60. USA turn the World Cup on its head
USA 1-0 England, Estadio Independencia
World Cup group stage, 29 June 1950
The moment England may have been taking their first steps in a World Cup but they were doing so with assurance. The “home of football” had actually sat out the first three World Cupsdue to an ongoing row with Fifa. But that hadn’t changed the arrogant presumption that they were still superior to anyone anyway. And, to a degree, the view was justified. The team, after all, was made up of world-renowned players like Stanley Matthews and TomFinney. In the previous years, England had beaten many of the reigning world champions and, just before travelling to Brazil, they had beaten 1938 winners Italy 4-0 and Portugal 10-0. They also won their first ever game at a World Cup, against Chile, 3-1.
By contrast, the patched-together USA team consisted of postmen and high-school teachers. Joe Gatejens was one of three players added to the squad just before the game. Hastily assembled, they had lost their last seven games by an aggregate score of 45-2.
And, as the game got under way, it looked that would be considerably exaggerated. Straight away, England stormed the American goal. By the 12th minute, they had hit the post twice.
Oddly, though, the goal wouldn’t come. And, gradually, the USA grew a bit bolder.
Then, in the 37th minute, Walter Bahr took a shot from distance. And, as goalkeeper Bert Williams moved to claim it, Gaetjens dived headlong to deflect the ball. It only grazed him. But it was enough. USA were ahead. And, despite an English siege, it stayed that way.
“Bloody ridiculous. Can’t we play them again tomorrow?” Wilf Mannion
“Boy, I feel sorry for these bastards. How are they ever going to live down the fact we beat them.” Harry Keough
“It’s been 60 years. It’s taken a lot of forgetting as far as I am concerned.” Bert Williams in 2010
What it meant at that point, the biggest upset in the history of the World Cup bar none. The scales involved meant it was even more unlikely than Cameroon 1990 and North Korea 1966. In terms of that tournament itself, though, its only real impact was in rocking England so that they lost their next game to Spain and went home after the first round. For that World Cup, however, only group winners went through to the final stage. And, in the longer term, it wasn’t quite enough to realign English expectations about the quality of foreign football. That would take another three years.
59. Estudiantes begin a new era in just under eight minutes
Estudiantes 4-3 Platense, Estadio Camilo Cichero
Metropolitano Championship, 3 August 1967
The moment By the middle of the 1960s, Argentine football was going through a rather dramatic – and far-reaching – transformation. Old adventure was being replaced by aggression, joyful innocence by an unforgiving order. And that change was best symbolised – and reflected – by provincial side Estudiantes’ incredible comeback against Platense in the semi-final of the Metropolitano.
Indeed, since a side from outside Buenos Aires had never even won a title before, it was an achievement for Estudiantes to even get that far. But it was no fluke. By taking the new win-at-all-costs mentality to its absolute maximum, while also applying a forensic, scientific view to the game and attempting to eke out advantages wherever possible, manager Osvaldo Zubeldia had created a tightly-knit, tough-to-beat machine.
But not on 3 August 1967. Or not in the first half at least. Despite taking the lead after five minutes, Estudiantes were overwhelmed as Platense claimed a 2-1 lead. Worse, immediately after Zubeldia had gathered his team together in the dressing-room at half-time, Bulla scored to make it 3-1. The game looked over.
But Estudiantes only looked at each other. And lifted it. On 53 minutes, Juan Veron cut the deficit. On 59, Bilardo hit an absolute screamer to level the score. Two minutes later, the same player invited a challenge and won a penalty. Madero then converted and won the game.
Platense were too shell shocked to even provide a response. In the dressing-room, Zubedlia showed a very different emotion to half-time: tears of joy. And disbelief. But then he had strengthened the faith.
“Their victory has been a triumph for the new mentality.” El Grafico
“All the possibilities afforded by the game were foreseen and practised. The corners, the free-kicks, throw-ins were used to our best advantage.” Carlos Bilardo
What it meant that Estudiantes became the first side from outside Buenos Aires to win the Metropolitano, as they demolished Racing 3-0 in the final three days later. And, over the next few years, that victory would lead to Estudiantes becoming the first side in history to win the Copa Libertadores three times in a row. By doing so, they would also irrevocably alter the philosophy and outlook of Argentine – and, to an extent, South American – football.
