Thursday, February 29, 2024



If there’s one thing the World Cup guarantees, it’s drama.

The tournament never fails to generate tension, which is wholly unsurprising given we’re talking about the pinnacle of professional football. The stakes are never as high as they are at a World Cup.

Some games, though, have been elevated above all others, renowned for their quality, or perhaps even their notoriety. And sometimes both.

Below, GOAL runs through the most memorable matches in World Cup history…

Brazil 1-2 Uruguay | 1950

The legendary Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues infamously opined, “Everywhere has its irremediable national catastrophe, something like a Hiroshima. Our catastrophe, our Hiroshima, was the defeat by Uruguay in 1950.”

It was an offensively hyperbolic statement but one which provides an insight into the effect ‘Maracanazo’ (‘The Maracana Blow’) had on the national psyche.

Brazilians had been supremely confident that the Selecao would win the World Cup on home soil. A celebratory song had been prepared, while one newspaper proclaimed the Selecao ‘champions of the world’ on the morning of their meeting with Uruguay, which was effectively the final, given only the Celeste could overtake Brazil with a victory in the last match of the round-robin mini-league which concluded the 1950 World Cup.

Brazil, who had beaten Uruguay 5-1 during their Copa America triumph the previous year, only needed a draw to claim the trophy for the first time, and took the lead in the 47th minute through Friaca.

However, Juan Alberto Schiaffino levelled midway through the second half before Alcides Ghiggia scored the most infamous goal in Brazilian football history to win the World Cup for Uruguay.

There were approximately 220,000 people inside the Maracana that day and yet, at the full-time whistle, only the victors’ joyous shouts and screams could be heard.

Brazil, as a nation, went into a state of shock. At least two people at the ground took their own lives, while there were a spate of reported suicides across the country.

The Selecao effectively started over, even changing the colour of their kit to the famous yellow shirt and blue shorts combo which we know today. The pain of the ‘Maracanazo’ never truly went away, though. Certainly, some players never recovered.

Augusto, Juvenal, Bigode and Chico never played for the national team again, while Brazil goalkeeper Moacir Barbosa was made a scapegoat for the defeat, as the press felt he should have kept out Ghiggia’s decisive strike.

Zizinho even blamed the media’s incessant criticism and ongoing obsession with Maracanazo for his team-mate’s death from a heart attack 50 years later.

Hungary 2-3 West Germany | 1954

The Wankdorf Stadium was meant to be the venue for a coronation on July 4, 1954. It instead provided the setting for ‘The Miracle of Bern’.

Hungary had gone into the World Cup final as the heaviest of favourites. The Mighty Magyars were considered the finest football team the game had ever seen. They were the reigning Olympic champions and on a 32-game unbeaten run. What’s more, they had hammered their final opponents, West Germany, in the group stage, with Sandor Kocsis scoring four times in an 8-3 win.

Another rout appeared on the cards when they went 2-0 up after just eight minutes in Bern though Ferenc Puskas, who was carrying an injury, and Zoltan Czibor. However, West Germany had drawn level by the midway point of the first half thanks to Max Worlock and Helmut Rahn.

The underdogs appeared to be revelling in the rain which had descended upon Bern – ‘Fritz Walter weather’ as it was known because of the German captain’s fondness for playing in wet conditions – and they pulled off the biggest of upsets thanks to a second Rahn goal with just six minutes to go.

The game was shrouded in controversy, though, with Hungary adamant that there had been a foul in the lead-up to Germany’s second goal, and that a Puskas equaliser had been wrongly ruled out for offside.

There were also subsequent, unverified allegations that the German players had been given, with or without their knowledge, performance-enhancing substances (even though there were no doping regulations at the time).

Others claimed that the victors had merely benefited from wearing revolutionary new adidas boots with screw-in studs that could be adapted to different playing surfaces.

Whatever the truth, Germany’s players were feted as heroes and lauded for restoring the confidence of a nation still coming to terms with the fallout from World War II. A film was even made about ‘The Miracle of Bern’.

In Hungary, meanwhile, it was claimed that the shock and anger caused by the defeat sewed the seeds of dissatisfaction with the communist regime of the time that led to the 1956 uprising.

Fair to say, then, that the 1954 World Cup final was one of the most dramatic, and influential, games ever played.

Chile 2-0 Italy | 1962

David Coleman famously introduced highlights of Chile’s meeting with Italy at the 1962 World Cup as “the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of football, possibly in the history of the game.”

