10 Most Clutch Moments of this Year’s World Cup

  • 10. Switzerland Stuns Ecuador

    Ecuador were not expected to make much noise at the World Cup, but a 22nd minute goal in their opening match with Switzerland launched them into a surprising lead. Even after the Swiss leveled that match shortly after halftime, it looked like Ecuador would at least be able to take a well-won point out of the first game and give themselves a good chance at advancing with group minnows Honduras on deck. However, in the third and final minute of stoppage time, Switzerland found space on the flanks of the Ecuadorian defense, and Ricardo Rodríguez’s cross was hammered home by Haris Seferovic to give his team a thrilling 2-1 win.

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  • 9. Guillermo Ochoa Shuts Out Brazil

    After opening the tournament with a 1-0 win over Cameroon, Mexico found themselves in a good position heading into their matchup with hosts Brazil. However, Miguel Herrera’s squad faced a brutally tough challenge in the Neymar-led home side, and indeed Brazil had the better of the chances throughout the game. However, Mexico had goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, a much-maligned figure prior to the tournament who played the game of his life against Brazil, making eight saves (many of them spectacular) to preserve the 0-0 draw and put Mexico in prime position to advance to the knockout stage.

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  • 8. Luis Suarez Conquers England

    While Luis Suarez’s 2014 World Cup will be remembered more for his biting incident against Italy, his performance in the previous match against England was truly remarkable. Despite still recovering from knee surgery and being shadowed by England defenders all game, Suarez made the most of his chances. He headed home brilliantly in the 39th minute, and then ran onto a fortuitously flicked ball in the 84th minute to finish powerfully and give his team a crucial 2-1 win.

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  • 7. Tim Howard Makes 16 Saves

    How can one be “clutch” yet still have his team lose the game? Well, setting a World Cup record is a good place to start. USA’s Tim Howard did just that in their Round of 16 match against Belgium, making a brilliant stop with his feet under a minute into the game and not stopping until the final whistle blew over 120 minutes later. Without Howard’s moments of brilliance, the score of the game could easily have reached Germany-Brazil proportions, and his 16 total saves were the most ever recorded in a World Cup game since the stat started being kept in 2002.

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  • 6. Angel di Maria Scores Extra-Time Winner

    Angel di Maria is one of the best midfielders in world soccer today, a player who was named Man of the Match by UEFA in the Champions League Final this past year and an essential member of Argentina’s World Cup side. The Albiceleste peppered Switzerland’s goal throughout this Round of 16 match, but it looked like we were heading for penalty kicks until di Maria found the back of the net in the 118th minute with a wonderful, sweeping finish of a Lionel Messi pass. The 1-0 win pushed Argentina into the Quarterfinals, and whipped the over 40,000 Argentinians in attendance into a frenzy.

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  • 5. Lionel Messi Beats Iran

    After 90 minutes of scoreless soccer in Belo Horizonte, it looked like we were heading for one of the most shocking results of the tournament. To be fair, Iran had thrown pretty much their entire team behind the ball for the majority of the match, playing a conservative style meant to prevent Argentina from scoring at all costs. However, if you give Lionel Messi any kind of space and time, he will make you pay. That’s exactly what he did, as the highly-scrutinized forward delivered a magical strike in stoppage time to give his team a win and secure them a spot in the knockout stage.

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  • 4. David Luiz Hits the Upper 90 Against Colombia

    Colombia had looked very impressive through their first four matches heading into the Quarterfinals against Brazil, even becoming a trendy pick to win the entire tournament. Brazil grabbed an early 1-0 lead and held it for an hour, but Colombia began to press and looked increasingly likely to grab an equalizer. That’s when Brazil centreback David Luiz stepped up to take a free kick from about 34 yards out, and promptly hammered the ball into the top corner to give Brazil a 2-0 lead. They’d go on to win the game and reach the Semifinals, although we won’t mention what happened after that.

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  • 3. Arjen Robben Draws a Stoppage Time PK

    OK, so it was probably a dive. But like it or not, it’s also true that diving is a part of the game, and that some people are far more talented at it than others. After Wesley Sneijder leveled the match against Mexico at 1-1 in the 88th minute, the Netherlands looked like they’d feel fortunate to head to extra time in the Round of 16 clash. However, Arjen Robben—a candidate for the Golden Ball award for most outstanding player of the tournament—had other ideas, and utilizing his signature inside cut on his left foot was able to draw a clumsy challenge in the box from Mexico defender Rafa Marquez. Klaas Jan Huntelaar converted the ensuing penalty, and the Dutch were off to the Quarterfinals as a result.

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  • 2. Tim Krul Comes in Cold, Stops Costa Rica

    While the idea of putting in a bigger goalkeeper for penalty kicks makes sense in theory, it’s practically unheard of for a team to actually do it. Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal decided to roll the dice, though, prior to the Dutch’s penalty kick shootout against Costa Rica by inserting backup goalkeeper Tim Krul for starter Jasper Cillessen. The gamble paid off, as Krul—who saved just two of 20 penalty kicks during his club season last year—stopped two of Costa Rica’s five spot kicks and sent his team into the Semifinals.

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  • 1. Mario Götze’s World Cup-Winning Goal

    Just before bringing on Mario Götze as a substitute in the 88th minute of the World Cup Final, Germany coach Joachim Löw told the striker to “show you are better than Messi.” Well, he may not be better than Messi most days, but in the Final Götze did just as his coach instructed. This magnificent play would have been a wonderful goal in any scenario, but the fact that the strike came in the 113th minute of the World Cup Final makes it as clutch a goal as any player can score. No matter what the 22-year-old does from here on out, this Cup-winning moment will make him a German hero for the rest of his life.

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  • Haris Seferovic
  • Neymar
  • Luis Suarez
  • Tim Howard
  • Angel di Maria
  • Lionel Messi
  • Arjen Robben
  • Tim Krul
  • Mario Götze

As we start our look back on the 2014 FIFA World Cup, we can begin to reflect on what a truly incredible month it was. Established stars like Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben delivered at the most vital of times, and players like Tim Howard and Guillermo Ochoa stepped up for their teams and vaulted themselves into global icon status. It was a tournament with a healthy dose of magical finishes and heroic performances, and in terms of pure entertainment value must go down as one of the greatest World Cups in history.

As we start to come to grips with the reality that we won’t get another one for four more years, let’s take a look back at the most clutch moments of this year’s World Cup.

Follow Doug on Twitter at @dcsibor