It’s just as difficult to choose the top 10 football games of all time as it is to choose the top 10 gems from England’s Crown Jewels. Such a practice errs on the side of aesthetics, which is inherently subjective. I was still able to create a few objective standards for my rankings, though.
The guidelines are simple:
1) Fair competition: no lopsided games or routs. The game should be fiercely contested and the two contending teams should be evenly matched.
2) What’s at stake? Achieving more is impressive the higher the stakes. The most important skill in sports, including football, is the capacity to perform well under pressure.
3. Playing ability: There should be a minimum amount of harsh fouls and misplays, as well as crisp, imaginative, accurate passing and plays, continuity, and a continuous flow and rhythm.
4) Drama: Much like an engaging film, the game should be engrossing enough to take the casual fan on an emotional journey that ranges from intense sadness to complete bliss.
5. Star power and personal brilliance: A great cast is essential to a successful film.
10. Liverpool vs Chelsea | 4-4 (2008-09 UEFA CL 2nd Leg)
Before this encounter, the Blues and Reds had played 24 times, with the majority of those games ending in defensive stalemates, particularly while Jose Mourinho was Chelsea’s manager and Rafael Benitez was Liverpool’s manager.
At Anfield, Chelsea held a commanding 3-1 advantage from the first leg. To progress, Liverpool required a victory with a three-goal cushion. Fabio Aurelio’s stunning free kick from 35 yards out stunned Cech, marking their first step in the right direction. When he doubled the advantage in the 28th minute, Xabi Alonso brought them even closer to the ideal outcome.
After the half, Drogba and Alex scored twice for Chelsea in six minutes (the 51st and 57th minutes). Drogba and Lampard provided excellent support for Lampard as the Blues took the lead.
However, Liverpool regained control thanks to two goals from Lucas and Kuyt (in the 81st and 83rd minutes), and they once more began to fantasise about scoring one more goal to advance. With a brace and a 7-5 advantage overall to advance to the Champions League semifinal, Lampard dashed all hope for the Reds.
9. Liverpool vs Alaves | 5-4 (2001 UEFA Cup Final)
In Dortmund in 2001, there was a goal fest that preceded the Istanbul Miracle. Liverpool had not appeared in a European Cup Final since the Heysel tragedy.
Markus Babbel’s header over the weak Spanish team gave the Reds an early lead. A few minutes later, following a brilliant pass from Micheal Owen, a young Steven Gerrard gave the goalkeeper no chance as they doubled their lead.
Ivan Alonso scored the equalizer for Alaves just before the half-hour mark. Before halftime, Gerard Houllier’s team increased the lead to two goals (3-1) on a penalty by Scottish veteran Gary McAllister, giving them the impression that they had stifled their opponents’ resiliency.
Unstoppable, Alaves came back to tie the game thanks to a brace from Javi Moreno immediately following halftime. Robbie Fowler, a legendary Reds player, gave them the lead once more in the 76th minute, but Jordi Cruyff, Johan Cruyff’s son, equalized in the final minute of regulation. An own goal from Defi Geli gave Liverpool the victory in extra time, capping an unprecedented triple of the FA Cup, Football League Cup, and UEFA Cup.
8. France vs Portugal | 2-1 (Euro 2000 SF)
Zinedine Zidane and Luiz Figo, the top two European players of their time, were competing to get to the final against Italy.
During the first half, Portugal seized the lead thanks to a precise goal by Nuno Gomes. In the second half, Nicolas Anelka and Thierry Henry gave France the equalizer.
In this hotly contested semifinal, Zidane’s unmatched class shines through. The French savant gave one of his best performances while wearing the Tricolore and dispelled any questions about his claim to be the greatest European player of his generation.
It is only fitting that France advanced to the final after Zidane converted a golden penalty kick past Portuguese goalkeeper Vitor Baia in the closing seconds of extra time.
7. Brazil vs England | 1-0 (1970 WC Round Robin)
It was dubbed “The Final That Never Was” when the two most recent World Champions (at the time) squared off in this highly anticipated matchup. It fulfilled its promise, too.
It’s the Superlatives Match! Pelé, the Greatest Player Ever, was at the pinnacle of his abilities. Gordon Banks’ “Greatest Save Ever” prevented Pelé from scoring after a flawless cross from Jairzinho.
For more than an hour, both teams were able to endure each other’s best efforts. Even Pelé’s attempt at Banks’ goal was stopped by the imperial Bobby Moore’s clean and spectacular tackle on the Brazilian legend.
Around the 63rd minute, a pivotal Pele assist that was skillfully set up by Tostao allowed Jairzinho to score the game-winning goal. After a communication error by Brito and Piazza, England should have equalized, but Goeff Attle missed from close range.
6. West Germany vs Hungary | 3-2 (1954 WC Final)
The 1954 World Cup Final, dubbed “The Miracle of Berne,” stands as the largest upset in football history. The evidence was overwhelming in favor of a David/Goliath mismatch.
First off, with legendary triumphs like the 1953 annihilation of England, the Mighty Magyars had not lost a game since 1950 (34 wins and six draws) (6-3).
Second, Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Zoltan Czibor, and Nandor were just a few of the most notable football players in Hungarian history.
Hidegkuti. The West German team, on the other hand, was made up of blue-collar players and was captained by Helmut Rahn.
Last but not least, there was no professional league in Germany at the time.
After only eight minutes, Hungary was in lead 2-0 thanks to Puskas and Czibor. Everyone then began to recall the identical horror scenario from a fortnight prior, when the same West German team had been humiliated (8-3) in the group stage.
