It would be an understatement to say that world football has produced many memorable moments and images over the years. There have been countless great players producing just as many great plays. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a specific league or tournament – wherever people have played football there have always been some big moments produced. There have also been some pretty bad players creating just as memorable or infamous moments. These are just as notable, albeit, in a different way. If you’ve watched a generous amount of league, cup and international matches over the years, chances are you can easily list off several moments that are memorable or iconic – in all likelihood some, if not most, can be found throughout this article.
The following looks at 25 of the more famous and memorable footballing photographs ever taken. Here you’ll find a mix of everything that has come to define the beautiful game over the past several decades. Yes, there are the big stars, the big goals and the big victories – these are often the best known images. There are, however, photographs that show the darker side of the sport – the cheating, the bad challenges and the unsporting behaviour which has, whether we like it or not, become part of the game and its history. Most notably, what these memorable photographs capture is the emotion of the game, its players and the fans. From jubilation, hope and excitement to frustration, sadness and anger, a picture says a thousand words, if not more. Some of the following photos may make you nostalgic, others may make you cringe, while still others may reignite a debate over a controversial call. Just remember – when in doubt, blame the official.
Honorable Mention: Battle of Old Trafford
In September 2003, Arsenal travelled to Old Trafford to play rivals Manchester United. The game was very physical with a lot of fouls and tempers were lost on a few occasions. In the dying moments of the game, with Patrick Vieira sent off, Arsenal conceded a penalty which United’s Ruud van Nistelrooy attempted to convert. van Nistelrooy had been getting under the Arsenal players’ skin all game, so when he missed the penalty, the opposition didn’t hold back the taunting or intimidation. Cameras caught Arsenal defender Martin Keown leaping up over van Nistelrooy, moments after the missed penalty – giving us a memorable albeit bizarre image from that day.
25. ‘Jean-Claude’ De Jong
Dutch footballer Nigel de Jong has a reputation for being a little rough at times while out on the pitch. He’s left more than one player with a broken leg and, yet, has only been sent off once in his career for being booked twice in one match. Those who watched the 2010 World Cup final in Johannesburg, South Africa were certain the Dutch midfielder would see red after a ridiculous challenge on Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso. Cameras everywhere captured the moment in the match where De Jong went in very high on Alonso, planting his cleats firmly into the chest of the Spaniard and sending him to the ground. It should have been a solid red but bungled officiating allowed De Jong to stay on the pitch in a match the Spain won.
24. 1982 World Cup
The 1982 World Cup final, hosted in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu, saw Italy square off with West Germany. While 90,000 fans watched on, the Italians showed why they deserved to take home the title, winning 3-1. The moment of the final was definitely the goal by Italy’s defensive midfielder Marco Tardelli. Cameras captured the player’s sheer ecstasy as he ran around the pitch yelling, with fists clenched, celebrating giving his side a 2-0 lead. Many players have had emotional reactions to scoring but Tardelli’s is probably one of the best remembered.
23. Solskjaer’s Winner
The 1999 Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Manchester United was definitely one of the more dramatic in that competition’s history. Heading into stoppage time at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, Bayern Munich held a 1-0 lead thanks to Mario Basler’s 6th minute goal. Then in three minutes, everything was turned upside down. In the 91st minute, Teddy Sheringham equalized. With only seconds left, United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored in dramatic fashion to give the English side victory. The Norwegian’s sliding celebration with arms outstretched came to symbolize the United victory which capped of an impressive ’99 for the Manchester team.
22. Sorrow and Joy
Anyone who has watched football, especially international tournaments and cup competitions, knows how emotional things can get. One moment of joy can be turned into tears of frustration, gut turning anxiety can be instantly replaced by uncontrolled euphoria. In major games we’ve all seen the victors celebrate wildly, while the defeated stand emotionless or collapsed on the pitch. In the 1994 World Cup final, Italy faced off against Brazil to decide who would take home the trophy. Tied 0-0, the game went to penalties. Roberto Baggio, the Italians’ fifth penalty taker, was placed in a must-score situation with Brazil ahead 3-2. Baggio could not convert from the spot and cameras everywhere captured Baggio’s disbelief contrasted with the sheer jubilation of Brazilian keeper Claudio Taffarel.
