 before half time. As impressive as the Koreans had been, few expected them to hold on after the break and their defence fell apart as the Portuguese ran riot.
Eusebio completed his hat trick and went on to add a fourth before Jose Augusto put an end to any nerves with a fifth goal ten minutes from time. North Korea had come so close to producing another huge upset but their contribution helps to make this quarter final one of the most incredible games in the long history of the World Cup.
If the 2014 World Cup in Brazil can produce games to match the quality of those on this list then we really are in for a treat. We could get some shocks along the way but as the tension builds into the later rounds, the mouth-watering ties between the top nations will take place. It’s going to be a thrilling tournament but can any match give us as much entertainment as these incredible encounters?