One sided games, 90 minute battles and last minute winners, this is a list of our Top 11 Best Ever World Cup Games! I wanted to do a Top 10 but I really wanted to include a bonus match that while wasn’t memorable for quality, it was one of the biggest upsets the World Cup has ever seen!
There are a few factors I’ve taken into consideration when ranking these games (it’s definitely not random)
- Importance of the game
- Excitement/Quality (4-3 is more fun than 1-0 right?)
- The opponents (rivalry/ David vs Goliath)
- Shock value
- I ran Facebook & Reddit polls for public opinion
11) 2014 Costa Rica 1-0 Italy
The game that didn’t really have the sufficient quality to get onto this list but made it nonetheless as this underdog of underdogs beat Andrea Pirlo’s Italy in 2014 and topped what seemed to be the most difficult group of the tournament, beating Uruguay 3-1 and knocking out Italy and England.
Costa Rica went on to achieve their best ever finish to a World Cup reaching the Quarter-Finals, only to be knocked out on penalties by Holland after holding them to a 0-0 draw. Don´t forget Holland were the team that thrashed holders Spain 5-1 in the group stage and essentially destroyed the Spaniards World Cup after just one game!
10) 2014 Holland 5-1 Spain
Supposed to the swansong of Spain’s Golden Generation, Arjen Robben and his teammates thought differently and proceeded to make the best team over the last 8-10 years look like little more than Sunday league standard. The Dutch were superior in every aspect with two memorable goals when Robben destroyed Sergio Ramos for pace (who is also quick) to finish past Casillas after Robin van Persie scored one of the coolest goals of the entire tournament with a diving header.
The Dutch lay down a marker for the tournament and the Spanish simply couldn’t recover, despite having the combined talents of Xavi, Iniesta and Alonso they exited the World Cup after a 2-0 defeat to Chile and an ultimately irrelevant 3-0 victory over Australia.
I don´t want to include two gifs next to each other but these goals were just so god damn cool…
9) 2014 Germany 7-1 Brazil (Semi-final)
This tournament was another that was ‘supposed to be’, it was IN Brazil, the home of football (beautiful attacking football at least). Brazil, a team that so many love due to the success and style exhibited in previous tournaments. Without the natural ability of greats like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo upfront, Cafu and Roberto Carlos bombing up and down the wings and the solidity of the enormously underrated Gilberto Silva in midfield, the Brazilians relied on the talent of one wonderful attacker in Neymar.
An excellent player but not quite as good as Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, relying on two excellent players (Neymar & Dani Alves) and a few good teammates in Thiago Silva, Marcelo and…? That´s it really, can only get you so far in a tournament, as this Brazil team found out in the semi-final and were destroyed by the Germans 7-1.
8) 1950 Uruguay 2-1 Brazil
The Maracanã, the national stadium of Brazil, a crowd of 199,854. What a place to play a final, to go toe-to-toe with bitter rivals Uruguay. In a strange change of format the winner of the 1950 World Cup would be determined by a round-robin group stage instead of the traditional knockout rounds.
Brazil went into the game leading the group by a point and needing to only avoid defeat to claim the crown. The Seleção took an early second half lead through São Paulo attacker Friaça but goals from Juan Alberto Schiaffino (66 mins) & Alcides Ghiggia (79 mins) led to what has been deemed one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. Brazil were nailed on favourites having destroyed opposition in earlier matches scoring 22 goals in total and needing only a draw but instead Uruguay claimed their second World Cup trophy.
The effect of this game is still felt today due to a ‘Phantom of ‘50’ whereby Brazilian national teams are said to have a fear of facing Uruguay due to this game, a phenomenon that is said to go onto this day.
7) 1974 West Germany 2-1 Holland Final
The Dutch beautiful Total Football was on show as early as the second minute when after 13 passes, Johann Cruyff received the ball on the halfway line, beating the oncoming defenders and carrying it into the box to win a penalty. Neeskens converted, it was 1-0 to the Dutch and the Germans hadn’t even touched the ball yet!
