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The 20 Greatest Matches in the FIFA World Cup History - Part II (1958-1974)

Updated on October 22, 2018
Hugo Pressman profile image

Brazilian-italian sports journalist working as an international correspondent in Scotland.

Johan Cruyff (left) moments before scoring against Argentina in 1974
Johan Cruyff (left) moments before scoring against Argentina in 1974

Chile 2-0 Italy, July 2nd 1962, Santiago, Chile – group stage

The atmosphere involving Chile and Italy was very tense before their encounter. In the first round of their group, the Italians had tied goalless with West Germany and the Chileans had won 3-1 against the Swiss, so the winner of this match would be in a confortable position and the loser would be threatened. Besides football, political matters were also increasing the tension between those teams. Before the match, Italian journalists Antonio Ghirelli and Corrado Pizzinelli had written heavy critics about Chile’s capital, Santiago, such as “the phones don't work, taxis are as rare as faithful husbands, a cable to Europe costs an arm and a leg and a letter takes five days to turn up” and prejudiced comments about its population, claiming that the Chileans were prone to “malnutrition, illiteracy, alcoholism and poverty. Chile is a small, proud and poor country: it has agreed to organize this World Cup in the same way as Mussolini agreed to send our air force to bomb London (they didn't arrive). The capital city has 700 hotel beds. Entire neighborhoods are given over to open prostitution. This country and its people are proudly miserable and backwards.”.

Pushed by wrath and the will to avenge themselves, the Chileans fought the Italians in one of the most violent battles in the history of the World Cup. Italian midfielder Giorgio Ferrini was sent off with just 12 minutes of the first half after a violent foul on Chilean forward Honorio Landa. Ferrini refused to leave the pitch and had to be escorted by the police. Four minutes before the break, one of Chile’s best players ever, Leonel Sánchez, was fouled by Mario David and retaliated with a punch in the Italian’s face. The English referee Ken Aston dismissed only David, leaving the Europeans with only nine on the pitch.

The violence didn’t stop in the second half, with many brawls, spitting and strong tackles. Leonel Sánchez broke Humberto Maschio’s nose, but escaped again from the sending-off. In the 28th minute of the second half, Jaime Ramírez opened the scoreline and three minutes before the final whistle Jorge Toro scored the second: Chile 2-0 Italy.

With this controversial victory, Chile managed to go through the next round. Italy were eliminated still in the group stage. In the quarter-finals, the hosts won 2-1 against the USSR and reached for the first - and to this day the only - time the semi-finals. They would finish the World Cup as 3rd place, their best result ever.

The North Korean team of 1966
The North Korean team of 1966

North Korea 1-0 Italy, July 19th 1966, Middlesbrough, England – group stage

Four years after the flop in Chile 62, Italy was again in a difficult situation right in the first round. This time, in England, they had their revenge against the Chileans (2-0), but then lost 1-0 against the Soviets. To advance to the quarter-finals, Italy needed only a draw against the newcomers from North Korea, who had lost 3-0 against the USSR and drawn 1-1 with Chile.

But what happened that evening in Middlesbrough was beyond anyone’s imagination. In a very good first half, with goalscoring chances from both sides, Pak Doo-ik put the North Koreans ahead. The two-times World Champions were, at first, shocked, but then started pressuring the Asians.

Since the Italians adopted a more attacking stance, North Korea had more space for counterattacks and even created some good opportunities to extend their lead. After the final whistle, the biggest upset of the World Cup was real and, once more, Italy would go home too early. For the first time in history, a country from outside Europe or the Americas had advanced to the second round.

Portugal 5-3 North Korea, July 23rd 1966, Liverpool, England – quarter-finals

This match in Liverpool gathered the only two debutants in the 1966 FIFA World Cup. Composed of many players from SL Benfica, who had won twice the European Cup (in 1961 and 62), and first place in a group with Hungary, Brazil and Bulgaria, Portugal were the favourites. But the surprising Asians would strike again.

With less than a minute after kickoff, Pak Seung-zin opened the scoreline. Astonished, the Portuguese tried to recover but were struck again with two goals in three minutes. Li Dong-woon made it 2-0 with 22 minutes and Yang Seung-kook extended their lead to 3-0 with 25. Eusébio, Portugal’s greatest star and who would finish that World Cup as the top goalscorer, would start his show right after that.

