Putting on a show: the most memorable finals in the history of the FIFA World Cup

While cup finals can often be a drab affair, particularly in domestic competition, the FIFA World Cup has seen several standout grand finales over the years – here is a look at the three most memorable occasions.

Italy 1-1 France (pens 5-3) (2006)

Despite being the lowest scoring entry on this list, the action-packed drama in the Germany 2006 final matched the quality of players on show. With the game boasting the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Thierry Henry and all, it was the altercation between Zinedine Zidane and Marco Materazzi in extra time that most fans remember the match for. Few recall that both players actually got on the scoresheet within 20 first-half minutes, with the scores remaining level right up to the penalty shoot-out.

With Zidane watching on in what would be his last game for Les Bleus, Italy triumphed to a 5-3 shoot-out victory thanks to Fabio Grosso’s winning spot kick. Despite failures in Berlin, France eventually won their second World Cup in 2018, and has World Cup betting odds of +180 to retain their title in Qatar. The talismanic Antoine Griezmann has Argentina vs France odds of +400 to get on the scoresheet in the final, although he faces in-form shot stopper Emiliano Martinez and the great Lionel Messi, so it won’t be easy for Didier Deschamps’ side. If the match is to go beyond 120 minutes, France will be hoping for better luck than in 2006.

Argentina 3-2 West Germany (1986)

While 2022 finalist France failed at the final hurdle in 2006, the other half of Qatar’s final two teams had the opposite of fortunes in Mexico 1986. Argentina, led by legend Diego Maradona, celebrated a 1-0 victory against Uruguay in the last 16, before Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ and ‘Goal of the Century’ duo saw off England 2-1 in the quarters. A more routine 2-0 win against Belgium in the last-four set up a final against West Germany, who had won the tournament twice before that date.

In another final that showcased the very best of footballing talent, it was Argentina who stormed into a 2-0 lead, with Jose Luis Brown and Jorge Valdano scoring on 23 and 56 minutes, respectively. Germany replied late into the second half, though, with a Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Rudi Voller brace between the 74th and 81st minute. Just when the Germans looked to have the momentum, the pendulum swung back in the favor of the Albiceleste. Maradona assisted Jorge Burrachaga in the 84th minute to score what would be the winning goal, with the 3-2 victory handing Argentina their second World Cup trophy and Maradona his very first.

England 4-2 West Germany (AET) (1966)

Another narrow defeat by the West Germans came exactly 20 years earlier, when England went on to win their first and only World Cup trophy on home soil. The Three Lions defeated Argentina 1-0 in the quarter-finals and Portugal 2-1 in the semis, setting up a memorable final against West Germany in front of a crowd of over 96,000 at Wembley Stadium.

Helmut Haller put the Germans in front on 12 minutes before Geoff Hurst scored his first just six minutes later. The home side then stormed into a 2-1 lead thanks to a Martin Peters strike on 78 minutes, before Wolfgang Weber equalized at the death to make it 2-2 in the 89th. Hurst scored his second and England’s third in controversial fashion, with many claiming the ball had not crossed the line, before completing his hat-trick in a now iconic moment in which BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme proclaimed: “Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over. It is now! It’s four!”. Since 1966, England has never won another world title, and boasts just one win from six World Cup meetings with Germany since that date.

Aside from these entries, there have been a whole host of memorable World Cup finals in recent years that have dazzled for their goals, world-class players or just sheer drama. With the evolution of the modern game, it looks certain that there will be many more iconic finales to come on international football’s biggest stage.

Golam Muktadir is a passionate sports fan and a dedicated movie buff. He has been writing about both topics for over a decade and has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with his readers. Muktadir has a degree in journalism and has written for several well-known publications, including Surprise Sports.