The wait is almost over. Sports fans across the world are preparing themselves for the grandest sporting event in the world. The “beautiful game” takes center stage as countries from around the world attempt to become world beaters. In one month’s time, a country will become World Champions, and they will be so for the next 4 years. But before that, we will witness some great matches, some that will even go down in FIFA history and folklore. This is what makes the World Cup so exciting: the anticipation, thrill, and skill. While we wait to be amazed and awestruck for the next month, let’s look back at some of the most significant and memorable matches in the World Cup since the turn of the century.

2002: South Korea vs Italy 2-1

The 2002 World Cup hosted by South Korea and Japan will go down as one of the most controversial events in FIFA history. South Korea won a series of improbable games, including victories over European giants Italy and Spain. On June 8, 2002, Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno was chosen to officiate the second-round match between South Korea and Italy. The Azzurri were firm favourites and boasted one of the strongest teams in the tournament.

Alessandro Del Piero, Christian Vieri, Francesco Totti, Pippo Inzaghi, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta, Maldini, and Gigi Buffon. That list of players should send shivers down anyone’s spine, and yet somehow the little-known South Korean team was victorious. How you might ask? The aforementioned Byron Moreno is the answer.

The South Korean team had blitzed through the first round, using their youth, speed, and home support to beat Poland and Portugal. Against Italy, with Nesta and Cannavaro out with injury and suspension respectively, the home team must have sniffed victory. The atmosphere in the stadium was electric that day and noise levels reached new heights when the home team won a penalty but were then unable to convert. Then Vieri scored in the 18th minute and the home crowd got even more enraged and loud. Ear-piercing chants filled the stadium for the remainder of the game, and South Korea nicked a surprise equalizer in the 88th minute.

Extra time began and referee Byron Moreno took center stage. He had begun to look jaded and exhausted, unable to keep up with play, and making rash decisions. Moreno seemed to be affected by the ferocious home crowd and fear set into his decisions. Tommasi scored for Italy and celebrations began, but Moreno ruled it offside, which it wasn’t. He then gave Totti a second yellow for alleged diving, which was wrong again. Totti had been fouled in the box and instead of winning a penalty, was ejected from the game.

Then the unthinkable happened as South Korea’s star player Ahn Jung-hwan scored in the 117th minute and the game was over. Conspiracy theories began, with Italian manager suggesting that the game was part of a conspiracy to keep the host nation in the tournament longer, attract fans, and make more money for FIFA.

The focus then turned to Moreno and questions regarding his ability and qualifications was raised, but FIFA supported him throughout. However, the Italian media were not so forgiving. They scrutinized the remainder of his career and all of his glaring mistakes were put on show to the world.

Moreno was suspended numerous times in his career thereafter and eventually quit his job as a referee. In 2010, Moreno flew into New York and was arrested at the airport for smuggling six kilograms of heroin in the country. From “worst referee ever” to “drug dealer and smuggler”, this match will forever be remembered because of Byron Moreno.

2006: Germany vs Italy 0-2

Another World Cup match, another host nation involved. The 2006 World Cup was hosted by Germany and the hosts had successfully reached the semifinals where they came up against the formidable Italians. Everyone remembers  the2006 final, with the infamous Zidane headbutt and Italy triumphing. However, this semifinal had the most dramatic ending to a World Cup game and one that allowed Italy to eventually win the cup. This match was between Germany’s mechanical and meticulous approach against Italy’s technical and skillful team.

The European giants were locked in a titanic battle all through the game, with footballing legends in Lahm, Klose, Pirlo, and Buffon all going head to head. There were no goals for 119 minutes, but there were plenty of chances and a lot of talent on show, with Pirlo and Gattuso running the show from midfield. Italy were unable to take their chances, and Germany had a few, but good chances to win the game.

Germany World Cup Preview – The Pursuit of Greatness

Podolski was a constant thorn in the Italians side, but Buffon made vital saves to keep Italy in the tournament. The Italians hit the woodwork twice in extra time and the game seemed destined for a penalty shootout. That outcome suited the Germans, who are known for the unnerving ability to win shootouts.

Then the unthinkable happened. From a Pirlo corner, Full-Back Fabio Grosso scored a beautiful curler to send the Italian fans into rapturous joy. Before Germany could even register what had happened, Del Piero raced off towards goal and scored another goal. Barely a minute apart, Italy had scored two goals that sent them through the finals. Without this win, there would have been no World Cup for the legendary Italian team. Therefore, this game will always be remembered for the 60 seconds that allowed Italy to become World Champions and fulfil their destiny.

