The most momentous World Cup

The most momentous World Cup

You might think the primary purpose of the World Cup is to determine which country has the best football team. You might think that, but you would be wrong. The purpose of the World Cup is to generate memorable incidents. Extraordinary events. Remarkable occurrences that would be measured in the currency of nostalgia if they weren’t priceless. Great moments.

In this post I compile several lists of Great World Cup Moments to find out which tournament had the most of them and, therefore, is the best. I have used lists from British media so we will see things from a point of view that places high value on moments involving British and Irish teams – apologies to the rest of the world.

I have assigned each moment a type (goal, match, violence etc.) and grouped the types into colour-coded categories. For example the goal, assist, trick and celebration types form the good category. You can see what make up the bad, ugly and other categories below.

Types and categories

I’ve tried to focus on the aspect of the moment that made it memorable, rather than give them every type that could possibly apply, although I’ve given several moments two types. I admit the types and categories are far from objective and could be defined and assigned in lots of different ways. This post is concerned mostly with aggregated moment data but you can see a full list of the moments themselves in a table at the bottom.

I’ve started with Channel 4’s 100 Greatest World Cup Moments. It is a bit out of place because it is over a decade old, but I’m including it because it’s a programme I enjoyed rewatching on VHS as a youth. It was first broadcast in the run up to the 2002 World Cup so features no moment after the qualifiers for that tournament. The moments were ranked by public vote. Note that one moment, Pelé’s injury hit 1962 and 1966 tournaments, is halved between two tournaments’ columns.

Channel 4 moments

There isn’t a single moment from the first five World Cups. From there the number of moments broadly rises as World Cups become more recent. There are three exceptions to that trend: 1966, 1970 and 1982 all have more than you would expect. The 1982 World Cup wins with 14 moments, 15 if qualifiers are included. The 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cups are all joint second with 13 moments each, also including qualifiers. Italia ’90 has a notably low number of momentous goals.

Moving on to more up-to-date lists, the BBC website brings us 100 great World Cup moments which was published in the build-up to Brazil 2014:

BBC moments

Each of the BBC’s moments is accompanied by a video, which perhaps counted against the earliest World Cups but for the first time we see a moment from Brazil 1950 and Switzerland 1954. Once again the winning World Cup is 1982.

The Independent published a list of the 100 greatest moments in the tournament’s history this May:

Independent moments

The 1982 and 1990 World Cups come out on top, as does 1994 if you include qualifiers. The 2002 World Cup does surprisingly well, being only one moment shy of the best World Cups. We have five moments from the ’30s but still none from 1934.

The Telegraph recently counted down the World Cup’s 50 greatest moments:

Telegraph moments

This is a more even list with five World Cups having five moments each.

The Guardian has been running through its 25 stunning World Cup moments. These were published as long articles rather than short descriptions and many take the form of stories rather than moments. Nonetheless I’ve done my best to streamline these in-depth pieces of quality prose into my basic types:

Guardian moments

The moments are very evenly spread out (it’s almost as if they did it on purpose) with no tournament having more than three moments and only one with fewer than one. The year with no moments is 1958 meaning Italy 1934 is finally represented. The tournaments with three moments are 1990 and, yes, 1982.

Now we have 188 unique moments that each appear in at least one of the lists, and here they are:

All moments

In a shocking development, 1982 has been pipped by 1990 by a single moment. USA ’94 and France ’98 take third and fourth. Yes, this isn’t fair on the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups because they came too late to feature in the Channel 4 list, but those competitions are too recent to judge fairly anyway so let’s not worry about them too much.

Resizing the moments based on the number of lists they appear in results in this monstrosity:

All moments weighted

Now 1982 is the clear winner. I’m more than happy to take this interpretation of the data as the definitive one because 1982 is my personal favourite.

Below are countries ranked by the number of moments they contributed. In general I counting a country against a moment if they provide the most active participant, like the scorer of the goal, the perpetrator of the act of violence or the unfortunate man to commit the error. A few moments were made possible thanks to people from two nations, with neither more responsible than the other, so they have two active countries listed against them.

