The 2018 World Cup in Russia is shaping up to be a pretty good one, with plenty of last-minute dramatics and highlight-reel goals, along with its fair share of upsets and exciting games. The two finalists are yet to be decided, but fans are hoping whoever they may be are able to put on a heck of a show on July 15th. This is the 21st edition of the World Cup since the tournament was born back in 1930 (with the games being put on hold in 1942 and 1946 during World War II), and will probably once again be the most-watched final off all-time.
Most World Cup finals have been close contests. with the last three all going to extra time and the 2006 encounter between France and Italy being decided by penalty kicks. In total, five finals have been decided in extra time and two have been won in a shootout. The biggest margin of victory has been three goals, which has happened just three times. Let’s take a look back at the 12 greatest World Cup finals in history. These games were were all entertaining and close affairs, and featured some outstanding team and individual performances.
12. Spain 1-0 Holland – 2010
The 2010 World Cup was the first to be held in Africa, as Spain and Holland battled it out in Johannesburg in front of 84,490 fans. This was the third kick at the can for the Dutch, as they were beaten in their previous two finals by West Germany and Argentina. The Spanish squad was generally considered to be the best on the planet at the time, as they were also champions of Euro 2008.
The game remained goalless through 90 minutes and had to be settled in extra time. It wasn’t without incident though, as a World Cup final record 14 yellow cards were handed out along with a red card to Holland’s John Heitinga in the 109th minute (plus Nigel de Jong should have also been sent off for kung fu kicking Xabi Alonso in the chest). Andres Iniesta then took advantage of the extra man by scoring the lone goal of the game with just four minutes to go on the clock.
11. Germany 1-0 Argentina – 2014
After thumping host nation Brazil 7-1 in the semifinals, Germany were definitely favored to take care of Argentina in the 2014 final. They did so eventually, but it took a lot of hard work as the game had to be decided in extra time. The official attendance was 74,738 at the famous Maracana Stadium in Rio Janeiro, where the two teams battled it out for the a record third time in a World Cup final. Argentina had downed the Germans 3-2 in 1986 and Germany avenged that defeat four years later with a 1-0 victory.
Twenty-two-year-old substitute Mario Gotze was the Man of the Match in 2014 as he scored the only goal in the 113th minute. FIFA claimed the game to be the most-watched sports event in history with a television audience of 1.013 billion, which the 2018 final will probably surpass.
10. Uruguay 4-2 Argentina – 1930
Host nation Uruguay doubled fellow South Americans Argentina 4-2 in the very first World Cup final in Montevideo back in 1930. The two nations had met two years earlier in the gold medal game at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdamm with Uruguay winning 2-1 in a replay after the first contest ended 1-1.
The World Cup final was held on a Wednesday afternoon in front of 68,346 fans. Pablo Dorado gave the hosts the lead after only 12 minutes, but it didn’t last long as Carlos Peucelle leveled the score eight minutes later. Golden Boot winner Guillermo Stabile then scored his eighth goal of the tournament in the 37th minute to put Argentina up 2-1. Uruguay came storming back though with goals from from Pedro Cea in the 57th minute, Santos Iriarte in the 68th and Hector Castro in the 89th.
9. Brazil 3-1 Czechoslovakia – 1962
Chile hosted the 1962 World Cup, but the final was contested in Santiago between Brazil and Czechoslovakia with 68,879 fans in the stands at the Estadio Nacional. The teams had met earlier in the tournament and played to an uneventful 0-0 draw in the group stage. Brazil entered the event as the reigning champions and pulled off a 3-1 win to capture their second straight Jules Rimet Trophy. They also managed to do it without their star talisman Pele, as he was sidelined with an injury.
Brazil found themselves trailing after just 15 minutes when Josef Masopust struck first for Czechoslovakia. But just 120 seconds later Amarildo had tied the score. It remained level until the 69th minute when Zito put Brazil back in front. Vava then sealed the deal with an insurance marker 12 minutes from full time.
8. Italy 2-1 Czechoslovakia – 1934
Czechoslovakia and Italy both made their first World Cup final appearances in 1934, when they battled it out in the sweltering 40 degree (Celsius) weather at the old Stadio Nazionale PNF in Rome. The 55,000 fans on hand were treated to extra time that afternoon, as Antonin Puc gave Czechoslovakia the lead with just 19 minutes to go and Raimundo Orsi replied for Italy ten minutes later. The final whistle blew and an extra 30 minutes was needed for the first time in a World Cup final.
Angelo Shiavo gave the hosts the lead after only five minutes of extra time and Italy’s defense thwarted Czechoslovakia for the remaining 25 minutes to claim the nation’s first of four World Cup victories. They were also the first team to successfully defend the title as they retained the crown four years later.
7. Uruguay 2-1 Brazil – 1950
The 1950 World Cup final at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro still holds the all-time attendance record for a soccer game, as a reported 200,000 fans jammed the venue (probably very unsafely). This was the first World Cup since 1938 due to World War II and the only tournament which featured a different format. The top four of the 13 teams entered played a round-robin stage to decide who the world champions would be. This meant Brazil, Uruguay, Spain, and Sweden all had an equal chance to win the cup.
