As important as attacking, defending, and creating scoring opportunities are, the most important aspect of football is scoring. Goals decide games, define outcomes, and separate winners and losers.
What is the basic definition of football? Getting the ball past the goal line and into the opposing goal is simple. So, regardless of how well a team plays, the number of goals scored and, of course, by whom is ultimately important. But, as simple as it sounds, it is not, especially in a World Cup competition against the best in the world.
Goals scored at the FIFA World Cup are arguably more important than goals scored elsewhere because it is the pinnacle of all football tournaments.
Since the first World Cup in 1930 in Uruguay, a total of 2,546 goals have been scored in 21 World Cups.
France in 1998 and Brazil in 2014 share the record for most goals scored in a single tournament. The total number of goals scored in the tournaments in France and Brazil surpassed 171.
With only 70 goals scored in each, Uruguay’s tournament in 1930 and Italy’s tournament in 1934 set the record for lowest scoring.
While all goals are important, some are more prominent than others. They remain with us for a variety of reasons, including their significance, overall impact on the match, the records and games with which they are associated, the scoring style, and the scorer’s reputation, among others.
Let us recall the most iconic successes and failures of national football players during the game before watching World Cup Qatar 2022. Though the list is understandably inexhaustible, here are our top ten FIFA World Cup goals and misses. Read and have fun!
Goals in the World Cup
Brazil 5-2 Sweden: Pele
At the age of 17 years and 249 days, Edson Arondes do Nascimento, better known as Pele, took the world by storm. Brazil defeated Sweden 5-2 to win their first World Cup in 1958, thanks to his commanding performance and footballing skills.
The young player scored twice on football’s biggest stage, establishing himself as the youngest player to ever score in a World Cup final. His first of two goals would go down in history as one of the most spectacular goals ever scored in a FIFA World Cup final.
The young Brazilian took control of the ball inside the penalty area, chipped it over the defender, and smashed it past a helpless Kalle Svensson to make it 3-1. As a result, the mostly Swedish crowd of 49,737 at Rasunda Stadium in Solna fell silent.
The goal’s beauty wowed the football world, but the fact that a teenager could keep his cool under such pressure to score made it so remarkable.
Later, in stoppage time, the football legend completed his hat trick, giving Brazil a 5-2 victory.
Argentina 2-1 England: Diego Maradona
The 1-2 defeat of England to Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final match in Mexico City is unquestionably one of the greatest World Cup matches in history.
Each of Maradona’s two goals scored as one of the greatest players of all time could undoubtedly make this list on their own. They are famous (or infamous, in the case of the first goal) for the ingenuity of the scorer, as well as the fact that no other player has scored goals of comparable nature and delivery on the World Cup stage since that time.
The contentious “Hand of God” goal was scored six minutes into the second half in front of 114,580 fans at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. During an aerial challenge with England goalkeeper Peter Shilton, Maradona hit the ball into England’s goal with his left fist.
Maradona should have received a yellow card for the offense. However, despite English players’ protests, Tunisian Referee Ali Bennaceur validated the goal after consulting with his second linesman, who also ratified it.
The Argentine later scored the ‘Goal of the Century.’ He went on one of the greatest dribbles ever seen, shrugging off challenge after challenge to finish past Shilton after taking possession of the ball in his own half.
Cameroon 1-6 Russia: Roger Milla
This 1994 FIFA World Cup Group B match in the United States is best remembered for breaking two major records. First, there’s the record for the most goals scored by an individual in a World Cup match – Oleg Salenko’s five goals – and then there’s the record for the oldest World Cup goal scorer – Cameroon’s Roger Milla, who was born in 1932.
Gunnar Gren of Sweden was previously the oldest World Cup goal scorer. At the age of 37 and 236 days, he held the record for the longest time, scoring for the hosts of the 1958 semi-final.
Roger Milla broke the Swede’s record twice. He scored four goals in the 1990 FIFA World Cup at the age of 38. And, at the age of 42, he broke his own record by kicking to score against Russia in Cameroon’s final match of the 1994 tournament.
