With only a month remaining in the ‘Noughties’, I thought I’d reflect on some of the finest goals scored in the Beautiful Game over the last ten years. Am I horribly off the mark with my choices? Let me know in the comments!
1. Zinedine Zidane, REAL MADRID v Bayer Leverkusen, 15 May 2002
It is a footballing tragedy that, in some parts of the world, Zinedine Zidane’s legacy will always be an inexplicable headbutt in a World Cup final. For others, this goal will thankfully remain the moment that defines “Zizou.”
This volley in the 2001-02 Champions League final is not only technically astounding, but was scored in arguably the biggest club game in the world, and clinched victory for the Galácticos of Real Madrid. The cross from Roberto Carlos seems to hang in the air for an age, yet somehow Zidane has all the time in the world to lean back and athletically contort his body before blasting home – with his weaker foot, naturally.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo, MANCHESTER UNITED v Porto, 15 April 2009
Perhaps unfairly, there were some who questioned Cristiano Ronaldo’s performances during his final season with Manchester United. His all-too-public flirtations with Real Madrid throughout the summer of 2008 didn’t help matters; nor did scoring an incredible 42 goals the previous season, setting up colossal expectations.
While he failed to match those dizzying heights, Ronaldo still notched a superb 26 goals during the 2008-09 campaign, and this was the best. Receiving the ball deep in the Porto half, there seems to be little threat to the home side. Ronaldo, however, is a stark exception to most players. With one almighty swing of his right foot, the ball arrows – and never has that word been more appropriate than here – past helpless Brazilian goalkeeper Helton, its extreme mid-flight movement a testament to Ronaldo’s gifts.
The speed of the ball was timed at 64mph, and Ronaldo later called it the “greatest goal I have ever scored.” It is hard to disagree.
3. Esteban Cambiasso, ARGENTINA v Serbia, 16 June 2006
The previous two goals in this list were crucial in eking out narrow victories. In the grand scheme of things, Argentina’s stunning team goal would prove far less important, coming as it did in a World Cup Group game that saw a hopeless Serbia murdered 6-0.
Yet that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate this 24-pass maneuver for what it is: the finest team goal of the decade, and possibly the best World Cup goal since Maradona slalomed past the English defence in 1986. Cambiasso’s sliced finish may be imperfect, but the exquisite web of passing that precedes it will live long in the memory. Pundits everywhere tipped Argentina to win the World Cup after this. They went out in the last eight to hosts Germany, but left a striking imprint on the tournament.
4. Andrés Vasquez, GOTHENBURG v Orebro, 7 May 2007
We may never know if Andrés Vasquez truly intended to score with this audacious behind-the-leg “rabona” flick. The man himself says he meant it, and his claims were strengthened when he pulled off the same trick – twice – for Swedish TV cameras the following week.
Either way, maybe that debate isn’t important. Instead, let’s put our cynicism aside and enjoy what is probably the best “trick shot” goal of the last ten years. Vasquez is not a Zidane or a Ronaldo, and the match in which this was scored was not a global event, but the execution is undeniably breathtaking.
5. Dennis Bergkamp, ARSENAL v Newcastle United, 3 March 2002
Pelé once said he dreamed of scoring a goal that nobody else had ever scored. The great man never quite realised this ambition – this outrageous dummy against Uruguay was the closest he came. Dennis Bergkamp, however, did achieve Pelé’s dream.
A scorer of numerous great goals, Bergkamp remains one of the most skilled and cultured footballers to have plied his trade in the English game. This goal against Newcastle United in 2002 says it all. The mind-boggling flick that helps Bergkamp evade a flummoxed Nikos Dabizas is stunningly imaginative. Watch the goal once or twice, and you may still not understand how the Dutchman pulls this off – the mechanics of Bergkamp’s skill can be tricky to fathom.
Did he really just do that?, you think. He did. And unlike a certain Brazilian legend, there was an ice-cool finish to boot.
6. Rivaldo, BARCELONA v Valencia, 17 June 2001
It is the final matchday of the 2000-01 season in Spain’s La Liga. Fate has decreed that Barcelona and Valencia will play for fourth place in the league, a spot that guarantees entry in the lucrative Champions League – literally millions of dollars rest on the outcome.
A draw in this game would be sufficient for Valencia, and with the game tied at 2-2 after 89 minutes, it looks like they would be playing in club football’s biggest competition the following season. Yet as the game ticks into its final minute, a ball chipped forward by Frank de Boer finds the chest of Rivaldo. The Brazilian playmaker’s control is instant, and followed up by a bicycle kick from the edge of the eighteen-yard box that is so surreal and improbably brilliant that you would expect to see it in a FIFA videogame, rather than real-life.
It was Rivaldo’s hat-trick goal. Barcelona grabbed a Champions League spot, Valencia hardly knew what had hit them.
7. Ronaldinho, BARCELONA v Chelsea, 8 March 2005
Ronaldinho at the height of his powers was a sight to behold, and Chelsea felt the full force of the Brazilian maestro’s talent in 2005.
This inspired strike, scored with his Barcelona team trailing to the English champions in a two-legged Champions League tie, is scored from twenty yards from what is virtually a standing position. It has zero backlift, and leaves Petr Cech, widely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the world at the time, rooted to the spot, a dumbstruck spectator to Ronaldinho’s coruscating genius.
Barcelona would lose the tie, but nobody was left in any doubt about the highlight of what had been two splendid matches.
8. Grafite, WOLFSBURG v Bayern Munich, 5 April 2009
On their way to winning last season’s German title, Wolfsburg hammered Bayern Munich 5-1, and Brazilian striker Grafite scored a goal that one German commentator described as “the goal of the season, if not the best goal I have ever seen since the Bundesliga started in 1963.”
And what a goal it was. Running towards goal from forty-five yards out, Grafite leaves the Bayern defence with twisted blood, jinking and turning his way through defenders. Having rounded the entire back line and ‘keeper, he finishes with a nonchalant reverse back-heel, as if what came before hadn’t been spectacular enough. The ball dribbles over the line.
9. Lionel Messi, BARCELONA v Getafe, 18 April 2007
A flying Argentinian No. 10, cutting through a defence like a hot knife through butter before finishing from a scarily tight angle – sound familiar?
Comparisons between Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi have been rife since the latter made his debut in 2004. Messi did nothing to dispel such parallels here with this goal against Getafe, which is almost a carbon-copy of Maradona’s famous World Cup goal (so good I’ve linked it twice in this article alone). Messi was still a teenager at the time this was scored, yet left grown men in his blazing wake that April night in the Nou Camp.
10. Paul Scholes, MANCHESTER UNITED v Bradford, 25 March 2000
Zidane regarded Paul Scholes as “the greatest of his generation”, some compliment from a man many consider to be the best player of the last decade. Then again, goals like this make an interesting case for Zidane’s views.
Certainly, Scholes has always been technically marvellous, with a collection of great goals that is thicker than the big print version of War and Peace – this wondrous lob, for example, came close to appearing in this list. However, his finest moment was surely this 2000 strike, if only because of the sublime technique required to leave the ball nestling in the Bradford City net.
Cleanly connecting with a football as it comes across the body is immensely difficult, yet Scholes manages it with aplomb after a David Beckham – remember him? – corner finds him lurking on the edge of the penalty area. The resulting goal is, in every respect, the perfect volley.