World Cup's Craziest Moments: Italy and Netherlands Overcome

Stephen Brennan, a Brit, teacher, and soccer fanatic, will tell the World Cup's craziest moments over the next few days. This is the third installment. Read the first one here and the second here.

Italy versus West Germany, Final, 1982

Italy is a team that seems to thrive on low expectations. Italians' hopes of the Azzurri achieving a third World Cup, their first since fascism ruled the country, were at a nadir as the 1982 World Cup began in Spain. They had managed only fourth place in the European Championships, held on home turf two years earlier. Moreover, a recent scandal in the Italian league had seen stars such as Paolo Rossi prosecuted and suspended for match fixing and illegal betting. That they just squeaked through the first round in '82 drew further criticism from the media, to whom the Italian players now refused to speak.

However, as the World Cup progressed, they grew in stature and were even able to conquer their old foe Brazil (whose '82 team is widely considered the best to not win the World Cup) in a thrilling 3-2 victory. Rossi's two goals against Poland in the semis sent them to the final, where they faced West Germany, whose '82 team is one of the more disliked in WC history.

However, the Italians managed to overcome the Germans 3-1 at Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid and clinch their elusive third World Cup. Rossi would score again in the match, eventually taking home the prized Golden Boot for top goal scorer of the tournament.

The most enduring image of the match came from defensive midfielder Marco Tardelli. In the 69th minute, a quick pass across the box saw Tardelli initially appear to lose control of the ball slightly before lashing it into the bottom corner. Tardelli's celebration, running, tears welling, screaming, fists clenched, is the perfect expression of the passion, emotion, and ecstasy of someone who has just scored in a World Cup final. His celebration will never be topped.

Bergkamp Scores the Perfect Goal - Netherlands versus France, Quarter Final 1998

One of the things to note about the World Cup is that it creates rivalries among nations that would ordinarily have little to do with one another. In the 1978 tournament, the Netherlands suffered its second successive defeat in a final, losing to home nation Argentina. The victory brought dancing on the streets of Buenos Aires, though it wasn't without controversy. Supposedly, before the game, the ruling Argentine military junta had assured that the Dutch team bus drove the wrong way to the stadium, passing by a small village where Argentine fans banged on the windows screaming at them. They also had FIFA change the match referee from the respected Abraham Klein to Serio Gonella, who had a howler of a match, clearly favoring the home team. Argentina won the final after extra time, sending the 70,000 Argentine fans in attendance into delirium, leaving Dutch hearts broken for the second time in four years.

This was the 8-year-old Denis Bergkamp's first footballing memory. Twenty years later, Bergkamp had emerged as one of the world's premier strikers, both at Ajax in his home country, and at Arsenal in England. He had gained a reputation as a clinical perfectionist, from his superstarched socks to his strict training regime. However, in the last minute of the World Cup quarterfinal against Argentina, the first time the two sides had met in a competitive match since the '78 final, Bergkamp's penchant for perfection truly came to the fore.

With the game standing at 1-1 and both sides reduced to playing a man short because of two sendings-off, Bergkamp received a long pass from Frank de Boer. Three deft touches later, Bergkamp has taken the ball around an Argentine defender and walloped it in the back of the net. "You never play the perfect game," he commented later, "but the moment itself was, I think, perfect."

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