Australia 3-2 Netherlands: Tim Cahill
Tom Cahill was nominated for the FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal of the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament, which is widely regarded as one of the best goals ever scored in a football World Cup. His incredible 21st-minute goal against the Netherlands in Australia’s 3-2 loss in Brazil earns him a spot on this list.
Cahill retired in 2019 as Australia’s all-time leading goal scorer. He was the first Australian to score in a FIFA World Cup tournament and scored more World Cup goals in his career than any other Australian. So it’s no surprise that he scored such a magnificent goal of skill and beauty at the 2014 tournament.
Cahill had just given Arjen Robben’s Netherlands a 1-0 lead when he let a long ball drop over his shoulder before unleashing an unstoppable volley past Jasper Cillessen into the goal. The Australian hit an incredible strike while the ball was coming over his shoulder and using his weaker left foot.
Brazil 4-1 Italy: Carlos Alberto
Brazil’s fourth goal in the 1970 World Cup final is widely regarded as one of the tournament’s all-time greats.
Brazil humiliated the Azzurri, defeating Italy’s usually tenacious defense 4-1. Brazil won the game in the 85th minute, exploiting the Italians’ heat exhaustion with a flowing nine-man move of magical dribbles and passes and a perfectly finished goal.
The play appeared to be effortless, but it resulted from months of preparation and collaboration. Pele’s final pass was intercepted by Alberto as he cruised unimpeded down the right wing of the pitch. From there, he tossed the ball into the goal with ease.
West Germany 3-2 Hungary: , Helmut Rahn
In 1954, Hungary was the overwhelming favorite to win the fifth FIFA World Cup. In the five years leading up to the final, the national team went undefeated in 32 consecutive games. Furthermore, they thrashed the Germans 8-3 in the Group stage game, demonstrating their dominance.
As a result, when the two teams met again in the final, few believed the Germans could beat the rampaging Hungarians. Indeed, Germany fell behind 2-0 in the first eight minutes of the game at Wankdorf Stadium in Switzerland.
Helmut Rahn, on the other hand, transformed the fortunes of the Hungarian national team. Max Morlock restored parity for the Germans in the 18th minute after cutting the deficit in the 10th minute. He fainted a pass to center forward Ottmar Walter after picking up Hungary’s Mihály Lantos’ short clearance, which caught the Hungarian defenders off guard. He moved into the penalty area and fired a hard, low shot past Grosics for Germany’s third goal. That goal, which gave Germany its first of four World Cup titles, became one of the most celebrated goals in World Cup history. The game was dubbed “The Miracle of Bern.”
As a result, the 1954 World Cup final is remembered not only as one of the greatest World Cup matches but also as one of the most surprising upsets.
Italy 3-2 Brazil: Paolo Rossi
Few could have predicted the outcome of the 1982 FIFA World Cup second-stage, group round final between Italy and Brazil. Given their poor performance in previous tournament matches, the Italians’ 3-2 victory over the Brazilians surprised many.
When Juventus striker Paolo Rossi got on the end of Antonio Cabrini’s pinpoint cross to head Italy into a shocking lead only five minutes into the match, most in Barcelona’s Estadio Sarriá began to shift in their seats, stunned by what was happening in the field.
In the group stages, Brazil had overcome an early deficit to defeat the Soviet Union and Scotland. However, it was not to be this time. Italy’s number 20 scored again in the 25th minute to make the score 2-1.
The Italian fans were enraged by Rossi’s goal with 15 minutes remaining. He scored yet again.
Italy won the tournament with a 3-1 victory over Germany in the final. Rossi’s six tournament goals helped him win the ‘Golden Boot’ as tournament top scorer.
Netherlands 2-1 Argentina: Dennis Bergkamp
Nobody of a certain age will ever forget the occasion. Dennis Bergkamp scored the winning goal in the Netherlands’ World Cup match against Argentina in 1998. The goal, as well as the commentary that accompanied it, has gone down in football history.
The goal in the game’s final minute captivated Dutch commentator Jack van Gelder, who couldn’t stop yelling the goal scorer’s name. Given the magnitude of the task, this is not surprising. Some called it the perfect goal because it was neat, controlled, and powerful.
