30. Ronaldo’s redemption
Germany 0-2 Brazil, International Stadium Yokohama
World Cup final, 30 June 2002
The moment After four years of injury-interrupted turmoil and doubt, it only took Ronaldo six games to recover his status as one of the world’s most stunning forwards. In that time, he had struck six goals to fire Brazil to the final.
But he still lacked a crowning moment.
For all his quality and all his goals, Ronaldo had never even won a domestic title. Nor had he properly completed a World Cup. And, given how the shadow of 1998 spread over this final, there was an understandable amount of trepidation in the build-up.
There needn’t have been.
Ronaldo settled the tournament in a manner which exemplified the all-round nature of his brilliance: first with a poacher’s goal, then with a beautifully placed finish. The king had returned.
“Ronaldo made the difference.” Didi Hamann
What it meant After a tournament characterised by shocks, the final was a battle between the World Cup’s most successful teams with Brazil going on to set a record for most victories with five.
But, to a certain degree, that was actually in-keeping with the rest of the competition.
Following an atrocious qualification campaign, after all, Brazil had a lot to prove. None more so than Ronaldo, who had barely played in the last four years and certainly not to anywhere near the level of pre-1998.
But, although he never quite reached those unplayable levels again, this performance illustrated that he remained one of the greatest forwards in history. And that thanks to one of the sport’s most compelling and emotional character dramas ever.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Cantona’s goal against Liverpool, 1996 FA Cup final
29. Platini peaks against Portugal
France 3-2 Portugal, Stade Velodrome
European Championship semi-final, 23 June 1984
The moment By the summer of 1984, Michel Platini was undeniably the world’s dominant player. And his international team were arguably the world’s most dynamic side. They certainly seemed the most sumptuous, with that magic midfield quartet weaving wondrous football whenever they played.
After the dramatic disappointment of the 1982 World Cup, too, it was hard not to feel that they were destined to win the 1984 European Championships that were held in their own country. From the first moment to last, they played with an assurance that brought effervescent, free-flowing football.
And yet, their crowning moment didn’t quite come in the final. It came in the match before, a truly vivid game against Portugal in which France had to show a host of other qualities in order to secure victory.
The Portuguese put it up to the French like no other team in the tournament and, having equalised Jean-Francois Domergue’s early opener as late as the 74th minute, they had the temerity to go ahead in extra time.
For the second semi-final in succession, France were in real trouble. Except, this time, they were pursuing the game rather than protecting it. And that suited them perfectly. Absolutely pouring forward, France eventually equalised five minutes from time with two defenders involved in the move.
By that point, an exhausted Portugal were holding on for penalties – the manner in which France had been denied in 1982. But France had one last attack. And one last burst of energy.
After Jean Tigana had misplaced a pass, he immediately emptied his lungs to win it back and power forward. As Platini waited, Tigana just about cut the ball back. With time appearing to pause in the way that only seems to happen with truly great players, Platini stopped the ball before powering the ball into the roof of the net.
“If a World Cup had been held every year between 1982 and 1986, France would have won two or three.” Platini
What it meant That France would finally fulfil all of their great potential and win a trophy. Platini, meanwhile, would win the first elite trophy of his career and thereby secure a second successive Ballon D’Or.
In many ways, too, the victory just about prolonged the attacking vigour of the early ’80s, as France succeeded where their spiritual brothers in Brazil had failed.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Germany 3-2 Turkey, Euro 2008
28. Shankly retires
Bill Shankly retires
English league, 12 July, 1974
The moment Undoubtedly, Bill Shankly was the most important manager in Liverpool’s history. He had effectively built the club as an English institution. Moreover, after the initial burst of success in the ’60s, he had completely rebuilt the team.
In 1973, just a year before retired, Liverpool had won their first title in eight seasons thanks to a new team. Indeed, in the summer of 1974, only two members of his squad were in their thirties. And Shankly himself was just 60.
Which is why, when he announced his retirement on 12 July 1974, it brought the city of Liverpool – and indeed football itself – to a shuddering halt.
