Our Selection of the Most Memorable Moments in Soccer History
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, and it has a rich history. The first written soccer rules were compiled over 150 years ago in 1863.
Those rules effectively marked the start of soccer as an “official” sport. They’ve changed a little over the years, and the sport itself has evolved significantly. Today, soccer is played in virtually every country in the world and there is an almost bewildering array of professional leagues and tournaments.
Most of these competitions are played at a national level, with domestic clubs competing against each other for honors. There are also continental competitions where club teams play against others from different countries, and international competitions such as the FIFA World Cup which feature national side.
Thousands upon thousands of games have been played in these soccer competitions. And, as you would imagine, among these games and the teams involved there are have been many moments that have left their mark on the history of sport forever.
It would be a truly impossible task to create a complete list of all the moments in soccer history that have been memorable for one reason or another. What we’ve done here, though, is compile a selection of the moments that we believe are genuinely iconic.
If you want to delve into soccer’s history and read about some of the most amazing events ever to happen in the sport, this is the page for you. After a great deal of debate among the soccer experts and fans on the GamblingSites.com team, we’ve put together this list of our favorite soccer moments of all time.
Please note that we have a bit of a flexible definition of what a “moment” is. Sometimes, it’s truly a moment, a short period of time – like a single game – that will live in the memory forever. Other times, it’s a longer period of dominance that spans a significant amount of time.
Everything that seemed spectacular or shocking enough to us is part of our list. Enjoy!
We decided to split this page into two separate parts. The first one will be dedicated to the international soccer tournaments that include national sides. The pride of playing for your country is often a powerful motivator, and the World Cup probably remains the most important trophy in soccer.
As a result, there are tons of games and competitions on an international level that remain relevant today.
The Battle of Highbury (1934)
The first moment we are going to explore is a bit shameful, as it includes a lot of violence and dirty play. However, it illustrates very well how important the game of soccer can be. It can be a true war on the pitch when pride is involved.
In 1934, Italy was the reigning World Cup winner, but England did not participate in the tournament because the local FA had left FIFA in 1928. Many, especially in the United Kingdom, considered the country as the strongest in the soccer world.
This is why the first match of the new world champions was a friendly against England at Arsenal’s stadium, the Highbury. It was played shortly after the World Cup and was considered as a clash between the best two teams on the globe.
The hosts were especially eager to prove they were the best team out there. They started the game exceptionally, leading 3-0 after only 12 minutes of play. However, the English players were kicking Italy all over the place to the extent that Italian center-back Luis Monti broke his foot.
He went off in the 15th minute, and the Italians had to continue with ten men, as there were no substitutes allowed at the time. This seems bad, but it actually helped the team. Monti’s attempt to stay on the pitch actually contributed to England’s goals because he was unable to move properly.
Italy adjusted their system and started fighting back against the aggression of the hosts. The side managed to score twice and came close to the draw but lost 3-2 at the end.
It was one of the most violent games in soccer history, as multiple players from both teams suffered various injuries. England claimed that the win proved the country was the best out there, but the Italians, rightfully so, didn’t agree because of Monti’s injury.
Overall, the Battle of Highbury was a game that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons, as it was much closer to a brawl than a soccer game at times.
The Maracana Blow (1950)
Next in line is another iconic game that illustrates the importance of soccer for whole countries. In 1950, Brazil hosted the World Cup after 12 years in which the tournament was canceled because of World War II.
Politics often get in the way of soccer and sports, in general, so the return of the competition was a big relief for the fans from all over the globe.
Brazil was given the honor to host the World Cup, as most of Europe was still in ruins. The home country took the task with a lot of ambition, building the largest soccer venue the world has ever seen – the Maracana stadium.
While it wasn’t completely finished for the World Cup, it was still mighty impressive and nothing like the world had ever seen before. Brazil was hoping to lift the trophy, and the fact that a bunch of teams refused to travel for the competition for various reasons made the home side an overwhelming favorite.
It breezed through the group stages and reached the next phase. For the first and last time in the World Cup’s history, there were no knockouts. Instead, the best four teams after the group stage played against each other, and the one to win the most points would lift the cup.
Brazil beat Spain 6-1 and Sweden 7-1 in the first two games, confirming its dominance. The final opponent, Uruguay, barely beat Spain and drew against Sweden. As a result, Brazil needed a draw in the final game against fellow South Americans to win the cup.
Considering the performance of both teams so far in the tournament and the home advantage, this seemed inevitable. The final match of the 1950 World Cup was played in front of more than 200,000 Brazilian fans who came to see their country dominate and seal the deal.
The press and the whole world expected Brazil to be crowned, and this served as an enormous motivational boost for their opponents. No one believed that Uruguay could upset the odds, which made the players angry and desperate to go out there and win.
The start was great for Brazil, as the hosts went ahead, which pleased the crowd. However, Uruguay got back in the game in the 66th minute when Alcides Ghiggia crossed from the flank and Juan Alberto Schiaffino equalized.
The pressure started building, and the unthinkable happened about 15 minutes later. Ghiggia was pushing from a similar position, and the Brazilian goalkeeper Barbosa, who was voted the best player in this position, decided that the Uruguayan winger would once again cross, and Barbosa made a positional mistake.
