What are some of the most iconic World Cup finals performances? Maradona, Pelé, Zidane...
What are the greatest individual performances at the World Cup final in history?
With the World Cup 2022 final around the corner, we thought it might be a good idea to look back on some of the greatest performances in football’s biggest game. Argentina beat Croatia and France ended Morocco’s dreams to get to game 64 of the tournament, but it remains to be seen who will be the hero of the day and if their performances can match any of those that are mentioned below.
Pelé, 1958 & 1970
Yes, of course Pelé is up first and of course he has two - and it’s basically because I can’t decide. When the then-17 year old controlled the ball on his chest before flicking it over Gustavsson and volleying in the net, people across the world knew they were watching someone special. Brazil won that game 5-2, and Pelé became the youngest goalscorer ever at a World Cup final, giving his nation their first world champion title.
The second performance of the two came in 1970. This time, Pelé was an established figurehead in football, and arguably the best in the world. They came up against Italy, with both teams looking to get their third victory in the tournament and become the outright record winners of the World Cup. Brazil had flown through the previous rounds, scoring 15 goals in 5 games, knocking out holders England in the quarter-final round. It was also the first time two former World Cup winners had faced each other in the final of the tournament. During this time, Pelé was at his peak, leading the electric Brazil side to a 4-1 thrashing of the Europeans, with goals from Gérson, Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto coming after the Santos forward gave them an early lead with a header.
Diego Maradona, 1986
West Germany set a new record with five World Cup final appearances in this match, but nobody had their eyes on their shiny green away shirts. Instead, the whole planet was fixated on the man who had arguably shown more sporting talent than anyone in history until that point. Diego Maradona had captivated people across the globe with outstanding individual moments of skill and technique, dragging an Argentina side to the final that, if looked at objectively, perhaps did not have the players to be there.
But they had el Pibe de Oro. Maradona had taken apart England in the quarter-final with one of the greatest goals of all time: had shown every nation on earth that he was unstoppable with a ball at his feet; a mixture of raw talent and ruthlessness allowed him to take Argentina all the way.
And when the final came, he got assist for the 86th minute winning goal in a 3-2 victory that gave Argentina their second World Cup. Despite not scoring, it was Maradona at the peak of his powers, controlling the play and driving his team on with his creativity that was simply unmatched by anyone at the tournament.
Zinedine Zidane, 1998 & 2006
Zizou wasn’t going to sit back and let Pelé and Maradona have all the accolades when it comes to performing on the biggest stage. The inconsistent, sometimes moody persona of Zidane was juxtaposed by unparalleled talent with which he enamoured so many people. In 1998, France were looking for their first World Cup title, and Zidane was on hand to give it to his country. He scored the first goal, a header, shortly around the 30-minute mark before doubling his team’s lead before the half-time whistle with another headed goal. Brazil, who were considered the favourites before the match, could not keep up with the midfielder who began to run the show, and France ran out 0-3 winners at the Parc de Princes.
His second World Cup final appearance came in 2006. Zidane scored the opener here too, a panenka penalty before 10 minutes; Marco Materazzi - who would turn out to be the protagonist of the night along with Zizou - replied just over 10 minutes later with the equaliser.
The match was made famous for Zidane’s headbutt on the Italian in the 110th minute, after Materazzi insulted the French midfielder. The game went all the way to penalties and the Italians claimed their 4th World Cup title; Zidane retired from football directly after the game.
Despite the controversy, Zizou was lauded for his unbelievable performances throughout the tournament and during the final, where he showed the class and nonchalance that he had come to be identified with throughout his career.