There are many reasons why the World Cup is so popular, and the final in particular. It’s the biggest game in soccer and has people from every corner of the world watching; there’s no other sporting event on earth that comes close to a World Cup final.
After the 32 teams have been whittled down to just two finalists, all eyes are on the two nations, and fans from all over the world tune in to watch the greatest international soccer game of the year.
A World Cup final only happens once every four years, so it’s a special event. And after a month of soccer, everything has been building up to one final game to decide which nation will emerge as the world champions. For the fans of those nations who make it to the final, it’s the most exciting sporting event of their lives.
It’s also the most terrifying; to have made it to the final and go on to lose is a crushing experience that’s hard to forget.
A part of the appeal of a World Cup final is that it gets relived; every time a World Cup year comes around, we start to remember the great finals of the past.
Perhaps Qatar 2022 will bring its own surprise winner or put on a final that’s worthy of some of the great finals of yesteryear.
Before we find out, let’s look back at seven of the best World Cup finals ever.
7. West Germany 3 – 2 Hungary – 1954 World Cup Final
Hungarian soccer of the 1940s and 1950s was the best in the world; known as the “Mighty Magyars,” the Hungarian national team had been carving teams apart for years. In the run-up to the 1954 World Cup, the team hadn’t lost a competitive game in four years.
Using a formation and tactics that baffled their opponents, Hungary made their way to the final with relative ease and was expected to beat West Germany comfortably in the final.
Having already conquered the Germans in the group stages, Hungary took a very early two-goal lead, and the game looked over.
West Germany, however, had other ideas; two quickfire goals before the game was 20 minutes old, and the score was 2-2.
The stalemate continued until the 84th minute of the game when West Germany Winger Helmut Rahn scored his second and what proved to be the winning goal.
It was a shock of epic proportions; Hungary was a far superior side and had better players, tactics, and preparation.
The result should have been a foregone conclusion; with world-class striker Ferenc Puskas leading the line Hungary looked unbeatable. And they were, right up until they were beaten in the final of the 1954 World Cup.
6. Brazil 0 – 3 France – 1998 World Cup Final
Being the host nation of a World Cup tournament is a tremendous honor and a massive boost to a country’s economy and prestige.
It has many benefits, including fans cheering on their home nation on home soil. The problem is the pressure can become insane on a squad of players. Knowing millions of fans are desperate to win can make it even harder.
So when France made it to the World Cup Final in 1998 on home soil, expectations were high. Their opponents, Brazil, were the clear favorites for the final and had the best striker on earth leading the line. Ronaldo had been superb throughout the tournament and looked set to lift the World Cup.
Sadly for Ronaldo and Brazil, the player suffered a serious breakdown just before the final and was rushed to hospital after having convulsive fits.
The pre-game teamsheet naturally omitted Ronaldo from it, given his terrifying ordeal, but less than 90 minutes before kick-off, the teamsheet was amended, and Ronaldo’s name was put back on.
In what has to go down as one of the worst decisions ever made in soccer, the shell-shocked, sick, and clearly confused Ronaldo ended up playing the game in a daze.
His teammates, too, seemed lost and shocked, probably due to seeing their young friend having convulsive fits mere hours earlier.
France would go on to dominate and quickly sweep Brazil in what would end up a 3-0 rout. French playmaker Zinedine Zidane would score two of France’s goals. France had won their first World Cup, and the nation was ecstatic; Paris was a sea of blue. Brazil went home empty-handed.
5. Brazil 2 – 0 Germany – 2002 World Cup Final
It’s fitting that the next game on our list should be the World Cup that followed the 1998 debacle; Brazil had made it to two finals in a row, but things would be very different this year.
Ronaldo would again be at the center of everything Brazil did throughout the tournament, having hardly played a game in the previous two years.
A severe injury had kept the mercurial Brazilian from playing for club or country for almost 24 months, but the striker had recovered enough to make the squad for the World Cup. Expectations were low; Ronaldo was unfit and out of practice, and there were several stronger teams at that year’s tournament.
No one, it seems, mentioned this to Ronaldo, who would finish as the top scorer at the 2002 World Cup and almost dragged Brazil to the final, where they would play Germany for the trophy.
A cagey first half saw the two nations play out a goalless draw, but Ronaldo would soon turn on the offensive in the second half.
Ronaldo’s two goals in under ten minutes would see the Brazilians emerge with a 2-0 win, making the 2002 World Cup the nation’s fifth victory.
The tournament is now irrevocably tied to Ronaldo; it was his tournament. Brazil shouldn’t have won, couldn’t have won, had it not been for the best striker of that generation hitting form at just the right time.