Wolfgang Overath returned the favour, dribbling past three Dutch defenders seemingly with ease only to be fouled which led to a second penalty in just the 25th minute. Left back Paul Breitner converted very coolly into the keepers bottom right hand corner before a good run down the right and pass by midfielder Rainer Bonhof found Gerd Müller. As a defender or goalkeeper there isn’t a worse person you could hope the ball to fall to than this man, 67 GOALS IN 61 INTERNATIONAL MATCHES up to this point demonstrate the unreal ability of this striker who inevitably made it 2-1 and West Germany went on to win the tournament!
Interestingly Muller ended his career in 1981 with a total of 721 goals in 769 matches! Not a bad player to have in your team then.
6) 1966 Portugal 5-3 North Korea Quarter-Final
I’ll be honest, this match, much like the Portuguese team of ’66 is only here due to one man, Eusebio. It’s not unheard of for one player to win his team a game but to carry an entire nation through a tournament pretty much alone, unreal.
When I was watching videos for this list to decide which games I wanted to write about I was shocked by how good Eusebio was, the power in his shots and speed across the ground, he destroyed the Korean team even when they were kicking seven shades of you know what out of him.
He was both clinical and rapid and seemed to playing on a different level to the other 21 players on the pitch. With his team 3-0 down the Portuguese striker scored FOUR TIMES in 32 minutes before Jose Augusto rounded off the comeback after 79 minutes to make it 5-3 to Portugal.
5) 1982 Italy 3-2 Brazil (attack vs defence)
Not every game is lucky enough to have free flowing attack vs attack. Sometimes quality comes from a rock solid defence just as much as it can from wonderful attacking play. Cue Brazil vs Italy, the 1982 World Cup group game, Brazil needed only a point to qualify for the Semi-Final but it was the Italians that would go on to win the match and eventually the tournament.
The game is renowned for Brazil’s attack vs Italy’s defence but the first goal from Italy was a great team goal. Brazil quickly went behind when Juventus’ Paolo Rossi scored the first of three goals in the 5th minute when he powered a header past the goalkeeper to finish off a great cross from left-back Antonio Cabrini after good play in the middle by the Azurri.
A constant almost unrelenting attack from Brazil culminated in a goal even better than the first. Socrates brought the ball into midfield, passing it into Zico who turned and flicked the ball past two Italian defenders leaving them for dead. Zico then threaded a lovely pas through to Socrates who started the move, the tall midfielder finished coolly, beating Italian captain Dino Zoff to make it 1-1 after only 12 minutes.
There is a reason that Italian striker Rossi had scored almost a goal every other game in his career, he was clinical. In the 25th minute Rossi showed great anticipation and intercepted a pass in the Brazilian half, beating defender Júnior and hammered a shot past Waldir Peres, beating him for the second time in 20 minutes.
Not to be outdone the Brazilians proceeded to pummel the Italian defence and Zoff’s goal but the defenders and Zoff made block after block, save after save and kept out one of the best strike forces the tournament has ever seen. The beautiful attacking play by Brazil could not be held back and almost inevitably they found an equalizer. Júnior passed the ball with the outside of his boot to teammate Falcão, who sold THREE Italian defenders a dummy, deftly shifting the ball to his left and unleashing a left footed thunderbolt past Zoff!
Brazil were level for all of six minutes when you know who, Paolo Rossi smuggled in after a corner and more poor defending from the Brazilians. 3-2 to Italy and the goals finally came to an end but the drama certainly did not. In search of an equalizer the Brazilians left even more space for the Italians to attack resulting in a fourth goal in the 86th minute although this was wrongly ruled out for offside. The Brazilians pressed until the final seconds and were denied only when Dino Zoff proved his class to prevent Oscar netting a late equalizer.
This match was as much a testament to Brazil’s wonderful attacking play contrasting their shocking defensive performance as well as the Italians strength at the back and efficiency to finish chances when they came.
Now we´re onto the top four in the last and to be honest, you could pretty much arrange these matches in any order as every single one of them was a 10 out of 10, goals, refereeing drama, great attacking play and high stakes. I´ve done my best to arrange these four into an order but I feel like I´m doing a disservice to each of them that doesn´t get top spot. But we´re talking about World Cup football, not some school athletics competition where everyone gets a trophy for turning up, we have to have a winner, so here goes.
