Two weeks ago I had a look at some of the best team goals of all time, but this week I’m taking a look at the opposite – solo goals. Those moments when individual players take it upon themselves to make something happen by creating and scoring a goal on their own.
There are many occasions when a player can go on a mazy run, beat a couple of opponents then miscue his attempt at goal completely with team-mates in space screaming for a pass. Ball-hogging (as some would call it) can sometimes frustrate but it can also enthrall in equal measure and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t love witnessing players beat several opponents, keep the ball with great control and finish it all off with a goal. In this top ten I offer up some of my favourite solo efforts which in many cases left the scorer’s team-mates, supporters, opponents and anyone else watching realising they’d witnessed something special.
10: Ricky Villa, Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City 1981
Let’s begin with a classic goal which settled a tight FA Cup final replay in 1981. For Argentine midfielder Ricky Villa the FA Cup Final that season wasn’t a happy one initially as he was substituted off in the 68th minute following a poor display. As he trudged off the Wembley turf he thought his dream of winning the cup were over, however in the replay four days later he had a chance to rectify that.
The match was entertaining enough at 2-2 with 15 minutes to go, however Villa had the final say. He collected the ball 30 yards from goal and ran toward the edge of the penalty area. Upon reaching it he knocked the ball past two opponents then with his left foot brought it back inside with the goalkeeper and defenders trying to stop him but it didn’t matter, as Villa poked it under the ‘keepers body to round off a fine piece of skill.
9: Ryan Giggs, Manchester United v Arsenal 1999
One of the most memorable FA Cup semi-finals of all time was settled by an unforgettable goal from Welsh wizard Ryan Giggs. The score was 1-1 in extra-time and Manchester United were down to ten men following the sending off of captain Roy Keane. Chasing the treble too, it seemed as if the match would be heading for the lottery of spot-kicks.
A loose pass from Patrick Viera was intercepted by Ryan Giggs in his own half and he began to run into the Arsenal half with the ball. Giggs kept heading toward the penalty area and with some good control beat three Arsenal players as if they weren’t there and one final touch took him beyond Lee Dixon. As England goalkeeper David Seaman came out to narrow the angle, Giggs smashed the ball beyond him into the roof of the net.
8: Thierry Henry, Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur 2002
For years Thierry Henry tormented Premier League defences with his skill, positioning and deadly finishing. His Arsenal team were one of the best footballing teams around and on the breakaway they were hugely effective. However in this case Henry did the counter-attack by himself.
Tottenham had a throw in deep into Arsenal’s half which the Gunners defence cleared. Frenchman Henry picked the ball up midway in his own half and began galloping into the Tottenham half. One of the quickest players in the league back then, Henry quickly eats up the ground and within seconds is twenty yards from Spurs’ goal. With a defender in front of him Henry knocks the ball inside and from the edge of the penalty area slots it left-footed into the bottom corner.
7: Saeed Al-Owairan, Saudi Arabia v Belgium 1994
Saudi Arabia made it to their first World Cup Finals at USA 1994 and were considered by many to be the whipping boys who’d turn up and be beaten then exit the tournament without offering much. However they ended up 2nd in their group and got through to the last 16 before losing to Sweden. Their most memorable moment in the tournament came in their final group game against Belgium from Saeed Al-Owairan.
Five minutes in a Belgian set-piece was cleared to Al-Owairan in the middle of the Saudi half. The midfielder embarked on a run which would see him shrug off the attention of his marker, skip past a tackle 20 yards from goal and then beat another defender as he enters the penalty area. After goalkeeper Michel Preudhomme rushes out, Al-Owairan lifts the ball over him to cap off an outstanding run. The greatest moment in Saudi Arabian football history!
6: Paul Gascoigne, Lazio v Pescara 1992
Gazza’s most remembered piece of individual brilliance came at Euro 96 when his flick over Colin Hendry and volleyed finish secured England’s 2-0 win over the auld enemy Scotland. A few years previously during his spell in Italy he scored another superb individual goal which is right up there with the one against Scotland, for Lazio against Pescara in Serie A, not long after netting his first goal for them a week earlier in the Rome derby.
Picking the ball up nearly 40 yards from goal, Gascoigne jinks past one player, then two more who attempt to tackle him thanks to fine close control with both feet. With another touch he beats the last Pescara defender who lunges at the ball in vain and through on goal, Gazza slots it neatly past the goalkeeper. He is still loved in Lazio despite his injury-hit spell there and this is why.
