From headbutts to the 'Hand of God': 11 moments that shook the World Cup
The 1966 edition of the World Cup offered a helter-skelter final at Wembley, the spiritual home of football. West Germany opened the scoring before being pinned back by England, who then went on to take the advantage. Germany came back bravely to equalize late, making the score 2-2 and sending the game into extra time. And then came the controversy.
After that, deflated and on tired legs, the West Germans allowed Hurst the run of the pitch as jubilant England supporters made their way over the advertising hoardings. British commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme summed it up when he uttered the famous line: “Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over,” as the unlikely hat-trick hero Hurst hammered home a fourth for England. “It is now!” Wolstenholme concluded.
The fourth goal put the match beyond West Germany for good, sealing the Jules Rimet trophy for England, on home soil for the first and only time.
1970: Pelé’s wild celebration sets the tone against Italy
It’s perhaps the most enduring image of the World Cup, and so it is fitting that Edson Arantes do Nascimento — better known as Pelé, perhaps the one player best associated with the competition — was at the heart of it.
It was the Seleção’s 100th World Cup goal, and opened the scoring in what would ultimately be a 4-1 rout of Italy.
The No. 10, widely considered the best player ever to grace the game, spun around in blind joy before jumping in the air and getting enveloped in a bear hug by Jairzinho.
High off the ground, he pumps his fist three times in the air, grinning broadly, before being mobbed by teammates as he set his Brazil team — also generally thought one of the best units to have graced the competition — on their way to a third Jules Rimet trophy, with second-half goals from Gerson, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto.
Pelé’s legacy was secured.
1974: Cruyff turns on the magic
Football’s a team sport, but every so often there’s a moment of individual brilliance that makes the whole stadium — and watching world — emit a collective gasp.
So was the case in Dortmund in 1974, in a group game against Sweden. Johan Cruyff, the mercurial Dutchman, bamboozled his opponent with a mind-bending dummy that would come to bear his name — the Cruyff turn.
Olsson remained rooted to the spot, struggling to stay upright, no doubt thinking what was going through the minds of everyone else in the stadium and watching: “What the hell just happened?”
The move came to nothing on the day, but came to define the genius of a Dutch team whose high-concept “Total Football” philosophy came to revolutionize the sport.
Cruyff scored three goals in the 1974 World Cup, twice against Argentina in the second round and then against Brazil in a 2-0 win that sent Holland through to the final where they were beaten by hosts Germany.
1982: Schumacher foul on Battiston
The World Cup can give us moments of sublime beauty, but it has plenty of capacity for ugliness, too.
One of these less lauded moments came in the 1982 semifinal between France and West Germany — a game that will forever be remembered for the jarring moment when French substitute Patrick Battiston was floored by German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher.
The German, who avoided seeing a red card and has since atoned for the incident, stood off to the side, stretching, while the Frenchman was carted from the field. The perceived lack of interest in his opponent’s well-being enraged French fans, who jeered at the keeper’s every subsequent involvement in the match.
The knockout game ended 3-3 on a raucous night in Seville, with Germany advancing only after a nervy penalty shootout against a French contingent still shook from the horror clash.
1986 El Diego’s “Hand of God” — and the Goal of the Century’
Even apostates who have forsaken the beautiful game know about the infamous “Hand of God” incident.
At the Mexico World Cup, at a time when tensions were running high between Argentina and England following the conflict over the Falkland Islands — known in Argentina as the Islas Malvinas — the stage was set for a fiery encounter.
Add in the bombastic, barrel-chested genius of Diego Maradona and a quarter-final against the English was always going to be incident-packed. And so it came to pass.
An aghast England squad besieged the referee, Ali Bin Nasser of Tunisia, but the controversial opener stood.
England managed to claw one back but it was too little, too late, and Maradona’s two very different strikes advanced the Albiceleste to the semis, and, ultimately, World Cup glory.
1990: Roger Milla’s celebration
Prior to his joyous, finger-raised dance at the corner flag or in front of the fans, goal celebrations tended to be wild, unstructured affairs.
But for Milla’s four goals for Cameroon in the competition, in a run that took the West Africans to the quarterfinals — as far as any African team had ever made it at that time — Milla injected class and humor into his one-man tango rendition.
The run took in a Group B opening game victory over defending champions Argentina, and a last-16 win over Colombia, in which Milla, the undoubted star of the Cameroonian team — if not the tournament as a whole — dispossessed another enduring character of the tournament, goalkeeper René Higuita, to score a second in extra time.
1994: Escobar’s fateful own goal
On July 2, only six days after returning to his home nation, Escobar was gunned down in the streets of Medellín, in what is likely Colombian football’s darkest hour. The killing was linked to drug lords who had suffered big gambling losses because of Colombia’s exit at the group stage but nothing was ever proven.
Cartel bodyguard Humberto Castro Muñoz confessed to the murder, but it is widely speculated that he did not act alone and was employed by a cartel that lost significant money betting on Colombia.
