First XI

A goal and a half

April 12, 2012
By Robin Hackett
(Archive)

After Hatem Ben Arfa's fine solo effort in Newcastle's victory over Bolton, we pick out a selection of individual goals that saw the scorer run from inside their own half.

Diego Maradona (ARGENTINA 2-1 England, 1986 World Cup)

Terry Butcher, Diego Maradona
AssociatedDiego Maradona celebrates his legendary goal against England

For many, it is the greatest goal of all time. In a World Cup quarter-final against hated rivals England, Maradona followed the infamous Hand of God with a 65-yard run to put Argentina into a 2-0 lead.

Incredibly, it was better than it looked. Gary Lineker, who scored England's 81st-minute consolation, wrote in his book Still Dreaming that the Estadio Azteca pitch was so poor that the goal defied comprehension. England midfielder Steve Hodge added in his autobiography that the pitch that day was "unusable" and that, even when Maradona entered the box, he'd assumed "there'll be a bobble somewhere and someone will get a toe in".

They did not, and nor did they hack him down. In 2002, Maradona hailed the England defence as "probably the noblest in the world" for their refusal to resort to foul play, adding: "Don't get me wrong - they tackle hard, they're not soft, but they always go for the ball and, when they see they've no chance of getting it, then it becomes a game to them [they stick to the rules] and that is something that we South Americans do not understand." The result was a strike that was crowned the Goal of the Century on FIFA's website.

Roberto Baggio (FIORENTINA 2-3 Napoli, Serie A, 1989-90)

Baggio became a bona fide star in the space of a few days in September 1989. Already regarded as a player of huge talent, Baggio came to be heralded as 'the new Maradona' following incredible solo goals in successive matches.

On September 17, the first of his two goals against El Diego's Napoli saw him race from inside his own half before dancing around goalkeeper Giuliano Giuliani and slotting into the net. On September 20, he netted a brace to help Italy to a 4-0 friendly victory over Bulgaria: after coolly converting a penalty, he took possession in his own half and, after playing a one-two, rounded goalkeeper Iliya Valov and placed the ball into the net.

"After the Napoli match, the Italian press was reporting the birth of an authentic champion," The Guardian reported shortly afterwards. "After the Bulgarian game, he was being likened to legends such as Rivera, Mazzola, Zico and even Maradona."

The following summer, having made a world record £7.7 million move to Juventus that saw him receive death threats from the Fiorentina fans, he produced another virtuoso solo goal for his country. In the 78th minute of Italy's final group stage match of the 1990 World Cup against Czechoslovakia, Baggio - making his first appearance of the tournament - picked the ball up on the halfway line, played a one-two, raced into the penalty area and curled it into the back of the net.

Saeed Al-Owairan (Belgium 0-1 SAUDI ARABIA, 1994 World Cup group stage)

Saudi Arabia, 500-1 shots for the 1994 World Cup, finished second in Group F after a 1-0 victory over Belgium in Washington. The goal that day, courtesy of Al-Owairan's 66-yard dash, saw the scorer earn the nicknames 'Maradona of the Arabs' and 'Desert Pele'.

Al-Owairan was given a Rolls-Royce in reward for the goal, and he became a celebrity in his homeland, but it was to lead to his downfall. ''In some ways, it was great," he said in 1998. "In other ways, it was awful. Because it put me in the spotlight, everybody was focusing on me.''

He was hauled before an Islamic court when he was caught enjoying female company at an illegal drinks party during Ramadan in 1996, and sentenced to a six-month prison term, given an 18-month ban from football and warned that any repeat would lead to his execution. ''To be suspended for a year from playing was the worst punishment I got,'' he said.

George Weah (AC MILAN 4-1 Verona, Serie A, 1996-97)

George Weah makes for goal during his 110-yard run against Verona
AssociatedGeorge Weah makes for goal during his 110-yard run against Verona

Gazzetta dello Sport ran extensive coverage in the days that followed, labelling it the greatest goal ever seen in Italian football. With Milan looking to preserve a 2-1 lead on the opening day of the 1996-97 season, Weah picked up the ball inside his own penalty area and raced to the other end of the field, beating the majority of the Verona players along the way, before coolly firing into the net.

"When I took the ball, it was like I lose my mind," he told The Guardian in 2000. "Somebody kept pushing me, saying 'Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!', and when I got to the final touch, I ran into the hands of somebody I never knew. It was a crazy goal, man. When I look at my idols - Pele, Maradona, Beckenbauer, Cruyff - they did a lot of great things. I came into the game and made history too."

Ronaldo (Compostela 1-5 BARCELONA, La Liga, 1996-97)

Ronaldo spent just one season with Barcelona, but his time at the Camp Nou was sensational. He won the Pichichi Trophy in the 1996-97 season as he netted 34 goals in 37 games, and none was more impressive than the first of his two at Compostela in October 1996.

O Fenomeno, who had earlier provided a stunning assist for Giovanni to make it 2-0, produced his phenomenal effort on 35 minutes. Picking up the ball inside his own half, he used his skill to evade some cynical attempts to halt his charge before racing away to finish. Barca boss Bobby Robson held his head in disbelief, while the Galician fans could do nothing but applaud.

Barca vice-president Nicolau Casaus said it was "the most beautiful goal I've ever seen", and even the Madrid press were awestruck: ABC called it "a goal that earned its place in history", while a reverential AS ran its coverage under the headline 'Pele returns'.

Ronaldo remained modest. "I feel the same way I do when I score any goal," Ronaldo told El Mundo Deportivo. "I'm happy because Barcelona claimed the three points."