5: Grafite, Wolfsburg v Bayern Munich 2009
Two seasons ago Wolfsburg won the Bundesliga for the first time in their history, with front pair Edin Dzeko and Grafite netting 54 goals between them. It is the latter who scored the goal of the season and one which has been regarded by some as the best in Bundesliga history. Brazilian Grafite netted a goal of brilliant individual skill as Wolfsburg demolished Bayern Munich 5-1.
First off he turns Bayern’s Andreas Ottl inside out then goes past Christian Lell. Goalkeeper Michael Rensing comes out but Grafite skips past him and with a reverse back-heel scores. The ball trickled over the line as defenders tried to stop it, but it was a sublime finish to make the score 5-1. The commentator is loving it too.
4: John Barnes, England v Brazil 1984
A criticism levelled by many at John Barnes was that he struggled to reproduce his excellent club form when wearing an England shirt. Whilst he terrorised defences in the First Division for Watford and Liverpool, the left-winger rarely hit the same heights on the international stage but this goal is one of his finest and demonstrates just how good he was.
England were playing Brazil in the Maracana in June 1984 and on the stroke of half-time took the lead. Barnes received the ball wide on the left and with a quick burst of speed, beat players and went into the penalty area. Still keeping the ball under close control, Barnes continued his run inside and slotted the ball home from 10 yards out. The winger had beaten five players with a slalom-like run then coolly finished – a Brazilian-like goal against the Selecao on their own patch. An incredible goal and one of the best ever scored by an English player which set up England for a 2-0 victory, their only win to date on Brazilian soil.
3: George Weah, AC Milan v Verona 1996
Libyan striker George Weah was one hell of a player in the 1990’s and without question one of the best strikers in Europe at the time. In 1995 he became the first African player to be voted European Footballer of the Year and that year he also won World Footballer of the Year. This goal comes from 1996 and a Serie A match at the San Siro. Weah’s AC Milan were playing Verona on the opening day of the season and a poor Verona corner fell to Weah in his own penalty box near to the touch-line.
With a great touch he controlled the ball and knocked it in front of him where he started running and he continued to do so. Verona were chasing back and as Weah reached the centre circle he was challenged by 2 players. He almost lost the ball but managed to keep control and gallop toward the opposition goal where he dummied round a helpless defender and through on goal, Weah hit a shot firmly into the bottom corner across the goalkeeper from 13 yards.
2: Diego Maradona, Argentina v England 1986
The man who with one punch of the ball and minutes later an incredible mazy run throughout the England team broke English hearts and sent them packing from World Cup 1986. Diego Maradona showed two sides to his game during the second half of this quarter-final as early in the second half, his blatant punching of the ball into the net went unnoticed by the referee and the goal stood.
Soon afterwards, the mercurial Argentine was about to dent England’s hopes further. He picked up the ball in his own half and spun away from two opponents before making a run into England’s half. He carried on bombing toward the final third with Peter Reid attempting to keep chase then glided past Terry Butcher’s challenge and finally beats Terry Fenwick. As Peter Shilton came out of goal, Maradona took the ball round him and just before the recovering Butcher could get a tackle in Maradona scored. You could claim the English players were still in shock after Maradona’s blantant cheating minutes before, but this was some goal, scored by the best player in the world at the peak of his powers.
1: Ronaldo, Barcelona v Compostela 1996
For many people Diego Maradona’s goal would make number 1 easily, but it is just beaten by this effort from Ronaldo and his time with Barcelona. He joined the club in summer 1996 from PSV and in one season with the Catalan side he hit 34 goals in 37 appearances, the best coming against Compostela.
He first got the ball in his own half and as he broke forward had a defender tugging at his shirt from behind and another coming across him. However he stopped then accelerated away within a second and this took both opponents out of the game. His sheer pace saw him break away from markers and toward the penalty area where he beat one defender coming across him and then kept the ball away from another with excellent close control. With a sight of goal and the goalkeeper out to narrow the angle, Ronaldo slotted the ball under him into the corner from 8 yards to finish off a brilliant run. The goal was that good Barcelona manager Sir Bobby Robson leapt up off the bench, held his hands to his head and looked around in astonishment at what he’d just seen. Ronaldo won the World Player of the Year title in 1996 aged just 20 and despite some serious injuries, continued to be one of the best players around.