Scotland 0 England 0, friendly international, West of Scotland Cricket Ground, Partick, 30 November 1872

There are those who look on goalless draws as a negation of what football should be about but stalemates have always been with us and take a proud place in the history of the game, right from the days when sides would line up with seven or eight forward players. The first game played under the rules codified by the Football Association in 1863, a friendly between Barnes and Richmond in Battersea Park, finished goalless. So too did the first full international fixture.

A match had been played at the Oval on 5 March 1870 between an England representative side and a team made up of Scots living in the London area, and such a success was it that the experiment was repeated four more times in the following two years, England winning three times and drawing twice. It was not, though, a full Scotland team and when the Scottish FA, looking to help popularise the game north of the border, suggested a proper international fixture, the FA were quick to accept.

Their secretary, CW Alcock, who had been born in Sunderland but educated at Harrow, was one of the great early pioneers of the game, establishing the FA Cup and being a prime mover in the five London-based quasi-internationals. He would have captained the England team but for injury and so made do with being their nominated umpire.

More than 2,000 fans turned out in Partick, generating gate receipts of £109, to see Scotland flummox England by adopting the devilish technique of passing. The Scots were just over a stone a man lighter than the English and they had been worried in the build-up to the game that they would be overwhelmed if they indulged in the head-down charging and dribbling that tended to comprise the game then. So they decided they would set out to frustrate England by keeping the ball from them, by passing it, to which end they pulled a forward back to play in midfield, countering England's 1-2-7 with a 2-2-6. They were emphatically successful and changed the nature of the game as a result. "The strong point with the home club," the report in the Glasgow Herald noted, "was that they played excellently well together." For a nation new to the game and with far fewer players to draw on than England, a 0-0 draw was regarded as a remarkable triumph.

Bury 0 Newcastle United 0, Football League Division One, Gigg Lane, 11 February 1925

The first game and the first international may have finished 0-0, but it was a scoreline that always sat uneasily with the authorities. The first big problem arose in 1898 with the final game in a series of test matches played out between the bottom two in the First Division, Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers and the top two in the Second, Burnley and Newcastle United, to determine promotion and relegation. Going into their final game at the Victoria Ground, Stoke and Burnley were joint top of the table, and knew that a draw would ensure both First Division status; they played out a shameless 0-0 that didn't feature a single shot on goal.

A crowd of 4,000 turned out despite heavy rain and strong winds and seemed to have been disgusted by the way Stoke went about retaining their top-flight status. They booed and jeered and then, in the second half, the crowd on the Boothen Road side of the ground began to amuse themselves by holding onto the ball every time it went into the stand. One ball was punted into the River Trent, another kicked onto the roof of the stand and two simply vanished. At one point a linesman and a policeman, both sprinting to try to prevent another ball ending up on the terrace, smacked into each other and ended up in a heap on the ground. The Football League was so appalled it immediately abandoned test matches and introduced automatic promotion and relegation.

Goals, the League and the FA believed, were the lifeblood of the game, and they regarded the increasing professionalism and pragmatism that followed the First World War with suspicion – in particular the prevalence of the offside trap. Newcastle weren't alone in applying it, but their full-back pairing of Frank Hudspeth and Bill McCracken were probably the most adept. The goalless draw at Bury, Newcastle's sixth of a season that produced what at the time was an unthinkably low average of 2.58 goals per game, came as the final straw as the authorities sought to combat falling attendances.

At the time, for a forward to be onside, three defending players had to be between him and his opponent's goal, which meant it was relatively simple for one full-back to step up and try to catch a forward offside, knowing the other could still act as cover if he mistimed the trap. The FA came up with two proposed changes: a) require only two players to be in advance of the forward; b) add a line in each half 40 yards from goal behind which a forward could not be offside. A series of exhibition games were arranged to test the two variants, with the first half being played under one proposal, and the second under the other. 

