Macheda – Man Utd vs Aston Villa – 2009

5 09 2011

 by David Yaffe-Bellany

In many ways, this goal is quintessential Manchester United. The youth of the scorer, the lateness of the hour and the nature of the comeback all emblematic of United under Ferguson’s stewardship. Aspects of a period of success, tied neatly together in one moment of startling poignancy.
The setting was, fittingly, Old Trafford. Devoid of luck, United welcomed Aston Villa with the wounds of Liverpool’s annihilation three weeks prior still fresh, still burning.
In second place, United needed a win to return to the summit; their seemingly impenetrable seven point advantage sliced to ribbons by two consecutive defeats.
In retrospect, it is bizarre that the 2008/09 incarnation of Manchester United ever struggled to regain their crown – reigning European and world champions, blessed with the talents of Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo, their greatest challengers were Liverpool, a team that a year later would find themselves struggling to qualify for European competition.
Nevertheless, there they were on April 6th, 2009 – the dream of an eighteenth league triumph slipping further and further away. Brief hope was kindled early in the first half, when a Cristiano Ronaldo free kick flew into the top corner; the type of goal only he could score, of a sparkling variety that sadly has been rarely replicated in English football since his big money departure.
After losing 4-1 to Liverpool, this United side had acquired somewhat of a penchant for self destruction – a trait no better illustrated than by the events of the next hour. First, John Carew rose elegantly to nod in a Gareth Barry cross before, fifteen minutes after the interval, Gabriel Agbonlahor headed home from close range. 1-2.
I remember vividly sitting in my basement, the memory of premature victory celebrations after Liverpool’s 2-1 loss to Middlesbrough fast taking on a sort of karmic significance. Chants of “beat someone, beat someone” echoed across Old Trafford; as for me, I was too stunned to say anything.
My anxious, twelve year old mind was inexperienced in dealing with United’s love of brinkmanship. Against Bayern in ’99 I had watched in a cursory manner, not consciously aware of goings on, reportedly more interested in the little dog twoing and froing across the house. My grandmother’s celebratory phone call, quickly stymied by pleas of ignorance, was made minutes before I popped in the cassette tape to take in Moscow ’08, and shielded me from tension’s unyielding grip when John Terry stepped forward to take his spot kick.
But now there was no protection. Martin Tyler’s melodious commentary made up for the articulacy that had deserted me, his summations of United’s position in the standings, quite dreary. 
On eighty minutes, some sanity prevailed. Taking matters into his own hands, Ronaldo thrashed a low shot towards goal, where, somehow, it trickled by the goalkeeper’s despairing lunge. I remember seeing the seventeen year old Italian lad who had come on twenty minutes previously slap Ronny furiously across the chest in celebration. The guy’s got spunk, I thought.
As the game drew towards it’s latter stages, the prospect of a draw became increasingly attractive. When Fergie threw on another teenage forward 87 minutes in, I yelled some not very complimentary things at the television. And then, the moment which defines this article: My Favourite Goal.
Forever the forgotten architect of some of United’s landmark moments, it was Ryan Giggs who played the pass. Less than a year later, from a similar spot on the pitch, he would caress an equally vital ball through to Michael Owen. Needless to say, such symmetry could not be appreciated at the time of Macheda’s strike – Owen was battling relegation at Newcastle.
Standing readied on the edge of the box, one hand outstretched, the other prepared to hold off the attention of Luke Young, Macheda received the ball and turned. Right footed, falling to the ground, he unleashed a curling effort that softly glided into the net. Martin Tyler let out a shrill cry, his voice reaching previously uncharted altitudes. Machedaaaaaa!
Mobbed by teammates, Macheda staggered over to the nearest stand and – pushing past police officers – flung himself into the arms of his crying father. The beauty of the moment, untainted by a subsequent booking, will never leave me.
Two years after winning the adoration of millions, Federico Macheda’s career has taken a turn for the worse. Relegated with Sampdoria, his future at United is anything but safe. However, even if the winner against Villa remains his greatest goal, the man called “Kiko” will forever find comfort in that one moment. The one moment, in my eyes at least, which ensures his immortality.
Read more by David Yaffe-Bellany at In For The Hat Trick and follow him on Twitter @INFTH

Keane – Ireland vs Germany – 2002

20 07 2011

Dylan O’Neill shares a childhood memory of a fantastic moment in the history of Irish football. You can follow Dylan on Twitter @Dylan_Oh

I was seven at the time this World Cup rolled around. I’d been extremely excited to find out that my country was going to be competing at the World Cup when we edged past Iran in the play-off. Little did us Irish know that we were about to embark on something magical come June 2002.

