The FIFA World Cup is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, sporting events in the world and it never fails to enthrall spectators all over the globe. Quite unsurprisingly, the World Cup has produced some amazing matches over the decades.
While there have been classics like Italy-West Germany in 1970, Argentina-West Germany in 1986 or Brazil-Italy in 1970, yours truly never had a chance to watch those matches The 1990 World Cup in Italy was the first ever edition of the tournament I watched live on TV.
This is a World Cup year and one should not mind looking back at some of the finest matches the tournament has produced over the last three decades. Hence, here’s me selection of the five greatest World Cup matches since 1990.
West Germany 2-1 Netherlands (1990 FIFA World Cup)
This was a battle between two of the best teams of the tournament. West Germany, runners-up in each of the previous two editions of the tournament, had topped their group to qualify for the second round. The Netherlands, the reigning European Champions, finished second in their group to set up a clash with their traditional rivals in the second round at San Siro, Milan.
Both teams were comprised of star players for the two big Milan teams. Germany’s Lothar Matthaus, Jurgen Klinsmann and Andy Brehme played for Inter Milan, while Holland’s Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten plied their trade for AC Milan. As a result, it was always going to be an entertaining clash.
The match lived up to expectations, but was somewhat marred by the double red-card shown to Rijkaard and Rudi Voller of the Netherlands and West Germany, respectively, after the former spat at the latter.
However, Klinsmann produced a superb display and scored the opening goal from Matthaus’ cross from the left at the beginning of the second half. Brehme then scored with a brilliant curling shot to virtually ensure a memorable win for the West Germans. Ronald Koeman reduced the deficit from the penalty spot in the dying minutes of the match but it was too little, too late.
Argentina 2-2 (7-6) England (1998 FIFA World Cup)
Any match between Argentina and England after the 1980s Falklands War has been tense and emotional. This second-round match at Saint-Etienne was no exception with an absolutely volatile atmosphere inside the stadium.
To make matters more intense, the volatility translated to the pitch as well as England played the last 43-odd minutes of regulation – and all of overtime – with 10 men. Argentina went ahead a few minutes into the match through a Gabriel Batistuta penalty. However, England were quick to strike back as Alan Shearer scored from the spot as well. Michael Owen then scored one of the finest solo goals in the history of the tournament to put England ahead 2-1. Javier Zanetti equalized for Argentina just before halftime.
The second half did not have the same quality as the first half, as a red card to David Beckham tilted the scales in Argentina’s favor. England fought tooth and nail to prevent Argentina from scoring with Sol Campbell, Tony Adams and Paul Ince deserving special mention for their valiant efforts. The match had to be decided in penalties and David Batty missed his shot to hand Argentina a famous win. But England managed to win hearts with their spirit.
Brazil 1-1 (5-3) Netherlands (1998 FIFA World Cup)
Two of the finest squads ever assembled during the last three decades collided in the semifinal of the 1998 World Cup in Marseille and the result was a screamer of a match. Brazil had beaten Denmark in a pulsating encounter in the quarterfinal whereas the Netherlands got the better of Argentina, Brazil’s traditional rivals.
The first half was entertaining to the hilt as both teams squandered a few opportunities to go ahead. The deadlock was finally broken by Ronaldo, then the best player in the world, at the beginning of the second half. The Dutch then started to press hard for an equalizer and the likes of Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert came close to scoring.
Kluivert finally managed to score with a fine header with 10-odd minutes remaining. The 30 minutes of extra-time also produced quality football but neither team managed to score. The match went into a penalty shoot-out, with Brazil converting each of their penalties and Philip Cocu and Ronald de Boer missing theirs. Claudio Taffarel continued his wonderful record in shoot-outs as Brazil went into the final.
Italy 2-0 Germany (2006 FIFA World Cup)
Two European heavyweights faced each other in the semifinal of the 2006 World Cup at the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund, known as the citadel of Die Mannschaft until then. However, the Azzuri under Marcelo Lippi had other ideas and managed to spoil the party for the home crowd in the end.
Italy went into the match with Luca Toni as the lone striker, with Alessandro Del Piero starting on the bench, while the Germans went with a 4-4-2 with Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose up front. The match was a topsy-turvy affair, with both sides coming close to scoring on a few occasions. The first 90 minutes ended goalless, but there was enough drama in store for the next 30 minutes.
Fabio Grosso, playing in the left-back position vacated by the legendary Paolo Maldini, scored with a great shot from Andrea Pirlo’s pass to draw first blood. Germany tried hard for an equalizer but Del Piero, who had come in as a substitute, exploited the empty space inside the German half to score from a counter-attack and thereby seal the deal for the Italians.
Spain 3-3 Portugal (2018 FIFA World Cup)
The first group match between the two Iberian neighbors in the 2018 World Cup in Sochi was supposed to be a blockbuster and it duly lived up to expectations. The focus was on Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese superstar, and he did not disappoint.
Portugal went ahead via a penalty by Ronaldo a few minutes into the match. However, the opportunistic Diego Costa equalized for the Spaniards midway through the first half. Ronaldo then restored the lead for the Portuguese side with a wonderful strike just before half time. Costa again equalized for Spain 10 minutes into the second half and then Nacho scored to put Spain ahead.
The Spaniards made a few defensive substitutions to try to sneak out a victory. However, Ronaldo intervened again – this time through a free-kick – to score in the dying minutes of the match and secure a memorable draw for his country. It was one of the most entertaining draws one could ever hope to watch.