All right, I know the title of this piece is a bit dramatic, but if I just called it my 'Top 3 World Cup moments' you could be mistaken for thinking I recall every one with fondness. You will see that's not the case in every example, but one thing these three moments all have in common is that they are certainly life-defining in the sense that I can remember exactly where I was when they took place, but most of all, the impact they had on me.
I have pondered this list endlessly over many a long, lonely run recently, and could have done a top 10 with ease (leaving out the wonderful Brazil v's Italy game in '82 was tough), but I've made my final decisions.
So here we go, in reverse order, my top 3 life-defining world cup moments...
Number 3 - England's Defeat to West Germany in Italia '90...
Knowing my 17th birthday was on the date of the World Cup final, I swear on my life I would have never asked for anything else ever if I could just have seen England get beyond that semi-final against West Germany. I watched the game with my mates and then cried my heart out with them when the dream was over.
The harsh manor in which West Germany went in front. Lineker's late equaliser. Gazza'a booking that lead to the tears. Waddle agonisingly hitting the post in extra time. The unbearable penalty shoot-out. The highs and lows of a single football match could not have resonated deeper.
As Waddle drove his penalty high into the night sky above the Stadio delle Alpi, Turin, England's hopes and dreams went with it. Watch the highlights of the game here, but you will have to excuse me if I don't. Still to this day I can't bring myself to watch a re-run of that game. It may well be that I will never see my nation get that close again to a World Cup final again, and that thought kills me inside.
Number 2 - Maradona's 2nd Goal v's England in Mexico '86...
It was June the 22nd 1986 in Mexico City, 10 minutes into the 2nd half of the World Cup quarter finals. The huge Estadio Azteca was full to bursting with nearly 115,000 fans. Maradona, picks the ball up about 10 yard inside his own half before spinning past two England players effortlessly, knocking the ball forward in the process. England's Peter Reid desperately tries to catch the stocky Argentine, but Maradona pulls away, powering goalward with the ball seemingly stuck to his wondrous left foot, and on the most awful of surfaces. Butcher is passed en-route to goal as if he wasn't there and Terry Fenwick was left flat footed and clueless by the greatest player the world has ever seen. Deep inside the English box now, a slight-but-significant extra touch from the genius No.10 drops Shilton on his backside and Maradona has an open goal in front of him. Butcher tries a lunging last-ditch tackle, but it was too late.
I was just 12 years old when I watched that goal, sat in my dads arm chair with my family at home on a Sunday afternoon. I wanted with all my heart to see Bobby Robson's England make the last four but that day belonged to Maradona and I knew it, even at that age. I was completely spellbound by that goal. Still am today.
Watch the best goal ever scored goal here.
If you know how much I love and deeply admire Diego Maradona the footballer, you may well be surprised this isn't my number 1, but that moment is reserved for passion over beauty.
Number 1 - Marco Tardelli's Celebration in Spain '82...
Even today, 32 years after the event, watching Marco Tardelli celebrate his goal in the world cup final in Spain '82 still lifts the hairs on the back of my neck. With the Italians 1-0 up and the clock ticking towards the 70th minute, Tardelli picked up the ball on the edge of the West German box before firing low with his left foot into the net. Instantly reduced to tears, the defensive midfielder turned and began sprinting towards the Italian bench with his arms open wide and his face contorted with passion screaming 'Gol, Gol, Gol' over and over.
For me, watching this celebration is the quintessential example of how powerful the emotions of football can get and what it really means deep, deep inside when everything you hope for, everything you dream about, comes off in one single, explosive moment. Nothing in life can better the moment when the ball hits the net. Nothing!
Watch the goal and celebration here. Just like Maradona's goal, I could watch that moment on repeat endlessly and never get bored.
I would not be over-exaggerating things to suggest my World Cup memories have gone a long way to shape me into the person I am today. A fascination of world geography, countries and cultures alongside a keen interest in football stadia and world music (the Brazilian samba rhythm and the rawness of an African drum) could all be traced back to those early tournaments of '82, '86 and '90 in particular.
Like a kid before Christmas, I cannot wait for it to all kick off in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Thursday. Just like a kid I will ignore the sensible logic and dare to dream! Come on England!