Over the years, our writers have been present for some of the game's greatest occasions. In the latest installment of a multi-part series, they tell the story of the most surreal thing they have seen at a game, several of which have a World Cup flavour: Germany's humiliation of Brazil in 2014, the U.S. failing to qualify four years later and Ronaldo's 1998 final saga.
Gab Marcotti's pick: Germany humiliate Brazil at World Cup
The match: Brazil 1-7 Germany (2014)
The place: Belo Horizonte, Brazil
If there is an upside, it is that the Maracanazo of 1950 -- when the largest crowd ever assembled to watch a sporting event, estimated anywhere between 175,000 and 200,000, packed into the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro to witness Brazil squander a lead and lose to Uruguay, throwing away a World Cup they thought they had won -- will share space with the Mineirazo of 2014, another day of shame that stained a generation of Selecao footballers.
The host nation had not been particularly impressive to that point: Held by Mexico in the group stage, they needed penalties to overcome Chile in the Round of 16 and were fortunate against Colombia in a vicious quarterfinal that saw Neymar injured. Neither, though, had Germany, who had drawn with Ghana and could easily have been eliminated by Algeria.
But World Cup history is littered with teams that start slow and then find their mojo. Watching Brazil line up in Belo Horizonte, holding a Neymar jersey aloft, I told myself they might well go all the way. The crowd at the Mineirao were up for it, it was all about inspiration and emotion. Heck, why not?
Little did I know that, over the next 30 minutes, the supporters around me would cycle through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' stages of grief.
2-0. 3-0. 4-0. Anger. I'm lumping these together because they happened so quickly. Three goals in four minutes. You've got to be kidding me. The last was down to Fernandinho -- as stunned as the rest of us -- being robbed of the ball in his own half.
What I remember most vividly was how the crowd vented their anger, with a full-throated "Bra-sil! Bra-sil!" As if they were reminding the interlopers on the pitch in the gold jerseys who they were, while at the same time transitioning to the next stage.
Bargaining. Say the name enough times and -- presto -- they will go back to being the Selecao of Ronaldinho and Romario and Rivelino and O Rey himself, Pele. That lasted maybe a minute.
5-0. Depression. Sami Khedira's strike was the final blow. Less than half an hour gone, Brazil trailed by five goals. At home. In a game the country had been waiting 64 years to play. It was over. Fans filed to the exits. Meanwhile, I genuinely do not remember what happened next. I know the final score was 7-1, but the last hour was a meaningless blur.
There is a fifth stage on the Kubler-Ross cycle: Acceptance. I don't think Brazil fans are there yet. And I am not sure they will get there for a long time, if ever.
- Stream ESPN FC TV and 30 for 30 soccer stories, including "Barbosa: The man who made Brazil cry" on ESPN+ (U.S. only)
- I was there: Zlatan arrives | Zidane sees red | Donovan's heroics | Ronaldo's overhead | Messi is No. 1 | Liverpool stun Barcelona | Brilliant Barca | Ronaldo's flex
Jeff Carlisle's pick: U.S. fail to qualify for World Cup
The match: Trinidad & Tobago 2-1 United States (2017)
The place: Couva, Tobago
For pure disbelief, the USMNT's debacle against Trinidad and Tobago takes the prize. What made the night even stranger was that, even though the U.S. was losing for most of the game, results elsewhere seemed set to give Bruce Arena's side a reprieve. But Panama and Honduras struck late goals in their games, then Clint Dempsey hit the post for the U.S., and suddenly the Americans were out. The next morning it still did not seem real, but it was. Moreover, two-and-a-half years later, the team remains haunted by that night.
Tim Vickery's pick: Higuain celebrates alone
The match: Germany 1-0 Argentina (2014)
The place: Rio de Janeiro
Gonzalo Higuain thought he had put Argentina ahead in the World Cup final, with potentially the greatest moment of his career, and wheeled away celebrating like a madman, roaring his triumph into the Maracana air. But the "goal," as almost everyone else knew instantly, was ruled out for offside and his teammates were soon back defending. It took a long time for Higuain to be shaken out of his private reverie and accept the sad truth. Mario Gotze went on to score an extra-time winner to give Germany the trophy.
