The FIFA World Cup is the best tournament in the world of sport bringing together the best soccer teams from around the world. First played in 1930, the quadrennial event has featured some of the best soccer matches and Soccer365 takes a look at the Top 10 World Cup matches.
10. Austria 7 Switzerland 5 (1954) – Lausanne, Switzerland
The World Cup and soccer in general was a much more open and attack focused game in the past and to get this list started we look back at the match between Austria and Switzerland in 1954. The combined 12 goals are a World Cup finals record that still stands today (and let’s face it will probably never be surpassed) and they all came in an hour of action – a goal every 5 minutes. And the game featured a hat-trick by a player on both teams.
The home side looked to be well on their way to the semifinals when they took a 3-0 lead by the 19th minute. Robert Ballaman opened the scoring followed by Josef Hugi’s first 2 goals of the game.
But the momentum changed quickly as Austria scored 5 goals over the next 16 minutes. Theo Wagner scored in the 25th and 27th minutes, Alfred Korner completed his brace with goals in the 26th and 34th minutes and Ernst Ocwirk hit 1 in the 32nd minute.
The halftime score was 5-4 after Ballaman scored his second in the 39th minute.
The 2nd half did not have the same fireworks as the first with the teams taking turns finding the net for the final 3 goals of the game. Wagner completed his hat-trick in the 53rd minute followed by Hugi doing the same 5 minutes later. Erich Probst finished the scoring in the 76th minute. And then all went silent for the final 14 minutes of the match.
The Austria attack went quiet while the defense remained porous in the 6-1 semifinal loss to West Germany. They did, however, take third place with a 3-1 win over Uruguay in the third place match.
The next highest goalscoring shoot-out in the World Cup finals came in 1982 when Hungary downed El Salvador 10-1.
9. USA 1 vs Algeria 0 (2010) – Pretoria, South Africa
The U.S. headed into the final group match at the 2010 World Cup knowing a win would take them through to the elimination round and certainly felt confident facing Algeria. The game had it all with a slow start from the Stars and Stripes, a goal controversially disallowed, and a late finish to seal the deal and start the celebration.
The Stars and Stripes got in the bad habit of allowing early goals in South Africa and it almost repeated itself on this day. The Green Foxes hit an early shot off Tim Howard’s crossbar to send a stark reminder that this would be no cakewalk. The defense for Algeria did their job, having only allowed 1 goal in the first 2 matches, to thwart the U.S. attack. Jozy Altidore volleyed wide of an open net, Clint Dempsey hit the crossbar and also missed out on an open net and had a goal controversially called back from what appeared on replays to be an incorrect offside call.
With the full 90 minutes complete it appeared Bob Bradley’s side was going out of the World Cup despite not losing a game but it all changed in an instant. In the 1st minute of injury time, Howard gathered in a ball and threw an outlet pass to Landon Donovan on the right flank. Donovan pushed the attack and found Altidore on the outside of the box.
Altidore crossed to Clint Dempsey who shot only to see goalkeeper Rais M’Bolhi block it. But Donovan was still pressing on the play and for the third time the U.S. made good on an open net to win the game 1-0.
The game was almost as memorable for Ian Darke’s commentary from the most important play of the game.
‘Howard claims it. Distribution brilliant. Landon Donovan…there are things on here for the USA. Can they do it here? Cross and Dempsey’s denied again. But Donovan has scored. Oh can you believe this?…You could not write a script like this.’
8. Argentina 2, England 2 (1998) 2-2 after extra time, Argentina won 4-3 on penalties; Saint Etienne, France
England vs Argentina has become one of the most anticipated rivalries in international soccer. The 2 sides have both won the World Cup, England in 1966 and Argentina in 1978 and 1986, there is some bad blood between the countries (see Falkland Islands episode), and they always feature some of the top talent. It is also the only match-up that appears on this list 2 times.
The first half was first rate. Gabriel Batistuta opened the scoring with a 5th minute penalty but Alan Shearer replied from the spot 4 minutes later.
A young Michael Owen, who won the first penalty, scored one of the best goals of the tournament when he ran onto a David Beckham ball showing his pace, strength, and balance to break on goal before putting some power behind his finish.
