10 of the greatest matches in World Cup history

In no particular order, we pick out some of the best ever games in the biggest football competition around.

1. Italy 4-3 West Germany, 1970 semi-final

Labelled the “Game of the Century”, this last-four tie in 1970 only really sprang into life in extra time. Italy took the lead early on through Roberto Boninsegna, but Karl-Heinz Schnellinger’s 90th-minute leveller ensured an additional half an hour of play.

Germany got their noses in front for the first time when Gerd Muller found the net four minutes after the restart, but Italy hit back twice to take a 3-2 lead. Die Mannschaft – and Muller – were not done yet, though, the prolific striker grabbing his second and his team’s third in the 110th minute. But with the German section of Estadio Azteca’s 102,000-strong crowd still celebrating, Gianni Rivera got on the end of Boninsegna’s cross to send Italy through to the final.

2. Brazil 1-7 Germany 2014, semi-final

As the scoreline suggests, the first semi-final of 2014 was a one-sided contest which was as good as over within 25 minutes. Yet the sheer shock induced by such a thrashing makes this the most extraordinary result in the history of the World Cup.

Hosts Brazil were full of confidence despite the absence of Neymar and Thiago Silva, but Germany tore them apart in the opening period and were 5-0 up with less than half an hour on the clock. As locals cried in the stands of the Mineirao, the clinical Germans – who went on to win the tournament by beating Argentina in the final – wrapped up an unforgettable 7-1 triumph after the break.

3. Italy 3-2 Brazil, 1982 second group stage

“The day football died,” was how Zico described Brazil’s elimination at the hands of eventual champions Italy. His team-mate Socrates, meanwhile, defiantly insisted in the aftermath that “beauty comes first [and] victory is secondary… what matters is joy.”

The Selecao were undoubtedly the neutrals’ favourites heading into the highly-anticipated clash in Barcelona, with their swashbuckling style having caught the eye in victories over the Soviet Union, Scotland, New Zealand and Argentina. Italy were rather more workmanlike, but their organisation and discipline – not to mention a hat-trick from Giuseppe Rossi – booked them a spot in the semi-finals.

4. Hungary 4–2 Uruguay, 1954 semi-final

The 1954 World Cup featured more goals than any other edition before or since, and this semi-final was the standout match of the competition in Switzerland. Favourites Hungary got the better of holders Uruguay – who had never previously lost a World Cup match – in a hugely enjoyable match in Lausanne.

The Hungarians struck first through Zoltan Czibor, with Nandor Hidegkuti doubling their advantage shortly after half-time. Juan Hohberg’s equalising brace ensured the momentum was with the defending champions heading into extra time, but Sandor Kocsis responded with a double of his own to send Hungary through.

5. Netherlands 1-2 West Germany, 1974 final

When the Netherlands opened the scoring with a Johan Neeskens penalty in the second minute of the 1974 World Cup final, it was almost impossible to envisage a West German triumph. Holland had played such brilliant football throughout the tournament that, with their rivals now forced to commit more bodies forward, victory looked inevitable.

However, rather than seeking to kill the game off as quickly as possible, Johan Cruyff and co. lost focus and instead began to pass the ball around their opponents for fun – Johnny Rep later admitted he and his colleagues wanted to humiliate the Germans as revenge for the Second World War. It was an unconscious decision they would live to regret, as Paul Breitner’s spot-kick and Gerd Muller’s strike turned the match on its head.

6. Germany 0-2 Italy, 2006 semi-final

Great games tend to feature a fair few goals, but they are not contingent upon them; the fact that Germany’s meeting with Italy in 2006 was scoreless heading into the final minutes of extra time does not, therefore, preclude it from inclusion on this list.

Both teams had their chances throughout a pulsating encounter in Dortmund, but it was Italy – painfully aware of their opponents’ superb penalty record – who pushed hardest for a winner in extra time. After considerable huffing and puffing, Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero sealed the Azzurri’s place in the final in the 119th and 120th minutes respectively.

7. Brazil 1-2 Uruguay, 1950 second group stage

Brazil 1-7 Germany is not the first time the Selecao have been stunned on home soil: this match in 1950, which was a final in all but name, ended in heartbreak for South America’s largest nation against their comparatively tiny neighbours.

Needing only a draw to win their first World Cup, Brazil went ahead through Friaca shortly after half-time; given that the team had been declared champions by both the press and the mayor of Rio de Janeiro even before kick-off, it is safe to assume the watching public considered the trophy to be theirs once Flavio Costa’s charges went 1-0 up. Instead, Uruguay hit back via goals from Juan Alberto Schiaffino and Alcides Ghiggia to send the Maracana into “disturbing and traumatic absolute silence”.

8. England 4-2 West Germany, 1966 final

Some German fans continue to insist England’s third goal, scored by Geoff Hurst in the 11th minute of extra time, did not cross the line. Yet the host nation were deserved winners in the 1966 final at Wembley, with Hurst’s hat-trick sealing the Three Lions’ first – and to date only – tournament triumph at senior level.

Helmut Haller had given West Germany an early advantage, but Helmut Schon’s men required an 89th-minute equaliser from Wolfgang Weber to send the match to extra time. After Hurst’s controversial second, the striker completed his treble with virtually the last kick of the game.

9. Hungary 2-4 Italy, 1938 final

An entry from the third edition of the World Cup, Italy retained the title by edging out Hungary in an entertaining encounter in Paris.

The Hungarians had impressed on their way to the final, dispatching of Dutch East Indies (6-0), Switzerland (2-0) and Sweden (5-1) with relative ease in their debut appearance. Italy were forced to battle harder – they needed extra time to defeat Norway, while Brazil were only narrowly beaten in the semi-finals – although they were also handed a tougher draw and still felt confident given their experience of winning the tournament four years previously.

Gino Colaussi’s opening goal was cancelled out by Pal Titkos just seconds later, but Italy scored twice more to lead 3-1 at the interval. Hungary went in search of an equaliser after captain Gyorgy Sarosi halved the deficit with 20 minutes left to play, before Lazio striker Silvio Piola sealed the victory – and the championship – with his second of the game.

10. West Germany 3-3 France, 1982 semi-final

Best remembered by some for goalkeeper Harald Schumacher’s awful challenge on France striker Patrick Battiston, this semi-final in Spain – later described by Michel Platini as “my most beautiful game” – had everything.

Platini tied the scores with a 27th-minute penalty after Pierre Litbarski had broken the deadlock, but despite their best efforts neither team was able to land a decisive blow for the remainder of regulation time. Les Bleus must have thought a place in the final was theirs when they netted twice in the 92nd and 98th minutes, but efforts from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Klaus Fischer took the game to penalties – and we all know what happens when the Germans are involved in those.

By Greg Lea

Greg Lea is a freelance football writer for FourFourTwo, The Blizzard and various others. Follow his Twitter account @GregLeaFootball for anything and everything related to soccer and more.