70. Costinha pushes Porto over the line, Mourinho walks it
Manchester United 1-1 FC Porto, Old Trafford
Champions League last 16 second leg, 10 March 2004
The moment On the verge of the quarter-finals, all Manchester United have to do is defend this last, contentious free-kick. So tight are the margins, though, that all Porto have to do is score it. And, ultimately, the latter’s fierce resolve sees them through. Benni McCarthy hits the free, Tim Howard palms it down and Costinha reacts quicker than anyone… except, that is, his manager.
Apparently overtaken by the moment, Jose Mourinho leaps out of the Old Trafford bench and races up the touchline to joyously embrace his players.
“When Costinha scored, I was going crazy. Mourinho was going crazy. Everybody was going crazy.” Jorge Costa
“My team were out after 90 minutes, and in the quarter-finals after 91.” Mourinho
“In that season, and before, under Mourinho it didn’t matter who we played – United, Real Madrid, Lazio – we went to the game and we thought ‘can we win? Yes we can’.” Costa
What it meant at the time, it seemed like one of the Champions League’s great upsets, particularly since it led to an unfashionable Porto side winning the competition as a whole. In the grander context of history, though, the victory seems inevitable: a natural end product of Mourinho’s brilliance. Because, more than anything, this was the game that created his legend. In effect, it was the quintessential Mourinho victory: a tactical masterclass, a big scalp, a late win through sheer force of character and – above all – a brazen, eye-catching stunt from the man himself.
69. Van Basten reverses 1974
West Germany 1-2 Netherlands, Volksparkstadion
Euro 88 semi-final, 21 June 1988
The moment 14 years after the 1974 World Cup final, the Dutch were still carrying a lot of the pain and anguish from that traumatic defeat. Until, in the Euro 88 semi-final, they went through the ultimate catharsis: an almost exact reversal of that milestone match. As David Winner writes in Brilliant Orange, “probably never before or since has an historic game developed into so haunting a mirror of its predecessor. A night of dark memories and seeming redemption unfolded.”
First, an opening penalty early in second half for the team that would eventually lose. Then a dive to level things up for the inevitable victors. Lothar Matthaus struck first before Ronaldo Koeman took advantage of Marco Van Basten’s theatrics. But the striker would add a deeper level of drama still.
Three minutes from time, the ball was played to Van Basten towards the right of the German box. Covered by Jurgen Kohler, he seems to have been pushed too far wide… only to somehow hit a strike across the German defender. Like Gerd Muller’s 14 years earlier, “it’s almost more of a push than a hit”. But it’s enough. In every sense.
“The 1974 final was one of my motivations. I think the whole team had that knd of feeling – we have to beat them this time.” Hans van Breukelen
“It was the Lost Final reincarnate – with everything mixed up.” Winner
“Revenge!” a headline in De Telegraaf
What it meant a lot more than a football match. Half-Dutch journalist Simon Kuper wrote that “it was not only the resistance we never quite offered but also the battle we never quite won.” Strong words. But they were strong emotions. And they were to be distilled to an even greater degree.
The tournament remains the only occasion in which the Dutch have properly lived up to all of their potential and pretensions. It goes without saying that a paradigm-shifting victory over the Germans gave them the will to do it.
68. Trezeguet trumps Italy’s defence to triumph
France 2-1 Italy, De Kuip
Euro 2000 final, 2 July 2000
The moment after a thrilling tournament and a dramatic final, David Tezegeut provides the coup de grace. With France having finally broken Italy’s admirable defensive resistance in the 94th minute to force golden-goal extra-time, the striker then beats Francesco Toldo again in the most brilliant manner: powering a half-volley into the roof of the net.
“It is the willpower of the team that did it.” French manager Roger Lemerre
“The tournament as a whole was played at a very high standard… Pires put in a cross that was fairly difficult but I was on the spot.” Trezeguet
“When you feel victory is in your hands and it slips away it takes a lot out of your spirit. But it was a great effort. I’m really sorry, but that’s football.” Italian manager Dino Zoff
What it meant That a fantastic French team were crowned European champions and, by winning a double, one of the greatest international sides ever. Trezeguet’s half-volley was also the perfect finish in two senses. First, for the sheer quality of the strike. Secondly, as an appropriate ending to a rare international tournament in which all of the continent’s finest attacking talents played to the very maximum of their ability.
