Over the years, our writers have been present for some of the game’s greatest occasions. In the latest edition of a multi-part series, they tell the story of the best goal they have seen in person, which include a Cristiano Ronaldo overhead kick, Olivier Giroud‘s scorpion kick, volleys from Robin van Persie, James Rodriguez and Zinedine Zidane and Carli Lloyd‘s World Cup final epic.
Nick Miller’s pick: Ronaldo gets on his bike
The Match: Juventus 0-3 Real Madrid (2018)
The Place: Turin, Italy
The genius of a goal like this comes not just from the physical ability to actually do it, but from thinking that it is even possible. Elite athletes are wired a little differently to the rest of us, able to put the possibility of failure out of their head, and that gives them the conviction to try something like an overhead kick at a crucial stage of a Champions League quarterfinal against one of the best teams in Europe.
One of the most extraordinary things about what Cristiano Ronaldo did was that the cross from Dani Carvajal was actually heading quite neatly toward Madrid’s Lucas Vazquez, who logically had a much better chance of taking it down and threatening the Juventus goal.
Only someone like Ronaldo would decide that it was he, a good six or seven yards away from the trajectory of the ball and facing the wrong way, had the better chance of scoring if he launched himself upside down and six feet in the air, with his back to goal.
Most overhead kicks have a strong element of hit and hope, but not this one: Ronaldo not only caught it perfectly, with power and venom, but he placed it perfectly into the bottom corner, giving a stationary Gianluigi Buffon — Gianluigi Buffon! — absolutely no chance.
As is often the case with incredible goals, there was a brief moment of silence as everyone in attendance momentarily paused to process what they had just seen. Several journalists in the press box — including yours truly — placed their hands on their head and, for a moment, stared openmouthed as Ronaldo charged off in celebration.
Then a noise began to spread around the Allianz Stadium. At first I thought it sounded like heavy rain hammering down on a plastic or metal roof, but then it became clear that 40,000 Juventus fans had stood to applaud what they had just seen.
Very few home supporters were not on their feet, agog with appreciation at a goal that put their team 2-0 down. When Ronaldo joined Juventus later in the year, he cited that reception as one of the reasons he decided to make the move to Turin.
Julien Laurens’ pick: Giroud’s scorpion sting
The Match: Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace (2017)
The Place: London
Remember that incredible scorpion kick? On a cold and windy New Year’s Day, this mundane Premier League game had been boring until this moment of absolute genius. It came from nowhere, but it will forever be known as one of the greatest goals scored in England. The whole Arsenal move was superb, and the finish was just magical; reacting to a left-wing cross that was just behind him, Olivier Giroud played with his instinct, flicking his trailing leg up to gain the ultimate reward.
Jeff Carlisle’s pick: Lloyd from way downtown
The Match: USA 5-2 Japan (2015)
The Place: Vancouver, Canada
Any goal from the midfield line is celebrated with endless repeats on broadcasts, YouTube and elsewhere, but the fact that Lloyd’s strike came in a World Cup final puts it on an even higher pedestal. The United States was 2-0 up at the time, thanks to two early Lloyd goals, but her amazing tally from midfield completed a hat trick inside the opening 16 minutes to set up a 5-2 win and the USWNT’s first World Cup triumph in 16 years.
Gab Marcotti’s pick: Batistuta batters Arsenal
The Match: Arsenal 0-1 Fiorentina (1999)
The Place: London
Jorg Heinrich drove up the middle and dished it wide for Gabriel Batistuta, who stood up Nigel Winterburn, nudged the ball to his right and leathered a shot past David Seaman with the sort of ferocity only the Lion King could muster. The goal, which ultimately sent Arsenal packing from the Champions League and put Fiorentina into the round of 16, was the sort you never forget if you witness it live; the fact that it was perhaps the last great strike at the old Wembley — Arsenal played home Champions League games for two seasons due to Highbury’s limited capacity — and that Batistuta left Florence a few months later, only adds to its mystique.
Tor-Kristian Karlsen’s pick: Zidane on the volley
The Match: Bayer Leverkusen 1-2 Real Madrid (2002)
The Place: Glasgow, Scotland
Working for Leverkusen, I was sitting just in line at Hampden Park with where Zinedine Zidane let his volley fly, and it seemed an eternity before he connected with Roberto Carlos’ left-wing cross. It took me years to watch that goal again, but it is undoubtedly a work of art (although he could have been closed down sooner!) Beyond the sheer beauty of the strike, it also secured a ninth European Cup win for Real Madrid.
