The 10 greatest World Cup matches of all time

The Rio Report

View gallery

.

The greatest tournament on earth has given birth to some of the greatest contests ever seen on a sporting field - here are the 10 best, in no particular order.

West Germany 3-3 France aet (5-4 on pens)

Semi-final, 1982

France: Platini 27 pen, Trésor 93, Giresse 99

West Germany: Littbarski 18, Rummenigge 103, Fischer 108

Seville, July 8 1982: the setting and date for one of the most memorable World Cup games of the modern era. A game full of intensity and panache - and no little drama - lit up the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán for 120 minutes before the Germans ultimately prevailed, to the disgust of the French, certainly, and most likely to the rest of the onlooking world. Why? One man: Harald Schumacher. The German goalkeeper's horrific, vertebrae-snapping, teeth-busting, brutal KO blow on Frenchman Patrick Battitson shocked the football world and ensured any neutral fan with a conscience ended up rooting for Les Bleus. In the final reckoning that iconic moment of senseless violence somewhat overshadowed the rest of the game, which was a classic in its own right and which Michel Platini's French side should possibly have won after they took a two-goal lead in extra-time. But the Germans roared back to level things up and force a historical penalty shoot-out - the first in the tournament's history - which, of course, they won.

View gallery

.

Italy 4-3 West Germany aet

Semi-final, 1970

Italy: Boninsegna 8, Burgnich 98, Riva 104, Rivera 111

West Germany: Schnellinger 90, Mueller 94, 110

The match between these two heavyweights of European football, witnessed by over 100,000 fans at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, was quickly crowned 'Game of the Century' after an incident-packed goal fest ultimately went Italy's way. Never before had a World Cup match reached such a fever pitch after defender Karl-Heinz Schnellinger sent the encounter into extra-time with a dramatic, late equaliser for the Germans. But what was to come was beyond the wildest dreams of even the most imaginative of football fantasists. Five goals arrived in the additional period, German legend Gerd Mueller bagging two while Tarcisio Burgnich and Luigi Riva were on the scoresheet for the Azzurri as the match lurched thrillingly one way and the other. Eventually, Gianni Rivera had the final say, swooping in the 111th minute with what proved to be the match-winner, sending Italy through to a final against Brazil. And that's not even mentioning that Franz Beckenbauer played the final half hour with a broken collarbone. An icon was born, and World Cup history made.

View gallery

.

Argentina 2-1 England

Quarter-final, 1986

Argentina: Maradona 51, 54

England: Lineker 80

England fans will not remember this match with too much fondness, but remember it they most certainly will; the game in the Azteca has been ingrained in the national psyche ever since. Diego Maradona was both the hero and the villain that day in the stifling Mexican heat, the diminutive Argentine striker beautifully demonstrating his flawed genius with a blatant act of gamesmanship - his infamous 'Hand of God' goal - followed by one of, if not the greatest individual goals of all time - his slaloming impression of a hot knife through England's defensive butter. Just three minutes separated the two equally memorable efforts, yet at the same time the goals were worlds apart. Gary Lineker gave England some hope towards the end, but Maradona's infamous Jekyll and Hyde impersonation had already settled the tie. Anglo-Argentine relationships, already strained after Antonio Rattin leaped to the English public's attention at Wembley in 1966, were never to be the same again on the football pitch.

View gallery

.

Uruguay 4-2 Argentina

Final, 1930

Uruguay: Dorado 12, Cea 57, Iriarte 68, Castro 89

Argentina: Peucelle 20, Stabile 37

In 1930, two nations ruled the football world. In 1928 they had met in the Olympic final in Amsterdam and two years on Uruguay and Argentina clashed again, this time in the first World Cup final in history. Tensions between the two teams were already running high, but the encounter in the Olympic champions' back yard succeeded in elevating their rivalry to a new level - in the build-up to the game in Montevideo, police were forced to guard the Argentine hotel day and night, while a bitter row had broken out over who would provide the match ball. Hours before kick-off the Estadio Centenario was packed to the rafters and Pablo Dorado's early strike had the home faithful in raptures, only for Carlos Peucelle and Guillermo Stabile to put the visitors into the lead before half-time. Uruguayan fears of the unthinkable soon dissipated though, as three second-half goals gave them a thrilling victory - and the world a new champion. With each nation compromising and providing a ball of their choice for each half, the match also spawned a new phrase: it certainly was 'a game of two halves'.

View gallery

.

Algeria 2-1 West Germany

First round, 1982

Algeria: Madjer 54, Belloumi 68

West Germany: Rummenigge 67

One of the great World Cup upsets came in Gijon, on the opening day of Group 2 action in 1982 when minnows Algeria stunned reigning European champions West Germany. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and his team-mates were not only favourites to win their opener against the North Africans, but also the entire tournament, so when Rabah Madjer netted early in the second half, the gasps of disbelief at El Molinón were audible. Rummenigge appeared to restore order 13 minutes later, but Lakhdar Belloumi put paid to any German hopes with what proved to be the winner just a minute later. Algeria, in their first World Cup, had become the first African team to defeat a European side at the tournament, but they quickly became a victim of their own success: the Germans and their neighbours Austria disgracefully colluded in the final group game - at 1-0 to West Germany, both teams effectively stopped playing - to ensure they both went through at Algeria's expense. Still, the plucky Africans had made their mark and won many new fans in the process.

