From Time, by Glen Levy
The first ever World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930 to mark the country’s centennial. And the host nation went and won it, defeating rival Argentina 4-2. Petty grievances are nothing new in soccer, and so it proved before the final, with neither side in agreement on whose ball to use. The solution? The teams played with Argentina’s ball during the first half and Uruguay’s in the second. It’s a tough tournament to win: only seven sides have triumphed in the 18 World Cups that have been played to date.
The scheduled World Cups of 1942 and 1946 were canceled due to the outbreak of World War II. But this 1938 World Cup group game in Paris sees the German team giving the Nazi salute before their 1-1 tie against Switzerland. The Germans failed to make much progress in a tournament that took place on European soil, thus causing outrage in South America, where Uruguay and Argentina believed it would take place. They didn’t participate, and Italy became the first team to retain the trophy, defeating Hungary 4-2.
Brazil hosted the 1950 competition and were widely expected to defeat Uruguay in the final. They were so confident that gold medals were made and a victory anthem composed. Surely the rumored 210,000-person crowd (still a record sporting attendance) wouldn’t leave unhappy? As it turned out, some never even made it home. Brazil’s shocking 2-1 loss resulted in a silent stadium (then FIFA president Jules Rimet said, “The silence was morbid, sometimes too difficult to bear”). And then, tragically, some fans committed suicide by jumping from the stands.
Welcome to the World
The precociously gifted Pelé burst onto the biggest stage of them all by scoring two goals in the 1958 final against host Sweden. It was overwhelming for the 17-year-old, who shed tears at the final whistle. His incredible skill was epitomized by the goal for which he instinctively flicked the ball over a defender before smashing a volley into the net. An obscure fact is that, despite being known for their distinctive yellow jersey, Brazil wore a strip of blue in this game to avoid clashing with their canary-clad host.
“Some People Are On the Pitch”
In what was surely the most controversial goal in a World Cup final, England’s Geoff Hurst, far right, looks on as his shot in extra time in the 1966 match vs. West Germany hits the crossbar and proceeds to cross the line — according to a Soviet official. England, the host, took a 3-2 lead and went on to win 4-2, with Hurst scoring the only hat trick to date in a final. His third goal was eloquently summed up by BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme. Noticing that fans had already started to stream onto the field, he famously said, “Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over … it is now!”
Greatest of All Time
The 1970 World Cup in Mexico will be forever known for witnessing a Brazilian side at the peak of its power. Pelé had been viciously targeted for foul treatment four years previously and vowed never to take part in another World Cup. Thankfully for the soccer world, he changed his mind, and the team dominated throughout, destroying Italy in the final 4-1. But there was more to the side than the magical No. 10, and Carlos Alberto, Clodoaldo, Gérson, Jairzinho, Rivelino and Tostão all shined. The final Brazilian goal was a thing of beauty: eight players were involved, in a move that began just outside their own box. Eventually, Pelé rolled the ball into the path of captain Alberto, who smashed it into the net. All this in the first final to be broadcast in color.
It was a move so good, they coined a phrase for it. Dutch master Johann Cruyff was a brilliant midfielder, and his 1974 side was known for its “Total Football” style of pleasurable play. Despite losing the final to host West Germany, the Dutch were easily the best side on view, knocking out Brazil in the semifinal, with Cruyff grabbing one of the goals. But his legacy was cemented with the “Cruyff Turn,” a dazzling maneuver that turned the blood of defenders. Soccer-mad schoolchildren the world over would attempt to replicate it (usually failing).
What a sight this was for the players, their supporters and TV viewers around the world. The 1978 final was held in Argentina and won by the host team, which had been under incredible pressure to do well, especially as the military junta and guerrillas had agreed to a truce. Argentina also benefited from the curious decision by FIFA to not start the crucial games at the same time, meaning the team knew what it had to do before kickoff. The final, against Holland, was somewhat spoiled in the beginning by Argentine gamesmanship — the team made its opponent wait six minutes before finally taking the field. Holland lost by an extra-time score of 3-1, with Argentine striker Mario Kempes notching a pair of goals. A losing finalist itself in 1930, Argentina had finally won a World Cup.
