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The 20 greatest matches in the FIFA World Cup history - part III (1978-1986)

Updated on October 22, 2018
Hugo Pressman profile image

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

Diego Armando Maradona lifts the World Cup in 1986
Diego Armando Maradona lifts the World Cup in 1986 | Source

Italy 3-2 Brazil, July 5th 1982, Barcelona, Spain – second round

Brazil had one of their best teams of all time, full of players with great technique such as Toninho Cerezo, Júnior, Falcão, Sócrates, Éder and Zico. In the first group stage, the Brazilians had won all their three games: 2-1 against the USSR, 4-1 against Scotland and 4-0 against New Zealand. The Italians, on the other hand, had drawn all their three first matches against Poland (0-0), Peru (1-1) and Cameroon (1-1).

In the second round the two national teams formed the so called “Group of Death” alongside Argentina, who had a young Diego Armando Maradona in their ranks. The Italians beat the Argentines 2-1 and the Brazilians defeated their South American rivals 3-1, which gave them a short advantage for the last game against Italy given their greater goal difference.

A simple draw against the so far disappointing Italians would get the great Brazilian squad to the semifinals. Needing to win, the Italians started the match with an attacking stance and opened the scoreline with just five minutes after the kickoff. After a beautiful cross from Antonio Cabrini, Paolo Rossi headed it home: 1-0.

A few minutes later, Serginho Chulapa had the chance to equalize, face-to-face with Dino Zoff, but shot wide. Despite that, after a brilliant pass from Zico, Sócrates found the net and tied the match in Barcelona just five minutes after Rossi’s opener. 12 minutes later, though, Toninho Cerezo’s wrong pass in the middle of the Brazilian defense was intercepted by Rossi and the Juventus striker didn’t miss the opportunity to put the Azzurri again in front. Still in the first half, Zico fell inside the box after being pulled by Claudio Gentile, who even tore the Brazilian’s shirt, but the referee didn’t award the penalty.

In the second half the Brazilians pressed desperately for the equalizer, while the Italians defended and tried to hit back with counterattacks. In the 68th minute, Falcão finally found Brazil’s deserved equalizer with a beautiful shot from outside the box. But Italy still had Paolo Rossi. Only six minutes after that, the Italian number 20, who would finish the World Cup as the top goalscorer and best player, deflected Marco Tardelli’s shot from inside the area and made it 3-2.

Once more, Brazil threw themselves in search of the goal, but this time the Italian defense and Dino Zoff were able to hold it until the end. Four minutes before the end, Giancarlo Antognoni would even score the fourth, but the goal was wrongly disallowed by the linesman, who saw an inexistent offside.

After this heroic win and this fantastic display from Paolo Rossi, Italy would defeat Poland in the semifinal (2-0) and West Germany in the final (3-1) and finally win their third World Cup, after a long wait of 44 years. Brazil would have to wait for 12 more years to reach their fourth title, but the amazing team from 1982 would never be forgotten and is still regarded as one of the best Brazilian squads of all time.

Paolo Rossi is followed by Júnior in the famous match against Brazil in 1982
Paolo Rossi is followed by Júnior in the famous match against Brazil in 1982

West Germany 3-3 (5-4 after penalty shootout) France, July 8th 1982, Seville, Spain – semifinals

The Germans had lost their opening game in the World Cup to Algeria, but were able to bounce back and, after facing a difficult second round group with England and hosts Spain, were again in the semifinals. The French, who had also been defeated in their first game (3-1 for England), were able to advance to the second round and then to the semifinals.

Germany were playing better in the beginning and 1.FC Köln legend Pierre Littbarski hit the French crossbar with a well taken free kick. In the 17th minute, Bayern München’s Paul Breitner found Klaus Fischer inside the box, the Schalke 04 legend missed the opportunity, but Littbarski didn’t miss the rebound: 1-0. Ten minutes later, VfB Stuttgart’s Bernd Förster fouled PSG’s Dominique Rocheteau inside the box and Michel Platini took the penalty to equalize: 1-1.

In the second half, substitute Patrick Battiston had a violent collision with the German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher. The French defender was knocked unconscious, lost two teeth, cracked three ribs and damaged his vertebrae. Nevertheless, no foul was given and Christian Lopez took the field in the place of the severely injured Battiston.

In stoppage time, AS Monaco’s Manuel Amoros hit the German crossbar after a long shot, missing the last good chance of the 90 minutes as the match went to extra time.

With just eight minutes played in the extra time, France scored twice and seemed to have victory at hand. In the 92nd minute, the experienced defender Marius Trésor hit the German net after a beautiful volley and six minutes later Alain Giresse made it 3-1 with a shot from outside the box. In the 102nd minute, the injured Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who had come off the bench in the 97th minute, deflected a cross from Littbarski and made it 3-2, giving new hope to the Germans.

Just three minutes after the break, after another cross from Littbarski, HSV striker Horst Hrubesch headed the ball to the middle of the box and Klaus Fischer scored with a bicycle kick, his trademark. Both teams couldn’t find the winner and for the first time in the World Cup history a penalty shootout was carried out.

After six penalties for each team, Real Madrid defender Uli Stielike was denied by the French goalie Ettori, but Didier Six and Maxime Bossis were stopped by Harald Schumacher, who put the Germans in the final against Italy.

