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The 20 greatest matches in the FIFA World Cup history - part IV (1990-2014)

Updated on October 22, 2018
Hugo Pressman profile image

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

Still unbelievable
Still unbelievable

Uruguay 1-1 (4-2 after penalty shootout) Ghana, July 2nd 2010, Johannesburg, South Africa – quarter-finals

In 2010, the World Cup was held for the first time in the African continent and, for the third time ever (after Cameroun in 1990 and Senegal in 2002), an African team would reach the quarter-finals.

During the first round, both Uruguay and Ghana were sorted in tough groups. The South Americans would face 2006 runners-up France, the hosts from South Africa and Mexico while the Black Stars had Serbia, Australia and Germany in their path. After a dull 0-0 against the French, the Uruguayans managed to beat the South Africans (3-0) and the Mexicans (1-0), which placed them top of their group with seven points. Ghana, on the other hand, narrowly won against Serbia (1-0), tied with the Australians (1-1) and lost its last game to the Germans (0-1). The Ghanaians were only able to qualify to the next round due to a surprising Aussie victory by 2-1 against the Serbians, who had beaten Germany previously.

In the second round, the South Americans had no big problems to defeat South Korea thanks to Luis Suárez’s brace: 2-1. The Africans had no easy job once more and needed to go through extra time to beat the USA by 2-1. This meant that Uruguay and Ghana would face each other for the very first time in a senior competitive match.

Before the game, there was feeling of brotherhood among Africans in general, giving the real possibility of the continent reaching the semi-finals for the first time in history. With the South African crowd on their side, the Ghanaians opened the scoreline moments before the break through a terrific long shot delivered by Sulley Muntari. Yet, with only ten minutes in the second half, Diego Forlán equalized with a beautiful free kick. Both teams had opportunities to find the winner, but the match went to extra time.

Ghana dominated the 30 extra minutes. Kevin-Prince Boateng had a great chance inside the box, but headed it wide. In the last minute, the Africans sent a free kick into the box and Luis Suárez saved twice on the goal line: first a shot from Stephen Appiah, with his feet, then a header from Dominic Adiyiah, with his hands. The referee had no doubt, awarded Ghana the penalty and showed Suárez the red card. The Uruguayan striker exchanged his country’s certain elimination for his presence on the pitch, simple as that. Asamoah Gyan, one of his nation’s finest strikers ever, took the penalty with confidence, but hit the crossbar and wasted the opportunity to put an African team in the semi-finals for the first time.

The images of Suárez crying before heading back to the dressing rooms and then celebrating the missed penalty became iconic. This extraordinary moment started an endless debate worldwide concerning ethics in sports: is it worth it doing anything in order to achieve victory?

The match went to the penalty shootouts. Maxi Pereira missed for the Uruguayans, while Fernando Muslera saved the shots from Mensah and Adiyiah. In what could be the last and decisive shot, Sebastián “El Loco” Abreu lived up to his nickname and scored with a Panenka shot, sending his nation to the semi-finals for the first time since 1970.

Africa was once again very close to the top four in a World Cup, but had its dream shattered because of a few inches. The South Americans, on the other hand, finished that Cup in 4th place and started the “renaissance” of their mighty and legendary football tradition. After the heroic campaign in 2010, Uruguay were champions of the 2011 Copa América and reached the second round in the 2014 World Cup.

Asamoah Gyan breaks down in tears after missing his country's most important penalty ever
Asamoah Gyan breaks down in tears after missing his country's most important penalty ever | Source

Spain 1-5 Netherlands, June 13th 2014, Salvador, Brazil – group stage

Right in the second day of competition in 2014 a great match made history. For the first time ever, the finalists of a previous World Cup would face each other during their opening match in group stage.