Has there ever been a more dramatic celebration than that of Italy’s Marco Tardelli during the 1982 final? His goal put Italy up 2-0 against West Germany, his composed finish not hinting at what was to come. After Tardelli scored, his face transformed from calmness personified to veritable madness. He proceeded to pump his arms and run to the crowd, safe in the knowledge that Italy was home and dry. It would win 3-1, lifting its third World Cup in the process.
Hero and Villain
Diego Maradona seemed to carry the weight of a nation on his back in Mexico in 1986. Still smarting from the Falklands war against the English, his and Argentina’s tournament burst into life during the quarterfinal against England. Maradona’s two second-half goals summed up all that was good and bad about the midfielder. The first was bad, as he punched the ball into the net (he infamously called it the “hand of God”). But his second was one of the greatest goals of all time, as he ran half the length of the field, beating half of England’s team in the process. He single-handedly rolled over Belgium in the semi before inspiring his charges to defeat West Germany 3-2 in a compelling final, providing the key assist to win the game.
Cameroon — led from the front by Roger Milla — paved the way for African soccer by taking Italia ’90 by storm. They shocked the world by beating reigning champs Argentina in the opening match and proceeded to make the quarterfinals, where they were minutes away from defeating England. Though they ended up losing 3-2, their energetic and entertaining performances live long in the memory, with Milla’s four tournament goals the main highlight. Indeed, Pelé paid him the ultimate compliment by naming Milla in his list of the 125 greatest living players in 2004.
Paying the Penalty
Pop quiz: Name the only World Cup to begin and end with a penalty miss. That would be USA ’94, if you accept that Diana Ross pushing her kick wide of the posts during the opening ceremony counts. Sadly for Italy and their talismanic midfielder Roberto Baggio, his penalty kick during the final shootout against Brazil, which he ballooned over the bar, brought the curtain down on a drab final, which ended 0-0 after 120 minutes of tortuous play.
Flying the Flag
The last host nation to lift the World Cup was France in 1998. Their multicultural side was proof positive that soccer can bring people together, as the French put aside differences on the home front and focused on embracing one another and the beautiful game. Their hero was magical midfielder Zinedine Zidane (second from right), born in Marseille to parents of Algerian descent. His two goals in the final helped to defeat Brazil 3-0. How different the story would be the next time Zidane appeared in a World Cup final.
South Korean Red
The 2002 World Cup was the first to have joint hosts, in this case Japan and South Korea. Both progressed to the knockout phase (indeed, no host has failed to get out of the group stage), but with Japan losing to Turkey in the second round, the South Koreans were left to keep the home end up. While some would hint at dark machinations at work behind the scenes, it’s undeniable that South Korea’s Dutch coach, Guus Hiddink, instilled a deep belief in his charges, and they proceeded to defeat the fancied European powerhouses Italy and Spain before falling 1-0 to Germany in the semifinal. The journey was over, but what a wild ride it had been.
Moment of Madness
The unfancied French put the disappointment of a first-round exit in 2002 behind them four years later to reach the 2006 final in Germany. Once again, Zinedine Zidane was the inspiration, and his goal in the final against Italy led to a 1-1 tie and extra time. During those 30 minutes, something inside of Zidane snapped, and his reaction to a callous remark by Italian defender Marco Materazzi was to headbutt his opponent. An inevitable red card followed, and his last action on a soccer field was to gaze wistfully at the World Cup trophy as he walked down the tunnel …
… Thus deprived of their best penalty taker for the shootout, France lost on kicks 5-3 to Italy, whose captain, Fabio Cannavaro, lifted their fourth World Cup. Four years later, in 2010 in South Africa, the host, Italy, France and 29 other sides will all be hoping to reign supreme over the rest of the soccer world.