RSS
The 10 most memorable World Cup moments
Get excited for Brazil 2014 by reliving the tournament's highs and lows
 
The cosmic kite comes in at number two.
The cosmic kite comes in at number two. (REUTERS/POOL/Ted Blackbrow)

The 2014 World Cup is less than two weeks away, which means it's time to look back on the unforgettable goaaaaaaals that made the game what it is today. Here is The Week's infallible list of the 10 most memorable moments in World Cup history:

10. Dennis Bergkamp's goal from heaven (France 1998)
This late game-winner in a quarterfinal against Argentina will make even the most stoic soccer fan tear up with happiness. That touch! The most famous version of this goal features a Dutch commentator screaming Bergkamp's name as the player collapses, seemingly in disbelief at what he's just done. But the English commentator later in this clip may say it best: "Oh, that's brilliant. Oh, that's wonderful."

9. Roger Milla's corner flag dance (Italy 1990)
In 1990, at the age of 38, Milla came off the bench to lead Cameroon to the quarterfinals with four improbable goals, putting Africa on the soccer map and presaging a globalized era in which players of African origin have dominated European leagues and even European national teams, as Laurent Dubois has eloquently documented. Perhaps even more memorable, though, was the way Milla got jiggy with the corner flag, setting a new bar for stylish goal celebrations.

8. The triumph of Tiki-taka (South Africa 2010)
When Andres Iniesta volleyed past Dutch goalkeeper Marten Stekelenberg deep into extra time to seal Spain's first World Cup victory, the world breathed a sigh of relief. In an era in which soccer has been increasingly defined by brute speed and strength, here was a team of pint-sized players who dominated their opponents with intricate passing and whirling movement, a system known as Tiki-taka. The Spanish team of 2010 may have been the most uniformly gifted in World Cup history, but more than that they proved that soccer can be beautiful and relentlessly efficient at the same time.

7. Johan Cruyff's flying kick (West Germany 1974)
Cruyff's best Jackie Chan impersonation was not only a fine example of his athleticism; it also represented the rise of Total Football, a system in which every player on a team can theoretically play every position, resulting in a more fluid game, a greater capacity for improvisation, and a plethora of attacking options. Without Total Football there would be no Tiki-taka, nor the current fashion of training every player to both attack and defend, in what the analyst Michael Cox has called the "concept of universality."

6. Roberto Baggio's wild penalty (USA 1994)
Baggio in 1994 put on one of the all-time great solo performances in a World Cup, up there with Maradona in 1986 and Eusebio in 1966. He scored five goals in the knockout stage alone, virtually carrying Italy to the final on his rat-tail-laden shoulders (forgive him, it was the '90s). But for better or worse, he is best remembered for badly flubbing a penalty kick in the final, a stunning mistake that in an instant sent Baggio from the very pinnacle of the game to its deepest crevasse. It was a moment that captured the soul of Italian football, with its constant evocation, as Geoff Dyer put it, of "the beautiful injustice of the game."

5. Geoff Hurst's Wembley goal (England 1966)
What would soccer be without England? Birthplace of the modern game, England secured its only World Cup triumph at home, through one of the most controversial goals of all time. Geoff Hurst's game-winner against West Germany memorably bounced out of the goal after crossing the line, the type of incident that finally led FIFA to enable goal-line technology to review controversial calls. This is Alastair Reid's account of Hurst's goal, in a contemporaneous New Yorker piece that joyously captures the entire tournament (a long read that is a must for any soccer fan):

[S]uddenly little Ball spurted into an open space, sent the ball into Hurst's path, and the English inside forward blazed it at the net. It seemed to strike a defender's fist and rocket upward, inside the crossbar, and just as suddenly to bounce out. Half of us were sure it was a goal, half of us hoped it just might have been, and all the Germans, whatever they had seen, roared in disbelief. The decision, however, lay with the referee, and he, for an agonizing moment, consulted with his linesman, who was better placed to tell if the ball had actually crossed the line or not. We saw him nod, and point to the center spot. [The New Yorker]

4. The fall of Zinedine Zidane (Germany 2006)
How I wish this spot could be occupied by the two fine headers Zidane scored in the 1998 final to give France its first World Cup, or the 2006 quarterfinal in which he single-handedly decimated Brazil. But his infamous headbutt in the dying moments of the 2006 final remains one of the most shocking and ignominious incidents in the history of the sport, combining the absurd and the tragic to make for an unforgettable conclusion to a brilliant career. Watching the video eight years later, I still can't believe it.

3. Pele and the birth of the modern (Sweden 1958)
When Brazil, led by a 17-year-old Pele, stormed to victory in the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, they not only secured the first of Brazil's five trophies, but also invented an entirely new vocabulary for playing the sport. Pele and his pals were simply doing things that other players had never seen before, as evidenced by this lovely goal in the final against Sweden in which Pele lobs the ball to himself for a volley. (The Brazilians were so dazzling that the home crowd couldn't help cheering them on.) The legacy of that goal — carried down by Cruyff, Maradona, and Zidane — is that without creativity soccer is a mere sport.

2. Maradona's Goal of the Century (Mexico 1986)
What more can be said of what is widely considered to be the best goal of all time? The most famous version (below) features the commentary of radio announcer Victor Hugo Morales, who blessed the goal with an ecstatic, nearly nonsensical aria that celebrates Maradona, football, and God's goodness. Here is a translation from Howler magazine, which recently ran a wonderful post on the goal and Morales:

Maradona has the ball, two mark him, he touches the ball. The genius of world football dashes to the right and leaves the third and is going to pass to Burruchaga. It's still Maradona! Genius! Genius! Genius! Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta. Gooooooooooal! Gooooooooooal! I want to cry! Dear God! Long live football! Gooooooooooal! Diegoal! Maradona! It's enough to make you cry, forgive me. Maradona, in an unforgettable run, in the play of all time. Cosmic kite! What planet are you from? Leaving in your wake so many Englishmen, so that the whole country is a clenched fist shouting for Argentina? Argentina 2, England 0. Diegoal, Diegoal, Diego Armando Maradona. Thank you, God, for football, for Maradona, for these tears, for this, Argentina 2, England 0. [Howler]

1. Brazil's perfect goal (Mexico 1970)
Maradona may win out for sheer virtuosity, but this goal by Brazil in the 1970 World Cup final distills the elegance of the game. The languid passing, the perfect weight on Pele's through ball, and Carlos Alberto's cannon strike all make this goal a wonder. But my favorite part is Clodoaldo dribbling four Italian players with melting skill, only to pass it off to a teammate three meters away in his own half, seemingly achieving nothing — as if to say there is no object in soccer but this, this effortless beauty.

 
Ryu Spaeth is deputy editor at TheWeek.com.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week