The best World Cup goals of all time - Part I: Van Persie, Careca, Rodriguez

The finest finishes from football's global gathering over the years

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All eyes turn to Qatar this week as the 2022 World Cup finals are held in the Middle East for the first time.

The host nation kick-off proceedings on Sunday, November 20, when they take on Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium in Al Khor, quickly followed by three games on Monday as England meet Iran, Senegal face Netherlands and USA play Wales.

The tournament has seen some of the finest players ever to lace up their boots through the years, scoring some jaw-dropping goals along the way.

Before the action starts in Qatar, we pick out the best of the best when it comes to scoring glorious goals in World Cup finals. Here are the first 10 to make the list.

Robin van Persie (Netherlands v Spain, at Brazil 2014)

A beautiful effort to kick-off proceedings; from the glorious Daley Blind ball from the left over the Spanish defence, to the perfectly timed run from Van Persie that catches Real Madrid great Sergio Ramos napping, and finally a perfectly executed belly-flop diving header over goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

A goal that had even reliably miserable Dutch coach Louis van Gaal showing some rarely used facial muscles when celebrating on the sidelines. It was the second goal in a 5-1 group-stage win for the Netherlands against the reigning European and world champions.

Careca (Brazil v France, at Mexico 1986)

A fabulous team goal from a side that can be counted alongside the Dutch in '74 and '78 as one of the best not to win the World Cup. Julio Cesar started the move at the back by winning a fine header from a French goal kick before the likes of Josimar, Socrates, Alemao, Junior and Muller combined in style to set-up Careca who finished confidently.

It was to prove the high point for Brazil, though, as France went of to win the quarter-final on penalties after Michel Platini had levelled the scores in normal time. Careca would finish with five goals in the tournament, one behind Golden Boot winner Gary Lineker of England.

Bobby Charlton (England v Mexico, at England 1966)

The man who would become England's all-time top goalscorer until he was overtaken by Wayne Rooney in 2015 was also a key player in his country's only World Cup victory, on home turf in '66.

The Manchester United player had a right foot like a traction engine and this thunderbolt effort from distance – when footballs were like ton weights compared to today's nicely cushioned balloons – was the opener in a 2-0 group-stage game against Mexico at Wembley. It was the 38th of his 49 international goals.

Maxi Rodriguez (Argentina v Mexico, at Germany 2006)

The first of two stunners by players called Rodriguez playing for a South American country that would win goal of the tournament, albeit eight years apart. Maxi's effort secured his team a 2-1 last-16 victory in extra-time.

Juan Pablo Sorin picked up possession on the left and sent a long ball over to Rodriguez who controlled the ball on his chest before sending a thumping left-footed volley flying past Mexico goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez. “That goal didn’t change me but it did change my career. People remind me of it wherever I go,” Rodriguez would later say of his strike.

James Rodriguez (Colombia v Uruguay, at Brazil 2014)

The goal from Colombia's Rodriguez enjoys other similarities with the Argentine's version, apart from being goal of the tournament. It also saw the player controlling the ball on his chest before sending a left-foot volley sailing into the net, via a satisfying clip off the bottom of the crossbar.

It was Rodriguez's fourth goal in four games, one of two he scored against the Uruguayans that sealed his team a 2-0 victory and a place in the quarter-finals. He would finish the competition with six goals and the Golden Boot award.

Lothar Matthaus (West Germany v Yugoslavia, at Italy 1990)

A flying start to the tournament for the eventual winners as they stuck four past the Yugoslavians in the group stage match at Milan's San Siro stadium, with captain Matthaus scoring twice.

The second of which saw him pick the ball up in his own half before surging forward, skipping past one challenge and finally firing a perfectly hit low strike into the bottom corner. Matthaus would go on to lift the trophy after the Germans beat Argentina 1-0 in the final.

Arie Haan (Netherlands v Italy, at Argentina 1978)

There seemed little danger for Italian goalkeeper Dino Zoff when the Dutch were awarded a free-kick more than 40 metres from goal with the match poised on a knife edge at 1-1.

But Haan had a knack for audacious long-range shooting at the tournament following his rocket against West Germany in the second group stage. The Ajax player takes a few steps forward with the ball before unleashing an arrow-like finish into the net, off the inside of the post. It would seal the Netherlands a spot in the final where they would lose to hosts Argentina.

Said Al Owairan (Saudi Arabia v Belgium, at USA 1994)

The unforgettable highlight in Saudi Arabia's first World Cup finals appearance. In scorching conditions at RFK Stadium in Washington, attacker Al Owairan picks up the ball deep in his half after five minutes and embarks on a lung-bursting charge up the field past four challenges – granted, some of the attempts to stop him are not the best, particularly the final one by Belgian defender Rudi Smidts – before sliding a finish past goalkeeper Michel Preud'homme.

A remarkable effort that won the match and earned the Saudis a place in the last-16, where they would lose 3-1 to Sweden.

Marco Tardelli (Italy v West Germany, at Spain 1982)

The fact this is a fantastic team goal made up of intricate passing, back-heels and a move that began in Italy's own half, is sometimes overshadowed by Tardelli's iconic celebration at the end. The likes of Bruno Conti, Claudio Gentile and, in particular, Gaetano Scirea were all involved in a move that finished with the midfielder's unstoppable left-foot finish.

“I was born with that scream inside me,” Tardelli would later say about his shouting, fist-pumping celebration that helped Italy win 3-1. “That was just the moment it came out. The joy of scoring in a World Cup final was immense, something I dreamt about as a kid. My celebration was a release after realising that dream.”

Dragan Stojkovic (Yugoslavia v Spain, at Italy 1990)

A finish of remarkable composure by the Yugoslav great who would score both goals in a 2-1 last-16 victory in Verona. There was a huge amount still to do after Sreko Katanec flicked Zlatko Vujovic's cross into the air before the ball landed at the feet of Stojkovic who left one Spanish player on his backside after a velvet first touch before calmly sending the ball past goalkeeper Andoni Zubizaretta.

Stojkovic's second was also a stunner, a right-footed free-kick that sent his team into the quarter-finals, where they would lose on penalties to Argentina.

Updated: November 17, 2022, 10:49 AM
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