We were dealt a serious blow even before the competition began as Roy Keane decided to exclude himself from the competition after he – as usual – overreacted to poor facilities on show at the Irish training camp in Saipan. Keane granted exclusive rights to an Irish times reporter, Tom Humphries, in which he told all. He claimed that their training pitch was “wrong”, having not been watered, as well as complaining they had no balls (actual footballs), and that the Irish were only given two goals to train with. He also mentioned that having no goalkeepers for a five-a-side was the last straw. He decided that he was leaving the squad in Saipan although reversed the decision a day later following conversations with Sir Alex Ferguson, his family and Michael Kennedy [his agent]. Reminiscing about Ferguson he said “He was on holidays but he’d seen the news. I had a good chat with him. He’s someone I respect. In football, he’s the only person I would listen to. We spoke about my family. I knew what he was saying but it helps when you get other people saying it. We’d discussed it before because of my injuries curtailing my international football. He said hang in there because of my family.”

The decision to stay was fantastic news for the Irish but the following day when Mick McCarthy questioned Keane over the article, Keane released a stinging verbal attack on McCarthy which effectively ended his international career. “Mick, you’re a liar… you’re a fucking wanker. I didn’t rate you as a player, I don’t rate you as a manager, and I don’t rate you as a person. You’re a fucking wanker and you can stick your World Cup up your arse. The only reason I have any dealings with you is that somehow you are the manager of my country! You can stick it up your bollocks.”

Keane left the Irish camp in late May and never returned. Pity.

Anyway, since the competition began in June, I had to be satisfied watching it from school. I was in 2nd class at the time and my classmates and I were roaring the Irish on in South Korea against Cameroon in the opening game. We held them to a creditable draw which wasn’t the worst result mind you, but it wasn’t what we needed going into the toughest group game vs Germany just 4 days later.

I’ll be honest with you, I actually don’t remember much about the game. I was seven, what do you expect? But, I do remember Klose’s opening goal for the Germans with just under twenty minutes gone. My colleagues began to panic and rightly so as Germany had destroyed Saudi Arabia the game previously 8-0 and we feared our outcome could be somewhat similar to their fate. Wave after wave after wave of German attack came but we held our own and were quite lucky to reach the break just a goal behind. Mick McCarthy decided to take off Jason McAteer and bring in the then Liverpool right-back Steve Finnan in hope of some renewed energy for the Irish.

The second half continued the way the first half had ended with the Germans constantly buzzing around the Irish box, somehow unable to find a second goal to kill off the tie. As the game wore on, chances for Ireland came few and far between but then it happened. A 92nd minute hopeful punt upfield by none other than Steven Finnan was flicked on by Niall Quinn and talisman Robbie Keane latched onto it, before steering his shot in off the post to grab Ireland a vital point which eventually saw them progress from the group.

The goal itself sparked massive celebrations in the classroom back home. I myself, vividly remember jumping around jubilantly, hugging anyone I could get my hands on – even kissing a fellow classmate. What could I say? It was a feeling I had never experienced before and I just had to get it all out of my system. Sure, prior to that I had only been a football fan for the best part of a year. But what a year that turned out to be.

Nani / Almunia (o.g) – Arsenal vs Man Utd – 2010

9 06 2011

Here’s Tom Goulding with an excellent addition to the ‘My Favourite Goal’ series. You can follow Tom on Twitter @TomGoulding

I don’t think this goal gets enough credit.

The hashtag #goalswhichgetforgottenbecauseoftheircontext on Twitter (which never really took off, for some reason) was bandied around a few months ago, and you got the usual picks – Essien vs Barcelona, Goulding vs Ardingly 3rd XI. This goal should now be added to that glittering list.

The setting is Arsenal vs Manchester United on 31st January 2010. The game was 3rd vs 1st in a season in which Chelsea, 2nd at the time, eventually won the title. Now, as a Spurs fan, part of my enjoyment of this goal is undoubtedly that it is against Arsenal. As someone who has grown up with football in the Wenger era, the pleasure of seeing my rival team lose and get humiliated has rarely occurred, and if it has, it has usually been at the hands of teams better than my own. Enjoying the failure of my arch rivals is rarer than most fans; Arsenal have lost at home only 13 times in the past 8 seasons, and so when it happens, it is something to take pleasure in. You might claim that this is sad, and you’d probably be right. That is the unfortunate predicament a football fan is sometimes in – a bitter tribalist who finds it impossible to spin reality in a way which elevates his own team above his rivals.

To the goal. 32 minutes have gone and it is 0-0. Nani picks up the ball out wide and takes on the left-back Gael Clichy. It is great to see a player take on a man – it gives us a duel, a one on one battle in which somebody wins and somebody loses. It is a bare test of aptitude. However, Cesc Fabregas comes to help so there are now two men on him. What to do? Nani feints to cross and produces an inside chop in between both his opponents, undoubtedly learnt from the master of the chop. This leaves Clichy and Fabregas standing there helpless, rendered only spectators. He approaches Thomas Vermaelen with pace, drops the shoulder and glides past him.