67. Bobby wins it for Busby and the Babes
Benfica 1-4 Manchester United, Wembley
European Cup final, 29 May 1968
The moment In one of the most emotion-drenched European Cup finals, Manchester United were desperate to finally deliver the trophy 10 years after so many of the Busby Babes had tragically died in pursuit of it. That desperation, however, led to a late anxiety that almost cost them. With the score 1-1 after Benfica had unexpectedly equalised, Eusebio should have won it late only for Alex Stepney to pull off the most stunning save of his career. Before extra-time, Busby knew something extra was needed. And found the words. “You’ve won it once, go and win it again.”
Within four minutes, both George Best and Brian Kidd had found the net.
Finally, in the 99th, Bobby Charlton secured the trophy – and, more importantly, the club’s legacy – with a glorious, clipped finish.
“No club and team ever had greater motivation.” Charlton
“It was a beautiful feeling. It was triumph and deliverance all wrapped up into one, but the deepest emotion would take a little time to well up.” Charlton
“I remember looking at Bobby and the boss. They both looked drained. The boss looked very old, which he had never seemed. There was a sense that this was the end of something momentous and it was almost immediate.” David Sadler
“I do recall what it meant to embrace teammates like Bill Foulkes… especially Bill because, like me, he had been on the snowy airfield and seen Matt Busby down and our team, his friends, destroyed.” Charlton
What it meant arguably more than any other European Cup victory, given that it transcended pure football. It became about honouring the memory of a magnificent but tragic young team. The Manchester United players felt they owed Busby. And Busby – above all – felt he owed the boys who died 10 years previous. As a teammate of those players and survivor of Munich himself, it was hard to think of a more fitting man as Charlton to start and finish the scoring on the night. In that, it was a match rich in emotional symbolism.
On a football level, though, one issue for United was that all of the sentiment around the game meant it also felt like too much of a natural ending. As if the Holy Grail had been reached and there were no more worlds to conquer. It would talk United another 31 years to reclaim the competition.
66. Rensenbrink on the brink
Argentina 3-1 Netherlands, Estadio Monumental
World Cup final, 25 June 1978
The moment There are just seconds left of the 1978 World Cup final. But the margins are to get even tighter still. Much tighter.
Holland had only equalised Mario Kempes’s first-half opener in the 82nd minute through Dick Nanninga. But, given how they had met – and overcome – Argentina’s aggression with supreme attacking football, the Dutch seemed deserving winners. And, at that point, the only winners. Certainly, they looked like they were about to confirm it.
First, Ruud Krol plays a precise free-kick. The ball evades the Argentine defence to land perfectly for Rob Rensenbrink just yards from goal. Slightly to the left, the winger – who has arguably been the star of the tournament with five goals to get Holland that far – looks certain to claim his sixth to win it all. He expertly guides the ball past goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol… but not the post. The ball meekly bounces back out. Holland are denied a last-second victory by a matter of inches.
“It was this close.” Rob Rensenbrink
“Of course, we felt the referee was not with us: that’s for sure.” Ruud Krol
What it meant That Argentina, instead of Holland, would win a first ever World Cup. Mario Kempes would eventually put the hosts ahead before Daniel Bertoni sealed the victory four minutes from time.
But that the Argentines had come so close to losing seemed to represent just how much help an admittedly excellent side needed to win this tournament. Certainly, luck seemed to be the least of the factors. There had already been a huge amount of controversy over the unprecedented 6-0 win against Peru that actually put them in the final. And, with the junta desperate for victory, the Dutch had to put up with all manner of interruptions, antagonism and delays both before and during the final.
Ultimately, it represented the apparent unfairness of the World Cup at that point. And a particularly infamous tournament as a whole.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Carsten Jancker and Mehmet Scholl hit the woodwork in the 1999 Champions League final
65. Senegal stun France
France 0-1 Senegal, Seoul World Cup Stadium
World Cup Group A, 31 May 2002
The moment it’s the opening game of the 2002 World Cup and France are justifiably aiming to upset history and become the first international team to win three major trophies in a row. Instead, they suffer one of the biggest – and furthest-reaching – upsets in history.
Looking a little unimaginative without the injured Zinedine Zidane, the defending champions are repeatedly threatened by Senegal’s clever counter-attacking game. Eventually, on 30 minutes, the razor-sharp El-Hadji Diouf rips the French left side apart. He crosses for Papa Bouba Diop who eventually forces the ball past Fabien Barthez.
