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Most shocking World Cup moments

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We were going to write a piece on England's best World Cups, but a list consisting of one entry didn't really seem worth while.

Instead, we turned our attention to the greatest moments of drama that this tournament never fails to conjure up. From cynical card-waving to giant slaying, these are ten instances of such magnitude that they covered both front and back pages of the world's papers, that broke the hearts of nations and spawned instant legacies.

Is there an English bias? Of course there is. Are we in the least bit sorry? Of course we're not. That said, let us know if we missed any of your favourite major shocks in the comments below.



Zidane's curtain call

Italy v France, World Cup 2006

It's the 110th minute of an attritional World Cup final. Locked at a goal-a-piece, France deliver yet another limp free-kick into the Italian area. As ball is cleared and play moves to the half-way line, a deafening boo fills the Olympiastadion. The TV cameras pan back to the Italian half, where Marco Materazzi lies in apparent agony. As the replays of what happened were beamed around world, confusion turned to pub-silencing shock.

The headbutt, to which all other violent conduct in football aspires, has had a mixed effect on Zinedine Zidane's legacy. Once we learnt Zidane had been spurred on by Materazzi's comments about his sister, we gained a shred of sympathy for the unforgivable action - but you can't excuse it. It was wrong, it was ugly, and it shouldn't have been the final act of one of the greatest footballers the world has ever seen.

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Beckham's moment of madness

England v Argentina, World Cup 1998

England's World Cup experience in microcosm. A plucky performance against tournament favourites, thwarted by a red card and capped off by penalties. Beckham's flick on Diego Simeone was petulant, stupid and of pantomime proportions compared to Zidane's sending off - but it only furthered England's unparalleled ability to wonder "what if": would we have won had Beckham stayed on the pitch? Could we have overcome an under-performing Netherlands and a depleted Brazil? Could we the strike force of Owen and Shearer won us a World Cup? Of course not - but Beckham's red card helped another generation to feel cheated of certain victory.

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Higuita's reckoning

Cameroon v Colombia, World Cup 1990

Qualities of a good goalkeeper include shot stopping, ability to deal with high balls, a commanding presence over set pieces and omniscient ball distribution. René Higuita's qualities included goalscoring free kicks, scorpion kicks and a worrying dose of eccentric play.

The latter cost Colombia dearly in their game against Cameroon. Deep into extra time, Higuita pushed forward into the middle of his own half. As he failed to control a weak pass, Roger Milla exploited his 'keeper's footwork, dispossessing him and scoring the winning goal.

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The hand of God

Argentina v England, World Cup 1986

Long before Cristiano Ronaldo, Mario Balotelli or Luis Suarez mixed unbridled talent with a taste for theatrics, Diego Maradona was bending every rule in the book.

Four years after the end of the Falklands War, England's match with its old foe became a sporting microcosm of national tensions. The game will forever be remember for the performance of Maradona, showing the world how to win ugly and scoring a goal that would redefine how beautiful the beautiful game could be.

On 51 minutes, Maradona managed the improbable, apparently out-jumping the 6-foot-1 Peter Shilton to head Argentina into the lead. Despite being fully aware of just which part of his anatomy he'd used to score, Maradona celebrated with due aplomb - a revelry he should have saved for his second goal, in which he rounded five England players to slot in a shot that was voted the goal of the century by FIFA.com.

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The Battle of Nuremberg

Portugal v Holland, World Cup 2006

What's half Portuguese, half Dutch, four parts red and 16 parts yellow? The Battle of Nuremberg - the record holder for the most cards of any Fifa tournament.

Rather than describing the action, it's best just to watch the above video. Quite how Valentin Ivanov ensured the game lasted the full 90 minutes without anyone losing a limb is beyond us.

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The goal that never was

England v Germany, World Cup 2010

The straw goal that broke the technological camel's back.

