15 most shocking and exhilarating moments in World Cup history

7 mins
shocking world cup moments

Tears, incredible goals, legendary players and even a bit of drama. Are you ready to relive the most shocking moments in the history of the World Cup?

[Be sure to catch all the action, goals, and drama with free, secure 2022 World Cup live streams when you watch with ExpressVPN!]

1. Brazil 1-7 Germany (2014)

Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup and entered the tournament as 3-1 favorites, and along with Germany both countries came into the semi-final match with undefeated records.. So no one could have predicted the incredible thrashing by the Germans, who overtook Brazil as the highest scoring team in World Cup history and went on to win their fourth World Cup.

2. Baggio’s penalty miss (1994)

In the 1994 World Cup final against Brazil, Italian superstar Roberto Baggio and the Azzurri fell to Brazil 3-2 in penalty kicks after playing to a 0-0 draw in regulation. Baggio, also known as the “Divine Ponytail,” missed a kick in what has become a moment of national sadness. Baggio played his last international for Italy in 2004, two years before they achieved World Cup glory with a stunning win over France.

3. The Hand of God (1986)

Diego Maradona: beloved, controversial, the genius of football, el pibe de oro… And all of this is perfectly encapsulated by the goal he scored in the quarterfinal against England at the Mexico World Cup in 1986. Maradona scored the first goal, everyone cheered, but… he would later admit that the goal was scored “a little with the head of Maradona, and a little with the hand of God.” Argentina would go on to defeat West Germany for the 1986 World Cup title, with Maradona scoring five goals and assisting on five more.

4. The headbutt (2006)

France’s Zinedine Zidane is a legend and one of the greatest football players the world has ever seen, but in Berlin in 2006, his bout of rage against Marco Materazzi and Italy in the final sparked controversy that lives on in infamy as “the headbutt.” The match was 1-1 when Zidane and Materazzi had a dispute that ended with the Frenchman violently headbutting the Azzurro and receiving a red card. The final went to penalty kicks, but without their captain Les Bleus fell 3-5 to Italy.

5. Teammate Betrayal (2006)

In 2006, England and Portugal faced off, as did Manchester United teammates Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. Rooney crashed into a Portuguese player’s… delicate area. The referee decided to intervene, and so did Ronaldo, who convinced the referee to dismiss Rooney with a red card. While the Englishman left the pitch in anger, Ronaldo winked to his teammates in victory.

6. Gentlemen’s Agreement (1982)

The 1982 World Cup in Spain was full of drama! West Germany and Austria were set to face off in the final stage of their group, knowing that a one or two-goal victory for West Germany would take both teams to the second phase. After 11 minutes, Horst Hrubesch scored that goal. And after that the players just… stopped playing. The last 20 minutes were a kind of farce, to the hooting crowd’s disdain. To avoid similar outcomes in the future, FIFA decided to change the rules: all four teams in a group are now required to play their final games simultaneously.

7. The Miracle of Bern (1954)

This moment was so shocking that they even made a movie about it! West Germany was playing an undefeated squad known as “the Golden Team,” Hungary. With a 2-2 stalemate for most of the match, Helmut Rahn scored decisive third goal with six minutes left, resulting in West Germany’s first World Cup win. Even on the East Berlin people were celebrating the success, now known as The Miracle of Bern.

8. Escobar’s execution after his own goal (1994)

Not all World Cup events are happy, however. In 1994, Colombian player Andres Escobar scored an own goal during a match against the United States, leading to a 1-2 loss for the heavily favored Colombians and their eventual elimination from the tournament. Tragically, a few days after the 27-year-old Escobar returned home to Colombia, he was shot and killed by gangsters who had reportedly lost money gambling on Colombia in the World Cup. Escobar’s murder shocked the world and did significant damage to Colombia’s reputation. The incident was examined further in the 2010 soccer film The Two Escobars.

9. Italy shocked by South Korea (2002)

In 2002, South Korea and Japan jointly hosted the World Cup, and Italy arrived as one of the favorites to win the tournament, especially after a strong showing against France in the 2000 Euros final. But this was not to be. Coaching changes led to a bumpy first round for Italy, which along the way had four goals disallowed. Meanwhile South Korea won its group with an undefeated record. In the much-anticipated clash, the two teams battled to a 1-1 draw in regulation, followed by a thrilling sudden-death game winner scored by South Korea in the 117th minute. The Azzurri (and much of Italy) cried foul afterwards, pointing (quite rightly, it turns out) to a series of erroneous calls by lead referee Byron Moreno. Conspiracy theories live on to this day… For a fascinating deep dive into this match, be sure to check out this account by The Guardian.

10. Cameroon stuns Argentina (1990)

Italy, 1990. The champions, led by Maradona, went into this match thinking they had nothing to fear. But, instead, they fell 0-1 to Cameroon in what’s considered one of the greatest upsets in World Cup history, made all the more stunning since Cameroon had two players sent off with red cards The win was a joyful one not only for Cameroon, but for all of Africa, with bursts of joy filling streets across the continent in the summer of 1990.

11. Rijkaard spits on Völler (1990)

Yet another match in 1990 also resulted in two red cards: In a Round of 16 matchup between West Germany and the Netherlands, Dutch midfielder Frank Rijkaard spit at Rudi Völler after the pair were both sent off by the referee. West German went on to win, 2-1, and would eventually claim the World Cup title over Argentina.

12. What ‘Maracanazo’ means (1950, 1989)

This refers to two different historical moments: in 1950, Uruguay beat Brazil in the Maracaña Stadium and against all odds won the World Cup title. In this sense, the word Maracanazo means “beating someone in their own stadium, surprising everyone.” However, this term was also used when, in this same stadium in 1989, during the qualifications for the next World Cup, the Chilean goalkeeper Roberto Rojas pretended to have been hurt by a sparkler from the Brazilian supporters, as his team was losing the qualification and he wanted to reverse the result. Eventually, FIFA suspended him and he faced difficult times back home.

13. Landon Donovan’s goal as time expires (2010)

Compared with luminaries like Germany, Italy, Brazil, and Argentina, the USA’s list of World Cup highlights is laughably short. Yet in the summer of 2010, seemingly the whole country watched as Landon Donovan scored the game winner as time expired over Algeria to break a 0-0 draw (which would have resulted in a first round elimination). Instead, with the win, the United States won its group—its first time doing so since 1930(!)—and went on to the Round of 16…where it promptly fell to Ghana. For that brief shining moment, though, soccer captured the country’s attention, with packed sports bars and strangers belting out the national anthem in the streets.

14. Luis Suárez bites Giorgio Chiellini (2014)

Brazil, 2014: Yet another physical attack on an Italian player: during a knockout match between a surprisingly strong Uruguay side and Italy, Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez bit the Italian Giorgio Chiellini in the first half, after the two collided. Suárez—who has a bit of a reputation for dirty tactics—bit his rival in the shoulder, pretending that it had been an accident. Chiellini tried to show the mark on his shoulder but the referee didn’t agree. Two minutes later Diego Godín scored the goal that would take Uruguay to the next stage.

15. Marco Tardelli’s celebration (1982)

If there is one image that represents the emotion of the World Cup, it’s Marco Tardelli’s celebration of his goal against West Germany in the 1982 World Cup in Spain. After Tardelli scored, he ran with tears in his eyes, his arms raised and screaming with excitement. Years later, he explained the mix of emotions he felt: “I remembered when I was a kid and started playing soccer.” His heartfelt celebration has set the standard for all that have followed.

Will Qatar 2022 make us feel the same way? Stay tuned…

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