100. Roberto Carlos’s free-kick against France
France 1-1 Brazil, Stade de Gerland, Lyon
Le Tournoi, 3 June 1997
The moment 20 minutes in to the opening game of Le Tournoi and almost 40 yards from goal, it was going to take something special to threaten Fabian Barthez with a free-kick so far out. Instead, Carlos offered something genuinely spectacular. After a huge run up, the left-back struck the ball with the outside of his foot at such an angle that it spun 10 yards away from goal before coming back in and going in off the post. Reflecting the unbelievable nature of the ball’s trajectory, a ball-boy to the right of goal ducked while Barthez remained motionless on his line before helplessly looking at the ball fly in.
“Watch this.” Frank Lebouef’s reported comment to Christophe Dugarry in the French wall as Carlos shaped to shoot.
“Carlos… minimised the effect of gravity.” Dr Christophe Clanet of Ecole Polytechnique in Paris
“Apart from that one strike, I can’t really recall another great Roberto Carlos free-kick. He’s all brute force and not much else – there’s no variation, is there? Just bombas.” Rivelino
“The truth is that I just fix the position of the target in my mind, close my eyes and try to hit it as hard as possible.” Carlos himself in 2002
What it meant In the grand scheme of things, very little since this was a friendly tournament. But it did launch Roberto Carlos’s status into the stratosphere as well as creating an expectant hush any time he came within shooting distance ever again. From actual set-pieces, he rarely lived up to it. Indeed, it would be five years until he scored another for Brazil. But, as his impossible strike against Tenerife for Real Madrid in the 1997-98 Spanish league season also illustrated, he was certainly a player capable of the spectacular. At the least, Carlos’s goals showed the possibilities when you properly applied physics and geometry to football. It’s very difficult to think of a goal in the history of the game that was so outrageous and so astounding.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Rivelino v Czechoslovakia, 1970 World Cup; Roberto Carlos v Tenerife, 1997-98 La Liga season; Ezequiel Calvente’s free-kick versus Italy in the 2010 under-19 European Championships
99. The Butcher of Bilbao cuts down Maradona
Barcelona 4-0 Athletic Bilbao, Camp Nou
Spanish league, 24 September 1983
The moment As was becoming pretty standard in world football at the time, a 22-year-old Diego Maradona was eviscerating another defence with yet another elusive, exquisite run. Except, this time, Athletic Bilbao defender Andoni Goikoetxea had a unique response. Having already badly injured Barcelona’s Bernd Schuster two seasons previously, the centre-half leapt off the ground and, with an outstretched left foot, landed on Maradona’s ankle, bending it and leaving the playmaker crumpled in a pained heap. After what was one of the most brutal challenges ever seen in Spanish football, the Argentine was left with three pins in his leg and three months on the sideline, when he suffered a severe bout of depression.
“It’s tyranny.” Argentina coach Cesar Luis Menotti
“They were lenient towards man-markers at that time… You’d be off the pitch in 15 minutes now. There was no real protection then.” Liam Brady
What it meant The injury was one of a series of incidents that ensured Maradona’s time at the Camp Nou was much less successful than it should have been. Worse, Maradona exacted a particularly unsavoury revenge when he literally kicked off a 22-man brawl as the same sides met in the Spanish cup final. Such differences ran even deeper, however, as Maradona’s national team manager Cesar Luis Menotti used the incident as a classic illustration of the philosophical debate then dominating Latin football: art against aggression; creation against destruction. Menotti felt that Javier Clemente’s abrasive team were the worst examples of the overly defensive approach “ruining” the game. Most of all, though, the treatment encapsulated the kind of treatment that creative players had to endure at that point on the game. It’s because of such injuries that the likes of Leo Messi have much more space to revel in today.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Claudio Gentile’s marking of Maradona, 1982 World Cup; Graeme Souness v Steaua Bucharest, 1987-88 European Cup; Benjamin Massing on Claudio Caniggia, 1990 World Cup; Roy Keane on Marc Overmars, 2001 World Cup qualifiers
98. Grobbelaar feeds the Romans spaghetti
Liverpool 1-1 Roma (4-2 on penalties), Stadio Olimpico
European Cup final, 30 May 1984
The moment The pressure was piling up for Liverpool. Having forced penalties in front of an intimidating Roman crowd in a European Cup final that was an effective away match, Steve Nicol had missed their first of the shoot-out. And, although Bruno Conti also failed soon after, Bruce Grobbelaar realised something extra was needed. So, as Italy’s 1982 hero Francesco Graziani stepped up for Roma’s fourth penalty, the goalkeeper began to indulge in an odd display of wobbly legs. Unnerved – or perhaps perplexed – the Italian clipped the ball onto the top of the bar and over. It was left to Alan Kennedy to secure the trophy for Liverpool.
