Nothing is more dramatic in a FIFA World Cup than winning or tying a match in stoppage time. No matter the situation or what is at stake, late goals have etched new heroes and broken down the spirits of many other nations.
In the early editions, Ernst Wilmowski (1938), Wolfgang Weber (1966) and Karl-Heinz Schnellinger (1970) provided the three most dramatic last-minute goals to force extra time, all of them coming in losing efforts. Last-minute goals have become even more memorable, particularly since 1990.
Perhaps the two most memorable last-minute goals since 1990 include Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria (2010) and Ki-Hyeon Seol’s 88th minute goal for South Korea (2002) and they are great goal. Donovan’s goal helped the United States advance out of its group at Slovenia’s expense and also top England in its group. Seol’s effort helped level Italy before South Korea defeated Italy, just as its counterparts North Korea did in 1966.
These last minute goals also helped these players’ careers.
In only their second World Cup (first coming in 1962), Colombia was on course to be one of the four best third-place teams, but faced West Germany in their group stage finale on June 19, 1990. Things looked good for Colombia as the match was scoreless throughout, until Pierre Littbarski scored in the 89th minute to put Colombia on the brink of an early exit. Colombia snatched the vital point three minutes into stoppage time. The play began with Carlos Valderrama threading a pass to a wide open Freddy Rincon. Having gained his first cap for Colombia four months earlier, Rincon shot the ball past the leds of Bodo Illgner and Colombia snatched a Round of 16 berth with the 1-1 draw.
Two days later, another South American nation scored a last-minute goal to end both Austria and Scotland’s campaign. Uruguay faced South Korea on June 21 and looked to reach the Round of 16 in consecutive tournaments. Four years earlier, Uruguay reached the Round of 16 despite not winning a game. This time, Uruguay had to win and its best opportunity began in the 70th minute. That was when South Korea Yoon Deuk-Yeo was sent off (yellow card accumulation). Still, the match was scoreless when Daniel Fonseca, who replaced Ruben Sosa in the 62nd minute, saved Uruguay. Off a Uruguay free kick, Fonseca headed the only goal (his first ever for Uruguay) to send Uruguay as the fourth best third-place team with a 1-0 victory.
Like Fonseca, another player scored his first goal for his country at a FIFA World Cup: England’s David Platt did so in the most dramatic circumstance possible. England and Belgium met in a Round of 16 meeting that was empty of goals. Inf fact the winning goal would not coming until the second half of extra time. Wtth a penalty shootout looming, England capitalized on a free kick. Paul Gascoigne chipped the ball toward Platt, who volleyed the shot past Michel Preud’homme. That goal was enough to send England to the quarter-finals with that 1-0 victory.
Late goals can come from nations looking to simply avoid losing a match: that was the case for both South Korea (1994) and New Zealand (2010). Before they faced Spain in Dallas on June 17, 1994, South Korea avoided defeat only once, but their chances looked possible, when Spain’s Miguel Angel Nadal was shown a red card in the 25th minute. Despite the man advantage, South Korea trailed 2-0 after 84 minutes. But South Korea mounted a courageous comeback to salvage an unlikely point. In the 85th minute, Hong Myung-Bo halved the deficit on a set piece. In the 90th minute, Myung-Bo assisted in Seo Jung-Won’s tying goal as South Korea came back to salvage an unlikely 2-2 draw, a result that came exactly four years after Spain defeated South Korea 3-1 in the tournament.
As for New Zealand, they played its fourth ever World Cup match in Rustenburg, South Africa on June 15, 2010: the opening group stage match against Slovakia looked possible for at least a draw. But New Zealand lost all three games in their first trip to the World Cup 28 years ago and a fourth loss looked possible after Slovakia led 1-0. But New Zealand did the unthinkable three minutes into stoppage time. Shane Smeltz kept possession alive and struck a pass into the penalty box. Playing in just his third game for New Zealand, Winston Reid headed the tying goal to give New Zealand its first ever World Cup point with a 1-1 draw.
Teams leading that score last-minutes goals are not usually vital, unless they affect group position, a case that doomed Argentina. It was June 30, 1994: Argentina faced Bulgaria in the group stage finale in Dallas, having beaten Greece and Nigeria. Simultaneously, Nigeria (who defeated Bulgaria) faced Greece (whom Bulgaria defeated) in Foxborough, Mass. Nigeria and Bulgaria led 1-0 with the games heading to stoppage time; had those results stood, Argentina would still win its group on goal difference. However, Nigeria doubled its lead in the 90th minute thanks to Daniel Amokachi. Simultaneously, a player who scored Bulgaria’s tying goal against Italy in the 1986 World Cup, Nasko Sirakov scored Bulgaria’s second goal. After those results, Nigeria won the group and Bulgaria overtook Argentina for second place in the group.
Nigeria’s campaign was derailed by a late goal in the Round of 16. This player helped reignited Italy’s flailing campaign, as Roberto Baggio scored Italy’s third goal of the tournament in the 88th minute just to force extra time. Baggio doubled his tally in extra time and Italy escaped with a 2-1 victory over Nigeria. Baggio was not the only big name to score a late to help his nation reignite their campaign. One player scored timely goals for his nation, while another player jump-started his country’s campaign, before another helped his country win its group.
