Despite pre-tournament concerns over racism, violence and travel Russia has hosted one of the best World Cups in living memory.
It has delivered plenty of goals, a fair share of shocks – like defending champions Germany exiting at the group stage – and lots of drama, not least during a thrilling final which saw France beat Croatia 4-2.
Off the field appears to have been a resounding success as well, with no hint of trouble as fans enjoyed a party atmosphere. Here, we look at some of the other top World Cups.
A World Cup, fittingly the first to be broadcast in colour, won by arguably the greatest team ever to grace the history of the tournament. The Brazil side of Pele, Carlos Alberto, Gerson, Jairzinho, Rivelino and Tostao is feted still today and Carlos Alberto’s goal against Italy in the final remains one of the purest examples of football at its best. It was a World Cup packed with iconic moments, including England goalkeeper Gordon Banks’ brilliant save from Pele and Bobby Moore’s perfectly-timed penalty area tackle on Jairzinho.
Brazil fielded their best team since the 1970 version with a midfield of Zico, Falcao, Socrates and Eder but it was Italy who emerged as winners, courtesy of one of the World Cup’s best matches against the South Americans. Paolo Rossi’s hat-trick, on his way to six goals in the tournament, accounted for Brazil 3-2 in the second round with Marco Tardelli’s memorable celebration after scoring against West Germany in the final an enduring image. Elsewhere, Northern Ireland, for whom Norman Whiteside surpassed Pele’s record as the youngest player in the tournament’s history aged 17 years and 41 days, produced one of the shocks by beating the hosts to reach the second round. Debutants Algeria defeated European champions West Germany and beat Chile in the group stage but were still eliminated on goal difference after the Germans and Austria contrived a result which saw them both progress.
West Germany may have won the tournament but the real stories were England’s progression to the semi-final and Cameroon’s attacking brilliance. It may have set a record for the lowest-scoring tournament but there was still plenty to be enjoyed: BBC’s Pavarotti-led Nessun Dorma theme tune, debutants Republic of Ireland reaching the last eight, newcomers Costa Rica beating Scotland and Sweden to reach the knockout stage – and Cameroon. Roger Milla, officially 38 but with suspicions suggesting he may have been even older, led the way for the Indomitable Lions as they beat holders Argentina in their opening game, with Milla’s corner flag shuffle goal celebration evident as they became the first African nation to reach the quarter-finals. Which is where the dream ended as England, inspired by Paul Gascoigne, booked their first last-four place since 1966. However, the midfielder was remembered for his tears after a booking which would rule him out of the final – which England failed to reach after Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle missed in the semi-final penalty shoot-out against the Germans.
The World Cup came home to the nation of its founder Jules Rimet and the host nation did not disappoint with their first victory, inspired by a brilliant Zinedine Zidane. Expanded to 32 teams, first-time qualifiers South Africa, Japan and Jamaica were present but the first shock was Spain’s exit at the group stage after losing to Nigeria and drawing with Paraguay. In the knockout phase drama unfolded in St Etienne where an epic clash between England and Argentina saw Michael Owen score the goal of the tournament before an equaliser, David Beckham’s sending-off and Sol Campbell’s disallowed goal took the game to penalties – which England inevitably lost. Laurent Blanc scored the first Golden Goal in World Cup history to edge France past Paraguay, then they beat Italy on penalties and surprise package Croatia, who boasted the tournament’s top scorer in Davor Suker. The final against Brazil was dramatic even before kick-off as Ronaldo was omitted from the team only to be reinstated before the start amid rumours of a pre-match seizure. Brazil’s star striker was clearly off colour and Zidane seized his moment with two goals, followed by a third from Emmanuel Petit after Marcel Desailly had been sent off.
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