Ghiggia took full advantage and scored the winning goal for the visitors. Uruguay won 2-1, and this was probably the biggest heartbreak in soccer history. Brazil couldn’t believe it, and goalkeeper Barbosa would spend the rest of his days as one of the biggest villains in the country.
The Miracle of Bern (1954)
The latest entry on our list of the most memorable moments in soccer history was a huge upset, but the next World Cup in Switzerland brought us an even bigger one. The Hungarian national side was the strongest in the world at this point.
The Mighty Magyars were unbeaten in more than 30 games before reaching the final of the 1954 World Cup against West Germany. The two teams had met earlier in the tournament when Hungary won with an impressive 8-3.
There was no doubt that Ferenc Puskas and his teammates were the team to beat. They were simply outstanding in attack, scoring 25 goals in only four games prior to the 1954 World Cup final.
The power of the Hungarians was plain to see at the start of the game, as they quickly scored twice. At this point, West Germany seemed doomed, but this was the first time in soccer history when the world realized that you should never write the Germans off.
Despite going 2-0 down in the 8th minute, they were level only ten minutes later. Hungary pushed for the winner and missed plenty of chances throughout the game. It seemed as if there would be extra time, but the Germans struck again in the 84th minute to take the trophy home.
It was a major shock for the soccer world, and many believe that this Hungarian team is one of the greatest in the history of the game, despite coming short of the trophy. It must be mentioned that some serious concerns about doping violations have recently emerged.
Those concerns perhaps overshadow the memory of the Miracle of Bern. But this was a long time ago, now, and many of the players who took part are no longer with us. We probably won’t hear too much more about these alleged violations.
The Wembley Ghost Goal (1966)
There are many controversial goals in the history of the game, but few can compare to the one that brought England the World Cup in 1966. The country was the host of the tournament and one of the best teams at the time.
The expectations were high, and the team performed by reaching the final with strong displays on the pitch. England was first in the group stage, then proceeded to beat Argentina in the last eight, as well as the exceptional Portugal – led by Eusebio – in the semis.
This was enough for the host nation to set up a clash against a strong West German team that beat the likes of Uruguay and the Soviet Union on the road to the final.
On July 30th, 1966, the two rivals met at the legendary Wembley Stadium, and this was one of the most entertaining finals in the World Cup history. The Germans struck first before Geoff Hurst equalized, and this happened before the 20th minute of the game.
The draw remained intact up to the 78th minute, but the drama was just about to start. The Germans found a way to equalize through Wolfgang Weber just a minute before the end of regular time. As a result, the match went to extra time.
England was the better side and created a couple of chances but didn’t manage to capitalize until the 101st minute. This is when Geoff Hurst received a ball in the box and found space to shoot after a great first touch.
His effort hit the bar and fell somewhere around the line. According to the referees, it was behind it, so the goal was given. This broke the Germans, and Hurst completed his hat-trick at the end of extra time, and England lifted the World Cup for the first and last (to this date) time.
The final was broadcasted through British TV, so we have the raw footage up to this day. There were multiple efforts to try and calculate if the ball did indeed cross the line, using the replay, but the quality is not good enough for a conclusive answer.
If you ask the Germans, they were robbed. If you ask the English, they won fair and square. What remains certain is that this will be one of the most controversial moments in the history of the game forever.
Cruyff and the Total Football (1974)
It might be a bit disrespectful to the actual winners West Germany, but the World Cup of 1974 will always be remembered because of the genius of Johan Cruyff and the Total Football played by the Netherlands.
The Dutch coach, Rinus Michels, created a system that required each player to participate in all stages of the game. The attackers were the first defenders, and vice versa. On top of that, the men on the pitch were capable of switching their roles when required, creating an advantage in numbers everywhere on the pitch.
The world was shocked by the dominant style of the Dutch, and Johan Cruyff proved his reputation as one of the best players in the history of soccer. The Netherlands cruised to the final, defeating powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina along the way.
It’s one of the most impressive displays of soccer up to this day, and many believe this was the best team to ever play in the World Cup. And the Dutch didn’t even win it! They had to play West Germany in the final, and as the Mighty Magyars learned 20 years earlier, you should never underestimate the Germans.
This time around, they had the legendary Franz Beckenbauer, the deadly striker Gerd Mueller, and the home advantage. Combine those with the never-say-never mentality of the Germans, and you will understand why they won, beating the Orange 2-1.
The Netherlands had some good opportunities during the game but failed to capitalize. Despite the loss, the 1974 World Cup remains one of the most beloved in history, and the Dutch captured the minds and hearts of millions all around the globe.
The Panenka Chip (1976)
Next in line is another moment that inspired thousands. Some of the younger might’ve heard the name Panenka. It is nowadays used to describe a very unusual technique of taking a penalty. Instead of looking for the corner of the goal, the players fake a strong shot and elegantly chip the ball over the keeper, who usually picked a side and threw himself.
When the Panenka works, it is a beauty to watch. When it doesn’t, it could end up in a disaster. This is why it is so fascinating that it was first used at the highest stage possible.
The Czechoslovakian soccer team was playing West Germany in the 1976 European Championship final. The game was extremely close and went to extra time and penalties. The score was 4-3 in favor of Czechoslovakia, and Antonin Panenka was able to take a penalty.