When most people beat a couple of defenders, they get all excited, have a rush of blood to the head and smash the ball into row Z. Not Luís Carlos Almeida da Cunha. He chips the ball, making it glide over goalkeeper Manuel Almunia towards the far post; a sand wedge chip shot, cutting across the ball, designed to get it over a particular obstacle and down as quickly as possible, whether that be the lip of the bunker or an opposing goalkeeper. With United players running in, Almunia has to do something; but he can only tip it into the goal.

Nani has forced the goalkeeper into a position where he has to palm the ball into the exact place from which he is paid to keep it away. Nani has left three Arsenal defenders completely bamboozled, with an extraordinary display of skill in the type of match where efficiency and keeping-it-tight is stressed at all times. He had the ball out on the wing, far away from the goal, with two opponents surrounding him, and he has said “I’m going to put the ball in the far corner of that net. And I’m going to do it with an exquisite level of skill, and I’m going to embarrass Arsenal Football Club while I’m at it”. That’s why it is one of the best goals of that season. And I mean that.

The goal was overshadowed by the emphatic scoreline, Arsenal’s continued lack of success against the big teams and United’s second goal in that game, a breathtaking counter-attack. But I remember it well. It had a linear beauty to it, from the chop inside at the start to the devilish spinning of the ball over the doomed goalkeeper. Wonderful.

The goal is surprisingly hard to find on YouTube… here’s a link to it on a Turkish site (0:45): Almunia (o.g) – Arsenal vs Man Utd – 2010

More Montella Magic

18 04 2011

This video is doing the rounds after the weekend but I couldn’t resist saluting L’Aeroplanino himself, Vincenzo Montella, after he gave everyone a glimpse of the skills that made him famous. The man is simply coolness personified.

I think it’s the matter of fact reaction afterwards that makes it. Even so, it’s not the best effort from a former great on the touchline. I won’t apologise for once again linking to this wonder strike from Dragan Stojkovic. His near namesake Dejan Stankovic may have lit up the San Siro earlier this month with a remarkable volley but, once again, these things just look better when you’re suited and booted.

Giggs – Man Utd vs Arsenal – 1999

13 02 2011

This goal had to be on the list really didn’t it. Thanks to Liam Blackburn for doing the business. You can follow Liam on Twitter @LiamBlackburn

“Instinct is action taken in pursuance of a purpose, but without conscious perception of what the purpose is”

Instinct can sometimes be a wonderful thing. In the professional era, sportsmen and women spend years finely tuning their skills and meticulously practicing for different scenarios. But sport, like life itself, never quite goes by the script.
The fact you simply cannot account for what happens once you’re out there is one of the things that makes football so captivating. You can’t turn to your playbook halfway through the match like you can in American football. You can’t turn to a specific bowler and set your field up to play a certain way like you can in cricket.
Three of my favourite goals of all time would have to be Marco Van Basten, Zinedine Zidane and Roberto Carlos. Each is a single masterstroke by their creator’s right or left boot. They represent three of the finest examples of technique that I have ever seen. All three in their own way push the boundaries of what I thought physically possible on a football pitch, yet each knew exactly what they were planning to do. They had to because they happened so swiftly. Van Basten and Zidane would have spent hours smashing volleys in at their prospective training grounds and Roberto Carlos no doubt knew he could bend the ball that way before he even set foot on the pitch that night.
This was simply not the case when Ryan Giggs scored against Arsenal in April 1999. When he picked the ball up, he could barely have envisioned what was to come.
The situation is important to consider because what Giggs did was actually rather foolish. At the time, Manchester United were struggling. In extra time of an F.A. semi-final replay, they were down to ten men and weathering a storm from the current double holders.
When the ball broke to Giggs some ten yards inside his own half, the last thing his manager would have wanted him to do was run directly at Arsenal’s vastly experienced back four.
Even accounting for his chosen route, there were at least two occasions where Giggs could have found a colleague and his team would have enjoyed a vital spell of possession. Moreover they’d have welcomed the respite from Arsenal’s attacking onslaught.
But Giggs ran and kept the ball under close control, slaloming his way past defenders before unleashing a rasping finish past Seaman. It wasn’t a run propelled by searing pace or defined by monumental trickery, it was a run based purely on instinct.
It was almost childlike naivety to think that he could sway past three defenders before slamming home. For those four seconds, Giggs was the annoying kid who thinks he can bypass his teammates and take everyone on before scoring. But this was never Giggs’ intention. His intuition simply told him to keep running and the scenario played out before him. There was little thought, little preparation, dare I say little in the way of technique, certainly not to the same degree of the three strikes I mentioned before.
Even the eventual finish was not taken from the coaching manual. Giggs was facing an acute angle with the imposing Seaman stood tall in front of him and Paul Scholes coming in at the far post. The situation screamed for Giggs to adopt one of the more familiar mantras of ‘hard and low across the keeper’ where an expectant Scholes would no doubt have been on hand to apply the finish should Seaman have parried it. But instead Giggs absolutely smashed the ball into the roof of the net. Instinct had got him that far and it provided the cherry on top too. Well, almost.
As Giggs wheeled away in celebration, there was no pre-rehearsed Welsh jig or t-shirt message for the masses to devour. Instead he whipped off his top and proceeded to allow the world to see a quite impressive ‘chest rug’. That, like the goal itself, was a spur of the moment thing. But it was just as iconic as the match winner.
The goal also had massive implications in this game and beyond. The match was stacked with drama from David Beckham’s magnificent opener, to Peter Schmeichel’s injury-time penalty save and then Roy Keane’s sending off. Winning such an epic battle was important in terms of the United-Arsenal rivalry and in terms of the end of season run in.
Giggs’ goal and the resulting win spoke volumes of United’s character that year. An unrelenting commitment to finding ways to win followed them throughout the 1998 and 1999 campaign. That was never more evident than the 1999 Champions League final where United sealed a quite remarkable treble.
But this goal ranks as one of the more pivotal moments of that season. Not only did it put United in their first final but it also installed a sense of belief. Had sensibility overcome instinctiveness who knows what would have happened in the final two months of that glorious year.

