Over the course of the summer, we have been treated to arguably the best World Cup in history. There’s been highs, lows, drama and tears, but above all else, there has been goals. More dead ball goals than any tournament since 1966, and only one goalless draw — which caused everybody to exercise doubts over the strength of eventual champions France.
However dead balls and goalless draws rarely mean much for a list about the best goal of the tournament, so let’s have a look at our list of top five goals from this amazing World Cup we’ve just experienced.
5) Kylian Mbappé (vs. Croatia) – World Cup Final
This goal is significant for a variety of reasons. It made Mbappé only the second teenager to score in a World Cup final. It possibly showed a passing of the torch from Messi/Ronaldo to somebody else for the first time in a decade and Mbappé’s goal meant that this was the highest scoring final since that fateful day back in 1966.
This isn’t just symbolically a great goal, it was technically fantastic as well. Mbappé shifts the ball onto his right foot and opens up his body to show the defender and the goalkeeper that he’s going to try and bend one in, but instead drives it low and hard into the opposite corner. By shifting the ball, Mbappé creates a space to his left hand side as both Vida and Subašić move the wrong way, leaving the Croatian keeper with absolutely no chance. All this, and he’s only 19. What a future this kid has.
4) Ángel Di María (vs. France) – Round of 16
This is what Argentina should be producing on a regular basis, and that sort of belief is what probably what puts them in such a bad position. Casting aside discussions about the unbalanced nature of this squad, it’s worth just sitting down and appreciating this goal.
Against one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Di María unleashed a drive from the best part of 30 yards into the top corner. I don’t think any keeper could have saved it. Sure, the French defence could have done a better job with closing him down, but from that distance, he had no right to shoot, let alone bury one past Hugo Lloris.
Unfortunately, this gem was not enough to stop Argentina losing to France 4-3 and tumbling out of what is probably Messi’s final tournament.
3) Nacer Chadli (vs. Japan) – Round of 16
Fifty-two minutes into a game between Belgium and Japan, and Japan looked to be on course to stun their European opponent’s golden generation. Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku seemed to have no answer to the plucky Japanese who had already seen off Senegal and Poland in the group stage.
Facing a two-goal deficit, Belgium needed to find something fast. Roberto Martinez’s master plan: bring on Nacer Chadli, who had featured six times for a relegated West Brom all season, and Maroune Fellaini. It looked like Martinez was scrambling for answers. Instead, he found them. A freak goal from Jan Vertonghen brought them back into the game, but they needed more. Step up Belgium’s answer to David Trezeguet: Maroune Fellaini, who towered above the crowd to equalise with another header.
But still, they needed more.
Injury time, a corner kick for Japan and one last chance for the Samurai Blue to strike down the Belgian Red Devils.
Courtois caught the ball and launched it up the pitch and before you knew it, Belgian hearts were beating once more. A fantastic move that needed no more than a tap in from Nacer Chadli, but this goal was such a fine example of flowing team football at its peak.
2) Denis Cheryshev (vs. Croatia) – Quarter-finals
Let’s be honest, it was a shock that Russia got this far. Out of the group stages, for a host nation, you can believe that? Winning against Spain on penalties to set up a match against Croatia, though? Nobody saw that coming, not even Vladimir Putin.
This goal should have been enough on its own to see Russia win the whole damn tournament. Cheryshev, who let’s not forget, didn’t even start the first game of the tournament, played a one-two before skipping past a Luka Modrić tackle and bending one past Danijel Subašić. The technique, the speed and the finesse this shot required meant that everything had to be inch perfect, and it was.
Sadly, this didn’t stop Russia losing to finalists Croatia on penalties. Makes you wonder what a semifinal between Russia and England could have been like.
1) Benjamin Pavard (vs. Argentina) – Round of 16
Before this tournament, if you had asked many people who Benjamin Pavard was, or even what position he played, they likely wouldn’t have given you the correct answer. Brought in as a back-up to play central defence, Didier Deschamps knew Pavard could also be utilized as a right back, which came as a stroke of luck when Djibril Sidibe struggled to return from injury before the tournament.
Pavard slotted in to Sidibe’s position, and the latter never saw a chance of getting his place back.
Then his pivotal moment came when Lucas Hernández curled a cross into the area and several Argentinian defenders missed their chance to intercept, with the ball falling to Pavard who struck it with power, pace and precision into the top corner.
Not bad for a cover centre back who ended up slotting in as a replacement for a right back, huh?