58. Sindelar snubs the Nazis
Germany 0-2 Austria, Berlin
Friendly, 3 April 1938
The moment In 1938, it is very arguable that Mattias Sindelar was the greatest player in the world. He was certainly one of the greatest of the preceding decade, the centre-point of the fantastic Austrian ‘Wunderteam’. In the 1934 World Cup, only the hosts Italy had stopped them.
Sadly for Sindelar, it wasn’t the first that the brutal philosophy of fascism would affect his career. Because, in 1938, his country was infamously taken over by the Nazis. While that – of course – had dire consequences far beyond football, it did mean that Austrian football essentially ceased to exist. The fine side of the 30s were incorporated into the German team. So, partly to celebrate the anschluss and partly to bring the two teams together, the regime decided to host a last match between the teams.
There have been many suspicions and conspiracies surrounding the game, one of them being that the Austrians – then a clearly superior team – were ordered to not score against the Germans.
Whatever the truth of that, it was odd that in the first half Sindelar missed a series of chances that he would usually have finished easily. But then he may just have been toying with the Germans. Because, in the second half, he finally knocked in a rebound. And, when his friend Schasti Sesta knocked in a second, Sindelar – an avowed social democrat – did a dance of delight in front of the Swastika-adorned and Nazi-filled directors’ box.
What it meant Embarrassment for the Nazis. And, to an extent, embarrassment for Germany at that same year’s World Cup. Sindelar would repeatedly refuse the overtures to represent the new team. And, while the Germans would then go out in the first round to Switzerland, Sindelar would be censured for refusing to put up Nazi posters in his cafe. A few months later, on the morning of 23 January 1939, he was found dead as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. Or so the police claimed. The public prosecutor had still not reached a conclusion when the Nazis ordered the case closed six months later.
57. North Korea knock out Italy
North Korea 1-0 Italy, Ayresome Park
World Cup group stage, 19 July 1966
The moment As the Italians took to the pitch for their final group game of the 1966 World Cup, they knew a point would do them. Although they themselves had just lost to a strong USSR team, Chile had slipped up badly by conceding a shock 88th-minute equaliser to lowly North Korea.
And since it was the Asians that the Italians were playing in their final game, they could feel confident. North Korea had only qualified for the World Cup because all other African, Asian and Oceanic nations other than Australia had boycotted the tournament in protest at the fact Fifa had only given them one place. And, on the pitch itself, their average height was five-foot-five: something which proved a real problem against the imposing Russians.
Initially, it seemed to be the same story against the Italians. The Europeans absolutely dominated the opening stages and should have been at least 3-0 ahead. Shortly before half-time, though, they went a man down. Captain Giacomo Bulgarelli went off injured after he himself had fouled a Korean player.
And, in the 41st minute, they were a goal down. Pak Do Ik blasted an unstoppable shot past Enrico Albertosi. Ayresome Park, which had effectively adopted the North Koreans as its home team, erupted.
“I urge you to win one or two matches.” The ‘Great Leader’ Kim Il-Sung before the team departed.
“It was the day I learnt football is not all about winning. When I scored that goal the people of Middlesbrough took us to their hearts.” Scorer – and winner – Pak Do Ik
“I have had to go through my whole life with this burden of Korea.” Italian manager Edmondo Fabbri
“Death to Fabbri” Graffiti seen around Rome after the defeat, accompanied by a picture of a man in a noose
What it meant That North Korea became the most unlikely World Cup quarter-finalists of all time. As a result, Italy were pelted with tomatoes on their return. And the incident epitomised the four-time World Cup winners’ often odd, idiosyncratic relationship with international football. In the immediate future, though, it would prove a positive for international football. Of the 66 squad, only Albertosi, Giacinto Facchetti, Gianni Rovera and Sandro Mazzola were spared. And, with an otherwise brand new team, Italy would go on to win Euro 68 and reach the final of the next World Cup.
Similar moments that didn’t make it South Korea knock out Italy 2002
56. Ajax take Total Football to completion
Ajax 2-0 Inter, De Kuip
European Cup final, 31 May 1972
The moment In an absolutely devastating display, a thoroughly modern, dynamic Ajax completely unravel a defensive, anachronistic Inter. Indeed, the eventual 2-0 scoreline should be sued for libel.
At times, Ajax seemed to be experimenting with the very limits of the sport. And, as if to confirm the fact that Ajax were so embarrassingly far ahead of the Italians, Johan Cruyff even scored with his head. That may have been a rare occurrence. But, with Cruyff hitting both goals, there was no more appropriate scorer to symbolise the team’s crowning moment.