Three deft touches on the ball just outside the goal area gave the Netherlands a 2-1 victory over Argentina, advancing them to the World Cup semi-finals.
Bergkamp received a long pass from Frank de Boer and skillfully took a second touch to bring the ball inside the Argentine defender. The third touch on the ball put it into the Argentine goal. The entire maneuver was completed in less than three seconds.
The Netherlands finished fourth in the tournament after losing to Croatia in the semi-finals.
Brazil 2-0 Germany: Ronaldo
Sparks were expected to fly when the tournament’s two most successful teams, Germany and Brazil, met in the 2002 World Cup Final in Yokohama, Japan. However, the Samba Boys triumphed, winning their fifth title in a row, with Ronaldo scoring the game-winning goals.
The first goal against Germany was not scored until the second half of the game. After four Brazilian attempts, Ronaldo scored in the 67th minute on a rebound off German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. In the 79th minute, he scored again, this time off a pass from teammate Kleberson. He had the ball in the bottom corner of the opposing net within two touches, sending Brazil into history.
Brazil became the first team to win five consecutive World Cups. They were also the first team in the 32-team tournament format to win all seven matches, as well as the first team to win a World Cup outside of Europe and the Americas. Ronaldo received the Golden Boot.
Colombia 2-0 Uruguay: James Rodriguez
Colombia qualified for the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time. Colombia defeated Uruguay 2-0 at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium.
James Rodriguez, then 23, scored both goals for Columbia, one of which had to be among the best in World Cup history.
The first of his brace, and most spectacular, came in the game’s 28th minute. Rodriguez took a header from Abel Aguilar, chested it down, turned to meet the dropping ball, and volleyed it into the Urugian net with his left foot from nearly 30 yards away. It was a daring goal that had been meticulously planned and executed.
The sublime goal received over 42% of all votes cast, earning the Real Madrid player the 2014 FIFA Puskás Award for the year’s most beautiful goal.
France 4-3 Argentina: Benjamin Pavard
Benjamin Pavard’s equalizer against a strong Argentina team hoping to repeat a trip to the final game and give Lionel Messi a new chance to reach the heights set by his idol Diego Armando Maradona was one of the most important goals of France’s 2018 World Cup winning campaign.
Two Argentine defenders failed to clear the ball after a cross from left-back Lucas Hernandez. Benjamin Pavard, the right back, took a first-touch outside-of-the-foot shot that went into the top left corner of the goal, leaving goalkeeper Franco Armani helpless. Pavard tied the game at 2-2, and France went on to win 4-3 and advance to the later stages of the tournament in Russia, where they won their second title.
World Cup Misses
Rob Rensenbrink | Netherlands | 1978
After losing to West Germany in 1974 final, an iconic Dutch team returned to the big stage four years later, determined to be the best team never to win the tournament.
But, once again, Oranje fell at the final hurdle and had their dream dashed.
Argentina took the lead in the first half, but the Dutch equalized in the 82nd minute to change the game’s momentum and almost ride the wave to victory in the final minute when Rob Rensenbrink chased down the ball in the box and knocked it past goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol. As it bounced towards goal, the Dutch hearts skipped a beat, but the effort hit the post and was cleared by the Argentine defense.
Extra time was called, and the South Americans won with two more goals.
Chris Waddle | England | 1990
England’s best World Cup performance since winning ended in defeat on penalties to West Germany.
The Three Lions played well in the semi-final, and Gary Lineker’s equalizer in the 80th minute forced extra time and then penalties.
The first six penalties were converted, but Stuart Pearce’s attempt was saved, allowing the Germans to take the lead through Olaf Thon.
It was up to Chris Waddle to save England’s chances, but he fired over the bar, sending Germany to the final, which they won. Argentina
Gonzalo Higuain | Argentina | 2014
Gonzalo Higuain couldn’t believe his luck when a golden opportunity presented itself to him 20 minutes into the 2014 World Cup final. Toni Kroos was still far behind Germany’s defense and heading back onside before his misjudged header sparked Argentina’s striker into action.
