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World Cup - 10 for the Ages

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10 for the Ages

Ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, we recap 10 of the wildest and most shocking moments ever to grace football’s greatest stage.

Alliance Airlines - June/July 2018

Words by: Ben Smithurst

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1. Aloisi sends the Socceroos to the World Cup

Sydney Olympic Stadium became a colossal and despised white elephant about 15 seconds after the 2000 Olympic flame was extinguished. But even the mangiest and palest pachyderm has its moments, and in 2005, John Aloisi provided one to match Cathy Freeman’s gold medal… and in front of 82,000 fans. At the final stage of qualification, after extra time in Homebush, it was a simple equation: Australia had to beat Uruguay in a penalty shoot-out — the crapshoot of world sport — to get to Germany. Keeper Mark Schwarzer was the first hero, making two saves, before the handsome, slightly-sausage-gutted Aloisi stepped up the mark. A dozen years on, a YouTube rewatch can still bring tears to the eyes, as ‘Johnny A’ slots it home, then sets off, windmilling his shirt like a castaway who’s spotted a search plane. He made it three-quarters of the way back up the pitch before his teammates swamped him. Hands down the greatest moment in the history of the Socceroos.

2. ‘The Beautiful Game’ thrills the world

Brazil’s 1970 World Cup squad is the greatest football team in history. It included a chap called Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as Pelé (who’d win three World Cups all up) — the Player of the Tournament. Playing with trademark exuberance and spellbinding flair, Brazil won the final 4–1 against a brilliantly clinical Italy, but it was the way they won each game that stood out more than the result. “From their opening match against Czechoslovakia,” wrote football historian Garry Jenkins, “it was clear they were visitors from another footballing world.”

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3. Cameroon beat Maradona’s Champions, 1990

The World Cup has produced a handful of astonishing upsets since the USA knocked over England in 1950, but none has surpassed Cameroon’s victory over Argentina in 1990. With Maradona at the Argies’ helm, the African nation’s Lions Indomptables — a team of journeymen and French lower-division hoofers — were expected to be cannon fodder. But no. They came out fighting, with a violent and unsettling style, ending the game with just nine men, the win, and an unfathomably rabid following worldwide. “When they were finally knocked out a woman in Bangladesh committed suicide,” reported The Guardian, “writing that ‘the elimination of Cameroon means the end of my life’.”

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4. Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’

“I don’t believe in an interventionist God,” warbles Nick Cave in ‘Into My Arms’, a song that was never big in Argentina — maybe because they do. In 1986, England met Argentina in the World Cup quarter-final in Mexico City. It was just four years after the Falklands War, yet spirits were convivial in the stands and on the pitch. Or, at least, to begin with. The Poms had a good team, but Argentina had the greatest footballer in the world. Nil–nil at halftime, the English tried thuggery to negate Diego Maradona, who got even by blatantly paddling a ball into the net with his left hand, then running off like he’d legally scored — which was, amazingly, enough for the officials. That Maradona, all-but deified among Los Gauchos, followed it up with the greatest World Cup goal of all time (now known, simply, as the ‘Goal of the Century’) eased England’s pain — a bit.

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5. Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt

“I prefer the wh*re that is your sister.” In the grand pantheon of insults, it leaves a little to be desired — slightly obtuse, and a little too wordy to be heard clearly in a packed stadium. Which might be why Italy’s Marco Materazzi had to repeat his slight three times to French captain/footballing great, Zinedine Zidane, with scores locked at 1–1 in extra time in the 2006 World Cup Final. “I tried not to listen to him but he repeated them several times,” said Zidane. “Sometimes words are harder than blows. When he said it for the third time, I reacted.” Zidane’s headbutt (to Materazzi’s chest) was a ripper. But his red card sent Les Blues packing.

6. The Cruyff Turn

It was just a moment — the 23rd minute of a Group 3 game (Holland vs Sweden) in 1974 — but it’s still discussed today. Legendary Dutch ‘Total Football’ genius Johan Cruyff was in trouble, sort of: trapped, facing toward the sideline in the left-hand corner, a Swedish defender strapped to his back like a shrunken rucksack. And then, the Cruyff Turn. He feints with his right, utterly selling the dummy, then pivots and accelerates away, even as his opponent sprints off in the wrong direction — as helpless as if he were leaving the train station from the opposite platform. 

7. The Battle of Santiago

Held in Chile, the 1962 World Cup finals were a brawl from start to finish, but Chile vs Italy was the epic high (low) point: a punchfest that required police intervention, four times. Chile won 2–0. The first foul occurred after 12 seconds; two players were sent off; others bashed their opponents with impunity. When replayed on UK TV two days later, the BBC prefaced the broadcast with a warning: “Good evening. The game you are about to see is the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football in the history of the game.”  

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8. Bergkamp’s blast

Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp was a perfectionist like Charlie Manson was mad — a defining quality that couldn’t be eradicated by science or God. But it was three deft, consecutive touches in the 1998 quarter finals that have only ever satisfied him fully. He caught a long, long, long pinpoint pass ball on his right toe (precision!), a perfectly deceptive second touch (immaculate!) and a third-dab goal. “You never play the perfect game,” Bergkamp recalled, “but the moment itself was, I think, perfect.”

9. Andrés Escobar’s deadly own goal

Andrés Escobar — El Caballero del Futbol (‘the gentleman of football’) — was the captain of a gifted Colombian team at USA ‘94. They entered the tournament burdened by the expectations of a country being torn apart by a drug war triggered, ironically, by Pablo Escobar’s demise. The own-goal by Andrés against the USA was generally seen as a blameless affair apart from, it seemed, by the narcos. Returning home, he was executed — shot six times in the back in a Medellín club car park.  

10. The Miracle of Bern

Before the 1954 final, Hungary hadn’t lost a game in four years. Their opponents, on the other hand, had no such history — and had spent a decade barely recovering from an even larger loss most still know as WWII. Down 2–0 after 10 minutes, West Germany staged the greatest comeback ever seen in a World Cup final,  winning 3–2 in dramatic fashion. Budapest rioted. The Huns got their self-esteem back. 

 

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