In just over five months time the greatest show on earth will begin. Nope, not the Olympics, not the Super Bowl but the football World Cup, the people’s game. Five continents and 32 countries, there can be only one winner of the 21st World Cup in Moscow on 15th July 2018.
The World Cup has a proud history of throwing up some truly wonderful memories, great goals and enthralling matches. And with only a few months separating us from watching the world’s best teams battle it out again for the ultimate prize, to whet our appetites in anticipation we cast our minds back to five of the most memorable matches in World Cup history.
Italy 3 Brazil 2, Barcelona, World Cup 1982
They were a shoe-in for World Cup glory surely. Needing only a draw to qualify from a second round mini-group also consisting of Italy and World Cup holders Argentina for the semi-finals, Tele Santana’s Brazil were rightly assumed as overwhelming favourites for ultimate glory. Having dazzled their way through the initial group stage with heavy wins over Scotland, USSR and New Zealand in addition to a 3-1 victory over Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the second round, Brazil entered this game against Enzo Bearzot’s Italy odds on favourites to push on to the semi-finals.
However, on a crazy night in Barcelona, Italy’s star striker Paolo Rossi, returning after a two year doping ban, would prove the hero against Brazil’s galacticos. Rossi put the Azzurri 1-0 ahead with just five minutes gone before Brazilian skipper Socrates levelled things up with a clever finish following a lovely team move just seven minutes later. Rossi drilled home before the interval to put Italy back in front but Falcao with a blockbuster of a left foot shot again levelled matters with just over 20 minutes of the match remaining. With the Italian defence led by the uncompromising Claudio Gentile repelling wave after wave of Brazilian attacks, Rossi, the ultimate fox-in-the-box popped up to capitalise on some poor defending to finish from close-range, completing his hat-trick in the process and with it a place in the semi-finals against Poland. Brazil, who have since been widely christened as ‘the best team not to win the World Cup’ were gone. Italy would go on to comprehensively win the final against West Germany.
Brazil 1 France 1, Guadalajara, World Cup 1986
This game had everything you could hope for from a football match. Sublime football, plenty of controversy and a thrilling penalty shoot out to decide matters. Careca, the great Brazilian forward set the tone, emphatically finishing a lovely move to put the Selecao one up after 17 minutes. Some lackadaisical play from French captain Michél Platini on his 31st birthday nearly presented Muller with a second for Brazil only for the post to come to his rescue. On 41 minutes, however, European Footballer of the Year Platini had just cause to celebrate as he slid home a sultry finish from Dominique Rocheteau’s pass to level matters.
Brazilian legend Zico was summoned from the substitutes bench in the second half to try and orchestrate a breakthrough in the searing Mexican heat, and the ageing star had a fabulous opportunity to do just that when French keeper Joel Bats felled Branco in the area. However, Bats redeemed himself to save Zico’s soft penalty and keep the scores level. With neither team able to find a winner in regulation time the game entered two periods of extra time and with the clock ticking down, French forward Bruno Bellone, latching on to an exquisite Platini through ball rounded goalkeeper Carlos only for the Brazilian to manhandle him and prevent a certain goal. Incredibly the Romanian referee waved away France’s calls of foul play and the match would be decided by penalties.
Bats was to prove the hero once again in the shootout saving from Brazil captain Socrates before Platini lived a moment of private hell on his birthday, the normally reliable dead ball specialist sending his kick sailing way over the bar. Brazil themselves cried foul play to deaf ears when Bellone’s penalty struck a post and hit Carlos on the head before nestling in the net, the ultimate revenge. And to rub further salt in their wounds, Brazil centre-back Julio Cesar saw his penalty cannon back off the post as Tele Santana’s men succumbed to Luis Fernandez’s cool winner.
Italy 4 West Germany 3, Mexico City, World Cup 1970
Regarded as not only one of the greatest matches in World Cup history but also in the history of the game. Competing for a place in the final and the chance to take on Pele et al at Mexico’s cathedral of football, the Azteca Stadium, Italy overcame Franz Beckenbauer, broken collarbone and all to secure a place in the final in a topsy-turvy match in front of an enthralled crowd.
Italy had looked destined to reach the final after Roberto Boninsegna’s early strike had put them ahead only for German defender Karl-Heinz Schnellinger to force extra time with an injury-time equaliser. With Beckenbauer by now sporting a sling, the Germans having already used two substitutes, the ubiquitous Gerd Muller put West Germany ahead only for Tarcisio Burgnich to drag Italy level. Luigi Riva put Italy back in front with a superb slide-rule finish only for the deadly Muller to once again square the scores. However, while the television cameras were still replaying Muller’s strike, Gianni Rivera struck what would prove to be the winning goal as Italy advanced to the final at the expense of the 1966 runners-up, where they would succumb to Brazil 4-1.
Belgium 4 USSR 3, Leon, World Cup 1986
Not many footballers can lay claim to having registered a World Cup hat-trick. Even fewer, just three in fact, can boast having a hat-trick to their name yet finishing on the losing side. Ukrainian forward Igor Belanov is one of them. An unusual choice for one of the greatest games in World Cup history? Maybe, maybe not. But with a squad dominated by players from the great Dynamo Kiev team of the 1980s, the USSR were expected to cruise past the unfancied Belgians. However, a couple of contentious offside calls denied them a meeting with Spain in the quarter-finals after Belanov had put them ahead with a rasping drive on 22 minutes.
Belgian starlet Enzo Scifo dragged Belgium level early in the second half but another class finish from Belanov looked likely to send USSR through. However, Jan Ceulemans’ strike 13 minutes from time levelled the scores once more despite the Belgian standing blatantly in an offside position. And in extra time further goals from Stephane De Mol and Nico Claesen put Guy Thijs’ men into the quarters despite Belanov’s hat-trick-clinching penalty giving Valeri Lobanovski’s men renewed hope with nine minutes of extra time remaining.
Brazil 1 England 0, Guadalajara, World Cup 1970
Often referred to as the greatest game ever played. Only one goal separated the two teams at the final whistle, but the events that unfolded that hot, sunny day in Guadalajara have since gone down in legend. England, regarded by many as an even better team than the one that had won the World Cup on home soil four years earlier, were expected to provide Brazil with stern opposition and it proved the case in a match of stunning quality. Jairzinho, Brazil’s number seven, notched the game’s only goal, hammering past Gordon Banks from Pele’s delightful and measured lay off.
However, the game will always be remembered most fondly for Banks’ wonder save from Pele’s header, when the ball appeared destined for the net only for the Three Lions’ goalkeeper to somehow stretch across his entire goal to turn the ball over the bar. And in another moment of sheer brilliance, the late great Bobby Moore’s stunning tackle on Pele at the last remains one of the endearing moments of the battle between the world’s best centre-forward and the world’s best defender. The pair embraced one another warmly at the final whistle, an iconic image that is still to this day (rightly) regarded as a lesson in fair play and respect.
What Can We Expect This Summer?
So with just a few months of the domestic season still to play, the 2018 World Cup is almost upon us. Who will win the ultimate prize? Will Lionel Messi finally crown his genius with the biggest prize of all? And will we witness any fantastic matches to rival those listed above? Only time will tell, but you can find all the best and latest odds for this summer’s showpiece event at Sunbets.co.uk.