It was difficult to disagree. There had only been two red cards in the game in Santiago – both for Italy – but police had to intervene on four separate occasions in a desperate bid to keep the peace.

The bad blood began before the game, with two Italian journalists provoking uproar in the host nation with their description of Chile as a country of “malnutrition, illiteracy, alcoholism and poverty”.

Their Chilean counterparts countered by claiming that Italians were fascists, gangsters and dopers.

There was always a chance, then, that the group game would have an edge to it. What followed, though, was truly shocking.

The first foul was committed after 12 seconds of play, while Giorgio Ferrini was dismissed just eight minutes in. He vehemently contested the decision, though, and had to be escorted from the field by police.

Mario David was shown a red card just before the break and, once again, all hell broke loose, with Leonel Sanchez breaking Humberto Maschio’s nose with one of the numerous punches thrown during the ensuing melee.

Chile unsurprisingly went on to win the game, with late goals from Jaime Ramirez and Jorge Toro, but they were mere footnotes in what became known as ‘The Battle of Santiago’.

England 4-2 West Germany | 1966

For England fans, Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary on the dying seconds of the 1966 World Cup have long since passed into footballing folklore. “And here comes Hurst. He’s got… some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over! It is now!”

Geoff Hurst’s thumping finish in the famous 4-2 win over West Germany was historic for a couple of reasons. Firstly, no player had ever previously scored a hat-trick in a World Cup final, and it’s a feat that remains unrepeated. Secondly, it saw England crowned world champions for the first – and still only – time in the nation’s history.

However, for most neutrals, the game’s most memorable moment was not Hurst’s third goal, but his second.

With the game delicately poised at 2-2, Hurst unleashed a shot that crashed off the crossbar. The ball bounced back down into the turf before being cleared. Referee Gottfried Dienst was unsure if it had crossed the line, so consulted linesman Tofiq Bahramov, who instructed him to give the goal.

It remains one of football’s most controversial calls, as it effectively decided the final in England’s favour (the Germans were pouring forward desperately searching for an equaliser when Hurst struck again in the dying seconds).

England fans will tell you that Bahramov had a clear view of the ball crossing the line, and that Roger Hunt’s reaction was telling, with the nearby forward immediately raising his hands to celebrate the ‘goal’ rather than trying to score from the rebound.

Some scientists disagree, though. An experiment carried out at the University of Oxford decades later claimed that video technology showed that ‘only’ 97 per cent of the ball had crossed the line.

How the Germans must wish they’d had VAR in 1966…

Brazil 1-0 England | 1970

It remains one of the most endearing images of World Cup history: Pele and Bobby Moore swapping shirts at the end of a titanic contest. The essence of sportsmanship.

Brazil had prevailed on the day, with Pele providing the assist for Jairzinho to settle a group game played in scorching conditions in Guadalajara.

For the most part, though, the Selecao duo had been frustrated by one perfectly-timed tackle after another from Moore. And then there was the ‘save of the century’…

When Jairzinho swung over the most inviting of crosses, there was never any doubt as to who was going to get on the end of it. Pele may not have been a tall man, but he could leap like a salmon and he rose above Alan Mullery to head home… Or, at least, that’s what he thought.

According to Mullery, Pele had even roared ‘Gol!’ as the ball bounced off the ground and toward the net. However, England goalkeeper Gordon Banks not only got a hand to the ball, he somehow managed to turn it up and over the bar.

Even Pele was impressed. “I couldn’t believe what I had seen,” he later admitted. “But I am glad he saved my header, because that act was the start of a friendship between us that I will always treasure.” And it was the exact same with Moore, with whom Pele later played.

Brazil-England in 1970 may not have been the most exciting game in World Cup history, but it remains one of its most iconic, as there was a level of respect on the field that day in Mexico that formed unbreakable bonds between the two teams, making friends out of adversaries.

Italy 4-3 West Germany | 1970

The Game of the Century looked for a long time like it was going to be a textbook example of catenaccio. Italy had taken the lead in the eighth minute of their 1970 World Cup semi-final with West Germany in Mexico City and defended it in typically dogged fashion. But then something strange happened.

With just seconds to go, Italy’s defence, led by the legendary Giacinto Facchetti, was breached, and not just by anybody. It was AC Milan centre-back Karl-Heinz Schnellinger who popped up with his one and only international goal to send the game into extra time. “Schnellinger, of all people!” screamed German commentator Ernst Huberty.

What followed was arguably the most dramatic half hour of football the World Cup has ever seen. There were five goals scored in extra time, as all tactical game plans went out the window, with both sets of players suffering from serious fatigue because of the blistering heat.

