30 Most Memorable Moments in Soccer History


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No sport has captured the world’s imagination quite like soccer – and, over the years, the game’s greats have delighted fans across the globe with their mesmerizing skill and masterful play. Indeed, many of soccer’s most talented stars have produced moments of true magic, inspiring supporters and casual spectators alike down through the generations. That said, the beautiful game has thrown up some uglier episodes, too, with incidents of violence and acts of apparent cheating having left a stain on the sport even as they’ve added to the drama.

This list spotlights the 30 most memorable moments in soccer’s history. From great games and glorious goals to disputed decisions and shocking fouls, these iconic events should be ingrained in the mind of any serious soccer fan.


To create this list article, we first turned to similar authoritative lists detailing soccer’s most famous moments, with a particular eye to including a range of events from around the globe and across the decades so as to make the selection as comprehensive as possible. The only caveat was that the incidents had to be directly game-related – taking place within the stadium as part of what could be considered the match’s action.

The aforementioned lists included the following:

The Guardian, “25 Stunning World Cup Moments”
● Bleacher Report, “Top 10 Soccer Moments Fans Would Kill to Experience”
● Major League Soccer, “Top 50 MLS Cup Moments Complete List”
● Storypick, “41 Iconic Photos That Prove Why Football Is the Biggest Sport in the World”

In order to choose the most iconic of these moments, we additionally scrutinized articles further describing the particular consequences that the events had on the games in which they occurred as well as any long-term impact that they may have had on the sport. Consideration was also given to the magnitude of the games and tournaments in which these moments occurred and the acclaim of the teams and players involved.

Those events ultimately chosen to be included were deemed to be the most significant of their kind, and the ranking was finalized after much deliberation by ordering the 30 moments selected from the least to the most iconic.

30. The Most Bizarre Sending-Off Ever (2011)

Back in 2011 Neymar Jr. was plying his trade in Brazil for club Santos. During that time, the player regularly terrorized defenses, and he ultimately earned a big-money move to Barcelona. While at Santos, though, the Brazilian superstar fell foul of probably the most bizarre red card ever. On the day that Neymar’s team faced Chilean club Colo-Colo in South America’s Copa Libertadores competition, his sponsors had handed out to the crowd masks depicting the teenage star. After all, much was expected of the youngster – and he duly delivered. Dancing his way through four defenders, Neymar scored a superb individual goal. In triumph, he then grabbed a mask from the crowd and celebrated by donning the image of his face over his actual face. However, the unimpressed referee deemed the celebration to be a bookable offense, and so Neymar, who’d already been carded, was promptly sent off. The overzealous expulsion furthermore created an anarchic atmosphere that led to four further dismissals.

29. Pepe’s Unprovoked Assault on Casquero (2009)

Spare a thought for Getafe’s Javier Casquero. In a 2009 league fixture against Real Madrid, and with the game at 2-2, the midfielder missed a late penalty not long before Real bagged a winner. That, however, was just the icing on Casquero’s particularly unpleasant cake that day. The Spaniard had won the penalty himself when he was shoved over by Pepe. But, seemingly not content with Casquero being denied a goalscoring chance, Real’s rampaging Portuguese defender then began an unprovoked assault on the prone Getafe man – savagely booting him across the shins before aiming another kick at the Spaniard’s back. In the ensuing chaos, Pepe also stamped on Casquero and hit another player in the face. A ten-game ban followed, after which Pepe ruefully described his behavior as having been on “the worst day of [his] life as a player and as a person.” Yet while the hothead has since committed similar indiscretions – including his infamous “unintentional” stamp on Argentinian legend Lionel Messi’s hand in 2012 – he hasn’t actually been sent off at club level since December 2011.

28. A.C. Milan’s Tactical Masterclass (1994)

A. C. Milan were arguably the most dominant Champions League team of the late ’80s and early ’90s, but heading into the 1994 final they found themselves facing a brilliant Barcelona side. The Catalan club had just claimed their fourth successive domestic league title, having scored a remarkable 91 goals in 38 games during the 1993-94 season, and boasted star strikers Romário and Hristo Stoichkov. Milan, meanwhile, were without many of their key players. Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta were suspended, and Marco van Basten was out injured, while the “three-foreigners rule” meant that Brian Laudrup and Jean-Pierre Papin also couldn’t start. “Milan are nothing out of this world,” sniffed Barça manager Johan Cruyff at the time. “They base their game on defence; we base ours on attack.” Milan’s Fabio Capello had other ideas, however, putting in place a plan to stifle Barcelona’s free-flowing style by dominating the midfield. And the tactical masterstroke worked to a tee, as Milan routed their rivals 4-0.

