A lot of people have talked about the coming historical or classical matches at the World Cup in South Africa, so I just want to add my own humble voice to this choir. There are indeed some matches that must be seen in a world cup-historical context (in no particular order of importance):These are the main historical matches in South Africa, but there are other matches that will also be special for some football fans:
- Mexico-France: The North Americans and Europeans are facing one another in Group A. Not many people may think of this match as a classic, but this was in fact the very first world cup match in history in Uruguay in 1930, where France won 4-1. Doubtful the French will repeat the feat, but any football fan should think back at the pioneers as they face one another yet again.
- Portugal-North Corea: These teams will face one another in group G. For the Asians it is only their second World Cup ever, and in their first one in England in 1966 they were eliminated in the quarterfinals against Portugal in a spectacular match where the Asians were up 3-0 but lost 3-5 on an amazing Portuguese comeback spearheaded by the Mozambican Eusebio, with four goals.
- Portugal-Brazil: The two lusophone giants with close historical and cultural ties both have proud football traditions and currently hold two of the best teams in the world. They last faced one another in the first round of 1966. The defending world champions were the Brazilians who were unable to defend their title and lost 3-1 to a very violent (but talented) Portuguese side that was more focused on stopping Pelé by any means possible. Hopefully this will not be repeated in South Africa, but be sure it will be a dramatic match!
- Spain-Honduras: The Central Americans participated in their first (and so far only) World Cup in 1982 in Spain. In the first round they were to face the home favourites in Madrid, and spectacularly and deservedly managed 1-1 against an overestimated Spanish side. This time Spain are as big favourites, and if Honduras manages a tie, it will surely be as sensational as in 1982!
- England-USA: The USA and England are facing one another in Group C in a repeat of the match in Belo Horizonte in the first round of the 1950 World Cup. This was also England's first World Cup, and expectations were huge as England arrived with all its stars from what (also then) was considered the best league in the world. In the meantime, all US players were amateurs who could not draw any attention to the game in their home country. The USA won 1-0 on a goal by the Haitian Joe Gaetjaens creating what is perhaps the greatest upset in World Cup history. Today, the teams are more levelled but the English are still favourites; hopefully they will not underestimate the North Americans as much!
I am sure the World Cup will see more classic matches as it progresses. So, even if you are not interested in some matches or in football at all, you should watch some (or all) of these just for their historical merits!
- Denmark-Netherlands: Every Dane remembers the 1992 victory in the European championship, and in particular the dramatic semifinal against the Netherlands where a heroic fight gave the Danes a 2-2 draw and a win on penalties. Surely this time the strong Dutch will not make the same mistake of underestimating the Danes!
- Argentina-Nigeria: The South Americans and the West Africans have faced one another in some amazing matches since the 1990's: in 1994 Argentina defeated Nigeria 2-1 in the first round of the World Cup. They also played in the 2002 World Cup in the first round, where Argentina also won 1-0. But they have also faced one another outside the World Cup: In the 1996 Olympics, Nigeria became the first African team to win Olympic gold by defeating Argentina 3-2 in the final, and in the 2008 Olympic final they also played for Olympic glory, but this time with an Argentinean 1-0 victory. The hugely talented youth teams of both countries have also played frequently, among them the 2005 U-20 World Cup final where Argentina won. The teams thus know each other well, and their encounters are steadily turning into a mini-cross-continental classic!
- South Africa-Uruguay: The African hosts and the South Americans are playing in the first round in what is a fitting encounter for a country that has come to symbolize the scourge of racism. Uruguay was in the early 20th century a pioneer in football and in intergration, and in 1916 it came together in one as Uruguay was the first country to play with black players on the national team. This happened in a match against Chile, who went on to field an official complaint about the Uruguayans fielding Juan Delgado and the star, Isabelino Gradin (Tim Vickery has written another interesting article about this, among the many great things he writes!). These teams thus symbolize a lot for the globalisation and brotherhood in football!