November 09, 2020

The Best and Worst World Cup Matches

Of the nine hundred World Cup matches played since 1930, there have been some pretty amazing matches that will be ingrained in the minds of all football fans forever. From incredible goals to spectacular play, these matches have helped script the history of the World Cup and bind the game into the hearts of people across the world.

While some games were too good to forget, there are others, however, that fans wish they had never watched. Those matches can make depressing viewing in terms of the result, tardy play, poor performances, bad behaviour, and so on.

Let's take a look at five of the best and five of the worst games in the history of the FIFA World Cup.

The Greatest World Cup Matches:

1. 1950 – Uruguay 2 vs Brazil 1

The unexpected results of the final game of the 1950 World Cup, played at the famous Maracanã Stadium, sent shock waves around the world and was termed a 'national tragedy' in Brazil.

In 1950, the Uruguayan team was formidable. However, the Brazilian team was considered, by many, to be the superior team. If previous tournament performances were anything to go by, the world and the Brazilians wholeheartedly believed in the team's ability to win its first championship.

Going into the match, Brazil only needed to draw to win the World Cup after confidently thrashing Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1. (The format back in 1950 was slightly different, with the winners of the four groups going into another group stage to decide the winner.)

So confident of their victory, local newspaper's lauded the team's success early, congratulatory speeches were given by the local mayor and politicians, victory songs composed, and celebratory signs written and hosted. But, it was all too soon, for Uruguay were set to turn the tables.

In the 66th minute of play, Uruguay's Juan Schiaffino cancelled out Friaça's 47th-minute strike for Brazil. Alcides Ghiggia won the game for the Uruguayans in the 79th minute with a superb goal to silence the 200,000 fans at Maracanã.

Pele, football's first global star, broke down in tears after the game.

The Uruguayans, however, were jubilant, and the match went down in history as one of the greatest, unanticipated victories.

Image: Public domain/Arquivo Nacional Collection

2. 1966 – Portugal 5 vs North Korea 3

This 1966 match showcased the brilliance of the legendary Eusébio.

Within 25 minutes of play, in the quarter-final clash at Goodison Park, Portugal was three goals down to the North Koreans. No one expected to see a change in fortunes for the Portuguese against an opponent who had earlier stunned the world by beating Italy.

But Eusébio took the game by the scruff of the neck and reduced the lead in the 27th minute. With a penalty, on the stroke of halftime, he took the Korean's lead down to 3-2. Nine minutes into the second half, Eusébio completed a hat trick with an excellent effort to level the score - the Portuguese were back in the game.

Eusébio's fourth goal, another converted penalty almost 60 minutes into the game, took the Portuguese into the lead.

In the final 10 minutes, Jose Torres headed home the final and fifth goal to complete an unpredicted and remarkable comeback for the Portuguese.

3. 1982 - Italy 3 vs Brazil 2

Paolo Rossi was, controversially, selected to don the Italy shirt for the 1982 World Cup, despite having just returned from a two-year match-fixing ban. His inclusion in the team, after his involvement in the Totonero 1980 match-fixing scandal, drew objections from some powerful voices in Italy.

In the final second-round, group stage match for Group C, Italy came up against the Brazilians, favourites to go through to the semis. However, regardless of their sublime play and spectacular goals, it was not meant to be.

Rossi opened the scoring after just five minutes of the starting whistle. While Socrates levelled the score for Brazil, the Brazilian's certainly couldn't rest on their laurels. Rossi hit home again giving the Italians a 2-1 lead at half time.

The second half saw Brazil's Falcao equalise the game, but, once again, Rossi put the ball in the back of the net, completing an unlikely hat-trick.

The win saw Italy go on to win the World Cup Final that year and saw Rossi awarded the Golden Boot - silencing a few of the voices that had objected to his place on the team.

