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International Football’s 10 Greatest Gut-Wrenchers

International football has had plenty of outrageously tense moments — from the English-denied goal against Germany in the 2006 World Cup to Barcelona’s 5-0 win over Real Madrid in 2010. Although this list could go on forever, there are two primary limiters: One, they must be international matches. There’s no point in looking at an upset in the last minutes by Manchester City over United when the World Cup is looming. The Cup as always makes inter-city or inter-league rivalries seem small. Second, it must be a sudden shock or a painful turn of events that really sticks with the fans. It’s not the final score that counts but the goal by a team that is down three players to red-cards. I hope you’re ready for a thrill ride.

#10Bergkamp Touches the Sky

World Cup quarter-finals 1998 between Belgium and Argentina — it’s the 89th minute and the score is tied. With a massive kick from behind the half, Frank De Boer drops the ball almost from heaven itself to Dennis Bergkamp who is just outside the inner box and closely defended. After three touches, the announcer promptly loses sanity and begins screaming “Dennis Bergkamp!”

#9 Netherlands Forgets to Win

In a World Cup final match that illustrated the supreme dominance and absolute hubris of the 1974 Dutch team, West Germany can’t even touch the ball for the entire first minute but goes on to beat the Dutch in what was truly a game to behold; that is, unless you’re Dutch.

#8 When Football Changed Direction

It was 1982, Brazil versus Italy. The Italians on this day changed the course of football history with a style that inspired the Spanish national team in 2010. When Brazil had been dominating with flash, showmanship and eternal attacks, Italy exposed the immediate flaw with a stolid and determined defense. Zico called it “the day football died.”

#7 Celtic Beats Internazionale

Milan’s stalwart defense, 15 years before Brazil crumpled against the Italian national team’s similar defensive strategy, shatters from a Celtic onslaught. The Italians suffered from a long drawn out end that would be punctuated by a goal at 62 minutes and one at 67.

#6The Hand of God

In a moment that would upset the English for generations, Maradona uses a handball to get a goal that wouldn’t be rescinded and contributed to a victory for Argentina.


Brazil, 1950 —the Brazilian team is in a de facto final match against Uruguay, winners of the first World Cup. Brazil built what was the world’s largest stadium for the event and over 200,000 were in attendance in a moment that was described as a national tragedy akin to Hiroshima. After the goal in the 79th minute that crushed Brazil’s hopes of success, the entire crowd was silenced. “The Silence was morbid, sometimes too difficult to bear,” said then FIFA President Jules Rimet.

#4 West Germany 3–2 Hungary, 1954 World Cup Final

West Germany had been beaten by Hungary in the group stage only to claw back from the other side of the bracket to face them again in the final match. Hungary is up 2 to zilch in what was supposed to be their game, only to allow two goals in eight minutes that suddenly had Germany back in it. The third goal caused riots in Hungary.

#3The Legend of Brazilian Football Begins

It’s difficult now to imagine that Brazilian Football was ever less than astonishing, but before the moment that Gabriel Hanot called “the greatest three minutes ever played” Brazil had gone without a title for the first seven world cups. In video that makes the competition look like amateurs, the Brazilians start a legacy that will last as long as the World Cup does.

#2The Feet of God

Watching Maradona play is astonishing. There is a particular goal in the quarter finals of the 1986 World Cup between England and Maradona’s Argentina that illustrates why football is called the beautiful game. Maradona burns through half on the English team for a solo goal that put to bed English hopes for a World Cup in 1986. To those who claim this isn’t a gut-wrencher, ask any English who were watching the game that day.

#1A Show of Excellence at the 1970 World Cup

Okay, so this one isn’t so much gut-wrenching as a testament to the brilliance of the game. The greatest team to ever play, Brazil, was at its height in the 1970 Mexico World Cup and looked like the Harlem Globe Trotters next to the Italians. Truly, these men elevated the game, at least for a while, to the level of art. If you haven’t seen this game, you’ve got to check it out.

So, no matter what team you’re rooting for and whether you’re hoping for an incredible moment of triumph or just a performance that won’t embarrass or outright hurt, this year’s World Cup is sure to provide some spectacular moments. Brazil may have some traffic jams and it may have some protests but the game must go on. Ultimately, just make sure you can root for your team and are adequately prepared for the World Cup.