21. Ronaldo’s Pumped
The 2014 Champions League final between city rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid had a little something for everyone. Underdog Atletico held a shock lead until the 93rd minute when Sergio Ramos scored to send things to extra time. Real’s quality eventually came through and the La Liga giants jumped to a 3-1 lead. With the game all but won, Cristiano Ronaldo stepped up to score a 120th minute penalty, making it 4-1. Real’s star of stars proceeded to celebrate in classic Mario Balotelli fashion, by removing his shirt and flexing for the cameras. Having put in a rather average performance, the media were critical of the superstar’s celebration over a goal which didn’t matter. Nonetheless, it’s classic Ronaldo – and a celebration which continues to be mocked by players around the globe.
20. Kaka’s Statement
The 2007 Champions League final in Athens witnessed AC Milan avenge their 2005 loss to Liverpool in Istanbul. The Italian club won 2-1, taking home their seventh Champions League title. With the final whistle, the tightly fought match ended and players began to celebrate or drop to the pitch. Near center, Brazilian and Milan star Kaka took off his jersey and dropped to his knees. Cameras immediately focussed on the player who was wearing a t-shirt which read ‘I Belong to Jesus.’ It has since become an image associated with both the player and the 2007 tournament.
19. Pele and Moore
Shirt swapping is now a common practice in most leagues and tournaments following the end of the game. At the 1970 World Cup, the practice of swapping shirts received huge publicity following the match between England and Brazil. The game ended 1-0 Brazil, but it was the exchange of shirts between England’s Bobby Moore and Brazil’s Pele that became the iconic image. During a period when racism was very visible in the footballing world, the friendship and sportsmanship between these two giants of the game provided a positive symbol for the beautiful game.
18. Vinnie Jones’ foul
If you ever watched Vinnie Jones play during his time in England, you knew that literally anything could happen when he was on the pitch. Jones was a classic hardman, although some would label him a bit of a nutter. He’d throw in very hard tackles and try to pick fights, all to get the other team off their game. His tactics even included grabbing the most sensitive of places – as Newcastle United’s and England international Paul Gascoigne found out. In a 1988 league match, cameras caught Wimbledon’s Jones grabbing onto Gascoigne. Jones’ clenched face and the look of surprise and discomfort on the face of Gascoigne really does say it all.
17. Henry’s Slide
Any time Premier League rivals Arsenal and Tottenham meet you can be guaranteed something memorable will happen. In November 2002, the crowd at Highbury watched as Arsenal’s Thierry Henry collected the ball, ran through the entire Spurs team and slotted home. The Gunners’ talisman then proceeded to run the length of the pitch, sliding defiantly in front of the angry Tottenham supporters. The moment really summed up the North London Derby and Henry’s celebration is forever captured in a bronze statue found outside Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium.
16. The Women’s ’99 WC Final
Although men’s football generally takes all of the headlines, it was the Women’s World Cup in 1999 which received a generous dose of attention thanks to the final. Hosted by the United States, the ’99 final saw China and the United States head into a penalty shootout in front of a record 90,000 fans. With China having missed one of their penalties, Brandi Chastain stepped up to the spot. She fired in the ball to the keeper’s left, giving the US the win. In an image forever associated with the Women’s World Cup, photographers snapped pictures of Chastain as she tore off her jersey and dropped to her knees in celebration.
15. Rooney’s Bicycle Kick
Whether or not you agree with this goal being named the best that the Premier League has ever seen, Wayne Rooney’s bicycle-kick goal against Manchester City in 2011 definitely made for an iconic photo. In the 77th minute of the February 2011 match at Old Trafford, Nani put in a cross which was met by the shin of the acrobatic Rooney. The ball hurtled into the net and handed United the big derby win against a rival that was challenging for league supremacy. United went on to win the title that season by nine points.
