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Jun 26, 2014

Five of the best group stage goals

The group stage matches at the World Cup have come to an end, and we've been treated to a goal-fest that has set the pulse racing from day one. Selecting the best five goals from the thrillingly open first phase of this World Cup was no easy task, but here (in chronological order) is our pick of the best strikes so far from the 134 in the 48 group stage games.

Robin Van Persie's (Netherlands) Goal -- Header at 44'.

Robin van Persie: NETHERLANDS vs. Spain (June 13 in Salvador)

What they said: "It is the best goal of my career. It was a brilliant goal, even I have to say that. I look at the occasion and this was one of the biggest so far in my career. It was a bit of a gamble but I spotted [Iker] Casillas off his line before the cross came in." -- Robin van Persie

"A work of art" is how one commentator aptly described the brilliant headed effort Dutch striker Van Persie conjured up to launch his nation's World Cup campaign. Having fallen behind to world champions Spain, the Netherlands needed their captain to inspire their revival and, as he was picked out with a perfectly weighted long ball from left-back Daley Blind, his diving, looping header arched neatly over Spain keeper Iker Casillas. An hour later, Van Persie and his teammates were toasting a famous 5-1 win and the social media craze of "Persieing" was born.

Goal! Australia 1, Holland 1. Tim Cahill's (Australia) left-footed shot from the left side of the box to the high center of the goal, assisted by Ryan McGowan.

Tim Cahill: AUSTRALIA vs. Netherlands (June 18 in Porto Alegre)

What they said: "It just felt so right to hit it, and I hit it sweetly. This is what it's all about because everyone dreams of playing on this stage and I want to leave a mark for all the kids back in Australia and around the world to be inspired by this today." -- Tim Cahill

Comparisons with Marco van Basten's famous strike against Russia in the Euro 1988 finals were not misplaced as Cahill raced onto a high through ball and unleashed a stunning volley that instantly became a leading contender to be the best goal of this World Cup. The cleanness of Cahill's strike, the accuracy of his delivery and the explosion of joy that greeted the goal made for a classic World Cup moment. Cahill's delight was diluted as his team ended up losing 3-2, but his dream of inspiring the next generation of Socceroos may just have come true.

Jermaine Jones' (United States) goal at 64'.

Jermaine Jones: USA vs. Portugal (June 23 in Manaus)

What they said: "Two Shaka Hislops would not have saved that Jermaine Jones strike! What a strike that was." -- ESPN FC TV pundit Craig Burley

Portugal dared to believe they had cleared the danger from their box as Jermaine Jones collected a ball from a half-cleared corner, yet the Besiktas midfielder had other ideas. Usually not known for his goal-scoring prowess, Jones set himself for a strike that would go down in history as one of the greatest by any USMNT member at a World Cup, and unleashed a shot that curled perfectly into the far corner and exploded into the back of the Portuguese net. Although Portugal hit back late on, Jones' goal proved to be of vital importance as the U.S. advanced to the next round and sent Cristiano Ronaldo and co back home on goal difference.

Goal! Honduras 0, Switzerland 1. Xherdan Shaqiri's (Switzerland) left-footed shot from outside the box to the top left corner, assisted by Stephan Lichtsteiner.

Xherdan Shaqiri: SWITZERLAND vs. Honduras (June 25 in Manaus)

What they said: "Xherdan Shaqiri is a player who can make the difference because he can decide games on his own. His first goal was very special. It is what we needed." -- Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld

Switzerland were desperately looking for a lift after their 5-2 battering at the hands of France in their second Group E game had rocked them, and Bayern Munich's Xherdan Shaqiri provided that against Honduras. As Shaqiri waltzed across the edge of the box, it was not evident that the Honduran net would be bulging, yet the power, venom and accuracy of the effort he delivered took the breath away. The ball politely kissed the underside of the crossbar en route to its destination. A delicious strike, and one that sent the Swiss well on the way to the round of 16.

Lionel Messi's (Argentina) Goal -- Free-kick at 46'.

Lionel Messi: ARGENTINA vs. Nigeria (June 25 in Porto Alegre)

What they said: "Messi came into this tournament under enormous pressure, with everyone saying he needed to perform in the World Cup, but he has been phenomenal. His free kick against Nigeria was just a classic strike. We haven't seen anyone quite like him in the game since Diego Maradona." -- Gary Lineker, BBC TV presenter

Messi has been named man of the match in the first three games he has played at this World Cup and each of his four goals has been laced with the brilliance only he can provide. While his trademark surging runs and finishes against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran were spectacular, the accuracy of his delightfully floated free kick against Nigeria on Wednesday was a joy to behold. It may have been a routine effort for Barcelona and Argentina's main man, but he continues to take the breath away as suggestions that he can finally add the World Cup trophy to his collection of successes continue to mount.