27. Barcelona Complete a Historic Sextuple (2009)

When Barcelona beat Estudiantes in the final of the 2009 Club World Cup, the Catalan club completed a quite remarkable year. Boss Pep Guardiola had taken the reins at Camp Nou only 18 months earlier, in his first managerial role in senior soccer – and under his leadership, Barcelona flourished. Guardiola’s team, packed with stars including Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi, claimed a treble in the 2008/09 season, winning a Spanish league and cup double alongside their Champions League title. And that success set up three more finals for Barcelona in 2009. In August they overcame Athletic Bilbao and Shakhtar Donetsk to secure the Spanish Super Cup and the UEFA Super Cup, respectively, before jetting off to the United Arab Emirates for December’s Club World Cup. There, after Barça were trailing 1-0 in the final, Pedro rescued the game with an 89th-minute equalizer before Messi grabbed an overtime winner. That victory meant that in just one calendar year, Barcelona had lifted an unprecedented six trophies out of six.

26. The Indomitable Lions Roar (1990)

Cameroon caused quite a stir when they beat defending champions Argentina in the opening game of the 1990 World Cup. At the time, the Africans were making just their second ever appearance in the finals, while the South Americans, led by Diego Maradona, were among the favorites to win the tournament in Italy. It didn’t look good for Cameroon, then, when they were reduced to ten men just after the hour mark. But when François Omam-Biyik’s 67th-minute header somehow edged its way past Argentinian shot-stopper Nery Pumpido, the underdogs took a surprise lead – and despite later being down to nine men after a rash of dirty tackles, they hung on to claim a 1-0 win. What’s more, Argentina weren’t the only side to meet their match in the Indomitable Lions, as Cameroon went on to beat Romania and Colombia and become the first African team to get to a World Cup quarter-final. And even though they would narrowly lose out at that stage to England, Cameroon had certainly made their mark.

25. Germany Humiliate Brazil on Home Turf (2014)

Brazilian soccer supporters rejoiced when the World Cup came to the country in 2014, and they had even more cause for celebration when the national team advanced to the semi-finals. However, by the half-hour mark of Brazil’s game with Germany, that dream of winning the tournament on home turf had turned into a nightmare. The Germans were on fire and scored five goals in a blistering 18-minute stretch to put the game to bed before half-time. What’s more, they added two more goals following the break, although Oscar salvaged a last-minute consolation. The 7-1 humiliation was the Seleção’s worst ever defeat at a World Cup and their first competitive loss at home for almost four decades. And just to rub a little extra salt into the wound, Miroslav Klose’s goal saw the German become the tournament’s all-time top scorer – a record he’d previously jointly held with the Brazilian Ronaldo.

24. Escobar’s Own Goal (1994)

The USA hosted its inaugural World Cup in 1994 – and after the home side had tied their opener with Switzerland, U.S. soccer fans hoped that, against Colombia, the national team would have their first win in the competition since 1950’s “Miracle on Grass.” The USMNT duly delivered, too, with a surprise 2-1 win over Colombia that came about in part through Andrés Escobar’s unfortunate own goal. But, while Escobar’s error may not have been particularly out of the ordinary, it led to an incident that has left a dark shadow over the sport. Just six days after Colombia’s World Cup elimination, Escobar was shot multiple times while in his home city of Medellín and was killed in the process. His murderers – linked to a Colombian drugs cartel that allegedly lost considerable sums of money betting on the fixture – reportedly shouted “Gol!” after each bullet fired. That horrible moment of retribution was furthermore given an extra layer of poignancy by Escobar’s own words, published in a Bogotá newspaper after his team’s World Cup exit. “Life cannot end here,” he had written. “No matter how difficult, we must stand back up.”