Gerd Muller put the Germans ahead, and then drew them level after goals from Tarcisio Burgnich and Gigi Riva.

However, just over 60 seconds after Muller had made it 3-3, and while the replay of the Bayern Munich striker’s equaliser was still being shown, the much-maligned Gianni Rivera, who had been essentially alternating with Sandro Mazzola throughout the tournament, coolly side-footed home what proved the winner.

Germany’s players were crestfallen at the full-time whistle, particularly Franz Beckenbauer, who had played from the 65th minute on with his arm in a sling after dislocating his shoulder.

There was certainly no shame in defeat, though, as they had played their part in an enthralling encounter which had not only gripped the attention of two nations, but the entire sporting world.

As Bild wrote afterwards, “We can congratulate our team, because they didn’t lose, even if the scoreline says otherwise.”

Brazil 4-1 Italy | 1970

It’s impossible not to feel a degree of sympathy for Italy’s 1970 World Cup team. Just four days after overcoming West Germany in ‘The Game of the Century’, they had to take on the greatest international team the game has ever seen.

Brazil were a beautiful and flamboyant side stacked with superstars, chief among them Pele, who was bidding to win a third World Cup, 12 years after his first.

“I told myself before the game that he’s made of skin and bone like everyone else,” Italy’s Tarcisio Burgnich would later reveal. “But I was wrong.”

Indeed, just 18 minutes into the game in Mexico City, Rivellino hooked the ball into area and Pele – by no means a tall man – rose above Burgnich and scored with a towering header.

Italy actually managed to draw level, with Roberto Boninsegna taking advantage of some lax Brazil defending shortly before the break, but the Selecao cut loose in the second half.

Gerson scored with a stunning left-footed strike from distance, Jairzinho bundled home a knockdown from Pele to become the first player to score in every single game at a World Cup, before Carlos Alberto then rounded off the greatest team goal ever scored.

Indeed, Brazil’s final effort at the Azteca Stadium put the perfect seal on a 4-1 win that is still regarded as the finest exhibition of ‘The Beautiful Game’ in football history.

West Germany 2-1 Netherlands | 1974

Netherlands midfielder Johan Neeskens scored a penalty just two minutes into the 1974 World Cup final. The first West German player to touch the ball was goalkeeper Sepp Maier, as he picked it out of the net.

Such an early goal should have constituted a dream start, yet Johnny Rep always still regrets that the Dutch scored first, and so quickly. Why? Because the players immediately became more interested in “making fun of the Germans” than scoring a second goal.

Willem van Hanegem even subsequently admitted in the book ‘Brilliant Orange’ that World War II had played a part in his desire to slowly pass their opponents into submission, “I didn’t care if we only won 1-0, as long as we humiliated them.”

Johan Cruyff & Co. had entranced the world with their brand of ‘Total Football’, but they would be punished for their hubris (or, depending on who you talk to, thirst for some sort of symbolic revenge on a football field).

The Germans earned a penalty of their own midway through the first half, which was converted by Paul Breitner, and then took a lead that they would not relinquish when Gerd Muller swivelled and fired low into the bottom corner just before the break.

It was the 68th – and final – goal of Muller’s incredible, 62-game international career, as he and several team-mates became embroiled in a dispute with the German Football Federation (DFB) that culminated in the players refusing to attend a celebratory dinner after the final.

Still, his winner, which so wonderfully showcased Muller’s predatory skills in the penalty area, saw Germany crowned world champions, just two years after taking the European title.

And consigned Netherlands to the most painful of defeats. “It was our fault,” as Rep later confessed.

Italy 3-2 Brazil | 1982

Paolo Rossi’s autobiography is entitled, ‘I made Brazil cry’, and it’s true. Although it’s probable that many neutrals also shed a tear when Italy knocked the Selecao out of the 1982 World Cup on what Zico called “the day that football died”.

Brazil had arrived in Spain with one of their most talented and attacking line-ups ever, and they lived up to their billing, winning their first four matches across two group stages, scoring 13 goals in the process, while conceding only three. They were a purist’s dream.

However, they ran into an inspired Rossi in Barcelona. Brazil needed only a draw to progress on goal difference and twice responded to Rossi goals, through Socrates and Falcao.

When Rossi completed his hat-trick, though, the South Americans had run out of answers, denied a last-gasp equaliser by Dino Zoff.

The 40-year-old goalkeeper would go on to lift the trophy, while Rossi would also collect the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball.

