With football currently suspended for the foreseeable, the best cure for your football fix is to look back through football history’s wealth of memories. So, here at The Football Pink, we’ll be giving you a weekly dose of football nostalgia with our picks for the greatest elements of football history in our humble opinions. Our writers stretch far and wide and support clubs all the way up and all the way down the football pyramid. This week, we charged the writers to come up with their own personal greatest goals of all time. So, sit back, relax and enjoy these incredibly niche belters.
David Nesbit: Northern Ireland’s big day out (1982)
When Billy Bingham led Northern Ireland to qualification for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, it was the first time the Province had qualified for the finals in almost quarter of a century. After flirting with the idea of including a 35-year-old George Best in the squad, Bingham instead decided to include the 17-year-old uncapped Norman Whiteside, who had concluded the 1981-82 domestic season with a sprinkling of appearances in the Manchester United first team.
Drawn in a group with Yugolslavia, Honduras and hosts, Spain, Northern Ireland were not expected to do anything other than make up the numbers. Instead they were to confound all expectations.
A steady 1-1 draw with Yugolsavia in the first game was followed by a slightly anti-climatic similar result against Honduras. This left Northern Ireland needing a win in the final match against Spain to be sure of qualification for the next stage. In a shock for the ages, Northern Ireland prevailed by the only goal of the game, scored by Gerry Armstrong in the 47th minute.
Into the second group stage and Northern Ireland were paired with Austria and France. A 1-1 draw with Austria meant that the Irish could qualify for the semi-finals by beating France, but unfortunately this proved a bridge too far and a 4-1 defeat saw their glorious run finally come to an end. Although disappointed, Billy Bingham and his boys had done the nation proud and their names live on in Irish folklore.
Pete Spencer: The Disgrace of Gijon (1982)
It has been dubbed ‘the Disgrace of Gijon’ and it forced FIFA to change how their own rules.
Up to 1982 the final round of group matches kicked off at different times. This gave an advantage to the teams kicking off last, if there was still something to play for. No team had taken advantage of this until June 1982 in Gijon. The West Germans and Austrians contrived to arrange the result of a match in their favour.
West Germany had become the first European team to lose to an African nation at a World Cup when they were shocked by Algeria. Algeria and Chile had played the day before, so the Germans and Austrians knew what was needed to see them qualify.
A draw or defeat by two goals was enough for Austria. West Germany just needed to win. So, a 1-0 win for West Germany would be enough for both teams.
Horst Hrubesch put the Germans ahead in the opening ten minutes. What followed was an absolute farce…
Both teams just passed the ball amongst themselves, with few attempts at creating chances or even tackles. This went on for 80 minutes with the crowd becoming increasingly irritated at what they were witnessing.
The German commentator refused to speak towards the end of the game. His Austrian counterpart told his viewers to switch off. The Algerians were incensed.
Both teams went through to the next round, at the expense of the poor Algerians. The world smelt a rat. FIFA denied there was any wrongdoing, yet they still changed their rules. From 1986 onwards the last round of group matches kick off simultaneously.
Rodney McCain: Schumacher strikes (1982)
It was the worst “foul” I have seen on a football pitch in 43 years of watching the sport, yet the culprit wasn’t even spoken to by the referee, much less sent-off and arrested for “grievous bodily harm” as he should have been.
France vs. West Germany, World Cup semi-final, Espana ‘82. It’s 1-1 as we enter the second half….
The defining moment of the game, and without doubt the most cynical, despicable assault I have ever seen on a football pitch arrived on the hour mark. French manager Michel Hidalgo had introduced midfielder Patrick Battiston for ineffective forward Bernard Genghini after 50 minutes. Ten minutes later, Battiston was sent through on goal by a superb defence-splitting pass from Michel Platini.
As the Frenchman ran onto the bouncing through-ball, keeper Harald Schumacher came racing out of his area. However, he had no chance of getting to the ball ahead of Battiston. Battiston knocked the ball past the big German….but he wasn’t getting any further himself. Schumacher deliberately threw himself, arms up, elbows up, knees up, into the unsuspecting Battiston at head-height. It was a sickening, disgraceful assault.
As the ball trundled wide of the post, Patrick Battiston lay unconscious. The paramedics raced onto the pitch, and he was eventually carried off to hospital, where his injuries were akin to those of a car-crash victim: two missing teeth, three cracked ribs and damaged spinal vertebrae.
The referee gave a goal-kick, and didn’t even speak to Schumacher! Years later, that decision by a FIFA official still ranks as one of the worst I have ever witnessed. Had this happened on a public street, Schumacher would have done jail time for it.