“I fought during the Rhodesian war of the Seventies… after this terrifying experience, my years in football were a dream.” Grobbelaar
“He never actually made a save!” Mark Lawrenson
“People said I was being disrespectful to their players, but I was just testing their concentration under pressure. I guess they failed that test.” Grobbelaar
What it meant The first of nine times that the competition was decided on penalties. That victory also completed the most consistent and sustained run by any one club in the European Cup’s history, as Liverpool won their fourth final in seven years. That it was secured by a different manager to Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan, also emphasised the status and stability of Anfield’s Boot Room philosophy. With shoot-outs themselves also relatively nascent, Grobbelaar set a template for psychological one-upmanship that would be copied by his successor Jerzy Dudek 21 years later.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Dudek v Milan, 2005
97. Kevin Keegan explodes
Leeds United 0-1 Newcastle United, Elland Road
Premier League, 29 April 1996
The moment Having at one point led the Premier League by 10 points, Newcastle United were only losing their way as it came to the run-in. No-one more so than manager Kevin Keegan.
After Manchester United claimed a crucial – and late – 1-0 win against a mid-table but motivated Leeds, Alex Ferguson publicly stated that the Elland Road players were letting manager Howard Wilkinson down by picking and choosing which games to perform in.
Cue an impassioned Leeds performance in their next game against Newcastle, as the deposed league leaders narrowly claimed their own 1-0 win. And, afterwards, the emotions of the occasion and the run-in had clearly got to Keegan…
“When you do that with footballers like he said about Leeds, and when you do things like that like what he’s said about Stuart Pearce… I’ve kept really quiet but I’ll tell you something, he went down in my estimation when he said that. We have not resorted to that. But I’ll tell you, you can tell him now if you’re watching, we’re still fighting for this title. And he’s got to go to Middlesbrough and getting something. And, and… I’ll tell you honestly, I will love it if we beat them, love it.”
“I told him that he shouldn’t have allowed the media to become his master.” Alex Ferguson
“I have often been accused of playing mind games with my rivals and I must admit that at times there has been substance in the suggestion. But the widespread assumption that remarks I made after our home match with Leeds were designed to upset Kevin Keegan was quite wrong.” Ferguson
What it meant In the end, Manchester United didn’t actually have to go to Middlesbrough and get something despite an eventual 3-0 win. Because, possibly reflecting their manager’s nerves, Newcastle could only manage a 1-1 draw at home to a mediocre Spurs on the last day. That league win was also part of United’s second double in two years but, more importantly, properly launched the graduate team of David Beckham, Paul Scholes and the Nevilles that Alan Hansen had infamously said “can’t win anything” without reinforcements.
In the longer-term, it would initiate Ferguson’s reputation for playing and spinning the media to his own ends as well as making concrete the concept of “mind games”.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Paul Gascoigne’s tears 1990; Alan Hansen claims “you never win anything with kids”, 1995; Giovanni Trapattoni at Bayern 1996; Mourinho proclaims himself the Special One, 2004
96. Colombia batter Argentina in Buenos Aires
Argentina 0-5 Colombia, Estadio Monumental
World Cup qualifier, 5 September 1993
The moment In 1993, it’s fair to say Argentina were the ultimate standard-bearers for South American football. They had qualified for the previous two World Cup finals, won the 1991 and 1993 Copa Americas and enjoyed a 33-game unbeaten run. Although that sequence was initially ended by an improving Colombia side in Medellin, it seemed inconceivable that the Argentines would not resume normal service in the return and top the group. On television ahead of the second game, Diego Maradona was asked about the respective differences in the teams’ reputations. He put one hand, indicating Argentina, above his head. He put the other, Colombia, much lower down.
In the event, it was to be Maradona and his team who would be levelled. Having initially dominated, Argentina failed to open the scoring… and anxiety set in. Just before half-time, it turned to horror. Carlos Valderrama slipped Freddy Rincon through for a scintillating break-away goal. The Monumental was silenced.