Very disappointed after losing that epic battle, the Frech used a reserve team in the third place match against Poland. More motivated, the Polish won 3-2 and finished with the bronze medal. The exhausted Germans faced Italy in the final and couldn’t put up a good fight, losing by 3-1.

USSR 3-4 Belgium, June 15th 1986, León, Mexico – second round

In 1986, the Soviet Union made their last good campaign in a World Cup. After advancing to the second round as group winners, ahead of Hungary, Canada and Platini’s France, they would face Belgium. Despite being regarded as the underdogs, the Red Devils also had a decent team, with stars such as FC Bayern goalkeeper Jean-Marie Pfaff, Club Brugge legend Jan Ceulemans and the talented midfielder Enzo Scifo.

In the group stage, the Soviets had thrashed Hungary by 6-0, tied 1-1 with France and then won 2-0 against the Canadians. Belgium, on the other hand, finished third in a group with Paraguay (2-2), Iraq (2-1) and hosts Mexico (1-2).

The USSR started the match pressuring and playing better. Pavel Yakovenko had the chance to open the scoreline, but hit the right post. A few minutes later, Ihor Belanov received the ball outside the area and scored from a beautiful shot: 1-0.

The Belgians responded in the second half. 11 minutes after the break, 20-year-old Scifo netted for the second time in the tournament and equalized. 14 minutes later, though, Dynamo Kyiv’s Belanov put the Soviets ahead once more. Still, the Belgians were not dead yet. In the 77th minute, Stéphane Demol’s long pass found Ceulemans inside the Soviet box and the captain didn’t miss the opportunity: 2-2 and extra time on the way.

In the 102nd minute, Demol would make the difference again. After a good cross from the right, the Anderlecht defender headed it home and put the Red Devils in front for the first time. In the second half of the extra time, Waregem’s Daniel Veyt had a very good chance inside the Soviet box, but his header went above the crossbar. In the 110th minute, Nico Claesen made it 2-4 after a beautiful volley from inside the area. The Belgians barely had time to celebrate it, because, a few seconds late, Belanov completed his hat-trick with a well-taken penalty and gave new hope to the USSR.

Valeri Lobanovsky’s team tried to find an equalizer and pressed hard in the last minutes, but the Belgian defense managed to hold it. After this epic win, the Red Devils would fight another heroic battle in the quarter-finals, this time against Spain, and reach the final four, which is still the nation’s best result ever in a World Cup. The Soviet Union would be runners-up in the 1988 European Championship, but would fail to make an impression in its last World Cup, being eliminated in the group stage in 1990.

"Un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios" ("A little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God") - MARADONA, Diego
"Un poco con la cabeza de Maradona y otro poco con la mano de Dios" ("A little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God") - MARADONA, Diego

Argentina 2-1 England, June 22nd 1986, Mexico City, Mexico – quarter-finals

The atmosphere before the game was already tense. Four years before the match, the United Kingdom had beaten Argentina in the Falklands War. Besides that, both teams had a violent contest in the quarter-finals of the 1966 World Cup after which the English coach Alf Ramsay called the Argentines “animals”.

In 1986, the South Americans were playing really well, inspired by some fantastic displays by Diego Maradona. After triumphing against South Korea (3-1) and Bulgaria (2-0) and drawing against Italy (1-1), Argentina found no big challenge against their local rivals Uruguay in the second round (1-0).

The Englishmen, on the other hand, struggled in the first round with one win (3-0 against Poland), one draw (0-0 against Morocco) and one loss (0-1 against Portugal). In the second round they thrashed Paraguay 3-0 and gained confidence for the upcoming derby against the Argentines.

In the first half, both teams had some chances, Argentina with two free kicks taken by Maradona and England with Beardsley, but the score remained 0-0. In the second half, Maradona would score two of the most famous goals ever in the short space of four minutes. In the 51st, Dieguito started writing history in the worst way possible, scoring the infamous goal of La Mano de Dios (“The hand of God”). After a bad clearance from English midfielder Steve Hodge, El Pibe de Oro disputed the ball in the air with Peter Shilton and, despite being 20cm (8 inches) shorter than the goalkeeper, reached it with his left hand and punched it to the net. Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser didn’t see it and the goal was confirmed.

In the 55th minute, Maradona would show his better side and write history in the best way possible. Argentina’s number 10 received the ball in his own half and dribbled past five English players. After leaving Peter Beardsley, Peter Reid, Terry Butcher and Terry Fenwick behind, he broke into the penalty box, left Peter Shilton on the ground and scored the Goal of the Century. Stunned by the two extraordinary goals, England would take some time to recover. In the 81st minute, Gary Lineker, who would finish the tournament as the top scorer, gave new hope to the Three Lions and, after a great cross by John Barnes, made it 2-1.

In the last minutes, both teams had clear chances. Maradona, in another inspired afternoon in Mexico, almost scored a hat-trick, but his shot hit Peter Shilton’s right post. In the dying minutes, John Barnes delivered another fine cross from the left, but Lineker couldn’t find the net this time.

After the match, the English wrath was of no use, even though the referee’s mistake was decisive for their elimination. Argentina, thanks to the feet and the hand of Maradó, was in the semi-finals. They would pass through Belgium with two more goals from Maradona and then win their second World Cup with a 3-2 victory over Germany. After eight years, the cup would travel again to Buenos Aires.


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