First touch in soccer is all about a few different things. It's about keeping the ball close to you and away from defenders, but it's also about allowing you to make that next pass, cut or move with the ball.
In other words, your first touch has to be out in front of you but away from the defender that's closing you down. It's really all about the next play with the ball - knowing what you're going to do next with the ball before you control it. So the first touch can't be too close to you but it also can't be too far away where a defender will win the ball.
Also, sometimes you want your first touch to almost invite a defender to try to win the ball, to tempt them to dive in. The ball is right there for the taking, so it seems. Instead, your next touch beats the defender.
Here are a few examples of some brilliant first touches. Yes, it's no coincidence that a lot of these examples come from Barcelona players:
Iniesta cushions the ball with his instep and then dribbles past an oncoming defender. Notice how he looks around before he controls it to see the two defenders.
Berbatov deadens the ball with ease like he's playing pick-up soccer on a Sunday.
Busquets takes a goalkeepers punt out of the air with the inside of his foot and looks to make a pass.
Xavi's back is turned and deadens the ball out of the air and spins up field and away from pressure.
Cantona just makes it look all too easy. Watch how he controls the ball in the air with the inside of his foot and then volleys the ball home.