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The 14 best goals of the 2014 World Cup

Kevin Palmer | ESPN FC
July 14, 2014
Robin van Persie said this headed effort against Spain was his greatest ever goal © Getty Images
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There were some great goals scored at the World Cup in Brazil - and ESPN's Kevin Palmer is here to rank his favourites...

1. Robin van Persie: Netherlands v Spain (June 13 in Salvador)

THE GOAL: It is not often you see something in this game that has a stamp of freshness imprinted upon it, but the diving, looping effort Van Persie dreamed up to haul his Dutch side back into their opening group game against the defending world champions was a variation on headed goals few could find a comparison to.

It seemed as if the pre-match script predicted by the majority of observers was about to play out as Spain took an early lead and had a glorious chance to double that advantage before the improbable, spectacular, thrilling Dutch adventure in Brazil was ignited by Van Persie's sensational equaliser.

"A work of art." That is how one commentator aptly described the contribution of Van Persie, as he timed his run to meet a deliciously floated pass from Daley Blind to perfection, launched himself through the air with grace and connected perfectly with a cushioned header that left Spain keeper Iker Casillas stranded.

Delight was mixed with amazement as the ball nestled in the Spanish net. Did that really happen? What had Van Persie manufactured on the biggest stage of them all?

The side tipped by many to reclaim their title on South American soil had been undone by a brand of long-ball football that took the often despised tactic to a whole new, wonderful level. Hup Holland Hup!

Van Persie's decision to run to his coach Louis van Gaal and offer a high five - which turned out to be something of an aborted effort, as the hands of the two men missed their intended target - might have been mistimed, but it mattered little. Brazil 2014 had its first iconic moment, as the Manchester United striker and the coach who had recently been confirmed as the next Old Trafford boss toasted their success.

Robin van Persie and Louis van Gaal enjoyed a 'dad's high five' © AP
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THE REACTION:

THE PLAYER: Robin Van Persie: "It is the best goal of my career. It was a brilliant goal, even I have to say that. I look at the occasion, and this was one of the biggest so far in my career. It was a bit of a gamble, but I spotted Casillas off his line before the cross came in."

THE COACH: Louis van Gaal: "The pass from Daley Blind for Van Persie was fantastic, the finish was great. There was so much feeling. If you can make a goal in that way, it's great, really fantastic. He headed that ball with so much feeling. He knew it before. He saw the goalkeeper standing too far in front of his goal. It was a beautiful goal."

WORLDWIDE: This was arguably the first World Cup in which Twitter and other social networking sites became the first port of call for many supporters watching the action in Brazil from all corners of the globe, and the first explosion of tweeting occurred as Van Persie stooped to head home his sparkling opener against Spain.

The 'Persieing' craze quickly became something of a social media phenomenon, with young and old posing flat on their faces with their arms outstretched in tribute to Van Persie's goal against Spain. The tributes did not end there.

A limited edition coin costing €9.95 (£7.92) was produced in Holland depicting the flying Van Persie, with the initial mint of 6,000 running out in double quick time.

The World Cup glory Holland craved might have eluded Van Persie and his team-mates, but his first goal at Brazil 2014 secured him a place in World Cup folklore as one of the most memorable striker's this famous competition has witnessed.

2. Tim Cahill: Australia v Netherlands (June 18 in Porto Alegre)

The goal: Comparisons with Marco van Basten's famous strike against Russia in the Euro 1988 finals were not misplaced, as Cahill raced onto a high through ball and unleashed a stunning volley that instantly became a leading contender to be the best goal of this World Cup. The cleanness of Cahill's strike, the accuracy of his delivery and the explosion of joy that greeted the goal made for a classic World Cup moment. Cahill's delight was diluted, as his team ended up losing 3-2, but his dream of inspiring the next generation of Socceroos might just have come true.

What they said: "It just felt so right to hit it, and I hit it sweetly. This is what it's all about because everyone dreams of playing on this stage, and I want to leave a mark for all the kids back in Australia and around the world to be inspired by this today." - Tim Cahill

3. James Rodriguez: Colombia v Uruguay (June 28 in Rio De Janeiro)

The goal: Much was expected of Rodriguez as Colombia headed into this World Cup looking for a new hero to replace the injured Radamel Falcao, and the Monaco star delivered in the grand manner. The 22-year-old's three goals in the group stages confirmed his eagerness to make a mark at the tournament, then his 28th-minute opener in his side's round of 16 game against Uruguay usurped all that had come before. Taking the ball down, turning, shooting and scoring from 25 yards with a flash of wonderful brilliance, this was a goal to savour on the biggest stage of them all.

