The 11 Greatest World Cup Matches Ever
Every World Cup fans expect there to be something sensational on show, and often we sit through a whole lot of rubbish.
However, once in a while, the stars align and we are treated to one of the greatest games in the history of the sport. Here are the best 11 games in the history of the World Cup, when the tournament has really delivered on its promise of star quality.
- 1986 Quarter-Final – Argentina 2-1 England
Arguably ‘greatest’ is not the right word for this contest, but certainly one of the most memorable matches in World Cup history thanks to one man – Diego Maradona.
The little Argentine master showed both sides of his game that day against England, the sublime talent and the cheating swine. El Diego opened the scoring that day in Mexico by punching the ball over Peter Shilton in one of the most scandalous moments in World Cup history.
Just four minutes later, Maradona was breaking English hearts, not with his fist but with his boots. He beat seemingly the entire England team from his own half, including the keeper to slot the ball home and make it 2-0.
A late Gary Lineker made it interesting for a bit, but Maradona made this game great with his genius and insanity.
- 1994 Second Round – Romania 3-2 Argentina
Few realised how good this Romanian side was before the 1994 World Cup, they went into it in pot three for the group stages and managed to top their group, but were also hammered 4-1 by Switzerland during the early stages.
Argentina were clear favourites going into their last 16 match, boasting a fearsome strikeforce of Gabriel Batistuta and Abel Balbo. Both men scored in Pasadena but Ilie Dumitrescu (2) and Gheorghe Hagi were on the scoresheet for the Romanians.
The favourites pushed but were never ahead in the game and were held off in a thriller by the plucky underdogs from Eastern Europe.
- 2014 Group Stage – Netherlands 5-1 Spain
Spain came into the 2014 World Cup as the reigning champions and although they were clearly a slightly faded force, the idea of them getting battered 5-1 by anyone seemed entirely alien.
This seemed especially unlikely a largely unfancied Dutch side, and especially when Xavi Alonso put the Spaniards 1-0 ahead from the penalty spot after 27 minutes. It still looked improbable when the sides went in 1-1 at half-time after a Robin van Persie equaliser.
But whatever Louis van Gaal said at half-time clearly worked as Netherlands came out and put four more past a crumbling Spanish side with two from Arjen Robben, one from Stefan de Vrij and a memorable flying header from Van Persie. The champions were thrashed in unforgettable style.
- 1970 Quarter-Final – West Germany 3-2 England
England were the holders as they went to Mexico to try and defend the World Cup they won on home soil. They were not inspiring in the group stage, scraping through with two 1-0 wins and a narrow defeat to Brazil, but they then sprung into life in the quarter-finals against their old enemy Germany.
Alan Mullery and Martin Peters but the champions 2-0 ahead and they held this lead with just 22 minutes to go. That was before the Germans showed their irritatingly strong will and fought back thanks to Franz Beckenbauer and an incredibly inventive header from Uwe Seeler.
The match went into extra-time when the English committed the cardinal sin of giving Gerd Muller space in the box. He punished them with a jumping volley to give the Germans a remarkable comeback win and a place in the last four.
- 2014 Semi-Finals – Germany 7-1 Brazil
Brazil were the host nation in 2014 and had bludgeoned their way to the semi-finals, going in against Germany as the favourites to win. However, with star player Neymar out of the match with a nasty back injury, and their captain and defensive lynchpin Thiago Silva also missing, the home side were in tatters.
Germany went ahead thanks to some woeful defending on 11 minutes and were 5-0 ahead by halftime, ripping through the Brazilian defence with complete ease and making children cry in the stands. It looked like the older boys bullying the younger kids in a school game.
They eased off in the second half, just scoring two more before a last minute consolation from Oscar, but humiliation for the hosts was complete nonetheless. Rarely has there been a more embarrassing result in World Cup history.
- 1954 Final – West Germany 3-2 Hungary
Hard to believe now, but in 1954 Hungary were the best side on the planet and they were showing it during the World Cup in Switzerland.
In their two group stage games they beat South Korea 9-0 and West Germany 8-3. They then put four past Brazil in the quarters and four more past Uruguay in the semis to meet the West Germans once again in the final. They were unbeaten in 31 games in total.
Hungary were 2-0 up after eight minutes and it looked like there could be a record-breaking thrashing on the cards. But the Germans held their nerve and were level at 2-2 at half-time.
The Hungarians were still clear favourites at this point but they were fatigued and their star player Ferenc Puskas was far from fully fit, they faded and West Germany grabbed the winner with six minutes to go through Helmut Rahn in a sensational final.