Rob Dawson’s pick: Vintage Van Persie
The Match: Manchester United 3-0 Aston Villa (2013)
The Place: Manchester, England
It was the game that gave Manchester United the Premier League title in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season as manager, and this was a goal good enough to cap a remarkable campaign. Wayne Rooney‘s pass was solid, but Van Persie’s first-time volley was incredible. He scored a hat trick that night, a fitting display given the goals he scored in that, his first season at Old Trafford after arriving from Arsenal — for whom he scored similar goals to this one — were the key to United’s success.
Tom Marshall’s pick: Aguilar’s arrow beats the U.S.
The Match: Mexico 3-2 USA (2015)
The Place: Pasadena, California
When you talk about the best atmospheres in world soccer, a meeting between Mexico and the U.S., in front of more than 90,000 at the Rose Bowl, has to be in the conversation. In the 118th minute of the 2015 CONCACAF Cup, right-back Paul Aguilar pulled off a Marco van Basten-esque volley to score the goal of his life and deliver a memorable Mexico win that earned El Tri a 2017 Confederations Cup place. Moreover, by throwing his body into the advertising hoardings in celebration, Aguilar managed to match the mayhem going on in the stands.
Nicky Bandini’s pick: Henry’s nonchalant flick
The Match: Arsenal 1-0 Man United (2000)
The Place: London
A game between the Premier League’s top two teams at the time was won by a sensational strike. Seeing it from different angles lets you appreciate Thierry Henry’s technical skill; he had three defenders around him when he received possession 20 yards out and with his back to goal. Somehow, he found the crease between them as he flicked the ball up with his first touch and met it on his instep with the second, sending a shot over his France international teammate Fabien Barthez.
Tim Vickery’s pick: Gascoigne from distance
The Match: Tottenham 3-1 Arsenal (1991)
The Place: London
There was an unreal element to an FA Cup semifinal at Wembley that kicked off early on a Sunday and featured the first North London derby at that stage of the competition. Arsenal were heading for the league title, but this moment snapped everything into reality. Surely, Paul Gascoigne was too far out to shoot from a free kick? It was ludicrously ambitious, yet he blasted a shot past David Seaman and into the top corner to set Tottenham on the road to an epic 3-1 win. It is a pity more people did not see “Gazza” at his best; he was a football genius.
Tom Williams’ pick: James hammers home
The Match: Colombia 2-0 Uruguay (2014)
The Place: Rio de Janeiro
Prior to this World Cup last-16 clash, all the talk had been about Luis Suarez biting Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay’s previous game. But in one unforgettable moment, James Rodriguez made it all about him, cushioning the ball on his chest before unleashing a sublime volley from 25 yards that crashed into the net via the crossbar. James, whose form in the tournament earned him a move to Real Madrid, scored again in the second half to send Colombia into the quarterfinals.
Graham Hunter’s pick: Pedro finishes a perfect move
The Match: Barcelona 1-1 Real Madrid (2011)
The Place: Barcelona, Spain
The brilliance that was this goal began with Victor Valdes. Pressed deep in his penalty box by a Madrid team playing as if it could overturn a 2-0 aggregate deficit in the second leg of a Champions League semifinal, the goalkeeper daringly lofted a chipped pass to Dani Alves on the right. He fed Andres Iniesta, whose NASA-guided through ball was finished by Pedro to effectively end the tie. The move was epitomized Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, who went on to win their second European Cup in three seasons.
Mark Ogden’s pick: Ronaldo’s rocket
The Match: Porto 0-1 Manchester United (2009)
The Place: Porto, Portugal
There are goals that make you say, “wow!” and then there are some that are followed by an expletive to capture the incredulity of the strike. Ronaldo produced one of those moments at Estadio do Dragao with an incredible 40-yard strike, six minutes into the second leg of a Champions League quarterfinal tie, that sealed United’s progress. The sheer audacity to take the shot, as well as the power it had, is why it tops my list of the best goals I have seen.
Sid Lowe’s pick: Acrobatic Boateng nets great team goal
The Match: Villarreal 2-1 Las Palmas (2016)
The Place: Villarreal, Spain
This was a beautiful, 18-pass move that culminated with a lovely dinked ball into the box, an absurd volleyed back-heel assist and a volleyed finish from a seemingly airborne Kevin-Prince Boateng. He was convinced it would win him the FIFA Puskas Award for goal of the year and told his wife as much. “It was going to be the best day of my life after my kids being born,” he said, but it never happened. “She asked me a week after, ‘What happened to [the award ceremony in] Zurich?’ I said, ‘Oh, forget it.'”