Is Ibrahimović’s goal v England one of the best ever?

by James Clancy

When I first saw Zlatan Ibrahimović’s amazing fourth goal against England in their 4-2 win over England in Stockholm on Wednesday night, I immediately thought:  “I can honestly say, I have never seen a goal like that before.”

There is no doubt that the fact the 31 year-old is a black belt in Taekwando helped him net this remarkable strike.  In the last minute of the first game at Sweden’s brand new national stadium – the Friends Arena in Solna - Ibrahimović had already scored a hat-trick as the home side led 3-2, when a long ball was played over the top which England goalkeeper Joe Hart came some five yards outside of his penalty area to head clear.

Ibrahimović had chased the original ball and when the custodian headed clear, the Paris Saint Germain star turned to chase it before launching his body at the ball some 30 yards from goal at an extreme angle to goal and with the sphere fully eight feet off the ground when he made contact with it to, unleash a flying overhead kick which sailed high over the heads of the retreating netminder and defenders before sailing into the net.

It was a truly amazing goal – but Ibrahimović stated afterwards that he preferred his first goal of the night because  “That was history – the first goal in our new stadium.”

For me, Ibrahimović is doing himself a disservice.  His fourth goal was so special that it sent my memory banks into overdrive, searching for goals of similar quality.  Here, I intend to discuss my  “Top Five Goals of All Time.”

This is a topic ideal for barstool debate, but for me, there are five criteria when narrowing down this category.  Firstly; the IMPORTANCE OF THE OCCASION:  The fact that Ibrahimović’s amazing fourth goal against England came in a friendly pushes it down the pecking order.

QUALITY OF THE OPPOSITION:  This criteria is reasonably self explanatory.  An amazing goal scored against a minnow opposition will be considered to be less significant than a similar goal scored against world beaters.

Third criteria; SIGNIFICANCE/LEGACY OF THE GOAL:  David Beckham’s amazing goal from the halfway line against Wimbledon back in 1996 was an incredible strike, one which was fully meant on his part, but the fact that it was the third goal of a 3-0 win, scored in the last minute of the game, means that once again, it is pushed down the pecking order.  Legacy of the goal is also significant – a goal that’s remembered many years or even decades after it is scored, is likely to figure higher than one which is forgotten.

Fourth; TECHNIQUE:  This criteria probably applies more to a first time strike than an individual solo effort.  A case in point being Ronnie Whelan’s amazing 20 yard flying volley against the old USSR at the 1988 UEFA European Championships.  While the goal looks incredible on first (and second viewing) – closer inspection shows that Whelan in fact  “shinned”  it.   Another important facet to consider from a technique view point is;  Did the player mean it?  Many cracking shots can look excellent but in fact have a sizable element of luck to them – Whelan will admit himself that his effort against the Soviets could have been an embarrassing “air shot” or, alternatively, could have ended up in row Z of the stands.

Fifth: SKILL:   Probably more significant for an individual solo run a first time strike.  For example: Did the player use (varying) skills to get past a number of defenders or was he lucky to bundle his way past a number of challenges with the ball catching defender’s shins before rebounding into the attacker’s path?

There are a myriad of other possible options for  “Top 5 Goals of All-Time”;  but here is my personal choice, with each criteria ranked out of 10 for a maximum possible total of 50:

  • 5th Saeed Al Owairan: Saudi Arabia -v- Belgium @ 1994 FIFA World Cup

 

IMPORTANCE OF THE OCCASION:  9/10:

Saudi Arabia were, in 1994, the first Arab nation to qualify for the World Cup and Owairan’s goal ensured that they progressed to the knockout stages.

QUALITY of THE OPPOSITION:  9/10:   Belgium had qualified for the previous three World Cups and would qualify for the next two global finals.  Having finished fourth in 1986, they still had many world class names including Enzo Scifo and Luc Nilis.

SIGNIFICANCE/LEGACY of the GOAL:  9/10:  The goal gave the Saudis a 1-0 win and put them through to the knockout stages.  With 1994 being the Arab’s first World Cup, they would go on to reach the next three, with their narrow failure to reach the 2010 finals being the only time they have failed to play at the World Cup since.

TECHNIQUE:  9/10:   There are times during Owairan’s run that he seems to be losing his balance and not entirely in control, but he still ran some 60 yards without losing the ball, despite facing several challenges before supplying a quality finish.

DIFFICULTY/SKILL LEVEL:  9/10:   While he at times looks ungainly on his way to goal, it still took considerable skill for Owairan to beat more than half of the Belgian team and lift the ball over the advancing Belgian goalkeeper.

TOTAL:      45/50

  • 4th Paul Gascoigne: England -v- Scotland @ UEFA Euro 1996

 

England were hosting the 1996 European Championships and had looked nervous in their opening game against Switzerland, which finished in a 1-1 draw.  The second group game was a do-or-die clash against old enemies Scotland and, having seen a penalty saved less than a minute earlier, England cleared the resulting corner kick up the pitch to Gascoigne.  The 28 year-old proceeded to lift the ball over Colin Hendry’s head before slamming it first time, low and hard into the corner of the net to seal the game and settle England nerves.

