Adjectives would fall short if one tries to describe the greatest matches the World Cup has witnessed over the last 20 editions. Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina, England, Holland, France among others have delivered some epic encounters that are still etched in memory.
The 1950 edition saw all of Brazil celebrate even before the kick-off but on field Uruguay put on a resolute display to lift the title and send entire nation into mourning. The Samba Boys, though, didn’t let that result bother them as they went on to win the three of the next five World Cups. That was also the start of the Pele era as the 17-year-old scored twice in the 1958 edition, captured the imagination of the world, turned football on its head and enthralled everyone with his dazzling skills for next couple of decades.
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Not many could trouble Pele but England managed to frustrate him during the group game of the 1970 World Cup.
While Brazil won 1-0, and also went on to win the title, this match will be remembered ‘The Save’ of the World Cup pulled off by Gordon Banks to deny Pele.
England did have their moment four summers before when they beat West Germany 4-2 in 1966. Germans, though, still live in denial and still contest that the Geoff Hurst’s goal in the extra-time, which put England 3-2 ahead, should have been disallowed by the USSR linesman who erred in his decision-making.
While the Germans have won four titles, they have been on the losing side on equal occasions. But the best of their victories came in 1954 when Fritz Walters’ Davids defeated Ferenc Puskas’ Goliaths to create one of the biggest upsets in the history of the World Cups.
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Today’s Germany play a slick brand of football but those days it was all about precision and brute force. And many have fell prey to them – from Netherlands in 1974 to France in 1982.
The German goalkeeper in 1982, Harald Schumacher, was voted as their least popular person, edging out Adolf Hitler when a French newspaper carried an opinion poll following their defeat.
First his rugby-like tackle on French midfielder Patrick Battiston, who was open on goal, went unpunished. Then he made two crucial saves in the shootout to see West Germany through.
Italians though didn’t show any mercy to them in the final and went on to win the title in 1982. The two European giants have been involved in many such epic encounters but that was the only time they crossed paths in a final.
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The Germans lost in the 1986 final to Argentina but that edition will be remembered for the Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ and one of the greatest goals in football history in the quarter-final against England.
In 1998, the teams clashed again, this time in round of 16 and the contest had everything -- goals, a red card, a dramatically disallowed ‘winner’ and England’s predictable exit via penalties. England’s pin-up boy David Beckham turned villain in matter of seconds as his dismissal brought Argentina back into the match.
The list will continue to grow but some matches will be cherished more than the others for the impact it had not only on the field but off it as well.
Here’s a look at some of the matches that have become part of football World Cup folklore
1966 ENGLANDDown to the wire
◼ Ray Wilson (with trophy) alongside the Charlton brothers at Wembley.
This July will see 52nd anniversary of England first and only World Cup triumph but their opponents in final, the Germans, are still debating the legality of Geoff Hurst’s extra-time goal that gave England a 3-2 lead. The game was tied 2-2 after the regulation time and Hurst’s strike bounced off the post on the goalline and linesman from the USSR gave it a goal. Hurst completed his hat-trick to give England a stunning victory. Around 96,000 fans crammed into the old Wembley Stadium were silenced inside the first 15 minutes when Helmut Haller gave Germans the lead but the cheers were back when Hurst levelled soon after. England, the host nation then appeared to have snatched victory on 78 minutes when Martin Peters rifled home but with 15 seconds remaining on the clock, the visitors scored a dramatic equaliser through Wolfgang Weber to push the match into extra-time.
1970 MEXICOGame of the century
◼ Gianni Rivera scores the winner past West Germany goalkeeper Sepp Maier.
Dubbed as the ‘Game of the Century’ it came to life in extra-time. Italy took an 8th-minute lead through Roberto Boninsegna. But in the final minute, Karl-Heinz Schnellinger drew level for Germany. What followed was magical. The Germans, who had defeated reigning champions England in the previous game in extra-time, went ahead through Gerd Mueller. Italy then went 3-2 ahead with goals from Tarcisio Burgnich and Luigi Riva. Mueller struck again with 10 minutes left to draw level. But any thoughts of a German victory were finally extinguished when Gianni Rivera netted the winner. Italy went on to play Brazil in the final four days later but proved no match for Pele and co. who cruised to a 4-1 victory to claim the trophy.
1974 WEST GERMANYCruyff’s Oranje tamed
◼ Beckenbauer (5), Paul Breitner (3) celebrateWest Germany’swin.
They had introduced ‘total football’ to the world and the Netherlands were overwhelming favourites against the hosts West Germany in the final. Led by Johan Cruyff, the Dutch had already blown-away Argentina and defending champions Brazil. And they started with pomp, scoring in 63 seconds to silence the crowd. Thereafter, they dominated possession, played some beautiful football but their failure to convert dominance into goals cost them. West Germany levelled with Paul Breitner off a penalty. Gerd Muller scored the second two minutes before the interval. "Going a goal down was good for us. The Dutch eased off and we were able to get back into the match. And once you’ve relaxed your grip, it’s hard to recover the initiative," said German captain Franz Beckenbauer after the game. It was West Germany’s second World Cup title.
1982 SPAINRossi makes Brazil pay
◼ Italy’s Paolo Rossi gets past Brazil’s Junior.
The game was billed as one worthy for a final but it came in the second group stage. Brazil had the likes of Zico, Socrates and Falcao and needed a draw to make it to the semis. But Italy and Paolo Rossi punished them. Rossi had returned to the side following an involvement in a match-fixing scandal and it was a perfect stage for him to re-emerge hero. Rossi gave Italy lead in the fifth minute but Socrates brought Brazil back. Rossi put Italy back in front for Falcao to draw level. But Brazil kept pushing up. Rossi completed his hat-trick, won over the fans and took Italy to semis. They went on the win the trophy by beating Poland and West Germany.
2014 BRAZILNightmare in Brazil
◼ Philipp Lahm of Germany consoles Oscar of Brazil.
Brazil were without injured Neymar, but still had the firepower to give Germany a fight but they capsized, leaving the world in disbelief. Just for the way Germany dismantled the Samba Boys, and that too in the semifinals, this has to be up there as one of the best team efforts in World Cup’s history. Brazil were emotional charged and while lining-up for the national anthem, displayed Neymar’s jersey. But as the game began it was the Germans who played as a team while Brazil’s effort looked disjointed. Thomas Mueller opened the scoring after 11 minutes and after that Germany scored four more in the space of six minutes to virtually seal the match. Andre Schurrle scored a brace in the second half to take the total to seven. They could have scored more but manager Joachim Loew asked the players to ‘show Brazil respect’ and not ‘humiliate’ them.
Graphics: HITESH MATHUR
May 23, 2018 11:24 IST