Two minutes after North Korea’s third goal, he netted his first of the night: 1-3. Two minutes before the break, Eusébio would score again, this time from the penalty spot. Eleven minutes after the break, the Portugal and Benfica legend completed his hat-trick and tied everything: 3-3. Just two minutes later, Eusébio was fouled inside the box. He took it and scored his and Portugal’s fourth.

Now more relieved and dominating the game, the Portuguese would even hit the Asian’s net once more. Ten minutes before the end, José Augusto netted the fifth and guaranteed a famous victory for the Lusitanos. The North Koreans were disappointed in the end, after all, they had a three goal margin with less than 30 minutes of the first half and still managed to lose, but they had already written their names in the history of the World Cup. This would be the best campaign of an Asian nation in the tournament until 2002, when their neighbors and rivals from the South would reach the semi-finals.

England 4-2 West Germany, July 30th 1966, London, England – final

It was England’s first, and to this day still only, final and Germany’s second. The inventors of the beautiful game had drawn one match, won four and conceded only one goal on their way to the great final. The Germans had a similar campaign, but scoring and conceding more goals. In other words, they were both the strongest throughout the tournament and there was no favourite side.

Nevertheless, just 12 minutes after the kickoff Helmut Haller put the visitors in front: 1-0. Seven minutes later, the English captain Bobby Moore took a quick free kick and made a perfect cross to Geoff Hurst, who scored the equalizer.

After this frenetic start, the tiebreaking goal would come only 12 minutes before the final whistle. Hurst’s deflected shot found Martin Peters inside the box and the West Ham midfielder didn’t lose the opportunity. When it seemed everything was settled, the Germans equalized again. Lothar Emmerich’s free kick was deflected several times inside the English box until Wolfgang Weber finally managed to hit the net: 2-2 and extra time on its way.

The hosts pressed forward and had two good chances through the legendary Bobby Charlton, one of them hitting the post. With 11 minutes of extra time, the English persistence was finally awarded. Allan Ball found Geoff Hurst in the area and the no. 10 shot from close range. The ball hit the crossbar and bounced on the line, but at the time it remained unclear whether it has crossed the line or not. The Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst consulted his linesman Tofiq Bahramov and the Azerbaijani confirmed the goal. One of the most controversial refereeing decisions of all time.

Germany pressed desperately in the end, sending all its players forward. The English took the opportunity and scored in the last minute, once more through Hurst, who became the first, and still the only, player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final. The number 10 would later admit that, right before shooting, he wanted to send the ball outside Wembley in order to kill time on the clock. In fact, some fans were already invading the pitch moments before that, which is clear in BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme’s narration: And here comes Hurst. He's got... some people are on the pitch, they think it's all over. It is now! It's four!”.

The inventors of the beautiful game were, at last, World Champions!

Italian captain Giacinto Facchetti greets the German captain Uwe Seeler before The Match Of The Century
Italian captain Giacinto Facchetti greets the German captain Uwe Seeler before The Match Of The Century

Italy 4-3 Germany, June 17th 1970, Mexico City, Mexico – semi-finals

After disappointing a whole nation in 1962 and 66, Italy was finally back in a semi-final, their first one since 1938. Germany, on the other hand, would play their fourth semi in 16 years.

The Italians opened the scoreline with just eight minutes through Internazionale’s Roberto Boninsegna. The situation was critical for the Germans, since they had already used their two allowed substitutions and Franz Beckenbauer was playing with an arm sling, thanks to a broken clavicle after a violent foul (something unimaginable nowadays). But in the last minute of the match, AC Milan’s Karl-Heinz Schnellinger tied the match and sent it to extra time.

The match would increase considerably in drama during the 30 extra minutes. Gerd Müller put the Germans ahead in the 94th minute, but the Italians answered with Burgnich four minutes later and Gigi Riva right before the break. Ten minutes before the end of extra time, Müller equalized, but, again, the Italian retribution would be swift. 60 seconds after Müllers goal, the substitute Gianni Rivera made it 4-3. Germany couldn’t find strength to beat the Italian defense once more and the fantastic semi-final was settled.

Despite this heroic win in which is regarded by many as the best game of all time in a World Cup (The Game of the Century), the Italians were exhausted. They would lose the final to Brazil, but this epic battle against Germany would never be forgotten.