Higuain ran onto it and was free of the chasing defenders as he prepared to smash it towards goal, but his mis-hit bounced wide of Manuel Neuer’s goal.
Later in the game, Lionel Messi and Rodrigo Palacio of the Albiceleste would both miss great chances. Nonetheless, Higuain’s inability to score on big occasions quickly earned him scorn.
Pele | Brazil | 1970
Pele is credited with over 1200 goals in a career that established him as one of the greatest players in history, but a glaring miss in the 1970 World Cup was one of his most memorable moments.
Pele galloped on to Tostao’s pass, but instead of taking a touch around encroaching goalkeeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz, he fooled him with a dummy and ran around to meet it on the other side. The attacker snatched the ball, but it ricocheted off the post.
It was not a game-changing miss because Brazil was already 3-1 up and went on to win the tournament, but it is remembered as one of the greatest goals never scored and an iconic moment in World Cup history.
Yakubu Aiyegbeni | Nigeria | 2010
Despite a sluggish start to the 2010 World Cup, Nigeria was still in contention for a place in the last-16 when they faced South Korea in the third group stage match.
The Super Eagles’ early lead was erased by goals from Lee Jung-soo Goal and Park Chu-young, but they appeared to be on their way back when the ball rolled to Yakubu Aiyegbeni in front of an open goal. The former Everton player, however, was embarrassed when he somehow diverted it wide.
Minutes later, Yakubu scored a penalty to tie the game, but Nigeria failed to capitalize and was eliminated.
Kevin Keegan | England | 1982
By the time the 1982 World Cup arrived, Kevin Keegan, a European, English, and German champion and two-time Ballon d’Or winner, had already established himself as one of England’s heroes.
The ex-Liverpool and Hamburg forward are international career, however, came to an end with a blunder against Spain.
Keegan had been injured prior to the tournament and missed England’s group stage victories over France, Czechoslovakia, and Kuwait, but he was called up in the second round to help England break the deadlock against Spain.
When a cross found him in the middle of the box, England appeared to be on the verge of taking the lead. The ball was perfectly placed for the bushy-haired attacker to nod home, but he sent it wide and was left stunned as the Three Lions crashed out.
Arjen Robben | Netherlands | 2010
After an hour of a tense 2010 World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain, it was clear that one goal would decide the fate of two teams vying for their first World Cup victory.
Wesley Sneijder’s incredible pass found its way through the Spain defense and into the feet of Arjen Robben, but the Oranje attacker squandered his chance, seeing his shot bounce off Iker Casillas’ hip and out.
Instead, late in extra time, Andres Iniesta seized the day, beating Maarten Stekelenburg to end La Roja’s glorious era.
Meanwhile, Robben was left to reflect on his missed opportunity, which continues to haunt him. “It was just a snapshot,” Robben later explained. “However, it will be a part of who I am and what I do for the rest of my life.”
Roberto Baggio | Italy | 1990
The Divine Ponytail remains one of the most illustrious figures in Italian football, but his defining moment came during one of the most agonizing World Cup finals.
Italy would not have made it to the final without Baggio. He found his form in the knockout rounds after a difficult group stage, propelling the Azzurri to victories over Nigeria, Spain, and Bulgaria, scoring five goals.
Baggio even shone in the final against Brazil, which went to penalties after going goalless for two hours. Italy’s hopes seemed to rest on Baggio’s shoulders after Dunga put Brazil up 3-2, but he sent his shot over the bar, confirming the South Americans’ victory.
“I knew Taffarel was always diving, so I shot for the middle, about halfway up, so he couldn’t get it with his feet,” Baggio explained in his autobiography, “A Goal In The Sky.” “It was a wise decision because Taffarel did go to his left, and he would never have gotten to the shot I was planning.” Unfortunately, and I’m not sure how the ball flew three meters up and over the crossbar, the ball landed three meters up and over the crossbar. I was exhausted just from taking the penalty, but I was the team’s penalty taker. I’ve never shied away from my responsibilities. Only those who are brave enough to take a penalty are disqualified. I failed that time. Period. It had a long-term effect on me. It was the lowest point in my professional career. I still daydream about it. If I could change just one moment in my career, it would be that one.”