Ranking The Last 12 World Cup Finals From The Worst To The Best

By Bobby McMahon, the Soccer Trade

The 20th edition of the World Cup Finals will conclude tomorrow with Argentina playing Germany in the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro. We hope for the best but as is often the case with finals we should not be overly surprised if the game does not come up to expectations. Nonetheless, here is my take on the 12 World Cup Finals I have watched over the years from what I consider the worst to the best.

#12. 1990 West Germany 1-0 Argentina

Stadio Olympico, Rome – attendance 73,603

As good as the 1986 final was between the same two countries this was the polar opposite. Perhaps it was fitting – a terrible final for a terrible tournament. Argentina finished with just nine men after two red cards and Germany won the game on a late penalty kick. The penalty kick was controversial but most neutrals were just glad that they did not have to suffer thirty extra time minutes of putrid soccer.

#11. 1994 Brazil 0-0 Italy, Brazil won 3-2 on penalty kick decider

Rose Bowl, Pasadena – attendance 94,914

It was a final that was not representative of some of the splendid attacking soccer that had come before. No goals and limited scoring opportunities only served to add fuel to the fire for anti-soccer enthusiasts in the North American sports media. Italy’s defense was superb with Baresi and Maldini outstanding. Brazil was workman-like but no more although some saw “jogo bonito” where none existed. (Going into the 2014 World Cup we still heard the same “jogo bonito” label which only goes to demonstrate the power of marketing over observation.)

#10. 2002 Brazil 2-0 Germany

International Stadium, Yokohama – attendance 69,209

Amazingly this was the first time that Brazil and Germany had met at a World Cup Final let alone in the last game. Brazil won their second World Cup in three attempts and fifth overall with a straight-forward win over an over-achieving German side. The Brazil side consisted of a goal keeper, five defenders, two aggressive attacking full backs and three brilliant individuals – Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo.

Two second half goals from Ronaldo was the difference in a final that never rose to the occasion. The two goals Germany allowed in the final were twice as many as they had conceded in the other six matches at the competition. Captain Oliver Kahn was splendid in goal for Germany and was a primary reason why they went as far as they did.

#9. 2010 Spain 1-0 Netherlands a.e.t.

Soccer City, Johannesburg – attendance 84,490

Extra time was required for the second successive final. But this time the game was settled without the need for a penalty kick decider. Andres Iniesta scored the only goal with just four minutes remaining. The goal came seven minutes after John Heitinga of the Netherlands was sent off after collecting two yellow cards. Given the beefy and sometimes violent challenges from the Dutch it was surprising that he was the only expulsion. In all 14 yellow cars were given out – 9 to Dutch players and 6 to Spanish players.

#8. 1982 Italy 3-1 West Germany

Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid – attendance 90,000

Italy missed a first half penalty but still went on to win this final handily. The knock out rounds of the tournament had been dominated by the scoring of Paolo Rossi and he was to open the scoring after a scoreless first half. Marco Tardelli scored the second goal for Italy but more remembered is his iconic celebration. By the time Paul Breitner scored Germany’s goal with seven minutes left Italy was already long gone and the overall result was no longer in doubt.

#7. 1998 France 3-0 Brazil

Stade de France, Saint-Denis – attendance 80,000

This was to be the final of Ronaldo but no one told that to Zinedine Zidane who upstaged the Brazilian with two first half goals. A second half red card to France’s Marcel Desailly with a little over 20 minutes left was to make little difference and France added a third goal with only seconds remaining.

The real drama surrounded Ronaldo and a reported seizure that he suffered on the eve of the final. He was in, he was out and finally added again to the starting line up.

#6. 1970 Brazil 4-1 Italy

Azteca Stadium, Mexico Stadium – attendance 107,412

This was a fitting end to a World Cup that Brazil dominated from the start. After Brazil had taken an early lead most expected it to be one-way traffic for the rest of the game. Surprisingly Italy equalized through Boninsegna and at half time the score remained 1-1. But Italy could not withstand a Brazil onslaught over the final quarter of the match. The fourth goal was the equivalent of the 11 o’clock number for a stage musical. So exquisite it its creation and execution it is burnt into the memory of all who were so fortunate to have ever seen it.

#5. 1978 Argentina 3-1 Netherlands a.e.t.

Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires – attendance 71,483

This was to be a final won in extra time by Argentina but it could have turned out so differently. Argentina looked set to win in regulation time only to have the width of a post be the difference between losing in regulation time and the game going to extra time. Argentina led at half time from a Mario Kempes goal but substitute Dick Nanninga equalized with eight minutes left in regulation time. With seconds remaining Rob Rensenbrink poked a shot towards the Argentina goal only to see it rebound from the post. Another goal from Kempes in extra time and one from winger Daniel Bertoni would stymie the Dutch and give Argentina their first ever World Cup.

#4. 2006 Italy 1-1 France, Italy won 5-3 on penalty kick decider

Olympiastadion, Berlin – attendance 69,000

France took the lead from the penalty spot through Zinedine Zidane only for Italy’s Marco Materazzi to equalize before twenty minutes were on the clock. Little did we know at the time that these two players were about to be involved in one of the most controversial moments in the history of sport let alone the World Cup.

Both teams traded good chances in regulation time and into extra time. Then with ten minutes remaining in extra time there came the head butt felt around the world.

The world was still trying to make sense of Zidane’s action when extra time finished and a penalty kick decider ensued. France’s David Trezuguet hit the cross bar with a thunderous drive but the came out rather than going in and he was the one player to miss in the shoot out. Trezuguet missed the second penalty for France while who else but Materazzi would be the one to score for Italy.

#3. 1974 West Germany 2-1 Netherlands

Olympiastadion, Munich – attendance 75,200

The Dutch went into this game as the stars of the tournament while West Germany seemed to have spent much of the competition playing with the hand-brake on. The final started sensationally with referee Jack Taylor awarding the Dutch a penalty on the first attack of the match and before a German player had touched the ball. (It was the first penalty ever awarded in a World Cup final.) The penalty kick was successful but many thought that in retrospect it worked against the Dutch. West Germany equalized half way through the first half and Gerd Mueller scored what was to be the winner just before half time.

#2. 1986 Argentina 3-2 West Germany

Azteca Stadium, Mexico City – attendance 114,600

Underestimate Germany at your peril although Argentina was able to survive a two-goal fight back by Germany and still score the winning goal. Germany looked to be buried at 2-0 down with sixteen minutes remaining but a goal by Karl-Heinze Rummenigge offered some hope and six minutes later substitute Rudi Völler equalized. But as the crowd steeled themselves for extra time a charging Burruchaga was sent through by a pass from Diego Maradona and Argentina was on its way to a second World Cup in three tournaments.

#1. 1966 England 4-2 West Germany a.e.t.

Wembley Stadium, London – attendance 96,924

This one had a piece of just about everything. There were goals aplenty, the lead was exchanged, Germany scored with the last touch in normal time and there was an unprecedented controversy over whether England’s third and ultimately the winning goal crossed the line or not. To this day there has been no compelling evidence either way although Germans and the Scots will tell you without hesitancy that all the ball did not cross the goal line!
Where will tomorrow’s final slot in amongst these 12 finals? Here’s hoping that 13 proves lucky and we get a final that represents what has been in my opinion the best World Cup ever.

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