Moments by country

England is the runaway winner, unsurprising given the nationality of the newspapers and channels involved. Interestingly 2010 champions Spain are active in only two moments in the entire history of the World Cup, and only one unrelated to their victory. The Dutch have the highest number of moments of teams that haven’t won the competition.

These are the teams (a country in a specific World Cup) with three or more moments:

Moments by team

England aside, the teams to have contributed the most moments are Brazil 1970 and Argentina 1986. Cameroon’s 1990 team is next with four moments, very impressive for a team that isn’t one of the World Cup’s traditional big names. Germany, while the fourth highest contributor of total moments, has not created more than two moments at any single tournament.

These are the World Cup’s most momentous players:

Moments by player

These country, team and player rankings throw the overall results somewhat into doubt. I always expected the lists to show certain bias but ones where the 1998 England team comes out as the second most significant World Cup team or where David Beckham is the joint third most significant World Cup player are clearly going over the top in domestic favouritism. As such, here is the full weighted list once more but with all moments whose active team is England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales excluded:

All moments weighted, excluding England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales moments

The 1982 World Cup survives the purge of moments to be crowned once and for all the best World Cup, even if a significant proportion of its ‘great’ moments show off the ugly side of the game.

Finally, here is the full list of the moments themselves:

YearDescriptionPlayerType 1Type 2Active teamC4 RankIndieBBCTelegraphGuardian
1930The Uruguayan embassy in Buenos Aires is attackedviolenceArgentina
1930The first World CuptournamentVarious
1930US trainer knocks himself out after dropping chloroforminjuryerrorUSA
1934A promising Austria side reach the semi-finalcampaignAustria
1938Leônidas da Silva at the 1938 World CupLeonadisplayerBrazil
1938Italy don black shirts on the way to retaining the cuppoliticsItaly
1950Uruguay beat hosts Brazil to win the tournamentmatchUruguay
1950USA beat England 1-0matchUSA
1950200,000 fans watch the final match at the MaracanafansBrazil
1950India pull out as (say some) playing barefoot isn't allowedrulesIndia
1954West Germany come back from two down to beat HungarymatchW Germany
1958Pelé's goal against WalesPelégoalBrazil79
1958Pelé's goals in the finalPelégoalBrazil80
1958Hosts Sweden reach the finalcampaignSweden
1958Wales' appearance at the tournamentcampaignWales
1958Pelé's emergence on the international stagePeléplayerBrazil
1962Garrincha's second goal against EnglandGarrinchagoalBrazil
1962Brazil win their second World CupcampaignBrazil
1962Pelé's goal against MexicoPelégoalBrazil
1962Chile fans' anger at semi-final venue swapfansargumentChile
1962Jimmy Greaves deals with a stray dog and is urinated onGreavesdogEngland100
1962The Battle of Santiago: Chile v ItalyviolenceItaly & Chile29
1962Puskas swaps Hungary for SpainPuskasplayerSpain
1962 & 1966Pelé struggles in two World Cups due to injuryPeléplayerBrazil70
1966Bobby's Charlton's goal against MexicoB CharltongoalEngland72
1966Rattin talks his way into a red card against EnglandRattinargumentred cardArgentina
1966Hurst's hat-trick goal and people on the pitchHurstgoalcelebrationEngland4
