Seven magic SWC moments

With the 2014 World Cup just days away, here is a look at seven of the most memorable moments from past editions of the tournament.

There's nothing quite like the Soccer World Cup finals to stir one's soul and with such a special tournament comes plenty of special moments.

We could hardly pick a favourite, though, so in no particular order:

7. The 'Hand of God'

Already folklore in world football, Argentina legend Diego Maradona's hand-ball goal during the 1986 quarter-final against England continues to reverberate around the globe, and chimes loudest in the United Kingdom where few have, or ever will, forgive the man for his blatant act.

The match was tied at 0-0 after half-time, but that would all change in a moment that lives on in infamy as Maradona leapt in the air to meet a miscued clearance, only to use his hand to deflect the ball past goalkeeper Peter Shilton and into the back of the net.

Cue the furious protests from the England players, although they fell on deaf ears as referee Ali Ben Nasser awarded the goal, and Argentina would go on to net another just four minutes later, Maradona this time dancing through the defence to score a wonderful effort. Gary Lineker managed to pull one back with nine minutes remaining, although they were unable to complete a comeback and have been haunted ever since.

6. Zidane loses his head

Although memorialised for all the wrong reasons, Zinedine Zidane's headbutt during the 2006 World Cup final between France and Italy is something people will probably never stop talking about.

The two teams were level at 1-1 in extra-time, with Marco Materazzi having canceled out Zidane's early penalty, although it was a moment of madness from the latter that proved most memorable as he charged the Italian with his head lowered like a bull, flooring the defender to spark raucous reactions from players and technical staff.

Referee Horacio Elizondo had not actually seen the incident and needed to consult with several of his assistants before flashing the red card and sending the midfielder down the tunnel for an early shower.

Salt would soon be rubbed into the wounds as Italy went on to win the final on penalties, leaving Zidane with only regrets and a tarnished legacy that would overshadow the rest of his career.

5. Indomitable Lions roar proudly

It was the year African football made its mark on the global stage. Italia 1990. The opening game of Group B. David versus Goliath in every sense as Argentina, defending champions, took on Cameroon. The Indomitable Lions would eventually finish the match with nine men after Andre Kana and Benjamin Massing were both sent off, although the only number that mattered to the Africans after full-time was the 1-0 scoreline in their favour.

Francois Omam-Biyik, brother of Kana-Biyik, got the all-important goal after 67 minutes, and it would propel them to a first-place finish in the group and eventual quarter-final berth as they made the deepest ever run by an African side.

The team would eventually crash out to England in the last-eight, although Cameroon's, and indeed African football's history, would be forever altered, paving the path to belief that so many from the continent have since relied on at the global showpiece.

4. A mammoth gulf in class 

Qualifying through to a World Cup finals does not a great team make, something El Salvador know all too well following their showing at the 1982 spectacular hosted by Spain.

Making only their second appearance at the global event, La Selecta had traveled to the showpiece as local heroes, but returned with their tails very much between their legs after losing all three of their Group 3 matches.

It was not only their return of zero points that irked the Salvadorans, though, as they had to watch on - along with the rest of the world - as Hungary tore them to shreds in their opener to claim a 10-1 victory, the highest ever scoreline at a World Cup finals.

El Salvador have not featured at the tournament since, arguably out of sheer embarrassment, and it will probably be a very long time still until they get the chance to redeem themselves on the world's biggest stage.

3. From top to flop

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa produced some awe-inspiring moments, starting off with that Siphiwe Tshabalala thunderbolt to kick off proceedings in the opening game, right up to Andre Iniesta's 116th-minute winner for Spain in the final against the Netherlands.

What happened to Italy and France in the group stages, though, was truly unforgettable. The Azzurri headed to Africa as defending champions, while Les Bleus were hoping to make it back-to-back World Cup finals, having finished as runners-up in 2006.

However, any dreams of achieving glory were swiftly and abruptly ended as both failed to make it out of the first round as each finished rock bottom of their respective groups.

For Italy, draws against Paraguay and New Zealand in their opening two matches left their place in the last-16 in doubt, and the knockout punch came against Slovakia, who earned a 3-2 win to put the Italian Stallions out to pasture.

France had an even worse time of it, drawing against Uruguay in their opener - which granted wasn't a bad result for either - but it meant their 2-0 defeat to Mexico and 2-1 loss against hosts Bafana Bafana would seal their woeful exit from the tournament

2. 'That goal' from Dennis Bergkamp

There have been some truly glorious strikes down the World Cup years; Diego Maradona's stupendous second against England in '86, Carlos Alberto's rasping piledriver in the 1970 final win over Italy, and many, many more. However, one arguably sticks out more than others, mainly for the combination of unbelievable skill and talent Dennis Bergkamp showcased in 1998.

The Netherlands were up against Argentina for a place in the semi-finals and the score was delicately poised at 1-1 with just 60 seconds of normal time remaining. What happened next has since been hailed as a defining moment in the evolution of the game, with Bergkamp showing one of the silkiest touches you will ever see to bring down Frank de Boer's 50-yard pass, before flicking the ball up and over the on-rushing defender with his right boot and curling an unstoppable drive into the top corner with his left.

The Dutchman may have been unable to help his side through to the final, despite scoring in the penalty shoot-out defeat to Brazil in the semis, although his goal in the last-eight will go down in history as one of the greatest ever in the game.

1. One for the underdog

The World Cup was celebrating its 20th birthday when Switzerland hosted the event in 1954, but it was West Germany who were doing all the celebrating by the end following a phenomenal showing from start to finish.

Most goals scored (25) and most goals scored per game (4.25) are records the team set at that year's tournament to highlight their cut-throat approach, although most goals conceded (14) and most goals conceded per game (2.33) were also statistics they owned, all of which added up to some thrilling matches.

It was in the final, though, where they shone brightest. Hungary were the opponents, and with the Magical Magyars having not lost a game for four years, West Germany were very much the underdogs.

However, they capped off a stunning tournament with another all-or-nothing performance, coming back from 2-0 down after just eight minutes to eventually secure a famous 3-2 victory, with Helmut Rahn completing his brace with six minutes remaining to complete a fairytale ending in Switzerland.

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