4. 1986 - Argentina 2 vs England 1

Of the two goals scored for Argentina, both by Maradona, in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final, one will forever be remembered as the most controversial and the other one of the greatest. Both will be remembered for bringing an unexpected end to England's hopes of another World Cup title, their first since 1966, and for placing Argentina in the semi-finals against West Germany - a match that they won to become World Cup champions.

The first goal for Argentina scored in the early second-half of the game, was, and still is, the most talked-about controversy in footballing history. A miscalculated ball from the foot of England player, Steve Hodge, hoofed towards the front of the England penalty area, should have been punched clear by Peter Shilton, England's premier goalkeeper. However, Maradona reached the ball first, and with a canny punch of his fist, the ball landed with a bounce in the back of the England net. Neither the referee or the linesman spotted the infringement. And, much to the chagrin of the England players and fans, they awarded the goal. Adding insult to injury, Maradona later said the goal was, 'a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God'!

To top the game off, Maradona then scored the ‘goal of the century'. Taking the ball from the middle of the Argentine half, Maradona magically dribbled the ball past five England players, then expertly slipped the ball past Peter Shilton into goal. It was a moment of footballing skill and genius that cemented Maradona's status as one of the greatest football players of all time.

Image: Maradona dribbling Peter Shilton, 22 June 1986, Unknown author/El Gráfico/Wikimedia Commons

5. 1954 - West Germany 3 vs Hungary 2

The 1954 World Cup Final between West Germany and Hungary, was for the German team a great victory. Up against the 'Golden Team' of 1950s football, the Hungarians, the German win was highly unexpected - so much so that the match is often termed, the 'Miracle of Bern'.

Indeed, the Hungarian team, listed as one of the best international teams ever in football history, was at the top of their game in the summer of 1954. Outside of the World Cup, Hungary thrashed some of the best teams on the field, including a 7-1 win against England in 1953. During the World Cup first stage matches, the team beat West Germany by a punishing 8-3. And, in the quarter-finals, they comfortably beat both Brazil and Uruguay. Considering this, and their record between 1950 and 1956 (42 victories, seven defeats and one loss - 1954 against Germany), it still beggars belief that they didn't win the World Cup that year.

The match itself was predictable in the first half with Hungary taking a 2-0 lead inside the first eight minutes of the game. Even Max Morlock's goal for Germany in the 10th minute of the match didn't cause too much fear for the Hungarians or spectators. The Hungarians were still tipped to win.

However, with a goal from Helmut Rhan for the Germans before half time, and another from Rhan's boot in the final six minutes, the Hungarian's, despite repeated chances to score, lost out. It was an astounding match - unanticipated and full of German play that we have come to admire.

The Worst World Cup Matches:

1. 1982 - West Germany 1 vs Austria 0

The 'Disgrace of Gijón' is arguably one of the worst, if not the worst, matches in the history of the FIFA World Cup. The match, held in Gijón, Spain and the last game of the first-round Group 2, has often been tagged as 'the day when the world wept for Algeria'. The tag is particularly apt due to the alleged collusion between West Germany and Austria which prevented Algeria from becoming the first African team to reach the second round of a World Cup.

Algeria was assured of advancing after defeating Chile 3-2. The only thing that could prevent that advancement would be a one or two-goal win by West Germany over Austria in the group's final game. In the case of an uncontested West German victory, both the European teams would progress at Algeria's expense.

In the opening minutes of that match, German player, Horst Hrubesch scored the first goal against the Austrians. For the next 80 minutes of the game, the match turned into a farce. Neither the Germans or the Austrians continued to play with any real gusto - the 1-0 scoreline suited them both. The ball moved around the field but there were no shots, barely any tackles and crosses, and minimal sprints - both teams relaxed and spent time wasting time.

As a result of this match, and similar events at the previous World Cup in 1978, FIFA were forced to revise the group system for future tournaments. To ensure fair play, the final two games in each group are now played simultaneously.

