The Great Players and Teams
My earliest memory of any World Cup was in 1966 when I was 6 years old. England, captained by the charismatic Bobby Moore, won the World Cup for the first time, but, sadly for me, being English, I found football (or soccer!) boring at that time. England have never won the trophy since!
Brazil's Bewitching Football
The first World Cup which grabbed my attention was in 1970. Held in Mexico, Brazil produced dazzling football, culminating in a 4-1 demolition of a team normally difficult to beat in Italy. As memorable as the Brazilian stars such as Pelé, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Gerson, Tostao, and Carlos Alberto were, what was really memorable for me was that fact that I saw the final while on holiday in Austria, and learnt that Austria's rivalry with Italy was pretty fierce, as the locals roared on the Brazilians. England, unfortunately, had gone out in the quarter-finals. My parents and I had to leave my grandparents house to catch a bus when England were 2-0 up, and as I thought England would win the game I wasn't too worried, but they were playing a West German side keen on revenge after losing the '66 final. When I got home, I found out that the Germans had won 3-2.
Dutch Master Cruyff
A fabulous Dutch side lit up the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, illuminated by a team playing 'total football', where each Dutch player was so adept that they could change positions and bewilder the opposition, who, up against the magical skills of Johan Cruyff, were often made to look ordinary. The Dutch seemed unstoppable, but in the final they were up against the hosts and current European champions. Holland took a very early lead, but Cruyff was largely shackled by Berti Vogts, and Germany had great players of their own in Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Paul Breitner, and Sepp Maier. Film star Elizabeth Taylor sat and suffered with her Dutch boyfriend, as West Germany won 2-1.
Typically, re interests, first impressions tend to dominate. Music, films, TV rarely seems as good as when we were younger, and this is true of sport in my case. The 1978 World Cup was pretty good, with hosts Argentina beating an again unlucky Dutch side, also without Cruyff, in the final, and a Paolo Rossi-inspired Italy won the 1982 World Cup in Spain, though Brazil sparkled about as much as the Dutch had in '74. It seemed that the most attractive and best teams weren't getting what they deserved.
Diego Maradona, in Mexico in 1986, virtually won the World Cup for Argentina on his own (including with the help of his infamous 'Hand of God'!), and scored two wonder goals against England and Belgium.
West Germany won the World Cup in Italy in 1990, beating Argentina in a spiteful final. The World Cup in the USA in 1994 saw the first final to be settled on penalties, with Brazil coming through against Italy.
France won their first World Cup, and on home soil, in 1998, with Zinedine Zidane outshining a strangely out-of-sorts Ronaldo in the final, and France won by a stunning 3-0 margin against Brazil. But Brazil won their fifth World Cup in South Korea/Japan, and Ronaldo had a happier final, scoring twice in a 2-0 win over Germany. It was Germany who hosted the 2006 World Cup, and another final went to penalties, which ended with an Italian triumph over France, but is best remembered for Zidane's head butt, and being the saddest of endings for one of football's greatest ever players.
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was the first to be held on the African continent. After decades of underachievement, Spain finally won the biggest prize in football, when defeating Holland in a grim final in Johannesburg.
Berti Vogts getting hands on with Johan Cruyff in the 1974 World Cup final