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The five most dramatic World Cup quarter-finals in history

Friday 6th July 2018

The quarter-finals of the World Cup get underway on Friday, after plenty of drama in the first knockout phase. The final eight games from years gone by have produced some unforgettable memories. Here is our look back at five of the most dramatic World Cup quarter-finals in history.

Uruguay 1-1 Ghana (4-2 pens) 2010

We start with probably the most controversial quarter-final to have taken place during the South African edition. Ghana were the last remaining African side and looked set to be the first team from the continent to ever make the last four. However, Luis Suarez had other ideas.  Ghana took the lead on the stroke of half-time through Sulley Muntari, before Diego Forlan levelled just after the break.

An open game looked to be heading for penalties, before the last minute drama. From a corner, Ghana seemed certain to score the winner in the final minute of extra time, before Suarez punched the ball off the line after Steven Appiah’s header. He was sent off and Ghana given a spot-kick. Asamoah Gyan smashed his penalty against the bar. As they say, the rest is history. Uruguay went onto win on penalties and moved into the semi-finals, without Suarez.

South Korea 0-0 Spain (5-3 pens) 2002

From one of African’s greatest runs in a World Cup, to the best from Asia. South Korea at their home World Cup, had already ridden their luck with controversial victories over Portugal in their final group game, before following that up by beating Italy in the last 16. However, it was their clash with Spain was the one that caused the biggest uproar.

The Europeans had two goals disallowed, the first of which was for a push, the second for the ball going out of play before it was headed home. Neither showed any real reason that the goals should have been chalked off, but they were, and Korea went on to take another monumental scalp; reaching the semi-finals in the process.

Portugal 5-3 North Korea 1966

While 1966 will always be remembered as the year football came home for England, the North Korean story was a great one. They came in as the biggest outsiders, but victory over Italy saw them reach the quarter-finals. Portugal meanwhile, thanks to the brilliance of Eusebio, had won all their games in their group, dispatching Brazil along the way. The North Korean fairy-tale seemed set to continue as they raced into a 3-0 lead at Goodison Park after 25 minutes. However, it will be remembered as one of the greatest individual performances in a World Cup, as Eusebio would score four times; inspiring Portugal to come back and win 5-3 sealing a semi-final match against England.

Argentina 1-2 Netherlands 1998

This was the hardest one for me to pick in the top five, but I went with this game because of one moment of sheer genius when it mattered most. Two European giants met in Marseille with a place against Brazil, the defending champions, on the line. A brilliantly worked goal from Patrick Kluivert put the Dutch in front, before Claudio Lopez levelled five minutes later. 

Both sides then were reduced to ten men for second yellow cards; Arthur Numan for Holland and then Ariel Ortega in bizarre circumstances as he was booked twice in a minute for diving then headbutting goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar. This match is here though because of a few seconds of insanely high-quality football. Arsenal’s Dennis Bergkamp controlled the ball with one touch, cut back with his second and smashed home the third in stoppage time. Unbelievable stuff.

England 1-2 Argentina 1986

With over 114,000 in attendance in Mexico, this was the first fixture between England and Argentina since the Falklands war. Two moments involving Diego Maradona would show him at his best and worst, but would be remembered forever.

Firstly, the bad Maradona attempted to get on the end of a one-two and the little man leapt up ahead of England’s goalkeeper Peter Shilton, punching the ball into the net. In his interview after the game he described the goal as “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God”.  However, just four minutes later he showed his other, genius side, as he ran from inside his own half, skipping past four outfield players before rounding Shilton to score one of the greatest goals of all time.

Gary Lineker pulled one back for England but it was not enough. It would go on to spark a real rivalry between the two teams, one which, seemingly after Maradona’s comments this week following England’s victory over Colombia, is still very much alive. Either way, it will go down as being amongst the best World Cup matches full stop.

With the quarter-finals taking place on Friday and Saturday, it is very much still an open competition in what has been a brilliant World Cup to date. Hopefully, we'll see some more cracking fixtures that'll live long in our memories.

England v Sweden Match Stats
Simon Hahn

Lifelong sufferer following Darlington FC from League Two to the Northern League. Freelance Sports and data journalist. Living for 3pm on Saturday.


Total articles: 106

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