Something about the World Cup magnifies the impact of truly special goals. Let’s face it, wonderful goals are scored every week, but when they happen in World Cup Finals, they often transcend the sport — and become part of a nation’s history.
Think about World Cups of yesteryear, and a handful of memories probably spring to mind. For some people, a particular goal takes them back to a specific moment in their life. And while there may have been better examples that year, these goals are significant because of the wider context involved.
In many cases, the best football goals in World Cup Finals are the most controversial, or those that sent a nation through to the next round. Your favourite goals might remind you of the people that were with you at the time, or important milestones in your life.
Taking all of this into consideration, compiling a list of the seven best World Cup goals ever is a complex and highly subjective process. Nevertheless, here are a few that define football’s four-yearly showpiece event.
During the dying minutes of the Netherlands’ quarter-final tie against Argentina, Arsenal’s Dennis Bergkamp demonstrated why he’s regarded as one of the most skillful strikers ever to have played the game. Seconds before extra-time, a long, diagonal pass was sent in Bergkamp’s direction. With incredible ease, he took one touch to control the ball, another to beat Roberto Ayala, and a final touch to side-foot the ball past a helpless Carlos Roa.
The Netherlands were through to a World Cup semi-final, and Bergkamp’s genius was once again confirmed.
Liverpool’s teenage sensation Michael Owen was playing in his first World Cup finals, but you certainly wouldn’t think it, given his fearless approach to this game. Owen latched on to a diagonal ball from David Beckham, and wrestled with Argentina’s Jose Chamot as he sprinted towards the goal. Beating another defender in the box, Owen fired the ball past Matias Almeyda in goal — and announced his arrival to the rest of the world. England went on to lose this quarter-final on penalties, but this goal will always stand out as a World Cup classic.
If anyone needs a flavour of how Brazilians approach the beautiful game, show them this goal. The most sublime of World Cup goals, Carlos Alberto’s effort is all the more special because it was scored during the 1970 final. Tostao picked up the ball in his own half, before three Brazil players exchanged three crisp passes in the middle of the pitch. Clodoaldo jinks his way past three Italian defenders, and slips the ball to Rivelino. A long pass upfield finds Jairzhinho, who in turn gives the ball to Pele. The Brazilian legend holds the ball before slipping it to the advancing Carlos Alberto — who smashes the ball into the corner of the goal. Brazil won the Jules Rimet Trophy for the third time, and changed the way football is played forever.
The famous “hand of God” game will always be remembered for Diego Maradona’s punched goal. But that’s a real shame, because his second goal in this quarter-final was quite simply breathtaking. Maradona picked up the ball in his own half, and spins with ease to beat two hapless England defenders. A quick burst of pace carries the Argentinian striker into England’s half, where he glides past two more England players, Terry Butcher and the keeper Peter Shilton to make World Cup history — and take Argentina through to the semi-final of the tournament they’d eventually win.
Some goals simply can’t be stopped or prepared for, and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst’s stunner in the 2010 semi-final definitely falls into that category. The Dutch midfielder picked up the ball around 40 yards from goal, and rather than slip it to an advancing attacker — which everyone expected him to do — he unleashed a thunderbolt that flew past the Uruguay goalkeeper. The Netherlands went on to win the match 3-2, but lost to an exceptional Spain team in the final.
There aren’t many pundits that would include a goal from Saudi Arabia in their list of best football goals ever, but it’s hard to ignore this absolute beauty from Saeed Al Owairan. During the group stages of the 1994 World Cup Finals in the USA, Owairan picked up the ball in his own half, and proceeded on a mazy run, beating several hapless Belgium players in the process. Finally in the box, Owairan shows incredible composure to life the ball above the keeper — and secure Saudi Arabia’s first every knockout stage appearance.
Most unforgettable World Cup goals are examples of individual brilliance, but others demonstrate the beauty of teamwork — this is one of those goals. A passage of passing between several Argentina players resulted in one of the most attractive goals in World Cup history. Rodriguez, Mascherano, Riquelme, Cambiasso, Saviola and Cresp string more than 20 passes together. A stunning back heel from Crespo eventually gives Cambiasso the simple task of smashing the ball into the back of the net.
Of course, there could be 100 goals in this list. But there’s no escaping the fact that these beauties encapsulate what the World Cup is all about.