Famously, within minutes of the news, reporter Tony Wilson was despatched to interview people on the street. Except, in truth, he wasn’t getting their considered reaction. He was getting their immediate reaction – and actually telling them the news. The shock on their faces and in their voices perfectly captured how unreal the announcement seemed. Later on that day, distraught fans jammed the club’s switchboard and one local factor’s workers threatened to go on strike unless Shankly returned.
In truth, though, Shankly had actually made his decision five weeks previously. And, in that time, the Liverpool board had desperately tried to get him to change his mind.
By mid-July, though, there was no going back. And there certainly wasn’t once Bob Paisley was properly settled in.
“The pressures have built up so much during my 40 years in the game that I felt it was time to have a rest.” Shankly
“I was very privileged to spend a couple of afternoons of my life with him. And then strangely I was actually filming in Liverpool [when he retired]. And I had to go out on the streets of Liverpool and do voxpops. Most famous documentaries feature footage of this scouse kid going, ‘Can’t be! Can’t be!’ Tony Wilson
“It was crisis time when Bill left. It was a bombshell and Bob was very reluctant to take the position.” Director Peter Robinson
“I have been received more warmly by Everton than I have been by Liverpool. It is scandalous and outrageous that I should have to write these things about the club I helped to build into what it is today, because if the situation had been reversed I would have invited people to games.” Shankly never saw the necessity of keeping him away from Anfield
“He used to go down to Melwood to watch the lads train after that and you could tell he desperately wanted to get involved. Football had been his life and suddenly it had been taken away.” Defender Ron Yeats
“It would have been a wonderful honour to have been made a director of Liverpool Football Club but I don’t go round saying, ‘I would like to be this and that.’ That’s begging and I’m not a beggar!” Shankly
“My life’s changed completely and I’ve been bored a lot of the time… I never resented the club after I left, as some stupid person wrote in the paper. I was so proud of what Bob Paisley achieved after I left because we worked together for so many years and I was part of it.” Shankly
What it meant The transition of Liverpool from regular winners to relentless winners, not to mention repeat European champions. Paisley did not quite have Shankly’s fire or ferocious communication skills, but he did have a deep understanding of the game which ensured he enhanced and built on all of Shankly’s foundations, not least the young team the Scot had put in place.
Most importantly, Shankly’s last European game – a defeat to Red Star Belgrade – had proven a Eureka moment for Paisley. He realised the need for a more contained, patient approach if Liverpool were to finally conquer Europe. When it came to replacing players, too, Paisley had a ruthless streak which Shankly lacked. Indeed, Paisley most infamously displayed that with his old boss.
Because the retirement undeniably had the biggest personal effect on Shankly. Within a month, he was regretting his apparently illogical decision and yearning to get back into football. That was reflected in the amount of times he turned up at Liverpool training sessions, with many of the players naturally referring to him as “boss”.
Long before then, though, the Liverpool board had already convinced a doubtful Paisley of the merits of taking the job. The die had been cast. The club, to put it starkly, had moved on. So it was left to Paisley to tell Shankly to do the same.
27. Mourinho masters Barcelona
Barcelona 1-0 Inter, Camp Nou
Champions League semi-final second leg, 28 April 2010
The moment in the first leg, Inter had become the first team to beat Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona by more than a goal thanks to an exceptionally executed counter-attacking gameplan. But, to actually get through, Jose Mourinho was still going to have to come up with another.
And, duly, he did.
By accepting that Barcelona would dominate possession, the Portuguese worked out a plan to play – and go through – without it. Effectively instructing his players to give the ball away, Mourinho then ensured that a rigorous defensive arrangement would squeeze all space around the Inter box. Every elegant Barca pass was met with abrasive pressing; every inventive trick with feral tackling. The outcome was that Inter only had 14% possession and a single off-target shot… but also that Barca only scored one of the two goals they needed.
It may have got exceedingly anxious for Inter at times. But, for a coach who calculatingly – if riskily – played the percentages, the numbers eventually added up for Mourinho.