IMPORTANCE OF THE OCCASION:  9.5/10:  While still the group stages, England were looking nervous and the goal helped settle home nerves and seal smooth progression to the quarter finals.

QUALITY of THE OPPOSITION:  8/10:  Scotland were at a high ebb at the time having qualified for three of the previous major tournaments and they would go on to qualify for the 1998 World Cup.  Before Gascoigne netted, they had had England under the cosh and were unlucky not to be level.  As for legacy; it is quite simply Gascoigne’s most iconic moment, aside from his tears at the 1990 World Cup.

SIGNIFICANCE/LEGACY of the GOAL:  9/10:  This was the goal which got England’s 1996 European Championship campaign (the first major tournament hosted there in 30 years) up and running.  While the tournament would end in heartbreak as the home side lost on penalties in the semi-final to the Germans, this result – and Gascoigne’s flamboyant goal in the main – made all associated with England believe.

TECHNIQUE:  9.5/10:   The chance appeared to have gone when Gascoigne lifted the ball over Scottish captain Hendrie’s head, but the Newcastle native proceeded to slam a half volley into the net.

DIFFICULTY/SKILL LEVEL:  10/10:  Quite simply, at that time – only Eric Cantona could have scored a goal like that – but Cantona never scored a goal as skilful as that.

TOTAL:      46/50

  • 3rd Zinedine Zidane: Real Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen @ 2002 UEFA Champions League Final

 

It was a few minutes before half-time of the 2002 Champions League final and an innocuous mishit, looping ball from Roberto Carlos came over Zidane’s head.  He proceeded to swivel and adjust his body before smashing an unstoppable first time volley at near head height from the edge of the penalty area, into the top corner of the German net.

IMPORTANCE OF THE OCCASION:  9.5/10:  The goal was the deciding goal of a 2-1 win for the Spanish (who Zidane would go on to lead to the Spanish La Liga title the following season) and was their third European Cup title in four years.  It crowned Los Blancos as arguably the greatest club side of their era, but arguably, more importantly meant that Zidane added the European Cup to the World Cup and European Championships – by playing a pivotal part in winning all and confirming his legacy as the best player of his generation.  (The importance of the occasion has 0.5 of a mark taken off because it was Madrid’s third European Cup final in four years).

QUALITY of THE OPPOSITION:  9/10:   No side that reaches a Champions League final could be labeled ‘weak.’   This was however Leverkusen’s first ever European Cup/Champions League final, having finished as runners up in the German Bundesliga – and lost first place in the title race on the final day of the season – a few day’s earlier.  They would also finish as losing finalists in the German Cup that season – with star man, Michael Ballack, also earning a runners up medal (and being forced to sit out the final) of that summer’s World Cup!

SIGNIFICANCE/LEGACY of the GOAL:  10/10:    The goal was the deciding goal in a Champions League final.  There would be almost enough said in that alone, but the goal also meant that Real Madrid became the first (and still only) side to win three Champions League titles (in the competition’s new format) in four years.  No club has ever won consecutive Champions League titles under its new (post 1992) format.   As for the legacy of the goal – anyone who has seen it will remember it – even if there are almost incalculably more moments to remember from the football career of Zinedine Zidane.

TECHNIQUE: 10/10:   Roberto Carlos had looped over a nothing ball towards the edge of the German penalty area and with the ball coming over the Frenchman’s head, the technique required to meet the ball first time and to get the power he did on it (without sending it into row Z) is one of the highest order.

DIFFICULTY/SKILL LEVEL:  10/10:  As above, this goal is one of the most difficult type to score.  Marks (or fractions of marks) may be deducted if there is doubt as to whether he knew exactly what he was doing or 100% meant what he did.  This is Zidane however.  He meant it and he knew exactly what he was doing.

TOTAL:       48.5/50

  • 2nd  Marco Van Basten:  Netherlands -v- USSR @  1988 European Championship Final

 

IMPORTANCE OF THE OCCASION:  10/10:  Euro ’88 was a triumph for the Netherland’s long suffering football fans.  They deserved to win the 1978 World Cup – when only an Argentinian side playing at home and with some dodgy refereeing (particularly in the early stages of the tournament, think Argentina v Peru) – prevented the  Oranje from lifting a deserved World crown.  The Dutch played football the way God intended it to be played and their 1988 triumph was a victory for  “totaalvoetbal.”

QUALITY of THE OPPOSITION:  9.5/10:   The Soviets had struggled early on in that Euro ’88 campaign but were hitting peak form coming into the final, having been too good for an Italian side containing such star names as Zenga, Maldini, Baresi, Costacurta, Mancini and Vialli.

