Maradona, Pele, Cruyff... Celebrate the greatest moments and greatest players in World Cup history with our definitive list, complete with YouTube clips.By Rory Smith
- Read a full match report of England's 5-1 defeat of Croatia, the result which sealed their World Cup qualification.
1. Maradona’s two minutes, 1986
No player has ever dominated a tournament as wholly as Diego Armando Maradona managed in 1986, taking a workmanlike Argentina to their second World Cup title. How he did it is encapsulated in his two goals against England in the quarter finals; the first a masterclass in the art of deception - he cheated - and the second, simply a masterclass. They were the moments that made him an icon.
2. Pele’s pass, 1970
In 1966, Brazil, winners of the previous two World Cups, sent a team of cloggers to England and promptly embarrassed themselves. In 1970, they made up for lost time by sending “five number 10s” – Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino, Gerson and Tostao – and playing some of the best football ever seen. Pele’s pass for Carlos Alberto’s goal in the contemptuous demolition of Italy in the final provided a fitting epitaph for the greatest team ever to grace the finals.
3. The Goal That Never Was, Maybe, 1966
Taken from a neutral perspective, the 1966 World Cup final is arguably the best of all 18, featuring a late equaliser to send the game into extra time in a six-goal thriller between two arch-rivals. Geoff Hurst’s second, England’s third, killed off the West German resistance and kick-started a debate that still rages today, and not the one about Hans Tilkowski’s hat.
4. Cruyff’s turn, 1974
There a few tricks employed quite so often on the playground as the Cruyff turn, a devastatingly simple premise barely noted by commentators in the all-singing, all-dancing age of the Premier League. It is, then, testament to Johan Cruyff’s abilities that nobody thought of it until he unveiled it to the world against Sweden, and the hapless Gunnar Olsson, in Germany in 1974.
5. They Think It’s All Over, 1966
So iconic is Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary that his words almost overshadow both Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick goal in a World Cup final and excuse the small-scale pitch invasion that, should it happen in 2018, would be targeted by a Home Office inquiry resulting in banning orders.
6. The Miracle of Bern, 1954
Where England places Kenneth Wolstenholme, Germany puts Herbert Zimmermann, the man whose screams of “tor” provided the soundtrack to a nation’s rebirth. Two goals down to the Hungary of Puskas, Hidegkuti and Kocsis – who had beaten them 8-3 in the group stages – Germany somehow recovered before Helmut Rahn sent Zimmermann into raptures.
7. The Wail Heard Around The World, 1950
It is believed the Maracana held more than 200,000 people for the 1950 final between heavily-fancied hosts Brazil and minnows Uruguay. It was all going to plan for the home fans when Friaca put Brazil, in white, ahead, before Juan Schiaffino and Alcides Ghiggia turned the world on its head. So upset were the hosts that they forgot to give Uruguay the trophy, the 200,000 sat in “silence too difficult to bear” and the national team refused to ever wear white again.
8. The night before the morning after, 1974
Like Hungary in 1954, Holland were clearly the greatest team on the planet as they swashbuckled their way through the tournament in Germany 20 years later. But their plans fell apart when German newspapers published details of a party at the team hotel on the eve of the final against the hosts – legend has it that Johan Cruyff spent all night persuading his wife nothing amiss had gone on – and their campaign did likewise, as Paul Breitner and Gerd Muller cancelled out Johan Neeskens’ early penalty.
9. Zinedine Zidane’s sister, 2006
What Zinedine Zidane was to football, Marco Materazzi is to winding up opponents. After a tournament in which he had enjoyed the most glorious of swansongs, the French legend decided to go out in style, giving his side the lead in the World Cup final before, in extra time, responding to one barb too many – reportedly about his sister - with the head-butt seen around the world.
10. Welcome to Pele, 1958
Brazil’s World Cup pedigree when they travelled to Sweden in 1958 was comparatively poor; when they left, the idea of samba football had been born, largely thanks to the soundtrack which accompanied them as they trained. But the star of the show was the unknown black 17-year-old who saw off Wales in the quarter-finals, scored a hat-trick in the semis and then announced himself to the world with that goal against the hosts in the final.