At a meeting in London on 15 June 1925, the FA decided they preferred the 'two players' version. The Scottish FA soon adopted the amendment as well, and it was they who presented the proposed rule-change to the International Board, the new variant being adopted ahead of the 1925-26 season. The change was an immediate success, with the average goals per game shooting up to 3.69 the following season. It was adapting to the new rule that led Herbert Chapman to pioneer the development from 2-3-5 to W-M at Arsenal in the latter half of the decade, setting in motion the whole evolution of modern tactics. 

Boca Juniors 0 Olimpia 0, Copa Libertadores final second leg, La Bombonera, Buenos Aires, 27 July 1979

Not until 1988 did the Copa Libertadores use aggregate score in the final. Until then, if one team won the first leg and the other won the second, the final went to a play-off, no matter what the respective margins of victory. So although goals from Osvaldo Aquino and Miguel Ángel Piazza at the Defensores del Chaco had given Olimpia a 2-0 win in Asunción, that was not quite such a convincing advantage as it may appear to modern eyes. To become the first Paraguayan team to win the Libertadores, they had to go to la Bombonera and avoid defeat against a Boca side seeking a third successive title. Olimpia, despite winning the Paraguayan championship 23 times to earn the nickname 'the King of Cups', had in 12 previous efforts advanced beyond the first phase only once — and that as long ago as 1960.

Any nerves Olimpia may have felt must have been intensified in the first minutes as their goalkeeper Ever Almeida was forced into a sprawling save to push away a ferocious shot from Miguel Ángel Bordón. As the siege continued, Almeida made save after save and Bordón thudded a shot against the crossbar. Boca kept creating chances and they kept on being repulsed, largely by the heroics of Almeida. As Boca grew increasingly desperate, the game became increasingly violent, with the result that each side ended the game with two red cards. More importantly for Olimpia, though, neither finished it with any goals and with a win and a draw they were champions.

"It wasn't just a massive moment for Olimpia fans, it was a massive moment for all supporters of Paraguayan football," Gabriel Cazenave, the sports editor of ABC Color, said. "The event was unique in our history. Everybody can remember where they were that day. I celebrated the victory out on the streets. It felt like the carnival had come to town."

Werder Bremen 0 Bayern Munich 0, Bundesliga, Weserstadion, Bremen, 22 April 1986

Even now the former Werder Bremen forward Michael Kutzop changes his phone number every few weeks. The mocking calls have slowed down but they haven't entirely stopped; he remains the man who cost Werder the Bundesliga title in 1986. What made it was worse that it seemed part of an inevitable sequence: Otto Rehhagel's Werder always finished second, they were always pipped by Bayern. When Rehhagel first acquired the nickname King Otto, he was Otto II, always taking silver.

The two sides met in the penultimate game of the season with Werder two points clear of Bayern at the top of the table (the Bundesliga didn't award two points for a win until 1994). Udo Lattek, the Bayern coach, and Rehhagel had been sparring for weeks and extra edge was added by the horrendous foul committed by Bayern's Klaus Augenthaler on Rudi Völler in the sides' first meeting of the season.

Völler had not played since, but was named as a substitute and came off the bench with 12 minutes remaining. 10 minutes later, he was involved in the moment for which the game will always be remembered, as his cross smacked into Søren Lerby's face and bounced down onto his arm. The referee gave a harsh penalty. Bayern protested and a melee broke out. Even after order was restored, several minutes passed before Kutzop could take the penalty, as officials struggled to retrieve the ball from the stands, where it had been kicked by Egon Coordes, the Bayern assistant coach.

Kutzop was a specialist. He had once scored 22 consecutive penalties for Offenbach and had converted eight times from the spot already that season. His secret, it was said, was to wait until he saw the keeper move, and put the ball the other way. Jean-Marie Pfaff, the Bayern goalkeeper, stood still and Kutzop thumped his penalty against the post. It was the only one he missed in six years at the club. "I'll never forget the sound the ball made as it hit the post," he said. Even now, to Germans, a player who hits the post with a penalty is said to have "done a Kutzop".

