World Cup Goals and Misses That Went Into The Legend 

world cup goals

As important as attacking, defending, and creating scoring chances are, scoring is the most important aspect of football. Goals decide games, define the outcome, and separate the winner from the losers.

What is the fundamental definition of football? It’s pretty easy – getting the ball past the goal line and into the opposing goal. So, regardless of how well a team plays, what ultimately matters is the number of goals scored and, of course, by whom. But, however it sounds easy it is not, especially not in the World Cup competition when you are playing against the world’s best. 

Because the FIFA World Cup is the pinnacle of all football tournaments, goals scored here are arguably more important than goals scored elsewhere.

To date, and since the first World Cup was held in Uruguay in 1930, a total of 2,546 goals have been scored in 21 World Cups.

The record for the most goals scored in a single tournament is shared by France in 1998 and Brazil in 2014. The total number of goals scored in France and Brazil’s tournaments surpassed 171.

Uruguay’s tournament in 1930 and Italy’s tournament in 1934 set the record for the lowest scoring, with only 70 goals scored in each.

While all objectives are important, some stand out more than others. They stick with us for a variety of reasons, including their significance, overall impact on the match, the records and games they are associated with, the style of scoring, and the scorer’s reputation, among others.

Before watching World Cup Qatar 2022, let us remind ourselves of the most iconic successes and failures of national football players during the game. Though the list is understandably inexhaustible, here are our picks for the ten most iconic FIFA World Cup goals and misses. Read and enjoy!

World Cup Goals 

Pele: Brazil 5-2 Sweden (1958)

Edson Arondes do Nascimento, better known as Pele, took the world by storm at the age of 17 years and 249 days. His commanding performance and footballing skills were the talk of the match as Brazil defeated Sweden 5-2 to win their first World Cup in 1958.

The young player scored twice on football’s biggest stage, cementing his place in history as the youngest player to ever score in a World Cup final. The first of his two goals would go down in history as one of the most outstanding goals in a FIFA World Cup final.

With ten minutes remaining in the second half, 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 49,737-person crowd at Rasunda Stadium in Solna, which was mostly Swedish, fell silent.

The beauty of the goal wowed the football world, but it was the fact that a teenager could maintain composure under such pressure to score that made it so remarkable.

The football legend would later complete his hat trick with a fine header in stoppage time, giving Brazil a 5-2 victory.

Diego Maradona: Argentina wins 2-1 over England (1986)

England’s 1-2 defeat to Diego Maradona-led 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 to ever lace a football boot, could undoubtedly make this list on their own. They are famous (or infamous, in the case of the first goal) for the scorer’s ingenuity, as well as the fact that no other player has been able to score goals of comparable nature and delivery on the World Cup stage since that time.

The controversial “Hand of God ” goal scored six minutes into the second half in front of 114,580 people at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium. During an aerial challenge with goalkeeper Peter Shilton, Maradona cleverly, or in a moment of madness, hit the ball into England’s goal with his left fist.

For the offense, Maradona should have received a yellow card. Despite protests from the English players, Tunisian Referee Ali Bennaceur validated the goal after consulting with his second linesman, who also ratified the goal.

Later, the Argentine scored the ‘Goal of the Century.’ Taking possession of the ball in his own half, he went on one of the greatest dribbles ever seen, shrugging off challenge after challenge to finish past Shilton.

Roger Milla: Cameroon 1-6 Russia (1994)

This Group B match of the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States is best remembered for breaking two major records. First, the record for the most goals scored by an individual in a World Cup match – Oleg Salenko’s five goals – and then the record for the oldest World Cup goal scorer – Cameroon’s Roger Milla.

Gunnar Gren of Sweden previously held the record for the oldest World Cup goal scorer. He held the record for the longest time, scoring for the hosts of the 1958 semi-final at the age of 37 and 236 days.

