The FIFA World Cup is the biggest event in football. First held in 1930, the tournament has produced iconic moments that have stood the test of time and remain etched in our minds.
From Pele announcing himself on the world stage as a teenager to Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’, here are the top 10 moments in the World Cup over the years.
Maradona’s ‘Goal of the Century’ against England (1986 World Cup)
Argentina lifted its second World Cup title in the 1986 World Cup held in Mexico. Diego Maradona was the star of the tournament with a total of 10 goal involvements (five goals and five assists). The 1986 World Cup saw two incidents which would go on to be recorded in the history books, with Maradona being the talking point in both. Both incidents happened in the quarterfinal match between Argentina and England- the ‘Hand of God’ and ‘Goal of the Century’.
Four minutes after Maradona scored the infamous goal with his hand, he went on to score arguably the greatest goal ever in a World Cup. In the 55th minute, England’s Peter Beardsley lost possession to Jose Luis Cuciuffo. Hector Henrique pounced on the loose ball and passed it to Maradona who was inside his own half.
What followed was nothing short of wizardry as Maradona carried the ball from his half, left three England players in their wake (Peter Reid, Gary Stevens and Terry Butcher), dribbled past keeper Peter Shilton and slotted the ball in the net.
In a span of 11 seconds, Maradona had created football history.
Gordon Banks’ ‘Save of the Century’ (1970 World Cup)
In the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, England faced eventual winner Brazil in a group stage match at the Guadalajara. Brazil went on to win the match 1-0 but it was an England player who stole the headlines. England keeper Gordon Banks made a miraculous save to keep out Pele’s header.
Brazil’s Jairzinho beat his marker, Terry Cooper, easily and lifted in a pinpoint cross from the right for Pele. Pele’s timing of the run and the eventual header was equally good and he rose high above the English defence to head the ball towards the goal.
Banks, who was readjusting his position from the near post, dived backwards instead of diving towards the bounce of the ball. Choosing not to parry it, fearing the presence of Pele and Rivelino in the box, Banks manipulated the ball with his fingertip and lifted it above the crossbar to safety.
Pele, who was assured that he had scored, is said to have shouted ‘Gol’ and had his hands up in the air and was wheeling away in celebration, was left astounded at what transpired.
USA defeats England 1-0: The Miracle on Grass (1950 World Cup)
Post the Second World War, the English National Team was the team to beat and was globally acknowledged as the best in the sport.
So, when the United States of America faced England in a group stage match of the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, everyone thought it would be a cakewalk for the England team.
At the time, the USA was not considered a threat in football and their team had a lot of semi-pro players who had other part-time jobs including a teacher, a dishwasher and a funeral home worker.
With every odd against the USA, it pulled off one of the biggest upsets in football history after beating England by a 1-0 margin. Joe Gaetjens scored the only goal of the match in the 58th minute and scripted history for the USA football team.
The team that had just one practice session before departing for the World Cup had beaten the mighty English. USA head coach Bill Jeffery told the press before the game “We have no chance,” but his USA team had pulled off a ‘miracle on grass.’
Teenager Pele scores a brace in 1958 World Cup final
Pele was all but 17 when he played his first World Cup for Brazil in 1958. Scoring six goals in the tournament, the world witnessed the birth of a new phenomenon. Missing out on the first two group games, Pele was first noticed when he scored the winner in Brazil’s quarterfinal match against Wales. He followed that up with a hat-trick against France in the semifinals.
However, it was his brace in the final against Sweden, that is described as one of the best World Cup performances of all time.
With Brazil leading 2-1 against Sweden, Pele scored his first in the 55th minute in prime fashion. Receiving a high ball, he controlled it expertly with his chest, knocked the ball over his head while being marked by a defender, took a turn, and volleyed it past Swedish goalkeeper Karl Svensson. Pele’s second goal came off a Mario Zagalo cross in the 89th minute. After Zagalo floated a wonderful ball inside the box, the 17-year-old Pele rose above everyone and headed the ball in to score Brazil’s fifth goal.
Pele won the first of his three World Cups in 1958.
Kuwait’s Prince stops play, 1982 World Cup
It was a historic moment for Kuwait after it qualified for the 1982 World Cup in Spain but its short stint with the World Cup is remembered for all the wrong reasons.
In a group match against an in-form France team, Kuwait was trailing 3-1 when in the 78th minute France midfielder Alain Giresse knocked in the fourth goal for his team. What was surprising, however, is that the Kuwait players had completely frozen leading up to the goal. They thought that referee Miroslav Stupar had blown the whistle when in reality, the sound had come from the crowd.
This angered the Kuwaiti players and the goal was met with protest. Angry against the supposed injustice against his team, Sheikh Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah (Prince Fahad), the prince of Kuwait and also the President of the nation’s football association ushed onto the pitch to remonstrate with the referee.
The play was stopped and after a long halt where the Prince threatened to pull out from the tournament, referee Stupar shockingly overturned his decision and cancelled the goal to the fury of the French team.
However, France did not need much time to score its fourth as Maxime Bossis scored in the 89th minute. This time, there was no room for protest. Eventually, Kuwait bowed out of the tournament with a 1-0 loss to England and has never qualified for the World Cup finals since then.
