Robin van Persie scored one of the most eye-catching goals of the World Cup with a diving header, and James Rodriguez blasted in one of the tournament’s most spectacular after controlling the ball with his chest and volleying home from outside the area.
The world will be treated to quite a spectacle if Germany and Argentina — maybe another superb goal from Lionel Messi? — can match those memorable goals in Sunday’s final at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium.
Here’s a look back at some of the best goals of this year’s World Cup, until the semifinal stage, in no particular order:
ROBIN VAN PERSIE vs SPAIN
Netherlands striker Robin van Persie against Spain, first round
Van Persie’s goal started with a 40-yard pass from Daley Blind, who launched the ball from just inside the halfway line. With Van Persie running through the middle of the Spain defence, the charging Manchester United forward flung himself forward to meet it inside the area, diving at full stretch and sending his delicate header sailing over a helpless Iker Casillas in goal.
“I saw Casillas standing a bit in front of the goal, so I decided to go for a loop,” Van Persie said. “It just could not have been more perfect. These kinds of goals are scored once in a lifetime.”
The goal came in the 45th minute, making the score 1-1. The Dutch then poured in four more to rout the defending champions 5-1.
JAMES RODRIGUEZ vs URUGUAY
Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez against Uruguay, second round
Rodriguez provided one of the best goals of the tournament with a swivel-and-volley move that left fans gasping in delight. He chested the ball down with his back to goal well outside the area and in one fluid motion turned around and fired a left-foot volley that went off the underside of the crossbar and into the net. Rodriguez scored a second goal in the same match, and Colombia reached the quarterfinals with a 2-0 victory.
“From what I’ve seen so far, he’s is the best player of the World Cup,” Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said after the match.
LIONEL MESSI vs IRAN
Argentina midfielder Lionel Messi against Iran, first round
Messi has scored scores of goals in his career, but it was a late strike against Iran that stands out at this year’s World Cup for both its beauty and its importance. The Argentina forward used the outside of his foot to scoop the ball to the left, took three quick steps and shot just before Iran forward Reza Ghoochannejad could stretch his leg out to block it.
“Only Messi could score that goal,” Iran coach Carlos Queiroz said. “He was cool, calm, he found the right moment, the right space. Because only a player with that dimension has the ability to strike a goal like that.”
DAVID LUIZ vs COLOMBIA
Brazil defender David Luiz against Colombia, quarterfinals
As a defender, Luiz is more known for stopping goals. But the Brazilian scored a beauty in Fortaleza.
Lining up 35 meters (yards) out, the 27-year-old Brazilian side-footed the ball with his right boot, sending it over a defensive wall of four and beyond the reach of Colombia goalkeeper David Ospina.
It was a special goal, and it left many wondering how he was able to get such precision off the side of his foot.
“I think it’s genetic. I was born with legs like that,” Luiz said, spreading his hands apart like two feet sticking out toward opposite sides. “In Brazil, they call it ‘10-to-2’.”
TIM CAHILL vs NETHERLANDS
Australia forward Tim Cahill against the Netherlands, first round
Shortly after Australia fell behind 1-0, Cahill ran onto to a looping pass from Ryan McGowan and hit a perfectly-timed volley with his weaker left foot from about 11 yards out. Netherlands goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen jumped for it, but soon just turned around to pick it out of the net.
“When you look at your idols like (Marco) Van Basten, even Robin van Persie, these are the kind of goals they score,” Cahill said. “That’s what football is all about, these moments, and what better place to do it than the home of football in Brazil.”
CLINT DEMPSEY vs GHANA
United States forward Clint Dempsey against Ghana, first round
Dempsey scored his first goal of the tournament only 30 seconds into the match, the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history. DaMarcus Beasley started the buildup with a pass to Jermaine Jones, who fed it to Dempsey inside the penalty area. Then, after a nifty move to split Ghana defenders John Boye and Sulley Muntari, Dempsey sent the left-foot shot past goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey, where the ball bounced off the post and in.
XHERDAN SHAQIRI vs HONDURAS
Switzerland winger Xherdan Shaqiri against Honduras, first round
Shaqiri collected the ball outside the top right corner of the area, dribbled to avoid a pair of defenders and then launched a curling shot toward the top left corner of the net that went in off the underside of the crossbar. Honduras goalkeeper Noel Valladares came nowhere near it, and then let in two more from Shaqiri in a 3-0 loss.
“He is short. He is fast. He is mobile,” Switzerland captain Gokhan Inler said of Shaqiri a few days later. “The good thing for us is that he can’t be figured out easily.”
JAMES RODRIGUEZ vs JAPAN
Colombia midfielder James Rodriguez against Japan, first round
After qualifying for the second round after only two games, Rodriguez was on the bench resting for the third group match against Japan. But when he came on for the second half, he scored another highlight-reel goal.
The Colombia playmaker finished off a sublime individual display by twisting and turning through a tired Japanese defense and chipping in an astonishing goal with a minute left.
“It’s incredible to see,” Colombia teammate Jackson Martinez said. “He is playing a very important role in the World Cup.”
ARJEN ROBBEN vs SPAIN
Netherlands forward Arjen Robben against Spain, first round
Robben had already scored one goal in the rout over Spain, but his second was done with awe-inspiring speed. The Netherlands forward collected a long pass from Daley Blind and then out-raced Spain defender Gerard Pique down the field. As he approached the area, Iker Casillas came out to cut down the angle, but the Spain goalkeeper got himself tangled up as Robben twisted around before scoring with a shot past both Pique and Sergio Ramos.
“This is just pure enjoyment,” Robben said. “I’m top fit this season and this is a beautiful confirmation of that.”
ANDRE SCHUERRLE vs ALGERIA
Germany forward Andre Schuerrle against Algeria, second round Schuerrle provided one of the most subtle of the top goals with his heel, but it was the one that finally gave Germany the lead in extra time against Algeria. Thomas Mueller provided a cross from the left flank that was slightly behind Schuerrle. The Germany forward dragged his left leg and backheeled the ball into the far corner. Algeria Rais M’Bolhi had no chance.