Roger Milla twice broke the Swede’s record. At the age of 38, he scored four goals in the 1990 FIFA World Cup. And, at the age of 42, he broke his own record by a wide margin when he kicked to score against Russia in Cameroon’s final match of the 1994 tournament.

Tim Cahill: Australia 3-2 Netherlands (2014)

Tom Cahill was nominated for the FIFA Puskas Award for the best goal of the 2014 FIFA World Cup tournament, which experts consider to be one of the best goals ever scored in a football World Cup. His incredible 21st-minute goal in Australia’s 3-2 loss to the Netherlands in Brazil earns him a spot on this list.

Cahill retired as Australia’s all-time leading goal scorer in 2019. He was the first Australian to score in a FIFA World Cup tournament and scored more World Cup goals than any other Australian during his career. So it should come as no surprise that he scored such a glorious goal of skill and beauty at the 2014 tournament.

Cahill had just given the Netherlands a 1-0 lead through Arjen Robben when he let a long ball drop over his shoulder before unleashing an unstoppable volley past Jasper Cillessen into the goal. It was an incredible strike by the Aussie, who did it while the ball was coming over his shoulder and using his weaker left foot.

Carlos Alberto: Brazil 4-1 Italy (1970)

Brazil’s fourth goal in the 1970 World Cup final is regarded as one of the greatest ever scored in the tournament’s history.

Brazil humiliated the Azzurri with a 4-1 victory over Italy’s usually unyielding defense. Brazil won the match in the 85th minute, taking advantage of the Italians’ heat exhaustion with a flowing nine-man move of magic dribbles and passes and a perfectly finished goal.

The play appeared to be effortless, but it was the result of months of practice and teamwork. Alberto caught Pele’s final pass as he cruised unimpeded down the right wing of the pitch. He slung the ball into the goal with ease from there.

Helmut Rahn: West Germany 3-2 Hungary (1954)

Hungary was the overwhelming favorite to win the fifth FIFA World Cup in 1954. The national team went unbeaten in 32 consecutive games in the five years leading up to the final. Moreover, they walloped the Germans 8-3 in the Group stage game, demonstrating their imperious form.

As a result, when the two teams met again in the final, few people thought the Germans had a chance against the rampaging Hungarians. Indeed, Germany fell behind 2-0 in the first eight minutes of the game at Switzerland’s Wankdorf Stadium.

On the other hand, Helmut Rahn turned the Hungarian national team’s fortunes around. After Max Morlock had cut the deficit in the 10th minute, he restored parity for the Germans in the 18th minute. After picking up Hungary’s Mihály Lantos’ short clearance, he fainted a pass to center forward Ottmar Walter, which caught the Hungarian defenders off guard. He moved into the penalty area and drove the ball hard and low past Grosics for Germany’s third goal. That goal became one of the most celebrated goals in World Cup history, as it gave Germany its first of four World Cup titles. The game became known as “The Miracle of Bern.”

As a result, the 1954 World Cup final is remembered not only as one of the greatest matches in World Cup history but also as one of the most unexpected upsets.

Paolo Rossi: Italy 3-2 Brazil (1982)

Few could have predicted the outcome of Italy’s and Brazil’s 1982 FIFA World Cup second-stage, group round final. Given their lackluster performance in their 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 the Estadio Sarriá in Barcelona began to shift in their seats, stunned by what was happening on the field.

Brazil had recovered from an early deficit to win against the USSR and Scotland in the group stages. This time, however, it was not to be. In the 25th minute, Italy’s number 20 scored again, making the score 2-1.

Rossi’s goal with 15 minutes remaining enraged the Italian fans. He scored once more.

Italy won the tournament after defeating Germany 3-1 in the final. Rossi’s six tournament goals helped him win the ‘Golden Boot as the tournament’s leading goal scorer.

Dennis Bergkamp: Netherlands 2-1 Argentina (1998)

No football fan of a certain age will ever forget the occasion. Dennis Bergkamp scored in the final minutes of the Netherlands’ 1998 World Cup match against Argentina. The goal and the commentary accompanying it have gone down in football history.