11. The Battle of Santiago, 1962
David Coleman, moral arbiter of sport, decried this game between Chile and Italy as the “most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game.” Two players were sent off, noses were broken and all manner of chaos broke loose. Everyone watching probably secretly enjoyed it.
12. Everything Brazil did in Spain, 1982
Football, by all accounts, only remembers the winners. Eder, Junior, Zico, Falcao and Socrates were not winners – Paolo Rossi put paid to that – but, their countrymen from 1970 aside, no more memorable team has ever played in a World Cup finals.
13. Cry Baby, 1990
Paul Gascoigne’s tears for his booking in the semi-final of Italia 90 did not simply endear the Geordie schemer to a nation, but laid the ground for the gentrification of football into the sport it has become.
14. The wall breaks, 1974
Zaire did not have much fun at the 1974 tournament, but those watching them did. Faced with the might of Brazil, right-back Ilunga earned his own place in history thanks to his decision to undertake probably the funniest thing ever to happen in Germany.
15. Battiston’s teeth, 1982
What is truly remarkable about the worst foul ever seen at a World Cup – and possibly in all of football – is that Harald Schumacher was not even booked for what was at least assault on Patrick Battiston. The Frenchman was left unconscious, his front teeth knocked out, needed oxygen on the pitch and, of course, the Germans went on to win.
16. The thrown game, 1978
Needing to win by four clear goals to beat Brazil to a place in their own World Cup final, Argentina easily saw off the previously impressive – well, adequate – Peruvians by six, prompting reports the Argentine military junta had fixed the game. That Peru’s goalkeeper, Ramon Quiroga, had been born in Argentina hardly helped matters.
17. USA! USA! 1950
Joe Gaetjens, a Haitian student drafted into the US side for the 1950 World Cup, only played three games in international football, but his contribution – the goal that beat Walter Winterbottom’s England – produced the biggest upset in the tournament’s history.
18. The ephedrine scream, 1994
Drug cheats all over the world know the best way to avoid detection is not to draw attention to your altered state of mind. Such a ploy was not for Diego Maradona, not after a wonderful goal against Greece. Had nobody felt the need to test him before his celebration, they probably realised they had better check after it.
19. Marco, Marco, Marco, 1982
Paolo Rossi, recently returned from a ban after becoming embroiled in a match-fixing scandal, fired Italy to the World Cup final, but it was Marco Tardelli’s strike which defined their victory. He denies screaming his name repeatedly as he wheeled away, insisting: “It was just a noise, I could not say anything.”
20. Banks’s save, Moore’s tackle, 1970
The reigning champions’ defeat to their heirs apparent in the heat of Guadalajara was notable for Jeff Astle’s miss, Jairzinho’s goal, Bobby Moore’s tackle on Pele and, of course, Gordon Banks’s remarkable save from the planet’s greatest player, as well as the mutual respect on show after the game.
21. Archie’s Army, 1978
It may not have been enough to save Ally McLeod’s side from ignominious elimination, but Archie Gemmill’s waltz through the Dutch defence to help Scotland to a 3-2 win at least salvaged some wounded Caledonian pride from the 1978 tournament.
22. Pak Do Ik, 1966
Along with the USA’s win over England in 1950, North Korea’s elimination of Italy from the tournament 16 years later ranks as the greatest shock ever seen at a finals. It was Pak Do Ik who delivered the hammer blow before Portugal overturned a three goal deficit to send the Communist side home in the quarter finals.
23. East 2-1 West, 1998
When Iran and the USA were drawn together in the group stages of the 1998 World Cup, it was thought the game would not be allowed to go ahead. But go ahead it did, and goals from Hamid Estili and Mehdi Mahdavikia gave the Islamic Republic the win against their Great Satan.
