Sunday, December 26, 2010
ESPNsoccernet: December 27, 10:46 PM UK
Goal of the Year
While a magnificent save or a crunching tackle can bring whoops of delight and gasps of astonishment, there is nothing better in football than a glorious goal.
As usual, there has been a fine selection to choose from in 2010, scored by the world's best, but also by some of football's more unheralded players. ESPNsoccernet's Top Five of the past 12 months reflects the fact that anyone, no matter what level, can score a great goal.
Beating the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to top spot for ESPNsoccernet's Goal of the Year 2010 is a breathtaking piece of improvisation from 25-year-old Glentoran striker Matthew Burrows. His sensational finish - a mid-air back heel from 16 yards out - was as important as it was incredible, giving his side an injury time victory over Portadown in the Northern Irish Premiership.
It is fair to say that Burrows had a fairly low profile in the football world before his wonder goal, but the former Dundela and Loughgall forward became an overnight sensation when a video of his strike was posted on YouTube, drawing international acclaim from as far afield as New York and Sydney and surpassing the one million views mark just two days after it was scored.
The worldwide outpouring of praise for Burrows' strike led to it being nominated for FIFA's prestigious Ferenc Puskas Award for Goal of 2010, meaning that he will attend the gala ceremony in January along with the likes of Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Burrows was unsurprisingly taken aback by the phone call from FIFA, saying: "The whole thing is unreal and it's only just sinking in. I could maybe try to do that 100 times and it would only come off once - I caught it perfectly."
World Cup semi-finals are usually nervy affairs, particularly when your country has been trying to shed its tag of 'perennial underachievers' for 32 years. More than three decades after the Netherlands wowed the world with Total Football but ultimately fell short against Argentina, the Dutch found themselves on the brink of repeating their predecessors' achievements in reaching a World Cup final.
Determined to lead by example in South Africa in the summer was veteran skipper Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who had already announced that the 2010 finals would be his last participation in professional football. In his 105th international, the former Arsenal and Barcelona left-back decided to take matters into his own hands against Uruguay in Cape Town.
Eighteen minutes into the game, and with the scores level at 0-0, Van Bronckhorst received the ball from Wesley Sneijder 15 yards from the left touchline. Taking one touch to set the ball ahead of him, the defender then stunned his team-mates, his opponents and the watching world by unleashing a thunderous left-foot shot that flew all of 40 yards into the top corner of Fernando Muslera's goal.
It was an unbelievable, truly unexpected strike from a player who had scored just five previous international goals and it sparked the semi-final into life. The Netherlands ended up edging past the South Americans into the final thanks to an entertaining 3-2 victory and Van Bronckhorst proved that that, if struck correctly, the much-maligned Jabulani ball could actually go where a player wanted it to.
There have been plenty of occasions over the years when goals have been described as having a 'Van Basten-esque' quality, but few could have as clear a claim to dethroning the Dutch master's famous effort from Euro '88 as the 'best angled volley of all time' than Hammarby striker Linus Hallenius.
Having initially struggled for goals after moving to Hammarby, Hallenius began to flourish when his side were relegated to the Swedish second tier - netting 17 goals in 21 games to earn himself an upcoming move to Serie A with Genoa. There was one finish, in particular, that got a few people talking around the globe.
Playing against Syrianska FC, a free-kick was floated towards where Hallenius had peeled away to the left side of the penalty area. With a defender in close attendance, he controlled the ball with his chest and lifted the ball over his marker's head with his right foot, before hammering a left-foot volley from a tight angle over the helpless goalkeeper's head and into the far right corner.
Understandably, comparisons with Van Basten's goal have been extensive, but it is worth remembering that the Dutchman's awesome strike came when he was at the peak of his powers for Milan, while Hallenius is a relatively unknown 21-year-old. That status may soon change with his imminent move to Italy, and a few more volleys like the one against Syrianska would do little to harm his growing reputation.
Barcelona's diminutive genius scored a staggering 55 goals in 52 games for Barcelona in 2010, providing a smorgasbord of possible contenders for a list of the year's best strikes. But while there have been plenty of sensational solo efforts from the Argentina playmaker, the goal that makes this list is a team effort that epitomises the beautiful football that has become the hallmark of Pep Guardiola's side.
On this particular day, Real Sociedad were the unfortunate opponents - facing a Barca side at their imperious best. From kick-off in the second-half, the Catalans patiently built up possession with Xavi and Iniesta dictating play in their usual inimitable style. Sociedad were left chasing shadows as the reigning Spanish champions demonstrated their prowess at one-touch passing, before Messi and Dani Alves stepped up to play the role of goal architects.
Hugging the right touchline, Alves and Messi produced a delightful interchange to pull three players out of the game, though the Argentinan maestro was not content with embarrassing them only once as he resumed Alves' original position on the right wing. With a drop of the shoulder and a one-two with Alves, he opened up two Sociedad players and moved elegantly into space with the ball at his feet. Another one-two with Alves followed and Messi steamed into the penalty area - his nifty footwork leaving three more helpless players in his wake - before exchanging once more with his Brazilian team-mate and slotting home.
It was an exceptional end to an electrifying move that had lasted more than two minutes and included 28 passes from start to finish, with Sociedad failing to steal possession at any point after the referee's whistle had sounded. Messi went on to score a memorable second as Barca triumphed 5-0 - slaloming through the defence once again - but the team goal he finished off with such aplomb was truly a goal to capture the imagination of the football purist.
Arsenal midfielder Samir Nasri has been setting the Premier League alight for the past few months and can boast some quality goals already in 2010-11, including superb efforts against Partizan Belgrade and Fulham recently. But the spark that ignited the France midfielder's confidence, paving the way for his sparkling displays this season, was a moment of individual magic against Porto in the Champions League last 16 in March.
Having lost the first leg in Portugal 2-1 thanks to some comical goalkeeping from Lukasz Fabianski, Arsenal welcomed Porto to Emirates Stadium knowing nothing less than a victory would be good enough. The absence of influential captain Cesc Fabregas dealt the Gunners a big blow, but Nasri was to step ably into the creative void left by Fabregas. Pulling the strings in midfield, Nasri produced arguably his best display in an Arsenal shirt, capping it off with the third goal in a 5-0 win for the Gunners.
After exchanging passes with Abou Diaby in an advanced position down the right, Nasri looked to be going nowhere with Raul Meireles closely shackling him. But some mesmeric touches from the Frenchman saw him turn Portugal's most accomplished defensive midfielder inside out, before he drove at the Porto defence at pace but with the ball firmly in his control. Nasri's nimble footwork saw him swerve through the advances of Christian Rodriguez and Alvaro Pereira and his finish was emphatic as he smashed the ball acutely into the far corner in what was a perfect example of a player using his superior skill to create something from nothing.
Here are a selection of other goals that deserve an honourable mention when discussing the best goals of 2010:
• Arjen Robben (Fiorentina v Bayern Munich, March 9, 2010)
• Hamit Altintopp (Kazakhstan v Turkey, September, 2010)
• Siphiwe Tshabalala (South Africa v Mexico, June 11)