On Sunday, the United States plays Japan in the final of the Women's World Cup. Believe it or not-this is a big deal. Soccer-or futbol as it is known to the rest of the world-has made a serious emergence as of late in the US, with larger-than-ever crowds gathering to watch MLS games, and ever-increasing TV ratings for broadcast games. The men's team which lost in the round of 16 last year had 3 times as many viewers per match as in 2002, when they reached the quarter finals.
I nearly shit my pants when this happened.
The US Women's team is actually ranked 1st in the World, whereas the men's team is ranked 24th. They won the cup in 1999, and again is 2003. They also have won gold at 3 of the last 4 summer olympics. But back then, no one beyond the most ardent fans seemed to care. But with the growing interest in the states for soccer, a win here would do wonders for bringing soccer into the same conversation as football (US) and baseball.
But I wouldn't be writing this if it wasn't for a match that took place last Sunday, the 10th. A spectacular quarterfinal match against powerhouse Brazil, that sports fans immediately praised as a classic American sporting event. So to commemorate this, and to tide you over until Sunday's match, here are my personal top 5 soccer matches of all time.
One thing I should say-I have been watching soccer since 1998. My father is from Italy, so I mostly follow Serie A, and I cheer for the Azzuri, yes even over the US. I have personally watched many historic matches on BBC and other soccer broadcast networks, and some of those will be listed here. I will not list any match that I have not personally watched in full, so I may leave out a few that are considered 'classics'. For this reason, most of them are World Cup games. Also, I have obvious bias towards Italian sides, so bear that in mind.
10. 1974 World Cup Final, West Germany 2-Holland 1
When the other team scores before you even touch the ball, that is supposed to take all the wind out of your sails. The scorer, Johan Cruyff, widely regarded as one of the game's greatest ever, ran wildly through the German defense to draw a penalty kick, which was converted beautifully by teammate Johan Neeskens.
After that, the German defense swallowed up any further scoring chances. A penalty kick by Breitner tied the game, and in the 47th minute, Gerd Muller, the German Cruyff, scored to take the lead. They would hold on to win their second cup.
9. 2000 European Cup Final, France 2-Italy 1
France, two years after their victory in the World Cup final over Brazil, crushes the hopes of Azurri fans worldwide. It did not help that Italy had fallen to France in the semifinals of the '98 tournament, nor that they hadn't beaten the French in 16 years.
Italy scored in the 54th minute to take the lead, only for France to score during injury time. For those who don't know, injury time is extra time the ref adds onto the end of a half. This is done because while the clock never stops, there are occasional play stoppages. The ref keeps track, then adds the time on to the end. Basically, France tied the game using the time Italy had given them when they stopped play to celebrate their first goal. France scored the Golden goal in the extra time, the last time sudden death was used in a Cup match.
But karma's a bitch, eh Zidane?
8. 1982 World Cup Semifinal, West Germany 3-France 3 (5-4 on penalties)
This was rough. Germany was the evil powerhouse, and the favorite to win of the four teams left. They were rough, tough, and far and away the most talented. But along came France, the plucky little bastards who had scraped their way to the semis. The Germans were a daunting, angry Goliath. But France managed to tie the game late, and survived one of their best players being knocked out by a vicious tackle. They even took an early 3-1 lead several minutes into extra time.
But Germany would storm back. Scoring the tying goal with just 3 minutes left, the extra time ended with a tied score of 3-3. In the past, tied games during knockout rounds were simply replayed three days later, but several years prior FIFA had decided to switch to penalties. This was the first game where they would be needed, and Germany slipped by 5-4.
7. 1986 World Cup Quarterfinal, Brazil 1-France 1 (3-4 on penalties)
France would ultimately recover from the previous cup's semi loss, with an earth-shattering win over Brazil in the '86 Quarters. Brazil was also still smoldering over '82, but we'll get to that later. All you need to know is that both teams were gunning for redemption, and both fielded immensely impressive players. Brazil had Zico (the 'white Pele'), while France had Platini.