Brazil hammered Sweden 7-1 and Spain 6-1 while Uruguay drew Spain 2-2 and edged Sweden 3-2. All Brazil needed was a draw at home to take the cup, but it wasn’t to be. The first goal didn’t come until the 47th minute when Friaca gave Brazil the lead. Juan Alberto Schiaffino leveled the score 19 minutes later and Alcides Ghiggia beat goalkeeper Moacyr Barbosa with 11 minutes remaining to give Uruguay their second World Cup in front of the distraught crowd.
6. West Germany 2-1 Netherlands – 1974
West Germany hosted the 1974 tournament and 75,200 fans piled into Munich’s Olympiastadion for the final against the Netherlands. The Dutch, with Johan Cruyff in the lineup, appeared to be in better form heading into the match, since the Germans hadn’t been at their best earlier in the tournament. Holland owned the ball from the kickoff and in the second minute were awarded the first ever penalty kick in a World Cup final.
Johan Neeskens scored from the 12-yard spot and it looked like the Netherlands were on their way to their first cup victory. The referee then awarded West Germany a penalty in the 25th minute and Paul Breitner leveled the score. Gerd Mueller would then score the game winner just two minutes before the half time whistle to give the Germans their second World Cup and second straight major title, as they had won the European Championships two years earlier.
5. Italy 2-1 France – 2006
The 2006 final at the Olympiastadion in Berlin will always be remembered for Zinidine Zidane’s infamous headbutt to the chest of Italy’s Marco Materazzi, but it was a pretty good game as well. Zidane gave France the lead in front of 69,000 fans via a seventh-minute penalty kick. Materazzi then headed in an equalizer just 12 minutes later and that was it for the scoring in regulation time.
Both teams had chances to win it, with France hitting the woodwork and having a goal ruled offside. Zidane was then given his marching orders in the 20th minute of extra time as he became the fourth player to be sent off in a World Cup final. It was the 14th time he’d been sent off in his career and the second time in a World Cup tournament. The game went to a shootout with Italy winning 5-3, as David Trezeguet’s spot kick for France smashed against the crossbar.
4. Argentina 3-1 Netherlands – 1978
Argentina and the Netherlands needed 30 minutes of extra time to settle their differences in the 1978 final, with over 71,000 fans in attendance at Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires. The host nation took the lead through Mario Kempes, as the Man of the Match and the tournament’s Golden Boot winner notched his fifth goal of the event after 38 minutes. Substitute Dick Nanninga headed home the tying goal with just eight minutes to go and the Dutch came close to winning the cup just before the 90th minute whistle when Rod Rensenbrink’s shot hit the post.
Kempes scored his second of the game and sixth of the tournament in the the 15th minute of extra time and Daniel Bertoni added an insurance marker five minutes before the final whistle to give Argentina their first world title. Kempes also took home the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player and Holland lost their second straight final after falling 2-1 to West Germany four years earlier.
3. England 4-2 West Germany – 1966
This was an absolute classic, as it featured a late equalizer, two goals in extra time, the only hat trick in a World Cup final, and a highly controversial goal. Host nation England took on arch rivals West Germany at the old Wembley Stadium in front of 97,000 fans on July 30, 1966. Another 32.3 million British fans watched the game on the telly, making it the most-watched TV event ever in the UK.
Helmut Haller put Germany ahead after just 12 minutes, but Geoff Hurst replied for England seven minutes later. Martin Peters gave England the lead with only 12 minutes to play, but the home nation couldn’t hang on and conceded the equalizer in the 89th minute. Hurst then scored twice in extra time in the 101st and 120th minutes to give England their one and only World Cup. His second goal is still debated today, as it’s not clear if the ball ever crossed the goal line after it smashed off the crossbar.
2. Argentina 3-2 West Germany – 1986
West Germany came out on the wrong end of a decision once again, 20 years after losing to England at Wembley. This time they were downed 3-2 by Argentina in front of 114,600 fans at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Argentina built a 2-0 lead on goals by Jose Luis Brown and Jorge Valdano in the 23rd and 56th minutes. However, the Germans fought back valiantly as Karl-Heinz Rummenigge pulled one back with 16 minutes to go and Rudi Voller slotted home the equalizer with nine minutes remaining.
The match looked headed for extra time, but Diego Maradona set up Jorge Burruchaga for the game winner just three minutes after West Germany had pulled even. There were six yellow cards handed out in the game, four to Argentina and two to West Germany, which was a World Cup final record that lasted until 2010.
1. West Germany 3-2 Hungary – 1954
Many fans who saw it live swear the 1954 World Cup final between West Germany and Hungary in Switzerland was the greatest of all. Hungary was one of the best footballing nations in the world back then and were favored to claim the trophy after falling 4-2 to Italy in the 1938 final. Germans remember the match as the miracle of Bern and it ended up being the first of the country’s four World Cup triumphs.
There were 62,500 fans on hand to see Hungary take the pitch as both the reigning Olympic champions and a team riding a 32-game unbeaten streak. In addition, they’d already trounced West Germany 8-3 in the group stage. Ferenc Puskas and Zoltan Szibor gave Hungary a 2-0 lead after just eight minutes and it looked like the rout was on. However, Maximilian Morlock scored two minutes later and by the 18th minute it was tied 2-2 courtesy of Helmut Rahn. The winner was also scored by Rahn just with just six minutes remaining. Puskas appeared to tie the game 120 seconds later, but he was ruled offside. A true classic.