Mike Gibbons

Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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What the world is waiting for

    In 1994 the image of Roberto Baggio launching his penalty into the Pacific Ocean was seen by three in five people the world over. It is estimated that around four billion people will tune in to see the final this year in Yokohoma on the 30th of June. This is a worthy audience for the greatest prize in sport, and interest in the game is at an all time high, largely thanks to the increasingly important role of televised coverage. Captured forever on celluloid are the images and events that have exacted the full gamut of human emotions from fans the world over. Starting from 1958, one per tournament, these are the ones that stand out in my mind.

1958, Sweden – Brazil carry the Swedish flag

    With their arrogant and apathetic attitude to international football in recent times, it’s hard to remember what a class act the Brazilians once were. In 1958 they became the first and so far only country to win a World Cup off their own continent, and marked the arrival of one of the all time greats, Pele, at just 17 years old. He shook the world in ten days, from the quarter final to the final, scoring six goals along the way. After Brazil had beaten hosts Sweden 5-2 in the final, they sportingly carried the Swedish flag around the stadium, to a standing ovation from the home fans. With acts like this, and the way they played the game, it was impossible in those days not to love them.

1962, Chile – Football at its worst

    There is perhaps nothing more ludicrous than using war as a metaphor for football. However, the Chile v Italy confrontation in 1962 was perhaps worthy of it. It was a 22-man riot thinly disguised as a football match, containing some truly shocking tackles. Had it been refereed under the modern rules the game would have been abandoned with both teams down to six players. Even then, it was amazing that only two Italians were red-carded, the referee seemingly holding back from cautioning Chilean players lest he cause uproar in the stadium. The world was suitably horrified; some went as far as wanting both teams thrown out of the competition. In the midst of all this there was a match, which Chile won 2-0.

1966, England – The underdogs meet the unstoppable force

    A tournament of many surprises, the biggest of all being North Korea humbling the mighty Italians 1-0 and sending them home. In the quarter-final, they shocked the world even further still by taking a 3-0 lead over Portugal inside half an hour. This inspired one of the great individual performances of all time. The legendary Eusebio, who in his previous game had shattered the champions Brazil with two goals, hit four against the North Koreans. Despite their most cynical efforts, they simply could not stop him and Portugal ran out 5-3 winners. For that ninety minutes Eusebio looked exactly what he was at that time – the best player in the world.

1970, Mexico – That goal

    For the uninitiated, it went something like this. Brazil are 3-1 up in the final against Italy with a few minutes to go. Tostao wins the ball deep in his own half, and after a few passes at the back the ball reaches Clodoaldo, who proceeds to embarrass four Italians by running rings around them as if in a playground. He offloads to Rivelinho on the left, who fires the ball perfectly down the touchline to Jairzinho. The striker cuts infield and lays the ball to Pele, hovering ominously on the edge of the area. Carlos Alberto is advancing into the area on the right and Pele casually lays it into his path. The ball sits up perfectly and the captain hammers it past goalkeeper Albertosi and into the far corner – cue absolute delirium. Football could have ended right then and there – it does not, has not and probably never will get any better than that.

1974, West Germany – One minute of total football

    The opening minutes of the World Cup final are usually a cagey, tense period. One glorious exception was the final of this tournament between Holland and hosts West Germany. Holland kicked off and kept possession, passing the ball along the back four and the midfield, almost taunting the Germans to win it off them. Cruyff then took the initiative, setting off on a driving run from the centre circle and he had his legs taken from him as he darted into the area. A penalty was awarded, Neeskens converted and Holland went one-nil up inside two minutes. Not a single German player had yet touched the ball. We all know what happened after but for that one minute, to do that in the World Cup final in Munich against the home team displayed a breath-taking, brilliant arrogance.

1978, Argentina – The ticker-tape storm

    This was probably the most controversial World Cup ever, for reasons that would need a book to explain, but what cannot be questioned was the sheer passion of the Argentine fans. The host nation usually does one of two things, either buckle under the crippling weight of expectation, or elevate their game to a different level. The ticker-tape storm that greeted Argentina onto the pitch in the final must be the most awe-inspiring sight the tournament has ever witnessed. The Argentine team raised its game to meet the demands of their zealous supporters and give them the biggest prize of all.

