10. Dennis Bergkamp touches the sky
Netherlands 2-1 Argentina, Stade Velodrome
World Cup quarter-final, 4 July 1998
The moment Dennis Bergkamp is waiting. It’s the 89th minute of the World Cup quarter-final and Frank De Boer has just played an eye-catching 60-yard ball out of defence. So far, ‘eye-catching’ is also the adjective you could use to describe the game itself. There’s been quality, controversy, a red card for Ariel Ortega, two sublime goals and a lot of open, attacking football.
Yet, improbably, it’s about to get better. Much better.
In one magnificent move and three sublime touches, Bergkamp pulls the ball out of the sky, takes Roberto Ayala out of the equation and even curves the ball around Carlos Roa.
“That’s my top goal, I think. Also because of everything around it. It’s a goal that gets you to the semi-final of the World Cup, a massive stadium, lots of people watching and cheering… My reaction afterwards was very emotional… To score in this way.” Bergkamp
“What can you compare it to? Different sports? Like running the hundred metres and you know this is going to be a good time? But you’re in that moment. That’s the feeling. After the first two touches… that moment! You give absolutely everything in that movement. It’s like your life has led up to this moment.” Bergkamp
What it meant The most wondrous of last-minute winners. And on one of the highest of stages.
9. The first minute, 1974
Netherlands 1-2 West Germany, Olympiastadion
World Cup final, 7 July 1974
The moment The Dutch players are assured and confident… even arrogant. The West Germans, by contrast, are anxious and cautious… even afraid.
And, as soon as the 10th World Cup final begins, all of the pre-game predictions are coming true. Johan Cruyff kicks off the game but also an extraordinary passage of play. Over the next minute, eight of the 11 Dutch players touch the ball in a revolving 17-pass move that can almost be described as insolent.
The frustrated German team just can’t get near it.
And the fearful German fans just can’t accept it.
They start whistling.
But it’s at that point that Cruyff starts charging. In a typically darting run, he’s tripped by Uli Hoeness.
Johan Neeskens scores.
A German player still hasn’t touched the ball. And it seems they simply can’t touch the Dutch. This is set for a rout.
“In the tunnel, we planned to look them in the eye, to show we were as big as they were… but I couldn’t do it. They made us feel small.” West Germany’s Bernd Holzenbein
“I didn’t mind if we only won 1-0, as long as we humiliated them.” Willem van Hanegam
“We wanted to make fun of the Germans. We didn’t think about it but we did, passing the ball around and around. We forgot to score the second goal. When you see the film of the game, you can see that the Germans got more and more angry. It was our fault. It would have been much better if West Germany had scored in the first minute.” Johnny Rep
What it meant for the most part, it seemed to confirm Holland’s absolute superiority. Total Football at its most theatrical. As if the Dutch could score at will.
The only problem was that they never did. The assumptive arrogance of the first minute set the tone for the next 20. The Dutch played like matadors who forgot to inflict the final blow.
In that, it was a victory before a victory. But not the one that really mattered.
Worse, it gave the Germans a righteous energy and purpose. And, when they finally applied it through Paul Breitner’s equaliser, it caused the Dutch players’ mentality to collapse as they suddenly seemed to realise how precarious their performance actually was.
In the longer term, author David Winner would even argue that the first minute shaped the entirety of Dutch post-war history. Whatever the truth of that, it certainly shaped the personality of the national team. For the next 30 years, Holland would have a somewhat justified reputation for providing purism but no punch.
And, on a most elemental level, the opening minute would be the ultimate lesson for any team who failed to fulfil their jobs, who let emotion cloud their gameplan and – ultimately – who didn’t take their chances.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Arsenal 2-2 Barcelona, 2009-10 Champions League
8. Real’s famous fifth
Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt, Hampden Park
European Cup final, 18 May 1960
The moment Initially, Real Madrid weren’t rampant. They were taken aback.
Eintracht Frankfurt had gone ahead in the 18th minute. And the Germans were a team, after all, that had put 12 goals past the home-town side, Rangers, in the previous round.
As Real finally concentrated and started to crank up their passing carousel, though, they realised Eintracht had no authentic defensive midfielders.
Immediately and ruthlessly exposing the flaw, the defending champions began to continuously work the ball to Francisco Gento. Time and again, he outstripped Friedel Lutz. And, time and again, Real outmanoeuvred Eintracht.
By the 27th minute they had equalised. By the 29th they were ahead. By half-time they were producing a flourish five years in the making.
“It was incredible really. We were aware on the day that this was something special.” Francisco Gento
“The crowd had not simply been entertained. They had been moved by the experience of seeing a sport played to its ultimate standards… the fact [Real] were engaged in winning the European Cup for the fifth successive year seemed equally inevitable and incidental in the midst of the most magnificent sporting artistry Hampden Park has ever seen.” Hugh McIlvanney in The Scotsman
What it meant The ultimate crowning moment. And in many ways. With so many kings. Alfredo Di Stefano became the first and only player to score in five consecutive finals. Ferenc Puskas became the first and only player to score four in a final.
And, most importantly, Real Madrid became the first and only team to win five successive European Cups. What a crescendo they completed the run with too.
In that, it remains the most fitting and fantastic European Cup final of all time – setting a stunning standard for the competition’s future.
7. Hungary change history
England 3-6 Hungary, Wembley
Friendly, 22 November 1953
The moment In 90 years of international football, England had never been beaten at home by a team outside of Britain and Ireland. That record helped perpetuate an aura carried over from the game’s origins, that the English remained the standard-bearers, the benchmark.