“It was confirmation that at that time the Dutch football was on the level above a lot of others.” Cruyff
What it meant coming in the second year of Ajax’s three-in-a-row and the only one in which the European Cup was part of a treble, the victory represented the absolute peak of Total Football.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Spain 1-0 Germany, Euro 2008
55. Il Grande Torino score six in the first 19 minutes against Roma
Roma 0-7 Torino, Stadio Olimpico
Serie A, 28 April 1946
The moment Throughout the 1940s, a great Torino side had enraptured Italian football with the excellence of their attacking play and the four successive titles it brought. They still hold the record for the most goals scored in a Serie A campaign – 125 in the 40 games of the 1947-48 season – and, in terms of goals-per-game, have the three best averages in the history of the competition.
The very peak of this period, however, came in April 1946. In the ultimate emphasis of their overwhelming football, Torino hit six goals in the first 19 minutes. Whatever about their ratio of three goals a game, this was a goal every three minutes.
What it meant For Roma, utter humiliation. At half-time, Torino manager Luigi Ferrero even told his players that there was no need to humiliate the opposition further. The job was done. The performance would play a key part in the legend of Torino, which was so tragically – and prematurely – ended in the Superga air crash of 1949.
54. Djukic pays the penalty
Deportivo La Coruna 0-0 Valencia, Riazor
Spanish league, 14 May 1994
The moment Deportivo’s entire season – and indeed history – had been leading up this moment. Without a single league title in their trophy cabinet, they led the table for the vast majority of the 1993-94 campaign. A resurgent Barcelona had done superbly to reel them in but, by the last day, Deportivo were still a point ahead and only needed to beat a mediocre Valencia to secure a maiden victory.
Except, as the clock reached the 89th minute, Depor still hadn’t scored. Worse, Barca’s “dream team” had slaughtered Sevilla 5-2. Going on head-to-head record, the Catalans were back on top of the league.
As such, Deportivo simply had to score.
Finally, moments from the end, they got their chance. As full-back Nando stormed into the box, he was tripped by Francisco Camarasa.
Penalty. And potential deliverance.
But also a dilemma.
Depor’s regular penalty-taker Donato had already gone off. And Bebeto – notoriously – refused to take it.
Up stepped defender Miroslav Djukic. But he didn’t look comfortably. After breathing in very deeply, the defender began a stilted run-up… and struck the ball feebly into the arms of Jose Gonzalez.
“You’ve sold out.” Bebeto’s reported comments to the Valencia players throughout the game, which was ironic because it later emerged Barcelona actually paid Valencia a “bonus” to lift their game
“Bebeto didn’t have confidence because he had recently missed against Oviedo and Aston Villa. I hit them usually… the next up was Djukic.” Donato
What it meant never has an entire championship come down to one, isolated moment. A single, distilled kick. Not even Michael Thomas against Arsenal. In that, it was truly unique.
Djukic’s miss meant Deportivo would have to wait another six years for a title. But, the obvious element of winning a league a title aside, it was arguably just as significant for Barca. By lifting the 1994 trophy, the Catalans won the only four-in-a-row in their history – an important feat given how often Real had done it. As such, the legacy of the Dream Team was only enhanced.
53. Did it cross the line?
England 4-2 West Germany, Wembley
World Cup final, 30 July 1966
The moment Initially, it had seemed like England were going to be denied by the tightest of margins. Exhausted and desperately hanging on, their defence suddenly ceded in the 89th minute of normal time to allow a West German equaliser for Wolfgang Weber.
Ultimately, though, it would prove a game of inches in another way. In the 11th minute of extra-time, Geoff Hurst turned and rapidly released a snapshot. The ball bounced off the bar and down off the line. With the ball headed away by Weber, play stopped. And so, seemingly, did time.
Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst was uncertain whether the ball had crossed the line and went to consult his Soviet linesman Tofik Bakhtamov. Except, with no common language between the two, all they could do was dramatically gesticulate. And, crucially, Bakhtamov signalled that it had crossed the line.