Desperate for an equaliser after the break, Argentina only left a series of holes at the back. And Colombia daringly exploited them through two from Faustino Asprilla and another from Rincon. By 65 minutes, it was 4-0. Adolfo Valencia completed the scoring but, by then, Argetine fans were barely watching. In an unprecedented scenario, they were desperately looking for news on whether Paraguay had beaten Peru – a result that would have eliminated them. Colombia’s lethal performance arguably deserved to do so. But Argentina got lucky.
“I never want to think about that match again. It was a crime against nature, a day when I wanted to dig a hole in the ground and bury myself in it.” Argentina manager Alfio Basile
“I believe Colombia will win the World Cup.” Pele
“[After that] the players thought winning the tournament would be a formality.” Medellin sports journalist Jaime Herrera
“Up until the Argentina game, we were a team on the rise. From then on, we went downhill.” Oscar Cortes
What it meant The ultimate false dawn, which culminated in the darkness of Andres Escobar’s shooting. But, in reality, Colombia were a side past their peak by the 1994 World Cup and couldn’t possibly live up to the wild public expectation after such a win. For Argentina, it ended an unparalleled sequence of success in the country’s history. They haven’t won an international trophy since.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Ecuador 1-0 Brazil, 2001; Bolivia 6-1 Argentina, 2009
95. Helmut Duckadam denies Barcelona
Steaua Bucharest 0-0 Barcelona (Steaua win 2-0 on penalties), Estadio Ramon Sanchez
1986 European Cup final, 7 May 1986
The moment After a tortuous 120 minutes, Barcelona stood on the brink of history. But so too did Steaua Bucharest. Because, while the Catalans had still never won the European Cup, the trophy had never gone east of Germany either.
Except, when it came to stepping up, it was only Helmut Duckadam who did so… by diving down. In an increasingly tense game of bluff, the Romanian goalkeeper guessed right for all four of Barcelona’s penalties. Most impressively, after the first three kickers had gone right, Duckadum correctly judged that Marcos would finally try and outfox him… and jumped to the left to tip the ball away.
“After the first kick, it was a psychological battle… it was up to me to live up to my dreams.” Helmut Duckadam
What it meant Duckadam became the first goalkeeper to ever save four penalties in a shoot-out as well as an instant hero in Romania (much to the reported chagrin of the jealous Ceausescu regime). And, by practically handing the trophy to captain Stefan Iovan, he also ensured that Barcelona’s wait for the conquest they craved most would go on while Steaua would become the first European champions from the Eastern Bloc. With the post-Heysel ban on English clubs also creating something of a vacuum, the victory ushered in the most open era the European Cup has ever seen with Porto and PSV winning the next two titles.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Madjer’s backheel against Bayern Munich, 1987
Irish training camp, Saipan
2002 World Cup, 23 May 2002
The moment Throughout the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup, a fragile but forceful chemistry had seemingly propelled Ireland to the competition. Manager Mick McCarthy’s encouragement was complemented by Roy Keane’s aggression, with the Irish captain then at the absolute peak of his career. His performance had been integral to eliminating Holland while he also overshadowed Luis Figo at Lansdowne Road as Ireland equalled Portugal for a second time.
But there were much deeper differences between McCarthy and Keane than their approaches to motivation – as the midfielder made patently clear in a pre-campaign meeting with his manager in which he outlined his expectations. Clearly, Keane didn’t have any respect for McCarthy while McCarthy simply disliked Keane. And, despite an attempt at a truce, a series of incidents throughout the campaign only saw the antagonism simmer until the team landed at the sedate pre-World Cup camp on Saipan.
Finally, Keane unleashed on all of his issues in an interview with the Irish Times.
But the after-shock was to be even more devastating. At a specifically-arranged team meeting, McCarthy whipped out a copy of the interview and asked Keane to explain himself. The rest made Irish history.
“You were a crap player and you are a crap manager. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are manager of my country.” Roy Keane
“If you don’t have any respect for me, then don’t play for me.” McCarthy
“Stick it up your bollocks.” Keane
“I have sent him home.” McCarthy
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” Keane
“I don’t understand his rage.” Jason McAteer
What it meant More than a potential nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan, apparently. Despite the unrest in the region, a series of its newspapers lead with the Saipan story. That reflected the player’s status as captain of Manchester United at the time, as well as his unrelenting, uncompromising standards. In that, the dispute came to be discussed as a reflection of increasing player power in the game as well as the direction of Celtic Tiger Ireland. Moreover, however, the country’s national team was arguably denied the opportunity to make history. In one of the most unpredictable World Cups of all time, an Irish side led by Keane might have had realistic aspirations of the semi-finals. Instead, they went out in the second round to Spain. It would take the Irish team another decade to reach an international tournament.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Johan Cruyff disputes the Ajax captaincy, 1973
93. Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick
Crystal Palace 1-1 Manchester United, Selhurst Park
Premier League, 25 January 1995
The moment In a fractious, frustrating game for Manchester United, Eric Cantona eventually snaps and kicks out at Crystal Palace defender Richard Shaw. As he walks off in front of a goading crowd, clearly seething, Cantona suddenly stops and turns his glare to one particularly vocal supporter. Sensationally, the striker launches a flying kick before getting up and punching the man in the face.