Shattered, the Werder players trudged off the pitch, past bottles of champagne bought for their title celebrations that would remain forever unopened. The following week they lost to Stuttgart, while Bayern, who had not been top all season, hammered Borussia Mönchengladbach 6-0 to take the title on goal difference.

Steaua Bucharest 0 Barcelona 0, European Cup final, Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán, Seville, 7 May 1986

For Steaua Bucharest, the European Cup was an impossible, magnificent dream. No eastern European side had ever won the trophy and they themselves had never got beyond the first round. When their president, Valentin Ceausescu, the son of the dictator, insisted early in the season they were good enough to do so, he was ridiculed. A magnificent semi-final win over Anderlecht, though, offered compelling evidence of their quality. In the final they faced Terry Venables's Barcelona, another team who had never won the trophy, but one whose sense of its own destiny had been heightened in the semi-final, when they had overcome a 3-0 first-leg deficit to win on penalties. Worse, the game was played in Seville, which meant at least 95% of the stadium would be supporting Barça.

Barça ripped into Steaua from the off, presumably reasoning that an early goal against anxious opponents would settle the game. But with Miodrag Belodedici outstanding, Steaua survived a fraught opening 30 minutes, and as the breakthrough remained elusive, so Barça's doubts began to grow. "After the first half hour," said the Steaua midfielder Lucian Bălan, "the Barcelona players began to lose their confidence and also their nerve."

Central to their concerns was the form of Steve Archibald, who had only just recovered from a hamstring injury to be controversially selected ahead of Pichi Alonso and clearly lacked sharpness. "He ran a lot," said the Steaua defender Adrian Bumbescu. "He was very dangerous, but he wasn't so brave in our physical battles." Archibald was eventually substituted in extra-time, but before that Venables had taken off the brilliant but temperamental Bernd Schuster. Furious, the German stormed not merely off the pitch, but out of the stadium — a clear indication of Barça's shattered morale.

As Barça grew increasing desperate, the Steaua coach Emerich Jenei remained in control, shaping events rather than reacting to them, and, after 73 minutes, he made one of the greatest substitutions ever made in a final. Steaua's assistant coach Anghel Iordănescu had not played in a competitive game all season but he had retained his registration. He came on for Bălan, his composure ensuring calm as the possibility of seeing the game through drew closer. Steaua, though, remained reluctant to press for a winner of their own, and so, after 120 sterile minutes, the match went to penalties. Mihai Majearu, Steaua's usual penalty taker, saw his kick saved by Javier Urruti, but Helmut Ducadam then fisted away José Alexanco's effort. Urruti saved from Laszló Bölni, but Ducadam also kept out Ángel Pedraza's shot.

Having seen four kicks missed, Marius Lăcătuş dispensed with subtleties and belted his kick in off the crossbar. Ducadam, diving to his right for the third time, saved from Pichi Alonso. Gavrila Balint made it 2-0, meaning that Marcos had to score. "Watching it again on television after many years," Ducadam said, "I realise that the fourth taker for Barcelona didn't have a clue what he should do, because I'd saved all the other penalties on the same side. I watched him and had eye-to-eye contact with him. I played a trick on Marcos. I shaped to go to the left and then to the right, then I went left."

He saved it, the last save he ever made for Steaua. "I'd had pains in my right arm for six months before the final," he said. "I got drugs from the doctors to control them, but the medicine wasn't strong enough. One day that summer I was with my friends in my home town and I fell over. I put my hand down to protect myself and the aneurysm went to the artery and blocked the circulation for the whole arm. I had surgery, some kind of bypass. In 1988 I had another operation and [in 2010] I had another operation with modern technology."