What they said: "It's historic, a dream come true. I always wanted to score in the Maracana, and now I have. For the goals to help Colombia reach the World Cup quarter-finals makes it even more special" - James Rodriguez

4. David Luiz: Brazil v Colombia (July 4 in Fortaleza)

Safe to say David Luiz enjoyed his goal © Getty Images
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The goal: How did he do that? That was the collective cry from the millions watching around the world as Paris Saint-Germain's newest acquisition continued his impressive personal World Cup campaign with a free kick goal that was as brilliant as it was bewildering.

TV replays confirmed that Luiz's side-footed free kick in the 68th minute ballooned into the air, moved in two directions and then dipped under the Colombian crossbar with beautifully ferocious accuracy.

This World Cup has not been notable for its succession of magical free kicks, but the quarter-final winner for Brazil was the best of its type in the 2014 competition - by some distance.

What they said: "I hit the ball at the exact right point. You can try to hit it like that, and it'll take you all day. I am so happy because I can help my team with this" - David Luiz

5. Mario Goetze: Germany v Argentina (July 13 in Rio de Janeiro)

Mario Goetze scores the winning goal of the World Cup final © Getty Images
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The goal: When the enduring significance and brilliance of Goetze's injury-time goal in the World Cup final is reflected upon in years to come, some might argue it was, in fact, the finest goal scored at Brazil 2014.

The precision of the pass from Andre Schuerrle, the calmness of substitute Goetze in controlling the ball and firing it past Argentine keeper Sergio Romero, and the celebrations that followed instantly made this one of the most iconic goals in the history of German football.

Whatever happens from this point forward in the career of Goetze, he knows the defining moment of his career came on a famous night at the Maracana in Rio. What a legacy he will leave.

What they said: "It's unbelievable. I scored, but I didn't really know what was happening. A dream has become a reality, and we are going to have a great party. It is absolutely sensational. It wasn't a simple tournament for me. I owe a lot to my friends and family. Every player in our team deserves to be mentioned here, and we're very proud to have won this trophy" - Mario Gotze.

6. Lionel Messi: Argentina v Nigeria (June 25 in Porto Alegre)

The goal: Messi was named man of the match in the first three games he played at this World Cup, and each of his four goals was laced with the brilliance only he can provide. While his trademark surging runs and finishes against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran were spectacular, the accuracy of his delightfully floated free kick against Nigeria was a joy to behold. It might have been a routine effort for Barcelona and Argentina's main man, but he continued to take viewers' breaths away.

What they said: "Messi came into this tournament under enormous pressure, with everyone saying he needed to perform in the World Cup, but he has been phenomenal. His free kick against Nigeria was just a classic strike. We haven't seen anyone quite like him in the game since Diego Maradona" - Gary Lineker, BBC TV

7. Jermaine Jones: USA v Portugal (June 23 in Manaus)

The goal: Portugal dared to believe they had cleared the danger from their box as Jermaine Jones collected a ball from a half-cleared corner, yet the Besiktas midfielder had other ideas. Not known for his goal-scoring prowess, Jones set himself for a strike that would go down in history as one of his country's greatest at a World Cup. He unleashed a shot that curled perfectly into the far corner and exploded into the back of the Portuguese net. Although Portugal hit back later, Jones' goal proved to be of vital importance, as the United States advanced to the next round and while Cristiano Ronaldo and co were eventually eliminated on goal difference.

What they said: "Two Shaka Hislops would not have saved that Jermaine Jones strike! What a strike that was" - Craig Burley, ESPN FC TV

8. Lionel Messi: Argentina v Iran (June 21 in Belo Horizonte)

The goal: It seemed as if Carlos Queiroz's Iran side were on course to secure one of the most unlikely draws in World Cup history, with their rearguard action against a less-than-convincing Argentina side bringing them to the brink of what would have been a remarkable point. But Lionel Messi had not read their romantic script. "Give it to Messi and pray" was the advice of one UK television commentator as the Barcelona maestro picked up the ball and was allowed to cut inside and unleash a shot with his wand of a left leg. The end result was somehow inevitable, with Argentina's little maestro saving his team from an embarrassing draw.

What they said: "Messi was very strong. He persevered, and with him, anything is possible. They made the game very difficult for us. Messi was marked very tightly - but he showed perseverance, patience, attitude and always looked for the goal. He never gave up. In the end, he finds the great goal again" - Alejandro Sabella, Argentina coach

9. Wesley Sneijder: Netherlands v Mexico (June 29 in Fortaleza)

The goal: As the clocked ticked down in the sweltering Fortaleza sunshine and a void opened up in the Mexican penalty area, Wesley Sneijder knew his first game-changing moment of this World Cup had arrived. With his team trailing 1-0, this was an opportunity that needed to be taken, and not only did he navigate a route to goal but he also did so with the panache, power and accuracy of a player who confirmed he still has match-winning qualities despite a dip in form in recent years. A stunning volley showed the 30-year-old isn't past his prime just yet.

