Ranking France's 20 Greatest World Cup Goals
What makes a great FIFA World Cup goal?
Aside from outrageous finishes and moves featuring brilliant pieces of individual or collective skill, when ranking the greatest goals we must also take into account the context and importance of the strike in question.
Often, the goals ranking highest in a nation’s collective memory are not necessarily wonder goals but moments that have a greater overall meaning—be it for the team or regarding the individual who scored it.
The French national team has been blessed with plenty of these memorable moments over the years, and les Bleus will hope to add to them in Brazil this summer. With the 2016 UEFA European Championship on home soil approaching, Didier Deschamps’ men will be hoping for a fruitful campaign in South America.
In order to do so, they will look to draw inspiration from the exploits of past generations of French talent to go as far as possible.
Here are 20 of France’s greatest World Cup goals to help them and for you to enjoy.
20: Thierry Henry vs. Togo 2006
Struggling in third place in Group G going into the final game of the 2006 World Cup group stages, France needed to beat Togo in order to reach the round of 16.
Unable to break down their stubborn opponents in the first half, Patrick Vieira put les Bleus 1-0 up in Cologne with a well-taken 55th-minute goal.
The midfielder’s opener was the more important of the two goals scored by Raymond Domenech’s team that day, but Thierry Henry’s effort six minutes later was the better strike.
Latching on to Vieira’s flick-on from a sumptuous Willy Sagnol lofted pass, the Arsenal man turned and fired a clinical shot past the otherwise outstanding Kossi Agassa to make the game safe.
19: Florent Malouda vs. South Africa 2010
Forgettable largely because of the circumstances in which it was scored, Florent Malouda’s consolation goal for France in their shameful 2-1 defeat to host nation South Africa was a work of beauty.
Started by Bacary Sagna at right-back, the Arsenal man drove forward after a delightful exchange with Gunners teammate Abou Diaby before releasing Franck Ribery who—in turn—squared it for Malouda to tap in.
France were already out, but there was scant consolation in that they prevented South Africa from progressing with their solitary effort in Bloemfontein. That was the first time in World Cup history that the hosts had not progressed past the first round.
18: Lucien Laurent vs. Mexico 1930
Frenchman Lucien Laurent went down in World Cup history as the first man ever to score a goal in the tournament when he put les Bleus 1-0 up against Mexico in the opening game of the inaugural 1930 edition in Montevideo.
Although no video footage exists of the goal, it is worth mentioning his right-footed volley that was the first scored in the history of what is now the most important international football tournament and should thus go down as one of France’s greatest.
The French went on to win the match 4-1, and Laurent talks you through the goal here (in French).
17: Christophe Dugarry vs. South Africa 1998
The most memorable World Cup campaign for the French is 1998 for the simple reason that they won it on home soil.
Les Bleus were not favourites coming into the tournament, though—far from it in fact—and they showed their nerves early on against South Africa in their Group C opener in Marseille.
On as a 26th-minute substitute for the much-maligned Stephane Guivarc'h, Christophe Dugarry powerfully headed in a Zinedine Zidane corner 10 minutes later.
The Olympique de Marseille man's effort sparked wild celebrations and will forever go down as the goal that set the hosts on their way to their greatest World Cup triumph of all.
16: Thierry Henry vs. South Africa 1998
Dugarry may have set France on their way to ultimate World Cup glory in their own country, but the 3-0 victory over South Africa was notable for another reason—Henry netted his first goal in bleu. It would go on to be the first of many for les Tricolores.
The then 20-year-old Henry had only made three appearances for the senior side and was a relatively unknown quantity before Aime Jacquet called him up for the tournament. It proved to be a masterstroke, with the AS Monaco man finishing as the team's top scorer at the tournament.
His first was a taste of things to come.
Henry chested down a miscued late Alain Boghossian corner—managing to keep control of the extremely over-hit ball despite Shaun Bartlett's best efforts—before using what would become his trademark burst of pace to take him past one defender, nutmegging Willem Jackson before dinking the ball over Hans Vonk.
Despite Pierre Issa—who had scored an unfortunate own goal less than 10 minutes beforehand—trying to keep Henry's effort out, the ball crossed the line, and the youngster was on his way to becoming a legend with les Bleus.
15: Bixente Lizarazu vs. Saudi Arabia 1998
Henry netted twice in France's second Group C encounter with Saudi Arabia, but it was the understated Bixente Lizarazu who scored the most memorable goal in this match.
Profiting from an excellent exchange between substitutes Robert Pires and Youri Djorkaeff, the left-back took one touch before smashing home one of his two goals in 97 appearances for les Bleus.
The finish might not have been the most spectacular, but Djorkaeff’s sublime back-heeled pass made the goal and had the French purring with delight.
14: Patrick Vieira vs. Spain 2006
One of a number of goals that encapsulates the brilliance of Zidane during the march to the 2006 World Cup final is Vieira’s 83rd-minute goal that put les Bleus 2-1 up against Spain in Hanover.
