Top 20 World Cup moments

The most memorable FIFA World Cup moments

The Fifa World Cup conjures up images and memories that have stayed with us for a lifetime – providing you’re old enough to remember them in the first place, of course! Whether it’s a stunning goal, an equally brilliant celebration, a moment of sheer genius, or even a madcap moment, the FIFA World Cup never fails to provide plenty of entertainment, and each rendition of the tournament is always eagerly awaited the world over.

Even if you didn’t see some famous World Cup events the first time around, it’s quite likely that you’ll remember or recognise plenty of the following picks in’s top 20 World Cup moments. And you never know – they could inspire you to get playing.

Diego Maradona’s ‘best world cup goal ever’ vs England, 1986


Not long after the infamous little cheat (or hero, depending on your point of view) had punched his side in front with his ‘Hand of God’ goal, Maradona then went on to score one of the greatest goals ever seen on the world stage. Picking the ball up in his own half, Maradona beat every player that stood in his way before slotting it past the helpless Peter Shilton. Simply brilliant.

Gordon Banks’ ‘save of the century’ from Pelé, 1970

In the group stages of the 1970 World Cup, the holders England played eventual winners Brazil in a match which saw keeper Gordon Banks pull off a save from Pelé. The Brazilian legend’s downward header appeared destined for the back of the net until Banks, diving away to his right, produced a save of miraculous proportions. No save has ever been as celebrated in England, and Banks’ dive is regularly referred to as the ‘save of the century’. England lost the match 1-0.

Harald Schumacher’s ‘assault’ on a French player, 1982

There’s never been a more brutal yet unpunished challenge in World Cup history than this one. With the score at 1-1, French substitute Patrick Battiston was clean though for a likely goal when German keeper Harald Schumacher flattened him with a blatant crunching challenge. The French midfielder was knocked unconscious and carried off on a stretcher, but amazingly Schumacher escaped unpunished – and the referee even awarded a goal kick! Germany then went on to win the eventual penalty shoot-out.

Marco Tardelli’s goal celebration in the final, 1982

If you need only one reminder of how football can stir the emotions, then check this out. After putting his side 2-0 up in the World Cup final against West Germany, Italian midfielder Marco Tardelli went on a goal celebration unlike any other. Running towards the bench, he became completely overwhelmed – screaming and crying as he thanked the heavens for his goal. And for once, the Germans’ luck was up: they lost 3-1 and Italy became World Champions.

Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’, 1986

In this encounter between Argentina and England, a poor interception played the ball enticingly up into the air between England keeper Peter Shilton and the Argentinean genius Maradona. Maradona got to the ball first, and used his hand – rather than his head – to punch the ball into the net. Despite the protestations of the England players, the referee had not seen the incident and the goal stood. Maradona then went on to score his wonder goal (see above), and Argentina went all the way to win the final against West Germany.

Geoff Hurst’s ‘goal’ vs Germany, 1966

Few goals, if any, have been scrutinised as much as Hurst’s second goal – the ‘Was it over the line or not?’ question refusing to go away even today. The score was level at 2-2 when Hurst’s shot struck the ball and came down either on or over the line. The referee consulted with the Russian linesman and a goal was given. Hurst went on to eliminate any doubt by scoring his third – the only hat-trick in a World Cup final – to make the score 4-2 to England.

Pelé’s near misses, 1970

It’s remarkable that someone who scored some great World Cup goals should be remembered for the ones he didn’t quite pull off. Pelé scored a great opener in the final against Italy with a superb bullet header, but it’s the ‘goals that never were’ which remain the strongest memories from 1970. An amazing shot from the halfway line against Czechoslovakia flew just wide, while an amazing feint, dribble and shot against Uruguay were magical moments despite not being goals.

Archie Gemmill’s wonder goal vs Holland, 1978

Archie Gemmill scored one of the World Cup's greatest ever goals as Scotland once again failed to get past the first round! Needing to beat the Dutch and their brand of ‘total football’ by three clear goals, Gemmill waltzed past three defenders before chipping the ball into the net with an astonishing finish to make it 3-1. The Dutch pulled the score back to 3-2 and the Scots once again made an early exit. Holland were eventually pipped by Argentina in the final.

Kuwait walk off after goal, 1982

In one of the most bizarre incidents in World cup history, France were leading 3-1 against Kuwait when they scored another as Kuwaiti defenders – thinking they had heard a whistle – remained rooted to the spot. The Kuwaiti FA president, Prince Fahid, told his players to walk off in protest, and the referee foolishly disallowed the goal – thus allowing the game to continue. France eventually won 4-1.