Brazil 82, meanwhile, were merely added to the list of the greatest teams never to win the World Cup, alongside Hungary 54 and Netherlands 74.

West Germany 3-3 France (5-4 pens) | 1982

The hero of one of the greatest games of all time was also its villain. Harald Schumacher saved two penalties in West Germany’s shootout win over France in 1982. He shouldn’t have been on the field, though.

In the 60th minute of an absorbing semi-final showdown in Seville, Schumacher had come charging off his line and levelled Patrick Battiston by jumping into him with his back turned. Incredibly, referee Charles Corver didn’t even give a penalty, let alone issue the red card that the foul clearly warranted.

Battiston hadn’t just lost two teeth, he had been knocked unconscious – and later slipped into a coma – by the brute force of a challenge that also resulted in three broken ribs and damaged vertebrae. Michel Platini later admitted he thought Battiston had died on the field that night.

Thankfully, the defender made a full recovery and played his part in France winning a first major international trophy, the European Championship, just two years later.

Indeed, Platini argued that being beaten by West Germany after performing so impressively and overcoming the shock of seeing Battiston stretchered off had actually been the making of them.

“No movie in the world could have provided as much conflicting emotion as Sevilla 82,” the No.10 later explained. “In losing, we became a great team.”

Argentina 2-1 England | 1986

Jorge Valdano has since pointed out that Argentina’s quarter-final clash with England at the 1986 World Cup wasn’t a particularly good game, at least during the first half. However, it attained “mythical status” because of one man: Diego Maradona.

In the space of four minutes, the Argentine produced two of the most memorable moments in football history.

First came ‘The Hand of God’, with the diminutive No.10 using his hand to beat England goalkeeper Peter Shilton to a miscued clearance from Steve Hodge and sent the ball bouncing into the net.

“We all saw it,” former England winger John Barnes told GOAL. “All of us on the bench – the players, the coaches, the manager – we all saw it clear as day. We all knew he’d handled the ball, so we just couldn’t believe the referee hadn’t seen it.”

Ali Bin Nasser has always claimed that his view was obstructed and that he was let down by his colleague Bogdan Dochev, later telling Ole: “I had my doubts, but when I saw that the linesman was running toward the centre circle, I gave the goal because I was obliged to follow FIFA’s rules [that the decision of the official with the better vantage point should take precedence].”

Then came a solo strike of such staggering quality that it remains unsurpassed, with Maradona picking up the ball on halfway before skipping past one challenge after another before rounding Shilton and slotting the ball home.

Barnes came off the bench to revive a shell-shocked England, crossing for Gary Lineker to halve their deficit with a fine header, but Argentina held on to progress to the semi-finals of a tournament that they would eventually win.

Several players, including Shilton, remain bitter about the ‘Hand of God’, claiming Maradona wouldn’t have scored his second goal had England not been so stunned by the first. But Barnes disagrees.

“He was the best player in the world,” the Liverpool legend told GOAL. “He ran half the length of the pitch! That game was just all about Maradona.”

Argentina 2-2 England | 1998

For David Beckham, the worst part of his notorious red card against Argentina at France 98 was having to watch some of his England team-mates buckle under the pressure of taking a penalty in the shootout.

“It was then that I fully realised what I had done,” he told The Sun. “I kept thinking to myself that if I had been out there, I would have been one of the penalty-takers.

“The rest of them had done so much without me and I had let them down desperately.” With just one petulant kick at Diego Simeone as he lay prone on the pitch in Saint-Etienne.

In truth, the contact was minor but, as Simeone admitted afterwards, he was never going to pass up a chance to get an opponent sent off.

“I think anyone would have taken advantage of that situation in just the same way,” the midfielder told The Observer. “Sometimes you get sent off, sometimes you don’t. Unfortunately for the English team that time they lost a player.”

Remarkably, Glenn Hoddle’s side had nearly won a truly mesmerising last-16 match without Beckham. They arguably should have done, with Sol Campbell having a goal harshly disallowed with just 10 minutes of normal time remaining for Alan Shearer allegedly impeding the Argentina goalkeeper.

It really was a game that had everything, including two penalties inside the opening nine minutes, both converted by legendary No.9s in Gabriel Batistuta and Shearer.

A teenage Michael Owen then announced himself to the wider world with one of the greatest solo strikes in World Cup history, slicing through the Argentine defence before finishing with unerring calm and precision for one so young.