Amid rumours Ducadam had been done away with by Ceausescu's henchmen for some unspecified affront, he essentially disappeared, eventually taking up a job as a customs official. "Maybe I was unlucky," he said, "but maybe I was lucky as well. If it had happened just a few weeks earlier…"

Netherlands 0 Italy 0, European Championship semi-final, Amsterdam Arena, 29 June 2000

The late nineties saw a surge of wonderful attacking football that culminated at Euro 2000. That was the tournament at which 4-2-3-1 first began to enter the mainstream, when the attacking midfielder, dribblers, wingers and schemers found a new role. It was a tournament in which England and Germany were made to look ponderous and old-fashioned, their three straight lines and antiquated anachronism. It was the tournament of Zinédine Zidane, Youri Djorkaeff, Luis Figo, Manuel Rui Costa, Zlatko Zahović, Raúl and Pavel Nedved, when creators, suddenly revelling in new-found freedom, came out to play. It was also a tournament of one of the greatest goalless draws there has ever been.

The Netherlands had their creators, of course, notably Marc Overmars and Dennis Bergkamp, while Italy had Francesco Totti, but this was a game that came to be defined by national stereotype: as Italy defended magnificently, the Dutch, for all their technical brilliance, imploded.

Bergkamp had already struck a post after jinking past Mark Iuliano when, after 34 minutes, the game seemed to turn decisively favour of Holland. The full-back Gianluca Zambrotta, having been booked for a foul on Boudewijn Zenden earlier in the game, was beaten by a sharp turn from the winger, hacked his legs from under him and was rightly sent off.

Italy reorganised with Alessandro Del Piero tucked into the right side of midfield and dug in, presenting the Netherlands with two banks of four, neither of which was much inclined to leave its own half. Four minutes after the red card, the Dutch were presented with the perfect opportunity to take the lead as Alessandro Nesta impeded Patrick Kluivert to concede a penalty. But Frank de Boer's spot-kick was hit at a comfortable height for the goalkeeper Francesco Toldo, who pushed it away.

At the time it seemed unlikely to matter but with Nesta dogging Kluivert's every step and Fabio Cannavaro outstanding, the expected rush of Dutch chances never materialised. And then, after 62 minutes, came another penalty as Edgar Davids was caught by Iuliano. This time Kluivert took the responsibility, but his firm low shot bounced back off the post.

Reprieved, Italy seemed to find another level as though they sensed fortune was on their side. They could even have won it the first half of extra-time, Marco Delvecchio twice shooting wide after promising counter-attacks, but it finished goalless and went to penalties. Luigi Di Biagio, who had missed against France in the World Cup quarter-final two years earlier, thumped home the first. De Boer, one miss already on his mind, was again denied by Toldo. In four previous attempts in major tournaments, Italy had never won a shoot-out, but as Gianluca Pessotto scored and Jaap Stam blazed a mile over they edged towards the final.

There was a brief wobble as Paolo Maldini missed the fourth kick after Totti and Kluivert had both converted but the Dutch were too set on self-destruction to take advantage. Toldo saved from Paul Bosvelt — a fifth miss out of six in the match for the Dutch – and Italy were through. 

Barcelona 0 Celtic 0, Uefa Cup fourth round second leg, Nou Camp, Barcelona, 25 March 2004

Under Martin O'Neill, Celtic enjoyed some extraordinary results in European competitions, but none, surely, was so frankly implausible as the rearguard action they mounted in the Camp Nou on the last great European night of his reign. They led 1-0 from Alan Thompson's goal in the first leg, a fractious, enthralling game in which Rab Douglas, Thiago Motta and Javier Saviola were all sent off, but as Barcelona poured forwards in the early stages in the second leg, that advantage looked distinctly flimsy.

With Douglas suspended, Celtic were forced to turn to their 19-year-old reserve goalkeeper David Marshall whose very evident nerves were hardly helped when he skewed an awful Jackie McNamara backpass out for a corner in the second minute. With Ronaldinho to the fore, Barça, coming off the back of nine straight victories in La Liga, put together great fluid passages of passing that at times swept through Celtic's defence: real humiliation was a possibility, and it seemed unlikely they could hold out until the ninth minute, never mind the 90th.