East Germany 1-0 West Germany, June 22nd 1974, Hamburg, Germany – group stage

In 1949, four years after the end of World War II, Germany was divided in two sides: West (Capitalist) and East (Socialist). Since then, the western side played in all World Cups but 1950 and was the champion in 1954. In 1974, not only would they host the tournament, but also face their rookie neighbors in the group stage.

The hosts had won their first two games against Chile (1-0) and Australia (3-0) and leaded the group, while the East Germans followed with one win (2-0 against Australia) and a draw (1-1 against Chile).

In a very tough match played in Hamburg, both sides created good opportunities in the first half and the hosts complained of two alleged penalties. East German star Hans-Jürgen Kreische squandered a great chance inside the box and with an open goal, while Gerd Müller hit the left post with a volley.

In the second half, FC Magdeburg’s Jürgen Sparwasser shocked the crowd of 60 thousand and made it 1-0 to the eastern neighbors just 12 minutes before the final whistle. The hosts pressed hard for the equalizer, but couldn’t avoid the upset.

The East German government used this epic and emblematic victory as propaganda, implying their superiority over the capitalist neighbors. On the other hand, part of the West German press accused their national team of losing on purpose in order to avoid the “group of death” in the next round (with the Netherlands, Brazil and Argentina), but, honestly, I still like to believe in the upset. The facts are: East Germany lost to Brazil (1-0) and the Netherlands (2-0) and drew with Argentina (1-1), finishing third in that group and sixth in the World Cup. The West Germans played in a group with Poland, Sweden and Yugoslavia, won all three matches and qualified to the final against Netherlands.

Netherlands 1-2 West Germany, July 7th 1974, Munich, Germany - final

The Clockwork Orange. That was the Netherlands national team nickname after their fantastic display from the first group stage to the final. After two wins (2-0 against Uruguay and 4-1 against Bulgaria) and a draw (0-0 against Sweden) in the first round, the Dutch, led by the genius Johan Cruyff, crushed Argentina (4-0), East Germany (2-0) and Brazil (2-0) in the second group stage. Their Total Football had let the whole World mesmerized.

The West Germans also had a good campaign in the second round, defeating Yugoslavia (2-0), Sweden (4-2) and a very tough Polish team (1-0). But their loss to the East German neighbors in the first group stage was still alive in the memories of the fanatic German fans. Some journalists considered them as outsiders in the final and some even thought that the Dutch would find no hard task in scoring many goals against them.

With just a minute after kickoff, when the Germans hadn’t even touched the ball, the Dutch captain Johan Cruyff rushed through the opposing defense and was fouled inside the box by Bayern München’s Uli Hoeneß. Johan Neeskens took the penalty and put the Oranje in front. Still in shock, the hosts tried to recover but only managed to shoot twice against the Dutch goal before the 25th minute, both badly delivered by the legend Paul Breitner.

In the 25th minute, Bernd Hölzenbein dashed into the Dutch area and was fouled, earning a vital penalty for the hosts. This time, face to face with the goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed, Breitner didn’t miss it: 1-1. Pushed by over 75 thousand fans, the West Germans pressed and fought for the winner. Two minutes before the break, Gerd Müller received the ball and spun quickly inside the box, sending it straight to Jongbloed’s lower right corner and putting the home side in advantage.

Angry with Berti Vogts' tight marking throughout the whole match, Cruyff argued with the referee while exiting the pitch and thus became the first player to be awarded a yellow card in a final at halftime.

In the second half, the Dutch attacked from the first to the last minute, leaving many spaces for the German counterattacks. Gerd Müller scored again, but was denied by the linesman flagging him offside. Johan Neeskens had a clear chance in the dying minutes, but his volley was saved by the great Sepp Maier, who was playing one of the best games of his career.

After the final whistle, the German genius had won against the Dutch: Franz Beckenbauer, Der Kaiser, was the World Champion, while Johan Cruyff would have to settle with the silver medal.


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    • Hugo Pressman profile imageAUTHOR

      Hugo Pressman 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      Yes it is!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      is that a Scotland football shirt on your profile pic?

    • Hugo Pressman profile imageAUTHOR

      Hugo Pressman 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      Here in Brazil Cruzeiro, a team from my city and current Brazilian Champions


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