However, Javier Zanetti levelled just before the break after an ingenious set-piece routine before the second half, and indeed the entire fixture, became all about Beckham.

Indeed, the Manchester United star was vilified by the English press and public, with one irate compatriot even hanging an effigy of Beckham outside a London pub, while The Mirror printed a special dartboard with the midfielder’s face on it.

Credit to Beckham, though, he demonstrated remarkable resolve in not only dealing with the bitter backlash, but also going on to become a national hero by carrying his country to World Cup 2002, thanks in no small part to his iconic free-kick against Greece in England’s final qualifier.

South Korea 2-1 Italy 2002

South Korea’s meeting with Italy did something extraordinary. It essentially united two divided nations for a short while.

South Korean received public support from their neighbours to the north before the last-16 clash, while the fans that descended upon Daejeon on June 18, 2002 revelled in reminding the Azzurri of one of their most humiliating World Cup defeats.

‘Again 1966’ was the message from the stands, a reference to Italy’s loss to North Korea at Goodison Park 38 years previously. Incredibly, the Taeguek Warriors emulated that shock victory, and in sensational circumstances.

South Korea missed an early penalty through Ahn Jung-hwan and then conceded the opening goal to Christian Vieri. However, Giovanni Trapattoni’s pragmatic Italy side were punished for trying to see out the game when Seol Ki-Hyeon equalised with just five minutes to play.

Francesco Totti was then controversially sent off for a second yellow card for simulation, much to the fury of the Azzurri.

Penalties appeared inevitable as the Italians retreated further into defence but, with just three minutes of normal time remaining, Jung-hwan made amends for his earlier spot-kick failure by beating Paolo Maldini to a cross and heading home a ‘Golden Goal’.

Pandemonium ensued. Millions of Koreans spilled out onto the streets to celebrate a stunning upset, while in Italy there was uproar.

Indeed, referee Byron Moreno immediately became one of the most notorious characters in Italian football history while the infamously erratic Perugia president Luciano Gaucci claimed that Jung-hwan would never play for the club again, telling the Gazzetta dello Sport: “I have no intention of paying a salary to someone who has ruined Italian football.”

South Korea would go on to reach the semi-finals, after another controversial win in the last eight, this time over Spain, while Jung-hwan would never return to Perugia.

Not that he ever had any regrets. “There’s no law stating that I’m not allowed to score against Italy,” he later told FIFA+. “When I look back, I would swap my whole career for that goal.”

Germany 0-2 Italy | 2006

Rarely has 118 minutes of scoreless football been so engrossing. Germany’s meeting with Italy in Dortmund in 2006 had both tension and quality. All it needed to become one of the greatest games in World Cup history was a moment of magic. Italy conjured up two.

Indeed, in Italy, the moments before and after Fabio Grosso broke the deadlock have since taken on iconic status.

Firstly, there’s commentator Fabio Caressa perfectly capturing the way in which pass master Andrea Pirlo picks up possession on the edge of the German penalty area and waits and waits and waits before deciding to play a no-look ball into Grosso’s path.

“There’s Pirlo…. Pirlo… Pirlo… Still Pirlo….”

Then, after Grosso bends the ball past Jens Lehman and into the back of the German net, all hell breaks loose, as Italy’s unlikely hero sets off screaming, “I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it!”

Germany respond by piling forward in search of an equaliser, but the peerless Fabio Cannavaro heads a cross away before then charging out of the Italy penalty area to win his own clearance and spark a gloriously executed counterattack that ends with Alessandro Del Piero attaining redemption for his misses in the Euro 2020 final.

And Caressa? He’s screaming at his co-commentator, Beppe Bergomi, “We’re going to Berlin! We’re going to Berlin! We’re going to Berlin!”

Uruguay 1-1 Ghana (4-2 pens) | 2010

“The Hand of God now belongs to me,” Luis Suarez declared after Uruguay’s quarter-final win over Senegal in 2010. “I made the best save of the tournament.” And arguably the most controversial in history.

Suarez’s decision to block a goal-bound header from Dominic Adiyiah remains a huge topic of debate, and not just among Uruguay and Ghana supporters.

After all, an incredibly tense encounter was tied at one goal apiece, with Diego Forlan having cancelled out Sully Muntari’s spectacular opener with a swerving free-kick, and there were just seconds to go in extra time.

If Suarez hadn’t intervened, Uruguay would most certainly have been eliminated. Instead, they survived and went on to triumph 4-2 on penalties, with Fernando Muslera saving two spot-kicks.

