In nearly one hundred years of history, the FIFA World Cup has seen some of the best teams and players of all time. Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Pele, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Johan Cruyff, you name it.
However, it’s safe to say that not many goals have lived long in everyone’s memory. Here, check out the best goals in World Cup history.
When the soccer community talks about the FIFA World Cup, the conversation not only revolves around the best teams or players that left their mark on the prestigious competition. Many will also recall those goals they cannot forget, which of course, are not that many.
It may sound like it’s hard to select the greatest goals in such a competition, which has had many editions and therefore countless screamers. However, these are without any doubt the best goals ever scored at a FIFA World Cup.
Dubbed the “Goal of the Century,” the name itself explains why this goal is on the list. Diego Maradona received the ball in Argentina’s own half, left two English opponents on the way, before eluding three more rivals—including goalkeeper Peter Shilton—to score one of the most emblematic goals not only in World Cup history, but in soccer.
As a bonus track, one should mention Diego’s “Hand of God” goal, recorded only a few minutes earlier. Though Maradona appeared to score a header, the referees didn’t notice he actually used his hand to send the ball over Shilton. While many are still offended that he cheated, the “Hand of God” goal went down as an iconic moment in sports history.
Denis Cheryshev scored a then potentially historic goal for Russia at the 2018 World Cup quarterfinals. Only 31 minutes into the game, Cheryshev scored a long-range, left-footed effort that went over Danijel Subasic.
Though no one in Italy wants to remember that World Cup match, Fabio Quagliarella scored a terrific goal for his side in a group stage loss to Slovakia, sending a chip over the goalkeeper from outside the penalty area. It wasn’t very useful, since it came at stoppage time when his team was losing 3-1, but Quagliarella can tell his kids he scored an amazing World Cup goal.
Salem Al-Dawsari will never forget the day he scored for Saudi Arabia against Argentina. Only five minutes after his team equalized, the No. 10 managed to keep the ball after a poor control in the box, eluding Rodrigo de Paul to score a perfectly-placed shot that Emiliano Martinez couldn’t get to save.
Argentina’s presence on the list of best World Cup goals didn’t end with Diego. Many years later, when the team was struggling against Mexico at the Germany 2006 quarterfinals, Maximiliano Rodriguez fired a fantastic volley that sent the bench wild.
South Korea captain at Italy 1990 Soon-ho Choi was in a good position to shoot a free kick, but he opted to pass the ball to Hwangbo Kwan, who launched a 70 mph shot to the top-right corner.
Like his namesake from Argentina, James Rodriguez also pulled off an amazing volley for Colombia many years later. In the round of 16 at Brazil 2014, James controlled the ball with his chest before making a slight turn to make a powerful shot that was impossible to stop for Fernando Muslera. It was such a beautiful goal that it won the Puskas award.
Richarlison scored one of the best World Cup goals in recent memory. In the group game against Serbia at Qatar 2022, the striker extended Brazil’s lead and his own count with a stunning bicycle kick that sealed the 2-0 win.
When people remember France’s success at Russia 2018, Benjamin Pavard’s volley against Argentina will probably come to mind. The right-back delivered a beautiful goal at a crucial moment of the game, as his side was trailing 1-2. Pavard connected a great cross from Lucas Hernandez to put things level, paving the way for his team’s win in the round of 16.
Archie Gemmill scored the most beautiful goal in Scottish national team history at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. With Scotland leading the strong Netherlands 2-1, Gemmill cut in from the right, avoiding an ugly challenge from an opponent, left two more players on the way to get in the box and sent the ball over goalie Alan Rough. Scotland ended up winning 3-2.
Siphiwe Tshabalala scored perhaps the most iconic goal at South Africa 2010 in the very first group stage of the competition. Though what many remember is the goal celebration, Tshabalala scored an absolute screamer. The left winger pulled off the wheels to receive the ball behind the Mexico defense, and when he got in the box, launched a powerful shot to the top-right corner.
The World Cup match between England and Argentina at the France 1998 Round of 16 got off to an incredible start, with the game already 1-1 after 10 minutes with a penalty goal apiece. In the 16th minute, Michael Owen’s speed was too much for the Argentine defense. After receiving a great pass from David Beckham, Owen left Jose Chamot on the way before eluding Roberto Ayala and sending the ball to the top corner on the left.
Goals that live long in people’s memory are not only those that come at crucial stages. Robin van Persie, for instance, pulled off a memorable flying header in Netherlands’ commanding 5-1 win over then reigning champs Spain in the first matchday of Brazil 2014.
Carlos Alberto made sure to seal Brazil’s 4-1 victory against Italy in the 1970 World Cup final with a strong rocket. Alberto appeared out of nowhere on the right flank, and didn’t have any mercy.
After dropping a performance for the ages against England, Maradona put the team on his back again in the 1986 World Cup semifinals. Diego received the ball in the middle, nearly 30 meters away from the goal, slipped through three Belgium players before eluding the last defender on his way to seal Argentina’s 2-0 triumph.
Luis Chavez scored one of the greatest free kick goals in World Cup history at Qatar 2022. Despite being 29.19m away from the opposition’s goal, Chavez delivered an absolute rocket to extend El Tri’s lead against the Asian team in the group finale.
Angel Di Maria came up with a moment of magic for Argentina in a complicated World Cup match against France. With his side trailing early in the first half of the Russia 2018 round of 16 and struggling to find any chemistry on the field, Di Maria decided to try something different. His left foot was all the team needed to get back in the game, as El Fideo scored a 25-meter effort that sent the Argentine fans wild.
