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Today’s List: The Five Best World Cup Finals

July 15th, 2018 · No Comments · Football, France, Lists, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

Russia 2018 is over. It was France 4, Croatia 2 in the championship match, and the final whistle had barely been blown before some pundits were suggesting it was the best World Cup final in the history of the event.

Granted, six goals is a good place to start. That is as many goals as were produced by eight teams over the previous four finals. But just because our soccer standards had been debased by a scoring drought doesn’t mean we swoon at 4-2.

Quantity does not always overpower quality, and saying this match was the best out of what now has been 21 finals … not ready to go there.

Which means it is about time for a list.

My Five Best World Cup Finals!

We will do this in reverse order, starting with the fifth-best and ending with the best.

Here we go!

1974: West Germany 2, Netherlands 1. The final that put to the test the revolutionary Dutch scheme of Total Football, embodied in the brilliant Johan Cruyff. The idea of Total Football was that all 10 field players should be able to play all 10 positions in a sort of blur of motion and action, and this was its biggest moment. Both sides scored via penalty early, and the prolific Gerd Muller gave Germany a lead just before half. The second half was filled with scoring opportunities for both side, but neither could convert, and the enthralling Total Football went down to defeat, brought low by its failings — or perhaps simply by German efficiency.

1958: Brazil 5, Sweden 2. The match that introduced to the world Brazilian skill and flair, embodied in a precocious 17-year-old forward named Edson Arantes do Nascimento — better known, of course, as Pele. Sweden scored in the fourth minute, but Brazil was rampant from there. Pele scored in the 55th and 90th minutes, and the rout of the host nation set up Brazil as the nearly perpetual “team to beat” in world football that extended right up to the start of Russia 2018. Brazil won three of four championships from 1958 to 1970. 

1966: England 4, West Germany 2. Both teams led, Germany at 1-0 in the 12th minute and England 2-1 in the 78th minute. England was primed to celebrate … when Wolfgang Weber scored in the 89th minute to bring Germany to 2-2. The game went to extra time, and England regained the lead on a shot by Geoff Hurst in the 101st minute that may not have crossed the goal line. The argument continues. (No; really.) Hurst had scored the first goal, and when he scored again in the final seconds he became the first (and still only) player to score a hat trick in a World Cup final.

1954: West Germany 3, Hungary 2. The greatest upset in World Cup final history. Another “important” match, in terms of the rise and fall of great soccer powers as well as style of play. Hungary’s “Magic Magyars” had been dominating all rivals for five years, going unbeaten in 31 matches. Included in that were away-and-home victories in 1953 over England by scores of 6-3 and 7-1. Led by the prolific Ferenc Puskas, Hungary had thrashed the Germans 8-3 earlier in the tournament, and few expected anything different in the final. The first 10 minutes were crazy, with Hungary scoring twice and the Germans answering with one. But then the Germans, who had rested some players and used others out of position in the first matchup, had their best team settle into the game, and they got even in the 18th minute. It remained 2-2 as pundits waited for Hungary to erupt, but it was Germany who got the winning goal, through Helmut Rahn, who scored in the 84th minute. Germany has been a global power since then, but Hungary’s system fell apart over the next few years. Would be No. 1 on this list … except that soccer in 1954 was not quite the game we would recognize by the end of the decade.

1986: Argentina 3, West Germany 2. Played at altitude in Mexico City’s vertiginous Azteca Stadium, where 114,000 people managed to see the game. Argentina was led by Diego Maradona, who had scored the Hand of God goal versus England in the semifinals, and when Argentina built a 2-0 second-half lead, it looked like a straightforward finish was ahead. But Karl-Heinz Rummenigge scored in the 74th minute, and Rudi Voller leveled in the 81st minute. Argentina’s 2-0 lead was gone, and the Germans looked ascendant, with Maradona unable to break through against a determined German defense. But “El Diego” found Jorge Burruchaga with a perfect pass that led to the latter’s goal in the 84th minute, and Argentina had its second championship. A final with world-class players all over the pitch. And the first World Cup final I watched live.

The match today held our interest. But it was also a fairly sloppy game that included an own goal, a penalty that may not have been deserved and a perhaps incorrect interpretation of video replay by the referee.

A top-10 final, for sure. But not a top-five.




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