A goal here would make him a hero and bring his country the trophy. The pressure was immense, especially if you consider that the German goalkeeper at the time was the legendary Sepp Maier. Panenka didn’t tremble, and he elegantly chipped the ball over Maier to bring his country and himself eternal glory.
The soccer world was shocked, as this was the first time someone dared to take such an audacious penalty. The reward for Antonin Panenka was the title and the fact that his name is forever part of the sport.
The Hand of God and the Goal of the Century (1986)
The 1986 Mexico World Cup was one of the most exciting in the history of the tournament. Led by the magic of Diego Armando Maradona, Argentina won the title by beating West Germany in the final. The competition was full of dramatic games, but no other will live in the memory for as long as the one quarterfinal between Argentina and England.
It highlighted the best and worst of Maradona. The South Americans dominated the first half but failed to score a goal. They started the second period brightly as well and went ahead just six minutes after the interval.
The problem is, the goal should have never stood! Maradona found himself one-on-one with the keeper in the box and looked like he wouldn’t be able to get to the ball first. This is when he used his hand to score and started celebrating instantly.
Somehow, the linesman and the main referee both missed the blatant handball, and the goal was given. The English players were furious and protested fiercely but couldn’t do anything. Maradona later described this as a divine intervention, which is the reason behind the name “The Hand of God” used for this goal.
It was a rather ugly moment, but there was nothing controversial about what happened just four minutes later. Maradona got the ball around the middle of the park and slammed through a bunch of English players before finding the net for the second time.
His dribble and the sublime skills displayed in the process make this one of the best goals in World Cup history. It is called “The Goal of the Century,” and it’s hard to argue with this title.
Despite a consolation by Gary Lineker, England didn’t manage to force extra time, so Argentina won 2-1 and then went on to win the World Cup.
That Goal by Marco van Basten (1988)
The Netherlands wasn’t among the top soccer nations in the world in the first half of the 20th century. In fact, it was in the 1960s when the country found some success on a club level that was later transformed to international tourneys.
After losing to West Germany in the 1974 World Cup final, the Dutch had to suffer another heartbreak in 1978 when Argentina beat them with extra time in the last match of the tournament. As a result, the Netherlands was one of the most impressive soccer countries that had no major trophies when the European Championship in 1988 came around.
The legendary Rinus Michels came back to lead a team that included some spectacular names such as Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, and Frank Rijkaard. The attacking trio was devastating and pushed the Dutch side to the final against the Soviet Union.
The Netherlands took the lead in the first half, but it was a rather close game. A second goal was needed so that the Dutch could kill the game and secure the trophy. This is when Marco van Basten stepped up to score one of the best goals you will ever see.
The phenomenal striker was at the end of a long ball and decided to try a volley from a seemingly impossible angle. Van Basten struck the ball with such power and precision that the Russian goalkeeper had no chance.
It remains one of the most beautiful strikes, and it brought the Netherlands some long-awaited glory on the international stage.
The Danish Dynamite (1992)
The next European Championship also finds a place on our list, as it was one of the most exciting in the history of the tournament. The likes of Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands were among the big favorites to win in EURO 1992 in Sweden.
A team that wasn’t expected to have a chance was Denmark…as the Scandinavian side actually failed to qualify for the tournament. The side finished second in its group, behind Yugoslavia. The Balkan country was supposed to play in Sweden, but the civil war there lead to a disqualification.
As a result, the Danish players were recalled to play in the European Championship finals. Many of them were already resting on various beaches across the globe and had close to zero preparation once the EURO 1992 kicked off.
No one expected much from Denmark, but the squad did include several world-class players, including the legendary goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel and the younger of the Laudrup brothers, Brian.
The start was tough, as Denmark won only one point from the opening two games and was on the brink of elimination in the group stages. A late goal in the final match against France was enough to bring a 2-1 victory and a place in the semifinals.
The Scandinavians had to face a strong Dutch side that was the favorite to win. After an entertaining 2-2 draw in the regular and extra time, it went to penalties. Every Danish player scored, while Marco van Basten missed for the Netherlands.
There was only one step to the eternal glory, but Denmark had to face Germany, which was playing as a united country for the first time. The likes of Jurgen Klinsmann, Stefan Effenberg, Rudi Voller, Karl-Heinz Riedle, and many other stars were eager to win the European Championships.
And yet, the Danish Dynamite exploded in the final, beating their opponent 2-0 to complete one of the most bizarre victories in the history of the European Championships. A team that wasn’t supposed to play in the finals actually won the cup at the end.
While the Danish side from 1992 certainly has a claim for the most surprising winner of a European Championship, we believe another country should get the nod here, and this is Greece in 2004.
The nation entered the finals in Portugal as one of the underdogs. No one expected Greece to even reach the knockout stages because the likes of Portugal and Spain were the favorites to progress. And yet, led by German coach Otto Rehhagel, the Greek team beat the hosts in the opening match and somehow managed to proceed to the next phase in second place.
This was supposed to be the end of the road for Greece, but Rehhagel’s tactics were absolutely spot on for a knockout tournament. He installed an exceptional discipline and work rate. His players defended for their lives and were deadly from any chance they got up front, especially from set pieces.
As a result, Greece beat France, the Czech Republic, and Portugal in succession, every single time with the scoreline of 1-0. The games were nearly identical, with the eventual champions defending deep with plenty of men behind the ball and finding the net from a set piece.
