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Greatest Goals in FIFA World Cup History – Maradona’s “Goal of the Century” and More

| June 8, 2022 7:30 am PDT
Fifa World Cup stamped, (L-R): Robin van Persie, Diego Maradona, James Rodriguez, Carlos Alberto

Since its inception in 1930, the FIFA World Cup has continuously produced special goals. But what are the best World Cup goals of all time?

The 21 editions of soccer’s premier international tournament have dished up countless memorable moments. With the 22nd edition on the horizon, it feels like the perfect time to look back at the top World Cup goals in history

So, join me as I share my take on the best FIFA World Cup goals ever. Although my list is in no particular order, it only makes sense to start with the “Goal of the Century,” right?

Diego Maradona – Argentina vs. England (1986)

The 1986 World Cup quarter-final between Argentina and England will always be remembered for Diego Maradona’s infamous “Hand of God” moment. But this is a list of the best World Cup goals, not the most controversial.

Four minutes after Maradona deliberately handled the ball into England’s net, he scored one of the greatest World Cup goals of all time.

The Argentine magician collected the ball inside his own half before skillfully spinning away from two England midfielders. He then weaved past another three helpless defenders and the goalkeeper before completing his 60-meter run with a composed finish.

In 2002, the goal was voted “Goal of the Century” by FIFA.com voters. Naturally, that makes it one of the top World Cup goals ever scored.

Maradona racked up five goals and five assists in seven games at the 1986 World Cup, guiding his country to glory. Following his double against England, he bagged another brace in the semi-finals before notching an assist in the 3-2 final victory over West Germany.

Thanks mainly to Maradona’s heroics, Argentina’s 1986 side is one of the greatest World Cup teams in history.

Maxi Rodriguez – Argentina vs. Mexico (2006)

The next goal on my list of the best FIFA World Cup goals of all time is courtesy of another Argentine. Maxi Rodriguez scored an outrageous volley two decades after Maradona’s mazey run.

The 2006 World Cup last-16 clash between Argentina and Mexico got off to a wild start. After just six minutes, Rafael Marquez gave the Mexicans the lead, but Hernan Crespo equalized four minutes later.

However, both teams failed to score again in normal time. With the score level at 1-1 after 90 minutes, the game needed a hero to break the deadlock in extra time. Step forward, Maxi Rodriguez.

In the 98th minute, Juan Pablo Sorin received the ball from Lionel Messi midway inside Mexico’s half. Sorin sent a hopeful cross to the edge of the penalty area, finding Rodriguez. The rest, as they say, is history.

Rodriguez controlled the ball on his chest before smashing a thunderous left-footed volley into the top corner of the net. Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez dived at full stretch, but he was unable to prevent the strike.

There is no denying that Rodriguez’s thunderbolt against Mexico is one of the top FIFA World Cup goals of all time.

James Rodriguez – Colombia vs. Uruguay (2014)

Funnily enough, Maxi is not the only Rodriguez to have scored one of the World Cup’s greatest-ever goals. Colombia’s James Rodriguez netted another phenomenal chest and volley eight years later.

Colombia faced South American rivals Uruguay in the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup. All the top soccer betting sites favored the Uruguayans to advance to the quarter-finals. But James had other ideas.

As the game approached the 30-minute mark, James received the ball 20 meters out at a seemingly awkward height. With his back to goal, the young forward took the ball down with his chest, swiveled, and then rifled a rocket off the underside of the crossbar.

In addition to being one of the best World Cup goals of all time, James’ wonder strike is among the greatest goals in soccer history. Indeed, the Colombian won the 2014 FIFA Puskas Award for his troubles.

James scored again as Colombia beat Uruguay 2-0. Although Colombia fell to Brazil in the quarter-finals, James netted six goals in five games to clinch the Golden Boot.

Follow the link below to find where James ranks among the greatest FIFA World Cup Golden Boot winners.

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Benjamin Pavard – France vs. Argentina (2018)

Have you ever seen anyone hit a soccer ball as sweetly as Benjamin Pavard? I’m not sure that I have.

With France trailing Argentina 2-1 in the last 16 of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, attacking stars like Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann were expected to dig their country out of trouble. However, the equalizer came from a hugely unlikely source.