2010: Uruguay vs Ghana 1 -1 (4 – 2 on penalties)

African sides have traditionally struggled on the big stage, even though they have had some of the biggest names in world football. From Drogba to Yaya Toure to Adebayor, they all tried to propel their teams to success but fell short. This backstory made Ghana the feel-good side in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The Ghanaians navigated their way to the quarter-final stage where their opponents were Uruguay. On paper, Uruguay were the favourites with the likes of Cavani, Suarez, and Forlan leading their attack. However, Ghana had the willpower and sheer determination to make Africa proud, which led to an enthralling encounter.

The game was free flowing and end to end with Ghana showing no nerves. The Africans eventually took the lead before the half-time whistle, when Sulley Muntari scored a screamer from 40 yards. They went into the break leading and no one questioned their position. After the restart, Diego Forlan scored a trademark free kick and the tied game then went to extra time as both teams were unable to find another goal. All the drama was saved for the extra time, with the game bursting into life late in extra life. With Uruguay’s defence and keeper beaten, Ghana began to dream, but Luis Suarez blocked a definite goal with his hands. Not quite a “Hand of God” moment but one that will be remembered for years to come.

With the last kick of the game, Asamoah Gyan smashed his penalty into the crossbar. The Ghanaians were distraught and the game went to a penalty shootout. Uruguay’s skill and experience showed as Ghana missed two penalties and were left to rue their missed opportunity. Once again, an African team fell away on the World Cup stage, but this time with their heads held high. Therefore, this World Cup match will always be remembered for Ghana coming ever so close to moving into the semifinals, but for Luis Suarez’s hands.

2014: Netherlands vs Spain 5-1

Spain had dominated the European and World stage since 2008, with their tiki-taka style of play proving too hot to handle. Coming into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil they were once again tournament favourites and were expected to compete for the trophy. Much of the team was the same as previous years, with a nucleus of Iniesta, Ramos, Silva, and Casillas still driving the team. Their first game of the tournament was against the Netherlands whose own fans had very little hope from an ageing team that pundits felt were past their prime. Everyone expected Spain to win comfortably, but what transpired during the game blew everyone away. An empire was about to crumble.

The champions started well as Xabi Alonso converted a penalty within the first half hour. After this moment, everyone expected the remainder of the game to be a procession, but no one expected the Dutch onslaught that was about to hit Spain. Just before the stroke of halftime, Daley Blind floated a ball over the Spanish defence and van Persie hit a first-time header. The ball looped over Casillas and the goal went down as one of the greatest in the World Cup stage. However, even after conceding this goal, Spain remained in control and had chance after chance to score more goals. But they didn’t.

Arjen Robben then started the Dutch onslaught. He scored in the 53rd minute, Stefan de Vrij 11 minutes after that, and then after a Casillas mistake, van Persie pounced to make it 4-1. Robben then dribbled his way to another in the 80th minute. The game ended and Spain had just lost 5-1, their biggest defeat for some time now. This defeat had a resounding effect on the team, as they crashed out at the group stage and then spent the next few years trying to rediscover themselves. Throughout this time, they were never their dominant selves and were forced into a change in management and players. Time will tell whether this new Spanish team can re-establish themselves and revive the fallen empire.

2014: Germany vs Brazil 7 – 1

Mighty Brazil were hosting the 2014 World Cup and expectations were high. Home fans were craving a World Cup, having not won the tournament since 2002. Brazil had fared well so far in the tournament but came into the semifinal without their two main players: Neymar and Thiago Silva. Their opponents were Germany, the “would be” and “could be” team of the last few World Cups. They had continuously made it to the semifinals of the last three tournaments but had nothing to show for it. A close game was expected.

Brazil started the game well with Hulk, Oscar and Marcelo coming close. But Germany took the lead in the 11th minute through Thomas Muller, who scored his 5th goal of the tournament. Brazil responded well but no one foresaw what happened next. Germany scored four goals in the span of six minutes as Kroos, Khedira, and Klose all hit the target. The nation was shell-shocked as the Germans raced to a 5-0 lead within the first half hour. The Brazilian defence had crumbled without Thiago Silva, and the feeling of pride had turned to embarrassment in the stadium. Andre Schurrle scored a brace in the second half to take the total to seven and Brazil scored a late consolation through Oscar, but the damage had been done.

The hopes and dreams of people had just been shattered as the Brazilian team left the field in tears. It was the biggest defeat in the history of World Cup semifinals, and the greatest World Cup nation was at the receiving end. Germany was then able to go on and win the World Cup, rubbing salt into Brazil’s wounds. This was no regular defeat. It was soul crushing and questions were raised. Brazil enter this World Cup as wounded animals, hunting for revenge. Under new management and younger, and improved players, Brazil will look to avenge their devastating loss to Germany. Even then, this German thrashing will forever be remembered in football history for its sheer shock and mystery.

Featured Image: Independent

South Korea vs Italy – YouTube

Germany vs Italy – Youtube

Uruguay vs Ghana – YouTube

Spain vs Netherlands – YouTube

Germany vs Brazil – YouTube

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