1966Pickles the dog finds stolen trophytheftdogEngland82
1966Hurst's second goal and the 'Russian' linesmanHurstgoalofficialsEngland23
1966Bobby Charlton's goals against Portugal in the semi-finalB CharltongoalsEngland42
1966Eusébio's second goal against BrazilEusébiogoalPortugal53
1966Pelé is carried off injured against PortugalPeléinjuryBrazil
1966Alf Ramsay calls Argentina 'animals'RamsayargumentEngland98
1966England win the World CupcampaignEngland
1966Pak Do Ik scores to beat ItalyPak Do IkgoalNorth Korea76
1966Eusébio scores four to overturn North KoreaEusébiogoalsPortugal
1966A range of stories from the 1966 tournamenttournamentVarious
1966Bobby and Tina Moore as a celebrity coupleMoorewagEngland89
1966Helmut Haller pinches the final ballHallertheftW Germany93
1970Bobby Moore's tackle on JairzinhoMooretackleEngland35
1970Pelé's dummy and miss against UruguayPelétrickmissBrazil9
1970Pelé nearly scores from halfway against CzechoslovakiaPelémissBrazil33
1970Pelé wins the world cup for the third timePeléplayerBrazil15
1970Jairzinho's goal against CzechoslovakiaJairzinhogoalBrazil55
1970Carlos Alberto's goal in the finalC AlbertogoalBrazil5
1970Gordon Banks falls ill before England take on W GermanyBanksinjuryEngland
1970West Germany overturn England's two-goal leadmatchW Germany
1970Gordon Banks' save from Pelé's headerBankssaveEngland13
1970Bonetti's errors against West GermanyBonettierrorEngland74
1970Bobby Moore is accused of theft in ColombiaMooretheftEngland77
1970The Game of the Century: W Germany v ItalymatchItaly & W Ger
1974Mwepu Ilunga kicks a Brazil freekick to protest the Zaire FAIlungaargumentyellow cardZaire17
1974Rivelino scores a freekick thanks to a ducking teammateRivelinhogoalfreekickBrazil30
1974Haiti take the lead against ItalygoalHaiti
1974Netherlands win a penalty in the opening minute of the finalpenaltygoalNetherlands
1974The Cruyff turnCruyfftrickNetherlands12
1974W German players threaten to strike; Beckenbauer intervenesBeckenbaurargumentW Germany
1974Gerd Muller's final winnerMullergoalW Germany95
1974East Germany beat West GermanymatchEast Germany
1978Argentina beat Peru 6-0, slightly dubiouslyfix?Argentina
1978Ally's Tartan Army' and Scotland's misadventurescampaignsongScotland81
1978Nelinho bends one in against ItalyNelinhogoalBrazil43
1978Clive Thomas disallows Brazil goalofficialsBrazil94
1978Johan Cruyff boycotts, protesting the Argentine regimeCruyffpoliticsNetherlands
1978Brandts and Haan score long-range goals against ItalyBrandts & HaangoalsNetherlands
1978Goalkeeper Quiroga commits a foul in the opposition halfQuirogaviolencePeru88
1978Archie Gemmill's goal against the NetherlandsGemmillgoalScotland16
1978Mario Kempes' final-winning goalKempesgoalArgentina48
1981"One hell of a beating!"celebrationNorway96
1982Schumacher clatters BattistonSchumacherviolenceW Germany49
1982Algeria upset GermanymatchAlgeria
1982Falcao's dummy and Eder's finish against USSREdergoalassistBrazil28
1982Zico scores a freekick against ScotlandZicogoalfreekickBrazil45
1982Sócrates' goal against USSRSócratesgoalBrazil86
1982Bryan Robson scores against France within 30 secondsRobsongoalEngland75
1982Keegan's headed miss against SpainKeeganmissEngland67
1982László Kiss scores the World Cup's fastest hat-trickKissgoalsHungary
1982Hungary thrash El Salvador 10-1matchHungary
1982Paolo Rossi's hat-trick to beat BrazilRossigoalsItaly60
1982Tardelli's celebration in the finalTardellicelebrationItaly19
1982Prince Fahid of Kuwait interrupts their match with FrancepoliticsKuwait92
