The World Cup 2022 is already underway in Qatar. The first match on Sunday, November 20, saw the hosts lose to Ecuador in a 2-0 finish. Since then, several other group stage matches have taken place. Goals have occurred in a variety of ways within those games. That’s quite normal for World Cup matches, where the action is of a high intensity level.
The England versus Iran game saw eight goals scored in total, with England claiming six and Iran the rest. That did get us thinking about the types of goals scored in the World Cup. One of the ways that isn’t talked about often is headers. Yet these goals do occur. The question is, how often do headers find themselves in the back of the net in the World Cup?
We’re not only looking at the 2022 event here, either. We want to know if there is information on headers that have resulted in goals in the past, too. Many editions of the World Cup have taken place since it began in 1930. Thus, there is the potential for many headers to have hit the back of the net in that time.
Here, we will have a closer look at how many World Cup goals are headers. Plus, we want to know if the number of these has increased or decreased over time. Where the information on headers is actually available we’ll find it!
Before the 2022 World Cup, a total of 2,548 goals had taken place in previous tournaments. In the 1998 FIFA World Cup, 171 goals were scored. This remains the record for the most goals scored in a World Cup. In 2014, the same total number of goals occurred in Brazil. In comparison, the World Cups with the fewest goals altogether were the first two. They occurred in 1930 and 1934, when a total of 70 goals took place.
It is, of course, important to remember a key difference from those tournaments. In the early days, only 13-16 teams were participating in the World Cup. In 1998, the trend of 32 teams partaking in the tournament began. Therefore, there has been a lot more space for a larger number of goals in recent World Cups. Over 1,300 players have scored goals in the 21 editions of the World Cup so far.
Famous Headers At The World Cup
There is very little insight into the number of headers resulting in goals at the World Cup. Yet there are bits and pieces of data that provide insightful stories for some occasions. In the Brazil World Cup 2014, one of the best header goals of all time took place. This came about thanks to the skills of Robin van Persie.
During that tournaments, van Persie’s home country of the Netherlands would meet Spain. Upon half time approaching, the Dutch team were 1-0 down. The team needed some sort of inspiration to keep going. Somebody had to do something extra special. That somebody was van Persie.
A pass from Daley Blind allowed him to set that something special in motion. With the ball coming his way, van Persie leapt into the air and thrust his head forward. That saw the ball soar past goalkeeper Iker Casillas and into the net. The Dutch fans in attendance went wild and van Persie helped his team advance. The Netherlands would finish third in the 2014 World Cup.
It continues being a highlight as one of the most extraordinary headers in football. It was even turned into a flipbook animation in celebration.
Many people saw another example of a fine header taking place in the 1970 World Cup. Of course, we’re talking about Pelé and his skilful gameplay for Brazil. In the World Cup final of that year, his home country faced off against Italy. It was in the early stages of the match that Pelé would put his head to good use.
At the 18th minute of the game, he headed in a cross from Rivellino. Having snuck into the penalty box, Pelé leapt up over a defender to knock the ball in. That gave the team the 1-0 lead to begin with. Italy would fire back with a goal for themselves at the 37th minute. Yet with three more goals in the second half for Brazil, the South American team won in the end.
Spain is a country that often does well in World Cups, too. That was the case in 2010 when they went through to the final. It was thanks to the efforts of Carles Puyol in Spain’s match against Germany that this happened. Having played his entire career for Barcelona, Puyol knew what he needed to do in the World Cup. To be able to make it to the final, Spain needed to overcome Germany. The match went through many minutes of no score. It remained so as the second half kicked off, too. Yet Puyol was to spring into action in the 73rd minute.
A corner kick in Spain’s favour saw the player jump up and head the ball into the goal. Spain had already controlled the ball for the majority of the match. Yet they hadn’t managed to secure a goal for such a long time. Puyol changed that with his header, putting them 1-0 up. Spain protected its match advantage for the remaining time, advancing to the final. It marked the first time that Spain had ever gone through to the final. As it happens, the team would go on to win the 2010 World Cup, beating out the Netherlands.
In that same World Cup, Germany had already proven its worth, though. How could it not with Miroslav Klose on the team? The prolific goalscorer was one of the most talented headers in pro football. That was very much on display during the South Africa World Cup of 2010.