But Argentina drew level before halftime with a great set piece. 3 players lined up over the ball 25-yards from goal and after the first player ran over the ball Juan Sebastian Veron played a short pass an unmarked Javier Zanetti behind the wall. He made no mistake with his left footed shot and the game was level.
The game came down to a short moment just after the halftime re-start near the midfield line. An up-and-coming David Beckham made a poor decision in a retaliation against Diego Simeone that earned the Manchester United his marching papers.
Despite being down a man, the Three Lions backline anchored by Paul Ince and Tony Adams held strong to deny Argentina a winner in regulation or extra time. Defender Sol Campbell had a goal waived off due to an Alan Shearer push to add to the frustrations.
England have never been comfortable from the penalty spot and once again the spot sent them packing. Ince and David Batty had their efforts saved and Argentina were on to the quarterfinals.
7. Germany 1, Argentina 1 (2006) – Berlin, Germany after extra time – 1; Germany won 4-2 on penalties
Germany was the host and Argentina was 1 of the hottest teams in the tournament. They both won their groups and were meeting in the quarterfinals in Berlin with some predicting the winner would have the inside track to the title.
After 120 minutes and the teams still tied at 1-1 it came down to penalties and which team’s streak would end. Both teams had been involved in 3 previous World Cup shoot-outs and both teams had won all 3, something had to give.
The host knocked home their 1st 4 attempts while Roberto Ayala and Esteban Cambiasso both missed for Argentina.
Despite all the pre-game build-up, the game was slow to really develop into a classic. The South American side knowing the German’s ability to break on the counter were very patient while Germany was content to sit back and wait for opportune times.
La Albiceleste finally broke through off a header from Ayala. Riquelme placed the perfect corner kick on Ayala’s head. Argentina almost doubled the margin but Maxi Rodriguez could not put his shooting touch on a feed from Carlos Tevez.
The game turned for the worse for the visitors in the 71st minute. Starting goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri was injured while making a play at the back post with Miroslav Klose.
The play looked minor but Abbondanzieri left the field with Leonardo Franco replacing him and 9 minutes later Klose leveled the game off a header.
Rodriguez had a shout for a penalty down the stretch but rather than getting a call for a penalty the Argentine was shown a yellow card. Replays appear to show he was brought down by Germany captain Philipp Lahm.
The extra time period was equally slow from both teams with long-range efforts the norm and it went to penalties.
Germany’s Jens Lehmann made saves on Ayala and Cambiasso while Argentina fans can only wonder what may have been if Abbondanzieri had remained in the game.
6. Portugal 5, North Korea 3 (1966) – Liverpool, England
North Korea was the surprise team of the 1966 World Cup. The team was making their 1st appearance at the World Cup and no one had them advancing from Group 4 that also included the Soviet Union, Italy, and Chile.
The Chollima pulled off one of (if not) the biggest upsets in World Cup history to defeat Italy in the final game of the group stage to set up a match with Portugal. And once again no one gave the communist country a chance.
But the first-timers shocked everyone when they took a 3-0 led over the first 25 minutes. Park Seung-jin gave them the perfect start with the opener in the 1st minute, Lee Dong-woon doubled the score in the 22nd minute and Yang Sung-kook kicked home a third in the 25th minute.
Portugal was not done, however, and had 1 of the world’s top players in Eusebio to help the cause. The forward, who ended up taking the Golden Boot, went to work. The Black Pearl pulled 2 back before the halftime break and then added the equalizer and ultimate winner in the 56th and 59th minutes.
The final goal and the second goal came from the penalty spot. But it was Eusebio’s run to win the penalty for the 4th goal that was special. Eusebio received the ball in Portugal’s half and made his run down the left flank to the North Korea box before 2 defenders decided the only way to stop him was to tackle him.
A 5th goal seemed inevitable but it was not Eusebio but Augusto who settled the matters with his finish in the 80th minute.
5. France 1, Brazil 1 (1986) – Guadalajara, Mexico; after extra time – 1-1 at 90 minutes; France won 4-3 on penalties
France and Brazil were probably 4 years past their prime but this quarterfinal match was brilliant. And how could it not feature some great play with the likes of Zico and Socrates for Brazil and the ‘magic square’ midfield of Michel Platini, Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse, and Luis Fernandez of France.