Dutch commentator Jack van Gelder was so enthralled by the goal in the game’s final minute that he couldn’t stop yelling the goal scorer’s name. Not surprising given the magnitude of the task. It was neat, controlled, and powerful, and some described it as the perfect goal.

Three deft touches on the ball just outside the goal area secured a 2-1 victory over Argentina and advanced the Netherlands to the World Cup semi-finals.

Bergkamp caught a long pass from Frank de Boer and skillfully took a second touch on the ball to bring it inside the Argentinian defender. The third touch on the ball sent it into the back of the Argentine goal. The entire maneuver took less than three seconds.

After being defeated in the semi-finals by Croatia, the Netherlands finished fourth in the tournament.

Ronaldo: Brazil 2-0 Germany (2002)

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. But the Samba boys triumphed, lifting their record fifth title, with Ronaldo scoring the game-winning goals.

It wasn’t until the second half of the game that the first goal was scored against Germany. Ronaldo scored from a rebound off German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn in the 67th minute, after four Brazilian attempts. He scored again in the 79th minute, 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 World Cups in a row. They were also the first team to win all seven matches in the 32-team tournament format, as well as the first team to win a World Cup outside of Europe and the Americas. Ronaldo was awarded the Golden Boot.

James Rodriguez: Colombia 2-0 Uruguay (2014)

Colombia advanced to the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time in its history. Colombia defeated Uruguay at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, scoring 2-0.

James Rodriguez, then 23, scored both goals for Columbia, one of which was so well played that it has to rank among the best in World Cup history.

The first of his brace, and most spectacular, came in the 28th minute of the game. Rodriguez took a header from Abel Aguilar, chested it down, turned to meet the dropping ball, and volleyed it into the Urugian’s net with his left foot, almost 30 yards from the opponent’s goal. It was a daring goal that was well-planned and executed.

The sublime goal received more than 42% of all votes cast, earning the Real Madrid player the 2014 FIFA Puskás Award for the most beautiful goal of the year.

Benjamin Pavard: France 4-3 Argentina (2018)

One of the most important goals of France’s 2018 World Cup winning campaign, was Benjamin Pavard’s equalizer against the strong Argentina team that hoped 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.

After a cross from the left back Lucas Hernandez, two Argentine defenders missed their chance to make a clearance. Right back Benjamin Pavard took a first-touch outside-of-the-foot shot that went in the top left corner of the goal, leaving the goalkeeper Franco Armani helpless. Pavard leveled the score at 2-2, and France went on to win the 4-3 and advance to later stages in Russia where they won their second title.

World Cup Misses 

Rob Rensenbrink | 1978 | Netherlands

After losing to West Germany in the 1974 final, an iconic Netherlands team returned to the big stage four years later, determined to erase the title as the best team never to have won the tournament.

But, once again, Oranje met the host nation at the final hurdle and saw their dream dashed.

Argentina took the lead in the first half, but the Dutch equalized in 82 minutes 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. The Dutch hearts skipped a beat as it bounced towards goal, but the effort hit the post and was cleared by the Argentine defense.

The game went into extra time, and the South Americans won with two more goals.

Chris Waddle | 1990 | England

England’s best World Cup performance since winning ended in agony when West Germany knocked them out on penalties.

The Three Lions put in a strong performance in the semi-final, and Gary Lineker’s 80th-minute equalizer forced extra time and then penalties.

The first six penalties were converted, but Stuart Pearce’s effort was saved, giving the Germans the lead through Olaf Thon.

It was up to Chris Waddle to save England’s chances, but the winger fired over the bar, sending Germany to the final, where they defeated Argentina 

Gonzalo Higuain | 2014 | Argentina

Gonzalo Higuain couldn’t believe his good fortune when a golden opportunity fell into his path 20 minutes into the 2014 World Cup final. Before Toni Kroos’ misjudged header sparked Argentina’s striker into action, he was still far behind Germany’s defense and heading back onside.