Referee Miroslav Stupar was banned from officiating thereafter.
Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ against England (1986 World Cup)
Diego Maradona, for Argentina, was the definition of ‘clutch’ in the 1986 World Cup. With five goals and the same number of assists, he guided the La Albiceleste almost single-handedly to the trophy. However, his infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the quarterfinal match remains one of the most iconic yet debatable moments.
Early in the second-half of the match, Maradona passed the ball to teammate Jorge Valdano. Valdano tried to take on the English defenders but lost possession. England midfielder Steve Hodge kicked the ball towards his goal.
Ideally, Maradona, who was inside the box, should have been offside but since the ball came off an opponent, he was onside. Maradona was alone in the box and with the ball coming down, both he and England keeper Peter Shilton went for the ball. Shilton had a significant aerial advantage over Maradona but the latter still went for the ball with an outstretched left arm. His first, which was close to the head, touched the ball and it went inside the goal. Maradona looked at the referee and linesman for confirmation and broke into celebration as the goal was given.
Tunisian referee Ali Bennaceur initially gave the goal but after protests from the English players, he spoke to the second linesman who confirmed the goal.
Recently, Maradona’s “Hand of God” ball fetched a top bid of £2m at the auction but a final sale could not be reached as negotiations continued.
Zidane headbutts Materazzi (2006 World Cup final)
Zinedine Zidane is undoubtedly one of the finest players to grace the game. However, the last match of his playing career was far from perfect as his headbutt to Italy’s Marco Materazzi led to him seeing a red card.
It was the 2006 World Cup final between France and Italy. It was 1-1 after Zidane and Materazzi had scored for their respective teams. Ninety minutes of football could not separate the two teams and the match went into extra-time.
There were a few clashes and exchanges of words between Zidane and Materrazi but what followed was a surprise to everyone. In the 110th minute, Zidane shocked the whole world when he headbutted Materazzi down on the ground. After the Italian players drew the referee’s attention to the incident and he understood what had happened, Zidane immediately saw a red card. There was confusion as to what led to the shocking act, but later Materazzi said he had made a snide remark about his sister but did not expect Zidane to react that way. The British media said Materazzi had insulted his mother but the player vehemently denied the accusation and even won a libel case in 2009 against the British media in a bid to clear his name.
Italy went on to lift the World Cup after beating France 5-3 on penalties.
The world sees the Cruyff turn (1974 World Cup)
Johan Cruyff is one of the most talented footballers to grace the game of football. A talented dribbler, he was known for his flair and the natural talent he displayed on the field. He was part of the Netherlands team that pioneered the concept of ‘Total Football’.
Cruyff could not win a World Cup throughout his career but it was in a World Cup that Cryuff produced one of football’s most iconic moments.
It was the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. The Netherlands was playing Sweden in a group-stage match. In the 24th minute, Cruyff had control of the ball in an attacking position but was facing toward his goal. Heavily marked by Swedish defender Jan Olsson, the obvious route would have been to find a teammate and not lose possession. Instead of that, he feigned a pass before dragging the ball behind his standing leg, turning 180 degrees, and accelerating away. The move was so simple yet so effective and unpredictable.
That was the birth of the Cruyff turn and has since then, been one of football’s most recognised dribbling moves.
It should be noted that Cruyff was most probably not the first player to do it but he was the one who made it popular.
Cameroon shocks Argentina (1990 World Cup)
Led by Diego Maradona, Argentina started the 1990 World Cup in Italy as defending champion. Maradona had etched himself in the history books after a monumental campaign in 1986 that saw his team lift the title, so expectations were high.
It was a Group B match between Argentina and Cameroon with the former starting as heavy favourites. What was supposed to be an easy day at the office for Argentina, turned out to be one of the World Cup’s biggest upsets as Cameroon beat the defending champion 1-0.
The match was far from perfect and Cameroon finished the match with nine players after Andre Kana-Biyik and Benjamin Massing saw red cards. Halted frequently due to reckless tackling, Maradona was a victim of multiple heavy tackles that day but surely none of the tackles would have hurt more than Francois Omam-Biyik’s goal in the 67th minute. It was a goal that sent shockwaves across the world and it eventually turned out to be the winner.
African football had well and truly arrived.
Suarez sees red but has the last laugh (2010 World Cup)
The 2010 World Cup quarterfinal match between Uruguay and Ghana was the perfect example of late drama and controversy in football matches.
Ghana was the only remaining African team in the competition at the stage. With South Africa hosting the tournament, Ghana was receiving massive support throughout the continent and had massive home support.
Sulley Ally Muntari and Diego Forlan scored for their respective teams and the score stood at 1-1 after 90 minutes.
In the final minute of extra-time, Ghana gets a freekick and had a chance to seal the match with a goal. Ghana whipped in a lovely ball inside the Uruguay box. The ball bounced through the area and was ultimately headed towards the goal. However, Luis Suarez, an outfield player blatantly cleared the ball off the line using his hands. It was a clear red card and the player was sent off.
Ghana was awarded a penalty kick and Asamoah Gyan stepped up to take it. But, Gyan missed the penalty as the ball hit the crossbar and went out of play.
With the scores level, the quarterfinal went to penalties where Uruguay broke African hearts after beating Ghana 4-2 on penalties.