The World Cup: simply the biggest show on earth.
To date, there have been 17 different hosts, 80 nations have taken part, exactly 900 matches have been played, 2,548 goals have been scored, and eight countries have lifted the trophy.
With the latest edition due to start on November 20 between Qatar and Ecuador, 101 Great Goals kick-starts the countdown to Qatar 2022′s big kick off by taking a look back at 101 Great World Cup Moments.
We will count down through the moment in the week leading up to the tournament.
29: Goal Bafana Bafana! Goal for South Africa! Goal for all Africa!
World Cup 2010 was the first tournament to be hosted in Africa, so the opening game between South Africa and Mexico in front of 85,000 fans was always going to be a special occasion. The iconic moment came 10 minutes into the second half, when the relatively unknown figure of Siphiwe Tshabalala wrote his name into World Cup folk-law. The winger burst down the left and fired the ball into the far top corner, rounding out a lovely free-flowing team move. Yes, this was a nice goal, but it’s not the best, nor was it the most important, with South Africa become the first hosts ever to exit in the group phase. But, this goal still resonates with millions because of what it represents, a coming of age moment, emphasising what African players are capable of on the biggest stage.
28: Game of this century?
One of the most eventful, entertaining World Cup matches of modern times was this round of 16 clash between France and Argentina in 2018. Both Ángel Di María and Benjamin Pavard scored stunning long-range strikes - with the latter actually awarded goal of the tournament. But, this game was all about Kylian Mbappé, as the teenager announced himself to watching world. He won Les Bleus’ penalty, hauled down after a 60+ yard dribble, starting inside his own half, before spectacularly scoring twice in the space of four minutes. France won 4-3 and, of course, were world champions two weeks later, thanks largely to their golden boy.
27: Ronaldo’s wink
Two years after Portugal knocked England out of Euro 2004 at the quarter-final stage on penalties, well…. it happened again. The game finished goalless, but is most famous for Wayne Rooney’s sending off just after the hour mark. He was dismissed for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho’s ‘upper-thigh area’, with Cristiano Ronaldo leading the protests. Given that Rooney and Ronaldo were Manchester United teammates at the time, the fact the latter winked towards the bench didn’t go down particularly well. To bookend this story, it was Ronaldo himself who smashed home the decisive spot-kick in the shootout.
26: Ronaldinho’s sensational free-kick
Brazil in 2002 won every match en route to the trophy, with the most memorable of their 18 goals coming in the quarter-final victory over England, namely Ronaldinho’s free-kick. From an unfavourable deep and wide position, the magical midfielder spots David Seaman off his line and manages to lob the goalkeeper, with inch-perfect precision. There is still some debate as to whether or not he meant it… of course he meant it! He’s Ronaldinho!
25: 1998 was a great year for French football: Kylian Mbappé was born
Kylian Mbappé was the star of World Cup 2018, scoring four goals and picking up the young player of the tournament award. In the victory over Croatia, he became the first teenager to score in a final since Pelé 60 years earlier, putting France 4-1 in front; they’d eventually win 4-2. This was the highest-scoring final, excluding extra time, since 1958, with Mbappé's stunning goal capping off a coming of age competition for the 19-year-old.
24: A sensational free-kick
Russia 2018 came alive on the tournament’s second night as Iberian neighbours Portugal and Spain served up a true classic. Cristiano Ronaldo had put his team in front twice but, going into the dying embers, it was Spain who led 3-2, thanks to Nacho’s stunning side-foot volley. Nevertheless, the big man produced a big moment on the big occasion. In the final minute, Ronaldo fired home a stunning free-kick, thereby ensuring the points were shared. In doing so, he became just the fourth player to score at four different World Cups, and is the oldest player to bag a hat-trick at the tournament.
23: That surely crossed the line!
On paper, Germany beating England 4-1 in 2010 was a dominant victory from die Mannschaft over their old rivals. But it could’ve been oh so different. With the score at 2-1, Lampard’s shot hit the crossbar, bounced at least a foot over the line and was collected by a guilting looking Manuel Neuer. Everyone in attendance in Bloemfontein knew it was a goal, apart from referee Jorge Larrionda and his assistant Mauricio Espinosa. The long-term impact of this saw Hawk-Eye goal-line technology introduced into the Premier League in 2013, with FIFA first also implementing the system at that summer’s Confederations Cup.
22: Got the ball ref!
The 1982 semi-final between West Germany and France featured six goals and the World Cup’s first-ever penalty shootout, which the Germans won. But this game isn’t famous for any of those reasons; it’s remembered for one of the most brutal ‘tackles’ in football history. As Patrick Battiston races through, he pokes the ball towards goal and, as it trickles wide, is whipped out by goalkeeper Harald Schumacher. Battiston is knocked unconscious and suffered two missing teeth, three cracked ribs, and damaged vertebrae. Amazingly, no foul was given and Schumacher simply waited for the out-cold Battiston to be stretchered off before lumping the goal-kick up-field.
21: Pelé announces himself to the world
The first global football superstar and, in the opinion of many, the greatest player ever, Pelé burst onto the scene in 1958. Teenager Edson Arantes do Nascimento made his World Cup debut in Brazil’s third group game against Soviet Union. He then scored the only goal of the quarter-final victory over Wales, before bagging a hat-trick as A Seleção hammered France 5-2 in the semis. At the age of 17 years and 224 days, Pelé remains the youngest player to score a World Cup hat-trick. To round-out a remarkable ten days, Pelé netted twice as his team beat hosts Sweden 5-2 in the final, announcing himself in a manor that ensures he remains synonymous with the tournament to this day.
20: Diego Maradona’s World Cup farewell
Diego Maradona is more associated with the World Cup than anybody else, with his final act at a tournament summing up the man perfectly: greatness and controversy, forever intertwined. In Argentina’s opening group game of USA ‘94, they demolished Greece 4-0. But, this game isn’t remembered for Gabriel Batistuta’s hat-trick, or even Maradona’s stunning solo goal as such, more his celebration. After scoring, Maradona runs towards the camera, eyes popping out of his head in cartoon-like fashion. So, it was a surprise to exactly no one that, following the win over Nigeria four days later, he failed a drugs test, specifically for ephedrine. He maintained his innocence for the rest of his life, but this signalled the end of Maradona’s international career in the most Maradona fashion possible.