SIGNIFICANCE/LEGACY of the GOAL:  9.5/10:  Another goal which all football fans remember forever once they see it once.  The Dutch went into decline somewhat after that triumph however and  “totaalvoetbal”  appeared to be virtually dead by the early 1990s – an era which was one of the most boring in world football – with defensive Italian (club) teams the best in the world.

TECHNIQUE: 10/10:  Van Basten watched Arnold Mühren’s hopeful floated ball come over his head and across his body, before unleashing an unstoppable right foot shot, from an impossible 15°  angle to goal with the ball looping over legendary Russian goalkeeper Dasayev’s head and just inside the far post.

SKILL:  9.5/10:    It is undoubtedly an incredibly skillful strike, but half a mark is taken off because there has to be some doubt (for me at least) as to whether Van Basten meant to do exactly what he did.

TOTAL:   48.5/50

  •  1st Diego Maradonna:  Argentina -v- England @ 1986 FIFA World Cup quarter-final

 

IMPORTANCE of THE OCCASION:  10/10:  Okay, okay – this might be an obvious choice as number one – but for me it’s a deserved number one.  For me, Maradona is a wonderfully flawed character – and that game against England illustrated his personality fantastically.  His first goal that day against England was a devious slight of hand (quite literally); while the second was the most sensational ten seconds of sumptuous skill you are likely to see as the Argentinians held on to win the match 2-1 and eventually to lift that 1986 World Cup.

QUALITY of THE OPPOSITION:  9/10:  England had struggled through the group stages of the tournament, but were coming into their own as the knockout stages progressed, having hammered a strong Paraguayan side 3-0 in the previous round.

SIGNIFICANCE/LEGACY of the GOAL:  10/10:   I know for a fact that everyone with even a passing interest in football has seen this goal more than once.  For the Argentinians, this game was so much more than a football match.  The game was held less than four years after the  Falklands War  between Argentina and the United Kingdom and was a key part in the already intense football rivalry between both nations.  The game added hugely to the rivalry between the two teams, with the English stating that they had been cheated out of the competition by Maradona’s hand ball.  Meanwhile, in Argentina, the game was seen as revenge for the Falklands War and for what they still see as the unfair game at the 1966 World Cup (in England).  The former Argentinian international Roberto Perfumo stated that  “‘In 1986, winning that game against England was enough.  Winning the World Cup was secondary for us.  Beating England was our real aim.”

SKILL:  10/10:   Maradona won the ball some five yards inside his own half of a congested midfield, before flicking the ball between Reid and Fenwick, who appeared to have the situation under control  - a moment of exquisite skill as he started his passage to the English goal.

TECHNIQUE: 10/10:   The bolt upright stance and low centre of gravity as he slalomed through the English attempted challenges (six in total) at such speed that it appeared as though the squat Argentinian were a downhill skier with the English defenders stationary poles blocking his path, are a sight which has, and will, live through the generations.

TOTAL:     49/50

There are plenty who will disagree with my choices, but that’s what football’s about;  opinions.  I personally (and possibly harshly) argue that Zlatan Ibrahimović’s quite incredible fourth goal against England cannot feature at the absolute zenith of all time greatest goals, because it was scored in the last minute of a friendly match.  If you disagree let me know your own choices – and reasons for those choices if you wish.

Also, I was born in the 1980s and none of the goals I have nominated pre date 1986 – are there a few (or many perhaps) humdingers from before that era that I have forgotten to mention?

Below I have selected one of my all-time favorite other goals (with no strict criteria applied – just simply the sheer aesthetics of the strike).  It came from Northern Ireland’s Matty Burrows and was scored on 5th October 2010. It’s a jumping backheeled volley, which sealed a last minute victory for Glentoran in injury-time of a match against Portadown.  The goal was shortlisted for the 2010 FIFA Puskas Award, which honors the player judged to have scored the “most beautiful” goal of the year.  Having seen the goal on video, one Cristiano Ronaldo commented:  “I couldn’t have scored a goal like that.”   If it’s good enough for him, then it’s good enough for me!

Matty Burrows; take a bow son, take a bow!:

2 Responses

  1. Giakimo says:

    I agree with on the criteria (not on the definition of boring ’90s, but that’s another issue).
    The only pre-1986 goals I can think of that match your criteria are the goal scored by Arie Haan in 1978 against Italy in the semifinal of the World Cup and first goal of the 1970 final, a terrific header by Pelé.
    Other famous wonderful goals not included (but as you said, it’s a personal choice) are Dennis Bergkamp second goal against Argentina in 1998, Alessandro Del Piero goal against Fiorentina in 1994 and Mauro Bressan against Barcelona in 1999 (that is much better than Ibrahimovic wonderful goal).

  2. James Clancy James Clancy says:

    Thanks for the feedback Gaikimo. I was tempted to included Bergkamp’s goal from the 1998 World Cup – it would probably be sixth. Del Pierro’s goal from 1994 is also incredible – I would have that probably seventh with Mauro Bressan’s goal eighth. He might be higher up if the ball didn’t bounce before he struck it.

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