It was a stunning display of bravery and discipline that proved you don’t need superstars to win one of the biggest soccer tournaments out there. Greece might not have been the most attractive champion in the history of the EUROs, but Rehhagel and his men showed that they had the heart and the iron will of a champion.
Spanish Reign (2008-2012)
For years, the Spanish national side was one of the best in the world when it came to the individual players on the team. Some of the most talented athletes in the history of soccer have played for Spain on an international level without even coming close to success on the biggest stage.
The country had the reputation of a side that’s strong on paper but lacks team spirit when it matters the most. And indeed, we’ve seen great games from Spain, but the nation never quite reached its full potential. At least until the year 2008.
Luis Aragones was their head coach, and we should’ve known that something was cooking before the EURO 2008. The man didn’t include the legendary Raul in the squad, and the Spanish press went mad. They asked Aragones how it was possible, and he asked them how many titles Spain had won with Raul in the squad.
It was a brutally honest response, but the man was right. He was capable of building a version of Barcelona with the likes of Xavi and Iniesta pulling the strings, but he also added penetration with the likes of Fernando Torres and strong defense with Iker Casillas and Ramos at the back.
The system worked wonders, and Spain went on to win the European Championship. The golden generation then did the same in the 2010 World Cup and 2012 EUROs. It was tiki-taka at its best and brought the most successful period in Spanish soccer.
Brazilian Humiliation (2014)
When a county hosts the soccer World Cup, its chance to perform well rises dramatically. If that country is Brazil, everyone expects it to lift the trophy at the end. This was the case once again in 2014 when the Samba boys were carrying the expectations of the whole nation on their shoulders.
One man, in particular, was playing so well that the Brazilian people had a reason to dream. Neymar was leading his teammates forward, scoring a ton of goals, and playing like a man possessed. Unfortunately for the whole country, he got injured in the quarterfinals against Uruguay and couldn’t feature in the semis against Germany.
It was a big blow, especially after Thiago Silva was also out. Without their two best players and against the future world champions, Brazil got demolished 7-1. The Germans had one of their best games in history, destroying their opponent with devastating counters and finding the net at will.
The score was 5-0 before the 30th minute, and one could say that Germany actually stopped pushing that hard. It was the biggest humiliation in Brazil’s soccer history and a game we will never forget.
After going through the most memorable international moments, it’s time to take a look at legendary games and periods of club soccer history. This page features a lot of them.
Real Dominating the European Cup (1955-1960)
The competition that now goes by the name UEFA Champions League is the direct descendant of the European Cup. This is the most prestigious club tournament in Europe, as it features the best teams from the continent.
It was started in 1965, and in the early years, one club stood above them all. Real Madrid dominated the competition, winning it five times in a row in 1955-56, 1956-57, 1957-58, 1958-59, and 1959-1960. The likes of Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano were the main driving forces behind Real’s unprecedented success.
This placed the club on the map as one of the leading teams out there, a status that has been defended successfully throughout the years.
Munich Disaster and the Busby Babes (1958)
Unfortunately, some of the entries on this list are included because of the tragic feeling they left on the world of soccer forever. One of them is the Munich air disaster of 1958, which killed more than 20 people.
The reason we consider it one of the most memorable moments in soccer is the fact that the Manchester United team of that year was on the plane, trying to come home after a game against Red Star Belgrade from the European Cup. Other passengers included club employees, agents, and sports journalists.
The plane was trying to take off, but the conditions were awful, and there was snow on the runway. After the third attempt, the plane crashed. Eight players from Manchester United and fifteen other people related to the club and soccer in general lost their lives.
The team was nicknamed the Busby Babes, as the manager, Matt Busby, was leading a young and hungry side that had a bright future. This was the end of some of the players, who were considered the bright future of English soccer.
Among the fortunate survivors were the manager himself and a certain Bobby Charlton, who would proceed to become one of the greatest European soccer players of all time.
Lisbon Lions (1967)
Helenio Herrera’s Grande Inter was dominating the European soccer scene in the first half of the 1960s. The team and other leading clubs that copied the legendary catenaccio system were on top until 1967. It was no surprise to see Inter in the final of the European Cup.
This was the third final in four years for the team, and they’d won the first two. Many believe the style of Inter was too defensive and conservative, but it was extremely efficient. It was hard to beat the Italians, as even finding the net against them was considered a success.
Celtic, on the other hand, played a direct and attacking soccer that was pleasant for the eye. The team was led by the legendary Jock Stein, and this was the first time the Scottish club reached a European final.
It must be noted that the confidence of Celtic was sky-high before the game, as the side already entered the final as a winner of the Scottish title, Scottish Cup, and Scottish League Cup.
Inter, however, dramatically missed on winning the Italian Serie A and was knocked out in the semifinal of the Italian Cup. It would be close to outrageous to see the club end the season without a trophy, and the European Cup was the last chance.
The final was played in Lisbon and started according to expectations. Inter had a penalty in the 7th minute, and Sandro Mazzola took care of the job. Inter then typically went on to defend hard for the rest of the game, with Celtic pushing hard.
The Scottish side didn’t tremble and kept trying to find a way to the goal of Herrera and his men. The goalkeeper Giuliano Sarti and the posts kept Celtic at bay for a while, but Tommy Gemmell equalized in the 63rd minute.
