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Top ten most memorable World Cup semi-finals

On Tuesday, the 2022 World Cup semi-finals get underway with Argentina taking on Croatia at Lusail Iconic Stadium before, 24 hours later, France face surprise-package Morocco in Al Khor.

Ahead of these huge matches, we’re looking back at the ten most memorable World Cup semi-finals of all-time.

10) Uruguay 2-3 Netherlands: 2010

Back in 2010, Uruguay and Netherlands played out a five-goal thriller in Cape Town, with Holland prevailing 3-2.

This game is most widely remembered for the opening goal, an astonishing long-range strike from Dutch captain and left-back Giovanni van Bronckhorst.

Diego Forlán did equalise on the cusp of half time, one of five goals he scored in South Africa, earning the Golden Ball award.

Nevertheless, quick-fire goals in the second 45 from Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben ensured it was Netherlands who advanced.

9) Argentina 2-0 Belgium: 1986

This semi-final from 1986 is historic thanks to one man and one man only: Diego Armando Maradona.

Argentina’s talisman scored twice at Estadio Azteca, taking his tally to five for the tournament, as his team saw off first-team semi-finalists Belgium.

Three days earlier, Maradona had put in the most infamous performance of his career, also netting twice against England, one known as ‘the hand of god’, while the other is referred to as ‘the goal of the century’.

Maradona’s display in the semi-final will live on forever, thanks simply to the iconic image (see above) of six Belgian defenders attempting to stop him, even if the picture has been taken out of its wider context.

8) West Germany 1-1 England: 1990

Italia ‘90 is the lowest-scoring World Cup of all time, standing at a measly 2.21 goals per game.

The final is widely-regarded as the lowest-quality World Cup Final of all-time, but this semi between old foes West Germany and England certainly makes up for that.

Andreas Brehme broke the deadlock thanks to a deflected free-kick, before Gary Lineker equalised late on, thereby forcing extra time and penalties.

It ultimately ended in heartbreak for England, with Stuart Pearce seeing his effort saved by Bodo Illgner, before Chris Waddle skied his spot-kick miles over the bar.

This meant that, bizarrely, both semi-finals had ended 1-1, with the victors advancing 4-3 on penalties.

In fact, both Argentina and West Germany had scored all four of their spot-kicks, while Italy and England had also converted their first three, before missing their last two.

7: Netherlands 2-0 Brazil: 1974

Straight off the bat, this technically isn’t a semi-final as, back in 1974, there was a second group phase; the group winners reached the final, while the runners-up featured in the third-place play-off.

Nevertheless, it was a semi-final in all but name, with Argentina and Netherlands having both beaten East Germany and Argentina in Group A.

Brazil were favourites to prevail, given that they’d claimed three of the last four World Cups, including the most-recent edition.

Netherlands though were the neutral’s favourites.

Oranje were making their first appearance at the tournament for 36 years, dazzling the watching world, thanks Rinus Michels’ brand of total football, as well as superstars like Johan Cruyff.

Holland prevailed 2-0 in Dortmund, thanks to superb finishes from Johan Neeskens and then captain Cryuff.

The Dutch were beaten in the final by hosts West Germany, but it was at this tournament they announced themselves as a force, with this no more so the case than here, knocking out the reigning champions.

6) Italy 1-2 Netherlands: 1978

Fast forward four summers, and the Netherlands are desperate for World Cup glory this time, having narrowly missed out in Munich.

Once again, this match took place in a second group stage and, given their goal difference, a draw was enough for Netherlands, although they didn’t know that.

Oranje would reach the final with a point if West Germany didn’t win simultaneously; the reigning champions were surprisingly beaten 3-2 by Austria in the Miracle of Córdoba.

Meantime, in Buenos Aires, the Dutch came from a goal down to defeat Italy.

Ernie Brandts’ early own goal gave Gli Azzurri the lead; while attempting to tackle Roberto Bettega, Brandts inadvertently fired the ball, at a serious velocity, into his own net.