Rob Dawson's pick: Down goes Van Gaal!
The match: Manchester United 3-2 Arsenal (2016)
The place: Manchester, England
It was never dull covering Louis van Gaal, but watching him dive on the floor during a game against Arsenal was bizarre, even for him. The look on fourth official Mike Dean's face made it even better, while Van Gaal's assistant Ryan Giggs just turned to walk away, almost as if he wanted no part in what had just happened. The laughter inside the stadium carried on for more than a few minutes and the whole incident was another chapter in a remarkable game, which is best remembered for Marcus Rashford scoring twice in his Premier League debut.
Sid Lowe's pick: Real Madrid and Real Sociedad's six-minute game
The match: Real Madrid 2-1 Real Sociedad (2005)
The place: Madrid
This was the end of a game that had been abandoned a month earlier due to a bomb scare. Madrid had six minutes to score and turn things around ... and they did thanks to a converted penalty from Zinedine Zidane. There was also the moment when Fabio Coentrao took his place on the Real Madrid bench in full kit -- boots and all -- only to be told he was not in the squad!
Nick Miller's pick: Lampard scores against Chelsea
The match: Manchester City 1-1 Chelsea (2014)
The place: Manchester, England
There is little I find stranger than when players move after a long career at one club. It is a bit like the first time you saw a teacher outside school; the context is just not right. Frank Lampard was so much a part of the fabric at Chelsea, where he won everything in the game during a 14-year career in which he scored more than 200 goals -- that it was unthinkable to watch him play for anyone else, and certainly not another Premier League club. Therefore, to not only watch him turn out for City, but score against Chelsea, was bizarre to the extreme.
Graham Hunter's pick: Ronaldo is out, then in
The match: Brazil 0-3 France (1998)
The place: Saint-Denis, France
I have been present for a lot of utterly bizarre moments, including the the Luis Figo "pig's head" Clasico in 2002, but the 1998 World Cup final, when we were handed Brazil's team sheet with Edmundo starting, only to have it supplanted 40 minutes later with Ronaldo in the line-up, takes some beating. The great striker had been unwell on the morning of the final and did not travel to the Stade de France with his teammates, but arrived later and declared himself fit, only to make little impact in a 3-0 defeat. "Imagine if I stopped him playing and Brazil lost. At that moment I'd have to go and live on the North Pole," Brazil coach Mario Zagallo later told a congress hearing.
Mark Ogden's pick: Croatia, England meet behind closed doors
The match: Croatia 0-0 England (2018)
The place: Rijeka, Croatia
Being in Rijeka to watch Croatia play England in an empty stadium -- part of the home side's punishment for playing a game with a swastika drawn on the pitch -- was a strange experience and one that emphasised why supporters are so important. Hearing players shouting at each other, as well as the sound of the ball being kicked, was just weird. It was a foreshadow to these unprecedented times of league being shut down due to the coronavirus, which have reminded us that football unquestionably needs fans in the stands.
Tor-Kristian Karlsen's pick: Mancini loses his temper
The match: Sampdoria 0-0 Inter (1995)
The place: Genoa, Italy
Always a heart-on-sleeve player, Roberto Mancini's troubled times toward the end of his legendary Sampdoria career came to a head in this match when he was booked for diving instead of being awarded a penalty. Running to the bench, he tore off the captain's armband and demanded to be substituted. When coach Sven-Goran Eriksson refused, Mancini hurled abuse at the referee until he was sent off!
Tom Williams' pick: Rain stops play in Donetsk
The match: Ukraine 0-2 France (2012)
The place: Donetsk, Ukraine
After five minutes of a Euro 2012 group game between co-hosts Ukraine and France, an almighty rainstorm plunged the stadium into darkness and forced the players off. The roof of the Donbass Arena did not quite cover the press box, so all the journalists present got completely soaked. I was still mopping down my desk with paper towels when play resumed an hour later!