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The 1970 World Cup would mark the end of an era for Brazil, as Pele played in his fourth and final World Cup. And after personal disappointment in 1962 and overall disappointment in 1966, it was only fitting that Pele go out with a bang.
So who would take over the crown from Brazil? Italy would claim a third World Cup title, but most of the next two decades belonged to Argentina and West Germany. West Germany would win two World Cup titles, and they would appear in four finals over a stretch of five World Cups – including three in a row. Argentina weren’t to be outdone by much, as they would win two titles of their own and appear in a third final.
Argentina would also produce the heir to Pele’s throne as the greatest in the game, in the form of one Diego Armando Maradona.
Here, we take a look at Pele’s last hurrah, West Germany and Argentina’s ascension to the top, and not to be overlooked, Italy’s triumph in 1982.
1970 World Cup (Mexico)
Final: Brazil 4-1 Italy
Brazil opened the tournament against an old foe in Czechoslovakia, and as in the 1962 final, the Czechs went ahead early. But Brazil roared back, and Pele scored the go-ahead goal in the 59th minute in an eventual 4-1 win. Jairzinho, who scored the last two goals against Czechoslovakia, picked up where he left off in the next match against England, netting the winner in the 59th in a 1-0 win. Pele and Jairzinho would star in the group finale against Romania, with Pele scoring twice and Jairzinho grabbing the other goal in a 3-2 win.
In the quarters, Brazil faced Peru, and as against Romania, Brazil took an early 2-0 lead, and though Peru pulled with 2-1 and 3-2, Brazil advanced with a 4-2 win.
Another South American foe awaited in the semis, in Uruguay, who would take an early lead through Luis Cubilla. But Clodoaldo equalized shortly before halftime, and two goals from Jairzinho – who kept his run of scoring in every match going – and Roberto Rivelino in the final 15 minutes made the difference in a 3-1 win.
Brazil and Italy would meet in the final in Mexico City, with the winner taking home a record third World Cup title. Pele put Brazil ahead in the 18th minute with a header, only for Italy to equalize in the 37th minute through Roberto Boninsegna. Alas, Brazil would take over in the second half yet again, and Gerson (66), Jairzinho (71), and Carlos Alberto (86) turned a close match into a convincing win. Pele got to go out on top, and Brazil got to take home the Jules Rimet Trophy permanently.
1974 World Cup (West Germany)
Final: West Germany 2-1 Netherlands
The first group stage had quite the storyline, pairing West Germany with East Germany, along with Australia and Chile. West Germany defeated Chile 1-0 and World Cup first-timers Australia 3-0, and in the group decider, it was East Germany netting a late winner to take a 1-0 win and top spot in Group 1.
In the second group stage, West Germany would be paired with Poland, Sweden, and Yugoslavia, and they’d make easy work of the group, defeating Yugoslavia 2-0, Sweden 4-2, and Poland 1-0 to finish top and book a place in the final.
In the final in Munich, the Netherlands went ahead in the second with a Johan Neeskens penalty, but West Germany weren’t to be rattled. Paul Breitner equalized with a penalty of his own in the 25th minute, and Gerd Muller put West Germany ahead shortly before halftime with his record-breaking 14th World Cup goal. From there, West Germany held on to win the World Cup for a second time.
1978 World Cup (Argentina)
Final: Argentina 3-1 Netherlands (after extra time)
The hosts finished second in the first group stage, defeating Hungary and France by identical 2-1 scorelines before falling to Italy 1-0.
In the second round, Argentina would be paired with South American counterparts Brazil and Peru, along with Poland. A Mario Kempes brace was enough in a 2-0 win over Poland, and after a goalless draw against Brazil in their next match, it’d come down to goal difference to decide who would advance to the final. Brazil beat Poland 3-1, which left Argentina needing a four-goal win over Peru. After goals by Kempes and Alberto Tarantini in the first half, the floodgates opened in the second half, and Argentina won 6-0 to beat their rivals out for the chance to face the Netherlands in the final.