“The linesman said the ball was in, so that was that. I’m not bitter.” Sepp Maier surprisingly sums up the feelings of the West German team
“The ball never crossed the line.” Hurst, 2010
What it meant That England’s lead was – perhaps unfairly – restored as they went on to raise the trophy itself. In the longer term, though, the “goal” would become a touchstone for contentious incidents. In Germany, the phrase “Wembley-Tor” entered the football vernacular to describe similarly dubious strikes. It also remains one of the great arguments for video evidence.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Luis Garcia v Chelsea, 2005; Lampard v Germany 2010
52. Iniesta decides it for Dani
Netherlands 0-1 Spain, Soccer City
World Cup final, 11 July 2010
The moment Spain were waiting a lot longer for a World Cup than the 116 minutes leading up to Cesc Fabregas’s pass. There were also 80 years of failure which – despite the Euro 2008 win – threatened to rise up again after a tournament that had seen a lot of frustration, anxiety, grit and endurance.
With opposition teams realising that the only real way to counter Spain’s possession game was to aggressively close out space near goal, the Dutch took that approach to an extreme.
Throughout the 120 minutes, Spain’s technicians were constantly tested, tackled and simply fouled. To their credit – and to the horror of purists like Johan Cruyff – the Dutch did manage to suck the Spanish into a petty, petulant, niggly battle.
Until, eventually, Holland got the red card their roughhousing deserved. Suddenly Spain had sufficient space to spray the ball around in. And Fabregas exploited it. The Arsenal playmaker fed Andres Iniesta and, with the ball sitting up perfectly, the midfielder despatched it into the far corner. In the explosion of joy that followed, Ineista whipped off his jersey to reveal a message to his departed teammate: “Dani Jarque: always with us.”
“It was like it was in slow motion. I could hear the silence. But I knew that ball was going in.” Iniesta
“Today is a reward for beautiful football.” Vicente Del Bosque
“Regrettably, sadly, [Holland] played very dirty… yes it served to unsettle Spain. If with this they got satisfaction, fine. But they ended up losing. They were playing anti-football.” Johan Cruyff
“The best team won. I am disappointed.” Bert van Marwijk
What it meant With just four minutes of extra-time remaining, Iniesta’s strike was the latest winner the World Cup had ever seen. But that in itself was proof of the merit of Spain’s possession game. Having only scored three goals in three knock-out games, they were often castigated for not having a Plan B. The point of Plan A, however, was to eventually exhaust the opposition to the point an opening would present itself. And, since this approach was most important against sides so willing to close up as Holland, the win also represented something of a victory in the apparent duel of styles then dominating the game: proactive against reactive football. In victory, Spain were vindicated. Technique had won.
On a human level, though, Iniesta’s celebration also illustrated the very best of the game. At the moment of his greatest achievement, the Spaniard made sure to selflessly turn attention to his tragic, departed friend.
51. Baggio raises the bar… and then aims too high
Brazil 0-0 Italy, Rose Bowl
World Cup final, 17 July 1994
The moment The pressure was on Roberto Baggio. But he was surely able to handle it. After all, he had essentially carried Italy as far as the penalty shoot-out in the World Cup final. It’s eminently fair to say they would have got nowhere near so far without him. Indeed, they mightn’t have got past the last 16. In three previous knock-out games, the pony-tailed playmaker scored five of Italy’s six goals and all of them were crucial. As such, even though he was unfit going into the final, Arrigo Sacchi couldn’t afford to not play him against a highly functional Brazil who also had the fantasy of Romario and Bebeto.
On the day, though, none of the forwards could find an opening. And it was left to penalties. First off, Marcio Santos and Franco Baresi exchanged misses before Daniele Massaro missed the first in six. It was left to Baggio to keep Italy in contention. But, for probably the first time in the competition, he failed.
“I knew Taffarel always dived so I decided to shoot for the middle, about halfway up… it was an intelligent decision because Taffarel did go to his left. Unfortunately – and I don’t know how – the ball flew over the crossbar. I was knackered. But I was the team’s penalty taker. I’ve never run away from my responsibilities.” Baggio
“It affected me for years. It was the worst moment of my career. I still dream about it.” Baggio
What it meant that was Brazil – and Romario’s tournament – rather than Baggio’s. The South Americans also won their first tournament since 1970. And, in that sense, the minimalist manner of the shoot-out victory seemed apt. Because this Brazilian side received such criticism for playing a style of football at a far remove from the brilliance of 1970. Like with Ronaldo four years later, meanwhile, it would Baggio a long time to properly recover.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Platini and Zico miss, 1986