It was Suarez, though, who was cast as the game’s hero, and its villain. He had undeniably saved his country, sacrificing himself so that Uruguay could progress with the ultimate act of cynicism.

In doing so, though, he had also robbed Ghana of not only a semi-final spot, but a place in history, as the first African nation to ever reach the last four.

Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac lashed out at the “injustice” of his side’s defeat, labelling Suarez “a cheat”, while his Uruguay counterpart Oscar Tabarez argued that the rules of the game had been respected.

“There was a handball in the penalty area, there was a red card, and Suarez was thrown out of the game,” the coach pointed out. “Saying that Ghana were cheated out of the game is too harsh.”

Fair to say that the nation’s fans will never agree, not least because a completely unrepentant Suarez was caught on camera celebrating Asamoah Gyan smacking the resulting penalty off the crossbar.

Spain 1-5 Netherlands | 2014

Just like everyone else in Salvador, Arjen Robben was in a state of shock. “Wow! Just wow!” he exclaimed. “It was an amazing goal. Who would have even tried to score from there?”

It was a good question. When Daley Blind lofted a ball towards Robin van Persie just before half-time in Netherlands’ 2014 World Cup group game against Spain, all and sundry expected the striker to try to take it down.

Instead, Van Persie launched himself into the air and beat Iker Casillas with arguably the most beautiful diving header of all time.

It wasn’t just an aesthetically pleasing goal either; it was hugely significant. Spain had been leading at the time. But Van Persie’s equaliser devastated La Roja, and inspired the Dutch, who ran riot in the second half.

Van Persie scored again, Robben bagged his own double, while Stefan de Vrij was also on target as Netherlands gained a modicum of revenge for their final loss to Spain four years previously.

The suspicion was that we had just witnessed the death of ‘tika-taka’, the brand of precise passing football that had enabled the Spanish to win three consecutive major international tournaments, and so it proved.

Vincente Del Bosque’s clearly stunned side were upset by Chile in their very next outing, which meant a group-stage elimination for the reigning world and European champions.

It was, as the headline in MARCA read the day after that 2-0 loss, “The end.”

And Van Persie’s heavenly header had sparked their sensationally sudden demise.

Brazil 1-7 Germany | 2014

Mats Hummels revealed after Germany’s record-breaking 7-1 rout of Brazil at the 2014 World Cup that the players had agreed at half-time to avoid any showboating.

“We just made it clear that he had to stay focused,” the defender explained, “and not try to humiliate them.” It was far, far too late for that, though. Germany were already 5-0 up by the break thanks to goals from Thomas Muller, Miroslav Klose – who became the World Cup’s all-time leading scorer in the process – Toni Kroos (two) and Sami Khedira.

Despite easing off after the break, Joachim Low’s side still recorded the biggest winning margin in a World Cup semi-final on account of Andre Schurrle’s second-half double. It was also Brazil’s heaviest-ever home defeat, and their most traumatic since the 1950 World Cup. From Maracanazo to Mineirazo…

Many fans actually left the Estadio Mineirao before the break. Those that remained booed their side off at the interval. During the second half, some even cheered Germany’s goals.

Several supporters threw their shirts off in disgust, others burned theirs, while one man rather bizarrely began munching on his flag.

“From the moment it was decided that the World Cup was to be played in Brazil, it was clear there would be a huge emotional burden,” former midfielder Mauro Silva told GOAL. “Playing a World Cup anywhere is difficult, but in Brazil, with all the expectations of the fans, it was going to be even more difficult. The Selecao just had a blackout.”

Belgium 3-2 Japan | 2018

“Let’s congratulate Japan,” said Belgium boss Roberto Martinez. “They played the perfect game.” Yet they’d still lost. Despite being 2-0 up with just over 20 minutes to play.

Indeed, for such a long time, Japan looked set to pull off one of the great World Cup shots, having stunned their heavily-fancied Belgian opponents with two quick goals shortly after half-time, though Genki Haraguchi and Takashi Inui.

However, a looping, long-range header from Jan Vertonghen, which Eiji Kawashima probably should have saved, changed the game.

Marouane Fellaini levelled from Eden Hazard’s cross just five minutes later, before Nacer Chadli slotted home the winner after a brilliant Belgium breakaway in the dying seconds that featured a sublime dummy from Romelu Lukaku.

Martinez was understandably quick to hail his players’ resolve, but a “devastated” Akira Nishino was at a loss to explain how Japan had blown a glorious chance to reach the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time, labelling the loss “a tragedy”. Source:

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