It was a deserved goal for the Scottish side that kept pushing and looking for a winner. The efforts of Celtic got rewarded in the 84th minute when Chalmers found the net. Inter didn’t manage to muster any chances by the end of the game, so Celtic won 2-1.
It was a monumental effort by the Scottish club, which is the reason why the players from that final received the nickname the “Lisbon Lions.” They kept pushing and attacking fiercely and found a way to break the unbreakable Grande Inter.
The Dutch Total Football (1970s)
Many people dislike the catenaccio as a system that is too defensive and ugly to watch. There is some truth in that, but ironically, this is the formation that brought us one of the most exciting periods in the history of soccer.
The game is always evolving from a tactical standpoint, and the need to beat the ultra-defensive catenaccio gave birth to the Dutch Total Football. It’s a system that includes hard work, dominance in position, a lot of movement and discipline, but also improvisation.
The world had never seen something like that before, and many teams simply didn’t know how to react. Every player was capable of doing everything in the philosophy of Michels. Pass, run, defend, score, everything.
Teams from the Netherlands rarely had success in European competitions before, but this was about to change. Rinus Michels and his new formation allowed Ajax to create an advantage in numbers and dominate games against every opponent.
The club reached its first European Cup final in 1969, but it wasn’t ready to take over and lost to AC Milan. And yet, Feyenoord became the first Dutch club to win the trophy in the next year. Ajax followed with three consecutive titles in a devastating fashion.
The side’s best player was the magnificent Johan Cruyff, who was the face of the Total Football. Of course, this revolution didn’t surpass the Dutch national side, but we already covered the 1974 World Cup, so let’s stop here.
Clough’s Nottingham Forest (1978-1980)
The European club tournaments were dominated by English teams in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The pass-and-move style of Liverpool started it all, but others joined the show. We decided to include Brian Clough and his two European Cups with Nottingham Forest here because this is probably the most impressive achievement from that era.
The club was in the middle of the table of the Second English Division when Clough took over in January of 1975. It was struggling badly and finished 16th during his debut season. The next campaign was the first full one of Clough, and the results improved dramatically.
The team was still quite some distance off the top, but they finished in 9th, and the manager was starting to assemble a competitive squad. With the help of his right hand Peter Taylor, who had one of the best eyes for talent in the history of soccer, Clough was actually working not only with the idea of reaching the English First Division but with winning it eventually.
After a somewhat lucky promotion in 1976-1977, a couple of smart moves by Taylor and Clough resulted in a First Division title next year. It seems impossible today, but that’s right – Clough’s team had just been promoted when it won the English title.
This was only the beginning, as Nottingham Forest won back-to-back European Cups in 1978-1979 and 1979-1980, the crowning achievement in a couple of years full of trophies. It was a remarkable run for the club that was on the brink of playing in the English Third Division when Clough arrived.
The Hillsborough Disaster (1989)
Unfortunately, it’s time for another tragic moment from the history of soccer – a memory that will haunt us forever and that changed the game in the United Kingdom.
On April 15th, 1989, Liverpool was playing Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. The game was an FA Cup semifinal, but that barely matters. One of the stands with Liverpool supporters collapsed, killing 96 people and injuring another 766.
It’s one of the biggest tragedies in soccer. It led to numerous changes in the safety regulations at English stadiums. It’s a shame that it took close to 100 lives for the governing bodies of soccer to understand that the health and life of the supporters are far more important than anything else.
Initially, the English police used the hooligan issues at the time as an excuse for the accident. It is well-documented that the authorities tried to cover up the mistakes they made at the time.
After years of investigations and two independent inquiries, we now know the ugly truth. The Hillsborough disaster was a case of gross negligence by the police, the ambulances that were supposed to help, and a problem with the way the stadium was built. There were too many fatal errors that led to too many innocent victims.
“It’s up for grabs now!” (1989)
1989 was a nightmare for Liverpool, mostly because of the Hillsborough disaster, but the club also suffered one of the heaviest defeats this year. The team from Merseyside was fighting for the title with Arsenal, and it all came down to the wire.
Towards the end of the season, the Gunners looked like the favorite to win the English First Division, but a couple of bad results put Liverpool in the commanding spot. The two teams were supposed to meet in April in a crucial clash, but the Hillsborough disaster was the reason the match got postponed.
It was played on May 26th, and it was the last match of the 1988-1989 season. The mighty Liverpool was confident in the success, as Arsenal needed to win at Anfield with a difference of two goals or more, a task that seemed impossible at the time.
Even some of the Arsenal players from this period admit that they didn’t think they had a chance. But that wasn’t the case with the manager George Graham. He installed confidence in his team and had a very clear tactical approach in mind.
Despite the need to win with two goals or more, the manager was patient. He sent a starting lineup that included three center-backs on the pitch, which shocked everyone. However, Graham’s idea was for Arsenal to keep a clean sheet in the first half and go for it properly in the second.
He knew that a goal would put the hosts under immense pressure, and that was the plan. Arsenal managed to reach the interval without conceding and even had a chance to go ahead through Steve Bould.
Things got heated in the second half, as the Gunners managed to find the net rather early. Alan Smith was able to score with a header, and it was game on. Even then, Liverpool was still in a pole position to win the title.