As recently as the last edition of the World Cup, in Brazil, tributes still poured in from family, fans and former teammates.
“Andrés Escobar — always in our hearts,” wrote Colombia’s most capped international — Escobar’s former teammate, Carlos Valderrama — on Twitter.
“We’ll never forget your kindness, your humility and your fight. I miss you bro, I miss you.”
1998: Bergkamp’s moment of genius
The stage: Holland’s quarterfinal against Argentina, in Marseilles’ Stade Velodrome. It’s 1-1, approaching the final whistle.
As extra time beckons, from far inside the Dutch half, Frank de Boer pumps a high, long ball forward, expertly finding the outstretched right foot of Dutch master Dennis Bergkamp in the Argentine penalty area.
The Arsenal legend stops it dead, transferring it to his left foot as he twists past Roberto Ayala. His third touch, again with his right boot, flicks it past Carlos Roa, the keeper; three perfect touches to take the ball from a speculative punt upfield to what remains one of the ultimate moments of skill ever displayed in a World Cup.
“How did I do it? First, there’s eye contact with Frank de Boer — he’s going to give the ball. Then: sprint away, get six yards away from the defender. The ball is coming over my shoulder.
“I run in a straight line, jump up to meet the ball, kill it dead. The second touch turns inside, to make sure Ayala is gone, and get a better angle on goal. I aim for the far post and let it curve in.”
Bergkamp’s cool demeanor on-field for Arsenal and Holland earned him the nickname “the Iceman,” a stark contrast to how one Dutch commentator greeted his spectacular piece of skill that day: “Dennis Bergkamp! Dennis Bergkamp! Dennis Bergkamp! Dennis Bergkamp! Dennis Bergkamp! Ahhhhhh!”
2006: Coup de Boule
Eight years after their triumph in Paris, the French found themselves back in another final. This one, however, would end in a very different manner.
Zinedine Zidane, hero of the 1998 run, was aging and had publicly declared that the match in Berlin that July evening would be his last, after earlier reversing a pledge of retirement.
As was the case in the Euro 2000 final, France’s opponent was Italy, and the match got interesting early when Zidane stepped up to the penalty spot after teammate Florent Malouda was brought down. With a nonchalant chip, he beat the sprawling Gigi Buffon to open the scoring.
Marco Materazzi brought it back level just a few minutes later, and the score would remain even until the end of 120 minutes. But it was the Italian scorer who set in motion a dramatic set of events that led to the French talisman Zidane’s dismissal.
Italy went on to win the penalty shootout 5-3.
Sadly, the image of the tournament is a toss-up between the moment of impact, and the sight of Zidane, unquestionably the player of his generation, walking past the World Cup, which he was destined never to hold aloft again.
2010: Suárez handball
Sometimes, you have to do whatever it takes to win — just ask Maradona. Another infamous handball entered World Cup lore in the 2010 edition of the competition, when Uruguay met Ghana in the quarterfinals in South Africa.
As the game ticked on to extra time, against the droning backdrop of thousands of vuvuzelas, Uruguayan star Luis Suárez found himself face to face with an almost-certain goal headed by Ghana’s Dominic Adiyiah after the ball had ping-ponged around the penalty area following a free kick.
Despite a shrug and a “who me?” Suárez knew he was bang to rights and took his marching orders.
He left the pitch, leaving the Uruguayans a man down but, crucially, not a goal down. Asamoah Gyan, distracted and flustered, whacked the resulting penalty off the bar as Suárez, from the tunnel, performed a fist-pumping celebration worthy of an extra-time winner.
After that, the Ghanaians’ concentration was shot. Betrayal etched on their faces, they could only watch as Uruguay outclassed them in the resulting penalty shootout, advancing to the next round at the Africans’ expense.
2014: Brazil’s car-crash collapse
When Brazil was selected to host the 2014 World Cup, it was supposed to be a celebration of “jogo bonito” — the beautiful game. After 64 years, football was finally coming home.
But the tournament met significant resistance on the streets of the host nation, as citizens protested the price of an extravagant tournament while the country languished and public utilities rotted.
That malaise carried itself onto the pitch.
Following a promising start in its opener against Croatia, the Seleção failed to produce any real glittering form. Even a 4-1 victory over Cameroon lacked the kind of flair and verve that Brazilians have come to expect from their national team, but under coach Luiz Felipe Scolari they limped to a semifinal against Germany.
And that’s where it all truly fell apart. It started ominously that evening at the Estadio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte, with Thomas Müller opening the scoring after 11 minutes. Twelve minutes later it was 2-0. Then 3-0, then 4-0.
A solitary, final act of defiance arrived in the form of an injury-time goal from Oscar but by then the damage — to the team, and the nation’s psyche — was complete.
Unsurprisingly, four days later, the devastated players completely capitulated in the third-place playoff match against the Netherlands, and their humiliation, on home turf, was finally complete.