France’s No. 10 drifted a deep cross into the box that was headed upwards by Xabi Alonso but landed on the head of Vieira at the back post.
The then-Juventus man headed it down low past Iker Casillas, and it was at that moment that les Tricolores' fans really started to believe that they could make a deep run in the competition after struggling even to make it out of the group stage.
13: Michel Platini vs. Italy 1986
After finishing second behind the Soviet Union in Group C at the 1986 World Cup, France—defending European champions—were drawn to face reigning world champions Italy in Mexico City.
Les Bleus won 2-0 and would advance as far as the semi-finals where they lost 2-0 to West Germany, but Michel Platini’s 15th-minute opener against the Italians is one of the most memorable goals scored by the French national team at the tournament.
Jean Fernandez found Dominique Rocheteau, and the Paris Saint-Germain player slipped Platini in with a perfect pass before the Juventus man—and European Footballer of the Year—clipped the ball past Giovanni Galli.
12: Franck Ribery vs. Spain 2006
Vieira's go-ahead goal against Spain was of vital importance and stemmed from Zidane, but Franck Ribery's 41st-minute equaliser was a brilliantly well-worked move and worthy of inclusion in this list.
The Marseille man received a superb through ball from Vieira before dribbling past Casillas to slide home and spark scenes of jubilation on the French bench as well as in the stands of the FIFA WM Stadion Hanover (now known as the HDI Arena).
Those scenes of celebration make the goal greater than it was because of its significance. It was the moment that les Bleus threw off the shackles and started to play in Germany.
11: Zinedine Zidane vs. Spain 2006
Both Vieira and Ribery's goals in that game pale in comparison to the cherry on top of the cake—Zidane's third and final goal for France in stoppage time at the end of the game—that secured an impressive 3-1 win.
Stealing the ball inside the Spanish half from Cesc Fabregas, Zidane started—and finished—a sweeping counter attacking move against a team largely consisting of the same players that would then go on to dominate world and European football from 2008 until the time of writing this piece.
The French captain's jink inside of Barcelona defender Carles Puyol set himself up brilliantly before he fired low past Casillas to set les Bleus on the path towards the final.
10: Emmanuel Petit vs. Brazil 1998
Emmanuel Petit's well-worked third goal in the 1998 World Cup final is considered academic when talking about the match—instead Zidane dominates most people's memories of this game because of his heroic double at Stade de France.
However, Petit's goal should be given plenty of credit as it was a brilliant team effort.
Starting with one substitute Dugarry bringing the ball out of defence following a failed Brazilian corner, the Marseille man dribbled into the Selecao's half of the pitch before passing to fellow substitute Vieira.
The French No. 4 released Petit with a first-time pass, which was met with a finessed finish to cap a flowing team move and add gloss to an already impressive scoreline.
9: Just Fontaine vs. Brazil 1958
In the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, France's Just Fontaine set a record of 13 goals in one single edition of the tournament—an achievement that remains unsurpassed to this day.
His hat-trick against Paraguay in the 7-3 Group 2 opener is a particular standout moment within that impressive feat, but his semi-final strike in an ultimate 5-2 defeat to Brazil in Solna is widely regarded as one of the best team goals ever scored at a World Cup.
His sublime effort for the second goal against Northern Ireland in a 4-0 quarter-final win is another worthy contender. Here is a compilation of his 13 goals from the 1958 tournament to illustrate why he must be included in this list.
8: Michel Platini vs. Brazil 1986
After slaying Italy in 1986's round of 16, Platini and France were faced with Brazil in the quarter-finals.
The match was played in Guadalajara, and Platoche—as he is known in France—scored the vital equaliser en route to a 4-3 penalty victory (in which les Bleus' No. 10 failed to score his spot-kick).
Bundling in Rocheteau’s deep cross in the 40th minute, Platini's goal helped the French to the semi-finals—where they would later lose to West Germany. Although the goal itself was not great in terms of how spectacular it was, that strike is as fondly remembered as any from les Tricolores' Mexican sojourn.
7: Thierry Henry vs. Brazil 2006
The 2006 World Cup in Germany will mostly be remembered by French fans—and the rest of international football fans for that matter—as the final chapter in the illustrious story of Zidane's career.
Prior to his sending off for head-butting Marco Materazzi in the final against Italy, the Real Madrid star had been in inspired form and turned back the clock with a number of performances that can be considered as some of his greatest.
One goal from that tournament that demonstrates the difference Zidane made to France in that tournament was Thierry Henry’s solitary 57th-minute strike against Brazil in Frankfurt that saw les Bleus into the semi-finals.
The Arsenal man emphatically volleyed in Zidane’s pinpoint cross at the back post to give France the victory—astonishingly Zizou's only assist for Henry in their entire time playing together for les Tricolores.
