8 Greatest Games in the History of the FIFA World Cup
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The FIFA World Cup has been around for over 90 years and is one of the most popular sporting events around the globe. The soccer tournament has produced a plethora of amazing matches over the years.
In this post, I highlight the greatest games in the history of the World Cup. They are the matches that will be remembered forever because of their intensity, significance for the sport, and sheer emotion that got millions of people shaking.
Naturally, a good chunk of the greatest World Cup matches are finals, including the first entry.
Uruguay 2-1 Brazil (1950)
- Date: 16 July 1950
- Stadium: Maracana, Brazil
- Attendance: 199,854
- Stage: Final
The 1950 FIFA World Cup final was an epic clash between two South American giants: Uruguay and Brazil. The match was played in front of a packed Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro, and it did not disappoint.
The entire world expected the hosts to win the World Cup. The Brazilians even took the lead after a goal from Friaca at the start of the second half. The brave Uruguayans somehow bounced back after goals from Schiaffino and Ghiggia despite the hostile crowd of almost 200,000 people.
They all went quiet when the final whistle was blown and rumors suggest a bunch of fans suffered a heart attack when the game ended. This is widely considered one of the biggest surprises ever. I’m sure that the best World Cup betting sites would’ve heavily favored Brazil if they were around back then.
West Germany 3-2 Hungary (1954)
- Date: 4 July 1954
- Stadium: Wankdorf Stadium, Bern
- Attendance: 62,500
- Stage: Final
When a game is called “The Miracle of Bern”, you know that something special happened. On July 4, 1954, the soccer World Cup final game between West Germany and Hungary took place.
The Hungarian team was the best in the world at that time and already beat the same opponent 8-3 earlier in the tournament. No one expected the Germans to win in the final after such a heavy defeat.
Hungary took a 2-0 lead after only 8 minutes which would’ve probably shocked any other team in the world at the time. The Germans didn’t panic and they were level only 12 minutes later.
They defended fiercely for the rest of the match and managed to stop the most potent attack in the soccer world. They even went one step further and Helmut Rahn scored the winner in the 84th minute. It’s one of the greatest World Cup games ever.
Unfortunately, doping allegations against Germany emerged in 2004. They haven’t been proven, but a shadow of a doubt was cast over the fairness of this match.
England 4-2 West Germany (1966)
- Date: 30 July 1966
- Stadium: Wembley Stadium, London
- Attendance: 96,924
- Stage: Final
The 1966 final is another clash that definitely deserves a spot on my list of greatest games played at the World Cup. Any clash at this stage is significant, but this one was something else.
England met Germany at the Wembley Stadium and both sides were determined to win the title. There was no winner after the regular time with both teams scoring twice. Geoff Hirst, who already found the net earlier, added two more goals in extra time to win it for the hosts.
The first of them essentially decided the match and Germany claims to this day that the ball didn’t cross the line.
There were no sophisticated systems of video replay back then, so it’s hard to know for sure. English media has provided graphics that suggest the goal was legit since, but we’ve seen imagery analysis that claims it wasn’t. Go figure!
Italy 4-3 West Germany (1970)
- Date: 17 June 1970
- Stadium: Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
- Attendance: 102,444
- Stage: Semi-Final
All of the greatest FIFA World Cup matches covered so far were finals. The next one is more than worthy of a spot on the list even if it was “only” a semifinal. The clash between Italy and West Germany was labeled “The Game of the Century” and for a good reason.
Italy opened the scoring in the 8th minute and led for most of the game. West Germany barely managed to equalize deep in stoppage time to force another 30 minutes of soccer. What followed next is truly amazing.
The two nations engaged in a wild shootout that saw five more goals which is still a record for the most extra time goals in a World Cup game up to this day. The Italians won dramatically, only to then lose the final to Brazil.
West Germany 2-1 The Netherlands (1974)
- Date: 7 July 1974
- Stadium: Olympiastadion, Munich
- Attendance: 75,200
- Stage: Final
How on Earth are the Netherlands yet to win a World Cup? The nation has produced some of the most amazing players in the history of the sport, starting from the 1970s. The Dutch clubs dominated European soccer back then, especially Ajax.
It was hardly a surprise that the national team was the best in the 1974 World Cup. Johan Cruyff led the Netherlands to the final after a number of impressive victories. The Dutch were expected to beat West Germany and they started with a sublime run by Cruyff that led to a penalty early on.
The Germans didn’t tremble and turned it around with the help of the crowd to win by 2-1.
The Netherlands missed a lot of opportunities and the referee was quite generous to Berti Vogts who could’ve easily been sent off after a series of fouls against Cruyff. In the end, the German spirit prevailed and the hosts won the World Cup.
Italy 3-2 Brazil (1982)
- Date: 5 July 1982
- Stadium: Estadio Sarriá, Barcelona
- Attendance: 44,000
- Stage: Second groups
Another non-final makes my selection, and it once again involves Italy and a bunch of goals. The European powerhouse met Brazil in the second group stage. The South Americans entered the tournament as the overwhelming favorites with players like Socrates, Zico, and Falcao in the squad.
It was a truly magical generation that was supposed to go all the way. Italy had other ideas, especially Paolo Rossi. The Italian striker was unstoppable and scored a hattrick. It was enough to eliminate Brazil and lead his country to the Last 4.
Italy beat Poland and West Germany to claim the title. Many believe that the match against Brazil gave the team the confidence to lift the World Cup.
Argentina 2-1 England (1986)
- Date: 22 June 1986
- Stadium: Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
- Attendance: 114,580
- Stage: Quarterfinal
The next game is iconic for both the right and the wrong reasons. England met Argentina in one of the most breathtaking soccer matches in the history of the FIFA World Cup. Both sides had the talent to fight for the title, so the quarterfinal between them was important for the entire tournament.
The iconic Diego Maradona opened the scoring early in the second half with one of the most controversial moments in the sport’s history. His goal came after a blatant handball that the referees somehow missed. The goal was later called “The Hand of God” because of Maradona’s claims of divine intervention.
There was nothing controversial in his second goal four minutes later, though. The playmaker went on one of the most legendary dribbles ever. Maradona passed a number of English players before scoring the second goal of the match.
Gary Lineker pulled one back for England, but the European side failed to draw level and Argentina qualified for the next stage.
Maradona led his country to a second World Cup title that year. The English fans are yet to forgive him, but the world will remember his outrageous second goal forever.
Germany 7-1 Brazil (2014)
- Date: 8 July 2014
- Stadium: Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte
- Attendance: 58,141
- Stage: Semifinal
It feels wrong to add such a humiliating game to my list, especially since the country that was so soundly beaten is actually the greatest in World Cup history. Brazil hosted the 2014 edition of the tournament and the nation badly wanted the trophy.
It was going well until the Last 4 where the home country faced Germany. On July 8th, 2014, the world watched as Germany demolished Brazil. It was a surprising and one-sided victory, with the Europeans scoring an astounding seven goals to Brazil’s one.
You could sense the pain of the players and the fans as the Germans relentlessly punished Brazil’s struggling defense.
It was a sad end to Brazil’s challenge, while the Germans went on to beat Argentina in the final. Unfortunately for the hosts, their devastating defeat is the most memorable moment of the 2014 World Cup.
The games listed above are among the greatest in the history of the FIFA World Cup. They are memorable for a variety of reasons, from dramatic endings to iconic goals. Each game is significant in its own way, and they all deserve to be remembered as some of the best matchups in soccer history.
Many other encounters have a strong claim for making the selection. Please, forgive me if I have missed your favorite one!