To make matters worse, after the game ended at 3-3 after extra-time, the Germans won the subsequent penalty shootout 5-4, with Schumacher transformed from villain to hero in the eyes of his nation.
It was left to the late Paolo Rossi and his Italian team-mates to ensure justice was done when they defeated the Germans 3-1 in the World Cup Final a few days later.
Dave Urbme: The Argentina/Cameroon War (1990)
Although the Italia 90 World Cup is fondly remembered by England supporters, it went down as perhaps the dullest in the competition’s history with a miserly average of just 2.2 goals per game and with few highlights.
You could perhaps point towards Roberto Baggio’s incredible individual goal versus Czechoslovakia, David Platt’s dramatic injury time winner versus Belgium, and the emergence of Paul Gascoigne as a genuine star as highlights. And you could also throw in Cameroon’s unexpected run to the Quarter Finals, 38-year old Roger Milla’s non-lying hips, and in particular, their 1-0 win over reigning champions Argentina in the tournament’s opening fixture.
And it is Cameroon’s win over Argentina that provided Italia 90’s most abiding image: Argentina’s Claudio Caniggia cartwheeling through the air thanks to Benjamin Massing’s brutal assault.
The champions came into Italia 90 led by Diego Maradona who had just captained Napoli to a second Serie A title, while Caniggia was emerging as a devastating and explosive winger.
But all of that counted for little in that opening fixture when little Cameroon humbled the world champions, beating them 1-0, thanks to François Oman Biyik’s header, embarrassingly fumbled over the line by Argentina’s keeper Nery Pumpido.
It was mostly backs to the wall stuff for Cameroon, as Argentina dominated, with the champions repelled by last ditch defending and out and out thuggery, evidenced by two red cards, including one for Massing in response to his attempted decapitation of Caniggia.
Cameroon exited the tournament at the hands of England, but most will remember their war with Argentina in that opening game.
Liam Togher: Ireland’s penalty prowess (1990)
The 1990 World Cup is often regarded as one of the worst in the tournament’s history, with low scorelines and cynical fouling aplenty. However, that summer in Italy continues to be remembered fondly in some pockets of the globe.
Under the tutelage of the late, great Jack Charlton, the Republic of Ireland eked into the last 16 courtesy of three group stage draws, with a Gheorghe Hagi inspired Romania awaiting them in Genoa. The 120 minutes of football was as turgid as a 0-0 scoreline would suggest, so let’s go straight to the penalties.
The first eight were converted, with Daniel Timofte having the chance to put Romania on the brink of the last eight. His nerve failed, Packie Bonner pulling off a memorable save to give David O’Leary the opportunity to settle the matter. George Hamilton’s commentary immediately before and after the spot kick has become one of the most fabled utterances in modern Irish history: “The nation holds it breath…yes, we’re there!”
A country which had been ravaged by recession, emigration and corruption in the 1980s erupted in spontaneous, communal joy. Ireland was party central for days afterwards, with not even the subsequent quarter-final defeat to Italy taking away from an afternoon which, 30 years on, remains the primary reference point for great Irish football moments.
Big Jack’s up-and-at-them style of play was not to everyone’s liking, but on that truly special day of Monday 25 June 1990, nobody in the Emerald Isle could care one jot.
Graham Hollingsworth: Michael Owen’s solo strike (1998)
I believe that your favourite World Cup will often be your first one – and for me it will always be France ’98. Maybe it’s not a classic when compared to Italia 90, or Mexico 86, but for 7 year old me, seeing all these superstar teams and players manage to both capture my imagination, and blow my mind at the same time.
England certainly had a strong team, with a great mix of experience in Seaman, Adams and Shearer, as well as emerging talents like Beckham and Scholes. The youngest and most exciting for me was Michael Owen. I’d seen him on Match of the Day, displaying his lightning pace for my beloved Liverpool, so was looking forward to seeing what he could do against the best in the business.
We caught a glimpse of his talent when he equalised against Romania, but he truly announced himself on the world stage against Argentina. Winning the penalty for Alan Shearer to make it 1-1, he would then score a goal which, in my opinion both then and now, is the greatest I’ve ever seen.
Receiving the ball on the half way line, he’s quickly past one before picking up speed, baring down on goal. He drops his shoulder to ease past the covering defender, before lashing it into the top corner, beyond the helpless Carlos Roja. On commentary, Kevin Keegan says ‘You don’t do this at 28, let alone 18.’
Whenever I get jaded or bitter about the state of football today, I go back and watch that goal, just to remind of what it meant to me all those years ago.
