Talk about using your head.
Soccer athletes usually earn praise for the amazing ways they can control the ball with their feet. But every so often, players need to use their heads to make things happen. Whether it’s the final of the World Cup, a regular season league game, or a pickup match with your friends in the park, a well-timed header can be the difference between winning and losing.
And contrary to what most fans think, success with soccer headers isn't just about being tall—it's about having a sense for the game, maneuvering past defenders, and appearing at exactly the right place at exactly the right time to nod the ball into the net.
Here are 13 of best header goals of all time:
Robin Van Persie, 2014
During the World Cup in Brazil, Dutch forward Robin van Persie went airborne to convert a stunning goal against Spain, darting past the last line of defense before thrusting his head forward and knocking the ball in past goalie Iker Casillas. Van Persie’s goal helped the Netherlands continue through the tournament before finishing in third place.
Cristiano Ronaldo, 2010
Ronaldo’s fitness and soccer skills are unparalleled—apart from rival Lionel Messi, maybe—and on this goal his astonishing talents are fully on display. While playing for Manchester United against Roma in Champions League competition, the former FIFA Ballon d'Or winner stormed from seemingly out of nowhere to bang the ball home for the goal.
In the 1970 World Cup final against Italy, the legendary Pelé used his noggin to give Brazil an early 1-0 lead. The limber soccer star—who stands only 5′ 8″—snuck his way through the penalty area and leapt up over the defender covering him to convert a beautiful goal. The strength of Pelé’s header is no match for the goalie, who extended a hand to stop the shot just a bit too late to keep it from landing in the net. The score helped Brazil win its third World Cup title.
Lionel Messi, 2016
The Barcelona star and “greatest player in the world” usually scores using his feet, but against Deportivo in La Liga play in 2016, Messi showed that his head is just as good for scoring goals. The Argentinian forward made this one look easy after he slipped unnoticed and untouched through the opposing defense, taking the perfect centering pass in the penalty area before heading it into the net.
Luis Garcia, 2005
Scoring a goal with your head without even facing the net? That was no problem for Luis Garcia in the 2005 Champions League, as the Liverpool star put in a stunning goal against Anderlecht to help the Reds stay undefeated in the tournament. Garcia took a long cross from the right side, and as he was moving away from the goal—with his back to the goalie—he flicked his head from nearly 20 yards out and converted for the score.
Luis Suárez, 2013
Suárez took a chunk out of West Bromwich Albion while playing for Liverpool during the 2013-14 English Premier League season. The Paraguayan star scored three goals during the game—including a fabulous header for his second goal, smashed in from just outside the penalty area after taking a laser-like pass from the left flank.
Alan Shearer, 2003
The longtime Newcastle United striker was one of the most prolific scorers in English soccer history—he ranks first all-time in Premier League goals—and he did quite a bit of that scoring with his head. Shearer scored 49 of his 206 goals with The Magpies off headers, including his first Champions League goal while playing against Bayer Leverkusen during the 2002-03 campaign. Shearer snaked through the defense and guided himself like a missile towards the ball, laying out horizontally to score the goal and send St James's Park into a frenzy.
Carles Puyol, 2010
The long-haired defender helped push Spain into the 2010 World Cup final with his herculean performance against Germany in South Africa. With the game scoreless in the second half, the longtime Barcelona star took charge after a corner kick and smashed the ball into the net using his mop-haired head—propelling Spain to the next round and eventually their first World Cup title.
Henrik Larsson, 2004
After helping Sweden survive the "Group of Death" in the 2002 World Cup, Larsson retired from international soccer—but he didn’t stay away for long. The longtime Celtic striker made his much-anticipated return to the international stage for Euro 2004 and he made his presence felt in a big way. Larsson scored two of Sweden’s five goals in the match, including a spectacular diving header.
Miroslav Klose, 2010
The prolific German goalscorer was one of the most skilled headers in professional soccer during his career, and he put that on display during the 2010 World Cup. The former Bayern Munich striker took a wide pass from the left flank and smacked it into the net against Australia in the group stage to help Germany win. Klose has had plenty of experience with headers during his World Cup participation—in 2002, he became the first soccer player ever to score five headers during the course of one tournament.
Zinedine Zidane, 1998
The French star—playing for his home nation while playing in his home nation for the 1998 World Cup—came through big time with two goals in the final of the tournament against Brazil. Zidane used his head to connect on both goals, each of which came off of corner kicks to help push France to a 3-0 victory in Paris, ensuring a champagne-filled celebration for the host nation.
Didier Drogba, 2012
Drogba used his head to score one of the most important goals in Chelsea team history in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich—netting the equalizing goal with time running down in regulation. The match—which was held at Allianz Arena in Munich, essentially a home game for Bayern—went to penalties, and Drogba came through again to propel the Blues to a win.
Yordan Letchkov, 1994
The Bulgarian midfielder scored one of the most memorable goals of the 1994 World Cup: a leaping header that stunned defending champion Germany and sent Bulgaria to the semifinals. Letchkov was able to track down a floating pass from deep outside the penalty area and fired it into the net after cutting off the last defender in the box.