23. Ronaldo’s Wink (2006)

It’s unfortunate for Cristiano Ronaldo that among his most memorable moments on the soccer field is one of gamesmanship. Indeed, though the hugely talented Portuguese forward has broken records and grabbed goals galore, his infamous wink during the 2006 World Cup will arguably live longer in the memory than any of those achievements. It took place when Portugal met England in the quarter-final game at Gelsenkirchen. In the second half, England’s young star Wayne Rooney tangled with Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho and then, as cameras showed, looked to have stamped on the defender – but was it deliberate? Referee Horacio Elizondo seemingly didn’t think so: the Argentine official appeared to be unmoved at first and looked as though he would keep any cards in his pocket. However, Ronaldo then ran over to vigorously remonstrate with the referee, and his vehement protest seemed to sway Elizondo, who promptly sent Rooney off. Ronaldo then winked at the Portuguese bench as if to confirm a job well done.

22. Was The World Cup Rigged? (1978)

When hosts Argentina won the 1978 World Cup, their victory became a controversial one. After all, they had got to that point by what some have suggested were nefarious means. In their semi-final against Peru, Argentina needed to beat their opponents by a four-goal margin to advance in the tournament. And although the Peruvians were generally strong, in the crunch game they were on bizarrely bad form – meaning that Argentina won 6-0. To certain individuals, the result reeked of match-fixing. It’s even been alleged that Argentina’s military dictatorship had wanted to show the country in a positive light and so tried to achieve that by any means necessary. “Peru sent its political prisoners to Argentina in order to disappear them,” Peruvian ex-senator Genaro Ledesma remarked to the British Channel 4 News in 2012. “Peru’s president offered to return this favour by losing their World Cup game with Argentina by a large score.” Meanwhile, Peruvian midfielder José Velásquez has backed up Ledesma’s claim by saying that his team were pressured to lose the game by both their government and management. FIFA, however, has never launched a full investigation into the accusations, and so soccer’s possibly murkiest mystery remains unresolved.

21. Rivaldo’s Piece of Playacting (2002)

In 2002 Brazil famously won a fifth World Cup, but the enduring image from their campaign was a moment of rather unsportsmanlike behavior from back in the group stages. A hard-fought game against Turkey had swung the way of the South Americans after a penalty was awarded for a foul that seemingly took place outside of the penalty box. Rivaldo’s 87th-minute spot kick gave the Brazilians a 2-1 lead – and then the time-wasting began. Hakan Ünsal’s temper subsequently boiled over, and when Rivaldo was slow to take a corner, the Turkish wingback blasted the ball into the Brazilian’s thigh. However, in an implausible bit of playacting, Rivaldo dropped to the ground holding his head and then writhed on the floor in apparent agony. The theatrics might’ve even been funny had Ünsal not received a red card as a result. And while Rivaldo was later charged by FIFA for feigning injury, the unapologetic Brazilian simply glossed over the whole furor. “I am not sorry about anything,” he said. “This kind of thing is going to happen a lot in this World Cup.”

20. Cantona’s Kung Fu Kick (1995)

“Eric [Cantona] had a fuse on him,” Cantona’s former Manchester United teammate Gary Pallister remarked in 2015. “Ultimately he exploded.” Indeed, although the Red Devils’ star striker during the ’90s could win games almost single-handedly, he’d also been known to let his fiery temper get the better of him, and the hotheaded Frenchman erupted once more in January 1995. United were vying for the league title with Blackburn Rovers at the time they headed to Selhurst Park to face relegation-threatened Crystal Palace. And just after half-time, while the game was still goalless, Cantona’s frustration was evident when he booted Palace defender Richard Shaw across the calf. The Frenchman was promptly sent off – but he wasn’t done yet: as he was leaving the pitch, he launched himself into the crowd and kung fu kicked a baying Palace supporter in the chest. Cantona was handed a nine-month ban from playing professionally as a result.

19. Schumacher Takes Out Battiston (1982)

The 1982 World Cup semi-final between France and West Germany is said to be among the best matches in the tournament’s history. “We had played one of the two best games in the tournament,” German forward Pierre Littbarski would remember, “and it was very good publicity for German football. Or it would’ve been.” Indeed, the match would eventually become infamous thanks to Toni Schumacher’s appalling challenge on France’s Patrick Battiston. Just before the hour mark, with the score level at 1-1, Les Bleus’ Michel Platini flawlessly passed the ball to teammate Battiston. However, as the French defender poked a shot goalwards, the German keeper smashed into him; Schumacher had jumped hip first into Battiston’s face, knocking his opposing player unconscious. The Frenchman furthermore lost three teeth in the collision and had to be given oxygen even before he headed to hospital. It should’ve been a red card and a penalty to France, but nothing was given – and to add insult to literal injury, Germany went on to win on penalties.