“We didn’t want the ball because when Barcelona press and win the ball back, we lose our position – I never want to lose position on the pitch so I didn’t want us to have the ball, we gave it away.” Mourinho
“Attacking is always much harder than defending… when there are nine players defending in the area it’s not easy. We tried but they defended very well and that’s it.” Guardiola praises Inter… partially
What it meant that, for the only time between 2008 and 2011, Barcelona were eliminated from the Champions League. It did, of course, take an awful lot to do it: a volcano, a lengthy bus journey, the absence of Andres Iniesta, an atrocious Bojan Krkic miss and a questionable handball.
But, also, one of the most impressive defensive performances in the game’s history.
The manner in which Mourinho had got his players to so aggressively follow his instructions was characteristic of Inter’s entire campaign. And, predictably, they did the same in the final against Bayern as Mourinho became only the third manager to win the Champions League with two different clubs.
In getting to that stage, however, Mourinho had also distilled the dominant tactical debate of the day: reactive, protective football against proactive, possession football. And, by temporarily winning it, he set the template for how to take on the Spain-Barcelona approach as well as the tone for that summer’s World Cup.
Having seen Inter just about beat Barca and Switzerland then successfully implement similar tactics against the Spanish, every opposition team duly altered their tactics. That largely explained the minimalist nature of Spain’s eventual World Cup victory.
And that in itself illustrated how the Champions League had definitively overtaken the World Cup as the game’s standard-setting competition.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Ernst Happel outfoxes Giovanni Trapattoni, 1983 European Cup final
26. Iniesta shocks Chelsea
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona, Stamford Bridge
Champions League semi-final second leg, 6 May 2009
The moment All Chelsea have to do is keep Barcelona out for another few seconds more. And, to be fair, they’ve done so superbly for the previous 180 minutes.
Against an evolving and increasingly irresistible free-scoring Barcelona, Guus Hiddink’s side have so far provided a tactical masterclass. They’ve closed up, squeeze the space and denied Barcelona’s attackers any opportunity to move. Although the Catalans amass 71% possession and generally spend most of the game in the opposition half, they haven’t yet had a shot on target.
Indeed, the nature of Chelsea’s counter-attacking game means they’ve arguably been the more deserving attacking force too. Hitting Barca on the break, they’ve seen Victor Valdes save desperately from Didier Drogba and – so far – had three penalty appeals turned down. Two looked at least dubious, one looked definite.
But it also looks like none of it will matter. Barca can’t produce that one telling pass.
Until, in the 93rd minute, Dani Alves sprays a ball across the Chelsea box. It falls to Leo Messi. He shapes to shoot but, instead, draws three Chelsea defenders out of the picture. The ball is swiftly dispatched to Andres Iniesta who, first-time, dispatches a superb shot into the top corner. Barca are into the final. But only after another penalty appeal is turned down.
At the final whistle, both teams erupt. In very different ways.
“It’s a fucking disgrace!” Didier Drogba to TV cameras
“It is the worst I have ever seen.” Hiddink on referee Tom Henning Ovrebo’s performance
“Conspiracy is a very tough word and you have to prove it. I don’t want to go with that tough word.” Hiddink goes even further… almost
“To be fair, it touched my hands but it was not deliberate. The referee can decide what he wants and you have to respect the decisions. Sometimes they are wrong.” Pique on one penalty appeal
“They created chances on the counter-attack but they were conservative. We showed a lot of strength and bravery and hung on.” Pep Guardiola responds
What it meant Almost immediately, extreme anger and opprobrium from Chelsea. Michael Ballack chases Ovrebo, Drogba hurls accusations into the camera. There is even talk of a Uefa conspiracy to prevent a second successive all-English final.
But, ultimately, a complete change of the guard is the biggest impact of the game. Had Hiddink’s side held on, then we would have seen a second Chelsea-Manchester United final in a row and the culmination of the Premier League’s dominance of the competition’s latter stages over the previous half-decade.
Instead, Barcelona began their own – more emphatic – period of dominance. Since then, Guardiola’s team have won two Champions Leagues and reached another semi. Moreover, the eventual victory over Chelsea helped consolidate the faith and belief in the club’s philosophy. Although they hadn’t even forced a shot on target and although they were down to 10 men, the Catalans passing eventually produced the key opening.