Les Bleus created the early chances but Brazil opened the scoring off Careca’s 17th minute finish. Muller almost doubled the score only for French goalkeeper Joel Bats to get some help from the post to deny him.
Platini leveled the game in the 41st minute. He ran onto a cross from Dominique Rocheteau to coolly finish at the far post. There was some good fortune involved as the initial cross deflected off a Brazilian defender and the first French player to the ball missed on his attempt at a diving header
The second half produced missed opportunities and a flashback for France. The best chance came for Brazil who was awarded a penalty only for second-half substitute Zico to see his PK attempt saved by Bats. Zico had only been substituted on 4 minutes earlier so some questioned the decision to have him take the kick.
In today’s game, Bats would not have been on the field to make the save as he was the player who made the foul to give the penalty.
The midday heat was slowing both teams down but France pushed for the winner in extra time and temporarily thought they were having a flashback to 1982. Bruno Bellone was played in behind the Brazil defense and had a 1 v 1 with Carlos. The Brazilian goalkeeper came out of his box and mugged Bellone but no foul was given.
4-years early in one of the worst non-calls in World Cup history, West Germany’s goalkeeper Harald Schumacher had completely flattened France’s Patrick Battiston but no call was forthcoming and France went on to lose the game in penalties.
The call did not come for France in 1986 either but they outlasted Brazil on penalties 4-3 to advance.
France lost in the semifinal to West Germany but France finished in 3rd after defeating Belgium 4-2 in extra time in the third place match.
4. Netherlands 2, Brazil 3 (1994) – Dallas, Texas USA
The Netherlands and Brazil is another great match-up between European and South American sides. Brazil is the best team of all-time and the Netherlands are the best team that has never won a World Cup but who have had the talent on multiple occasions to win.
The Netherlands was later called the most ‘South American team in Europe’ by Brazil’s Carlos Dunga, who played in the 1994 World Cup and went on to coach the side at the 2010 World Cup.
Brazil was the last representative outside of Europe remaining in the tournament that year so had the world behind them. Despite not having as big a creative spark as previous Brazilian teams they were much stronger and disciplined in the back.
After a scoreless first half, the Brazilian strike combination of Romario and Bebeto each scored to give Brazil a 2-0 lead in the 63rd minute. The 2nd goal also featured 1 of the best goal celebrations ever with Bebeto’s ‘Rock the Baby’ celebration of the goal and his new-born son. He was joined by Romario in the celebration.
Rock baby celebration
But the deficit was the needed motivation for the Netherlands and the European side fought back to draw level on goals from Dennis Bergkamp and Aron Winter.
The goals set up Branco’s superb free-kick winter in the 81st for Brazil to advance to the semifinal. Brazil went on to win the 1994 World Cup beating out Italy on penalties after regulation and extra time ended 0-0.
The match was also memorable as neither team wore their classic jersey for the game. The Dutch wore their white kits with orange shorts while Brazil had their blue jerseys with white shorts.
3. Italy 3, Brazil 2 (1982) – Barcelona, Spain
Brazil was without a doubt the best team in the world in 1982 and some say the best team that failed to win the World Cup. The offensive firepower included Zico, Sócrates, Falcão, Éder and they were given the task of breaking down Italy’s defense in the final game of the second round Group Stage.
The offensive hero from the game, however, was the Azzurri’s Paolo Rossi. The forward was far from form and a late addition to Italian manager’s Enzo Bearzot squad. He was out of shape after serving a 2-year ban and despite scoring 3 goals at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina few thought the ‘pear-shaped’ player could leave his mark.
The numbers did not lean in Italy’s favor either. Might Brazil had scored 13 goals heading in to the match compared to Italy’s 4 goals and the Samba Kings only needed a draw to advance to the semifinal.
Rossi opened the scoring when he headed home Antonio Cabrini’s cross in the 5th minute. But Socrates leveled matters 7 minutes later off an assist from Zico. Rossi then took advantage of a poor pass in the defense third of Brazil to push Italy to a 2-1 halftime advantage.
In the second half, Falcao, who was playing at AS Roma at the time, scored a brilliant goal from 18-yards out to level the game.