18. René Higuita’s Scorpion Kick (1995)

Colombian keeper René Higuita was beloved by his countrymen for his often unconventional but entertaining style of play. Indeed, his sweeper-keeper tactics sometimes saw him charging out of his goal to close down opposing players and could even end up with him dribbling halfway up the pitch. However, the antics of the man dubbed “El Loco” didn’t garner a great deal of attention beyond South America – until September 1995, that is. Colombia were playing England in a friendly match at Wembley when Higuita really captured the world’s imagination by, oddly enough, not catching the ball. England midfielder Jamie Redknapp had hoisted a hopeful cross forward that an unchallenged Higuita could have easily claimed. But rather than grabbing the ball, the Colombian jumped up and, with his legs stretched out behind his back, swatted it away with his heels while still in midair. That “scorpion kick” remains perhaps one of the most extraordinary feats of goalkeeping of all time.

17. Leicester City Win the Premier League (2016)

Few could truly believe it when Leicester City captain Wes Morgan raised the Premier League trophy in May 2016. It just wasn’t supposed to happen. After all, the sheer financial clout of Premier League elite clubs like Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea affords them some of the best players in the world – and, often, the league trophies to go with them. Less wealthy outsiders usually trail in their wake; they’re not meant to muscle in on the top spots, let alone take the title. But that’s exactly what Leicester did. Overcoming odds of 5,000-1, the Foxes finished ten points clear of the chasing pack to become champions of England during the 2015-16 season. To make matters even more remarkable, Leicester had spent over four months of their previous campaign rooted to the bottom of the table. In fact, only an incredible run of seven victories from their last nine games of the 2014-15 season had saved them from demotion to England’s second tier. Given the sudden turnaround in fortunes, it’s understandable that the decision that summer to replace manager Nigel Pearson with Claudio Ranieri was questioned in several quarters. But despite the critics, the affable Italian would go on to engineer one of the greatest underdog stories in sporting history.

16. Pope’s Golden Goal (1996)

Arguably Major League Soccer’s most iconic moment came in its very first season when Eddie Pope’s golden goal completed D.C. United’s unlikely revival against the LA Galaxy in 1996’s inaugural MLS Cup. The Black-and-Red’s remarkable resurgence at a rain-soaked Foxboro Stadium seemed unlikely when they trailed Galaxy 2-0 with just 17 minutes of regulation time remaining, but the tie was taken to overtime thanks to goals from substitutes Tony Sanneh and Shawn Medved. And when Marco Etcheverry then swung in a corner, Pope leapt high above the LA defense to power a towering 94th-minute header into the net. It was a dramatic ending to the game – and one which the MLS Cup may not have bettered since. The delighted defender, meanwhile, threw himself headlong across the sodden turf in celebration before being mobbed by his teammates. “I’m thinking, ‘I cannot believe this,’” Pope recalled, talking to the official MLS website in 2011. As for the win itself, in 2015 he would tell The Guardian, “For me, wanting to be a professional soccer player and wanting to be a champion, it took a while for that to settle in.”

15. The Match of the Century (1953)

It had been heralded as “the match of the century,” and England and Hungary’s 1953 game pretty much lived up to that billing. Certainly, it looked set to be a close battle between two teams at perhaps the peak of their powers. England had previously won all of their internationals at Wembley, while the Marvelous Magyars had earned their nickname with a three-year undefeated run up to that point and gold medals at the 1952 Olympics. But, led by Ferenc Puskás, Hungary tore the Three Lions apart to win 6-3. Puskás’ famous drag-back goal saw the Hungarian genius sell Billy Wright a dummy so outrageously good that Times journalist Geoffrey Green would describe the England captain as “a fire [truck] heading to the wrong fire.” The match may have had ramifications away from the pitch, too. In demonstrating that England were no longer invincible, the game poetically mirrored the declining British Empire. It’s also been argued that the Hungarian team became something of a symbol of revolution to the people of their floundering nation. In fact, with the players proving that anything was possible, it has even been said that Puskás and company helped put Hungary on the path to freedom from communism.