France's captain had been involved in the build-up, too, flicking the ball over the head of Ronaldo and passing to Eric Abidal who had then found Malouda before Cafu conceded a free-kick on the left. Despite the 1-0 scoreline, it is widely considered one of Zidane's best-ever performances for les Bleus.
6: Marius Tresor vs. West Germany 1982
Instead, Marius Tresor's sensational goal in France's thrilling—but ultimately devastating—3-3 draw with West Germany in the 1982 World Cup semi-finals is a better example of a truly spectacular goal that is fondly remembered by fans of les Bleus in relation to the tournament.
Widely regarded as one of the best matches in the entire history of the tournament, Tresor’s 92nd-minute goal in Seville put the French 2-1 up in extra time. Les Tricolores would eventually blow a 3-1 lead and ultimately lose 5-4 on penalties.
Despite that, this goal is worthy of being considered one of France’s all-time great goals at the World Cup.
5: Alain Giresse vs. West Germany 1982
As is the goal that followed shortly after it.
Alain Giresse's thumping strike in off the post to make it 3-1 to the French in extra time—just six minutes after Tresor’s earlier screamer—had les Bleus fans temporarily dreaming of a place in the final in Madrid alongside Italy.
The Girondins de Bordeaux man's celebration of that goal is iconic—as is Platini's against the Italians and Brazil four years later—but the finish alone makes it worthy of inclusion in this list.
4: Laurent Blanc vs. Paraguay 1998
Having emerged top of Group C with nine points from a possible nine, France met Paraguay in the round of 16 in Lens. After being held goalless over 90 minutes, the dreaded golden goal rule came into effect.
Fortunately for les Bleus, it was they who scored the winner at the Stade Felix Bollaert, and it came from an unlikely source—defender Laurent Blanc.
Desperately searching for a way past Jose Luis Chilavert, the French made the breakthrough when David Trezeguet headed a perfect Pires cross down into the path of Blanc who slammed the ball past the Paraguayan captain.
Not only had les Tricolores reached the quarter-finals on home soil, they had also scored the first-ever World Cup golden goal.
3: Lilian Thuram vs. Croatia 1998
The quarter-final against Italy took a similar course to the last 16 clash with Paraguay as France were largely frustrated by the Azzurri and once again held goalless after 90 minutes.
Les Bleus could not even break down Cesare Maldini’s men in extra time at Stade de France, so penalties were needed.
France eventually triumphed, and the host nation's reward was a semi-final meeting with Croatia, once again in Saint-Denis. This one was following a similar course to both Paraguay and Italy until Miroslav Blazevic’s men—shock horror—scored after 46 minutes through Davor Suker.
What happened next can arguably be described as the pivotal moment in les Tricolores' World Cup triumph.
Lilian Thuram—France’s right-back and a player who had not scored an international goal in his career before July 8, 1998—equalised one minute later. Not only did he score once, he then went and netted for a second time in the game 22 minutes later.
The first epitomised Thuram in bleu. The powerful defender muscled Zvonomir Boban off the ball, then played a delicate one-two with Djorkaeff before sliding the ball past Drazen Ladic to send the crowd into raptures.
Thuram’s second on 69 minutes was even better, though.
Once again he played a one-two—only this time with Thierry Henry—and then used his strength to get the better of Robert Jarni. At that moment, the almost exclusively right-footed full-back swung his left boot at the ball and curled a majestic effort past the despairing Ladic.
France were in the World Cup final and Thuram was a national hero and instant legend.
2: Zinedine Zidane vs. Italy 2006
One of the few players to be held in greater esteem than Thuram is, of course, Zidane.
Zizou would get his moment in the final for France, but more on that shortly. The Real Madrid player's second most memorable act for les Bleus was his Panenka-style penalty effort against Italy in the final of the 2006 World Cup.
Despite an inauspicious start to the tournament, Domenech's men managed to reach the final in Berlin after beating Portugal in the semi-finals—thanks to a Zidane penalty. There the whole world watched on as one of the most celebrated talents in modern football history took his final steps as a professional player.
In the 7th minute, France were awarded a penalty. Zidane stepped up and—as cool as you like— clipped the ball in off the crossbar at the Olympiastadion, completely fooling Gianluigi Buffon who had been otherwise faultless all tournament.
Zidane's final match and career ended on a sour note, of course, but that does not stop his goal from making the list. The sheer audacity to try such a penalty kick in such an important game was something that arguably only France’s No. 10 could have pulled off on the day.
1: Zinedine Zidane vs. Brazil 1998
That leaves Zidane’s double against Brazil to headline this list of the 20 greatest World Cup goals for France.
Both were similar in that they were both headers from corners—although taken from different sides—and both were remarkable because Zizou rarely scored headers.
Not only were they important headed efforts, they were also brilliantly well-taken and expertly placed.
Petit's third was more of a team move, but Zidane’s double provided arguably the two most memorable goals in French World Cup history.
His two goals secured les Bleus' greatest-ever moment in the tournament and therefore must be considered the two greatest goals scored in the tournament by any French player.