Similar moments that didn’t make it John Terry’s miss, 2008 Champions League final
25. The Cruyff turn
Netherlands 0-0 Sweden, Westfalon Stadion
World Cup group stage, 19 June 1974
The moment In Holland’s first six games of the 1974 World Cup, Sweden were the only opposition team spared embarrassment as they draw 0-0. Or, at least, they were spared embarrassment in terms of the scoreline. Because, after the game, no-one was talking about that.
People had been too taken by Johan Cruyff’s outrageous turn early on.
As Holland looked to pierce the Swedes, Cruyff found himself hemmed in by Jan Olsson on the left-hand side. Or so everyone else thought. In one fluid movement, Cruyff flicked the ball between his own legs and behind his body to suddenly advance on goal.
And, to add insult to injury, the bamboozled Olsson was left on the ground while Cruyff flicked in a supreme cross with the outside of his foot.
“I was happy because I had him in the corner. I’ve got to be honest – I didn’t understand what happened next. I thought I had the ball, then the next moment realised I didn’t. I’d never seen anything like it. People in the crowd, my teammates, they were laughing at what they had seen. After the game, it’s all anyone wanted to talk about and it’s been that way ever since.” Olsson
“In a way, I think Cruyff was a better dancer than Nureyev. He was a better mover.” Dancer Rudi van Dantzig, a close friend of Rudolf Nureyev
“That moment against Cruyff is the proudest memory of my career. I thought I’d win the ball for sure, but he tricked me. I was not humiliated. I had no chance. Cruyff was a genius.” Olsson
What it meant An elementary move now, it was a genuine innovation at the time. The turn appeared to emphasise the fact that Cruyff and this Total Football team were so exceptional that they could experiment with the very limits of the game.
As goes without saying, it was also something that Cruyff had spent time perfecting on the training ground. And he unleashed it to resounding success on the greatest stage. Now, it is taught at every level of the game. Quite a legacy.
Similar moments that didn’t make it Pele’s dummy against Uruguay, 1970; Cruyff’s first touch against Ado Den Haag, 1972; the Ardiles flick, 1978
24. The Puskas drag-back
England 3-6 Hungary, Wembley
International friendly, 25 November 1953
The moment The most famous moment from a milestone match. With Hungary already 2-1 up in the 24th minute and beginning to pull England all over the pitch, Ferenc Puskas drew Billy Wright into a damningly humiliating attempt at a tackle.
First, Zoltan Czibor pinged over a precise ball with what was nominally his wrong foot. Then, Puskas controlled at the edge of the six-yard box. Space was at a premium. As was time. But, with Wright lunging in, the forward dragged the ball back with his studs and, in one movement, powered the ball home.
“Like a fire engine heading to the wrong fire.” Geoffrey Green’s famous description of Wright’s desperate futile run in the Times
“A plaque should be erected to mark the moment.” Hungarian radio commentator Gyorgy Szepesi
What it meant In essence, it was just a touch. But it may as well have been a quantum leap. Puskas’s drag-back proved just how far the Hungarians were ahead of England – they had already perfected pieces of technique that British players had yet to imagine. And, just like the Cruyff turn, it soon became a quite basic element in the repertoire of football skills. It was anything but at the time.
23. The first continental Clasico
Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid (3-6 agg), Camp Nou
European Cup semi-final first leg, 27 April 1960
The moment Possibly the biggest Clasico in history. Probably the one at which both clubs were at the highest points at the same point in time. And certainly the one with the greatest consequences… so far.
Because, just before the two clubs met at a level as lofty as the European Cup semi-final, Helenio Herrera’s free-scoring Barcelona had all but secured a second successive domestic title by beating Real Madrid 3-1.
As such, Real Madrid weren’t just attempting to defend their continental title for a fourth time. They were looking to preserve their international superiority over a Barca side that looked seriously like surpassing them.
Except, as to was become a theme over the next 40 years, Barca instead let politics overtake progress. First off, the board wouldn’t agree to the squad’s request about improved bonus payments. Secondly, Herrera chose a very curious time to support his players. He argued that discrepancies between Real’s terms and theirs could unsettle the players. The board argued there was a match on.
