From the Hand of God to the head of Zidane - The World Cup's most iconic moments ever
The World Cup is a tournament like no other. It is quite simply the biggest event in sport. And why? Because of both its scale, and its history.
Since the very first edition all the way back in 1930, the World Cup has never failed to generate excitement and controversy in equal measure.
There have been so many great goals, and so many memorable celebrations, but also innumerable contentious calls and infamous fouls.
Below, GOAL runs through the most iconic World Cup moments of all time...
- Getty Images
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 at the full-time whistle.
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.
The Miracle of Bern
Bern was meant to be the venue for a coronation on July 4, 1954. It was instead the scene of a 'miracle'.
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.
The Battle of Santiago
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'.
Did it cross the line?!
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...
From foes to friends
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.
The greatest goal that never was
Let's face it, we could have put together a list of iconic World Cup moments only involving Pele. The man was scoring hat-tricks in semi-finals at the age of 17. He was just that good.
In 1970 alone, produced a string of sensational performances and helped himself to four goals, including a towering header in the final.
However, for many, his most memorable moment was a miss...
Pele had appeared a man on a mission in Mexico. Not only to claim a third winners' medal, but also score a goal that the world would never forget.
In the group game against Czechoslovakia, for example, he tried to score from the halfway line, and very nearly pulled it off.
However, against semi-final opponents Uruguay, Pele went agonisingly close to achieving something truly extraordinary.
While running on to a through ball from Tostao, the No.10 saw goalkeeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz charging out of his area, intent on stopping him in his tracks.
So, instead of trying to get to the ball first, and take it around the onrushing goalkeeper, he instead utterly flummoxed the Uruguayan with the most audacious of dummies.
Pele then raced around a stunned Mazurkiewicz to get to the ball before the angle became too acute and desperately hooked it back towards the unguarded net.
His shot drifted just wide of the far post. And Pele later admitted in his autobiography that he still sometimes dreamt about the ball going in.
It was the greatest goal that never was.
The Game of the Century
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 epic 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."
Beautiful, unbeatable Brazil
Carlos Alberto was rightly proud of the fact that he scored the greatest goal in World Cup history. But he knew that it didn't just belong to him.
The Brazilian's sweet strike against Italy in the 1970 final was a true team goal, perhaps the finest 'The Beautiful Game' has ever seen.
"The finish was a little detail," he humbly told the BBC years later. "Anybody can score a goal but in that move nine different players touched the ball beforehand."
Indeed, Clodoaldo beat four players alone to really kickstart an attack which ended with Pele playing the most wonderfully weighted pass into the path of the onrushing Carlos Alberto, who fired the ball into the bottom left corner.
It was the perfect finish, not only to the move but also Brazil's campaign, with the Selecao having utterly bewitched the watching world with their brand of samba football.
Italy may have been exhausted after beating West Germany in 'The Game of the Century' in the previous round, but that Brazil team was as unbeatable as it was beautiful.
As so perfectly underlined by their fourth and final goal against Italy, when they made spectacular football look so simple.
The Cruyff Turn
Looking back on it now, in this era of outrageous flicks and tricks, 'The Cruyff turn' might be misconstrued as easy, mundane almost: player shapes to cross the ball with his right, but instead drags it behind his standing leg and accelerates away.
But its genius lay in its simplicity and its efficiency, which is what Johan Cruyff was all about.
Of course, the Dutch maestro probably wasn't even the first player to perform such a turn. But context is always key and this was Cruyff, the personification of 'Total Football', making a fool out of poor Jan Olsson of Sweden in only the second World Cup to be broadcast in colour.
Viewers had literally never seen anything like it before on their TV screens, so it was always going to become one of the game's defining images.
As Olsson himself admitted to PA Sport, "I played 18 years in top football and 17 times for Sweden, but that moment against Cruyff was the proudest moment of my career.
"I thought I'd win the ball for sure, but he tricked me. I was not humiliated. I had no chance. Cruyff was a genius."
Netherlands' most painful defeat
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.
'The day that football died'
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.
Hero and villain
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.
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 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."
Marco Tardelli's goal against West Germany at Spain 82 may not have been the greatest goal in World Cup history. But it spawned its most beautiful celebration.
Tardelli's scream, as it would become known, perfectly conveyed what the game means to people, with the Italian wheeling away in a mixture of delight and disbelief, roaring 'Gol!' over and over again.