Dennis Bergkamp broke the Argentines’ hearts with a beautiful goal in the dying minutes of the 1998 World Cup quarterfinals. The Dutch star perfectly controlled a long ball from Frank de Boer, leaving Roberto Ayala on the way to give the Netherlands a late victory.
Of course, Cristiano Ronaldo had to be part of this list. The Portuguese superstar left his mark on the World Cup with a perfectly executed free kick in a thrilling game against Spain in the first round at Russia 2018. It was one of the best performances at a World Cup in recent years, as Ronaldo bagged a hat trick.
Who said that a slow build-up can’t result in a nice goal? Argentina’s patience paid off in a group game against Serbia/Montenegro in 2006, as 25 passes later, Esteban Cambiasso found the net for his side.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst understood how to treat the Jabulani even at a World Cup semifinal, giving the Netherlands the lead only 18 minutes into the Uruguay game. The midfielder later turned left-back took advantage of the ball’s characteristics—which allowed players to try and make powerful shots—to score a rocket from 32 meters.
While the aforementioned goals are remembered for their beauty, regardless of the stage, now it’s time to look at the best goals scored in a FIFA World Cup final. On the biggest of stages, these players managed to score in great fashion.
The stakes were higher than ever in the Germany 2006 final between France and Italy, but Zinedine Zidane didn’t seem to care too much about it. Only seven minutes into the game, Zizou pulled off a panenka penalty that nearly went wrong, as the ball hit the crossbar. However, the ball went in and France took the lead.
Helmut Rahn scored the winner in one of the most iconic World Cup finals to date. Known in Germany as “The Miracle of Bern,” West Germany turned things around against the Golden Team of Hungary to win the 1954 World Cup. The opposition took the lead early in the game through Ferenc Puskas and Zoltan Czibor, but Maximilian Morlock put his side back on track before Rahn equalized. With only six minutes left, Rahn secured the victory with a powerful shot.
Even though France lost, Kylian Mbappe delivered one of the best performances at a World Cup final in 2022. After scoring a penalty a minute earlier, Mbappe finished off a remarkable team play to tie the game. Adrien Rabiot’s cross connected with Mbappe, who combined with Marcus Thuram before hitting a volley that got past Dibu Martinez. Mbappe ended up scoring a hat trick, earning the Golden Boot for being the tournament’s top scorer.
Marco Tardelli put Italy a step closer to the ultimate glory at the 1982 World Cup final by extending his team’s lead against West Germany. Tardelli finished off a great counterattack which Italy managed patiently, as they even took time to make a series of passes in the opposition’s box.
After taking down Czechoslovakia, England, Romania, Peru, and Uruguay, Brazil headed into the 1970 World Cup final in high spirits. But the truth is they struggled for much of the game against Italy. With the game still level after 66 minutes, Gerson went for a loose ball outside the box, cut outside and fired a left-footed screamer that paved the way for a memorable 4-1 win for the Brazilians.
Ronaldo Nazario delivered one of the greatest World Cup performances at South Korea-Japan 2002, and he ended it perfectly. The prolific goalscorer hit twice in the final to give Brazil the title, and it was his second goal against Germany that remains fresh in the memory. Rivaldo fooled the opposition by letting the ball pass between his legs, allowing Ronaldo to send home a strong shot.
In one of the most hard-fought World Cup finals in recent history, Mario Gotze scored the winner for Germany in extra time at the 2014 final against Argentina. With the result still scoreless after 112 minutes, Andre Schurrle advanced with the ball on the left flank until he found Gotze in a privileged position inside the penalty area. Gotze controlled the pass with his chest and hit with his left foot as the ball went down to break Argentina’s hearts.
With the number 10 on his back, Mario Kempes shone at the 1978 World Cup final against the Netherlands to help Argentina secure their first trophy. After giving his team the lead, Kempes stepped up again in extra time scoring a beautiful goal that will live forever in the Argentine memory. Kempes received the ball outside the box, eluded two Dutch defenders and fought until the end to make sure it went in.
Pelé started to cement his legacy at Sweden 1958, playing a pivotal role in Brazil’s first trophy. At only 17, Pelé scored a wonderful goal to put his team 3-1 in the final against the host nation. After controlling a cross with his chest against a much bigger Swedish defender, Pelé chipped the ball over the next player that came his way and, though he received an ugly challenge, stayed on his feet to bag a great volley.
Maradona may have shone at Mexico 1986, but Jorge Burruchaga scored the goal that secured the trophy for Argentina. With the game against West Germany tied 2-2 after 85 minutes, Burruchaga capitalized on a great assist from Diego to run against the opposition’s box, sending the ball to the back of the net when Harald Schumacher was coming out for him.
The Brazilian team managed to produce some iconic goals in the 1970 final. When they were already leading Italy 2-1, Jairzinho finished a great set-piece play. A free kick awarded in the middle of the field made Brazil look for Pele in the box, the star won the aerial duel to leave Jairzinho in front of the goal, and he didn’t miss.
A man who likes to score in finals, Di Maria got to add another crucial goal to his résumé at Qatar 2022. Argentina were already leading France 1-0 thanks to a penalty from Messi, but Di Maria made it two only 13 minutes later by capping off a fantastic counterattack. Alexis Mac Allister, Messi, and Julian Alvarez understood each other perfectly within a few seconds to set up a brilliant play that ended with Di Maria sending the ball past Hugo Lloris.
The World Cup has seen fantastic teams, incredible players, and even greater goals. From 1930 to date, the tournament has been a key contributor to the beautiful game’s popularity and many of its best goals remain on the fans’ memory.
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