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England's accidental striker

LONDON, May 10 – Like so many players in World Cup history, Geoff Hurst was a surprise initial selection who emerged from the shadows to become a hero.The only man to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final, Hurst’s goals throughout the 1966 tournament carried England all the way to a famous victory on home soil.

Regarded as little more than an average footballer for years, Hurst had been a borderline inclusion in Alf Ramsey’s England squad, having only made his international debut five months before the finals.

Born in Lancashire in 1941, he had turned professional with West Ham in 1959, where his career was carefully nurtured by Ron Greenwood.

Making full use of Hurst’s natural attributes – a strong build, height, a powerful shot and an excellent heading ability – Greenwood converted Hurst from wing-half into a centre-forward.

Yet by the time 1966 rolled around, Hurst was well down the pecking order of England’s strikers, with goal-machine Jimmy Greaves very much first-choice.

Fortune was to smile on Hurst once the World Cup began however. Left out of England’s three first round matches, he was thrust into a starting role in the quarter-finals against Argentina after an injury to Greaves.

Hurst was to seize his chance. A fine headed winner against the Argentines took England into the semi-finals, where Hurst again proved a handful in the win over Portugal.

Playing too well for Ramsey to drop him in favour of the fit-again Greaves, Hurst led the England line against West Germany in the final at Wembley.

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His first goal, another fine headed effort, levelled the scores at 1-1.

Hurst’s second effort, however, which put England 3-2 up in extra-time, is among the most controversial goals ever scored at the World Cup.

Controlling the ball just outside the six-yard area, Hurst spun round and thumped a powerful right-foot shot towards the German goal where the ball crashed down off the underside of the crossbar and onto the line.

Hurst’s striking partner Roger Hunt threw up his arms in celebration, but there was a nervous wait until the Russian linesman confirmed to the referee that the goal should stand.

Most neutrals agree it was a harsh decision on Germany; television replays show that most of the ball had not crossed the line. Hurst, however, maintains to this day that the goal was legitimate.

"Roger was closest to the ball and he put his hands up immediately. There’s never been any doubt in my mind that it was a goal," Hurst said in a 2001 interview.

All that was left for Hurst to do was smash home a spectacular fourth goal for England to claim his hat-trick in the dying moments.

"My father-in-law told my wife that I was going to score a hat-trick in the final but I just thought it was highly amusing," Hurst revealed later. "It was quite quirky really that I managed to do it. It changed my life."

Hurst won 49 caps and scored 24 goals for England. He played in the 1970 finals, where England were knocked out in the last eight, before returning to finish his career with West Bromwich Albion.

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A talented cricketer, he also made a solitary county appearance for Essex against Lancashire.

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