Assists are often overlooked in favor of their more flashy and prominent neighbor, the goal. In many ways, they require more technique and ability than scoring a goal because finding the goal is easy. Knowing where to place a ball to find a teammate while avoiding defenders and keepers, and actually having the technical ability to do it, requires a soccer mind of the highest order. One of the greats, Andrea Pirlo, famously said, "Football is played with the head. Your feet are just tools."
This year’s World Cup saw some spectacular goals, but the assists should not go unrecognized. From the group stage to the final, these are the top ten assists of the 2022 World Cup.
The 10 best assists at the 2022 World Cup
10. Serge Gnabry vs Costa Rica
While Germany was in the midst of its Sisyphean fight against elimination, Serge Gnabry helped his side at least claim victory over Costa Rica with a brilliant assist to Kai Havertz.
GERMANY TAKES THE LEADThe madness of Group E continues pic.twitter.com/y1J5nGQ1u2
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 1, 2022
The Bayern Munich winger was given way too much time on the flank, allowing him to pick out the perfect ball to find his teammate. The ball curled behind the entire defense and straight across the corridor of uncertainty where the streaking run of Havertz fired the ball home.
It didn’t mean anything in the end as Germany was still eliminated with Japan’s win in the concurrent game but that assist was worth the price of admission.
9. Vinícius Júnior vs Serbia
The first of two Vinícius assists, this was a case of brilliant technique rewarded with a magnificent goal.
RICHARLISON WHAT A GOALBRAZIL 2-0
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 24, 2022
After driving at the defense, the Real Madrid winger sent a Trivela cross off the outside of his boot and towards Richarlison. The Tottenham striker controlled the deft cross and acrobatically finished it for his second goal of the day.
Brilliant assist no doubt, but honestly, it may just be a thinly-veiled excuse to watch that goal again.
8. Vinícius Júnior vs South Korea
Back-to-back with Vinícius as his brilliant pass to find Lucas Paquetá makes number eight on our list.
Brazil, ARE YOU KIDDING ⁉️ 4-0 LEAD
— (@sportingnews) December 5, 2022
Brazil’s first half against South Korea can only be described as samba soccer at its absolute finest. Free-flowing, fun, attacking action was on display and Vinícius helped cap off the scoring as he chipped a cross over the entire South Korean defense for Lucas Paquetá to smash home from about twelve yards out.
And of course, they danced. "Baila Brasil, Baila"
7. Son Heung-min vs Portugal
After an injury to his eyesocket sidelined Son for several weeks in the build-up to the World Cup, many doubted he would even be able to play for his nation in Qatar.
The Spurs winger refused to give in and wore a mask throughout the tournament so he could be there and attempt to take his side beyond the group stage.
This run & pass by Son and finish by Hwang Hee-chan was PERFECTION pic.twitter.com/o1Ymo50xCo— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 2, 2022
In the final game against Portugal, South Korea needed a win to advance, so in the dying moments, up stepped their masked assassin. Son, surrounded by a slew of Portuguese defenders had the composure to pick out a perfect pass to Hwang Hee-chan who buried the shot and sent his side into the knockout round. Truly one of the great World Cup moments.
6. Teun Koopmeiners vs Argentina
The definition of clutch. Many will look back at this moment and remember the goal, but without the assist, it wouldn’t have been possible.
SIMPLY INCREDIBLE!The Netherlands force extra time in the 100th minute with a free kick that could go down in history. 2-2!
(via @FoxSoccer) pic.twitter.com/mw4DxSg6gZ
— SI Soccer (@si_soccer) December 9, 2022
Koopmeiners stepped up to take a crucial freekick in the 101st minute of his side’s Quarterfinal tie against Argentina. As the Atalanta midfielder took his run-up and planted his feet, nobody in light blue and white knew what was about to happen.
His perfectly weighted and placed pass found Wout Weghorst who scored his second of the match and sent the game to overtime.
5. Alexis Mac Allister vs France
Let’s set the scene. World Cup Final. Argentina is up 1-0 over France. 35th minute. Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder Alexis Mac Allister is through on goal. With one defender closing down on him, what does he do?
DI MARIA SCORESArgentina goes up 2-0 in the World Cup Final
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 18, 2022
He sends a blind cross across the box into the streaking path of Ángel Di María. It's now 2-0. Why? Because of that brilliant, unselfish, and perfect ball from the 23-year-old. On the world's biggest stage, Mac Allister had the coolest head.
4. Lionel Messi vs Croatia
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but it’s fine because old dogs have tricks of their own that will always work.
After an amazing setup from Lionel Messi, Julián Álvarez gave Argentina a 3-0 lead over Croatia with the GOAL OF THE DAY. ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/c0R073zLGs— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 14, 2022
As Messi came face to face with Joško Gvardiol, a 20-year-old center-back who has earned lots of praise in this tournament, few would have expected the Argentine to make Gvardiol look as amateur as he did.
Bobbing and weaving, twisting and turning, Messi tied the Croatian into a knot, then untied him, and then re-tied him up again. To add insult to injury he found Julián Álvarez who scored Argentina’s third, securing their spot in the Final. Better luck next time, Joško.
3. Ruben Vargas vs Serbia
By far the most acrobatic assist on this list, Ruben Vargas deserved much praise for his assist on the winning goal that sent Switzerland to the knockout round.
Remo Freuler scores, but what about the back-heeled assist from Ruben Vargas! Switzerland back in control, with a margin for error to boot
— SI Soccer (@si_soccer) December 2, 2022
With the tense match level at 2-2, the Swiss managed to create a half-chance by clipping a ball into the penalty area for Vargas to do something with. It wasn’t a particularly friendly ball, but the Augsburg winger still managed to backheel the ball across the box for Remo Frueler to smash home for their third goal.
2. Kaoru Mitoma vs Spain
No, it was not over the line.
After a VAR check this was confirmed as a goal for Japan pic.twitter.com/WDmJ1QJAdc— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 1, 2022
Japan completed its second spectacular comeback with a win over Spain thanks to this unbelievable assist by Mitoma. The ball was kept in by the smallest of margins and Ao Tanaka pounced, scoring from the cross. A great bit of heads-up soccer sent the Samurai Blue through to the knockout round as group winners while eliminating Germany.
1. Lionel Messi vs Netherlands
Could it possibly have been anything else but this? Just watch the clip.
Messi went OFF against the NetherlandsWill he have another performance like this tomorrow? pic.twitter.com/kobETBl0T0
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) December 13, 2022
How did he see this pass? How did he pull it off? We will never know the answers, but it really doesn’t matter. As mere mortals who have been granted the invaluable gift of being able to see this freak of nature play, it is clear that his genius is stratospheric and his ingenuity is not bound by human limits.
Lionel Messi is simply otherworldly.