24. The Ronaldo Incident, 1998
It was the toothy striker’s talent which took Brazil to the second of three consecutive World Cup finals, but it was the controversy over his inclusion which may have cost them the 1998 tournament. He apparently suffered a fit, brought on by stress, but was eventually included in the starting line-up, despite originally being replaced by monkey-baiting forward Edmundo. Amid rumours Nike had forced him to play, Ronaldo looked a shadow of his former self and France romped home.
25. Clive Thomas, 1978
Some things never change. Players have always dived, managers have always complained and referees have always been possessed of a streak of officious incompetence, best summed up by Clive Thomas’s decision to disallow Zico’s winning goal against Sweden in the 1978 World Cup.
26. Pele’s Dummy, 1970
The greatest goal never scored, shortly preceded by the best piece of play ever to grace a football field that did not involve touching the ball.
27. Kuwait a Minute, 1982
With his side 3-1 down to the French and hardly likely to launch a comeback, Sheikh Fahid Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah would have been forgiven for accepting Alain Giresse’s controversial fourth as inconsequential. Not a bit of it. He marched his team off the pitch, forced the Soviet referee to cancel the goal and no doubt watched in fury as, minutes later, Maxime Bossis notched a legitimate fourth.
28. Maradona v Belgium, 1986
Had the diminutive Argentine not gone on to score that goal against England, his effort to see off a talented Belgian side would probably have gone down in his history as his piece de resistance.
29. Animals, 1966
So incensed was Alf Ramsey by the spoiling tactics employed by Argentina – and their captain, Antonio Rattin, in particular – that he refused to allow his players to swap shirts after seeing off their opponents. He did not, though, call the Argentines “animals”, though he probably thought it.
30. Higuita and Milla, 1990
The two unlikely stars of the 1990 World Cup. Rene Higuita, the perm-sporting Colombian goalkeeper, and Roger Milla, the all-dancing Cameroonian pensioner who captured the planet’s hearts. Honourable mention, too, to Benjamin Massing and his assault on Claudio Caniggia.
31. Gerry’s pacemaker, 1982
Hosts they may have been, but Spain were hardly a side to be feared in 1982. After drawing with Honduras, they lost to Northern Ireland, thanks to Gerry Armstrong’s goal, and only just scraped through. That should not detract, though, from the proudest moment in Northern Irish World Cup history.
32. Owen’s goal, 1998
An untested, unproven 18 year-old before he raced away from the Argentine defence to give England a 2-1 lead in the second round of France 98, afterwards Michael Owen was a global superstar.
33. Gobbing off, 1990
Holland against Germany is always a tense affair, especially after the Dutch gained revenge for 1974 in the 1988 European Championships, but spitting is probably the wrong way to relieve the stress. Seeing Frank Rijkaard’s phlegm in Rudi Voller’s curly mullet remains one of the most disturbing scenes ever produced by television.
34. Diana Ross v Roberto Baggio, 1994
Had Roberto Baggio converted his spot kick in the 1994 World Cup final and Italy gone on to win, his contribution would have matched that of Maradona in 1986. Diana Ross’s probably would not have, even had she scored.
35. Silly boy, 1998
As one of football’s elder statesmen, David Beckham now seems a different person to the one sent off in England’s second-round fixture with Argentina in 1998 for his petulant response to Diego Simeone’s endless baiting. Effigies of the Manchester United player were burned in the streets, and, until his rescue act against Greece in 2001, the golden boy remained tarnished.
36. Dennis Bergkamp’s control, 1998
Perfect control, a swift turn and a curling finish past Carlos Roa. Dennis Bergkamp’s third goal of France 98 – the strike that made him Holland’s all-time leading scorer – was his international masterpiece.
37. Bald eagle, 1994
The reigning champions, Germany, looked a good bet to win a poor tournament until they ran into a Bulgarian side inspired by Hristo Stoitchkov – along with Gheorghe Hagi and Roberto Baggio, the competition’s star – and a bald, journeyman midfielder by the name of Yordan Letchkov.