- 1966 Quarter-Finals – Portugal 5-3 North Korea
Portugal were one of the dark horses to win the 1966 World Cup led by their inspirational striker Eusebio. Meanwhile North Korea were rank outsiders given little or no hope of even exiting their group.
However, the North Koreans sneaked out of Group 4 thanks to a late equaliser against Chile and a 1-0 win over Italy to set up a quarter-final contest with Portugal. The underdogs were ahead after just one minute, and after 25 they were, incredibly, 3-0 in the lead.
Portugal were shocked but Eusebio stepped forward, living up to his reputation as one of the best players on the planet. The powerhouse scored four times from the 27th to the 59th minute to put his team into the lead. A late fifth from Jose Augusto gave the score some shine and the Portuguese were into the semis.
- 1982 Semi-Final – West Germany 3-3 France (WG won 5-4 on pens)
This classic semi-final had a bit of everything, with controversy aplenty, whilst making history in the process.
There was a fairly frantic start in Seville, with Pierre Littbarski putting West Germany ahead after 17 minutes and Michel Platini levelling up from the penalty spot just eight minutes later. The controversy really arose in the second half when German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher nearly decapitated an opponent.
Patrick Battiston was through on goal and had flicked the ball past the keeper when Schumacher took the Frenchman out with such force that he knocked him out cold, and not his teeth out in the process. Incredibly, the referee didn’t even give a free-kick and as the ball trickled wide, the French got nothing out of it.
The match eventually went to extra-time when it sparked into life again. Marius Tresor and Alain Giresse put France 3-1 up with just 20 minutes to go, but the German did what they do best and stayed in there. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Klaus Fischer netted to take the game to the first penalty shootout in World Cup history.
Germany were actually first to miss in the shootout, but two French failures handed a place in the final to the Germans after an epic tussle.
- 1966 Final – England 4-2 West Germany
England’s run to the World Cup final on home turf had not been full of exciting matches. They had been good, but there were no classics on the way to the showpiece, however, the final against West Germany more than made up for that.
In front of nearly 97,000 fans at Wembley Helmut Haller quickly put the Germans ahead, but Geoff Hurst levelled up just as quickly, making the score 1-1 after just 18 minutes. Martin Peters seemed to have given England the win when he netted with 12 minutes to go, but Wolfgang Weber had other ideas, levelling for the visitors with just one minute to go, prodding home a scrappy goal.
Into extra-time they went and the controversy began as Hurst thought he’d scored his second but the Germans disagreed. The Russian linesman came to the aid of the English, deciding the ball crossed the line and putting them back into the lead. Hurst then notched his third and England’s fourth to make it 4-2 and allow Bobby Moore to lift the famous trophy.
- 1982 Second Group Stage – Italy 3-2 Brazil
Brazil were a sensational side in 1982, a much more fancied side than the Italians, but the men in blue have a habit of spoiling the party at the World Cup.
This was a second group stage match, but both had already beaten Argentina, so this was effectively a quarter-final contest and Italy quickly took the lead thanks to Paolo Rossi scoring his first goal of the tournament after just five minutes.
However, Brazil were not to be kept quiet as Zico combined with Socrates to level things up for the boys from South America. Rossi was there again to put the Italians back in the lead, though, and it was 2-1 at half-time.
Another of Brazil’s star men, Falcao, made things look easy 68 minutes in as he was given too much space and hammered home from the edge of the box. Due to goal difference in the group stage, a draw was enough for Brazil so Italy had to go for it.
Up stepped Rossi again who bagged a hat-trick with a spinning effort from inside the box with 15 minutes to go. The Italians shut up shot and held out the wonderful attacking talents to book a place in the last four.
- 1970 Semi-Final – Italy 4-3 West Germany
The greatest game in the history of the World Cup came in the semi-final of the 1970 tournament held in Mexico as Italy took on West Germany at the Azteca in Mexico City. It has since been dubbed the ‘Game of the Century’.
Italy were ahead within 10 minutes thanks to Roberto Boninsegna and the Germans could not respond for a huge stretch of time. It was not until the 90th minute that Karl-Heinz Schnellinger equalised – a man who played his club football in Italy and had never previously scored for his country.
Extra-time beckoned and it was a wild affair, which Franz Beckenbauer played with a dislocated shoulder as the Germans were out of substitutes. An incredible defensive mix-up allowed Gerd Muller to put Germany ahead, but Tarcisio Burgnich levelled again four minutes later before Gigi Riva put the Italians ahead again with a fine finish just six minutes after.
It was a frantic pace but the Germans were not about to give up. Muller, as he always did, found an inch in the box and nodded home in the 110th minute to make it 3-3, but the scoring was not over as Gianni Rivera side-footed home just a minute later to finally take the wind out of the German sails and take Italy into the final. Sensational.