“I have a lot of good moments but the one I prefer is when I kicked the hooligan.” Cantona
“Off you go Cantona, it’s an early shower for you.” What Matthew Simmons claims to have said
“I should have punched him harder.” Cantona
What it meant after an entire career of infamy already, the ‘kung fu kick’ became l’enfant terrible’s most iconic moment of malevolence. It seemed to encapsulate the very worst of Cantona’s character. But it’s often forgotten that, only four days beforehand, he had illustrated the very best. Cantona had beaten title rivals Blackburn Rovers at Old Trafford with a brilliant late header. With the Frenchman then suspended for the rest of the season, United drew three of their last seven games to eventually lose the title by a point. Alex Ferguson has since said he is convinced that Cantona would have provided the key moment in at least one of those games to swing the league United’s way. Certainly, that was what he did the following season as United won an unexpected double. And it is arguable that the long suspension fired Cantona’s desire to drive a young United team to such a feat… and set the route to the treble of 1999. On a wider level, the incident polarised football. Many professionals came out in support of Cantona, saying they would have done the exact same thing. Many others absolutely castigated him. At the least, it shed light on the players’ often complicated relationship with those on the sidelines.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Hristo Stoichkov stamps on a Spanish referee’s foot, 1992
92. The Bosman Ruling
Union Royale Belge des Societes de Football Association ASBL v Jean-Marc Bosman
European Court of Justice, 15 December 1995
The moment After his contract with RFC Liege expired in 1990, Jean-Marc Bosman attempted to move to Dunkerque. However, since the French club did not offer the Belgian side their expected transfer fee, Liege refused to sanction in the move. Since he was no longer a first-team player, Bosman’s wages were also reduced. As such, the 26-year-old striker took his case to the European Court of Justice and sued for restraint of trade. Five years later, the court ruled that the system placed a restriction on the free movement of worked and was prohibited by the EC Treaty.
“The pressure of the case was very great. The European Community did not want to have to change the system. It was morally difficult.” Bosman
“I must be Belgiam’s most famous football player, but no one knows who I am.” Bosman, 2011
“I ended a system of slavery. But it ruined my life.”
What it meant In the micro, that players could switch clubs without a transfer fee as soon as their contracts ended. In the macro, a complete alteration to the dynamics of European football. The ruling has been seen as the key incident in football’s exponential move to a massive business in which money rules all, with the dispersal of Ajax’s 1995 Champions League team the most immediate example. Another effect was a lifting of the cap on “foreign players” in continental football. For Bosman himself, it meant little. He effectively lost his career and, eventually, any money he actually made from the ruling.
Similar moments that didn’t make it The end of the retain and transfer system, 1961
91. “They think it’s all over…”
England 4-2 West Germany, Wembley
World Cup final, 30 July 1966
The moment With just moments of the 1966 World Cup final left and England on the verge of victory, Bobby Moore launches the ball forward. Expecting the referee to blow his whistle as it crosses the halfway line, fans start to invade the pitch. Except, instead, Geoff Hurst ends the contest in a much more emphatic way. The West Ham striker hammers the ball into the top corner with one last triumphant strike. In the commentary box, the BBC’s Kenneth Wolstenholme perfectly captures the moment.
“And here comes Hurst. He’s got… some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over. It is now.”
“1966 is not just about the players, it’s about Kenneth Wolstenholme as well.” Bobby Charlton
“I’m really very proud of it.” Wolstenholme
What it meant That Hurst had become the only player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final and, more importantly, that England had finally won their first World Cup. The phrase itself became something of a gold standard in commentary as well as a pop-culture touchstone.
Similar moments that didn’t make it “Your boys took a hell of a beating”, 1982; Victor Hugo’s commentary of Diego Maradona, 1986