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The top 10 football matches of all time

Following a classic World Cup final at Qatar 2022, Sports Mole presents the 10 finest football matches of all time.

There are so many elements making up a memorable match, and each will hold different importance depending on the observer's view of the beautiful game.

Is it goals, last-minute drama or supreme technical ability that decides a game's greatness? Or does a manager's tactical masterclass, some individual virtuosity or simply the sheer scale of the occasion matter most?

While countless classics have been played out in the lower divisions down the years, each remaining indelibly inscribed on the memories of those lucky enough to be present, our list leans towards contests that took place at the elite level - one way of narrowing an incredibly wide field.

For that reason, 1957's Division Two clash between Charlton Athletic and Huddersfield Town - which ended in a 7-6 win for the London club - has not been included, nor Nigeria's groundbreaking 4-3 defeat of Brazil at the Atlanta Olympics.

However, several other games which immediately bring a glint to the eye of even the most hard-bitten football fan have managed to make the cut - and perhaps the odd wildcard. So, here, Sports Mole presents the finest football matches of all time.

10. Barcelona 4-3 Fortuna Dusseldorf - 1979 Cup Winners' Cup Final

As well as their German opponents - who only qualified for Europe as domestic cup runners-up - being underdogs before the two very different clubs' clash in Basle took place, seeing St Jakob Stadium packed with some 30,000 Catalan fans effectively made the final a home fixture for Barcelona.

Indeed, the Blaugrana faithful would have been pleased to see their team's pursuit of a first UEFA trophy start by following the script, when Tente Sanchez gave them a fifth minute lead. Yet, Barcelona had won only one league title in the previous two decades, and the all-conquering swagger of future times was not yet ingrained: Fortuna forward Thomas Allofs - who joined older brother Klaus in the Germans' XI - produced an equaliser soon after.

In all, twice Barca led and twice Dusseldorf dragged themselves back level, which brought about a nerve-wracking period of extra time. Goals from Charly Rexach and Austrian star Hans Krankl then brought Barcelona to the brink of victory, but that was still not enough to kill the outsiders off.

With six minutes left, Wolfgang Seel scored his second goal of the game to make it 4-3 - but Barca ultimately held on. They took the spoils and Catalan flags were proudly held aloft, while Fortuna had only one month to wait before finally winning a German Cup final at their sixth attempt.

9. Benfica 5-3 Real Madrid - 1962 European Cup Final

Eusebio pictured for Benfica during his playing career© Reuters

Ending Real Madrid's monopoly of the newly-established European Cup was not enough for 1961 winners Benfica, as one year later the Lisbon giants beat their Spanish counterparts in the final by twice fighting back from behind.

Hungarian great Ferenc Puskas scored a first-half hat-trick for Madrid, who had famously slain Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in the 1960 decider, as Alfredo di Stefano and Paco Gento ran roughshod over a stunned Benfica side.

However, the Eagles managed to haul themselves level early in the second half through Mario Coluna, before another legend of 20th century football, Eusebio, stepped up to the plate in some style.

Building on the 50th-minute equaliser of his fellow Mozambique-born trailblazer, the Portugal striker scored twice to secure successive European Cup victories for his beloved Benfica, then managed by infamous coach Bela Guttmann, whose subsequent 'curse' supposedly hangs over the club to this day.

Some 60,000 fans packed into Amsterdam's Olympisch Stadion would never forget such a supreme clash of football royalty, which produced an iconic eight-goal thriller.

8. Bayer Uerdingen 7-3 Dynamo Dresden - 1986 European Cup Winners' Cup quarter-final

While losing some points for prestige, relative to some titanic tussles elsewhere in this list, 'The Miracle of the Grotenburg' offered everything else any football fan could ask for.

With just over half an hour remaining in the second leg of a Cup Winners' Cup quarter-final tie, against their rivals from across the border in East Germany, Bundesliga club Bayer Uerdingen found themselves 5-1 down on aggregate - no less than five goals were required to make it through to a first UEFA semi-final.