Tardelli said his scoring in the final, which the Azzurri won 3-1, was the realisation of his childhood dream, but it's a dream shared by every single person across the globe who has ever kicked a football.
"After I scored, my whole life passed before me – the same feeling they say you have when you are about to die," Tardelli later explained. "The joy of scoring in a World Cup final was immense and my celebration was a release.
"I was born with that scream inside me, that was just the moment it came out."
- Getty Images
The Hand of God
The most infamous goal in football history.
With Argentina and England still scoreless early in the second half of their quarter-final clash at Mexico 86, which was being played against the tense political backdrop of the Falklands War, Diego Maradona used his hand to beat 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]."
Maradona mischievously claimed afterwards that he had scored "with a little of the head of Diego, and a little with the hand of God", which only further incensed English fans. But, in fairness, the foul hadn't been obvious to absolutely everyone at the time. Some of Maradona's team-mates weren't entirely sure what had happened.
"Checho (Sergio Batista) came over and asked me 'You knocked it in with your hand, right? Did you use your hand?'" Maradona wrote in his autobiography 'Touched by God'.
"And I answered, 'Shut the f*ck up and keep on celebrating!' We were afraid they would disallow the goal but they didn't."
And just four minutes later, Maradona produced a second iconic moment in the same game...
From injustice to genius
Shilton has always maintained that England's players were still in a state of shock from 'The Hand of God' when Maradona danced his way past one challenge after another on his way to scoring what is, at the very least, the greatest solo goal ever scored at the World Cup.
“It was typical of what he could do,” Shilton told The Guardian of the iconic No.10's incredible individual effort in Argentina's infamous 2-1 win. “But we weren’t in the right frame of mind after what happened. When you know someone’s cheating, in a big match like that, your stomach drops.
"So, we weren’t quite tuned in to our defending after that..."
John Barnes, though, strongly disagrees, arguing that there was simply nothing England could have done in the face of such genius.
"He was the best player in the world," the Liverpool legend told GOAL. "He ran half the length of the pitch! So, to say that [the handball] had anything to do with the second goal is rubbish. I don't believe that it affected us in that way at all. Yes, there was a feeling of injustice. But it didn't affect the way we performed. That game was just all about Maradona."
Indeed, it perfectly epitomised the unique mix of magic and mischief that made Maradona one of the most popular but polarising figures in sporting history.
"There are still 10-year-old kids out there today with 'Maradona' on their backs," he later wrote. "And that kind of insanity can only be explained by one goal. Or maybe two..."
The 1990 World Cup was played out before a beautiful backdrop and a moving soundtrack. But the football was so cynical that FIFA subsequently made a number of changes to improve the game as a spectacle, most notably the abolition of the back-pass.
There were some magical moments at Italia 90. There was Toto Schillaci, Paul Gascoigne and Lothar Matthaus. But one country, and indeed one man, did more than anyone else to make a tedious tournament fun: Cameroon's super-sub Roger Milla.
At the age of 38, the striker inspired the Africans' thrilling run to the quarter-finals, and they may even have gone further had it not been for Gary Lineker's impressive ability to both earn and score penalties.
However, despite Cameroon's last-eight elimination, Milla left an indelible mark on the tournament with his unforgettable Mokossa celebration, which saw the veteran forward strut his stuff in front of the corner flag.
It was a dance immediately imitated by players of every age and level all across the globe.
"It was instinctive," Milla, who scored four times in total at Italia 90, later told SuperSport.
“It was the sun that sent me [to the corner flag]; it was a good place to dance on the pitch.
"Today’s goalscorers aren't celebrating for the spectators but for their egos. The fans come to the stadium to have fun, to dance.
"Playing football and celebrating is the same... It is dancing.”
The two faces of Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona's 1994 World Cup can be summed up by two images.
The first is of Maradona's face, seemingly caught somewhere between joy and rage, as he runs straight towards a pitch-side TV camera, his eyes bulging, his mouth wide open, as he roars furiously in celebration of his goal in Argentina's opening game against Nigeria.
The second features the diminutive No.10 hand in hand with an anti-doping official, walking off the field, and out of the World Cup.
After Argentina's second outing, against Greece, Maradona tested positive for ephedrine. Both his World Cup and his international career were over.