The clock was ticking, and Arsenal’s Michael Thomas had a decent chance to find the net, but he missed it. It looked like the Gunners wouldn’t be able to score a second goal, as Liverpool was well organized.
And this is when the extra time came. Liverpool lost the ball foolishly in Arsenal’s half, and the Gunners pushed for one last time. Lee Dixon sent a long ball to Alan Smith, who managed to win the aerial duel to send the ball to Thomas.
He got a bit lucky going past two Liverpool players and was one on one with Bruce Grobbelaar, Liverpool’s goalkeeper. The Arsenal midfielder delayed his finish for what seemed forever but eventually found the net.
Anfield was completely broke, and people couldn’t believe it. The unthinkable had happened, and Arsenal had dethroned the champions in their backyard! Many feel this was the greatest season finale in the history of English soccer. The direct clash between the top two teams, the dramatic finale…you couldn’t make this up.
Barcelona Wins First European Cup (1992)
If you started watching soccer in the past 10 or even 20 years, you certainly have the perception that Barcelona is one of the most successful clubs in Europe. This wasn’t always the case, though, as it took a long time before the Spaniards won their first European Cup.
It’s time to mention the great Johan Cruyff for the third time, but this time as a coach. The legendary Dutchman proved to the world that very few people in the history of the game can match his understanding of soccer.
The perfect player became an almost perfect coach and a visionary that changed Barcelona forever with his influence on the club academy, La Masia, but more on that later. For now, let’s focus on the immediate impact Cruyff had on the team.
Barcelona was a force in Spain throughout different periods of the club’s history and had a couple of European trophies but lacked the biggest one. Barcelona lost two finals before reaching a third one under Cruyff in 1991-92.
The Dutchman installed many of the ideas of his mentor Rinus Michels, developing them even further to create a mesmerizing team that played breath-taking soccer. The likes of Hristo Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup, and Pep Guardiola were the backbone of this team.
The final game in the 1991-92 European Cup was against Sampdoria. The Italians were a tough nut to crack, and the match went to extra time. There were no goals for 111 minutes of play, and a penalty shootout seemed imminent.
But someone forgot to tell that to Ronald Koeman. The Dutchman remains one of the top scoring defenders in the history of soccer, and he proved that he could find the net even at the highest level. Koeman sent a thunderbolt from a free kick to seal the win for Barcelona.
Their first European Cup was now won, and Cruyff left a legacy that keeps giving today.
The Bundesliga Finale of 1992 (1992)
The cases when two teams have a realistic chance of winning the title in the last round are not that rare. However, you won’t often see as many as three still in the hunt for the trophy. This is exactly what happened in the German Bundesliga in 1991-92.
Stuttgart, Borussia Dortmund, and Eintracht Frankfurt all had 50 points before the last round of games, and all of them had to play away from home. The latter seemed the favorite to win the title because the team had a much better goal difference than the competition and faced the already relegated Hansa Rostock.
Borussia Dortmund’s task on the final day was similar, as the side faced another relegated opponent, MSV Duisburg. However, the goal difference of Dortmund was much worse than the other two, so it didn’t have its fate in its own hands.
Finally, there was Stuttgart, which had the toughest path to the trophy. The team had to play a strong Bayer Leverkusen team that was fighting for the fourth spot and a place in the UEFA tournaments. On top of that, Stuttgart’s goal difference was five goals worse than that of Eintracht.
The start of the last matchday was great for Borussia Dortmund. The side went ahead early on, Stuttgart was losing against Leverkusen, and Eintracht Frankfurt seemed unable to find a way to score. The side even went behind around the 65th minute.
A couple of minutes before each game, Dortmund seemed the favorite, as it was the only team that was currently winning. Both other contenders were drawing their games and needed a goal. Both started pushing hard, but Eintracht was punished on the counter and eventually lost after a late goal for Hansa.
However, Stuttgart managed to find a later winner through Guido Buchwald just one minute before the end of regular time. The defender managed to score from a set piece, which was the most important goal of his career. It brought Stuttgart the most dramatic title win in the history of the German Bundesliga.
Olympique de Marseille and the Bribery Scandal (The Early 1990s)
Olympique de Marseille was dominating French soccer in the early 1990s and even won a European Cup. The team was full of star players, and a lot of the success was down to president Bernard Tapie and his financial backing.
Unfortunately, the team won’t be remembered for what happened on the pitch, but rather for what happened behind the curtains. In 1993, there were rumors that grew into allegations that Olympique de Marseille bribed Valenciennes to lose on purpose.
The club was stripped from the title, and Bernard Tapie was sent to prison for match fixing. There were serious concerns that this case wasn’t the only one and that the side had benefited from bribes and shady proceedings off the pitch in the past, too, but nothing was proven.
In reality, this is most probably true, as there were plenty of suspicious games. In fact, the legendary manager Arsene Wenger, who was at the helm of Marseille’s main rival at the time, AS Monaco, was so bitter and disappointed that called this the worst period of his life.
The Frenchman went to Japan to find peace and restore his desire to work in Europe once again. Arsenal supporters should probably be thankful for what happened, as we all know the rest of Wenger’s story.
United Win at the Death (1999)
There are many legendary games in the UEFA Champions League, but few can compare with the final of the competition in 1999. The match was legendary on so many levels. Obviously, the importance of the occasion is one, but it was also hosted by Camp Nou in Barcelona and refereed by the iconic Pierluigi Collina.
