UEFA.com marks the start of the 20th FIFA World Cup by looking back at six of the most memorable campaigns for European teams.
The 'Magical Magyars' had already won Olympic gold in 1952 and thrashed England twice before they stretched their unbeaten record to four years during the 1954 FIFA World Cup. They demolished South Korea 9-0 and West Germany 8-3, in part thanks to Sándor Kocsis who would become the tournament's top goalscorer. In the latter group match, though, captain Ferenc Puskás was injured and had to sit out victories against Brazil and Uruguay, only returning for the final but still not at his best.
This and other factors led to a huge shock, Hungary losing 3-2 to West Germany having held an early two-goal lead. Sir Bobby Robson, head coach of 1990 World Cup semi-finalists England, who saw the Hungarians play live in the 1950s, said: "We saw a style of play, a system of play that we had never seen before. All these fantastic players, they were men from Mars as far as we were concerned."
West Germany, 1974
Franz Beckenbauer became the first person to lift the newly crafted World Cup trophy after a 2-1 victory in the final against the Netherlands as West Germany triumphed on home soil. The path to success was by no means smooth – it included a 1-0 reverse against East Germany as well as a now legendary 1-0 victory in the Frankfurt rain against Poland – and the Oranje were considered favourites in the Munich showpiece.
Inspired by the majestic Beckenbauer, West Germany came from behind and won courtesy of a trademark goal by Gerd Müller. "Whenever I see the goal on TV, I wonder how I managed to put it in the net.
I still get goose bumps thinking about it," 'Der Bomber' said recently.
Beaten in that Munich final were a team coming of age on the international stage. Dutch clubs had landed four straight European Champion Clubs' Cups between 1970 and 1973, with one Feyenood triumph followed by three for AFC Ajax. Rinus Michels's 'Total Football' came to the fore with the likes of Arie Haan, Ruud Krol, Johan Neeskens, Johnny Rep, Wim van Hanegem and of course Johan Cruyff. After beating Argentina and Brazil, West Germany were to deny them; the Netherlands have gone on to lose two more finals, in 1978 and 2010.
Not even the most optimistic Italy fan rated the Azzurri among the favourites for the 1982 World Cup in Spain. Indeed expectations were even lower after the group stage when Italy scraped through after draws against Poland, Peru and Cameroon. However, Enzo Bearzot's faith in his team amid heavy criticism was repaid as the Azzurri rediscovered their touch in style, overcoming Diego Maradona's Argentina 2-1 and Zico's Brazil 3-2 thanks to Paolo Rossi's hat-trick. The striker also opened the scoring in the 3-1 final victory over West Germany in Madrid. "
It was a fairy tale," Rossi said. "Bearzot made the difference by building an extremely united group."
France joined the World Cup winners' club following a remarkable campaign on home soil in 1998. Impressive throughout, Les Bleus cruised past the group stage before moments of individual brilliance got them through the knockout rounds. Centre-back Laurent Blanc's golden goal against Paraguay in Lens and the ice-cold nerves of youngsters David Trezeguet and Thierry Henry in the penalty shoot-out against Italy in the quarters paved the way for right-back Lilian Thuram's unlikely double against Croatia in the semis.
Then came Zinédine Zidane's two bullet headers against competition favourites Brazil in the final, putting Aimé Jacquet’s side on top of the world. "
It was a new era and I must say I was lucky to come across so much talent: that French squad was outstanding," said the man appointed a month after France's failure to qualify for USA '94.
The UEFA EURO 2008 champions' tilt at a first World Cup success in South Africa looked to have been scuppered by an opening 1-0 defeat by Switzerland. Undeterred, Vicente del Bosque's men stuck to their fabled possession-based style to advance. Forward David Villa – the tournament's joint-top scorer – struck once in each of his team's patient 1-0 wins against Portugal and Paraguay before Carles Puyol's powerful header earned La Roja victory against Germany in the semis. Andrés Iniesta's 116th-minute clincher against the Dutch in the Johannesburg showpiece capped what the midfielder described as an "incredible" ending.
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