Maradona first claimed the ephedrine had been accidentally ingested, in an energy drink given to him by his personal trainer, but he also later alleged that FIFA had given him special dispensation to use the banned substance to help with his weight loss, only to renege on that agreement.
"They cut off my legs. This is a real dirty business," Maradona famously claimed.
However, it's also worth remembering that he also admitted shortly after returning to Buenos Aires, "I did it. It's my fault."
Maradona, a contradiction until the end.
Even today, Carlos Valderrama still finds it difficult to talk about the death of Andres Escobar.
"He was very close to me," the Colombia icon explained years later. "We were very good friends... That was my worst experience playing the sport."
Valderrama and Escobar were part of a Colombia squad that had arrived in the United States for the 1994 World Cup touted as potential champions, having inflicted a stunning 5-0 defeat upon Argentina during their qualification campaign.
However, Los Cafetores were upset by surprise package Romania in their opening group game before suffering an even more shocking defeat, to the host nation, in their second outing.
Colombia were out with a game to go and Escobar was blamed by some fans for the own goal he scored in his nation's 2-1 loss to the US.
Indeed, the sight of a devastated Escobar lying prone on the pitch with his head in his hands remains one of the most poignant images in football history, because five days after Colombia's elimination, the defender was shot dead outside a nightclub in Medellin.
Despite reports that the killer had shouted 'Gol!' after every shot, coach Francisco Maturana has always denied that Escobar's murder had anything to do with football, arguing that he had simply "been in the wrong place in the wrong time" in a country that was, during that particular period of time, plagued by violent crime related to drug cartels.
Whatever the truth, the fact remains that the 1994 World Cup will forever be associated with true tragedy because of the loss of a beloved 27-year-old footballer known as 'The Gentleman'.
RIP Andres Escobar
Baggio's penalty nightmare
Roberto Baggio still dreams about his penalty miss in the 1994 World Cup final. "It affected me for years," he admitted. "It was the worst moment of my career. If I could erase one moment, it would be that one."
It is, of course, a crying shame that Baggio is best remembered for ballooning the ball over the bar in Italy's shootout loss to Brazil.
Arrigo Sacchi's side wouldn't have got anywhere near the final without Baggio, who had been the best player in the knockout stage of USA 94, turning in match-winning displays against Nigeria, Spain and Bulgaria. Indeed, not since Maradona had one individual done so much to carry a team to the tournament-decider.
Unfortunately, he also carried a hamstring injury into the final with him that limited his impact on a dreadful game that finished 0-0 after extra-time.
He was only able to play because of a painkiller injection, but was nonetheless confident of scoring Italy's fifth and final spot-kick.
"I knew what I had to do and my concentration was perfect," he later explained. "But I was so tired that I tried to hit the ball too hard."
Consequently, Baggio's penalty flew high over the bar, gifting Brazil a 3-2 triumph.
The Divine Ponytail was devastated, but as he pointed out himself in his autobiography, "Penalties are only missed by those who have the courage to take them."
Beckham's petulance punished
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 two legendary No.9s in Gabriel Batistuta and Alan 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 even 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.
Pure perfection from Bergkamp
For anyone who hasn't heard Jack van Gelder's reaction to Dennis Bergkamp's goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup, it really is worth checking out.
The famed Dutch commentator pretty much just screams the striker's name for a good 10 seconds before letting out a cry that sounds as anguished as it is ecstatic, with Van Gelder seemingly bewildered by the beauty of the striker's late winner in Marseille.
Honestly, it's not in the least bit surprising that such an esteemed broadcaster was effectively lost for any real words. Not even Bergkamp could believe what he'd just done, covering his face with his hands as he wheeled away toward the right touchline to celebrate.
Bergkamp was, of course, renowned as a scorer of great goals. He'd even produced something similar for Arsenal in a Premier League game at Leicester.
But this was a whole other level, the dying seconds of a World Cup quarter-final against an excellent Argentina side.
An absorbing encounter had appeared set for extra-time, with Claudio Lopez having quickly cancelled out Patrick Kluivert's 12-minute opener.
Both sides were also down to 10 men, with Ariel Ortega having just got himself sent off for needless 'headbutt', just over 10 minutes after Arthur Numan had been dismissed for a second yellow card.