View gallery

.

Italy 3-2 Brazil

First round, 1982

Italy: Rossi 5, 25, 74

Brazil: Socrates 12, Falcao 68

Prior to kick-off in this second group stage match at Espana '82 which pitted the flamboyant, attack-minded Brazilians against a well-organised and tactically sound but creatively limited Italy, there should only have been one winner. Brazil, boasting one of their finest ever teams - albeit one which never really fulfilled their potential - had won their previous four games while Italy had drawn their first three and, other than in an impressive victory over Argentina, had done little to suggest they could should even be standing on the same park as the Selecao. Yet no one had counted on their counter-attacking nous - or a certain Paolo Rossi. Having failed to score at the tournament up until that point, Rossi simply burst into life against Brazil. The Juventus hitman's hat-trick marked him out as a world force to be reckoned with and, having sent Brazil home, he and Italy went all the way in Spain, with the player deservedly picking up the Ballon d'Or a few months later for good measure.

View gallery

.

France 1-1 Brazil aet (4-3 on pens)

Quarter-final, 1986

France: Platini 41

Brazil: Careca 17

France's encounter with Brazil in the quarter-finals in Mexico was not a high-scoring game, but the clash in Guadalajara was an absorbing contest nevertheless, decided by the lottery of penalties - for the second time in four years in the case of France. Careca's opener had put Brazil on the right course but Michel Platini's equaliser just before the break levelled things up. Zico, only just on as a substitute, then had a glorious chance to win it for Brazil when Joel Bats brought down Branco in the box, but Bats turned from villain to hero in a matter of seconds, beating away the resulting spot kick. The drama was almost too much to bear and it was only to get worse as full-time came and extra-time produced no further goals. The Brazilians' yips from 12 yards continued in the eventual shoot-out, Socrates and Julio Cesar both missing to hand France victory, despite Platini also missing, and help banish memories of their penalty heartache four years previously.

View gallery

.

England 4-2 West Germany aet

Final, 1966

England: Hurst 18, 101, 120, Peters 78

West Germany: Haller 12, Weber 89

Forty-eight years have passed since the 1966 final but what happened in the sunshine at Wembley that day remains a rich source of contention. Had Geoff Hurst's second goal, England's third, in extra-time against the Germans indeed crossed the line? Certainly the Russian linesman (who was actually from Azerbaijan) seemed to think so and the majority of the home crowd agreed, although German protests can still be heard to this day. The goal edged England 3-2 ahead before Hurst made the argument irrelevant (at least from an English point of view) by netting his third of the match and England's fourth - in memorable fashion. "Some people are on the pitch, they think it's all over. It is now," said commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme, clearly unaware that the debate over the match was anything but over.

View gallery

.

Brazil 6-5 Poland aet

Last 16, 1938

Brazil: Leonidas 18, 94, 102, Romeu 22, Peracio 44, 72

Poland: Wilimowski 20 pen, 59, 89, 118, Scherfke 50

They don't make World Cup games like they used to. Certainly not ones that boast 11 goals. Back in the days before defence was considered of equal importance as attack, Brazil and Poland played out an absolute classic in a soggy Strasbourg where the South Americans were expected to walk through to the quarter-finals. Indeed it looked that way at half-time with the Brazilians leading 3-1 but then the rain came and as Brazil struggled on the increasingly boggy surface Poland mounted their comeback. Having clawed their way back to 3-3, Polish hopes were again delivered a blow as Peracio hit a second, only for Ernest Wilimowski to complete his hat-trick in the final minute and send the match into extra-time. That is where the fairytale ended though as Leonidas added two more - to complete his own hat-trick - to give Brazil what proved an unassailable lead. Not even, incredibly, a fourth for Wilimowski and some late sustained pressure could lead to an improbable sixth for Poland and Brazil held on to claim a hard-fought, memorable victory.

View gallery

.

West Germany 3-2 Hungary

Final, 1954

West Germany: Morlock 10, Rahn 18, 84

Hungary: Puskas 6, Czibor 8

The Miracle of Bern. That says it all really. Few gave West Germany any hope of defeating the Mighty Magyars, led by the inimitable Sandor Kocsis and Ferenc Puskas; in the five years leading up to the tournament in 1954, Hungary were unbeaten in 32 games and hot favourites to extend that streak in Switzerland. They had already demolished the Germans - who admittedly fielded an under-strength side - by an incredible 8-3 scoreline in their second group match (off the back of a 9-0 pasting of South Korea) and few could envisage any way back for West Germany, who were playing their first World Cup since World War Two. Two Hungarian goals in the first eight minutes underscored that feeling, but as we have come to appreciate, the Germans should never be written off. Max Morlock pulled one back soon enough before Helmut Rahn wrote himself into German folklore, scoring twice to win the World Cup and ease the pain of a nation still suffering from its recent, tormented history.

View gallery

.

View comments (34)