Ibracadabra. Ibrahimagique. Goal from the Gods. Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the toast of the football world – and newspaper headline writers – yesterday after scoring with a magical bicycle kick from 30 yards out in a friendly match against England.
The debate is on: Was it the greatest goal of the year? Of this century? Of all time?
Ibrahimovic’s acrobatic strike certainly ranks alongside some of the very best: Diego Maradona’s weaving solo run against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals; Marco van Basten’s volley in the 1988 European Championship final; Brazil’s last goal in the 1970 World Cup final, finished off by Carlos Alberto.
Ironically, Ibrahimovic’s goal came just hours after Fifa announced its candidates for the ten best goals of 2012, a list featuring efforts by Lionel Messi and Neymar. Fifa said last night it was too late to add the Swede’s goal to the list but it can be considered in next year’s voting.
“Goal of the Century,” blared the headline one English broadsheet. “DID YOU SEE THAT?” roared Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter. Social media was awash with reaction to the goal, which came in stoppage time to complete Sweden’s 4-2 win over England in his country’s new national stadium – the Friends Arena. Ibrahimovic scored all of Sweden’s goals in a masterful individual display. “From now it’s called Zlatan arena,” wrote Expressen sports columnist Mats Olsson.
“Ibra,” as he is often called, is no stranger to scoring stunning goals that become internet sensations. His amazing individual goal for Ajax against NAC Breda in the Dutch league in 2004 is usually cited as his best but his latest came on the international stage, elevating its status.
Maybe the fact it was a friendly match – and that he had already scored a hat-trick – gave him the confidence to attempt such an audacious shot. Chasing a long pass, Ibrahimovic held back when England goalkeeper Joe Hart rushed out to clear the ball with an awkward header just outside the penalty area.
Ibrahimovic turned and, before the ball could hit the ground, leapt high. With his back to the goal, his overhead kick sent the ball looping over the retreating Hart as well as two other scrambling defenders. The strike came from a tough angle, too, adding to its wonder.
Ibrahimovic – who plays for French club side Paris Saint-Germain – is one of the few players who could pull off such a feat of vision, imagination and dexterity. Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo, another agile forward, is perhaps another.
The fact that Ibrahimovic’s goal came in a friendly match may lessen its impact. The legendary goals of Maradona, Van Basten and Carlos Alberto Pereira were scored in major international tournaments, giving them greater weight.
For that reason, the volleyed goal by Zinedine Zidane in the 2001 Champions League final between Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden deserves a mention, as does Ryan Giggs’ dribble from the halfway line in extra-time of an FA Cup semi-final between Manchester United and Arsenal in 1999.
Among other goals usually raised in “best of all time” debates are Roberto Carlos’ swerving free kick for Brazil against France in a friendly tournament in 1997 and length-of-the-pitch runs by George Weah (for AC Milan against Verona in Serie A in 1996) and Saeed Al Owairan (for Saudi Arabia against Belgium in the 1994 World Cup).
Ibrahimovic’s goal, his 39th for Sweden, led to the stadium erupting with joy as the striker wheeled away, taking his shirt off in celebration.
“It’s probably the goal I enjoyed the most, of all the goals I’ve scored for the national team,” Ibrahimovic said. “I’ve played a lot of good games. I’ve scored many nice goals. I don’t know how important this match was compared to others. But the important thing was to win in the new arena.”
What they said...
“I don’t know if you will see another like it in your life. Sometimes, when he’s doing these things, in training or in matches, you don’t think it’s possible. Because it’s not possible to do that – the fourth goal, for example.”
“The fourth goal was the crowning glory. It’s a wonderful goal to see on a football field, though I would rather have seen it against someone else.”
“To do what he did, the imagination of it alone and to get as high as he did for a big guy, was unbelievable, and it found the back of the net. It was a terrific goal and the best I have seen.”
“His fourth goal was beyond perfection, it was magical. His technique was off the scale.”
(Former Scotland winger)
“It’s an awkward goal. Goals come in various different forms, it’s really amazing to see, not the best I’ve ever seen, but really amazing.”
Andre Villas-Boas (Tottenham manager)
“The goalkeeper wasn’t there, so it’s not that hard. Without a goalkeeper you can score from 50 metres.”
“I have never seen better, when he lined up for the bicycle kick I saw it straight away.”
(Former Sweden striker)
“His performance was certainly world-class so credit to him. He’s scored one of the best goals I’ve ever seen live so it was his night.”
“If you saw someone score like that on a computer game, you’d be surprised, never mind in person. Only himself and Lionel Messi are capable of turning a game like he did. It was probably the best goal I’ve ever seen.”