Sport / Featurre

The best World Cup matches in the FIFA archives

We pick our five favourites released as part of #WorldCupAtHome and two we’d love to see added to the list.

It’s no kind of world without football. Thankfully, FIFA have offered a helping hand, holding weekly votes to let fans decide which World Cup games they want to see released from their archives. We’ve picked five classics that have already been made available on YouTube, and two we’d love to see added to the list.

Argentina v West Germany (Mexico 1986)

Whatever your feelings about Argentina’s presence in the final (whisper it: they deserved to win the quarter final against England, even without the Hand of God), there’s no denying that this was one of the all-time great World Cup finals. Recent finals have been dull anti-climaxes to otherwise great competitions, but West Germany and Argentina produced one for the ages. The Germans set out to shackle Maradona, marking him tightly and scything him down whenever he tried one of his mazy dribbles. Still, his influence on the game was magnificent. Reduced to only enough time for one touch at a time before a German would barrel through the back of him, Diego made sure each one counted, all deft backheels, magical lay-offs and laser-targeted through balls. It’s a masterclass in doing so much with so little.

West Germany v Netherlands (Italy 1990)

It’s a shame that this tit-for-tat thriller will be forever remembered for Frank Rijkaard spitting (twice!) on Rudi Völler. That incident was shameful (although both men quickly made up afterwards) and the decision by the referee to send Völler off was bizarre at best, but the rest of the game was a physical, high-octane encounter between two teams filled with iconic greats: Klinsmann, Völler, Mattheus and Brehme on the West German side, Van Basten, Koeman, Gullit and Rijkaard on the Dutch.

Argentina v England (France 1998)

Backstory is everything. You could say that the animosity on the pitch in Saint-Etienne predated even Maradona and that goal in ’86, especially if you consider that whole incident in the Falklands in 1982. Add in Argentinian defenders who love nothing more than kicking the opposition into orbit, and you’ve got a conflict that was just waiting to flare up. Five minutes in, David Seaman clattered into Diego Simeone and Batistuta put Argentina ahead from the spot. Six minutes later, Michael Owen went full-on Black Swan in the area to win the penalty that levelled the match. The rest was somewhat inevitable, especially where Simeone’s dark arts and England’s penalty shoot outs are concerned.

Germany v Brazil (Korea/Japan 2002)

The Korea/Japan World Cup didn’t want for shocking drama, from Keane vs McCarthy in Saipan to South Korea vs Italy in Daejeon. In hindsight though, everything about the final seemed pre-destined, from the presence of Brazil (overly blessed with the likes of Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and Cafu) to the man in the middle, the unmistakable Pierluigi Collina. And if anyone seemed capable of keeping the Brazilians at bay, it was Oliver Kahn. The German keeper had only conceded once in the tournament (to Ireland’s Robbie Keane) and was protected by a miserly back four. Resolute defence against magical talent resulted in a hell-for-leather final and a fitting stage for the finest Brazilian side since the glory days of Pele.

Japan v Belgium (Russia 2018)

Most countries go into a World Cup with a secret (or sometimes overt) belief that this could be their turn. Occasionally it’s a golden generation that sends the hype machine into overdrive, much like the Belgian one that saw Russia as their last chance to make their mark. For most of the last-16 tie in Rostov, this ridiculously talented team looked to be disappearing down a similar drain to Euro 2016, blown away by a Japanese side that had none of the star power of Hazard, Mertens, De Bruyne et al. It could have been one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history, an England v USA in ’58 or Argentina v Cameroon in ’90. The emphasis, however, is on “could”.

And two we want to see released…

England v Cameroon (Italy 1990)

Three Lions against the Indomitable Lions. Cameroon were the ultimate surprise package at Italia 90, beating World Champions Argentina in their first game and winning legions of fans through a combination of (occasionally excessive) steely grit and 38-year-old Roger Milla’s oscillating hips. England, on the other hand, had underwhelmed, lucky to escape with a draw against Ireland and only securing passage to the knock-out stages via a 1-0 win against Egypt. It was in the quarter finals that Bobby Robson’s team really ignited, although Cameroon were not about to step aside meekly.

Ireland v Italy (USA 1994)

Ireland arrived at their second World Cup emboldened by a remarkable quarter-finals run in 1990. An intimidating first tie against the Italians did little to dampen spirits, especially as it presented an opportunity to take revenge on the team that had knocked them out four years earlier. Still, nobody saw this one coming. Not even Ray Houghton, judging by the look on his face after his 11th minute half-volley arched over Pagliuca and into the back of the net. For 71 minutes in the sweltering New York heat, wave after wave of Italian attacks withered in the face of the immovable object that was Paul McGrath, the injured defender putting in one of his greatest displays in an Irish jersey. It would turn out to be a much better tournament for the losers than the winners, but this is a game that still brings a tear to the eye of every Irish football fan.


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