The teams went back and forth, both missing an empty net at one point, and a total of 7 shots went off the crossbar/posts. Right before the game went to Penalties, Zico made a brilliant run to draw the PK. But a diving Joel Bats saved the shot, one of the most memorable saves in the Cup's history.
After failing 5-4 in the first ever cup game decided on penalties, France would win this one 4-3. The nightmares of '82 were put to rest...and then they lost to Germany 0-2 in the semi.
6. 2011 Women's World Cup Quarterfinals, USA 2-Brazil 2 (5-3 on penalties)
Aw c'mon, you KNEW this would be on here. I;ve already mentioned the significance of this World Cup in making soccer the phenomenon in the US that it is in the rest of the world, but the game itself was fucking unreal.
Brazil, as usual, enter with some serious skill. Most analysts had either them or the US as their favorite to win ( a few had Germany). Either way, the match was sure to be exciting. It didn't disappoint.
Scoring 2' in, the US faced the daunting task of trying to protect a one goal lead for 88 minutes. They did a remarkable job of it, and Brazil only equalized when Marta converted a PK in the 66th min. And ONLY after Solo's save was undone by a terrible call. In extra time, Marta scored again to take the lead. But once again, injury time saves the day.
At the 122 min, Wambach converted a magnificent header off a desperation pass, tying the game and forcing penalties. The US would make all five, and Solo would make a diving save, giving the US the win, and ending one of the most exciting soccer matches I have ever seen.
5. 1999 UEFA Champions Cup Final, Manchester United 2-Bayern Munich 1
By far one of the most dramatic endings ever to a soccer match. Munich scored 6 minutes in, and proceeded to defend masterfully against the powerful ManU offense for the remaining 84'. But remember injury time? The ref decided on 3 minutes, 3 minutes for Manchester to try an equalize.
They did even better. Thirty seconds in, ManU scored off of a corner kick, with two players (one of them German by nationality) tipped the ball to knock it in. Less than a minute later, a second corner kick yielded a second-winning-goal. Manchester, trailing for most of the match, scored twice IN INJURY TIME.
ManU completed the Treble, an enormous feat for club soccer, done by winning three different championships in a single season. IN INJURY TIME. If it wasn' for the fact that the majority of the match was an absolute fucking BORE, it might be number 1.
4. 2006 World Cup Semi Final, Italy 2-Germany 0
The only reason Italy-Germany isn't considered a rivalry is because one side totally dominates it. In friendlies Italy holds a serious edge, having not lost since 1994. In the Euro Cup, the have a record of 5-2-1 (W-D-L). And in the World Cup, they are 6-0. That's right, Italy has NEVER lost to Germany in the World cup.
But 2006 was payback. Germany was the host nation. They were still nursing over a 3-2 loss to Brazil in the 2002 Final. They were considered one of the three best teams going into the Cup, and the group stage made them appear unstoppable, with several clear victories. Italy on the other hand, was considered old, slow, and were lucky to even be in the semis.
To top it all off, Germany had NEVER lost an international match, cup or friendly, in the stadium the game was played in. German fans made up approximately 80% of the crowd.
Germany attacked relentlessly, outshooting the Italians 27-12 in regular time, though they failed to capitalize. The match went into extra time. Both teams had shots go off the crossbar in the et., but this one seemed destined for penalties. But, in the 119th minute, one minute left to play (+2 min inj. time), Italy scored not one, but two goals.
Friends, I was at that game. My dad's brother scored tickets, and the rich SOB flew us out to go with him. The moment Grossi scored the winner, the 100,000+ crowd went SILENT. Save for about 20K of us, who one week later, would celebrate again. But in retrospect, this is the game that made the tournament for me.
3. 1970 World Cup Semi Final, Italy 4, Germany 3
Oh injury time, you just love being the hero don't you? This was the game that started Italy and Germany's "rivalry that's not a rivalry". Germany was still angry over their controversial 4-2 loss in the previous Cup's final to England. Italy had not made a serious showing at a World Cup in several attempts, and hadn't won since 1938. But both entered with powerful squads, loaded both offensively and defensively.
Italy scored in the sixth minute, and went on to turn away attack after attack by the Germans. But then, in the 91st minute...well, you can guess. Yeah, they went to extra time.