The two teams that had the privilege for the trophy were Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Bayern Munich. As you could imagine, the game featured a bunch of memorable players on the pitch as well.
Both teams had already played twice in the group stage of the Champions League, and both games were tied. The expectations were for a thrilling final, but few could imagine what happened next.
Bayern Munich dominated the match, creating plenty of chances. The Germans went ahead in the sixth minute through Mario Basler and had a bunch of opportunities to find a second goal. Some exceptional saves by Peter Schmeichel kept Manchester United in the game, but it was hard to see how the English side could find the net.
This is where the genius of Sir Alex Fergusson struck hard. The Scottish manager decided to use only two of his substitutes, which is rare to see when your side is losing the Champions League final. Sir Alex sent in the experienced Teddy Sheringham and his favorite sub, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Both men repaid his faith in the most dramatic fashion. First, Sheringham was able to find the net after a corner in the 91st minute of the match. Bayern was heartbroken but still had the time to regroup and potentially find a winner through the extra time or the penalty shootout.
However, Manchester United used the momentum and confidence the equalizer brought to strike once more and close the game. In the 93rd minute, Solskjaer was able to score a second goal, once again from a set piece.
Oliver Kahn and his teammates were absolutely devastated, while Manchester United completed a historic treble in an emphatic fashion. This was arguably the most exhilarating Champions League in the history of the competition.
Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles (2003-04)
Finishing a whole league season without losing a single game hasn’t been done many times in soccer, especially when it comes to the top European leagues. AC Milan in 1991-92 and Juventus in 2011-2012 had done it before, but the Italian Serie A was hardly as competitive as the English Premier League.
This is why we decided to include Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal to this list. This wasn’t the first English team to go unbeaten for a season, as Preston achieved that feat at the end of the 19th century. However, the club played only 22 games, while the Gunners went 38 without losing in the 2003-2004 season (49 in total).
An achievement like that in the modern days of soccer and with Sir Alex Ferguson still active at Manchester United’s helm was absolutely monumental. It’s ironic how Arsene Wenger mentioned that he believed his team could go unbeaten for a whole season a couple of years ago. The Frenchman was mocked by the media and various experts.
He had the last laugh, though, as he boasted an Arsenal team including the likes of Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, and Sol Campbell. The Gunners won 26 games and drew the other 12, becoming champions in the process.
But it was not only about results. Arsene Wenger managed to find the perfect blend between pace and precision in attack, as well as a strong defense at the back. Arsenal was a pleasure to watch, and this team won the hearts of millions of soccer fans from all over the globe.
The Miracle from Istanbul (2005)
Liverpool is one of the most glorious English clubs and has dominated the European soccer scene for years. The Reds are especially proud with the character they usually display in the UEFA Champions League.
We don’t think there’s any game that displays that better than the final in the 2004-2005 season. Liverpool met a strong AC Milan side in the final. The Italians had some legendary players in their ranks, such as Paolo Maldini, Andrea Pirlo, Cafu, Kaka, and Andriy Shevchenko.
One could argue that this was a squad that could easily compete with the most iconic teams Milan had through the years. With so many stars in both defense and attack, the Italians were the favorites against Liverpool in Istanbul.
A quick look at the starting lineup from the final shows that Steven Gerrard was probably the only Liverpool player that could get a place in Milan. And you could tell that in the first half.
The Italians dictated the tempo, opening the opposition’s defense wide open almost at will. The skipper Paolo Maldini gave his team the lead in the very first minute, and it was Milan until the interval. Crespo added two goals towards the end of the half, so the game looked done at 3-0.
Liverpool faced a mountain to climb, and there were no signs that the English side could find the net three times to get back into the game. Until it did. A long-range strike by captain Steven Gerrard brought some hope five minutes after the restart.
Vladimir Smicer added another goal in a similar fashion, and the game was tied within only 10 minutes when Xabi Alonso scored another in the 60th minute! Liverpool shocked their opponents and took a huge psychological edge.
Still, the Italians got back on track and didn’t allow the opponent to create more chances. The game went to extra time, and this was the best moment of Jerzy Dudek’s career. The Polish goalie will hardly be remembered for anything outside of this match, but he certainly doesn’t care.
First, Dudek made an absolutely stunning double save to keep his team alive. Andriy Shevchenko simply couldn’t believe he didn’t score. But this was only the beginning for the goalkeeper. The game went to a penalty shootout.
Dudek decided to follow the lead of the legendary goalie Bruce Grobbelaar and started making weird movements with his arms and legs in an attempt to distract the Italians. It worked wonders, as Serginho blasted the first penalty for Milan over the bar, while Dudek saved the shots of Pirlo and Shevchenko.
This was enough for the win, since Hamann, Cisse, and Smicer found the net. Liverpool won the penalty shootout, and the Miracle from Istanbul was complete. It remains one of the most beloved moments for soccer fans from all over the globe and an inspiration that shows everything is possible if you refuse to give up.
Italian soccer has survived a couple of scandals related to match fixing and other shady moves. None of them is bigger than the Calciopoli from 2006. It all started with some rumors that lead to an investigation from the Italian newspapers.
It showed some shocking transcripts of phone calls, so the Italian Football Federation had to proceed and dig deeper. What was lying beneath shocked the world of soccer. The Juventus executive Luciano Moggi was operating a large network designed to influence the Italian Serie A and B.