Having beaten mighty Bayern Munich in the 1985 German Cup final and progressed through the early rounds, Uerdingen were pitched into a tense battle of 'East versus West', and had lost 2-0 when they travelled to the other side of the so-called 'Iron Curtain' for the first leg.

Beaten in five previous European quarter-finals, Dresden were now 3-1 up on the night and almost had both boots in the semis, but with goalkeeper Bernd Jakubowski fracturing his shoulder and being forced to come off, replacement Jens Ramme conceded a 58th-minute penalty, before two quick-fire goals in the next eight minutes left Uerdingen just 5-4 down overall.

Substitute Dietmar Klinger's strike in the 78th minute then incredibly levelled the tie, and with just nine minutes left, Wolfgang Funkel scored a goal that not only completed his hat-trick but also etched Uerdingen's unbelievable feat into history for evermore. It truly was 'Das Wunder von der Grotenburg'.

7. Liverpool 4-3 Newcastle United - 1995-96 Premier League season

Kevin Keegan as Newcastle United manager in 1996© Reuters

While all manner of Anfield thrillers are in contention for inclusion, perhaps none have matched the intensity and notoriety of Liverpool's spectacular win over Premier League title contenders Newcastle - commonly regarded as the English top flight's most entertaining match to date.

Already starting to stumble along their path to a potential first title for nearly 70 years, Kevin Keegan's Toon side fell behind when Robbie Fowler headed home inside the first two minutes. However, in an indication of how the evening would pan out on Merseyside, they quickly turned the game on its head through strikes from Les Ferdinand and French winger David Ginola.

Fowler's second of the night was his 28th goal of a prolific season, and strike partner Stan Collymore got in on the act with a 67th-minute goal that hauled his team level following Faustino Asprilla's equaliser.

In the dying embers of a blood-and-thunder encounter, Collymore converted a John Barnes pass in the second minute of stoppage time, and his wildly celebrated winner left an ashen-faced Keegan slumped in front of his dugout in despair.

Newcastle would never recover from such a setback and the league title ultimately eluded them once again.

6. Manchester City 4-3 Tottenham - 2019 Champions League quarter-final

Tottenham Hotspur's Fernando Llorente celebrates scoring against Manchester City in the Champions League on April 17, 2019© Reuters

Holding a slim 1-0 advantage from the first leg of an all-English contest on the continental stage, Tottenham arrived in Manchester far from assured of their place in the semis - and the events of the first half-hour set up a breathtaking finale.

In all, five goals were racked up inside the first 21 minutes of a chaotic return fixture, as Raheem Sterling put City level on aggregate before Heung-min Son scored twice for Spurs in the absence of injured partner Harry Kane. Bernardo Silva and Sterling then struck back for the hosts, who therefore led 3-2 at half time.

When Sergio Aguero gave Pep Guardiola's men a two-goal lead before the hour mark, it seemed they were set to squeeze through to the Champions League's final four. However, substitute striker Fernando Llorente had other ideas and turned in Tottenham's third - it was now 4-4 overall and the London club would edge through by virtue of the now-defunct 'away goals' rule.

The story had not ended there, though, as in stoppage time, Sterling found the net once again to send both Guardiola and City's fans into a riotous explosion of joy; Spurs players slumped to the turf in utter despair.

Within moments, the VAR intervened and an agonising wait ensued. The verdict: an offside on Aguero saw the goal chalked off and Spurs went through in the most dramatic fashion.

5. Italy 3-2 Brazil - 1982 World Cup

Paolo Rossi in action for Italy against Brazil at the 1982 World Cup© Reuters

Widely regarded as a Brazil team to match - in terms of sheer talent - their lauded predecessors of 1970, the Selecao were considered clear favourites to win the World Cup finals in Spain.