Even though the Dutch wanted revenge after their defeat in South Africa, Spain had the chance to open the scoreline after a badly awarded penalty from Stefan De Vrij over Diego Costa. Xabi Alonso didn’t miss the opportunity and made it 1-0 for the 2010 champions. Just before the break, though, Robin Van Persie scored a spectacular equalizer. After a brilliant long pass by Daley Blind, the Manchester United striker dove and managed to chip the ball over Iker Casillas with a superb header from outside the box. This goal became viral worldwide and many people produced their own adaptations, turning it into a World Cup meme.

More confident after the fantastic goal, Netherlands dominated the second half. In the 53rd minute, after another great pass from Blind, Arjen Robben scored from inside the box: 1-2. 12 minutes later, Stefan de Vrij headed it home after a cross from Wesley Sneijder. Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas protested after this goal, claiming he was fouled by Van Persie, but was only awarded a yellow card for his protests.

A few minutes after that, David Silva scored from a rebound, but the goal was disallowed by the linesman: Silva was offside. That goal could have meant the start of a Spanish reaction, but moments later, Robin Van Persie seized the chance after an unbelievable mistake by Iker Casillas. The legendary keeper couldn't control the ball with his feet inside his own area, the Dutch striker took it from him and made it 1-4. Ten minutes before the final whistle, Robben received the ball close to the halfway line and, with an extraordinary run, passed by two Spanish defenders and Casillas before scoring another brilliant goal.

Both teams still had chances to score again, mostly Netherlands, but the 1-5 remained until the end and became the biggest loss margin for a defending champion ever. The Spaniards lost their second match as well (0-2 against Chile) and were eliminated. The Dutch were able to reach the semi-finals and finished the World Cup unbeaten and with the bronze medal - won over the Brazilian hosts. Spain’s 1-0 victory in 2010 was unforgettable and deserved, but no one can say that the Dutch revenge was less remarkable.

Brazil 1-7 Germany, July 8th 2014, Belo Horizonte, Brazil – semi-finals

Belo Horizonte was already an important city in the history of the World Cup after USA's shocking 1-0 victory over England in 1950. But after the 8th of July of 2014, the Americans' upset would even seem small.

Brazil had a hard run throughout the tournament, but after 12 years was finally back in the top four. In the group round, the Seleção had a good but controversial opening match against Croatia (3-1), a well fought but criticized draw against Mexico (0-0) and a standard 4-1 triumph over the already eliminated Cameroon. In the second round, the hosts had hard tasks against Chile, eliminating the South American rivals after a penalty shootout, and Colombia, a narrow 2-1 victory. The nation’s best player and owner of the mighty number 10 shirt, Neymar, got badly injured after a contest by Colombia’s Camilo Zúñiga and was out of the tournament.

The Germans had a tremendous start in the World Cup, thrashing Portugal by 4-0. Then, an exciting draw with Ghana (2-2) and a narrow win over the USA meant they were qualified to the next round as their group winners. Just like Brazil, Germany had problems in the second round, but managed to defeat Algeria by 2-1 after extra time. A difficult but well deserved triumph over France in the quarter-finals (1-0) sent Joachim Löw’s side to their fourth consecutive semi-final.

Even without Neymar, injured, and captain Thiago Silva, suspended, journalists from all around the globe predicted a close match. Brazil, in fact, tried to dominate in the early stages of the encounter, but after a well taken corner by Toni Kroos at the 11th minute, Thomas Müller put Die Mannschaft ahead.

Brazil tried to get up and put up some fight, but its defense got completely wrecked in the next 18 minutes. First, Miroslav Klose broke Ronaldo’s record as the all-time top goalscorer in World Cups: 2-0. At this point, some fans were already crying as if they had already foreseen what was about to happen. One minute later, Toni Kroos also put his name on the history books and scored the fastest brace ever in the tournament (between the 24th and 26th minutes). When Kroos made it 3-0, the German commentator Béla Réthy was already astonished - “Was ist denn hier los?!” (“What is going on here?!”). After another successful counterattack, Sami Khedira made it 5-0 at the 29th minute. Those were the fastest four goals scored ever in a World Cup: from the 23rd to the 29th minute.

