navigation-background arrow-down-circle Reply Icon Show More Heart Delete Icon wiki-circle wiki-square wiki arrow-up-circle add-circle add-square add arrow-down arrow-left arrow-right arrow-up calendar-circle chat-bubble-2 chat-bubble check-circle check close contact-us credit-card drag menu email embed facebook-circle facebook-square facebook faq-circle faq film gear google-circle google-square google history home instagram-circle instagram-square instagram linkedin-circle linkedin-square linkedin load monitor Video Player Play Icon person pinterest-circle pinterest-square pinterest play readlist remove-circle remove-square remove search share sign-out star trailer trash twitter-circle twitter-square twitter youtube-circle youtube-square youtube

You have to have a valid membership to attend this event

You have to have a valid membership to attend this event

The 15: Best World Cup Matches

June 16, 2014

The World Cup is one of the planet's biggest sporting events, with billions of people tuned in to at least a portion of the 32-team, one-month tournament.

The 20th edition of the event began June 12 in Brazil, a country that not only is hosting it for the second time, but also has captured the Jules Rimet Trophy on five occasions, more than any other nation.

With so much history behind the World Cup, it wasn't hard to find 15 classic matches worthy of this list, but it might surprise some to know that the United States, which has never appeared in the championship match, was involved in a couple of them.

In no particular order, here are the most noteworthy and compelling World Cup matches in the event's history. 

1. BRAZIL 4, ITALY 1 (1970) -- With Brazil holding five World Cups and the Italians a close second with four, one player made a difference: Brazilian legend Pele. The so-called Selecao scored three second-half goals to break open a close title game at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, and it was Pele who got the Brazilians off on the right foot with a brilliant 18th-minute tally for a team that didn't substitute any of its players during the full 90 minutes.

2. UNITED STATES 1, ENGLAND 0 (1950) -- This upset in Brazil comes with an asterisk, because the 1950 tournament was the final one to include only 13 teams, and England -- the sport's ancestral home -- had boycotted earlier Cups because of questionable payments to amateurs. Nonetheless, an American team made up of semi-pro players pulled off the win, because of Joe Gaetjens' 38th-minute goal, before not qualifying for another World Cup tournament until 1990.

3. BRAZIL 1, ITALY 0, penalties (1994) -- On a sun-splashed afternoon at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., the only World Cup held in the United States came to a thrilling conclusion. Even though most observers of the sport don't think penalty kicks should decide games, the angst Italian fans felt about Roberto Baggio's stunning over-the-crossbar miss still reverberates today. Brazil had encountered difficulty in even getting to the final, outlasting the U.S., 1-0.

4. WEST GERMANY 1, ARGENTINA 0 (1990) -- The usually potent Argentines had a bad day in Rome during this championship match, becoming the first team to not only get shut out during a title contest, but also have two players who were sent off with red cards. One of the fouls, early during the second half, was committed against West German scoring star Jurgen Klinsmann, now the coach of the U.S. men's national team. West Germany got a penalty-kick score to win it with five minutes to go.

5. ENGLAND 4, WEST GERMANY 2, extra time (1966) -- There's nothing like a first championship, and while Orioles fans reminisce about the 1966 Birds winning the club's first World Series, English soccer fans hearken back to their country's only World Cup, won during the same year on home soil at Wembley Stadium. Geoff Hurst scored three times, with the third bouncing down off the crossbar and onto the goal line, a shot that should have been disallowed, because the entire ball didn't cross the entire line.

6. ITALY 2, FRANCE 1, penalties (2006) -- Germany hosted the 2006 tournament, during which a record total of yellow cards (345) and red cards (28) were handed out. It seemed appropriate when it culminated in the much-parodied headbutt given by French star Zinedine Zidane to the chest of Italy's Marco Materazzi for something Materazzi had allegedly said about Zidane's sister. The infraction occurred during extra time, and Italy won its fourth Cup on penalties.

7. UNITED STATES 2, MEXICO 0 (2002) -- Many fans don't recall this round-of-16 match, because it was played in South Korea at an early morning hour in the U.S. But, thanks to goals from Brian McBride and Landon Donovan, the Americans beat the Mexicans to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since making the semifinals during the inaugural 1930 tournament. The U.S. was denied a semifinal berth when it lost to Germany, 1-0.

8. URUGUAY 4, ARGENTINA 2 (1930) -- This was the year that the first World Cup was held, and Uruguay -- then a two-time defending Olympic gold medal-winning team celebrating its 100th anniversary as an independent nation -- became the first of six host countries to win. Only 13 teams participated, as European teams found it difficult to travel to South America. During the final, Uruguay rallied from a 2-1 deficit to win, and the Belgian referee arranged for a boat to quickly whisk him away from the crowds.

9. WEST GERMANY 3, HUNGARY 2 (1954) -- The Switzerland-based 1954 tournament set a scoring record that still stands with an average of 5.38 goals per game; only one World Cup since then has had an average of more than three. It was also the first time the tournament was widely televised around the world, and it seemed like perfect timing when the West Germans, who had allowed two goals during the first eight minutes of the title match, rallied for what seemed like an improbable win.

10. BRAZIL 5, SWEDEN 2 (1958) -- A testimony to Brazil's excellence through the years is the fact that it is the only nation to have not only won five World Cups, but also done so on three different continents -- South America, Europe and Asia. This win against Sweden -- marked by two second-half goals by a young Pele -- marked the first time a South American team had won on European soil, and it also marked the only time a Scandanavian country had ever reached the title match.

11. SPAIN 1, NETHERLANDS 0, extra time (2010) -- Lots of changes abounded for this tournament, held in South Africa for the first time under the noisy din of the vuvuzela horns that fans sported. The tournament was more wide open, with six European teams advancing to the knockout round. After years of underachievement, Spain won the title game against a surprisingly physical Dutch squad to earn the country its first Rimet Trophy.

12. ARGENTINA 1, BRAZIL 0 (1990) -- Soccer is filled with crazy stories and subplots, and this one turned out to be true: Argentine star Diego Maradona, who had scored on an illegal handball four years earlier, offered water spiked with tranquilizers to a Brazilian player to slow him down, an episode to which he confessed years later. The two border rivals' bitter round-of-16 clash in Italy ended with a late Argentine goal.

13. RUSSIA 6, CAMEROON 1 (1994) -- This long-forgotten group game at Stanford University featured a pair of milestones, one coming from each team. For the Russians, Oleg Salenko became the first -- and, as of press time, only -- player to score five goals during a World Cup match, while Cameroon's Roger Milla became the oldest World Cup goal scorer at the age of 42.

14. ITALY 3, BRAZIL 2 (1982) -- This World Cup was held in Spain, and the eventual Cup-winning Italian side had struggled offensively during its early games, but got a key game-winning goal from Paolo Rossi -- the tournament's top scorer with six goals -- to save itself during this thrilling group game. If the game had ended in a 2-2 tie, Brazil would have advanced by virtue of a better goal differential, and the Italians would have made a premature exit.

15. FRANCE 2, BRAZIL 1, penalties (1986) -- The unpredictability of the penalty shootout reared its head again during this quarterfinal match in Mexico. Midway through the second half, Brazilian legend Zico had a chance to put his side in front, but French goalie Joel Bats saved his penalty shot. Socrates again had a chance to give Brazil control of the game, but his shootout goal missed. Teammate Julio Cesar hit the post with his attempt, and the French advanced.

Issue 198: June 2014