Ortega's red stunned the Argentines and Bergkamp took advantage in the most sensational fashion, controlling a 50-metre ball forward from Frank de Boer with arguably the greatest fist touch in World Cup history, before then deftly cutting inside Roberto Ayala and finishing the outside of his right boot.
It was pure perfection. As Ayala later admitted, "I've seen the goal a lot of times and still can't find my mistake. There is only incredible control by Bergkamp."
Jung-hwan's Golden Goal
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 normal time remaining, Jung-hwan made amends for his earlier spot-kick failure by beating Paolo Maldini to 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."
'I don't believe it!'
Rarely has 118 minutes of scoreless football been so engrossing. Germany's meeting with Italy in Dortmund in 2006 had both tension and quality. It was an absorbing encounter. 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!"
Zidane loses his head
Zinedine Zidane's infamous headbutt in the 2006 World Cup final perhaps hit L'Equipe harder than Marco Materazzi.
"What should we tell our children, for whom you have become an example for ever?" the paper asked the day after. "How could that happen to a man like you?"
Let's face it, though, that Zidane lashing out at someone wasn't that surprising.
Firstly, he had plenty of previous (it was the 14th red card of his career). Secondly, there was provocation, at least according to Zidane, who said Materazzi insulted his mother, who was ill at the time. The defender, however, has always denied this claim, saying he merely used "stupid words", whatever that means...
We'll probably never know exactly what was said, but what we do know is that France could have done without Zidane getting himself sent off with 10 minutes of extra time remaining.
After all, he'd opened the scoring with a ridiculously ballsy Panenka penalty and yet wasn't available for the decisive shootout, which France lost 5-3.
Still, while L'Equipe may have been disgusted by the final act of Zidane's career, the French public almost immediately forgave the man who had carried them to the final.
Materazzi also forgave him too, although it's worth adding that Zidane subsequently stated that he'd rather die than apologise to the Italian!
France park the bus
France had reached the 2010 World Cup in controversial circumstances, with Thierry Henry's having literally given them a helping hand to defeat Republic of Ireland in the UEFA qualification play-offs.
However, the furore was nothing compared to what awaited them in South Africa.
Nicolas Anelka sparked a stunning meltdown by insulting Raymond Domenech during France's 2-0 loss to Mexico in their second group game (they had drawn their first, against Uruguay).
The forward was sent home by French Football Federation (FF) president Jean-Pierre Escalettes after refusing to apologise for his "totally unacceptable" comments.
Patrice Evra, meanwhile, was more concerned with finding the "traitor" who had leaked Anelka's foul-mouthed outburst to the press.
The following day, the defender had a training-ground argument with fitness coach Robert Duverne which prompted the players to return to their team bus, draw the curtains and effectively go on strike, in one of the most infamous moves and strangest sights in World Cup history.
Jean-Louis Valentin quit in disgust, and Escalettes also resigned shortly after France had been eliminated after losing their final group game, to South Africa.
French sports minister Roselyne Bachelot, who had tried to resolve the row at the behest of prime minister Nicolas Sarkozy, told the players that they had tarnished the nation's reputation and "destroyed the dreams of their countrymen".
In the end, Anelka was suspended for 18 games, Evra five, Franck Ribery two and Jeremy Toulalan one, for their respective roles in a shameful episode.
Suarez's 'Hand of God'
"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 Senegal 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 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.
Iniesta's touching tribute
It came as no surprise to see Andres Iniesta decide the 2010 World Cup final in Spain's favour. The bigger the game, the better he performed.
Even less surprisingly, one of football's humble heroes made the most important moment of his career about someone other than himself.
Less than a year before the tournament in South Africa, Espanyol midfielder Dani Jarque died after suffering a heart attack during a pre-season retreat in Italy. He was just 26 at the time.
Iniesta had played alongside Jarque at under-age level. He wasn't just a former team-mate, though. He was a good friend. And Iniesta was devastated by his death.
So, when he scored an extra-time winner against Netherlands in Johannesburg, he ripped off his jersey to reveal a message written on his vest, which read: "Dani Jarque: always with us".
"I wanted to carry Dani with me," Iniesta simply said afterwards. "We wanted to pay tribute to him."
And Iniesta had done so in the most emotional and joyous of circumstances.
The sudden death of tiki-taka
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 sent 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 also bagged himself to a 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 witness 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.
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."