In 57 minutes, French left-back Lucas Hernandez delivered a cross from the byline. The ball evaded everyone in the box and eventually found its way to Pavard. Then, this happened…

Pavard leaned back before arrowing a beautiful half-volley into the roof of the net. The ball continued to rise past Argentina goalkeeper Franco Armani, who failed to get anywhere near the shot.

France went on to win the match 4-3, with Mbappe bagging a quick-fire double swiftly after Pavard’s wonder goal. Les Blues then beat Uruguay and Belgium on their way to crushing 4-2 in the final.

Few would argue that Pavard’s strike is not among the best World Cup soccer goals of all time.

Robin van Persie – Netherlands vs. Spain (2014)

Not all top World Cup goals are long-range strikes or vicious volleys. In fact, Robin van Persie scored one of the best goals in FIFA World Cup history with his head.

As if by fate, the 2010 World Cup final happened to be one of the opening games of the 2014 World Cup. Spain beat the Netherlands 1-0 to lift the trophy in 2010. Four years later, the Dutch gained their revenge in style.

When Xabi Alonso put Spain ahead from the penalty spot on 27 minutes, the Netherlands would have been fearing the worst. But van Persie produced a moment of magic to turn the game on its head.

The lethal striker met Daley Blind’s inch-perfect cross-field pass on the edge of the penalty area before executing the perfect diving header. Everyone in the stadium was stunned, not least Spain’s goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

The floodgates opened after the break, with the Netherlands defeating the defending champions 5-1. Arjen Robben bagged a second-half brace while van Persie added another to his tally.

The 2014 World Cup dished up several shock results, including Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of Brazil. Follow the link below to relive the craziest upset the FIFA World Cup has ever seen.

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Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal vs. Spain (2018)

Did you seriously think I’d forgotten about Cristiano Ronaldo’s free-kick against Spain in 2018?

Portugal and Spain met in the opening round of the 2018 World Cup and produced one of the tournament’s most memorable matches. Naturally, Ronaldo was at the heart of the action throughout the showdown.

CR7 opened the scoring after only four minutes, converting from the penalty spot. Although he put his team 2-1 up just before half-time, the Portuguese found themselves 3-2 down with only a few minutes remaining.

When Portugal was awarded a free kick on the edge of the penalty area, there was only ever one candidate to take the shot. In the 88th minute, Ronaldo stepped up, curled the ball around Spain’s wall, and scored one of the best World Cup goals of all time.

Not only is the free-kick among the top goals in World Cup history, but it is also one of Ronaldo’s greatest goals.

The Portuguese megastar has netted more international goals than anyone else in the history of soccer. It will be extremely difficult to surpass his tally, but there are a handful of players who could break Ronaldo’s record.

Esteban Cambiasso – Argentina vs. Serbia/Montenegro (2006)

Many of the best FIFA World Cup goals ever scored resulted from moments of individual magic. However, the next entry on my list is one of the greatest team goals you will ever see.

Before Maxi Rodriguez scored his volley against Mexico in the Round of 16, Argentina faced Serbia & Montenegro in the group stage of the 2006 World Cup. The Argentines netted six goals in that game, but the second goal is the one that is remembered.

Rodriguez dispossessed Mateja Kezman just inside his own half. Fifty-four seconds and 25 passes later, Esteban Cambiasso scored one of the best goals in FIFA World Cup history.

Stars such as Javier Saviola, Juan Roman Riquelme, Javier Mascherano had multiple touches in the move. Cambiasso then played a neat one-two with Hernan Crespo, who backheeled the ball back to the scorer.

“How many passes did they put together there? You’d need a calculator.” Those were the commentator’s words after Cambiasso added the finishing touch to Argentina’s magical move.

Unfortunately, Cambiasso and co. fell to Germany in the quarter-finals. But their tantalizing team effort will always be remembered as one of the top FIFA World Cup goals.

Carlos Alberto – Brazil vs. Italy (1970)

We have to go all the way back to 1970 for the next of my top World Cup goals. But I promise you it’s worth it!