1982Gerry Armstrong scores as N Ireland beat SpainArmstronggoalN Ireland83
1982Norman Whiteside as the youngest World Cup playerWhitesideplayerN Ireland
1982John Robertson scores a freekick despite a mix-upRobertsongoalfreekickScotland62
1982Alan Hansen and Willie Miller collide to gift a goal to USSRHansen & MillererrorScotland90
1982David Narey scores against BrazilNareygoalScotland36
1982Austria and West Germany colludefixW Germany32
1986Maradona's semi-final goals against BelgiumMaradonagoalsArgentina22
1986Olarticoechea last-ditch denial of LinekerOlarticoecheasaveArgentina85
1986Maradona's second goal against EnglandMaradonagoalArgentina1
1986Brazil goalkeeper Carlos takes down France's BelloneCarlosviolenceBrazil
1986Josimar scores from range against Northern IrelandJosimargoalBrazil37
1986Denmark's campaign, including three wins in their groupcampaignDenmark
1986Ray Wilkins is sent off for throwing the ball to the refereeWilkinsred cardEngland65
1986Lineker's hat-trick against PolandLinekergoalsEngland47
1986Manuel Negrete scores with an acrobatic scissor kickNegretegoalMexico61
1986A dodgy (unofficial) Dutch World Cup songsongNetherlands66
1986Jose Batista earns the World Cup's fastest red cardBatistared cardUruguay
1986The Mexican WavefansVarious56
1986The Hand of GodMaradonahandballgoalArgentina8
1986Jorge Burruchaga gets the winner late in the finalBurruchagagoalArgentina
1989Terry Butcher plays on with a bloody head in a qualifierButcherinjuryEngland91
1990Toto Schillaci scores against ArgentinaSchillacigoalItaly68
1990Cameroon nearly beat England in the quartersmatchCameroon52
1990Lothar Matthaus captains West Germany to victoryMatthausplayerW Germany
1990Roger Milla's corner flag celebrationMillacelebrationCameroon
1990Cameroon beat holders ArgentinamatchCameroon
1990René Higuita slips to gift a goal to CameroonHiguitaerrorColombia24
1990Pearce and Waddle miss in the shootoutPearce & WaddleshootoutmissEngland6
1990Gazza's tears after yellow cardGazzabodily fluidsyellow cardEngland11
1990Waddle's long-range near-miss against West GermanyWaddlemissEngland78
1990Massing fouls Canigga in the opening matchMassingviolencered cardCameroon
1990England's official song 'World in Motion'songEngland39
1990Jack Charlton leads Ireland to the quarter finalJ CharltonmanagerIreland63
1990Ireland beat Romania in a shootoutshootoutIreland10
1990Roberto Baggio's run and goal against CzechoslovakiaBaggiogoalItaly
1990Toto Schillaci scores as Italy beat AustriaSchillacigoalItaly
1990Argentina's Monzon and Dezotti get the first final red cardsMonzon & Dezottired cardsArgentina
1990Frank Rijkaard spits at Rudi VöllerRijkaardbodily fluidsNetherlands40
1990Klinsmann is fouled by Monzon and makes sure everyone knowsKlinsmanninjurydiveW Germany58
1990Platt's extra-time winner against BelgiumPlattgoalEngland20
1993Graham Taylor does not like thatTaylormanagerEngland46
1994Jack Charlton kicks off during Mexico matchJ CharltonargumentIreland14
1994Gheorghe Hagi's long range lob against ColombiaHagigoalRomania57
1994Diego Maradona's manic celebration after scoring v GreeceMaradonacelebrationArgentina
1994Maradona fails drug testMaradonadrugsArgentina25
1994Bebeto's cradle celebrationBebetocelebrationBrazil
1994Yordan Letchkov's diving header to beat GermanyLetchkovgoalBulgaria64
1994Amokachi's goal against GreeceAmokachigoalNigeria99
1994Germany and the Village People's 'Far Away in America'songGermany44
1994Klinsmann's goal against South KoreaKlinsmanngoalGermany71