He was behind the bribery of match officials, pressure on certain teams and players, and he was even dictating the way pundits were commenting on the games from the Italian league that were broadcasted on national television.
There were so many people involved in this that there were unprecedented punishments. Juventus, AC Milan, Lazio, and Reggina suffered various consequences, with the former ending up in Serie B. On top of that, a bunch of individuals were charged and banned from Italian soccer forever. The stain on the country and the league was huge.
Barcelona’s Tiki Taka (The 2000s and 2010s)
The modern soccer world has seen various teams dominate the scene, but one of the most impressive periods of success came in the second part of the 2000s and the first part of the 2010s. Barcelona was the team to beat, winning four Champions League titles between 2006 and 2015, on top of multiple other trophies.
The main driving force behind them was Lionel Messi. Many believe that the Argentinian magician is the best player to ever step on the field, and they certainly have an argument. The man can pass, dribble, score, and do pretty much everything on the soccer pitch.
Backed by the invaluable Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez in the middle of the park, Barcelona’s tiki take style was stunning at its best. The team simply didn’t give the opponent the chance to play with the ball. The movement and the short passes of the Catalans was something the world has never seen.
As always, the soccer world adapted and found a way to beat the style of play, but nothing can take away the titles and the dominance of Barcelona in this period of European soccer.
La Decima for Real Madrid (2014)
The Spanish soccer sides have dominated the European club competitions in the 2010s. It was Barcelona in the first half of the decade, but Real Madrid took over around the middle. The club was already the most successful in the UEFA Champions League history, with nine titles, but the ambitions were to reach the La Decima.
It would confirm Real’s status as the most successful club in Europe. The team was able to reach the final of the tournament and was about to face Atletico Madrid. It’s weird that the city rival of Real was the last hurdle, but no one expected an easy game.
Atletico’s manager, Diego Simeone, was able to build one of the most dangerous knockout teams out there. The defense of the side, led by the mercurial Diego Godin, was absolutely essential, while players like Diego Costa and David Villa were deadly up front.
The start was tough for Atletico, as the former had to leave because of injury in the 9th minute. And yet, Godin was able to score one of his trademark goals with a header, so Atleti was ahead at the interval.
Despite having players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Angel Di Maria, and Karim Benzema, Real Madrid struggled to find an opening. The hard work and organization of the opponent barely left any space, but Real did dominate possession, at least.
That wasn’t sufficient for a goal up to the very last moment of the regular time. It was the 93rd minute, and Atletico Madrid looked poised to win the Champions League. This is when Sergio Ramos scored a towering header that will forever haunt Simeone and his men.
The match went to extra time, but Atletico simply didn’t have enough energy to survive. Real Madrid dominated the final 30 minutes of the game and scored three times. Bale, Marcelo, and Ronaldo all found the net to bring the cup home. It was an appropriate way to win the La Decima, the tenth Champions League trophy in Real Madrid’s history.
The Leicester Fairytale (2016-2017)
When a team like Real Madrid wins a trophy, it’s hardly a surprise, no matter the fashion of the victory. Clubs from such magnitude are supposed to win.
Others don’t have that right, and we think that there is no bigger surprise in the modern history of soccer than the miracle achieved by Leicester City in the 2016-2017 season.
The Foxes were on the brink of relegation from the English Premier League in the previous campaign, barely surviving after an unexpected run of form at the end of the season. No one expected that the same team would be able to compete for something more than a mid-table finish.
And yet, the meteoric rise of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante, and a bunch of other players changed that perception quickly. At the end of the season, Leicester wasn’t afraid to play an attacking soccer and go toe to toe with even the best teams in England.
It was exciting to watch, and the Foxes were on the winning end of games way more often than anyone expected. The supporters were ecstatic, but the manager, Claudio Ranieri, still knew that the side could improve.
He decided to change the formation and install a more defensive approach. It was designed in a perfect fashion, allowing most of the midfielders to protect the goal, while the likes of Vardy and Mahrez had a lot of freedom up front.
The energetic display of Kante in the middle of the park was essential, while Kasper Schmeichel, son of the legendary Peter Schmeichel, as well as Wes Morgan and Robert Huth, were the main men at the back.
The changes applied by Ranieri allowed each squad member to play to his strengths. The enormous belief of the group and the support of the fans were crucial. Leicester City somehow survived in the title fight until the spring.
Still, no one believed that the Foxes could hold off the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal, and Tottenham. The chasing pack had much better players and enormous financial power, but the spirit of Leicester was no match for any of the other teams.
Ranieri and his boys managed to string a bunch of 1-0 wins together, and with a bit of luck, they won the English Premier League. There are no words in the English language that could describe how shocked, in a positive way, the soccer world was.
To give you some idea of how unlikely Leicester’s triumph was, at the start of the season most of the leading soccer betting sites were offering odds of 5,000 to 1 on Leicester being crowned Premier League champions.
The Foxes weren’t supposed to succeed in a league dominated by foreign investments and superstars. And yet, someone forgot to send the script to Ranieri and his men.
Up to now, this remains arguably the biggest surprise in soccer history and an achievement that is perhaps unlikely to ever be matched. It seems a fitting note on which to end our page on the most memorable moments in soccer history.