14. The Battle of Santiago (1962)

Described by the BBC’s David Coleman as “the most stupid, appalling, disgusting and disgraceful exhibition of [soccer], possibly in the history of the game,” Chile’s 1962 World Cup match with Italy remains one of the ugliest that the sport has ever seen. Later dubbed the “Battle of Santiago,” the game saw its first foul after just 12 seconds, as the Italians adopted a distinctly combative approach by kicking and stamping their way through the Chileans. Then, after only eight minutes, there was the fixture’s first dismissal following Italian Giorgio Ferrini’s wild kick at an opposing player. Ferrini refused to go quietly, though, and had to be hauled off the pitch by a large gang of policemen. Following on from that, a disgruntled Leonel Sánchez then punched Italy’s Mario David. Yet while the Chilean escaped sanction, his Italian counterpart soon got his revenge by landing a flying, studs-first tackle onto Sanchez’s neck, and he was duly dismissed. Chile eventually won 2-0, but the game will likely always be remembered for its dirtiness rather than its scoreline.

13. The Miracle on Grass (1950)

The England national team may have been confident of victory as they headed to the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. After all, the Three Lions had won 23 of their 30 games since the end of World War II, and having missed the first three editions of the World Cup, they were surely determined to prove that their “Kings of Football” nickname was merited. Perhaps they even thought their group stage game against the U.S. would be an easy win, especially as the Americans were given little chance of success before the two teams met in Belo Horizonte. “They were better soccer players than we were,” U.S. defender Harry Keough would recall in a 2012 video for FIFA. “We certainly didn’t entertain any ideas we were going to beat them, but we figured we could give them a battle for it.” And that battle reaped rewards: despite England dominating the game, Joe Gaetjens’ goal gave the Americans a 1-0 win. To this day, moreover, it remains possibly one of the sport’s biggest upsets as well as arguably the most renowned victory in the history of U.S. soccer.

12. The Cruyff Turn (1974)

The Netherlands and Sweden’s game during the group stage of the 1974 World Cup may not have been one for the ages, not least because it ended in a goalless draw. That said, the match featured a moment so iconic that it became pretty much the emblem of Total Football. During the ’60s, Dutch team Ajax had redefined soccer through this pioneering philosophy, with the supremely gifted Johan Cruyff arguably the concept’s most well-known exponent. And it was against Sweden that Cruyff produced what came to be his trademark move. With the ball not far from the corner flag, Cruyff seemingly didn’t have anywhere to go. But with a dummy and then a swerve, the Dutchman left defender Jan Olsson outfoxed and heading in totally the wrong direction. “I thought that I had him just where I wanted,” Olsson reminisced in 2016. “Then I thought, ‘Where the hell did the ball go?’ He disappeared but I was still standing there.”

11. The Arrival of The King (1958)

Before 1958 Brazil hadn’t won a single World Cup, but by the end of June 1970 they had achieved the feat three times. The key to their success? Pelé. Perhaps the best player ever, Pelé first came to the world’s attention during the 1958 World Cup, and the skillful superstar was just 17 years and 239 days old when he became the youngest player in history to score at the tournament – a record he still holds. That strike produced the winning goal against quarter-final opponents Wales, but it was far from Pelé’s finest hour during the competition. Indeed, he put in two more exceptional performances, hitting a hat-trick in Brazil’s semi-final win over France before bagging a brace against hosts Sweden in the final. As a result, Brazil won both games 5-2 and glided to their first World Cup success. Following the tournament, moreover, Pelé was officially named a “national treasure” in Brazil – an attempt to stop foreign clubs from poaching the young talent who would eventually become known as “The King.” Further Brazilian World Cup wins in 1962 and 1970 then sealed Pelé’s place as an all-time great.