1994Saeed Al-Owairan's long dribble and goalAl-OwairangoalSaudi Arabia38
1994Ray Houghton's lobbed goal against ItalyHoughtongoalIreland18
1994Roberto Baggio's decisive shootout missBaggioshootoutmissItaly26
1994Jorge Campos' colourful kitCamposkitMexico
1994Finidi George's weeing dog celebrationGeorgecelebrationNigeria
1994Oleg Salenko scores five in one matchSalenkogoalsRussia
1994Andrés Escobar killed over own-goalEscobarmurderown goalColombia54
1994Diana Ross' opening ceremony missceremonymissUSA59
1998Romania's players bleach their hairhairRomania87
1998Rivaldo scores against SchmeichelRivaldogoalBrazil41
1998Ortega headbutts Van der SarOrtegaviolencered cardArgentina
1998Austria's official World Cup song; deemed very rubbishsongAustria84
1998Dennis Bergkamp's goal against ArgentinaBergkampgoalNetherlands7
1998Ronaldo's final dramaRonaldoselectionBrazil27
1998English fans riot in MarseilleviolencefansEngland97
1998David Beckham's goal against ColombiaBeckhamgoalfreekickEngland34
1998Batty's miss in the shootout against ArgentinaBattyshootoutmissEngland31
1998Beckham lashes out at SimeoneBeckhamviolencered cardEngland21
1998Michael Owen's goal against ArgentinaOwengoalEngland2
1998Michael Owen's goal against RomaniaOwengoalEngland50
1998Laurent Blanc scores the first World Cup Golden GoalBlancgoalFrance
1998Petit breaks away to seal the World Cup for FrancePetitgoalFrance
1998France's multicultural team wins at homecampaignFrance
1998Iran beat USAmatchIran73
1998Jamaica win their first World Cup matchmatchJamaica69
2001England beat Germany 5-1matchEngland3
2002Sükür scores against South Korea after 11 secondsSükürgoalTurkey
2002Dario Rodriguez's volley against DenmarkD RodriguezgoalUruguay
2002Ronaldinho lobs SeamanRonaldinhogoalerrorBrazil
2002Senegal upset France in the opening matchmatchSenegal
2002Ronaldo's buries the ghost of '98RonaldoplayerBrazil
2002Several sponsors see their stars have a very bad World CupsponsorsVarious
2002Holders France crash out in the first roundcampaignFrance
2002Roy Keane leaves the Ireland squadKeaneargumentIreland
2002South Korea's win over Italy, perceived by some to be a fixfix?South Korea
2002Rivaldo's theatrics against TurkeyRivaldodiveBrazil
2002Beckham's penalty against ArgentinaBeckhamgoalpenaltyEngland
2006Bad tackles and four red cards as Portugal beat Netherlandsviolencered cardsPortugal & Netherlands
2006Maxi Rodriguez's goal against MexicoM RodriguezgoalArgentina
2006Argentina's 24 pass goalgoalArgentina
2006Ronaldo's record-breaking goal against GhanaRonaldogoalBrazil
2006Graham Poll shows three yellow cards to Šimuni?officialsCroatia
2006Rooney is sent off for stepping on CarvalhoRooneyviolencered cardEngland
2006The media circus and 'WAGs' at England's basewagEngland
2006Joe Cole's volleyed goal against SwedenColegoalEngland
2006Zidane headbutts MaterazziZidaneviolencered cardFrance
2006Germany win over their fanscampaignGermany
2006Italy beat Germany in a dramatic end to their semimatchItaly
2006Cristiano Ronaldo's winkC RonaldowinkPortugal
2010Yakubu misses a sitter against S KoreaYakubumissNigeria
2010Iniesta's extra-time final winnerIniestagoalSpain
2010Siphiwe Tshabalala's goal in the opening matchTshabalalagoalSouth Africa
2010Frank Lampard's disallowed goalLampardofficialsEngland
2010In-fighting scuppers France's campaignargumentFrance
2010Nigel de Jong kicks Alonso in the chestde JongviolenceNetherlands
2010Van Bronckhorst's semi-final goalvan BronckhorstgoalNetherlands
2010Luis Suarez's save against GhanaSuarezhandballUruguay