14. England ‘66
The 1966 World Cup in England was definitely the highlight of English football. Playing in Wembley, England defeated Germany 4-2 to capture their only ever World Cup title. Since then, while there has been plenty of hype, English teams haven’t done as well and only the 1990 side have progressed beyond the quarter-finals. Nonetheless, the above image captures the pinnacle of the Three Lions’ international play as the team hoists captain Bobby Moore up onto their shoulders. In turn, Moore hoists the World Cup trophy skyward in front of a jubilant Wembley crowd.
13. Becks Sees Red
The round of 16 during the 1998 World Cup witnessed old enemies England and Argentina squaring off once again. Heading into the second half of the match, the score was all even at 2-2. Then, only a couple minutes into play, Beckham was on the end of a hefty challenge from behind by Diego Simeone. The English midfielder kicked out at the Argentine right in front of the referee with expected results. England went on to lose in a penalty shootout and the British press blasted their midfield star for his lack of maturity. The headlines read “10 Heroic Lions, 1 Stupid Boy.”
12. Terry’s Slip
English players and penalty slips seem to be a common thing. Momentarily eclipsing David Beckham’s howlers against Portugal and Turkey, Chelsea captain John Terry gave us a beauty in Moscow during the 2008 Champions League final between Chelsea and Manchester United. The Blues needed just one more goal to win the shootout 5-4. The attempt fell to Terry who stepped up in the rain, slipped in the process and put the ball off the post and wide. United went on to win the game and the image of Terry, sitting in the box with his head pressed against his legs became forever associated with the moment.
11. Beckham’s (and England’s) Joy
During qualification for the 2002 World Cup, England were in desperate need of at least a point against Greece. With only minutes left in the game at Old Trafford, things were not looking good as the visitors held a 2-1 lead. With just seconds left, Greece conceded a free kick several yards outside their box. Naturally, David Beckham stepped forward to take the kick – from a similar spot to where he had missed just moments earlier. To the joy of the England team and the crowd, the England midfielder curled his freekick into the net and sent England through to the World Cup – where they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by eventual winners Brazil.
10. Maradona vs Belgium
Having defeated the Soviet Union and Spain, Belgium’s reward as they headed into the semi-final of the 1986 World Cup was a game against Argentina. The Belgians had punched above their weight but there simply was no answer when they faced Diego Maradona. The Argentine devoured the European defence, leaving them panicked at times. By the end of the match, the scorecard showed it was Maradona 2, Belgium 0. Argentina went on to win the World Cup and photographers went on to capture this great image of one Argentinian magician terrifying several Belgian defenders.
9. Gascoigne Brought to Tears
In 1990, England came the closest they ever have to returning to a World Cup final since 1966. Facing eventual winners West Germany, England held on through regular time with the score tied at 1-1. Germany came closest to winning the game in extra time but a shootout was eventually required to see who would go to the final. Germany won the shootout and England fans were left devastated. The picture of England’s Paul Gascoigne may have summed up how the English felt. Taken in the 98th minute – well before the game was decided – Gascoigne couldn’t stop from crying after receiving a yellow card which would have kept him from the final had England made it.
8. Turkish Delight
Whether or not you are a fan of Liverpool or AC Milan, the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, Turkey was one of the most dramatic ever. Favorites Milan opened up a 3-0 lead heading into half and looked to have the game all but won. Liverpool refused to give up and scored three goals in a six minute period in the second half to tie the game up. In the penalty shootout, Milan’s Andriy Shevchenko had to score to keep the Italians in it. He missed and the Liverpool players, waiting anxiously at the half-way line, erupted into celebration as they charged forward to congratulate keeper Jerzy Dudek.