Brazilian coach Luiz Felipe Scolari made two changes during the break: Ramires and Paulinho in the places of Hulk and Fernandinho, respectively. Those changes improved the team offensively, but the defense remained absurdly vulnerable. Without pressing hard, the Germans scored twice in the second half, both of them through substitute André Schürrle. They even had opportunities to make it 8, 9 or even 10-0, but in the end, after an incredible miss by Mesut Özil face-to-face with Julio César, Oscar scored Brazil’s only goal on a counter: 1-7.

This epic massacre broke numerous records and it would require an exclusive article just to mention all of them. After the famous Maracanazo in 1950, now Brazil had a new dark moment in its legendary footballing history: the Mineirazo. Sunk in shame and humiliation, the hosts would still have to play the 3rd place playoff against their 2010 tormentors, the Dutch. After another humiliation before their own fans, a 3-0 loss, the Brazilians achieved the dishonourable feat of conceding 10 goals and scoring only one in their last two matches combined.

After the unbelievable, shocking, absurd, unimaginable win, the Germans were the favourites in the final against Argentina. And they managed to confirm that, winning the fourth star for their national shirt after a thrilling 1-0 triumph in extra time.

The biggest tragedy in Brazilian football history triggered many demands from fans and press regarding the lack of investment in young players’ development and sport infrastructure, poor management, clubs' financial organization, among many other issues. One year after the infamous defeat, almost nothing has changed and the national team recently had another poor display, this time in the 2015 Copa América, being eliminated by Paraguay in the quarter-finals. They are going to have a difficult time in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, no doubt.

This fantastic match became laughingstock in Brazil and the expression “7 a 1 foi pouco” (“7-1 was little”) is widely used when something absurd or shameful involving the country happens. Today (August 4th 2015), the chamber of Councilors of Campinas, a city in the State of São Paulo, expressed its wish to establish the 8th of July as the official “É gol da Alemanha” (“It’s a goal from Germany”) day. Yes, it is true.

Argentine fans mock the Brazilians with the date 1st of July of 2015 (01/07/2015) during the 2015 Copa América
Argentine fans mock the Brazilians with the date 1st of July of 2015 (01/07/2015) during the 2015 Copa América | Source

Have your say!

Did I miss a memorable game in this top 20 look-back? Have your say and feel free to comment! There were many remarkable moments out of this list. When it comes to the World Cup, we can always expect the best of football/soccer!


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    • Hugo Pressman profile imageAUTHOR

      Hugo Pressman 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      I tried not to separate matches that happened in the same tournament, so in the end the quantity of games per part was a little unbalanced. I thought of Argentina vs Cameroon, but, since I'm also working on a list featuring the greates upsets, I've decided to write about it over there. Argentina vs England and USA vs Portugal were great! It was really hard to get down to only 20 and I know I missed a couple of incredible games haha Thanks for the tips and glad you liked it!

    • Antonio Martinez1 profile image

      Antonio Martinez 

      4 years ago from Kearny, New Jersey

      Quite an interesting list, but I am a bit surprised that only three games were featured in part 4. Where is Cameroon's upset of Argentina rank on the top 20? And 1998 with Argentina and England? I'm sure there could be also room for 2002 with USA over Portugal!

    • Hugo Pressman profile imageAUTHOR

      Hugo Pressman 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      Romania vs Sweden was indeed an amazing game, but those final moments in Ghana vs Uruguay were just stunning! Spain vs Netherlands was also quite thrilling. Almost every final carries that exciting atmosphere

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Romania 2:2 Sweden, 1994, was much more entertaining as a whole than Ghana 1:1 Uruguay, imo

    • Hugo Pressman profile imageAUTHOR

      Hugo Pressman 

      4 years ago from Brazil

      Thanks, man!

    • onlinerewards profile image


      4 years ago from Atlanta

      nice POst

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Maybe france 0x1 senegal. Or portugal 0x0 england in 2006


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