But it was Brazil’s defense lapse rather than offensive brilliance that determined the outcome in the 75th minute. Junior failed to clear an Italian corner and Rossi happily took advantage to complete his hat trick and Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff made a late save to send Brazil home.
Italy went on to win the World Cup defeating West Germany 3-1 in the final. It was the country’s 3rd World Cup title and first since 1938. Rossi scored the opener in that match and finished as the tournament’s Golden Boot winner with 6 goals.
2. Argentina 2, England 1 (1986) – Mexico City, Mexico
The Hand of God touched this one along with one of the greatest runs and goals in World Cup history so how can it not be near the top? Diego Maradona was no doubt the king of the soccer world at the time and he was the difference in the match.
The first half finished scoreless but it was Argentina that had the better of the play and the chances.
The opening 10 minutes of the second half was the difference in the game and Maradona was the man that made it happen starting and finishing the play on both goals.
On the opening goal, Maradona cut inside from the left and looked to play a one-two with team-mate Jorge Valdano at the top of the box. Valdano could not control the pass somewhat behind him but England midfielder Steve Hodge tracking back to defend mis-hit his clearance at the top of the box. The ball popped off his foot and into the penalty area where Maradona originally planned to receive a return pass from Valdano. Despite his bowling ball physique, Maradona went into a challenge with England’s 6”1’ keeper Peter Shilton and amazingly put his head on the finishing touch.
Or did he? Referee Ali Bin Nasser of Tunisia saw it that way and indicated a goal.
But Maradona, the Argentine players, the England players, and replays show that Maradona punched the ball into the goal with his left hand. After the game, Maradona explained how he called to his teammates to celebrate with him to convince the referee it was a goal and saying the goal was ‘a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God’ which led to the goal forever being known as the ‘hand of God.’
The 2nd goal came 4 minutes later and was also touched by magic. This time it was pure skill of Maradona, however. Hector Enrique feed the ball to Maradona 10 yards inside their own half on the right flank. Maradona then started a mazy run that saw him go past England’s Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher (twice) and Terry Fenwick before beating Shilton and slotting home for the goal.
The goal was voted the ‘Goal of the Century’ and was even voted by English TV viewers in a Channel 4 poll as the #6 event on the 100 Greatest Sporting Moments. Pretty impressive for a goal the sealed the Three Lions’ fate.
Gary Lineker, who won the Golden Boot with 6 goals, pulled a goal back in the 80th minute but the European side could not find an equalizer.
For Hodge’s part in the Hand of God, the midfielder traded jerseys with Maradona after the match.
Argentina went on to win the World Cup defeating Belgium 2-0 in the semifinal and in another classic downing West Germany 3-2 in the final.
1. Italy 4, West Germany 3 (1970) – after extra-time; 1-1 after 90 mins; Mexico City, Mexico
This match has been called the ‘Game of the Century’ and was a battle against their opponents, the high altitude of Azteca Stadium, and heat of the Mexican summer with Italy narrowly claiming victory.
But few would have expected such an exciting match after Roberto Boninsegna scored the opener in the 8th minute. The goal made for a dream start for the Italian side and played perfectly into their defensive catenaccio style of play. It looked to be a tough uphill climb for West Germany.
Italy held out for 90 minutes until Germany found an unlikely hero in Karl-Heinz Schnellinger. The defender was playing in his 4th World Cup for Die Mannschaft and had never scored a goal for the side when he found the equalizer 2 minutes into injury time.
The full 90 minute was nothing as the 2 sides combined for 5 goals in a back-and-forth extra time period. The only time this many goals have been scored in extra time.
Gerd Müller, who finished as Golden Boot winner with 10 goals, scored in the 94th minute and many thought that would be enough after such a stingy opening 90 but Italy’s Tarcisio Burgnich tied it up in the 98th minute. Luigi Riva gave Italy the advantage but Müller stepped up to equalize in the 110th minute.
The 1970 World Cup was the first televised in color and had a record audience with the feed making it to more countries around the globe and as many showed replays of Müller’s goal Italy’s Gianni Rivera stepped up to score what turned out to be the winner in the 111th minute.
Italy advanced to the World Cup Final but could not deny Brazilian side that many consider the best team in the history of the game.
What great matches have we left off the list? Leave your opinions in the comment section below.