The Brazil side of 1970 is undoubtedly one of the greatest World Cup teams of all time. Spearheaded by the legendary Pele – who holds several FIFA World Cup records – the Brazilians clinched their third title in Mexico.

Brazil beat Czechoslovakia, England, and Romania during the group stage before dispatching Peru and Uruguay in the knockout phase. Five straight victories set up a final showdown against Italy.

In the final at Mexico City’s iconic Estadio Azteca, the Brazilians found themselves 3-1 up with only a few minutes left on the clock. Still, they clearly weren’t content with the score.

Following some skillful midfield play by Clodoaldo, the ball made its way to Rivelino before arriving at the feet of Jairzinho. The ball was then passed to Pele, who waited for the perfect moment to set up the onrushing Carlos Alberto.

The marauding wing-back meets the ball and thumps it into the bottom corner of the net, completing a team move to rival Argentina in 2006. Thanks to this strike, Carlos Alberto cemented his status among the best soccer players of all time.

Dennis Bergkamp – Netherlands vs. Argentina (1998)

Dennis Bergkamp scored countless memorable goals across his illustrious career. In fact, the former Arsenal, Ajax, and Inter Milan forward were renowned for scoring beautiful and unique goals.

The Dutchman’s pirouette goal for Arsenal and Newcastle United in 2002 is arguably his greatest-ever goal at the club level. But when it comes to ranking his best international goals, there is only one winner.

The 1998 World Cup quarter-final between the Netherlands and Argentina appeared to be heading to extra time. Both sides had scored in the early stages of the first half, but neither team could break the deadlock. That was until Bergkamp’s moment of magic.

Frank De Boer floated a perfect long-range pass into Bergkamp’s path in the final minute of normal time. The forward controlled the ball with a flawless touch, took it past Roberto Ayala and used the outside of his right foot to seal the deal.

Bergkamp’s late winner sent the Netherlands through to the semi-finals. Despite pushing the Brazilians all the way to penalties, the Dutch failed to reach the final.

Still, Bergkamp’s stunner remains one of the best World Cup soccer goals.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst – Netherlands vs. Uruguay (2010)

Twelve years after Bergkamp’s heroics, Giovanni van Bronckhorst continued the theme of Dutchmen scoring amazing World Cup goals. This time, however, the strike was a long-range piledriver.

The Netherlands came up against Uruguay in the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup. As you would expect, the game started slowly, with both teams approaching the crucial showdown with caution.

Yet, with 18 minutes on the clock, van Bronckhorst took matters into his own hands. The left-back received the ball miles away from Uruguay’s goal and unleashed a thunderous strike past goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.

As you can see, van Bronckhorst had no right to score from where he did. Most players would not even dream of shooting from there, but van Bronckhorst backed himself and delivered.

The Netherlands beat Uruguay 3-2 to reach the World Cup final for the third time. However, they eventually lost the showpiece to Spain – conceding an agonizingly late goal in the dying embers of extra time.

Even so, van Bronckhorst’s effort must go down as one of the best World Cup goals in history.

Final Word on the Best World Cup Goals of All Time

At the end of the day, I could have included many more goals on my list of the greatest World Cup goals ever.

Archie Gemmill’s incredible solo effort for Scotland against the Netherlands in 1978 narrowly missed the cut, as did Marco Tardelli’s strike for Italy against West Germany in 1982. I also included Michael Owen’s goal for England against Argentina in 1998.

Although I’m happy with my top 10 World Cup goals, I want to hear your thoughts. So, why not let me know about your favorite World Cup goals in the comments section below?

If you’re planning to wager on the next edition of soccer’s greatest tournament, be sure to check out our FIFA World Cup betting tips and expert strategy advice. The information on that page can help you win money for the next World Cup. FIFA World Cup Betting Tips & Strategies
Ben Morris
Ben Morris

Ben is a sportswriter and tipster who specializes in soccer. Currently based in the UK, he has traveled all around the world watching – and betting on – his beloved sport.

Alongside his regular soccer content, Ben publishes blogs and picks for cricket, Formula 1, Aussie rules, darts, and various other sports.

Ben is a diehard fan of Nottingham Forest and England, so he hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years!

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