The World Cup is an all-consuming spectacle, but ultimately it is about one thing: the enormous rush of seeing the ball hit the back of the net. There have been 2,063 goals in the World Cup; here's a subjective list of the top 10. And, because we can't split the first two, we've cheated and made them joint-first.
|T1.|| Diego Maradona, 1986 quarterfinal |
Argentina 2, England 1
Nobody has defined their career as dramatically as Diego Maradona did in five crazy minutes during the second half of the 1986 quarterfinal against England. First came his Hand of God goal, the premier controversy in a career full of them, and then came the Left Foot of El Diego, which conjured this astonishing solo goal. Everybody will have their favorite part as it builds to crescendo: personal preferences are for the unexpectedly early touch on the edge of the box that takes Terry Fenwick out of the game before he even knows he's in it, and the staggering brain speed. Maradona recalled a similar incident against England six years earlier, and decided that this time he would go round the goalkeeper Peter Shilton. And all the while, he didn't even think about using his right foot.
|T1.|| Carlos Alberto, 1970 final |
Brazil 4, Italy 1
Talk about saving the best for last. Brazil's stunning World Cup win in 1970 had already been pockmarked with outrageous goals when, in the dying moments of a final they were winning 3-1 against Italy, they swept themselves towards immortality with a team goal of impossible majesty. Every aspect is picture perfect: Clodoaldo's showboating, Gerson's penetrative pass, Jairzinho's menacing surge, Pele's loving, deliberate pass, and Carlos Alberto's spectacular finish, both feet so far off the ground that he looks like he's trying to fly. If there was any doubt beforehand that this was the greatest football team we had ever seen, there was none after.
|3.|| Dennis Bergkamp, 1998 quarterfinal |
Holland 2, Argentina 1
You would think that, when you live with genius, you would become used to its capabilities. But that was not the case for Dennis Bergkamp, who reacted to this unreal goal by thrusting his hands over his face in shock at what he had achieved. Even for a player of Bergkamp's wit and technical ability this was outrageous, a volcanic explosion of genius in an apparently mundane situation. It all happens in a blur, thanks to a Holy Trinity of divine touches. Nor was it any old goal: it was a last-minute winner in a sensational World Cup quarterfinal goal. If you want to know how much it meant, just listen to this.
|4.|| Diego Maradona, 1986 semifinal |
Argentina 2, Belgium 0
The goal against England was a once-in-a-lifetime effort. So Maradona did it again four days later in the World Cup semifinal. To some this is even better, because he takes on three Belgium defenders in one hit, snaking irresistibly inside and then back outside the last man Eric Gerets before striking the ball home. In a sense, the best bit comes after the goal: how does he manage to stay on his feet?
|5.|| Nelinho, 1978 third-place game |
Brazil 2, Italy 1
Most third-place play-offs drift quickly from the memory, but 1978's has lingered for one reason: this absurd goal from the Brazilian right-back Nelinho. Yes, the right-back. Some called it a fluke, but that perception is shattered by his past form, and the shape of a body clearly designed to swoosh the ball into the far corner. To score a goal from that angle, with such L-shaped swerve, would be sensational with the inside of the foot, never mind the outside. It was a goal that could only have been made in Brazil.
|6.|| Archie Gemmill, 1978 group play |
Scotland 3, Holland 2
Of all the symbols of Scotland's glorious failure at the World Cup -- between 1974 and 1982 they went out of three consecutive tournaments on goal difference -- this is by far the most striking, a goal whose impish brilliance would have done Maradona proud. Scotland went out at the group stage, despite beating the eventual finalists Holland 3-2, but Gemmill's goal was the best of the tournament and, 18 years later, was immortalized in the film Trainspotting.
|7.|| Dario Rodriguez, 2002 group play |
Denmark 2, Uruguay 1
Plenty of little-known players have left their mark on the World Cup with stunning goals, including Manuel Negrete and Saeed Al-Owairan, but this was the pick. The only thing touching the floor were jaws around the world after this keepy-uppy masterpiece. From the moment Alvaro Recoba took a left-wing corner, the ball did not touch the turf until it was boomed into the net by the left foot of Dario Rodriguez.
|8.|| Pele, 1958 final |
Brazil 5, Sweden 2
To score any goal in a World Cup final at 17 is unimaginable, never mind a goal of this quality. It had everything -- imagination, strength, impudence, deftness, technical skill -- and told the world that a true great was in their midst. Pele's World Cup career is probably best known for a goal he did not score, but this is deservedly not far behind.
|9.|| Salif Diao, 2002 group play |
Senegal 1, Denmark 1
A goal so smooth that it might have been conceived on the PlayStation. It takes 13 seconds from end to end, and includes a 70-yard one-two between Salif Diao and Khalalou Fadiga before Diao flicks the ball into the net.
|10.|| Socrates, 1982 group play |
Brazil 2, USSR 1
You could legitimately include almost any of Brazil's goals in 1982 in this list, but we've gone for Socrates' homing missile to equalize in the opening match against USSR. What's not to love? There's the double feint, the strike so vicious that it could have taken Rinat Dassaev's fingers off, and then the messianic celebration. All this from one of the coolest footballers ever to roam the green.