Ronaldo led the 2002 World Cup in scoring, but Ireland’s Robbie Keane provided timely goals to help Ireland reach the Round of 16, where it ended against Spain. The signature moment came on June 5 in Ibaraki, Japan. Germany was on course for another win after leading 1-0, only for Keane to pounce on a golden opportunity, giving Ireland a vital 1-1 draw. Ireland was nearly eliminated in regulation in the Round of 16 on June 16, when it trailed 1-0 to Spain: Keane scored a 90th minute penalty to force extra time in Suwon, South Korea.
Once renowned for red hair ahead of the 2002 World Cup, Freddie Ljungberg was the answer Sweden needed to get their scoring on track in the 2006 World Cup. It was June 15: Sweden, who averaged three goals a game in qualifying, was scoreless against Paraguay and had yet to score in the tournament. Another goalless draw looked possible, until Ljungberg changed the tide of the game. His 89th minute goal gave Sweden a 1-0 victory and eliminated Paraguay from contention.
Aside from Keane (Suwon) and Seol (Daejeon), the other player to score a vital last-minute goal in South Korea would end up doing the same four years later in Dortmund. Oliver Neuville first came to prominence for Germany when he helped the nation qualify for the 2002 World Cup. Then, in a Round of 16 match against Paraguay in Seogwipo, South Korea, Neuville broke a scoreless draw against a pesky Paraguay to help Germany win 1-0. Four years later, Dortmund was the scene of another Neuville moment: this time coming against Poland. The situation was the same as well, with Germany and Poland both scoreless: that was until Neuville scored one minute into stoppage time to give Germany a 1-0 victory.
Dortmund witness three dramatic late goals: the other two would break Germany’s hearts and hand the nation its first ever loss. To make it even more pain, Germany lost against Italy in a semi-final on July 4, 2006. The match was throughout; penalties loomed as the scoreless draw continued toward late in the second half of extra time. That was until following an Italy corner kick, Fabio Grosso scored in the 119th minute. Then on the last play of the game, Alessandro Del Piero doubled the led and Italy won 2-0.
Before that goal, Italy had another late goal that got the nation to this point. It happened in Kaiserslautern, Germany on June 26: Italy also won on the last kick of the game. Italy’s Round of 16 match against Australia was not going as planned, as they played throughout most of the second half with 10 men. With the match scoreless heading into stoppage time, Italy was awarded a penalty following on a controversial call. Having come on for Del Piero, Francesco Totti scored the penalty five minutes into stoppage time: that remains the latest goal ever scored in regulation at a World Cup.
Australia’s campaign ended in the same venue it started and how it started was one of the tournament’s memorable moments. Australia played in just its fourth World Cup match, when it faced Japan on June 12. Australia tied Japan in the 84th minute, as Tim Cahill became Australia’s first ever World Cup goal scorer. Five minutes later, Cahill broke a 1-1 draw to give Australia the lead. To make the victory certain, John Aloisi, the man who sent Australia to the World Cup, scored two minutes into stoppage time to give Australia a 3-1 victory.
The cities of Dortmund and Kaiserslautern witnessed memorable last-minute goals and Italy was in on the action. If there was ever two other cities and another nation that had that same feeling, consider that of the 1998 World Cup.
He would go on to be Austria’s first ever goalscorer at a European Championship in 2008, but Ivica Vastic also scored in dramatic fashion at a World Cup. His moment came on June 17, 1998, when his goal against Chile levelled and the match finished 1-1. Six days earlier, Toni Polster would score the dramatic tying goal against Cameroon and that also finished 1-1.
Polster’s tying goal was one of three dramatic last-minute goals in Toulouse. The second came on June 22: the man that scored once scored the only goal of a World Cup match that defeated the United States on home soil. Four year later, Dan Petrescu topped one better by breaking a 1-1 draw against England. He scored in the 90th minute to help Romania win 2-1.
The Netherlands have had great teams in World Cup play; the the 1998 is one often not well known. The Netherlands faced Yugoslavia in the Round of 16 and played all 11 starters for the full game. It would prove useful as Yugoslavia missed a crucial penalty and Edgar Davids scored two minutes into extra time to give the Netherlands a 2-1 victory. The Netherlands was not done: the first goalscorer against Yugoslavia scored a memorable last-minute goal. Dennis Bergkamp broke a 1-1 draw against Argentina and scored in 90th minute as the Netherlands won 2-1 and eliminated Argentina.
Bergkamp’s winning goal came in Marseille, but that was the second dramatic last-minute goal in the venue. The first came on June 23 and it would prove to be the winning goal in a must win match. Four years earlier, Norway’s Kjetl Rekdal scored the only goal in its victory over Mexico. This time, needing to win, Norway fought back against Brazil and with the match level at 1-1 was awarded a controversial penalty. Rekdal scored his penalty in the 88th minute to give Norway a 2-1 upset against Brazil.
Since the 1990 World Cup, the last-minute goal has seen so many nations rise and fall in the process, while also giving players either a shining moment in the sun or perhaps even more. Whatever the situation, the last-minute goal has always been a defining moment.