Paulo Wanchope (Manchester United 2-3 DERBY COUNTY, Premier League, 1996-97)

As debuts go, it was impressive. Derby County had been only four points above the relegation zone when they made a deadline day double swoop for Costa Rican duo Paulo Wanchope and Mauricio Solis, and the former made his first appearance a little over a week later, on April 5, at Old Trafford.

Manchester United, the league leaders, rested a number of regular first-teamers with the upcoming Champions League semi-final against Borussia Dortmund in mind; the 20-year-old Costa Rican and his new team-mates made them pay. Ashley Ward had already put Derby into the lead when Wanchope picked up a pass inside his own half and set off on a run past four United players before slotting past Peter Schmeichel.

Ferguson chastised his side's defending as "absolutely shocking", while even Wanchope played down his effort. "Really, against Manchester United I didn't beat a lot of players," he told The Independent later that year. "I took the ball straight into the box."

Steve McManaman (Celtic 2-2 LIVERPOOL, UEFA Cup, 1997-98)

McManaman, having recently seen a £12 million move to Barcelona collapse, had been a peripheral figure for 89 minutes of Liverpool's UEFA Cup first round, first leg clash at Celtic. The Reds, having taken the lead, had fallen 2-1 behind and were very much second best on the night.

But that all changed when McManaman collected a Paul Ince pass deep in his own half, played the ball around Morten Weighorst then, upon reaching the Celtic penalty area, unleashed a curling drive into the corner. "It was a sensational goal," manager Roy Evans said. "At that point I was more concerned with losing 3-1."

The goal, which would eventually prove decisive as Liverpool won the tie on away goals, was later voted the third greatest in the club's history in a fan poll. He produced a near-replica a few days later, too, netting the second in a 3-0 win over Aston Villa. "It was a bit like the Celtic goal," McManaman said afterwards. "I intercepted a pass and just kept running. Villa backed off, like Celtic did."

Ryan Giggs (MANCHESTER UNITED 2-1 Arsenal, FA Cup, 1998-99)

Ryan Giggs fires the ball beyond David Seaman to give Manchester United the victory
GettyImagesRyan Giggs fires the ball beyond David Seaman to give Manchester United the victory

On their way to an historic Treble, Manchester United were, in the words of Alex Ferguson, "hanging on like grim death" in their FA Cup semi-final replay with Arsenal at Villa Park.

David Beckham and Dennis Bergkamp had exchanged goals before United went down to ten men as Roy Keane picked up a second booking; Arsenal then spurned a last-gasp chance to win it in normal time as Bergkamp failed to convert a penalty, but the Gunners remained dominant.

In the 109th minute, though, Giggs collected a tired pass from Patrick Vieira before taking off on a solo run into the opposition half that culminated in his squeezing past two defenders and drilling a shot past the helpless David Seaman.

Ferguson labelled it "a goal of genius", but the most fulsome praise came from one of the greatest players ever to represent the club. "Watching with my own eyes, I was dazed by what I was seeing," Sir Bobby Charlton said. "Giggs' goal is up there with the classics. In the context of a tight FA Cup semi-final, it was magic. He could not have achieved it on a bigger stage. It was pure theatre."

Kaka (BRAZIL 3-0 Argentina, international friendly, 2006)

The match between these two bitter rivals before a near-capacity crowd at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium was not, according to Brazil boss Dunga, a friendly. "In Brazil, when we play Argentina, there is no such word as friendly," he said. "It's more like war."

The 'war' was effectively decided in Brazil's favour courtesy of a brace from Elano, but it was substitute Kaka's last-gasp goal that will linger in the memory: capitalising on Lionel Messi's failure to take the ball under his control, Kaka raced half the length of the field before sliding the ball past goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri. "I was given a great chance and used it to my advantage," a modest Kaka said afterwards.

Lionel Messi (BARCELONA 5-2 Getafe, Copa del Rey, 2006-07)

Lionel Messi dances through the Getafe defence to score
GettyImagesLionel Messi dances through the Getafe defence to score

Barcelona took a commanding lead in their Copa del Rey semi-final first leg at Camp Nou. Getafe had scored twice to battle back from 3-0 down only to concede a further two goals and lose the match 5-2 - yet, for all the drama of this seven-goal thriller, all anyone spoke about in the aftermath was the first of Lionel Messi's two goals. Collecting the ball in his own half, he beat four players before taking the ball past goalkeeper Luis Garcia and slotting home.

El Mundo Deportivo went with the headline 'Homenaje a Maradona', but Barca coach Frank Rijkaard seemed to suggest Messi had outdone his compatriot. "Messi's goal was a work of art," he said. "They are both great goals, but Messi accelerated even faster than Maradona."

Messi was left out of the squad for the return leg and, though many key stars played, Getafe won 4-0 to secure a 6-5 aggregate victory. "There are defeats and defeats, and this one leaves us with a very ugly sensation," Rijkaard said afterwards.

Neymar (SANTOS 3-1 Internacional, 2012 Copa Libertadores)

The notion that Neymar is a talent to be placed in the class of Lionel Messi was reinforced during his astonishing performance during Santos' Copa Libertadores victory at home to Internacional in March.

He scored all of his side's goals in the 3-1 win and, though the first came from the penalty spot, the others were truly exceptional. The second saw him run from deep inside his own half, gliding effortlessly through the defence before clipping a shot that found its way into the net after taking a touch from goalkeeper Muriel. For the third, he collected the ball on the halfway line before using his electric pace to reach the box and then power a shot into the back of the net.

Despite the virtuoso performance, Neymar rejected the comparisons with Messi - "He is on another level," he said - and told Globo TV he had little concept of the goals he had scored: "I cannot explain what I did tonight. I need to watch the TV to see what I did on the field. I know I dribbled past a lot of rivals. That's the only thing I know."