In the final, Kempes put Argentina ahead in the 37th minute, but the Netherlands forced extra time through Dick Nanninga’s 82nd minute goal. In extra time, Kempes’ Golden Shoe-winning sixth goal put Argentina up in the 104th minute, and Daniel Bertoni ensured Argentina’s first World Cup title 11 minutes later.
1982 World Cup (Spain)
Final: Italy 3-1 West Germany
Italy were unimpressive in group play, drawing in their three contests against Group 1 foes Poland, Peru, and Cameroon. Along with a lack of success in attack, in their matches against Peru and Cameroon, Italy took 1-0 leads, only to allow equalizers.
Still, Italy qualified for the second round, beating Cameroon out to finish second behind Poland. That’s when they woke up, defeating Argentina 2-1 behind goals from Marco Tardelli and Antonio Cabrini. Then, in their second match, a hat trick from the previously ineffective Paolo Rossi saw off Brazil 3-2 and sent Italy into the semis.
In the semis, Rossi again came to the rescue, scoring in each half to dispatch Poland 2-0. That set up a final showdown against West Germany at the Bernabeu, and shortly before the hour mark, Rossi put Italy ahead 1-0. Tardelli (69) and Alessandro Altobelli (81) followed with goals of their own, and Italy would capture a record-tying third World Cup title with a 3-1 win.
1986 World Cup (Mexico)
Final: Argentina 3-2 West Germany
Argentina faced a familiar foe in the first group stage in Italy, and they would edge out the reigning champions for top spot in the group. Argentina scored wins over South Korea (3-1) and Bulgaria (2-0), in which Jorge Valdano netted three goals. Those wins were sandwiched around a 1-1 draw with Italy, who would finish second thanks to managing only a win and a draw in their other two ties.
In the round of 16, Argentina took on Uruguay, and Pedro Pasculli’s 42nd minute goal would be enough to see their continental counterparts off. Next up was what turned out to be one of the most unforgettable matches in World Cup history, a quarterfinal showdown against England. The two sides went into halftime deadlocked, but minutes after the restart, a little divine intervention, a.k.a. Diego Maradona’s hand, put Argentina up 1-0. Just a few minutes later, he scored a legitimately legendary goal with a mazy run and a sublime finish, and Argentina went on to win 2-1.
Maradona did the double again in the semis against Belgium, and Argentina won 2-0. In the final against West Germany, Argentina went up by that same scoreline inside 55 minutes, but West Germany would fight back with goals from Karl-Heinz Rumenigge (74) and Rudi Voller (80). However, Argentina would have the last laugh, as Jorge Burruchaga scored the winner in the 83rd minute, and Argentina celebrated a second world title in eight years.
1990 World Cup (Italy)
Final: West Germany 1-0 Argentina
After heartbreak in 1982 and 1986, West Germany would experience joy in its last World Cup before Germany was officially reunified.
West Germany started strong, routing Yugoslavia 4-1 in their first group match and the United Arab Emirates 5-1 in their next match behind eight combined goals by Jurgen Klinsmann (two), Lothar Matthaus (three), and Rudi Voller (three). A last-minute equalizer by Colombia denied West Germany a perfect record, but they still finished top, one point ahead of Yugoslavia.
In the round of 16, goals from Andreas Brehme and Klinsmann sent West Germany past the Netherlands 2-1, and that was followed by a 1-0 win over Czechoslovakia in the quarterfinals, with Matthaus making the difference with his 25th minute penalty.
In the semifinals against England, Brehme put West Germany ahead on the hour mark, but Gary Lineker’s goal ten minutes before time sent the match to extra time. The match went on to penalties, and both sides converted their first three spot-kicks. A miss by England’s Stuart Pearce opened the door for West Germany, and Olaf Thon scored to put England on the brink. Needing to score to keep the match alive, Chris Waddle sent his kick over the bar, and West Germany advanced to a third straight final.
Just as they had four years prior, West Germany and Argentina would meet in the final, and once again, a late goal would decide the match. However, unlike the thrilling 1986 final, this one would remain goalless for more than 80 minutes. And unlike that final, it would be Argentina feeling the heartbreak, as Brehme slotted home a penalty in the 85th minute to win it for West Germany.
Back to the main ‘World Cup Winners‘ article.