5 most important goals scored by substitutes at the FIFA World Cup

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Medford's goal took Costa Rica to the round of 16 at the 1990 World Cup

The FIFA World Cup began in 1930 but substitutions didn’t exist until 1970. Soviet Union manager Gavril Kachalin made the first substitution in World Cup history against Mexico at the 1970 World Cup. Anatoliy Puznach was the first substitute player in the history of the World Cup.

The first goal by a substitute in the World Cup was scored by Mexico’s Juan Ignacio Basaguren, against El Salvador. So far, there have been a total of 175 goals scored in the FIFA World Cup by a substitute. Cameroon legend Roger Milla scored all of his 5 World Cup goals whilst coming off the bench. There have been five World Cup matches where all goals were scored by substitutes; two in 1990 and three in 2014.

The most number of substitute goals in a World Cup is 33 in 2014, bettering 2006’s record of 23. The 2006 World Cup match between Argentina and Serbia and Montenegro is the only instance when all substitutes from a single team went on to score goals in the match. Hungary’s Laszlo Kiss is the only substitute who has scored a hat-trick, doing so against El Salvador in 1982.

There have been numerous brilliant goals being scored by subs. However, there are a few goals which were more crucial than brilliant and had a significant impact on the country’s footballing history. Here are five of the most important goals scored by a substitute in the FIFA World Cup.

Honorable mentions: David Platt (England) vs Belgium in 1990 and Kjetil Rekdal (Norway) vs Mexico in 1994

#5. Hernan Medford, Costa Rica vs Sweden, 1990


Hernan Medford scored one of the most important goals in Costa Rica’s footballing history at the 1990 World Cup. The former Honduras manager scored a goal during the qualifiers against Panama. He was in the squad for the tournament and came on as a late substitute during Costa Rica’s tournament opener against Sweden.

Medford was an unused sub during Costa Rica’s 0-1 defeat to Brazil. Costa Rica needed to win their final group game against Sweden to be assured of a spot in the last 16. The already-eliminated Sweden took the lead in the 32nd minute. At the hour-mark, Medford came on as a substitute, replacing midfielder Roger Gomez. Costa Rica equalized in the 75th minute thanks to skipper Roger Flores. In the 87th minute, Flores headed a kick from Swedish keeper Tomas Ravelli towards Medford.

The 21-year old received the pass and raced through the Swedish defence, to score the winner and send Costa Rica into the last 16. Medford went on to captain Costa Rica at the 2002 World Cup and ended his career with 87 appearances and 16 goals. However, he will always be remembered as the man who sent Costa Rica to the knockout stages of the 1990 World Cup.

#4. Victor Esparrago, Uruguay vs Soviet Union, 1970

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Esparrago's late header helped Uruguay reach the semi-finals of the 1970 World Cup

Uruguayan forward Victor Esparrago is one of the finest Uruguayan footballers of his generation. During the 1970 World Cup, Esparrago did not have a very good group stage, as he went goalless. In the quarter-finals against Soviet Union, Esparrago was benched.

Soviet Union were the heavy favorites to reach the semis. However, the match did not have much excitement and went scoreless. With the score 0-0 after full-time, the match proceeded into extra-time. At the start of extra-time, Soviet talisman Anatoliy Byshovets scored a goal, which was later ruled offside by the referee.

During the 103rd minute, Esparrago came on to play, replacing Dagoberto Fontes. With only two minutes left, Uruguay skipper Luis Ubinas sent a long ball from the right flank which was fought by Soviet skipper Albert Shesternyov and Uruguay’s Julio Cesar Castillo. The ball nearly went outside when Atilio Ancheta got the ball and passed it towards Esparrago, who headed past the running Soviet goalie Anzor Kavazashvili. Uruguay won the match 1-0 and were surprisingly through to the semi-finals.


#3. Ilhan Mansiz, Turkey vs Senegal, 2002

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Ilhan's golden goal took Turkey to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup

Both Turkey and Senegal were among the many surprise packages in the 2002 World Cup. Both sides qualified from their group and would face each other in their maiden World Cup quarter-final. Besiktas striker Ilhan Mansiz, played all of Turkey’s matches as a substitute.

A virtual unknown before the start of the tournament, Ilhan made a name for himself by baffling Roberto Carlos through his rainbow flick during Turkey’s opening match against Brazil. In the quarter-final, Ilhan was once again on the substitute’s bench before replacing skipper Hakan Sukur in the 67th minute.

The match ended goalless and went into extra-time, where the first team that scores, wins. Just four minutes into extra-time, Turkey began a counter-attack. Goalkeeper Rustu Recber threw the ball towards Arif Erdem, who was brought down by defender Omar Daf. However, the ball was quickly gathered by Umit Davala, who sent a low cross towards Ilhan. The 26-year old smashed the ball past Senegalese goalie Tony Sylva and sent Turkey into the semi-finals.

Ilhan’s golden goal ended Senegal’s fairy tale but also made him immortal in Turkish football’s history books. A golden goal indeed.


#2. Gianni Rivera, Italy vs West Germany, 1970

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Rivera's goal helped Italy beat West Germany in a thrilling semi-final at the 1970 World Cup

Gianni Rivera is one of the all-time greats for Italy and AC Milan. Rivera, who won the Ballon d’Or in 1969, was at the peak of his career during the 1970 World Cup. However, Rivera played only 45 minutes during the first round, as manager Ferucio Valcarreggi preferred Inter’s Sandro Mazzola.

Rivera was also benched during the quarter-final against Mexico, but he did replace Mazzola in the second half before scoring a goal. Rivera also set up both of Luigi Riva’s goals in an eventual 4-1 win. However, Rivera’s best show of the tournament would come in the semi-final against West Germany, which is widely regarded to be the Match of the Century.

Rivera, who had just recovered from stomach-flu, came on in the second half and the score was 1-1 at full-time. During extra-time, Gerd Muller gave West Germany the lead in the 94th minute. However, Rivera’s long passes led to goals from Tarcisio Burgnich and Luigi Riva, giving the Azzurri a 3-2 lead. Muller scored his second goal of the game to equalise.

Moments after Muller’s goal, Rivera initiated an attack from the kick-off and eventually scored to give Italy a 4-3 lead. Italy defended well and won the match.


#1. Mario Gotze, Germany vs Argentina, 2014

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Mario Gotze's goal won the 2014 World Cup for Germany

Mario Gotze scored four goals for Germany during the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. He had already established himself as one of the finest young footballers heading into the tournament.

Gotze started in Germany’s opening two matches against Portugal and Ghana, scoring a goal in the latter. He started in the last 16 against Algeria, before coming on as a substitute against France in the quarter-finals. Gotze was an unused sub during Germany’s 7-1 drubbing of Brazil.

In the final against Argentina, Gotze was on the bench before replacing Miroslav Klose in the 88th minute. During the substitution, Klose told him, "Show the world you are better than Messi and can decide the World Cup."

The match proceeded into extra time after both teams were locked in a stalemate after full-time. With only 7 minutes to go in extra-time, Gotze chested Andre Schurrle’s cross before volleying it past Argentine goalie Sergio Romero to win the World Cup for Germany.

Gotze thus became the first substitute to score a World Cup winning goal.


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Edited by Brett Shaw
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