What they said: "Sneijder has become one of the fittest players of the Dutch team. He runs the most kilometres, he has this kicking technique, and I've known this for a couple of years now, so it doesn't surprise me that he is fresh at the end to score this goal" - Louis van Gaal, Netherlands manager

10. David Villa: Spain v Australia (June 23 in Curitiba)

David Villa broke down in tears on the Spain bench when he was substituted against Australia © Getty Images
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The goal: Spain's World Cup 2014 adventure was unexpectedly brief and painful, with the agony evident for all to see as the country's all-time leading international goal scorer was taken off 57 minutes into what is likely to be his final game as a national team player. Typically, David Villa went out in style, as a sweeping Spanish move was given a finishing touch courtesy of a back flick from this most prolific of scorers. It might not have been the most significant of his 59 goals, but it confirmed Villa would end his international days with something of a flourish.

What they said: "I've always said that I love playing in the national team and that's what I've always dreamed of. I would play until I'm 55, but I'm aware that's impossible. It would be normal that it all finishes here, so clearly, it is nice to finish with a goal" - David Villa

11. Xherdan Shaqiri: Switzerland v Honduras (June 25 in Manaus)

The goal: Switzerland were desperately looking for a lift after their 5-2 battering at the hands of France in their second Group E game, and Bayern Munich's Shaqiri provided that against Honduras. As Shaqiri waltzed across the edge of the box, it was not evident that the Honduran net would be bulging, yet the power, venom and accuracy of the effort he delivered took the collective breath away. The ball politely kissed the underside of the crossbar en route to its destination. It was delicious strike, one that sent the Swiss well on their way to the round of 16.

What they said: "Xherdan Shaqiri is a player who can make the difference because he can decide games on his own. His first goal was very special. It is what we needed" - Ottmar Hitzfeld, Switzerland manager

12. Andre Schuerrle: Germany v Brazil (July 8 in Belo Horizonte)

The goal: It might merely have been the icing on a delicious German cake, as they cruised into the World Cup final following a sensational 7-1 semi-final rout of hosts Brazil, but the quality of the finish from the Chelsea forward brought generous applause from a shell-shocked home support. The deftness and vision displayed by Thomas Mueller in the buildup to the goal were sublime, with the venom and accuracy of the finish provided by Schuerrle's fizzing shot into the top corner of the Brazilian goal that capped a team display instantly installed among the greatest the World Cup finals had ever seen.

What they said: "I heard the crowd applauding my goal when I was on the field, and the guys were talking about it afterward. It's an incredible feeling. It's something I'll remember for the rest of my life" - Andre Schuerrle

13. Giovani dos Santos: Mexico v Netherlands (June 29 in Fortaleza)

The goal: Giovani dos Santos might have displayed masterful chest control before he lashed an effort toward goal three minutes into the second half of Mexico's round of 16 game against the Netherlands, but it did not seem likely he would end his two-year drought for a goal on the international stage with what appeared to be a speculative effort. However, the cleanness of his strike and the accuracy of its delivery beat sprawling Dutch keeper Jasper Cillessen and sparked wild celebrations among a Mexican contingent that dared to believe they would make it through the first knockout round of a World Cup for the first time in 28 years. That hope was to be extinguished with a late Dutch flourish.

What they said: "It was a perfect strike. Giovani has given so much in this World Cup, and this was a good reward. The shame was it did not give us the victory" - Miguel Herrera, Mexico coach

14. Gonzalo Higuain: Argentina v Belgium (July 5 in Brasilia)

The goal: The mark of a quality striker is to take the first chance that comes your way in a game, and as the ball fell kindly to Argentina striker Higuain on the edge of the box in the eighth minute of his side's quarter-final against Belgium, his World Cup moment finally arrived. Napoli marksman Higuain had played in all four of Argentina's matches in Brazil but had yet to trouble the scorers. Then, in his nation's biggest game yet, he connected perfectly with a fizzing shot that beat impressive Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois and handed Argentina an advantage they would not surrender. The focus might always be on Messi, but the captain's supporting cast showed they could lift the side too.

What they said: "I was calm and relaxed. I knew the goal would come, and I was just doing my best for the team. The goal finally came in an important match, and that's why I'm so emotional. It has been a long time since Argentina were in the semi-finals, so we have to enjoy it" - Gonzalo Higuain

This article originally appeared on ESPN FC

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