Higuain ran onto it and was free of the chasing defenders as he set himself up to smash it towards goal, but his mis-hit bounced wide of Manuel Neuer’s goal.

Later in the game, Albiceleste teammates Lionel Messi and Rodrigo Palacio would miss great chances of their own. Still, Higuain’s inability to score on big occasions quickly made him a target of criticism.

Pele | 1970 | Brazil

Pele is credited with over 1200 goals in a career that established him as one of the greatest players in history, but one of his most memorable moments was a glaring miss in the 1970 World Cup.

Pele showed pure brilliance as he galloped on to Tostao’s pass, but instead of taking a touch around encroaching goalkeeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz, he deceived him with a dummy and ran around to meet it on the other side. The attacker scooped the ball towards goal, but it ricocheted off the post.

It was no decisive miss because Brazil was already 3-1 up and went on to win the tournament, but it has gone down as one of the greatest goals that never was and an iconic moment in World Cup history.

Yakubu Aiyegbeni | 2010 | Nigeria

Despite a lackluster start to the 2010 World Cup, Nigeria’s qualification for the last-16 was still in their hands when they faced South Korea in the third group stage match.

The Super Eagles’ early lead was wiped out by goals from Lee Jung-soo Goal and Park Chu-young, but they looked set to retake control when the ball rolled to Yakubu Aiyegbeni in front of an open goal. However, the former Everton player was embarrassed when he somehow diverted it wide.

Yakubu scored a penalty minutes later to tie the game, but Nigeria couldn’t capitalize and was eliminated.

Kevin Keegan | 1982 | England

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 by the time the 1982 World Cup arrived.

However, the ex-Liverpool and Hamburg forward’s international career ended 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 was brought on in the second round to help England break the deadlock against Spain.

And England appeared to be on the verge of taking the lead when a cross found him in the middle of the box. The ball was perfectly placed for the bushy-haired attacker to nod home, but he sent it wide and was left on his knees in disbelief as the Three Lions crashed out.

Arjen Robben | 2010 | Netherlands

After an hour of a hard-fought 2010 final between the Netherlands and Spain, it was clear that one goal would be decisive for two teams vying for their first World Cup victory.

The key moment appeared to have arrived when Wesley Sneijder’s incredible pass found its way through the Spain team and into the feet of Arjen Robben, but the Oranje attacker squandered his chance, seeing his shot bounce off of Iker Casillas’ hip and out.

Instead, Andres Iniesta seized the day late in extra time, knocking it past Maarten Stekelenburg to seal La Roja’s glorious era.

Meanwhile, Robben was left to rue his missed opportunity, which still haunts him. “It’s just a moment, a snapshot,” Robben later explained. “However, it will be a part of me and my career for the rest of my life.”

Roberto Baggio | 1990 | Italy

The Divine Ponytail is still one of the most illustrious figures in Italian football, but the defining moment of his career is one of the most agonizing moments of a World Cup final.

Without Baggio, Italy would not have made it to the final. After a difficult group stage, he found his form in the knockout rounds, propelling the Azzurri to victories over Nigeria, Spain, and Bulgaria, scoring five goals.

Baggio even shone in the final against Brazil, where they went goalless for two hours before going to penalties. After Dunga put Brazil up 3-2, Italy’s hopes seemed to rest on Baggio’s shoulders, but he sent his shot over the bar, confirming the South Americans’ victory.

“I knew Taffarel always dived, 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 have never gotten to the shot I planned. Unfortunately, and I’m not sure how the ball flew three meters up and over the crossbar. I was exhausted from taking the penalty in the first place, but I was the team’s penalty taker. I’ve never evaded my responsibilities. Only those who are brave enough to take a penalty miss out. That time, I failed. Period. And it had a long-term impact on me. It was the lowest point in my career. I still fantasize about it. If I could go back in time and change one moment in my career, it would be that.”

World Cup Goals and Misses That Went Into The Legend 
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