When Gareth Bale turned into superman and flattened Liverpool with arguably the greatest goal we have seen in a Champions League final at the end of last month, planet football was awash with discussion about who is the scorer of the best ever strike in the history of the game.
Bale’s extraordinary overhead kick that left Loris Karius beaten from the moment it left his boot is certainly right up there. The remarkable agility and precision of his acrobatic masterpiece would rank alongside anything an Olympic gymnast could serve up. To perform such heroics minutes after coming on as a substitute in the biggest match in club football was truly awe inspiring. It was a perfect 10 on anyone’s scorecard.
It was a moment that no one who witnessed it will ever forget. Much like the majestic goal that crowned what I still regard as the greatest World Cup Final, scored by the greatest national team we have ever seen, in the greatest tournament ever staged . . . the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico.
When Brazil dazzled the watching world in their iconic 4-1 win over the stylish Italians, we were treated to a match that defined why we call football the beautiful game. When Brazil’s skipper Carlos Alberto roared down the right flank on the overlap to drill home an exquisite layoff by the great Pelé it rounded off a team goal of perpetual beauty.
This gladiatorial showdown between two proud nations who had already won the Jules Rimet Trophy twice each was a feast of footballing brilliance the likes of which I very much doubt we will ever see again.
The story of the match began with Pelé heading home a sumptuous early goal served up by Rivelino. Then Roberto Boninsegna punished a mistake to equalise for Italy before half-time.
Gerson fired Brazil back into the lead on 66 minutes, before setting goal No.3 in motion with a long free kick to Pele, who headed the ball into the path of the onrushing Jairzinho. Incredibly, that strike meant Jairzinho had scored in every match Brazil played in the tournament.
Then came the crowning glory of that wonder goal, when seven outfield players passed the ball between them and the skipper timed his run to perfection to unleash an unstoppable finish.
The move started with Tostão and the ball went along the line to Brito, Clodoaldo, Pelé and Gérson, before Clodoaldo beat four Italian players in his own half and passed to Rivelino, who hit a perfect pass down the wing to Jairzinho. When Jairzinho crossed to Brazil’s greatest ever player Pelé, prompted by Tostao with his back to goal, he majestically held the ball up until his inch perfect assist served up Alberto for the finish. The only outfield players not involved in the move were Everaldo and Piazza.
Staged in North America for the first time, Mexico 1970 was a tournament that reached incredible heights on so many levels.
It was preceded with the drama of England’s 1966 World Cup winning skipper Bobby Moore being arrested and accused of stealing a bracelet. Mooro immaculately shrugged off what many deemed a blatant tactic to unsettle the champions. His heroic performance in the group match against Brazil ended with a warm embrace with Pele that produced one of the sport’s most iconic images.
WONDER SAVE BY GORDON BANKS
That match on 7thJune 1970, the narrowest of 1-0 defeats for England, also produced arguably the greatest save we have ever seen at any World Cup, when Gordon Banks acrobatically denied Pele’s goalbound header.
Finishing second to Brazil in Group 3 was a result that meant England faced West Germany in the quarter-finals. It was a repeat of the 1966 Final, with England in many people’s eyes a stronger team than the side that won the tournament four years earlier.
ENGLAND 2-3 WEST GERMANY
What we witnessed in Leon was another iconic duel between two powerhouses of world football and a match that is still etched vividly into my memory bank. After the ecstasy of watching Alan Mullery and Martin Peters give England a two-goal lead, I remember watching on in horror as Franz Beckenbauer launched the mother of all comebacks. Peter Bonetti, only playing because food poisoning had taken out our No.1 Banks, was too easily beaten by the Kaiser’s low drive. When Uwe Seeler’s twisting back header header took the match into extra-time, goal machine Gerd Muller delivered the killer blow. It is remarkable to consider now that this was Germany’s first competitive win over England.
ITALTY 4-3 WEST GERMANY
In the semi-final there was even more drama as the Germans were outscored by Italy in a pulsating seven-goal thriller that is arguably the greatest football match of all-time. As a contest it definitely eclispsed the final, with a staggering five goals in the most extraodinary extra-time in world cup history.
Italy led from the eighth minute when Roberto Bonninsegna gave the 1968 European Champions the advantage. But the Germans refused to lie down, driven forward by their skipper Beckenbauer, his arm in a sling after dislocating his right shoulder when he was controversially denied a penalty on 67 minutes.
Surviving an almighty German onslaught that included an Overath shot that cannoned off the bar with keeper Albertosi beaten, it looked like the Italians had done enough when the game entered injury time. But then came a last ditch cross by Grabowski and there was Karl-Heinz Schnellinger to dramatically equalise in the dying seconds. The Italians held their heads in disbelief and then unfolded the kind of drama that only football can deliver. Urged on by Beckenbauer, playing on through the pain barrier with the Germans already having used both their substitutes, Gerd Muller struck first in an epic extra-time battle. Tarcision Burgnich levelled before Gigi Riva restored the Italian lead. Muller made it all-square once again at 3-3, only to see the 1969 European footballer of the year Gianni Rivera hit the winner just 60 second later.
The match had reached fever pitch. But the Italians were not to be denied again and after two hours of exhausting football under the scotching Mexican sun the two teams finished almost in slow motion. The players collapsing into each others arms and then the ground at the final whistle as the crowd fell silent in admiration of an unforgetable spectacle.
As a football fan I have grown up remembering this feast of World Cup football and eulogising the incredible skill and drama that made Mexico 70 the greatest show on earth. When the 21stFIFA World Cup kicks off in seven days times in Russia, I know there will be no repeat of the pure football drama from a bygone era that will never be eclipsed. Football has evolved into a sport where fitness, tactics and the professional fear of failure have robbed us of the naked passion and intoxicating innocence of the beautiful game. But we live in hope of seeing more moments like Gareth Bale’s Champions League strike that swept real Madrid to their third successive triumph.