2. 2018 - Denmark 0 vs France 0

Forgettable is one word to describe the 2018 World Cup match between Denmark and France at the Luzhniki Stadium in Russia. The goalless draw between the two sides has been mooted as one of the World Cup's worst games ever, drawing jeers, boos and whistles throughout from the discontented stadium spectators.

With France already qualifying for the final 16, and Demark only needing one point to get through, neither team had much to play for in this, the last Group C match of the World Cup. Even the outcome of the concurrent match between the groups Australia and Peru made little or no difference to the game between Denmark and France, so both sides played a cautious, low-risk game.

The performance was lacklustre, with no defining moments for either side. Though several opportunities were presented for both teams to score, neither pushed the game. Fans were incredulous at this soporific effort in a game of this level calling it one of the direst in World Cup history.

Image: Marco Iacobucci Epp/

3. 1982- Hungary 10 vs El Salvador 1

The 1982 first group stage match between Hungary and El Salvador was the most substantial defeat ever seen in the history of the FIFA World cup finals.

Qualifying for the World Cup seemed unlikely for the small, war-torn nation, El Salvador. But, having come second in the CONCACAF qualifying group, the team made it to the tournament held that year in Spain.

Scoring within the first 4 minutes of the match, Hungary took a fairly convincing lead in the first half leaving the field with a 3-0 lead. The El Salvador team, though they had some good players and made some reasonable attempts to even up the scores, only managed one goal in the second half. The Hungarians generally gave the El Salvador team the runaround and made short work of their weak defence, ending the match on 10-1.

While the match was pretty dire in terms of the final score, the El Salvador team did perform with greater conviction and better defensive action in the rest of their group stage matches - though they progressed no further in the tournament.

4. 2006 - Switzerland 0 vs Ukraine 0 (0-3 after penalty shootout)

Often referred to as the 'dullest match in World Cup history', the Switzerland versus Ukraine match of 2006 was undoubtedly lacking the drama and intensity we are used to during World Cup tournaments.

Both teams were playing for a place in the quarter-finals. However, neither team managed to find the back of the net after 120 minutes of play. While it is not unusual to have a nil, nil draw, it was the lack of ambition and drive from either team that led to the tediousness of the match.

Both teams are known for their clean sheets, and it appeared that neither side was willing to concede a goal during the match - the result, risk averse, downright dull play. The game contained no sustained possession, no real pressure on either side, no spectacle of any sort. Any efforts at scoring were unconvincing with balls bouncing off of the crossbar or going wide.

Though Ukraine emerged victorious after the penalty shootout, even FIFA's technical report struggled to find a positive angle. The report described it as a 'scrappy affair devoid of highlights [with] too many misplaced passes by both sides [meaning] the game could never develop any genuine flow.'

5. 2014 - Spain 1 vs Netherlands 5

Spain's performance in the opening round of the 2014 World Cup group stage earned them a record-breaking and unenviable record. The 2010 World Cup Champions, suffered a 5-1 defeat against the Netherlands making their game the worst loss ever by a defending World Cup champion.

It was Spain's most significant defeat in more than half a century, and it was their second-biggest loss at a World Cup - Scotland thrashed them in an international match in 1963, and Brazil beat them with a whopping 6-2 score in 1950.

Up against the Netherlands in 2014, for the first time since 2010 when they beat them 1-0 to become the World Cup Champions, the Spanish had been expecting nothing but to emerge as the victors. However, the Spaniards just weren't quick, strong or organised enough to fend off the Dutch attack.

The Dutch team, with inspiring performances by Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben, attacked the Spaniard's relentlessly. They had taken 13 shots at goal by the end of the game - the Spanish team were able to offer very little resistance.

For the defending champions, it was the worst match of their careers and a result that took the world by surprise.

Check out our top pick World Cup goals and find out who scored them - read our Iconic FIFA World Cup Goals review.

Main image: Diego Maradona scoring the goal v. England, Dani Yako, Scanned from Clarín newspaper/Wikimedia Commons

Published: February 20, 2020
Last updated: November 09, 2020
Related Articles