4. Argentina 3 – 2 Germany – 1986 World Cup Final
An incredible 114,600 fans were in the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City to witness one of the greatest World Cup finals of all time. Two powerhouses of international soccer, Germany and Argentina, battled it out for the most important game in world soccer.
After Argentina had made it past England thanks to two of the most surreal goals ever seen at a World Cup, one a blatant handball, the other a moment of genius, Argentina had high hopes that Maradona would lead them to victory.
Germany, too, felt that they had a real claim on being favorites, and the game would prove to be one of the best of the 1986 World Cup.
After powering into a 2-0 lead, Argentina looked set for an easy victory, but Germany isn’t known for rolling over when it comes to soccer and would pull the game back to 2-2 after 81 minutes.
With the game finely poised, many expected the teams to tighten up and hold out for extra time, but a mere three minutes after Germany’s equalizer, Burruchaga scored for Argentina and broke German hearts.
An incredible game, the 1986 World Cup final was end to end for the full 90 minutes in incredible heat and humidity.
3. England 2 – 2 Germany (4-2 aet) – 1966 World Cup Final
With home advantage and an excellent squad, England had gone into the 1966 tournament with high hopes.
A shaky start was soon forgotten as the England team made their way to a final against West Germany at Wembley Stadium in front of a partisan home crowd.
The first and only World Cup final that England has ever participated in, the 1966 final against West Germany was an incredible game.
Germany had a strong team, and their young, energetic sweeper, Franz Beckenbauer, was one of the standout players at the tournament. Both teams expected to win, and both sets of fans were in for a treat.
After an excellent first half, in which both teams scored one goal, England took a 78th-minute lead and looked set for their first World Cup victory.
An 89th-minute equalizer by West Germany cruelly robbed England of the win, and the game went into 30 minutes of extra time. With the game finely balanced, it could have gone either way.
England’s fans were roaring on their players, and in the 101st minute Geoff Hurst, England’s striker, scored to turn the tie in favor of the home team. In the dying seconds of extra time, fans began to pour onto the pitch, leading to the now world-famous commentary by Kenneth Wolstenholme.
As Hurst powered down the field with the ball, and fans began invading the pitch, Wolstenholme’s immortal line, “And here comes Hurst. He’s got… some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over. It is now! It’s four!” sealed what would become one of the most famous World Cup victories of all time.
2. Italy 1 – 1 France (5-3 p.) – 2006 World Cup Final
One of the most bad-tempered and entertaining finals in World Cup history, the final of the tournament, a battle between France and Italy, will forever be remembered as the Zidane final.
Voted the overall best player at that year’s competition, Zidane was majestic throughout, helping his nation to get past Spain, Brazil, and Portugal, before meeting Italy in the Final.
Despite a slightly easier run to the final, Italy still had a superb squad and was well used to grinding out results. An even game was expected, and both teams were wary of over-committing.
A Marco Materazzi goal canceled out an early Zidane penalty, and the rest of normal time was played out with no further goals.
In extra time, and with Zidane pulling the strings for France, the game looked like it could go either way. At this point, everything went wrong for France, as Zidane suddenly got a red card for headbutting Italian defender Materazzi. It was one of the worst and most blatant fouls ever seen at a World Cup.
Whatever the Italian had said to try and goad the fiery Frenchman had clearly worked because seconds later, Zidane was seen walking past the World Cup trophy, head down, as he was evicted from the game.
France had lost their best player and, perhaps more importantly, one of the best penalty-takers in history.
Italy would go on to lift the World Cup after winning 5-3 on penalties, and another superb tournament would close with a bang. An excellent game, but often remembered for Zidane’s antics in extra time, the 2006 World Cup was certainly memorable.
1. Brazil 4 – 1 Italy – 1970 World Cup Final
The 1970 World Cup tournament in Mexico was one of the greatest advertisements for soccer that we’ve ever seen.
It had more goals than any other tournament, the most incredible national team of all time lifted the trophy, and the World Cup was broadcast worldwide in color for the first time.
Brazil would lift the trophy for the third time in their history playing the kind of soccer we still drool over 52 years later.
In a somewhat one-sided final, though that’s unfair to an excellent Italian team that had played superbly throughout the tournament, Brazil was on a different level.
With a team of stars at their disposal, Brazil was practically unstoppable; Brazil had Pele, Jairzinho, Tostao, Rivelino, and legendary captain, Carlos Alberto, to name but a few.
On a blazingly hot and sunny day, the Brazilian team put on an attacking display that was truly awesome, and the final of the 1970 World Cup was never in doubt.
Scoring some of the most creative and beautiful goals ever seen, the 1970 tournament was a great advertisement for soccer. And, thanks to the final being shown worldwide for the first time, hundreds of millions of fans saw the most outstanding final of all time in their own homes.
If you do one thing before the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, watch the goals from the 1970 final; you’ll not see better.