Gazza’s tears, 1990

One of the lasting images of the 1990 World Cup in Italy was when the tears flowed from England's Paul Gascoigne during the semi-final clash with West Germany. A harsh booking meant that Gazza would miss the final if England got through – which lead him to turn on the waterworks. In the end, though, it didn’t matter, as West Germany once again triumphed in the penalty shoot-out.

Roger Milla’s goal and celebration vs Colombia, 1990

Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuta, who fancied himself as a bit of an outfield player, was caught in possession while trying to dribble the ball past Cameroon's Roger Milla. The aging striker – who came out of retirement to play in the tournament at the age of 38 – promptly tucked the ball away into the empty net before heading to the corner flag, where he performed a memorable wiggle dance.

Oleg Salenko’s five-star performance, 1994

Not many outside his native Russia had heard of this striker, let alone expected him to bag five goals all in one match. Playing against the surprise package of 1990, Cameroon, Salenko ran riot to plunder the most goals by any individual in a World Cup tournament game as his side won convincingly 6-1. Despite the win, Russia were eliminated at the first stage – though Salenko did share the Golden Boot award for the tournament’s top scorer with Bulgaria’s Hristo Stoichkov.

The Brazil team’s goal vs Italy, 1970

Any self-respecting coach would get the video of this out to show his team how scoring goals is supposed to be done. The Brazilians were toying with their Italian opponents at this point in the match, and carved out a great team goal –which involved fine work by Pelé and Jairzhino and ended with a cracking finish by Carlos Alberto. The goal made the score 4-1 to Brazil, and was the icing on the cake of their World Cup final win. Few would dispute the fact that this Brazil team was the best set of players ever to grace a World Cup final.

Manuel Negrete’s scissor-kick goal vs Bulgaria, 1986

This is the goal of every schoolboy’s dream. The ball dropped invitingly for the Mexican striker, who hit an acrobatic and well-executed volley from outside the penalty area to earn his side a 1-0 win against Bulgaria. It was one of those goals that a striker could attempt another hundred times and probably never hit the ball as sweetly or get it remotely near the target!

Cameroon beat champions Argentina, 1990

Cameroon ended this game 1-0 up with nine men after somehow managing to keep the defending champions Argentina at bay – thereby producing one of the biggest shocks of the 1990 World Cup. The Argentineans were on the wrong end of some harsh treatment dished out by the Cameroon players – one of the standout moments being Claudio Caniggia miraculously hurdling his way over several scything challenges before finally being flattened by the last!

Referee Clive Thomas blows final whistle as Brazil ‘score’, 1978

Welsh referee Clive Thomas produced one of the craziest moments of World Cup history when he denied Brazil a goal right at the death against Sweden. With the scores locked at 1-1, the Brazilians floated in a late corner kick, which was headed home by Zico. However, the match official disallowed the ‘goal’, having blown the whistle for full-time as the ball was in mid-flight.

The ‘Cruyff turn’ makes its debut, 1974

Not many footballers have managed to have skills named after them – but then this from the Dutch master Johan Cruyff. One of football’s most famous pieces of skill had its premiere in this game between Holland and Sweden at the 1974 World Cup. Cruyff seemed to have very few options on with his back to goal and tightly marked by a Swedish defender, but famously shimmied one way, flicked the ball back between his legs and left the defender in his wake

Questionable goalkeeping by Peruvian goalkeeper, 1978

Argentina lined up against Peru needing to win by a margin of at least 4 goals. Lining up against them were Peru and their Argentina-born keeper Ramon Quiroga who promptly let in six goals! After the game Quiorga was accused of deliberately letting in some of the goals, and when he returned home was forced to publish a full letter in the newspapers pleading his innocence and explaining the reasons for Peru's humiliating defeat.

Mwepa ‘gives it the boot’, 1974

One of the daftest moments in World Cup history came in a first round game in 1974. Brazil had been awarded a free-kick and were lining up to take it when Zaire's Mwepa broke out of the defensive wall, ran forward and illegally booted the ball upfield before the kick had even been taken. Quite what Mwepa thought he was doing is anybody’s guess!

Senegal upset the odds to defeat France, 2002

World and European champions France were huge favourites to pick up the points against newcomers Senegal, who were making their World Cup debut in the opening match of Korea/Japan tournament. But Les Bleus were well off the pace and went down to a surprising 1-0 defeat. France were knocked out in the first round after a poor showing in their other two games – managing no goals and only a single point in the whole tournament.

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