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What If the Most Beautiful Goal of the World Cup Has Already Been Scored?

Strikers beware: Robin van Persie's header will be near impossible to match.


I am sure there will be a few memorable goals during the rest of the World Cup—we’re only on day three—but the one scored by Robin van Persie of Holland against Spain to tie the game justifies the entire tournament. Those of us who wait four years for this fiesta de fútbol so that moments such as these might nourish us know full well they are few and far between. This one came early and might not be surpassed.

I searched the web for the best words to describe the goal—in any language—but came away empty-handed. That might be because beauty, when encountered in pure, unadulterated form, is inexpressible. At first I thought van Persie’s movements were those of a ballet dancer at the height of his form. Yet his actions looked less human than birdlike. He looked like a seagull floating over ocean waves, patiently reaching for its catch. Daley Blind made the 40-yard pass in the 43rd minute. The ball was suspended in midair for what seemed like an eternity. When it finally reached him, van Persie’s body acquired enviable plasticity. It undulated and, with a soft touch of the head, he made the ball jump over Iker Casillas and go into the net, which reacted by shaking as stylishly as the player had a second before. The Spanish goalie seemed stunned—like the rest of us—by the ease of the entire performance.

The fact that Casillas was about to beat the record of the most minutes without conceeding a goal in international games (Walter Zenga held it for 517 minutes, Casillas had 433) makes the episode all the more spectacular. Of course, Holland went on to score four times more, utterly humiliating Spain. Maybe it is finally scheduled to become the champion it has so often come close to being. For now, though, it is van Persie’s sublime execution that is already a triumph beyond compare. Edna St. Vincent Millay was right: beauty is whatever gives joy.