4) 1966 England 4-2 West Germany Final
Most of our readers will have known this one was coming, I’m genuinely not putting this match in here because I’m English but a 4-2 in a final with TWO comebacks and dubious goals? Hell yeah I want to watch that!
A hat-trick from Geoff Hurst and a 78th minute strike from Martin Peters was sufficient to see off rivals West-Germany who had initially gone ahead in the 12th minute through Bologna attacker Helmut Haller. Haller was first onto what at best was a half clearance and unleashed a strong right footed shot that beat Gordon Banks in net.
Hurst replied just six minutes later when he inexplicably found himself with the freedom of the box to nod home a quickly taken Bobby Moore free kick and when Peters struck to make it 2-1 with just 12 minutes remaining it certainly looked to be going England´s way. Alan Ball put in a corner that found Hurst on the edge of the box, some good play from the striker was followed by a tame shot that he squeezed between two defenders and wasn´t dealt with. The attempted clearance echoed the West German goal in the first half and Martin Peters smashed in the high clearance from about 8 yards out and it looked like England were just minutes from their first World Cup triumph.
That was until the 89th minute (is there anything more exciting or heart breaking than a last minute goal) Wolfgang Weber (Hell of a name), when a fierce Lothar Emmerich free kick was blasted goalwards, the rebound saw Held play the ball across the box to Karl-Heinz Schnellinger who bundled the ball into the net.
101 minutes into the match Alan Ball is bursting down the right wing into space and puts in a decent cross to Hurst, Hurst controls the ball maneuvering himself enough space to fire a right footed shot high above the keeper onto the crossbar and.. Over the line? My heart says yes, new technology says no but the only opinion that mattered, that of referee Gottfried Dienst, was that yes, the ball crossed the line, 3-2 England! Hurst finished the match off when, after 120 minutes of play Bobby Moore made one of his long range passes up the field, Hurst controlled the ball and seemingly under very little pressure from the opposition defence, he carried the ball forward, unopposed before smashing a left footed shot past goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski. That one definitely crossed the line. 4-2 England and what a game!
3) 1970 Brazil 4-1 Italy Final
This is not the only time Brazil and Italy make this list and it’s not the only time they face each other here either, some of the best attacking players in history were on show in the 1970 World Cup Final so it was always likely to make the list!
Just look at the goal scorers, Pelé, Gérson, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto. That’s not to mention the mustachioed number 10 who outshone Pelé, the 5 foot 7 inch playmaker Rivellino (shifted to no.11 to accommodate Pelé) considered by many to be the star for Brazil in this tournament. This Brazil team is widely regarded as the greatest ever team the World Cup has been fortunate to witness and Italy were unfortunate enough to come up against them in the final of 1970.
This match contained one of my favourite ever goals that we spoke about in another article Top 16 Craziest World Cup Goals, it was so good you’ve got to go check it out on YouTube, a great finish and an awesome team goal.
Pelé put the Brazilians 1-0 up with a great header before Boninsegna made the most of confusion in Brazil’s defence to pull Italy level.
Almost thirty minutes later it seemed like Gérson nearly ripped the net after he jinked past two defenders and smashed the ball so hard and accurate it rendered Enrico Albertosi’s dive pointless! From then on it was all Brazil, Jairzinho was first onto a knock down and scored the scruffiest of Brazil´s four when he bundled the ball over the line on 71 minutes.
Midfielder Clodoaldo meandered past four members of the Italian team seemingly without breaking sweat in a beautiful jinking …run? I can’t really call it a run because he just walked the ball past them like a dad playing with his kids. This led to the ball making its way down the left wing and across to Pelé who coolly slid the ball over to Carlos Alberto to charge onto and thunder his shot past poor Albertosi who for the second time in this match, didn’t stand a chance, what a goal!
2) 1982 West Germany 3-3 France (Semi-final)
A six-goal thriller followed by 9 converted penalties in a semi-final, nailed on to be included wasn´t it!
Even French footballing great Michel Platini considers it his ´most beautiful game´. West Germany took a 12th minute lead via a Littbarski strike from the edge of the box beating French ´keeper Jean-Luc Etori. The aforementioned Platini then responded by converting a penalty after 27 minutes when he calmly put the ball to the right of the German ´keeper.