“It is like a dream – not a miracle though.” Senegal coach Bruno Metsu
“It is a big, big performance for Senegal. They used good tactics and they played very well. But we cannot say after this result that the future of the French team in our group is finished.” Roger Lemerre
“We have run for miles for nothing. For the last 15 minutes, I’ve spent my time only going back and forth.We needed Zizou to keep the ball.” Frank Lebouef
What it meant A lot. On many levels. For a start, it was probably an even bigger upset than Cameroon’s win over Argentina 12 years previously. The French, after all, were in their absolute pomp. Indeed, the decade was supposed to be theirs. The exact opposite would prove the case. Because, while Senegal would emulate Cameroon by reaching the quarter-finals, the French would get nowhere near the final.
They would exit at the group stage goalless and pointless, but with plenty of accusations about the exact state of the squad. Indeed, to a certain extent, the French national team have never fully recovered from the defeat. They would be beset by the same on-pitch problems in 2004 and then endure the dramas of Raymond Domenech.
But then France’s travails would also reflect international football as a whole. And that game would point the way.
The French, after all, had entered the tournament with their egos overblown but with their bodies overworked by another gruelling year of Champions League football – with Zidane the best example of that. Hungrier, sharper and tighter, the more moderate talents of Senegal would work hard to bridge the gap between the teams by exposing France’s problems.
It set the template for the tournament and the next 10 years. In that time, international football has produced more shocks than at any other point in history. And it started with Senegal.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Rosenborg knock out Milan out of the Champions League, 1996-97
64. Schumacher flattens Battiston
West Germany 3-3 France, Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan
World Cup semi-final, 8 July 1982
The moment in an authentically epic game that ebbed and flow, goalkeeper Harald Schumacher took it to an emotional peak. Except this was outrage and physical pain rather joy or anguish.
With 56 minutes gone and the score at 1-1, Michel Platini looks to have made an opening as releases Patrick Battiston with a brilliant, piercing ball. The full-back still has the retreating Manny Kaltz and the onrushing Schumacher to bet but, racing ahead, it looks like he’ll be brave enough to get there first. He does. But he doesn’t get to finish it. Or indeed know what actually happened next.
Rather than try and claim the ball normally, the goalkeeper jumps and turns so that his hipbone smashes into Battiston’s face. With the unconscious Frenchman requiring immediate treatment, the game is stopped for several minutes. All the while, though, Schumacher simply and impassionately readies himself for the goal-kick. Neither a booking nor even a free are given.
“There’s no compassion among professionals. Tell him I’ll pay for the crowns.” Schumacher on learning that Battiston had lost two teeth
“He had no pulse. He looked so pale.” Platini
“Given the same circumstances, I’d do the same thing again. Believe it or not, I was really only trying to get to the ball.” Schumacher, 15 years later
“If I had the opportunity to watch it back? I think I’d have given Schumacher a red card.” Referee Charles Korver
“What happened in those two hours encapsulated all the sentiments of life itself. No film or play could ever recapture so many contradictions and emotions. It was complete. So strong. It was fabulous.” Michel Platini
“I feel no hate.” Battiston in 2008
What it meant on the night itself, that France would seemingly forever go on to prove no more than moral victors. Because, in a different manner to Schumacher, the German team as whole would steel themselves to come back from 3-1 down and then win on penalties. To add insult to literal injury, Schumacher saved twice.
In the aftermath, French manager Michel Hidalgo claimed “the match reignited the Franco-German antagonism that had faded”. And, duly, a post-World Cup poll to find the least popular person among the French put Schumacher ahead of Adolf Hitler. Battiston, meanwhile, suffered vertebra damage as well as the loss of two teeth.
But most of all, Schumacher’s unfeeling – but, crucially, unwavering – attitude seemed to encapsulate what the West Germans had become at that point: they were the ultimate win-at-all-costs team, as illustrated by their earlier controversial win over Austria to eliminate Algeria. Certainly, it set a stereotype for the Germans that has lasted to today.
There was some sense of justice as Italy would overwhelm the Germans in the final to widespread approval. And, in that, never has an international team proven so unpopular. But then few have been more successful.
Similar moments that didn’t make it West Germany and Austria play out a 1-0 to eliminate Algeria, 1982
63. Zidane loses his head
Italy 1-1 France, Olympiastadion
World Cup final, 9 July 2006
The moment In 1998, Zinedine Zidane had properly launched a legendary career by scoring two goals in the World Cup final with his head. In 2006, he would end it in the same fixture with the same body part but in a very different way.
In the 110th minute, Zidane and Materazzi were jogging closely together with the latter appearing to tug the Frenchman’s jerseys. Words were exchanged before Zidane stopped, turned and – incredibly – headbutted the Italian in the chest. As Materazzi lay crumpled in a heap, fourth official Luis Medina Cantalejo alerted the oblivious referee Horacio Elizondo. After consulting his assistants, the official sent Zidane off. And, in an even more evocative image, the playmaker had to walk by the World Cup trophy itself as he took his last steps as a professional.