38. Cruyff leaves Holland in the mire, 1978
Johan Neeskens famously observed after losing to hosts Argentina in the 1978 final that “if we had won, we would not have left the stadium alive.” He may have been thankful then that Johan Cruyff, for either political or domestic reasons, refused to travel to South America, leaving the likes of Arie Haan and Robbie Rensenbrink – rated as better than Cruyff by some – to help Holland go close, again.
39. Sticks and stones, 1930
It’s a wonder the World Cup ever got off the ground. First the European entrants for the first ever tournament had to travel by the same boat to Uruguay, then fears over violence were so great for the final that the referee demanded a launch be readied in case he needed a quick escape. When the hosts beat Argentina to win the trophy, their consulate in Buenos Aires was attacked by angry mobs.
40. Platt’s volley, 1990
The moment when England began to believe. Converting Chris Waddle’s chipped free kick with a smart volley in the last minute of extra time, Platt sent Bobby Robson’s side to a quarter final with Cameroon and presented them with their best chance of winning the trophy since 1966.
41. Leonidas, 1938
The Black Diamond was the undisputed star of the third edition of the competition and the pioneer of the free-running, expansive style which has come to define Brazil in the eyes of the world. Dropped for the semi-final in which Brazil crashed out to Giuseppe Meazza’s Italy, he still finished top scorer.
42. Andres Escobar, 1994
Pele’s tip to win the World Cup – never a good form guide – Colombia were eliminated in the group stage after Escobar’s own goal handed the hosts a 2-1 win. He was shot dead weeks later in Medellin amid speculation his error had cost the city’s powerful drug barons millions in gambling losses.
43. 27 seconds in, 1982
Captain Marvel Bryan Robson notched his place in World Cup history with the fastest ever goal at the finals – a half-volley against France in their opening game – but even that could not get Ron Greenwood’s side past the second group stage, where they missed out to West Germany.
44. The minnows in the sun, 1958
With Scotland inept and England’s hopes decimated by the Munich air disaster, it was Wales and Northern Ireland who bore the brunt of Britain’s hopes. Had it not been for Pele, Wales may have made the semi-finals, while only Just Fontaine’s exploits halted Northern Ireland’s run.
45. Hitler’s bad luck continues, 1938
Desperate for sporting success to prove Aryan supremacy, the Fuhrer co-opted some of Austria’s wunderteam into his German side for the 1938 tournament, held in France. Two years after the Berlin Olympics, it was Switzerland who filled the role of Jesse Owens, knocking the combined side out in the first round 4-2 after a replay.
46. Fashion with Jorge Campos, 1994
In his wonderful treatise Football In Sun and Shade, Eduardo Galeano wonders whether goalkeepers wear bright colours in a bid to overcome the isolation of their role. Campos, the colourful Mexican shot-stopper who fancied himself as a striker, must have been lonelier than most.
47. The Fix, 1982
With a win for West Germany enough to take both them and near-neighbours Austria through at the expense of Algeria, both sides stopped playing after Horst Hrubesch gave the Germans the lead in the 10th minute. Algeria protested, Fifa turned a blind eye and the greatest fraud in World Cup history was complete.
48. 'The Fix', 2002
First Italy, then Spain. Conspiracy theories abounded in southern Europe as South Korea, co-hosts of the 2002 tournament, saw off two major superpowers – thanks to some truly dreadful refereeing decisions – on their way to the semi-finals, where a third proved too much to ask.
49. Cubillas does for Ally’s Army, 1978
Ah, hubris. Scotland travelled to Argentina on a wave of optimism, their side full of some of the best players in Europe and their song topping the charts. Defeat to Peru, though, scuppered their best ever chance of getting past the group stage.
50. The most beautiful goal, 2006
Italy may have won the tournament, France and Germany may have provided the romance, but Jose Pekerman’s magnificent Argentina, a poetic, balletic side pivoted around Juan Roman Riquelme, were the best team on show in 2006, a fact beautifully demonstrated by Esteban Cambiasso’s 26-pass goal in the 6-0 trouncing of Serbia.