Marshall scrambled away a Gerard header, and Luis Enrique then deflected a goalbound shot against the keeper's extended arm, as somehow Celtic did hold on. Not merely until the ninth minute, but until the 19th, the 29th, half-time. There was no early goal in the second half, and Barcelona's exasperation was palpable — and with it a renewed and agonising sense of Celtic hope.

A Xavi chip set Luis García through against Marshall, but, diving backwards, the 19 year old got enough of a fingertip on his shot to deflect it over the bar. Then, diving to his left, Marshall clawed away a snap-shot from the substitute Sergio García, whose energy and drive had briefly rekindled Barça hopes.

The jitters were gone, and Marshall and Celtic suddenly seemed invincible as Barça's early fluency disappeared to be replaced by a string of frustrated and harmless long-range efforts from Ronaldinho. "He has a terrific presence and calmness, he's not fazed at all," the Celtic manager O'Neill said of his keeper. "He did an interview for TV after the match and was last into the dressing-room. When he came in it was to enormous applause from the rest of his team-mates."

It was richly deserved.

Zambia 0 Côte d'Ivoire 0, Stade d'Angondjé, Libreville, 12 February, 2012

There are times when a team's sense of destiny becomes overwhelming. After Zambia had beaten Ghana 1-0 in the semi-final in Bata, the president of their football federation, Kalusha Bwalya, insisted there was no way his side could lose the final against Côte d'Ivoire. "There won't just be 11 players out there," he said, "but also 11 ghosts." It was Zambia's first game in Gabon since a plane carrying their squad from Lusaka to Dakar for a World Cup qualifier in 1993 had crashed shortly after taking off from Libreville where it had stopped to refuel.

Didier Drogba missed a second half-penalty and, with the Ivorians wilting in the face of the Zambians' self-belief, the penalty shoot-out was somehow both nerve-wracking and yet predictable. Seven players from each side scored, then Kolo Touré, stepping forward as Gervinho refused his bench's entreaties to take the eighth kick, was denied by Kennedy Mweene. Rainford Kalaba could have won it, but fired over. Then Gervinho did, at last, go forward —and missed. Stoppilla Sunzu, a centre-back from the DR Congo champions TP Mazembe, lashed home and Zambia — and the ghosts — had their triumph. On the running-track that surrounded the pitch, Bwalya stood silently. On the pitch, the Zambian players knelt in prayer. Zambia's coach, Hervé Renard, wearing the lucky white shirt that gave him the air of a Mills & Boon hero, picked up the injured full-back Joseph Musonda and carried him to join his team-mates in their celebratory devotions. In the press box, journalists openly wept at the emotion of it all.

There were tears too from the Ivorians, their golden generation thwarted for the second time in six years in a penalty shoot-out in the final after a goalless draw. In Cairo in 2006, they had lost to Egypt, poor Drogba both missing a sitter with eight minutes remaining and then failing from the spot. 

Their only other appearance in the final, in Dakar in 1992, had also finished 0-0, but that time they had won, to complete a remarkable tournament for their goalkeeper Alain Gouamene, who had gone unbeaten in all five games — a total, given two of the matches went to extra time, of 510 minutes. Côte d'Ivoire drew 0-0 with Cameroon in the semi, then Gouamene saved three penalties in the shoot-out, but what happened in the final against Ghana was even more dramatic. 

At the time Ghana were the most successful side in the Cup of Nations' history, and against Côte d'Ivoire, who were looking for their first ever trophy in senior football, they were overwhelming favourites. As in previous rounds, though, Côte d'Ivoire frustrated their opponents, and, after 120 minutes of stalemate, they faced their second penalty shoot-out in successive games. Isaac Asare missed Ghana's fourth-kick, but then Joel Tiehi, with a chance to win it, also failed. And so it went on. And on. After 10 penalties each, it was 9-9. Gouamene scored for the Ivory Coast, but then Edward Ansah, the Ghana keeper, also fired home, so it was back to the start of the list again. Kouame Aka converted for a second time, but Anthony Baffoe saw his effort saved by Gouamene, leaving Côte d'Ivoire as champions and the goalkeeper as an obvious man of the tournament.