1982, Spain – The epic

    France versus West Germany, the game that had everything. It was high stakes (for a place in the final), it had heroes (the open, attacking French side) and villains (West Germany had earlier conspired with Austria to knock out Algeria), it had drama (France led 3-1 in extra-time, somehow the Germans pulled level at 3-3) and incident (Schumachers flying bodycheck on Battiston unbelievably went unpunished), great goals (Littbarski, Tresor, Giresse), great performances ( Platini, Giresse and Tigana were inspired for France; Littbarski and Breitner excelled for the Germans and Rummenigge, on as a substitute, was unbelievable) and last but not least the World Cups first ever penalty shootout. So finely matched were the teams this was all that could separate them. Hrubesch slotted home the winning penalty to settle maybe the greatest football match ever played.

1986, Mexico – That goal

    Even being English, I never tire of seeing this. Not content with punching one into the net, Diego then has the bare-faced cheek to five minutes later score the greatest goal ever. I can vividly remember watching it and what I was thinking even now. When he picked up the ball in his own half, there seemed little danger. He did an amazing turn in the other direction that left Beardsley trailing behind. He surged away from Peter Reid. Still no danger though, he’s forty yards from goal. He then cuts inside Butcher, picking up pace all the while. He has players over to his left, but he ignores them. He approaches Fenwick on the edge of the area. It is starting to look ominous. He surges past Fenwick as if he wasn’t there, and he is in our area. Shilton comes out to block the expected shot. Maradona fakes to shoot in the far corner, but at the last second drags the ball past Shilton, now sprawled on the floor and helpless. He now has a tap in. Butcher, who has been desperately trying to catch him up, slides in from the back but it is too late. Maradona has scored, and England are finished. Absolutely incredible.

1990, Italy – Gazza’s tears

    He is ridiculed for it now, but Gazza’s tears at the possibility of missing the World Cup final (and who wouldn’t have cried?) melted the hearts of the English nation, over half of which were watching. The effect of Gascoigne that summer was twofold. With a string of brilliant performances, he re-ignited the belief in the national team. With his tears, outlining his passion for the cause, he resurrected football back into the national consciousness where it belongs, right at the cornerstone. Whereas before 1990 football in England was viewed by most as a game played by yobs and watched by hooligans, post Italia 90 it has become the glitz and glamour of the Premiership, saturated with money and watched by almost everyone. For it’s current level of popularity, and predominance in national culture, English football owes Paul Gascoigne a debt it could never possibly repay.

1994, USA – Andreas Escobar’s own goal

    It seemed a relatively innocuous moment at the time, but is painful in hindsight because of its ultimate end result. In the group match between Colombia and the USA, effectively a decider to reach the second phase, John Harkes whipped in a cross from the left, Escobar slid across to try and clear and diverted the ball into his own net. Colombia went 1-0 down, and eventually lost 2-1. When Columbia returned home, Escobar paid for his own goal with his life, assassinated in the street. Football is worth a lot too many people, but however high you value it, it’s not worth that. A stark reminder to everyone that this is, after all, only a game.

1998, France – Chilavert lifts his team-mates

    Laurent Blanc had just broken Paraguayan hearts when he scored the first ever golden goal in the World Cup to take France through to the quarter-finals. With Paraguayan players collapsed on the turf in despair, there was one notable exception. Jose Luis Chilavert, their goalkeeper, captain and inspiration, went around and lifted them all up from the floor, consoling them and raising everyone’s spirits. He himself had been brilliant in the tournament, especially in that match and against Spain in the group stages with some inspired saves. He also nearly scored from a trademark free-kick against Bulgaria (he has an incredible eight international goals), and carried around with him his lucky coin, which seemed as big as a satellite dish. To put aside his own disappointment and rally his team at such a time is the perfect example of a captain and speaks volumes about him. So far no goalkeeper has ever scored in the World Cup. If Chilavert does this year, no goalkeeper will deserve it more.

    So who will do it this year? Who could provide us with the moment we are all waiting for, the talking point, the image that will be remembered for all time? It could be a goal, a save, a match, a player or an incident. Whatever it is, something amazing will occur between the 31st of May and the 30th of June, and it will be captured on film, and be replayed and remembered for the rest of time.



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