Football’s biggest stage opens again next week with 32 nations fighting for that famous trophy in Russia, watched by hundreds of millions of fans around the world. The World Cup never fails to provide dramatic and exciting moments. There are moments of pure brilliance, controversy and emotion that all go down in the history books.
One of the moments that stands out for me is Maradona’s performance against England at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Two of football’s most famous goals were scored in this match, both by Diego Maradona, which cemented the Argentinian’s status as one of the greatest – and most controversial – players of all time.
I remember watching that game through the window of a guy in my neighborhood when I was 10 years old. Me and the friends I grew up with wanted to see the game but also play football when it went to a break, so we watched from the street. With the score goalless in Mexico, two bad touches, one from an Argentinian forward and the second from an opponent, saw the ball loop up into the air towards the England goal. It was a 50/50 aerial challenge between England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and Diego Maradona. At first it wasn’t clear how, but a 5’6 Maradona knocked the ball past 6’1 Shilton and into the back of the net.
If you watch that back even today, it’s not clear what happened until the second replay, where you can see Maradona’s uplifted arm punched the ball into the net.
The Hand of God, as it later became known, had given Argentina the advantage, but England equalised and the score was 1-1. Nobody can take anything away from Maradona’s second goal, where he picked the ball up in his own half, danced around two England players and began his run towards goal. He skipped past another two defenders before taking on the keeper and slotting the ball into the net. For many, this is the greatest individual goal ever scored, and it helped Argentina go on to lift the World Cup.
Another World Cup moment that sticks with me is from the World Cup final in 1982. Italy faced West Germany and with the score at 1-0 to Italy, Tardelli shot from inside the box after some great build-up play, and the ball rippled the back of the net. Tardelli started to run as if he was never going to stop, releasing all of his emotion with his arms outstretched, shaking his head in euphoria. It was such an emotional moment and it gives me goosebumps every time I see it. It’s one of those moments you can show people if they say football is just a game. Italy went on to win 3-1 and lift their third World Cup.
Another moment that will always be remembered is Zidane’s performance in the 1998 World Cup final. I had been following him closely after he took us apart in the semi-final of the Champions League when I was at Ajax and he was at Juve. Zidane bagged two headers to give France a 2-0 lead before half-time, before Petit put the icing on the cake with a third in the last minute of the game. It was France’s first World Cup win and Zidane of course went on to become one of the greatest players of his generation, and possibly France’s greatest player of all time.
Bergkamp’s goal against Argentina was also next level. The Control against, at that time, one of the best defenders in the world is sensational. The way he brings the ball down and then finishes was a big moment for Dutch fans, as you can tell by the commentary of the goal by Dutch commentator Jack van Gelder.
My final favourite moment from World Cup history is Roger Milla at the 1990 World Cup. He kept on providing the magic, scoring and dancing by the corner flag in celebration as he helped Cameroon become the first African team to reach the last eight of a World Cup. How could you not love that man!?
I want this World Cup to bring as much as excitement as previous tournaments. I do believe Neymar has a great chance to make this his World Cup, like Maradona, Zidane and many other stars have in the past. He was injured for a long time so now he will be more rested then the likes of Messi and Ronaldo.
Or will the German machine still be so powerful that no one can dismantle them? One thing is for sure: if you can leave Sané at home you have the confidence that you have enough in the team to win it again.