On June 13 of that year, Germany would face off against Australia in the group stage. Podolski would score for the German team at the eighth minute to kick things off. Yet it was Klose who came in with the second goal, stunning the Aussies. With a wide pass coming in from the left flank, he leapt and headed the ball into the net.
Two more goals for Germany in the second half saw them beat out Australia 4-0. Klose was no stranger to headers during World Cup participation, though. In 2002, he became the first player to score five headers at the Korea/Japan tournament. Germany came second in that year’s event. Three of them were in his World Cup debut match against Saudi Arabia.
The 1998 World Cup took place in France. An ideal location for Zinedine Zidane, who was playing for his home country. France made it all the way through to the final, where they would go up against Brazil. It was during this match that Zidane made his presence felt in a big way. His first goal came at the 27th minute, heading the ball in after a corner kick.
He garnered a second one for France in the first half’s period of extra time. In a moment of déjà vu, that goal was also a header from a corner kick in. Emmanuel Petit would take France to their 3-0 final victory in the 93rd minute.
It would also be remiss of us to not mention the 1994 World Cup here. This took place in the USA, and saw the Bulgarian midfielder Yordan Letchkov prove his worth. In a quarter final match against Germany, things were not looking good for the Bulgarian team. Lothar Matthaus had scored a 47th minute penalty for Germany.
The team held its 1-0 lead over Bulgaria well into the second half as well. Then, in the 75th minute, Hristo Stoichkov secured an equaliser for his team. Three minutes later, Letchkov would make his mark on the pitch. Tracking down a floating pass from deep outside the penalty box, he leapt up. A header saw the ball fly into the back of the net, stunning the German team. What’s more, the defending champions were unable to mount a comeback.
Bulgaria went through to the semi-finals off of Letchkov’s sublime header. He would also receive the Golden Boot award alongside Russia’s Oleg Salenko. Both players scored six goals in total during that World Cup tournament.
Other Unique Goals Scored During the World Cup
We’ve all heard of the prowess of Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s one of the world’s best footballers and known across the globe. Yet his 2010 World Cup achievement may be the most impressive. Before that, Ronaldo had had a two-year goal drought while playing for Portugal. Then, on June 21 of that year, the team went up against North Korea. That match finished in a 7-0 victory for the European team. Yet Ronaldo didn’t score until the 87th minute, breaking his two-year no-goals streak.
What made it more entertaining is the way that Ronaldo completed the goal. The ball came his way, and he ended up catching it on the back of his neck between his shoulders. He would then thrust the ball up and head it in front. From there, he fired the ball into the back of the net. If you’re going to make a goalscoring comeback, you’d better do it right!
We’ve all seen footballers kick the ball into the net. It’s one of the most common ways to score. What stands out about this next goal is how it was kicked, though. The recent World Cup in Qatar saw a match take place between Brazil and Serbia on November 24. It was a goalless first half game, which saw very little action from both teams. Things picked up in the second half, though. It was during this period that Richarlison would show how talented he is. A first goal at the 62nd minute came about from a tap of the ball into the net. Pretty standard fare. It was his second that stood out as being remarkable.
Richarlison took centre stage once again to make it 2-0 in the 73rd minute. Controlling the ball from Vinicius Junior, he kicked it up in the air. It was then that the player performed a feat of acrobatics, swinging his leg in an overhead shot. That propelled Brazil through their opening match and left Serbia out in the cold.
The final goal we had to speak about here is the one labelled as the ‘Hand of God’. During the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, Argentina would face England. The quarter finals match saw plenty of action, with both teams scoring goals. Yet it was the very first goal in the game that stood out to everyone. It is still talked about to this day. Diego Maradona, playing for Argentina, acquired this in the 51st minute. So, why the ‘Hand of God’? Well, Maradona scored it by using his hand.
He cut inside from the left and went on to play a diagonal low pass across. Teammate Jorge Valdano looked to receive the ball, with Maradona hoping for a one-two movement. Yet the pass went a little behind Valdano, reaching England’s Steve Hodge. He tried to clear the ball, but a miscue saw it fall into the penalty box instead. Maradona was waiting to strike there. When England’s goalie Peter Shilton came out to punch the ball away, Maradona took action. Except that he reached it first with his outside left hand and the ball bounced into the goal.
Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser said that he did not see the infringement. Thus, he allowed the goal, despite it being an illegal move in football. Since that time, it has gone by the title of the ‘Hand of God’.