“If you want my shirt, I will give it to you afterwards.” Zidane to Materazzi after the defender had grabbed him
“I prefer the whore that is your sister.” Materazzi’s response
“Zidane is a man of heart and conviction.” Jaques Chirac
“To see him finish his career in this way is sad.” Raymond Domenech
“Let’s not forget that provocation is a terrible thing. I have never been one to provoke. I have never done it. It’s terrible, and it is best not to react.” Zidane in 2009
What it meant Most immediately, that Zidane wouldn’t be on the pitch to take a penalty in the shoot-out. And, given how he had scored one in the seventh minute, a successful spot-kick later on could well have altered the course to Italy’s eventual victory. Indeed, the manner in which the art and audacity of that early shot contrasted with his later aggression ensured that the game essentially offered a microcosm of Zidane’s entire on-pitch personality: exquisite talent fired by an inner drive which occasionally over-spilled. This, after all, was the 14th red card of Zidane’s career and made him only the second player to be sent off in two separate World Cups.
Ultimately, it illustrated how many of the very greatest careers are defined by all manner of extremes.
62. Ronaldo: will he or won’t he?
Brazil 0-3 France, Stade de France
World Cup final, 12 July 1998
The moment A ripple went around the Stade de France and spread to TV studios and audiences all over the world. Ronaldo, undisputedly the finest player on the planet, was apparently out of its greatest match. Then, 40 minutes before kick-off, he was back in. Something was up. And something very odd.
That was how the moment played out in public.
The private moment was even more shocking and much more traumatic.
Particularly for Roberto Carlos and Edmundo. In a room with the former, Ronaldo had just had lunch at the team’s base before he began to shake uncontrollably and foam at the mouth. Carlos, overwhelmed by panic, starting screaming for help and banging on all the doors nearby.
Cesar Sampaio administered first aid, unravelling Ronaldo’s tongue to prevent him swallowing it. Immediately, the striker fell asleep.
In the meantime, there was debate over whether to even tell him what happened. Except, because he had to be taken for tests in order to see if he could play, there was no choice. Only if they were fine would he be able to play.
As such, Mario Zagallo faced a choice every bit as potentially divisive as the debates taking place in every TV studio in the world.
Eventually, Ronaldo played. But in the most basic description of the verb.
“When I saw what it was, I despaired. Because it was a really strong and shocking scene.” Edmundo
“We went back to our rooms, we rested. But, you know what I mean, everyone was worried. My room was linked, so I saw everything. Every five minutes someone came and stared, and Ronaldo was thee, sleeping like a baby.” Edmundo
“I chose Ronaldo. Now was it his being chosen that caused Brazil to lose? Absolutely not. I think it was the collective trauma, created by the atmosphere of what had happened.” Mario Zagallo
“Imagine if I stopped him playing and Brazil lost? At that moment I’d have to go and live on the North Pole.” Team doctor Lidio Toledo
What it meant On the night, that relative underdogs France would breeze to victory. Brazil, previously brilliant, were understandably subdued. And Ronaldo much more so. There was even an air of apprehension when Fabian Barthez clattered into the striker, sending him crashing to the ground.
The match was also the first of a series of incidents that eventually became a four-year hiatus in Ronaldo’s career. Indeed, it’s strongly arguable that he never again reached the same heights despite the subsequent successes in his career.
Of course, when you break the moment down, it was essentially a case of the best footballer in the world falling ill before the biggest game of his career. As such, there were a multitude of conspiracy theories and even an investigation in Brazil’s national congress to explain exactly what happened.
Only another World Cup victory could vanquish the pain. And, fittingly, Ronaldo provided it.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Hurst over Greaves, 1966; The Italian stafetta, 1970
61. The Tardelli scream
Italy 3-1 West Germany, Santiago Bernabeu
World Cup final, 11 July 1982
The moment 44 years since their last World Cup and 69 minutes into their second final since then, Italy stand on the precipice. They’re 1-0 up through Paolo Rossi’s goal but, as ever, a dangerous West German side are threatening. Suddenly, Italy break. The ball eventually finds its way to Tardelli at the edge of the box. He unleashes. And then let’s go.
“I was born with the scream, it didn’t just emerge at that moment. You live your life and have some good experiences and some bad ones. Then it all comes out at that moment.” Tardelli
What it meant 44 years of anguish poured into one moment and the ultimate image of unadulterated, unrestrained joy.