However, this time, Morlock and Rahn helped the Germans fight back and level the score before halftime to get back into the game. The second half was dominated by Hungary, but West Germany was able to repel their attack.
After that, Rahn scored a goal as unlikely as it was unexpected for Germany with six minutes remaining in regulation. Puskas believed he had tied the score in the last minute of regulation, but the official ruled the goal offside.
5. Liverpool vs AC Milan | 3-3 (2005 UEFA CL Final)
Above all, what the international media refers to as “The Istanbul Miracle” is an emotional roller coaster for every fan.
Maldini’s goal for Milan in the first minute startled the Reds. After a brace from Crespo, Liverpool found itself in a deeper hole. The Rossoneri had an unstoppable 3-0 advantage after that to start the second half.
What happens next is a culmination of fortitude, willpower, and good fortune. The most amazing comeback—or meltdown, depending on your perspective—took place, with Reds captain Steve Gerrard setting the tone with a header to reduce the deficit. Vladimir Smicer, a representative of the Czech Republic, beat Dida with a strong low shot to make the score 2-3.
Later, Xabi Alonso would tie the score. After the break, all of this transpired in less than six minutes. Milan had a few opportunities, but it seemed as though Shevchenko, Milan’s great player, was cursed and fate had chosen Liverpool. In the ensuing penalty shootout, Liverpool went on to win its sixth European championship.
4. Argentina vs England | 2-1 (1986 WC QF)
It was a particularly tense situation between the two hostile nations in the heat of Azteca Stadium, only four years after the Falklands War. No single game has ever better captured the breadth of a complex personality and ego like Diego Maradona’s.
In the same game, “The Most Gifted Player Ever” appears as both an angel and a demon, as well as a hero and a cheater. Diego went on to score two of the most legendary goals in history after the first half ended scorelessly.
After halftime, El Pibe de Oro scored “The Hand of God” goal, which was a handball disguised as a header over Peter Shilton that everyone witnessed except referee Ali Bin Nasser.
A few minutes later, the Argentine great defeated Shilton after dribbling past six English defenders. This goal is known as “The Goal of the Century.” Gary Lineker, the competition’s eventual leading scorer, didn’t have a goal, so Argentina ultimately won the world championship.
3. Manchester United vs Bayern Munich | 2-1 (1999 UEFA CL Final)
After winning both their domestic leagues and cups, both clubs entered Barcelona hoping to complete their Treble bid with the final (and most coveted) trophy.
Bayern scored the game’s opening goal early on thanks to a free kick from the unpredictable but talented Mario Basler. The Red Devils struggled to find their flow in the absence of suspended players Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. They twice avoided being eliminated when Mehmet Scholl’s chip shot struck the right post and Carsten Jancker’s thunderous overhead kick struck the crossbar.
At that point, Sir Alex Ferguson pulled two sleights of hand by replacing them with Teddy Sheringham and Ole Solksjaer. What happened next was the best football theft ever planned.
With two late goals in stoppage time, Manchester United defeated Bayern and their iconic captain Lothar Matthaus, stealing away their title dreams and leaving the German bench and fans in shock as they tried to comprehend what had just happened.
2. Brazil vs Italy | 3-3 (France Tournament 1997)
I’ve never witnessed a football game quite like that. Some of you will comment: “How did a show get on the list? Why is it ranked so highly?” Your response is, “This game was anything but nice! Nothing…”
One year before the start of the 1998 World Cup, the competition itself—which included Brazil, Italy, England, and France—was initially envisioned as a prestige practice match. It ended up being just as exciting and as contested as any international competition that has ever taken place.
This match was the pinnacle of highs as Italy came out firing straight from the start, surprising a Brazil team that featured renowned attackers Ronaldo and Romario, the best and most devastating striking tandem in contemporary football. The superb Juventus duo of Del Piero and Vieri, on the other hand, gave Brazil’s back four everything they could handle.
After Del Piero’s header off of Vieri’s exquisite pass beat Taffarel, the Azzuri took the lead. When Albertini’s straight free-kick was diverted into his own goal by Aldair, the already-stunned yet talented Seleçao’s situation got even worse.
Roberto Carlos’s ferocious shot would give Brazil a comeback (deflected by Lombardo). Pippo Inzaghi, a youthful and nimble player who came on for Vieri in the second half, won a penalty, which Del Piero coolly converted. 3-1 Italy.
Then, on the strength of two goals from its pair of “Ro-Ro” virtuosos, Brazil roared back to tie the score.
1. Italy vs West Germany | 4-3 (1970 WC SF)
Because it had two football superpowers, Italy and West Germany, featured five goals in extra time, and was a World Cup quarterfinal, this classic is hailed by football pundits as “The Game of the Century.”
With a left-footed shot from the edge of the box, Boninsegna gave the Italians the lead relatively early in the contest. At the same moment when most observers thought Italy would win, German defender Schnellinger tied the game with a diving header in stoppage time.
Gerd Muller’s goal in the 94th minute gave Germany the lead. Four minutes later, Burgnich equalized. Gigi Riva scores once more for Italy to end the first term of extra time.
Early in the game, Franz Beckenbauer, the Kaiser, dislocated his right shoulder. He continued to play the rest of the game while wearing a scarf.
It’s unavoidable Muller scored once more to make the score 3-3. Following then, Rivera scored the game-winning goal to advance to the final against Brazil.