Jack Wills: Zidane’s swan song (2006)
The 2006 World Cup was the ultimate swan song for French attacking midfielder Zinedine Zidane; a blend of sublime skill, dramatic goals and raw aggression. His tournament highlight was that quarter final against Brazil, quite possibly the greatest individual World Cup performance by a single player over 90 minutes.
As a society, we tend to remember the good over the bad. Ask people, particularly a younger generation, their memory of Zidane, and few would pick this game. Few would reference his Champions League final goal, or his World Cup ’98 masterclass final. They would remember a five-second period of his career. A headbutt. A moment of madness.
Madness or not, this moment will forever go down in World Cup history. One of the best players in world football playing his last ever football match as a World Cup final, only to be sent off for a headbutt in extra time… it is hard to think of a more noteworthy, dramatic moment in a final.
The French midfielder takes a few steps ahead of Materazzi and waits. The Italian continues to walk confidently, no-doubt assuming that he will be able to barge past his opponent. Instead, Zidane lowers his head and thrusts it into the chest of the Internazionale defender with immense power and precision. Zidane was a good three inches shorter than Materazzi, but the weight he put behind his headbutt crumbled the player like he was a Styrofoam cup.
Does Zidane regret this moment? One can only imagine. If the situation was put in front of him again, would he change anything? I wouldn’t count on it. This may not have the jump-off-the-couch factor like Iniesta’s last-gasp goal in 2014, or the underdog feel experienced by Senegal toppling France in 2002, but as a moment of jaw-dropping drama and surprise, the infamous Zinedine Zidane red card is without doubt my greatest World Cup moment.
Elliot Brennan: Germany’s demolition job (2014)
As Brazil’s step-in captain, David Luiz, held Neymar’s mythic shirt with Julio Cesar in tribute to their injured artist during the national anthem, the stadium gripped itself for a defining semi-final.
The country accepted the emotional scenario: they must defeat their colossal opponents at the stadium they lost the 1950 Final without their talisman, their chief hero and protagonist. It was time for Neymar’s teammates to achieve greatness in his wake. The event set the scene for a fictitious idea to turn into reality.
Thomas Müller opened the scoring just after ten minutes. It was a blow, but hope did not rescind from the Maracana Stadium. It was just another obstacle. All they needed was momentum.
However, it did not come. The timeless Miroslav Klose then seized upon an opportunity not long after to double the lead. It was panic stations. Toni Kroos scored a brace within minutes after; Sami Khedira added salt to the wound instantly. The score was 5-0. Only 30 minutes had passed. The sorrowful emotion for Neymar’s loss became despairing dread. Adding to Brazilian football’s glory ended in seven chaotic minutes.
Andre Schürrle’s second-half brace added greater humiliation to Brazil’s fall. The battle that the world watched with eager eyes was a whitewash far beyond what anyone had seen on the modern stage. Oscar’s consolation goal could not hide the damage done.
If there was one area where football’s shock could be dismayed, it was across Twitter: 580,166 tweets were sent at once when Khedira scored the fourth (a record before Germany’s final victory) and 35.6 million tweets for the match overall. The moment became the most discussed sports fixture in Twitter history. Whilst the world joked, mocked and spelt their disbelief, the Brazilian’s could only watch in horror.
The legacy of this fixture is alive and well. A prideful Brazil celebrated ending Germany’s 22-game unbeaten streak before the 2018 World Cup, but the world will need to be patient for when the two will face one another in the tournament again.
Andrew Haines: Klose breaks Ronaldo’s record (2014)
Perhaps of all the editions of The Football Pink’s Greatest series, this one has come as the easiest to choose. For me, the singular greatest moment in World Cup history came in one of the biggest shocks the zenith of football has ever seen.
On 8th July 2014 at the Estádio Mineirão in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, the Germans delivered a crushing defeat to that year’s hosts. They were imperious and unstoppable. It was that day, too, that Miroslav Klose broke the World Cup scoring record.
Klose had never been the greatest player of all-time, not even close. He had been made at FC 08 Homburg, honed with 1. FC Kaiserslautern and Werder Bremen, polished with Bayern München and glistened until he retired with Lazio.
For that fact, to me, he is quintessentially German. He was not always technically the best, but he always made himself count. He could never be written-off.
Prior to the 7-1 mauling of Brazil, Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Ireland, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Argentina, Australia, England, Argentina again and Ghana had all felt the wrath of Klose at a World Cup, predominantly from in and around the six-yard box.
The goal, his 16th at a World Cup and Germany’s second on the day, was by no means the prettiest of moves or finishes but it meant that he surpassed the mercurial talent of Ronaldo and his tally of 15.
Over four separate World Cup tournaments and at, by that time, 36 years of age, the German had written himself into the history books and in typical Klose fashion – the only thing missing was his iconic front-flip celebration.