Brandts did make amends, scoring a spectacular equaliser just after the break, before Holland won it thanks to an even more astonishing long-range strike.

This came courtesy of Arie Haan who, from all of 35 yards, lashed the ball towards Dino Zoff, with it flying in off the post.

Once again, Netherlands were to suffer final heartbreak, but this certainly goes down as one of the best wins and best goals of their stories history.

5) Brazil 5-2 France: 1958

Brazil’s semi-final clash with France from 1958 was the day Pelé really announced himself to the world.

In the quarter-final, a then unknown teenager had volleyed home the winner as Brazil ousted debutants Wales in Göteborg.

In this clash in Solna, Vavá broke the deadlock after less than two minutes, only for Just Fontaine to equalise shortly after.

Astonishingly, this was one of 13 goals Fontaine netted in Sweden, by far the most any man has ever netted at a single edition.

Didi resorted Brazil’s lead, before it turned into the Pelé show, with the 18 year old bagging a 23 minute hat-trick, one of seven he managed in a Seleção shirt, and his only at the World Cup.

Pelé also scored twice in the final, but this is arguably his greatest-ever display at a World Cup.

4) Italy 4-3 West Germany: 1970

The 1970 semi-final between Italy and West Germany is commonly referred to as the ‘game of the century’ and, looking back, it’s easy to see why.

Gli Azzurri were set to comfortably reach the final with a 1-0 win, only for Karl-Heinz Schnellinger to equalise deep into stoppage time.

Perhaps this game should be rebranded as ‘extra time of the century’ because the additional half hour produced no fewer than five goals, coming in a 17 minute spree.

Gerd Müller made it 3-3 but, while replays of his goal were being shown on television, Gianni Rivera was up the other end restoring Italy’s lead, sending them into the final after all.

3) Germany 0-2 Italy: 2006

This 2006 clash between hosts Germany and Italy was a tense affair to say the least.

The game remained goalless going into the dying embers, with everyone subconsciously on and off the pitch preparing for penalties.

But then, in the final minute of extra time, Andrea Pirlo’s impudent pass picked out Fabio Grosso, who curled home the winner.

As Germany push for an equaliser, Gli Azzurri broke up the other end, and Alessandro Del Piero’s made it two with the last kick of the night.

Understandably, this sparks wild celebrations amongst the Italian players, while the Germans collapsed to their knees, simply shellshocked by what had just transpired.

2) West Germany 3-3 France: 1982

The 1982 semi-final between West Germany and France featured six goals and the World Cup’s first-ever penalty shootout, which the Germans won 5-4 in sudden-death.

Four of the goals were scored in extra time, with les Bleus leading 3-1 at one point, only for Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and then Klaus Fischer to force spot-kicks.

However, this game isn’t famous for any of those reasons; it’s remembered for one of the most brutal ‘tackles’ in football history.

As Patrick Battiston raced through, he poked the ball towards goal and, as it trickles wide, is whipped out by goalkeeper Harald Schumacher.

Battiston is knocked unconscious and suffered two missing teeth, three cracked ribs, and damaged vertebrae.

Amazingly, no foul was given and Schumacher simply waited for the out-cold Battiston to be stretchered off before lumping the goal-kick up-field.

1) Brazil 1-7 Germany: 2014

It’s 8 July 2014, and the world is ready for an epic semi-final between hosts Brazil and Germany.

Billions of people tuned in to watch this one, but simply no one could’ve predicted what was about to transpire.

Germany scored five times in 19 first half minutes, with Miroslav Klose becoming the World Cup’s leading goalscorer of all-time in the midst of the chaos.

Joachim Löw’s side eased off in the second half, but still ran out 7-1 winners.

This was Brazil’s heaviest defeat for 94 years, the biggest loss suffered by a World Cup host and will always be the ultimate embarrassment on home soil.

In terms of humiliation, it was said the Maracanaço of 1950 could never be topped; those people were wrong.


Picture of Ben Gray

Ben Gray

Arsenal fan – follow them over land and sea (and Leicester); sofa Celtic supporter; a bit of a football '"encyclopedia".

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