10. Brandi Chastain Wins the World Cup for the U.S. (1999)

“It’s amazing how 90,000-plus people could be silent,” Brandi Chastain told the BBC in 2014. “If I had to stop, I could hear my heart beating.” That’s how the U.S. soccer star remembers the moment when she stepped up to take the last penalty kick of the 1999 Women’s World Cup final. The score was level at 4-4, but China’s Ying Liu had missed earlier in the shootout – meaning that if Chastain was on target, the U.S. would win the tournament. So, in a ploy to baffle the Chinese keeper, the right-footed American took the kick with her left foot, and the plan worked: Chastain thumped the ball into the side-netting before whipping off her shirt and falling to her knees. That post-goal image of the nation’s hero went global, too, but it signified more than just celebration; to some, it heralded the dawn of a new era for women’s soccer. Indeed, as Chastain would later remark, “[The women’s game] was not anonymous any more.”

9. The Miracle of Istanbul (2005)

Liverpool FC have a long and proud record of European Cup success. However, in May 2005, after the Reds had reached their first final in the competition in more than 30 years, it quickly seemed that another title was slipping from their grasp. The climax of 2004-05’s Champions League – the rebranded successor to the European Cup – saw Rafael Benítez’s men face an A. C. Milan team known for their defensive strength. And it seemed that victory was well beyond Liverpool when the Italian giants took a 3-0 lead by half-time. Nevertheless, the Reds regrouped remarkably and, thanks to three goals in a blistering six-minute spell, were level by the hour mark. The game then headed into overtime, and Milan might have won it in the last minute had it not been for Liverpool goalkeeper Jerzy Dudek. Yes, the Reds’ Polish shot-stopper pulled off an incredible double save to deny Andriy Shevchenko from close range. More goalkeeping heroics from Dudek then followed, as Liverpool claimed the Champions League crown with a 3-2 penalty shootout win.

8. Manchester United’s Camp Nou Comeback (1999)

Having already won a domestic league and cup double in the 1998-99 season, Manchester United headed to Barcelona’s Camp Nou in May 1999 with a historic treble squarely in their sights, and only Bayern Munich stood between the Red Devils and the Champions League title. But without the influential midfield pairing of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, United struggled. Indeed, for the most part it had been a comfortable evening for the German team, who led from the sixth minute and controlled the game from there on. Mere seconds into injury time, though, Manchester United brought the score to 1-1 when Ryan Giggs’ wayward effort was struck home by Teddy Sheringham. Then, moments later, a corner found its way to Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who stabbed the ball into the top of the net to complete a remarkable turnaround. As the drama unfolded, then UEFA president Lennart Johansson had been making his way down to the pitch. “I thought, it cannot be,” Johansson would later comment. “The winners are crying and the losers are dancing.”

7. “The Greatest Soccer Match of All Time” (1960)

Some 127,000 supporters packed into Hampden Park, Glasgow, for the 1960 European Cup final between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt. But while the German champions were certainly talented – they’d scored 12 goals across the two legs of their semi-final – they were no match for a Madrid team that simply oozed class. Predictably, perhaps, the Spanish side’s slick passing rhythm and off-the-ball movement eventually became just too much for their German opponents. Los Blancos’ legendary forward Alfredo Di Stéfano hit a hat-trick, while Ferenc Puskás fired in a further four goals as Madrid flattened Frankfurt 7-3. Victory ensured that Real claimed their fifth successive European Cup in scintillating style – with Di Stéfano also having scored in each of those finals along the way. And in the decades since, the goal-heavy game has been lauded by some as “the greatest [soccer] match of all time.”

6. Van Basten’s Rocket Volley (1988)

Even though Dutch players had revolutionized soccer during the 1970s, the Netherlands’ national team never managed to win a major tournament in that decade. Come the end of the ’80s, though, and the resurgent Oranje had reached the final of Euro 1988. The Dutch had every reason to be confident of victory, too, not least because they had the tournament’s top scorer, Marco van Basten, among their ranks. Then aged 23, van Basten was one of the world’s most formidable strikers at the time, and he demonstrated exactly why this was the case while his team were up against the Soviet Union. The Dutch were protecting a slender 1-0 lead at the start of the second half, but in the 54th minute van Basten eased his teammates’ and fans’ nerves with a stupendous goal from an almost impossible angle. Positioned just a few feet in from the byline on the right-hand side of the penalty box, van Basten crashed a volley back across goal and into the left-hand side of the net. The Dutch held on to secure a 2-0 win.

