Today’s list is simple; the ten greatest goals that have been scored at the World Cup. I will be embedding YouTube links today for the first time so apologies if there are any issues.
What makes a great goal? It’s difficult to define criteria but one that lives long in the memory is a good start. The advent of television is important in this regard; no goals prior to 1958 feature today. Despite football being a team sport there is something about individual efforts that capture the imagination better than a well worked team goal. This is evident in today’s list which features only two team goals, the rest are pieces of individual brilliance and skill that even still give me goosebumps on the fifth or sixth watching. So enjoy today’s list and revel in some of the finest displays of footballing prowess the World Cup has ever seen.
10. Maxi Rodríguez (Argentina vs. Mexico, 2006 round of 16)
Maxi Rodríguez was already having an impressive tournament in Germany when he scored this absolute scorcher. With the game tied at 1-1 in extra-time, Juan Pablo Sorín’s beautifully weighed pass found Rodríguez, on the corner of the box. He controlled the ball on his chest with ease before unleashing a left-footed volley into the upper left-hand corner of the net.
9. Roberto Baggio (Italy vs. Czechoslovakia, 1990 group stages)
This is what Baggio should be remembered for, not that unfortunate penalty miss in the 1994 final. “The Divine Ponytail” scored the goal of the tournament during the group stages. In a mesmerising one-two exchange with Giuseppe Giannini, Baggio dribbled from the halfway line, beating several players, before coolly slotting the ball past the opposing goalkeeper. Without doubt one of the World Cup’s best individual efforts.
8. Arie Haan (Netherlands vs. Italy, 1978 second round)
An absolute screamer from Arie Haan from 40 yards out in the match that guaranteed the Netherlands a place in their second successive World Cup final. Even the legendary Dino Zoff couldn’t get within an ass’s roar of this effort.
7. Saaed Al-Owairan (Saudi Arabia vs. Belgium, 1994 group stages)
Saeed Al-Owairan capped off Saudi Arabia’s first appearance at the World Cup finals in style with this absolutely stunning individual effort that fittingly earned him the nickname “The Maradona of the Arabs”. He even started further back the pitch than Maradona did and beat the goalkeeper in almost carbon-copy fashion. May not be remembered for much else but who cares? If you’re gonna be remembered, might as well be for something this brilliant.
6. Michael Owen (England vs. Argentina, 1998 round of 16)
One summer night in Saint-Étienne a superstar was born. 18-year-old Michael Owen announced himself on the world stage. Already a star-on-the-rise with Liverpool Owen’s goal against Argentina in the round of 16 in 1998 remains one of the World Cup’s greatest individual efforts. With his trademark turn of speed, Owen blazed past José Chamot and Roberto Ayala before blasting the ball past the helpless Carlos Roa. This is how the match should be remembered, not for a certain someone being red-carded.
5. Esteban Cambiasso (Argentina vs. Serbia and Montenegro, 2006 group stages)
In a 6-0 annihilation of Serbia and Montenegro, this goal from Esteban Cambiasso was the pick of the lot. Argentina resembled a lion playing with its food as they weaved 24 passes, past their helpless Serbian opponents, before Cambiasso finished off the play with a brilliant strike. Even at their height, Spain never scored a goal this beautiful. This was real tiki-taka.
4. Pelé (Brazil vs. Sweden, 1958 final)
Ladies and gentlemen, introducing 17-year-old Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known to the world as Pelé. Despite scoring 12 World Cup goals this is without a shadow of doubt Pelé’s best. In one swift movement Pelé chests the incoming pass, beats his man, flicks it over the remaining defender, and volleys it with his right foot past the Swedish goalkeeper. 17 years old? Pelé played with a poise far beyond his years. The best of his career was yet to come but this strike was never bettered.
3. Dennis Bergkamp (Netherlands vs. Argentina, 1998 quarter-finals)
Watching Dennis Bergkamp playing football is a bit like watching Pythagoras drawing triangles; you’re watching a master of angles, and a Dutch master at that. In the dying minutes of the 1998 quarter-final the game was heading to extra-time when Frank de Boer launched a 60-yard pass up to the forwards line. Taking only one touch Bergkamp somehow controlled the ball perfectly, nutmegged poor Roberto Ayala (him again!), and in an audacious display of finesse volleyed the ball in from a tight angle. The goal is only made more electrifying by Jack van Gelder’s elated repetition of Bergkamp’s name.
2. Carlos Alberto (Brazil vs. Italy, 1970 final)
It had to be here! The goal of choice for the footballing connoisseur. Brazil were already 3-1 up when their beautiful display of crisp precision passing stupefied the Italian team, who were probably themselves in awe, ended with Pelé’s telepathic pass into the box found the onrushing Carlos Alberto who buried the ball in the back of the net. The goal ensured Brazil 1970 became immortal and is the paragon of the term, “The Beautiful Game”.
1. Diego Maradona (Argentina vs. England, 1986 quarter-finals)
If it couldn’t be Pelé, it had to be Maradona. Ten minutes into the second-half, four after “The Hand of God”, Maradona finds himself ten metres inside his own half. He starts a 60-metre run that will end ten seconds later. In 11 touches he beats four English outfield players, Terry Butcher twice, and Peter Shilton to give Argentina a 2-0 lead. In those ten seconds Maradona becomes a footballing and legend, confirms the reports he is not from earth, and scores the official “Goal of the Century”.