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FIFA World Cup Final 2018: France vs Croatia Tactical Preview

World Cup Finals That Didn’t Bore Us to Tears

World Cup finals aren’t known for their excitement. In the 30+ years before France and Croatia’s 2018 goalfest, there had been a pitiful average of 1.42 goals a final – a shockingly low figure for ‘the greatest footballing spectacle on the planet’.

Every now and then, though, one comes along that restores our faith in the beautiful game. A final that has everything: goals, passion and glory. A final that we talk about for years to come, maybe even tell the grandkids about.

Here are some of those:

Brazil 5 Sweden 2 – 1958

Apart from having arguably the greatest player in history make his World Cup final debut, this game will be remembered, alongside Pelé, for its record-breaking feats.

It’s still the final with the most goals in history, as well as having both the youngest and oldest scorers: Pelé (17) and Liedholm (35) respectively. It was a match that shone with the wonderful playing style of the Brazilians, and the teenage Pelé personified that, with his elegant brilliance.

Following up on his four goals in the previous two games, the Samba wizard dominated the final, pitching in with two wonderful goals, and helping his team to an emotional victory.

The Brazilian went on to dominate the game for the next two decades, setting new boundaries of footballing talent. This final is remembered for the birth of a true legend.

England 4 West Germany 2 – 1966

Mention 1966 to any England fan and they’ll only have one thing on their mind – captain Bobby Moore held aloft on his teammates’ shoulders lifting the sparkling trophy high into the air.

The final before that was iconic, too. Germany opened the scoring after 12 minutes but Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters both netted to put England in pole position right up until the last minute. That was when the Wembley crowd were stunned to see Wolfgang Weber equalise and send the game into extra-time.

This was when a great game turned into one of the most famous of all time, in controversial circumstances. That man Hurst crashed a shot off the underside of the bar and just over the line – or did he? Multiple replays were inconclusive and, without goal-line technology, nobody truly knows even to this day.

It doesn’t matter too much, though, as Hurst scored another to complete his hat-trick just before the final whistle, leading to a dramatic pitch invasion by the English fans.

Argentina 3 Netherlands 1 – 1978

The 70s was a decade of heroic failure for the Dutch. Despite being the purveyors of Total Football, inspired by the legendary Johan Cruyff, they couldn’t quite pull off a tournament success.

1978 saw them reach their second consecutive World Cup final, as they attempted to exorcise their demons of four years earlier. Things didn’t start well for them as the host nation took the lead, but, when Dick Nanninga rose to head home an equaliser before the end, the Dutch started to dream.

In the end, it was a matter of inches that deprived them. Rod Resenbrink isn’t remembered widely outside of the Netherlands, but had his shot found the net instead of the post in the last minute, then he would have gone down in Dutch folklore.

Alas, it wasn’t to be, and Argentina completed a famous win that the 71,000 fans in Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires, celebrated long into the night.

Argentina 3 West Germany 2 – 1986

The 1986 tournament will always be remembered for the genius, and gamesmanship, of Diego Maradona – the Hand of God against England being one of the most notorious ‘goals’ in history.

His side took on another of England’s old adversaries, West Germany, in the final and this time Maradona only played a small part in the three goals they scored – but it was still a moment of sublime vision.

With the score level at 2-2, El Diego split the defence with an inch-perfect pass to teammate Burruchaga, who finished with style to win the game, and the tournament, for his team.

It was the perfect end to an exhilarating match in Mexico City, which saw the Germans fight back from two goals down. Their incredible efforts were not quite enough, though, for the Argentinians and their genius talisman, who scooped up the Golden Boot to put the cherry on the cake.

Brazil 2 Germany 0 – 2002

Taking place in the howling surrounds of the International Stadium in Yokohama, the atmosphere was buzzing before a ball was even kicked in this game. And it was one man who was responsible for turning it electric – Ronaldo.

A lot is said about his namesake Cristiano being one of the greatest footballers ever, but the Brazilian version was dynamite. After scoring six goals in the run-up to the final, he bagged the Golden Boot with a further two on the biggest occasion of all.

As for the Germans, Dietmar Hamann was an interesting footballer. In an unusual career that included the high of winning the Champions League with Liverpool, and lows such as receiving help for problem gambling, he was also responsible for giving away the ball that led to a goal a World Cup final.

It was that man again, Ronaldo, who took it off him, exchanging passes with Rivaldo, before firing it in from close range after the ‘keeper spilled his initial shot.

The game was wrapped up when Ronaldo slammed in a second from the edge of the area, ensuring that this final would be remembered showcasing for a true superstar at the peak of his powers.

Italy 1 France 1 – 2006

While this match was an intriguing game of football between two technically gifted sides, the occasion will always be remembered for a moment of madness from one of the game’s greatest ever players.

After slotting home a penalty early on, Zinedine Zidane looked to be guiding his French side to success in Berlin. His opponent Marco Materazzi had something to say about that, however, when he rose to head in an equaliser shortly after.

This spurred France on, with them hitting the woodwork and having a goal ruled out for offside; but nobody was quite prepared for what would happen in extra time. With passions running high, the two goalscorers clashed angrily. Words were exchanged, and then, without warning, Zidane crashed his head into Materazzi’s chest.

The 69,000 present were stunned, as was the rest of the world. As Zidane trudged off, his country’s hopes of glory went with him, and the Italians went on to win the final on penalties.