x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Half the England team couldn't stop him

Gio van Bronckhorst's opener for Holland against Uruguay was the best goal of this tournament, but it is still not as good as these strikes. Euan Megson picks the 10 best World Cup goals.

Argentina's Diego Maradona, centre, rounds Terry Butcher, left, the England defender, and Peter Shilton, the goalkeeper, before scoring what is arguably the greatest World Cup goal ever.
Argentina's Diego Maradona, centre, rounds Terry Butcher, left, the England defender, and Peter Shilton, the goalkeeper, before scoring what is arguably the greatest World Cup goal ever.

The 30-yard thunderbolt by Holland's Gio van Bronckhorst that opened the scoring in the 3-2 semi-final win over Uruguay on Tuesday was the best goal of this tournament, but Diego Maradona's solo effort against England in 1986 heads our best World Cup goals. Euan Megson surmises.

In the same World Cup quarter-final as his infamous handball incident, Maradona's second goal, which sealed Argentina's victory, defined why the diminutive midfield maestro is considered, along with Pele, one of the two greatest players of all time. There seemed to be little threat to England when Maradona, just inside his own half, twisted and turned out of two challenges and advanced into enemy territory. But the eel-like Argentine evaded another opposition player to reach the England box, where he ghosted past Terry Butcher and Terry Fenwick, dummied to leave goalkeeper Peter Shilton sprawling on the ground and stroked the ball into a gaping net before Butcher could put in a sliding tackle to thwart him. The goal, dribbled past half of England's outfield players, was voted the Goal of the Century on Fifa's website in 2002 and set Argentina on their way to lifting the trophy in Mexico.

Ten passes, some outrageous dribbling, sublime ball control and uncanny balance - this goal had everything and put the seal on a memorable display by Brazil, whose team in 1970 were arguably the greatest side to have graced any World Cup, to give them a 4-1 triumph over Italy in the World Cup final in Mexico.

After a few short-range exchanges, the rubber-limbed Clodoaldo shimmied and swerved to beat four Italians in his own half and passed to Rivelino. A delightful pass released Jairzinho down the left wing; his masterful control was instant and he drove inside. Pele received Jairzinho's pass on the edge of the Italy box and, after feinting to buy time, demonstrated remarkable composure to roll a weighted pass into the path of Carlos Alberto, arriving late from right-back. The Brazilian cannoned his strike past Enrico Albertosi, the Italian goalkeeper, and into the far corner of the net.

With three touches of the ball, the Dutch striker demonstrated his outrageous ability and settled this quarter-final at France '98. Two minutes into injury time, with the score at 1-1, Frank de Boer picked out his teammate with a pin-point diagonal ball from the back. Bergkamp's first leaping touch instantly tamed the ball and was as much balletic as athletic; his second, a deft, rapid flick inside the onrushing Roberto Ayala, the Argentine defender, was instinctive; but the Dutchman's third, a calm, measured stroke with the outside of his boot that curled around Carlos Roa into the top corner, was simply breathtaking.

Little was expected of Saudi Arabia at USA '94, but a narrow 2-1 defeat to Holland in their opening game raised confidence and a crunch encounter with the Belgians was set up after the Saudis beat Morocco in New York. In running three quarters of the pitch, al Owairan escaped the attentions of six Belgians, including the goalkeeper, as he sprinted, on a one-man mission, towards goal. Al Owairan's mazy run ended when he prodded past the goalkeeper after playing the ball through the last defender's legs to seal a 1-0 victory and put his team into the last 16, where they lost to Sweden. The nickname, "Maradona of the Arabs", had been well earned.

What a way to announce yourself to the world. Just 16 minutes into this last 16 match, with England already leading 1-0, Owen, a raw 18-year-old, picked up a chipped pass from David Beckham with a cute cushion on the outside of his right foot and went on a powerful, slaloming run at the heart of the Argentine defence that saw him beat two defenders. As Owen stroked the ball to his right to beat the last defender he looked to have overextended, but the Liverpool youngster's clinical drive flew across Roa and ripped into the opposite corner. A star was born, but England lost on penalties after a 2-2 draw.

No player was more central to the Germans' third World Cup triumph than Matthaus, Franz Beckenbauer's indomitable captain in a swashbuckling team of attack-minded players. Matthaus, who had moved to Serie A side Inter Milan two years earlier, scored four goals at Italia '90, including two against Yugoslavia, but it was the No 10's solo run and venomous drive against the east Europeans in their first group match that was the best. An unstoppable shot from an extraordinary player as the Germans won 4-1.

Baggio brought fans in Rome's Stadio Olimpico to their feet with the first of his side's two unanswered goals in the World Cup hosts' final group stage game.

Several Azzurri players were involved in the middle of the pitch build-up, but when Baggio, nicknamed "The Divine Ponytail" due to his haircut, received the ball and played a one-two with Giuseppe Giannini, the Fiorentina forward only had one thought in mind: head straight for goal. Running at the Czech defence, Baggio's repeated feints and dummies bamboozled three defenders and allowed him the space to fire nonchalantly past Jan Stejskal. Brilliant.

It remains one of the game's mysteries: How did the Dutch side on 1974 fail to lift the trophy? Inspired by Cruyff, they set the tournament alight before succumbing to West Germany in the final.

The prodigiously skilled, divinely balanced forward's iconic turn in Holland's goalless draw with Sweden earlier in the competition had already encapsulated the world, but it was his perfect volley at the end of a sumptuous, free-flowing counter-attack against Brazil in the second group stage that made it 2-0, put Holland into the final and lived up to Dutch's moniker of "Total Football".

The legendary Brazilian's fourth and final World Cup brought one his greatest ever goals, and he reportedly scored more than 1,000. With their first group game tied at 1-1, Gerson, the midfield magician, lofted a 40-yard pass to Pele. The forward had already sped behind his Czech marker and, jumping three foot off the ground, controlled the ball with his chest to beat the same defender again. Pele's composed finish, with the outside of his right boot, found the far corner and set Brazil on their way to a 4-1 win - the first of six consecutive victories for the all-conquering South Americans as they lifted the trophy.

Letchkov's strike against Germany - playing as a unified nation for the first time since 1934 - was remarkable in that it put the holders out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage and unexpectedly sent Bulgaria into the last four. Most eyes had been on Hristo Stoichkov, Bulgaria's superlatively gifted striker, in the build-up to USA '94, but, after the Barcelona forward had equalised to make it 1-1 with 15 minutes left, Letchkov's moment of magic became one of the United Sates' tournament's most memorable moments.

Letchkov's pacy, determined run ended with the bald midfielder, who played for German side Hamburg at the time, surging to the penalty spot and planting an outrageous diving header into the bottom corner. emegson@thenational.ae