But what happened next was simply surreal. You see, the higher the level of soccer, the lower scoring the games (generally). 5 goals is an enormous amount for a game, but five goals in 21 minutes is ridiculous. Gerd Muller would twice give Germany the lead in the extra time, and twice Italy would tie it. Then, in the 112th minute, Rivera scored for the Azurri, to give them the lead for good. Today, the match is known throughout the soccer world as "the Game of the Century".
Italy was completely gassed, and unfortunately could not compete in the final, losing 4-1 against Brazil. It should be noted however that, regardless of how tired the Italians were, the 1970 Brazil team are considered the greatest football team ever to play.
2. 2005 UEFA Champions Cup Final, Liverpool 3-AC Milan 3 (3-2 on penalties)
I'm an Inter fan. So it goes without saying that I hate Milan. And because club soccer has almost zero nationality-related loyalty, I felt no need to cheer for them in the UEFA Final. Even more so, they were playing Liverpool, who my close friend loves with all her heart. So it was easy to decide who to root for.
Unfortunately, Milan scored less than a minute in, and added 2 more before halftime. But in the second half, Liverpool bounced back, with 3 miraculous goals in six minutes. It was truly unbelievable to watch, especially considering how one of them JUST barely curved into the goal at the last second, and the other two were JUST out of the goalkeeper's hands.
Extra time was exciting, as neither team really had quality placekickers, so neither wanted it to go to penalties. Three shots went off the crossbar, and Milan's goalie made an unbelievable save even I had to admit was impressive. Despite the team's best efforts however, it went to PKs. It was ugly, but Liverpool pulled it out 3-2 with a save on Milan's last shot. The game' known as the "Miracle in Istanbul", was the greatest club match I have ever seen.
in 2007, the teams met again in the final, but with Milan winning 2-1. However, this time I was rooting for Milan, because Serie A needed the win to keep their place in the World Club Rankings. So between these two games, I got the best of both.
So what was number 1?
Well...I did say I had some bias, but look around the web and you'll find most people agree with me:
1. 1982 World Cup Group Knockout Stage, Italy 3-Brazil 2
Remember when I said Brazil's 1970 team is considered the best ever? Well, their '82 game was even better. Sure, they had Pele in 1970, but he was getting old. In '82, Zico was in his prime, and currently the best player in the world. Their other players were also great, including stars such as Leandro, Junior, and Socrates, all in their prime. In their first 4 games, they scored 13 goals, allowing 2.
Italy on the other hand, was a mess. Goalkeeper Dino Zoff, at age 40, was only on the team because there wasn't anyone better. He had been a Top 10 all time several years prior, but now was much slower. Their best player, Paulo Rossi, was coming off a two-year suspension for gambling, and had yet to score in this cup. In the first group stage, Italy drew all three games, advancing only on goals scored.
Back then, there was no Quarterfinals, but a knockout group stage. Four groups of three, the best in each advances to the semis. Italy got stuck with Brazil and Argentina, who had won the cup 4 years prior, and returned most of that squad (including superstar Maradona). A surprising victory over the Argentinians did not help, and they went into the match against Brazil needing a win. Brazil needed only tie to advance.
Rossi (ITA) scores in 5'. Socrates (BRA) scores in 12'. Rossi (ITA) in 25'. Falcao (BRA) in 68'.
Every time Rossi scored, Brazil would answer. In the 74th minute, he scored a third time, completing the hat-trick, and giving Italy their third lead. That's all anyone seems to remember however. Lost to history are three miraculous saves by Zoff, two of them with less than five minutes to play. Despite their skill and best efforts, Brazil failed to equalize. Italy advanced with a 3-2 win.
In the Semis, they defeated Poland 2-0. In that game, Rossi scored both goals. Finally, remember the #8 game on this list? Germany over France in '82? Yeah. Another Germany-Italy matchup. Guess how that ended? BTW-Rossi scored again.
Rossi won both the Golden Ball (best player) and Golden Boot (Most goals-6) as Italy won their third World Cup. Dino Zoff is still the oldest player to ever win a World Cup. But none of it would have happened were it not for the greatest soccer match of all time.