Without the preparation or – crucially given how the league game had gone – the hunger of Real, Barca were beaten 3-1 at home. Herrera claimed it would be easy to overturn and the second leg duly finished 3-1… but to Real again with Ferenc Puskas and Francisco Gento striking.
On the highest stage the Clasico had ever been played, Real also produced a performance of the highest class.
What it meant Primarily, that Real Madrid would go on to produce the European Cup’s gold-standard achievement. The Spaniards would create a lasting legacy by crushing Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3. That it came after a Clasico that also saw Real conquer the second best team on the continent only seemed to add to the achievement.
The consequences for Barcelona, though, were even deeper. Although they would actually become the first team to eliminate Real Madrid from the European Cup in the following season’s first round, they had by then lost Herrera.
With the bonus dispute only exacerbating tension with the board – as ever at Camp Nou – the Argentine was sacked just days after the defeat to Real Madrid. And, illustrating the dramatics of the fixture, he was carried shoulder-high down Las Ramblas just days after many of the same supporters had tried to attack him in his hotel.
Not that it bothered Herrera. Naturally, he would find work straight away at Inter. Initially, though, his abrasive, attacking approach didn’t work there. So he adapted by adopting Catenaccio. With one of the most infamous tactics of all time, Herrera would go on to win two European Cups.
Barca, meanwhile, would have to wait another 32 years. And would only win another two league titles in that time.
It was a costly defeat. And, evidently, a consequential one.
22. Van Basten’s volley
USSR 0-2 Netherlands, Olympaistadion
European Championship final, 25 June 1988
The moment It’s 54 minutes into the Euro 88 final and the Dutch are in the lead and in the ascendancy. Finally, it seems, all of the country’s football potential will be fulfilled.
Then, Marco Van Basten makes sure. In every sense.
“I was trying to play the ball about two yards in front of him. I thought he would control the ball and bring it back into the penalty area. But he finished it! I’ve never seen anything like it!” Muhren
“This happens to you. If I try it another 10 times now, I’ll never do it again. This is the moment that is given to you.” Van Basten
What it meant one of the greatest – and apparently most difficult – goals of all time. That it came on one of the greatest of stages to mean so much for one of the greatest of football countries only added to the achievement. Both the Dutch and Van Basten himself had their crowning moment.
21. Muller’s winner 1974
Netherlands 1-2 West Germany, Olympiastadion
World Cup final, 7 July 1974
The moment Holland may have been the better team. And not just for the first 25 minutes of the World Cup final. Also for the entire tournament and arguably as a team overall.
But, since Paul Breitner had equalised Johan Neesken’s first-minute penalty, they were very much second best to West Germany. The flow had gone. As had the forthright arrogance. Suddenly, the previously swaggering Dutch almost looked like they were in fear.
But they were right to be. Because the West Germans had arguably the finest pure centre-forward of all time just waiting to pounce.
In the 43rd minute, Rainer Bonhof is despatched down the wing and, taking advantage of Arie Haan’s inexperience as a defender, drills the ball across the box.
It reaches Gerd Muller. But the touch is odd. He actually takes it away from goal. But no problem for a predator like Muller. He somehow gets his body back behind the ball and sweeps it towards the bottom corner. It isn’t a particularly well-struck shot. But it is, crucially, a precise one.
“They tricked us again.” Dutch commentator Herman Kuiphof produces Holland’s inverted version of ‘They think it’s all over’ and also captures an awful lot of deep, disparate historical strands to the goal
“Any other defeat wouldn’t have been as painful. But to lose to the Germans…” Wim Van Hanegam
What it meant That West Germany, and not the Netherlands, would crown their brilliance with a World Cup. Although the hosts had hardly been at their best for the majority of the tournament, the victory did feel like a fitting end to four years of brilliance in which they became the first ever international team to do a ‘double’.
The exact nature of the goal also seemed to make concrete the perceived, growing characteristics of the Germans: not necessarily convincing but always just enough to spoil the party.
The Dutch, meanwhile, would lose the first of three World Cup finals and have still never won the trophy. That wouldn’t be the only complex they’d develop out of that landmark match, however…