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Friday 19 September 2014

James Lawton's greatest World Cup achievements

Published 09/06/2014 | 02:30

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Zinedine Zidane

In England he drew life-long notoriety for the Hand of God goal, but the rest of the world much more easily recognised the single most influential achievement in the history of the World Cup. His impact was extraordinary. He was both luminous and unplayable and lifted an otherwise ordinary Argentina team to unimagined heights.

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MEXICO, 1970

In Sweden in 1958 the teenaged Pele struck out for the mountain top. Twelve years later in Mexico he planted his flag. He was masterful and serene and exquisitely, yet humbly, sublimated his often surreal gifts to the cause of a beautiful team.


SPAIN, 1982

It was a victory that was described as 'the release of the caged bird of Italian football.' If this was true – and certainly the triumph included a stunningly opportunistic defeat of the wonderfully gifted Brazil of Socrates and Zico in one of the most engaging and thrilling World Cup matches of all time, it was Rossi's superb finishing which gave the Azzuri their wings.



It should have been Johan Cruyff's World Cup but, like the rest of the Dutch team, he ran ahead of himself in the Munich final after a sensational, potentially overwhelming start. So who better than Der Kaiser to impose the cold steel and cutting edge of football reality?


FRANCE, 1998

Brazil's young Ronaldo was supposed to sweep his nation to their fifth triumph but he broke down – physically or psychologically, no-one was quite sure – in the minutes before the final, and another contender for man of the tournament, Dennis Bergkamp, went missing in the semi-finals. This left the imperious Zidane delivering France's first world title. He was sent off for a brutal foul in a group game against Saudi Arabia but proceeded to play like an angel, remarkably destroying what was left of Brazil with two headed goals.


JAPAN, 2002

Four years on from being the toast of an ecstatic Champs Elysee, Zidane was broken and weary just weeks after scoring an incandescently brilliant goal for Real Madrid in the Champions League final. And Ronaldo was restored as the world's best finisher as he led Brazil to final victory over Germany in a star-struck Yokohama.



Holland were supposed to win but their unenviable fate was to share with the Hungary of 1954 the title of the best team never to win the World Cup. Holland, though still a superb team, badly missed the genius of Johan Cruyff and it was the goals of Kempes, six of them, that filled the streets of Buenos Aires with celebration and some reflected glory for the repellent regime of the generals.



Zidane's chance of unforgettable redemption after failure in the Far East ended in the blur of red mist which came when his sister was insulted by Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the Berlin final. His dismissal reduced France's hopes so drastically, Italy's penalty shoot-out triumph seemed inevitable. It was hardly a classic finish but Cannavaro's defence, through every step of the tournament, was rarely less than awesome.



Names like Charlton and Moore and goalscorer Geoff Hurst linger most powerfully around England's only World Cup win, but when you go back to the summer day at Wembley it is the astonishing commitment and endurance of the youngest player, the 21-year-old Ball, which is maybe most remarkable.


USA, 1994

Ultimately, there was anticlimax in the final in the Pasadena Rose Bowl, with Brazil winning on penalties, after a goalless stalemate, but little Romario, the dark, turbulent hero of the favelas, earned his rapturous canonisation back home. His five goals were the result of a supreme individual achievement in a field of extraordinary talent that included the beaten Italy's magnificent Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini.

Irish Independent Supplement

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