7. Mandela and the Cup
The 2010 FIFA World Cup was historic because it was the first time the tournament was held in Africa. Beating out the likes of Egypt and Morocco, South Africa won the rights to hold the tournament and introduce the world to the mind-numbing drone of the vuvuzela. In all seriousness, the tournament was a success and created many memorable moments. Perhaps the most famous is that of South Africa President Nelson Mandela holding the World Cup trophy. In a life that had seen him go from political prisoner to president, the image summed up how far South Africa had come in only a few decades.
6. Drogba’s Fury
The 2009 Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Barcelona was definitely not a highlight of Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo’s career. In a stressful second-leg, Ovrebo missed at least a couple big penalty claims which potentially could have seen the Blues progress to the final. Barcelona managed to hold on for a 1-1 draw and progressed on away goals. With the final whistle, Chelsea’s players vented their fury with Drogba leading the charge. Television cameras caught Drogba yelling about Ovrebo’s “disgraceful” display – with a few more colorful words added – and cameras caught a now famous picture of the Chelsea frontman staring into the soul of the official. If there ever was a death stare, this is it.
5. Cantona’s Kick
Sometimes in football you see something that makes you ask: ‘did that really just happen?’ In the 1995 Premier League game between Manchester United and Crystal Palace, everyone was asking that question after the sending off of United’s Eric Cantona. The French forward was on his way to the dressing room when he suddenly diverted course and launched a kung-fu style kick into the chest of a Crystal Palace supporter. The kick was followed up with a series of punches before Cantona was hustled off the pitch to face a lengthy ban for his actions. Cameras managed to capture the whole insane episode so that we can say with 100% certainty that: ‘yes, this actually did happen.’
4. Milan Derby
Everybody loves a derby. Everyone loves the knockout stages of the Champions League. Combine the two with a couple of Europe’s biggest clubs and you’re bound to get fireworks – or in this case flares. The 2005 quarter final game between rivals Milan and Inter was a largely one sided affair. Losing 3-0 on aggregate, the Inter faithful lost their cool when their side had a goal disallowed. In the 71st minute, the game was halted amidst a barrage of objects and flares coming from the stands. As officials tried to sort things out and medical staff attended Milan’s keeper, Dida (struck by a flare), Inter’s Marco Materazzi and Milan’s Rui Costa were pictured taking in the chaos around them.
3. The Head of Zidane
The 2006 World Cup final saw powerhouses France and Italy go head to head. For French footballing legend Zinedine Zidane, it would be the last of three World Cup competitions – and a finale which would make headlines for all the wrong reasons. In extra time, with the score tied 1-1, the French midfielder was jogging back up the field with Italian defender Marco Materazzi close behind. Suddenly, Zidane turned around and planted a headbutt into the chest of the Italian. Zidane was shown red for his actions, Italy won the game in a shootout and cameras forever captured the dramatic moment when Materazzi went crashing to the ground as Zidane stood defiantly over him.
2. The Hand of God
Perhaps the most infamous moment in football, anyone who follows the sport has at least heard of this incident. During the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal between Argentina and England, Diego Maradona opened the scoring in controversial fashion. Now-famous photos show the diminutive Argentine using his left hand to deflect the ball past England keeper Peter Shilton. Maradona later quipped that the goal was “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God.” In hindsight, perhaps he should have added that it was also down to a little incompetence on the part of the officials. In any event, it created one of the greatest World Cup and footballing memories (and images) to this day.
1. Pele Celebrates
You can’t talk about football greats without bringing up the Brazilian legend Pele. Winner of three World Cups and more individual awards than we can list here, the Brazilian forward-midfielder was truly a force on the pitch. Arguably, one of the most famous and iconic footballing photos of Pele was taken during his final World Cup appearance in 1970. The final of that tournament was played between Brazil and Italy in the Aztec Stadium in Mexico City. Pele scored the opening goal – his celebration captured by cameras which famously show the Brazilian legend being hoisted up by teammate Jairzinho.
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