Since its inception in 1930, the FIFA World Cup has grown to become the preeminent international soccer tournament. Every four years soccer teams from 32 countries compete against each other for the right to call themselves the best in the world. Each World Cup has produced its share of thrilling matches and eye-catching storylines.
Here are five of the best moments in FIFA World Cup history.
2006, Zinedine Zidane’s Headbutt in the Finals: Zinedine Zidane seemed to be on the verge of closing out a storybook career. His French team had made it to the finals of the 2006 World Cup and was tied with Brazil late in the game. The squad had the championship trophy within its sights.
Zidane, arguably one of the best soccer players of all time, had been instrumental in helping his French team hoist the World Cup trophy in 1998. It is the only time the French have won the premier soccer event. His French admirers were hoping that the aging legend might be able to pull off some more magic in his final international match. Zidane did not disappoint — Brazil’s fans. He lost control of his temper late in a tie game and did the unthinkable; he headbutted Brazilian defender Marco Materazzi. The referee ejected Zidane from the match. His exit proved to be crucial, as France lost the game on penalty shots.
1990, Cameroon Surprises the World: Few experts gave the African country’s squad much of a chance of making it out of its pool in the 1990 World Cup. The team was captained by an aging superstar, a brand new coach, and a host of relatively unknown players. History was also decidedly against the Cameroon squad. After all, no African team had done all that well in past tournaments. Cameroon shocked the world when it beat defending champion Argentina in its opening match. It proved to be just the start of the squad’s magical run to the tournament quarterfinals, where Cameroon almost pulled off another miracle against England. While the squad was not able to defeat England, it did set a record by becoming the first African team to reach the quarterfinals of a World Cup.
1986, Diego Maradona and the “Hand of God” Goal: The soccer legend played exceptionally well in the 1986 World Cup tournament. He helped his Argentina squad to win the tourney by scoring several timely goals in pivotal matches. However, he is best known for illegally using his hands to push the ball through the net in a quarterfinal game against England. The referees let the goal stand. Argentina went on to win the game en route to their second World Cup championship. When asked about it later, Maradona claimed that the “hand of God” aided him in scoring the contested goal.
1970, An Incredible Overtime Performance: Italy and West Germany only managed to score one goal apiece during regulation in their semifinal game of the 1970 World Cup. Therefore, everyone was taken by surprise when the two teams combined for five goals in overtime. Italy managed to come out on top in the overtime shoot-a-thon, winning the game by a score of 4-3. Some people refer to the contest as “the game of the century.”
1950, Uruguay Pulls Off a Monumental Upset: Brazil sauntered into the final against Uruguay as the predominant favorite. The Brazilian squad was a powerhouse. More importantly, the team was playing in its own country and only needed to tie Uruguay to win the World Cup (due to a FIFA decision to allow the final four teams to play a round robin). Brazilians were so confident of victory that they had already printed up “millions of T-shirts with victory slogans.” Uruguay was having none of it; its squad managed to pull off a stunning 2-1 upset of Brazil.