Top 10 greatest World Cup games
In 1982, Italy eliminated a Brazilian side that had dazzled observers with its flair
West Germany's win in the 1954 final established a legacy of great comebacks
Uruguay vs. Brazil in 1950 was watched by a world-record crowd of 205,000
There have been 710 World Cup matches since the tournament began in 1930. Some have been entirely forgettable; others have burned themselves into the memory, providing moments that we will take to the grave. Here is an entirely subjective list of the 10 greatest World Cup games of all time:
1. Italy 3, Brazil 2, Group C, 1982
Never mind the World Cup; this has a strong claim as the greatest football match ever. Tele Santana's breathtakingly talented Brazil side, which seemed to be hurtling toward immortality with the quality of its attacking play, needed only a draw to qualify for the semifinals. Italy, which had roused itself after a dismal first group stage, needed a win. In a game of constant momentum shifts, Italy twice led through prodigal son Paolo Rossi, who had just returned from a two-year ban for match-fixing; twice Brazil equalized, through sublime goals from Socrates and Falcao, before Rossi sealed his hat trick from close range. Italy's superior defense was the difference -- Brazil's was on the hopeless side of inadequate -- but, on this unforgettably steamy afternoon in Barcelona, the Azzurri's attack was every bit as good as their opponents'.
2. Uruguay 2, Brazil 1, final pool, 1950
They still talk about the silence. A crowd of 205,000 at Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, a record for a football match that will surely never be beaten, was numbed into the most perfect stillness when Alcides Ghiggia scored Uruguay's winner with 11 minutes to go. This was the World Cup final in nature if not name -- uniquely, there was no actual final, and the team that finished top of the final group stage would be world champions. A rampant Brazil (13 goals in the first two group games) needed only a draw. It was seen as a formality. Throughout, Brazil rained shots on goal -- around 30 in all -- but Uruguay held its nerve, even when it went behind just after halftime, and located a hitherto unappreciated weakness in Brazil's system: Left back Bigode was given no support, and pencil-thin Uruguayan winger Ghiggia stabbed Brazil in the heart. He created the first and then scored one of the most famous World Cup goals. It was the perfect payoff, a narrative twist that not one person, never mind 205,000, saw coming.
3. Hungary 4, Uruguay 2, semifinal, 1954
At the best of times, there is a unique frisson to matches between the defending champions and the tournament's best side, but this was a clash of two immovable objects. Hungary had not been beaten for three years; Uruguay had never lost a World Cup match. Both sides were without their best players -- Ferenc Puskas for Hungary, Obdulio Varela for Uruguay -- yet there was no sense of what might have been. This was a stone-cold classic, given great poignancy by the sad decline of both sides in modern times. Hungary seemed to be cruising at 2-0, but Uruguay willed its way back into the game as Juan Hohberg scored twice in the last 15 minutes and then hit the post in a pulsating extra time. That near-miss was the turning point, and Sandor Kocsis scored twice in the final 10 minutes to put Hungary through.
4. West Germany 3, Hungary 2, final, 1954
This was the game that made West Germany's reputation as a side that is never, ever beaten. In the group stages, a weakened Germany had been thrashed 8-3 by Hungary, which was unbeaten in a world-record 32 games. After falling behind 2-0 inside the first 10 minutes of the final in Switzerland, Germany showed the will and underappreciated skill that would become hallmarks of all of the nation's great sides. The Germans were level by the 19th minute and won it with five minutes to spare thanks to Helmut Rahn's second goal. The match became known as "The Miracle of Berne," but, as time went on and Germany produced this sort of comeback with regularity, the 1954 final made more and more sense.
5. West Germany 3, France 3 (5-4 penalties), semifinal, 1982
A triumph for evil over good. That's how this game was perceived because of France's wonderful midfield play, so aesthetic that it doubled up as visual Valium; because of the apparently unsatisfactory conclusion (this was the World Cup's first penalty shootout); and particularly because of West German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher's infamous, unpunished assault on Patrick Battison, who lost teeth and suffered a concussion. Germany looked down for the count itself when it trailed 3-1 in extra time, but it produced yet another of its famous, soul-crushing comebacks before winning on penalties.
6. West Germany 2, Holland 1, final, 1974
From breathtaking start -- Holland's artists scored before West Germany had even touched the ball -- to bittersweet finish, this was a game of impossible intensity. World War II cast a huge shadow over a match between two teams that had more in common than they would ever dare to admit, and some feel Holland's preoccupation with the war, and consequent desire to humiliate the Germans, cost them this match. Others felt that the key element was the non-performance of Dutch star Johan Cruyff, who, after winning a first-minute penalty, was tossed around like a rag doll by his marker, Berti Vogts. In the end, it was another true great -- remarkable goal poacher Gerd Muller -- who had the final say with the winner just before halftime.
7. France 1, Brazil 1 (4-3 penalties), quarterfinal, 1986
Brazil's influence is such that its departure from the World Cup is usually a moment of silence. It certainly was in 1986, when the Brazilians lost on penalties in an epic quarterfinal against France. In truth, both great midfields were past their best -- France's peaked in 1984, Brazil's in 1982 -- but with age came the wisdom and serenity of savvy veterans and that made this, in terms of technical quality, a game with few peers. Brazil was a little unfortunate: It hit the post twice, missed a penalty and an open goal, and had led through a gorgeous team goal. But France had chances of its own, and after the trauma of its defeat to West Germany 1982, few could begrudge the French their moment -- particularly when, in an eerie reprise of that 1982 match, Brazilian goalkeeper Carlos got away with the most cynical of fouls on Bruno Bellone.
8. Romania 3, Argentina 2, second round, 1994
Even without Diego Maradona, who was suspended for failing a drug test, Argentina was a formidable, grooved side, but Romania was becoming the sensation of the tournament. In the Pasadena, Calif., oven, Romania conserved its energy smartly, sitting deep and stinging Argentina with a stream of waspish counterattacks, inevitably inspired by the magisterial Gheorghe Hagi. He scored one and made one for Ilie Dumitrescu, who also scored the first. Maradona's absence was felt, but it was the presence of the Maradona of the Carpathians, as Hagi was known, that really decided this game.
9. Italy 4, West Germany 3, semifinal, 1970
Goals are supposed to be scarce at the very highest level, so six in 21 minutes amounted to the most incredible sensory overload. It started when West Germany equalized in injury time and swung violently throughout extra time before Italy eventually sneaked through thanks to Giannia Rivera's 111th-minute winner. It was christened the "Game of the Century," yet others dismissed it as a basketball match. Most of the goals came from lamentable defending. The players were simply exhausted by the Mexican heat, while the great Franz Beckenbauer was playing with his dislocated shoulder in a sling. The poverty of the defending pushes it down our list, but, even so, a seven-goal slugfest between two superpowers is not to be sniffed at. We would certainly take one this summer.
10. Argentina 2, England 2 (4-3 penalties), second round, 1998
England fans might cite the 4-2 win over West Germany in the 1966 final, but triumph has never become the English quite like glorious failure. Besides, this was a much better game, which thrillingly reversed established principles by starting manically and ending cagily. A viscerally compelling first half, in which the sides swapped four goals, was followed by a fascinating tactical battle once David Beckham was harshly sent off in the 47th minute after being suckered by Diego Simeone. England's 10 men held on for penalties fairly comfortably, but their heroism was tempered by the knowledge that penalties mean only one thing for England: glorious failure.
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