But, after 90 years, it took only 45 seconds for Hungary to render all of that irrelevant.
Jozsef Bozsik fed Nandor Hidegkuti just outside the English box, with the playmaker firing home superbly.
Although it was the opening minute, it was to remain the game’s most symbolic and significant moment. Even more so than Ferenc Puskas’s more famous drag-back.
Because, although Jackie Sewell would hit an equaliser, it was Hidegkuti who would very soon put Hungary back into the lead. And it was his position, precision and prowess that so perplexed England.
With English’s football tactical experimentation effectively having stopped at Herbert Chapman’s W-M in 1934, Walter Winterbottom’s side simply couldn’t comprehend the idea of – let alone a solution to – Hidegkuti’s audacious playmaker role. With English centre-half Harry Johnston unsure whether to sit or follow the number-nine’s movement, Hidegkuti was left to weave magic.
But, not only were England light years behind tactically. They were seemingly light years behind technically. It said much that commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme was so enraptured by Puskas’s idle display of ball-juggling before the game.
And the marriage of the two traits created a magnificent, mythic performance.
“Wembley was like a holy place for footballers, so there was a certain nervousness in going out there. But that feeling lasted only until the first touch of the ball.” Hungary’s Jeno Buzanszky
“To me, the tragedy was the utter helplessness… being unable to do anything to alter the grim outlook.” English centre-half Johnston
“We completely underestimated the advances that the Hungarians had made.” Billy Wright
“The match showed the clash of two formations and, as often happens, the newer, more developed formation prevailed.” Buzanszky
“We saw a style of play, a system of play that we had never seen before… But the way they played, their technical brilliance and expertise – our WM formation was kyboshed in 90 minutes of football. The game had a profound effect, not just on myself but all us. That one game alone changed our thinking.” Bobby Robson
“To be honest, Sandor Kocsis was nowhere near his best. If he had shown his real form, the result would have been even more cruel.” Buzanszky
“It is difficult to think of another game the ramifications of which stretched so far.” Jonathan Wilson
What it meant More so than anything that happened in the following year’s World Cup, the dimensions of this display created the myth of the Magyars. Without a doubt, this was the team’s peak. But they stayed there for a few more months and into the World Cup, eviscerating England 7-1 in Budapest a few weeks before the tournament began.
Inevitably, Hungary’s innovations would also spread globally too. Hidegkuti’s playmaker role would soon become the most influential in the sport – and also the most cherished, particularly in the Balkans and South America. In the latter, Hungarian coach Bela Guttman would help develop the quicksilver Brazilian approach to the game. Pele, meanwhile, would sparkle in the 1958 World Cup from the same position as Hidegkuti.
England, however, would have many more elementary alterations to make before even looking at such sophisticated tactics. The defeat resulted in a complete review of the antiquated training and tactics used by English teams as well as the subsequent adoption of many continental practices.
The FA, it must be said, never completely learnt their lesson. But they did make enough changes to set up a proper charge at the 1966 World Cup.
And it was one of the victims of 1953 who would oversee that victory. Alf Ramsey was one of six English starters that day never to be selected for the national team again. But, like many young English football men at the time, he couldn’t help but be even slightly influenced by the superiority of the Hungarians.
Of course, England would be doomed to keep repeating history after the 1966 World Cup, with every subsequent landmark defeat an apparently scaled-down replica of the Hungary game. In that, the match proved as emblematic as it did influential.
But not just for the English. Hungary would suffer a decline, and then a complete drop.
In more ways than one, the 6-3 remains a football Shangri-la.
6. Rossi’s epic revolution
Brazil 2-3 Italy, Estadio Sarria
World Cup second stage, 5 July 1982
The moment The odds were stacked against the Italians. And not just because of their underwhelming opening games and worse preparation.
Because of the unusual three-team second-round group stage of the 1982 World Cup, a free-scoring Brazilian side only needed to draw. A defensive Italian team simply had to win.
And few would have had complaints if the result went as expected. The Brazilians, after all, had played some of the best football the tournament had ever seen. They seemed certain to win it in the most scintillating of fashions.
Except, when it came to the crunch, they couldn’t rein themselves in.
Just five minutes into a game played in ferocious heat and amid a fantastic, feral atmosphere, the previously hapless Paolo Rossi – just back from a long suspension for a betting scandal – headed home.
The dynamic had now changed. The pattern was set: Brazil attacking in cavalier fashion, Italy intelligently countering.
Within seven minutes, Socrates had supremely finished a one-two with Zico. Within another 13, Rossi capitalised on Cerezo’s ridiculous backpass to put Italy back in front.
An epic game ebbed and flowed from then on with Italy just about keeping Brazil at bay. Until, in the 68th minute, Falcao equalised with a ferocious drive.
That should have been it. But Brazil couldn’t curb their enthusiasm or their inclination to just play.
There was still enough time and space for Rossi to hit a winner.
“We played artistic football with beauty, all about goals and attacking. Italy were the opposite, completely preoccupied with stopping the other side playing.” Zico
“I made Brazil cry.” The title of Rossi’s autobiography
“The day that football died.” Zico
What it meant Arguably the most epic and exhilarating game the World Cup had ever seen. And with similarly grandiose consequences: Italy would overcome recent history and form to eventually win an emotional World Cup; Brazil would bow out and begin to reassess where they were going.
But that contrast would underline a wider consequence of the match. As Jonathan Wilson writes in Inverting the Pyramid, “it was a game that lay on the a fault-line of history and, unlike 1970, football followed the victors, in style if not in formation… it was the day after which it was no longer possible simply to pick the best players and allow them to get on with it; it was the day that system won.”