The panic sets in, “referee, how much time?”, the answer is never soothing as times flies by like Sonic the Hedgehog on steroids. It all ends with a sinking feeling as the man in charge blows for the expiration of the match. It’s too late, and as much as you’ve given over the past month, it is not enough. This crushing despondency is all too familiar to some of the best World Cup teams who have ultimately failed to claim the main prize despite their obvious quality.
This side was so entrenched in football hipsterism that their goalkeeper wore the number 8 jersey and didn’t even wear gloves. It was their unorthodox style of play, aptly dubbed ‘total football’ that endeared them to the viewing public. Rinus Michel the commander from the touchline and his General on the pitch Johan Cruyff dictating play, Holland were a joy to watch. In an era where there was a fixation on positions, where defenders were defenders and forwards were forwards, Holland defied the status quo, defending as a unit and more importantly attacking as a unit. They topped their group in the first and second group stages with ease. In the final, it appeared they would continue their sovereignty over the tournament as they opened the scoring after only 80 seconds of play from the penalty spot following a foul on Cruyff. The first time the Germans touched the ball would be from restarting but they didn’t let it bother them as they rallied and won a penalty of their own. Paul Breitner dispatched it to draw the game level before Gerd Müller gave them lead just before halftime. They held on the lead as the evident wear and tear from Holland being kicked about in their last game against Brazil began to show. They could not offer a response, try as they did. Germany were crowned Champions and Holland for all their enterprise were left with a losers medal.
The duo of Ferenc Puskas and Sandor Kocsis scored 159 goals in 153 national team games combined. They were two of the most potent attackers in World football but despite 15 goals at the 1954 World Cup between them, they fell short at the final hurdle. Also losing to West Germany in the final. Despite Puskás and Zoltán Czibor giving Hungary a 2 goal lead before 10 minutes, Germany did what they do best. Win. The game was tied before 20 minutes as Max Morlock and Helmut Rahn scores for Die Mannschaft. Hungary, who scored 27 goals in just 5 matches (a World Cup record till today) had previously beaten the Germans 8-3 in the group stage and paid for underestimating their opponents in the final when 6 minutes from the end Rahn again found the winner for Germany to give them what was their first ever World Cup victory. Two of the greatest goal scorers footballers have ever seen as well as a Hungarian team which defined an era, left the biggest stage with a feeling of emptiness as they lost a World Cup trophy that many people had considered theirs already before a ball was kicked.
The Brazilian jersey from the 1998 World Cup is one of my favorite Selecao outfits. Unlike the simpler efforts that have followed, it featured more lines and designs, but the most relevant reason why the jersey stands out to me is the quality of football that was played when they wore it. 21-year-old Ronaldo at the peak of his powers, his flamboyant displays worthy of the ‘World Player of the Year’ title held by the magical Brazilian. The squad also contained more than a few of the World Cup winners from either the 1994 or 2002 wins. Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Cláudio Taffarel, Cafu just to name a few. They were humbled in the final by home team France following a controversy which saw Ronaldo’s name shockingly left out of the starting 11 of the final by Mario Zagallo but later returned to it just before the start of the match. The enigmatic forward was a shadow of himself in the final and it was later revealed he had suffered a seizure which under normal circumstances should have ruled him out of the tie. Two goals from Zinedine Zidane and one from Emmanuel Petit sealed the fate of Brazil’s mega-talented squad, ensuring the trophy never left the shores of the country. At least for 4 more years.
Yet again the Dutch were forced to curse their luck in the World Cup final. Losing a remarkable 3rd final. Spurred on by the flair and flair of forwards like Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie and the inventiveness and industry of attacking midfielder Wesley Sneijder, a previously unfancied Dutch team raced into the final winning all their matches including a semi-final against Uruguay and a tense quarterfinal against Brazil. They managed to hold Spain in the final until extra time. With a mixture of unscrupulous tackles and pacey counter-attacks, Holland were more than once within inches of claiming a winner for themselves before finally losing John Heitinga to a red card in extra time second half. Heitinga was one of 7 Dutch players already booked when he got a yellow card 7 minutes before Andres Iniesta scored the greatest goal in La Roja’s history to finally bring them their first World Cup, once again at the detriment of the Netherlands who finished second yet again.
Article By: Ayoola Kelechi