Top 10 World Cup Goals (of my lifetime)

The players who compete in the World Cup are those of the highest caliber, and exceptional players bring the possibility of extraordinary goals. The goals that made this list were judged on two criteria: 1) the quality of the goal and 2) the context in which it was scored. If you notice a lack of goals from the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, that is in part because it’s more difficult for World Cup moments to resonate when one is 3 and 7 years old. As for the goals that made the list, do you agree with the ordering? Are there any you feel were left out?

#10 – Siphiwe Tshabalala, South Africa vs. Mexico, 2010 Group Stage

The World Cup is special for all participating nations, but it’s always a little extra special for the host. June 11, 2010 was a historic night for South Africa as they raised the curtain on the 2010 World Cup facing Mexico. With South Africa the first ever African country to host the tournament, pride was at stake not only for the country’s beloved “Bafana Bafana” but also for the continent as a whole, and Siphiwe Tshabalala got their tournament off to a dream start.

#9 Dario Rodriguez, Uruguay vs. Denmark, 2002 Group Stage


-          The goal (Dutch commentary)

#8 – Salif Diao, Senegal vs. Denmark, 2002 Group Stage

Many of the goals on this list are moments of individual brilliance, but this goal by Senegal’s Salif Diao is of a different order. Complete outsiders before the tournament, first-time participants Senegal played some brilliant football in their surprise run to the quarter-finals of 2002 Korea-Japan. The Senegalese started by capturing the world’s attention with a shock 1-0 victory over defending world-champions France in the tournament’s opening game. That good work was at risk of being undone when Senegal found themselves down a goal against co-group leaders Denmark in their second match, but the Africans ensured themselves of a point when Diao leveled the match by capping off a quite breathtaking counterattack.

#7 – Sunday Oliseh, Nigeria vs. Spain, 1998 Group Stage

So often at the World Cup, the performance of African nations has failed to live up to the promise. Nigeria’s effort on June 13, 1998 was not one of those occasions. Drawn with group favorites Spain for their first game, the Super Eagles of Nigeria had a daunting opening to their tournament, and they found themselves down 2-1 with 20 minutes to go. They drew level in the 72nd minute and five minutes later, Sunday Oliseh struck a match-winner worthy of victory on any day of the week.

#6 – Brian McBride, USA vs. Portugal, 2002 Group Stage

USA might be a team with aspirations, even expectations, heading into Brazil 2014, but they were little more than an afterthought before Korea-Japan 2002. The US had finished dead-last record-wise amongst the 32 teams in France 1998, and they drew one of the 2002 tournament’s tougher groups with host nation South Korea, Poland and one of the pre-tournament favorites in Portugal. The Portuguese were expected to make light work of the Americans in the two teams’ first game; frankly a tie seemed beyond reasonable expectation for USA fans. For those who dragged themselves out of bed for the 6:00am (EST) kickoff, they were giddy when the Americans snatched a corner-kick goal in the 4th minute. They were shocked when a fortunate deflection gave USA a 2-0 lead on 29 minutes. And they must have thought they were still dreaming when Brian McBride had the US running riot over Portugal. McBride’s goal proved the game-winner as the Americans held on for a shock 3-2 victory.  

#5 – Dennis Bergkamp, Netherlands vs. Argentina, 1998 Quarter-finals


-          The goal (Dutch version – Jack van Gelder or English version)

#4 – Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Netherlands vs. Uruguay, 2010 Semi-Final


-          The goal

#3 – Ahn Jung-hwan, South Korea vs. Italy, 2002 Round of 16

South Korea’s run to the semi-finals in 2002 Korea-Japan was one of the most unexpected and captivating World Cup experiences of the past 20 years. Prior to co-hosting the tournament in 2002, South Korea had never advanced out of the group stage in five attempts; they had failed to win even a single game. Buoyed by unprecedented* home support that saw literally millions of Koreans line the streets to watch their Reds, South Korea topped Group D to set up a Round of 16 match with three-times champions Italy. The game that followed would not have been out of place in an Italian opera. It featured an undulating sea of red in the stands, controversial refereeing decisions, horrendous misses by the Italians, and a late equalizer for the Koreans. In golden-goal extra time, Korean Ahn Jung-hwan provided the night’s climactic scene (the goal starts at the 6:45 mark, but really the whole highlight package is worth watching).

#2 – Maxi Rodriguez, Argentina vs. Mexico, 2006 Round of 16

June 24, 2006 saw a Round of 16 clash between two Latin American giants as Mexico and Argentina faced off in Leipzig. Each side drew blood in the first 10 minutes with Rafa Marquez putting the Mexicans in front on 6 minutes and Hernan Crespo leveling things in the 10th minute. Both teams failed to hit the back of the net in the remaining 80 minutes. That sent the game into extra time and set the stage for Argentine winger Maxi Rodriguez to help Mexicans everywhere have a visceral understanding of the sucker punch.

#1 – Landon Donovan, USA vs. Algeria, 2010 Group Stage

It had to be this goal. Landon Donovan’s stoppage-time game-winner may not be the prettiest goal on this list, but it’s the most beautiful goal many USA fans have ever laid eyes on, including yours truly. After drawing with both England and Slovenia, the US needed only to beat group minnows Algeria to advance to the knockout stages of South Africa 2010; with the game tied 0-0 in second-half stoppage time though, US supporters could feel the impending despair that only coming up short in a quadrennial event can bring. Then in slightly longer than the blink of an eye, several US players combined to produce a goal that was simply meant to be called by Andres Cantor. In those few seconds, despair morphed into suspension, hope and utter joy blossoming* into something truly, truly memorable.