5. The Greatest Save Ever (1970)

When the group stage of the 1970 World Cup threw up a clash between defending champions England and eventual champions Brazil, most people would’ve expected something special to happen. It’s unlikely, however, that anyone thought it would be a sublime piece of goalkeeping. At that point, the game was still goalless, but when winger Jairzinho crossed the ball for Pelé, it looked for all the world as if the deadlock was about to be broken. The iconic Brazilian number ten leapt high above the English defense and powered a header towards the bottom corner. But even though the ball looked to have passed him, England keeper Gordon Banks somehow pulled off an extraordinary one-handed stop to flick the ball up and over the bar. In 2008 Pelé would go on to lament, “From the moment I headed it, I was sure it had gone in. I have scored more than a thousand goals in my life, and the thing people always talk to me about is the one I didn’t score.”

4. Brazil’s Breathtaking Goal (1970)

The 1970 World Cup final in Mexico City witnessed quite possibly one of soccer’s most iconic goals. With the clock ticking down to the end of the game, Brazil led Italy 3-1. Yet while Jairzinho’s 71st-minute goal had effectively killed off the contest, there was still time for Brazil to add a fourth – and it would be one that combined individual flair with mesmerizing teamwork. The move started deep within Brazil’s own half – somewhat surprisingly, with striker Tostão. The center-forward laid the ball off before the South Americans began to stroke it around nonchalantly. But when Clodoaldo received the ball, the midfielder saw space that could be exploited, and he exploded into life. A mazy dribble and a couple of quick passes later and Jairzinho was released down the left. The winger then found Pelé on the edge of the penalty area, and the great man held off the Italian defenders before rolling a perfect pass for Carlos Alberto to smash home. This magnificent goal has come to be held in some quarters as an enduring symbol of the quality of that Brazilian team.

3. Zidane’s Headbutt (2006)

On the back of a glittering career, Zinedine Zidane was looking to retire in style by claiming one last title, the World Cup, and he duly shone throughout the 2006 tournament. Later named the player of the competition, Zizou helped the unfancied France team to wins over Spain, Brazil and Portugal, and when Les Bleus faced Italy in the final, he opened the scoring. Italian defender Marco Materazzi then levelled to make it 1-1, but after the game went into overtime, both men would be involved in an incident that stained Zidane’s otherwise admirable World Cup performance. Allegedly reacting to provocative comments made by Materazzi, Zidane strode forward and unleashed a forceful headbutt to the Italian’s chest. “Oh, Zinedine!” cried French commentator Thierry Gilardi. “Not that, Zinedine! Oh no, not that! Not today, not now, not after all you’ve done!” And the referee had no choice but to produce a red card – and ensure that Zidane’s final act in a sport that he’d played with such beauty would be one of reckless violence.

2. Did It Cross the Line? (1966)

One of soccer’s longest-running arguments has been simmering away for more than half a century. The cause of such debate? A goal which is still among the most controversial in the game’s history. The 1966 World Cup final saw hosts England go toe-to-toe with West Germany, and the teams were locked at 2-2 as the game went into overtime. With England pressing for a winner, legendary forward Geoff Hurst controlled a cross from the right and smashed a powerful shot towards goal. The ball evaded German keeper Hans Tilkowski and then bounced off the crossbar and down onto the Wembley turf below – but had it crossed the line as it did so? The referee and his linesman decided that it had, and a goal was awarded, much to the dismay of the Germans. Hurst later completed his hat-trick to hand England a 4-2 victory, but over 50 years later, the discussion around whether his second goal of the match was valid is still ongoing.

1. The Hand of God (1986)

Diego Maradona is among the greatest soccer players ever, but arguably his defining moment on the field was an act of brazen cheating. That moment came during Argentina’s quarter-final clash with England at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Later in the match, El Diego would score the “Goal of the Century” – a mesmerizing solo run and finish – but it was his infamous opening goal that is probably more widely remembered. When England’s Steve Hodge sliced a clearance towards his team’s own 6-yard box, the little Argentine sprung into the air and punched the ball past a scrambling Peter Shilton. Then as he wheeled away in delight, Maradona told his teammates to “shut… up and keep celebrating,” for fear that officials might disallow the goal. After the game, however, he all but owned up to his deception, saying he had scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.”