While the quality of defenders across the globe may be declining, the quality of attacking players has arguably never been higher. That was evidenced in a 2014 World Cup that was high on thrills and high on quality goals. Several make it on to this list of 10 of the best strikes from 2014, along with plenty of others that will live long in the memory.
Lionel Messi (BARCELONA vs. Getafe, Jan. 16, 2014)
OK, so this wasn’t on a par with the goal Messi scored against the same opponents in 2007, but few, if any, are. This was still a goal that epitomized the remarkable close control that has made the Argentine wonder the best player of his generation. Picking up the ball at walking pace just inside the opposition half, Messi had two walls of players blocking his path to the goal. No matter. He suddenly sprung into life, somehow keeping the ball under his spell as he beat four defenders and then the goalkeeper before finding the net from a far from routine angle.
Marco Fabian (CRUZ AZUL vs. Puebla, Feb. 15, 2014)
The midfielder has struggled to live up to the early hype that surrounded his emergence, but his injury-time strike to beat Puebla in Liga MX earlier this year was a stunning reminder of his considerable talents. Taking the ball beautifully out of the air, Fabian hoodwinked a defender and, after, the briefest of looks toward goal, executed a perfectly floated chip over the goalkeeper and into the net.
Gareth Bale (REAL MADRID vs. Barcelona, April 16, 2014)
After a tough start to his time at Real Madrid, Bale began to find his feet. But he needed a standout moment to show just why the club had paid a world record transfer fee to secure his services. With the score tied heading into the final five minutes of the Copa del Rey final against Madrid’s great foes Barcelona, Bale provided it. On pure technical skill perhaps, this goal isn’t deserving of a place on this list. But the way in which Bale turns on the after-burners to run around Marc Bartra, going yards off the side of the pitch to do so, was staggering to behold.
Miralem Pjanic (ROMA vs. Milan, April 25, 2014)
The Bosnian playmaker had another contender for this list courtesy of a strike from his own half against Manchester United. But that was an exhibition game. This effort against Milan came in the heart of Roma’s race for the title and was, arguably, even more aesthetically pleasing. The close control as Pjanic weaves through three Milan players before coolly dispatching a shot into the net is something special.
Cristiano Ronaldo (REAL MADRID vs. Valencia, May 4, 2014)
Given that Ronaldo has scored an incredible 61 goals in 2014, at the time of writing, he gave himself a good chance of featuring on this list. The current world player of the year scored a variety of goals from long-range thunder strikes to incredible headers, but the ridiculous nature of this effort got it the nod. Perhaps only he and Zlatan Ibrahimovic has the audacity, flexibility and technical ability to pull of this back-heeled volley into the net.
Robin van Persie (NETHERLANDS vs. Spain, June 13, 2014)
A goal that spawned a worldwide meme. Van Persie’s swan-dive became one of the most indelible moments of the 2014 World Cup and kick-started what was a memorable tournament. Flying through the air to meet an aerial pass traveling nearly 50 yards, few could have made any sort of clean contact with the ball. Instead the Dutch forward was able to lift his header over the stranded Iker Casillas and into the waiting net.
Tim Cahill (AUSTRALIA vs. the Netherlands, June 18, 2014)
Little was expected of Australia in a World Cup in which their attack was led by 34-year-old veteran Cahill. But the New York Red Bulls man ensured the Socceroos left their mark on the competition with this extraordinary strike. Just a minute after falling behind to a Netherlands side fresh from a demolition of Spain, Cahill hit surely the sweetest volley of his career, watching the ball perfectly over his shoulder and onto his weaker foot.
James Rodríguez (COLOMBIA vs. Uruguay, June 28, 2014)
Rodríguez’s considerable talent had been known for some time and he had already scored three goals in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, but this was the moment that he became a true global superstar and gave the English-speaking world a new way to pronounce James. The last-16 tie between the two South American countries was finely poised before Rodríguez broke Uruguay’s resistance with a stunning bolt from the blue. The chest control and subsequent volley were executed to perfection.
Jérémy Ménez (MILAN vs. Parma, Sept. 14, 2014)
This was the eighth goal in a nine-goal thriller that owed its excitement more to woeful defending than exceptional attacking play. There was certainly some less than glorious defending on show here, too, but the quality of what followed cannot be overestimated. Simply to try a back-heel having gone round the goalkeeper would have been audacious, even for a player with Ménez 's flair. But a regular back-heel would have been saved, so, instead, Ménez somehow lofted the ball over the recovering goalkeeper and into the top of the net.
Erik Lamela (TOTTENHAM vs. Asteras Tripolis, Oct. 23, 2014)
It’s a goal that almost certainly wouldn’t have been scored had Argentine talent Lamela possessed a dependable right foot. Yet that fact should take nothing away from the beauty of the Argentine taking the “rabona” trick to the next level. Even if the former Roma star never quite settles at Tottenham, the club’s fans will always remember this special moment.