However, three moments of mastery from eventual champions Italy saw them eliminated after a classic encounter in Barcelona, where an inferior goal difference in the second group stage meant the Azzurri had to ditch a defensive game plan and win to reach the semis.

A player previously banned for his involvement in a betting scandal back at home helped the Italians stun both Brazil and their global legions of admirers, as a clinical hat-trick from Paolo Rossi - who had yet to score in the tournament - gave them the lead on three separate occasions.

Each time the defiant Brazilians equalised, via superb strikes from star men Socrates and Falcao, the predatory Rossi - who ultimately claimed the Golden Boot - was on hand to defy perhaps the greatest team never to win the World Cup. Even a draw would have been enough, but they bowed out having taken part in one of the finest games seen at the finals.

4. West Germany 3-3 France (West Germany win 5-4 on penalties) - 1982 World Cup semi-final

Michel Platini playing for France at the 1982 World Cup© Reuters

In the humidity and heat of the Spanish summer of 1982, the World Cup semi-finals threw together two traditional European rivals at Seville's Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.

A match later tagged as 'the Night of Seville' in both countries was eventually decided by penalties - for the first time ever in World Cup history - but an incredible encounter in the preceding 120 minutes featured four goals in extra time and one of the all-time football controversies.

Also considered by then France captain and playmaker Michel Platini to be his "most beautiful game", the contest kicked off at nine o'clock in the evening, though the temperature was still in the high thirties. Nonetheless, there was an eventful first half-hour to behold, as Germany opened the scoring after 17 minutes before Les Bleus equalised through Platini's penalty soon after.

In the second half, French forward Patrick Battiston streaked through into the clear, ready to pounce on an inviting throughball, but as he aimed to turn home his nation's crucial second goal, German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher recklessly leapt into his path and the collision knocked Battiston unconscious. Minus two teeth, and with cracked ribs and damaged vertebrae, the latter was helped from the field, but Schumacher did not receive a card of any colour and - remarkably - no foul was given.

Despite such a sickening setback, France continued to flood forward and even struck the crossbar in the final minute. During extra time, there would be four more goals - two for each side. First, Alain Giresse put the French within touching distance of the final, firing them 3-1 ahead after just eight minutes of the extra 30.

Yet, West Germany were not down and out: half-fit substitute Karl-Heinz Rummenigge volleyed home from close range, before Klaus Fischer scored soon after to secure a shootout. Inevitably, the spot-kick kings progressed by winning 5-4 on penalties, with Horst Hrubesch netting the final kick of a true World Cup classic.

3. Milan 3-3 Liverpool (Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties) - 2005 Champions League Final

Liverpool celebrate winning the 2005 Champions League after the 'Miracle of Istanbul'© Reuters

Later christened 'The Miracle of Istanbul', the ultimate game of two halves saw a bedraggled Liverpool team claw their way back into the Champions League final and ultimately topple mighty Milan.

The side managed by Rafa Benitez had finished far adrift of top spot in the Premier League that year, and facing a talent-packed Rossoneri were deservedly three goals behind at the interval. Legendary defender Paolo Maldini scored at the end of Milan's first attack, before Argentinian sharpshooter Hernan Crespo added a clinical brace towards the end of a dominant first-half display.

Facing humiliation under the gaze of a global television audience, Liverpool somehow galvanised themselves and responded to a rousing rendition of 'You'll Never Walk Alone' after the break: in six short minutes - thanks to goals from Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso - the Reds had incredibly pulled level.

It still took a superb Jerzy Dudek double save to deny Europe's top striker Andriy Shevchenko from close range and set up a nail-biting shootout, of which the Polish goalkeeper was the undoubted star.

Having distracted Milan's penalty-takers with his jelly-legged goal-line antics, Dudek saved the final spot-kick - from the boot of unfortunate fall-guy Shevchenko - at 12.29am local time; earning Liverpool a fifth European title against all the odds.