Germany lead England two goals to one - strikes from Klose and Podolski all but snuffing out English hopes. Then, in the 37 minute, a header from Upson looked to reverse the tide of play. Suddenly England were putting passes together, pouring forward in another meaningful counter attack. A snap shot from Lampard slammed against the underside of Manuel Neuer's crossbar and dropped half-a-metre over the line, before bouncing into the keeper's arms. Pundits, pubs and even Sepp Blatter were dismayed: the incident caused the Fifa President to reverse his stance on the use of technology in assisting referees. Would it have made a difference versus Germany? Probably not.

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Rattin's violence of the tongue

England v Argentina, World Cup 1966

The incident that would go on to set the tone of the aforementioned clashes between England and Argentina. Played out at Wembley Stadium, the quarter final won't be remembered for the final score (England 1-0 Argentina), but for an incident that occurred when, in the 35th minute, a spat developed between German referee Rudolf Kreitlein and Argentine captain Antonio Rattin. The game was robbed of its grandstand potential when, inexplicably, Rattin was shown a red card - furthering frustration of the captain's arguments. He sought an interpreter in his journey off the pitch, to explain what he had been trying to communicate to Kreitlein, but his protests were ignored. Kreitlein later stated he had sent the man off for "violence of the tongue" - despite not sharing a language. The matter only grew more outrageous when Kreitlein later added that he "did not like the look" on Rattin's face.

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The absence of the World's Greatest footballer

France v Brazil, World Cup 1998

It was a final drawn up by the footballing gods - the host nation squaring off against defending champions Brazil. Neither side had dazzled throughout the tournament (France had to see off the Dutch in a penalty shoot out, while Brazil beat Paraguay on golden goals), but the prospect of Zidane v Rivaldo saw expectations reach new heights.

The shock moment didn't occur in the game, but rather came in the build up to match itself. As the Brazilian team sheet was announced 72 minutes before kick off, there was a notable omission. Ronaldo - the world's greatest footballer, who'd scored four and assisted three en route to the final - wouldn't feature in the match. Reports suggested he wasn't healthy, and rumours circulated he had suffered a convulsive fit. Then, with a little under half an hour to go, Ronaldo was said to be back in the squad.

Whatever happened before the game, it seemed to have had a detrimental effect on the Brazilian squad. France breezed to a 2-0 before half-time, Zidane eclipsing every other name on the pitch. The hosts won 3-0.

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Suarez cheats a nation

Ghana v Uruguay, World Cup 2010

The man who could haunt England's 2014 world cup is already a grim spectre for another country - if not an entire continent.

The final African nation in the tournament, a continent's worth of vuvuzelas looked to give Ghana the edge going into tense period of extra time. As the final seconds of the match ticked away, Ghana's efforts were rewarded with a free kick. Pumped into the area, the ball pin-balled around the box before Stephen Appiah planted a goal-bound header. Luis Suárez, in a moment of sheer desperation, flung the only part of his anatomy at the ball that would keep Uruguay in the competition. The crime of his handball only gained a sinister edge when Asamoah Gyan smashed the resulting penalty against the bar, sending the sidelined Suárez into wild celebrations. Ghana were deflated, falling to Uruguay 4-2 in a penalty shoot out.

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Senegal beat the world champions

France v Senegal, World Cup 2002

The first match of the Korea/Japan World Cup appeared to be the perfect opportunity for Les Bleus to build on their dominance of Euro 2000 and defend their title of 98. Their ranks boasted 652 caps - in stark contrast to Senegal, who were making their first appearance in the World Cup Finals. With all of the Senegal team playing their club football in French Leagues, the game had the feel of France A v France B - or rather, Z.

When Papa Bouba Diop surged into the box to connect with El Hadji Diouf's cross, he scrambled in a goal that would be the undoing of the French World Cup effort. After losing to Senegal 1-0, France went on to record a goalless draw with Uruguay before being blown away in a 2-0 loss to Denmark. Given their poor performances in all subsequent international tournaments, it's a result that some believe the French are still yet to recover from.

(Images: Rex)

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