Four years is a long gap. By the time the 2010 World Cup comes around, you might have forgotten just how bizarre (and brilliant) Argentina’s 26-pass goal against Serbia in the 2006 World Cup was. And when was the last time you saw Carlos Alberto’s classic goal from the 1970 edition? A goal so sublime that it is compared to great works of art?

Unstoppable: Maradona (in blue) during the 1986 World Cup. AFP

Carlos Alberto, 1970 final

(Brazil vs Italy)

This is the goal that set the standard; the one that turned football into art, and Brazil into the unquestionable purveyors of joga bonito (beautiful play). Speed, power, timing, dribbling, technique—this goal is an exhibition of the limits of football, and how the Brazilian team in the 1970s walked that limit.

The most unheralded of Brazil’s attacking sextet from the 1970 team, Clodoaldo dribbles past four Italians like he’s playing with a bunch of schoolboys. All the Brazilians find the right man in the right place throughout the move. Pele deliciously delays his final pass, like he has all the time in the world. And through all this languid poetry, Carlos Alberto comes hurtling down the right like a train on fire, and blasts the ball into the net at such speed that it would have taken the goalkeeper with it if he was standing in the way.

Careca, 1986 quarter-final

(Brazil vs France)

Brazil’s Luis Muller is covered by a French defender when he gets the ball from teammate Josimar. Brazilian Junior, a yard away from Muller, is also covered. Just another hopeful prod forward? No way. Muller turns like lightning, passes to Junior, who loses his marker, passes back. Two sets of delicious one-twos later, Careca is free to sweep the ball in. A lesson in what you can do when there’s no space.

Maradona, 1986 quarter-final

(Argentina vs England)

This goal makes it all very clear—if you have the genius, football need not be a team game. Maradona had the genius to make everyone else on the field look like rag dolls. He does a graceful pirouette to leave three English defenders gaping, then he accelerates like a missile, cuts inside one defender, leaves another one blinking in disbelief and then rounds off Peter Shilton. After this, you almost feel like he deserves to score with his hand.

Gheorghe Hagi, 1994 group stage

(Romania vs Argentina)

Romania’s magnificent team from 1994 display just why they were so good. Argentina take a corner, but fluff it. Before you know what’s happening, Romanian forward Illie Dumitrescu is charging down the field like an arrow, while Tibor Selymes is pulling the Argentine defence with him with a dummy run down the left, and Gheorghe Hagi is surreptitiously sprinting down the right. When the ball comes to Hagi, the end is inevitable.

Esteban Cambiasso, 2006 group stage

(Argentina vs Serbia)

This goal is a bit like playing the Fifa video game on easy mode—the other team does not really exist. Argentina had all the time in the world to pass the ball around endlessly, while plotting the coup de grace. When the complex jigsaw puzzle of passing reaches its climax, things are moving at the speed of light. Argentine forward Hernan Crespo’s back heel inside the box for Cambiasso to finish is a flourish worthy of such an ambitious piece of choreography. Unfortunately, beautiful football doesn’t always translate to success.