2. Italy 4-3 West Germany - 1970 World Cup semi-final

Mainly remembered for its scintillating final act, in which a Pele-inspired Brazil beat Italy 4-1 at the Azteca, Mexico '70 also produced an unforgettable classic in the semi-finals.

The Italians - renowned for their stolid and reactive style - led 1-0 for the majority of the match, after Roberto Boninsegna scored in the eighth minute. West Germany struggled to get back into the game, with star man Franz Beckenbauer having dislocated his shoulder but bravely playing on with his arm in a sling.

Then, into stoppage time, unheralded defender Karl-Heinz Schnellinger summoned up an unlikely equaliser - it was to be his first and only goal in 47 international appearances. That was just the start.

During an unparalleled period of extra time, within 13 minutes, the two European heavyweights traded five goals - still the record for most scored in a World Cup game.

Despite the best efforts of star striker Gerd Muller, who bagged a brace, it was Schnellinger's Milan clubmate Gianni Rivera that ultimately netted the winner; earning the Azzurri a hard-won place in the World Cup final.

On the Italian peninsula, the extraordinary events of 17 June 1970 in Mexico City are still referred to as 'La Partita del secolo' - the game of the century.

1. Argentina 3-3 France (Argentina win 4-2 on penalties)

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal on December 18, 2022© Reuters

The game of the 21st century?

While allowing for 'recency bias', which tends to tilt judgement more favourably towards recent events, an all-time classic World Cup final at Qatar 2022 can lay claim to being the greatest ever played.

With stakes spectacularly high, defending champions France and ultimate winners Argentina fought out an emotionally-charged tussle for the ages, though it was the South Americans that largely dictated play to their opponents for the first 78 minutes.

Les Bleus, bidding to become the first back-to-back champions since Brazil in 1962, were two goals adrift following Lionel Messi's opener from the penalty spot and a truly brilliant Angel Di Maria goal which epitomised the cohesion between the Argentine players.

They were seemingly in complete control, but Kylian Mbappe's quickfire double span the football world on its axis: a cool penalty conversion was followed by the Golden Boot winner's magnificent second - an arrowed volley into the far corner less than two minutes later.

After restoring parity and for once silencing the massed Albiceleste fans inside Lusail Stadium, France then played their part in an extraordinary extra-time period which saw inspirational skipper Messi scramble in his second of the game with just 10 minutes remaining, before Mbappe stepped up to slot home his second spot-kick and become only the second man to hit a World Cup final hat-trick.

Argentina goalkeeper Emi Martinez then made one of the most vital saves in finals history at the death; denying Randal Kolo Muani and forcing a tense penalty shootout.

Securing Messi his longed-for status as a World Cup winner, 'Dibu' went on to repel Kingsley Coman's attempt from 12 yards in a series which climaxed with unheralded substitute Gonzalo Montiel tucking home the winner. Cue pandemonium in Doha, Buenos Aires and beyond.

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Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates with the trophy after winning the World Cup on December 18, 2022
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Top 10 greatest games in World Cup history
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Tables header RHS

Group A

Q Germany Germany22006
2 Switzerland Switzerland21104
3 Scotland flag Scotland20111
4 Hungary Hungary20020

Group B

1 Spain Spain11003
2 Italy Italy11003
3 Albania national flag Albania20111
4 Croatia Croatia20111

Group C

1 England flag England21104
2 Denmark Denmark20202
3 Slovenia Slovenia20202
4 Serbia Serbia20111

Group D

1 Netherlands Netherlands11003
2 France France11003
3 Poland Poland10010
4 Austria Austria10010

Group E

1 Romania Romania11003
2 Slovakia Slovakia11003
3 Belgium Belgium10010
4 Ukraine Ukraine10010

Group F

1 Turkey Turkey11003
2 Portugal Portugal11003
3 Czech Republic Czech Republic10010
4 Georgia Georgia10010

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