The next goal was a delightful finish from Marius Trésor, just 2 minutes into extra-time, he netted a volley from 11 yards out when he latched onto a deflection from a floated free-kick. A terrific passage of play by the French team culminated in a third goal that many thought killed off the Germans and would bring the trophy to France. Bordeaux´s Alain Giresse executed a perfectly driven shot into the German net after some nice play by Platini and Didier Six. Game over?
Nope. Just four minutes after France took a 3-1 lead they were pegged back when substitute Karl-Heinz Rummenigge managed to squeeze the ball into the net despite intense pressure from both goalkeeper and defenders. He showed great determination and bravery to get himself into the ideal position on the edge of the six-yard box, holding off his opposing centre back and knocking the crossed ball past the ´keeper with his outstretched right boot.
108 minutes into the game an overhead kick drew the teams level, a high ball in from the left by the man who kicked off the goal fest Pierre Littbarski was met with a strong head and centre-forward Klaus Fischer was quicker to respond to the knock down, a perfectly executed bicycle kick made it 3-3 and the game would be decided on penalties!
After 5 penalties each the teams were tied at 4-4, France´s sixth penalty taker was full-back Maxime Bossis, a pretty tame effort from him and good anticipation from goalkeeper Harald Schumacher gave Germany the advantage heading into their own sixth-round penalty. Horst Hrubesch, the imposing 6foot 2inch Hamburg striker passed the ball into the corner of the net and proceeded to leap away to celebrate with his teammates, West Germany in a final!
1) 1970 Italy 4-3 West Germany Semi-Final (Game of the century)
I couldn’t not include a game that is known as the greatest game of the century could I? In the research I did for this post I watched a lot of football (I know, poor me right) and this game was insane. One of the best I’ve ever seen and I watch a hell of a lot of football.
A lovely left footed drive from just outside the box from Roberto Boninsegna gave Italy an early 8th minute lead and looked to be the winner until the 90th minute when his wonderful strike was cancelled out by a nice move ending with German defender Karl-Heinz Schnellinger (he´s been on this list before!) finishing like an accomplished centre forward when a cross came in from the left, good movement and poor marking meant he found himself in space in the box and he was all too happy to finish off the move with a goal!
A place in the World Cup final seemingly snatched away in the last moment of the game, Italy were reeling and conceded again when legendary centre-forward Gerd Müller made the most of some confusion in the box to wrestle himself between defender and goalkeeper to smuggle the ball over the line, 2-1 to West Germany!
The lead wouldn´t last long as Italy rallied and just four minutes later Tarcisio Burgnich drew the game level again after capitalizing on more confusion in the box, a floated free kick wasn´t sufficiently dealt with and the Inter Milan full back Burgnich wasn´t messing around and smashed the ball in from just outside the six-yard box, 2-2 on 98 minutes!
That must be it for now right? Everyone takes a deep breath and goes to penalties? Not a chance.
104 minutes into the game and Luigi Riva scored what is probably the pick of the bunch so far, controlling the ball in from the left he managed to cushion the ball with his left foot and bring it to his right on the edge of the box, he then quickly shifted it back to his left away from the onrushing defender and then pulled the trigger with a left footed daisy cutter comfortably beating the diving Sepp Maier in goal, 3-2 Italy 104 minutes!
Cue ANOTHER comeback and a Gerd Müller poached goal, the striker getting his head onto a flick on from a teammate and managing to get the ball into the minute gap between goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi and the defender on the post, 3-3 on 110 minutes!
Don´t take a breather because the players certainly didn´t, less than a minute later more good wing play down the left by Roberto Boninsegna, he showed strength to wrestle off the opposing defender and a good pull back found Gianni Rivera alone almost on the penalty spot. Rivera, the man who had probably had the biggest influence on the game so far having assisted Burgnich and Riva´s goals and being at fault for Germany´s equalizer slotted a cool passed finish into the corner of the net for seventh and final goal of what is widely agreed to be the game of the century and to be honest, I can´t think of any better in this century either, can you?
By the way, do you think we missed any great games? Let us know so we can improve our list!
So, how hyped are YOU for the World Cup?!