Bjartmarz – Víðir vs Víkingur – 1991

8 02 2011

Björn Björnsson has been a Víkingur fan since birth, and a Manchester United fan since age of six. You can follow him on Twitter @bjornfr. This is Björn’s account of his favourite goal:

When you live in a country of 300,000 people, football is sometimes a bit different. The quality of football on show is not that high, unless you’re catching the first seasons of a youngster destined for overseas success. You support your local team, which in Reykjavik means your neighbourhood team. And when you want to play football, you just go train with your local team’s youth setup like your friends do.
I was slightly different, having lived in a village far from the next proper team, and dad happened to be an ex-player for Víkingur of Reykjavík. So when moving to Reykjavík aged 8, I was already a Víkingur fan, and this meant a bus trip across town to go to training (I was crap, but it was just for fun anyway). Championship wins in 1981 and 1982, the first since 1924, helped to keep the love alive through the fickle years of childhood.
But success can be fleeting especially in a ten club amateur top division, and within three years the team had broken up and been relegated. Crap football seemed there to stay especially after not bouncing straight back. At the second try, though, we succeeded, thanks in large part to five goals in the last two matches from a 25 year old named Björn Bjartmarz who’d never quite made it as a regular but kept on playing for the local team he’d been with since a kid.
The next three years were a struggle against relegation, the odd good player came in, mostly castoffs from other teams. Then 1991 happened.
A proven goalscorer had been brought in, a couple of Yugoslavs and a wanderer or two and suddenly there seemed to be some promise. The first half of the season didn’t go too well, but at least we weren’t quite relegation fodder. But suddenly it all seemed to click and a six game winning run brought us to the top on goal difference. A draw for both top teams in the second to last round and suddenly all Víkingur needed to do was to win at already relegated Víðir from the town of Garður, a 50 minute drive from the capital.
The nice folks at the National Road Service decided to do some roadworks that day, so as a result, I and hundreds of others were on the road when Víðir scored after ten minutes and our challengers were also taking the lead in their match. We got to the game and it all seemed a bit bleak.
But early in the second half Víkingur forced a corner and from it a certain Björn Bjartmarz, now 29, fresh off the subs bench which had been mostly his lot ever since the promotion season, headed towards goal and a Víkingur defender steered it in. 1-1.
And then within a minute of the restart Víkingur pressed on and my favourite goal was scored.

Tall, gangling, and only a bit talented, even by our standards, Björn Bjartmarz had done a Maradona, an Owairan… at least it looks like that to me, to this day. Trying to describe it in further detail would only take the magic away.
Technically if we won by three goals less than our challengers we’d lose the title, and 2 minutes after his first Björn scored his second of the game, and of the season and made sure that even if the wait from the final whistle in our game to the final whistle for our challengers was exciting, it wasn’t too horrible.
And in the end we were champions, and the local lad who’d never been the best of players had cemented his place as one of the greatest stars in the history of Víkingur football club.
The uncut video, from the lead up to the goal-producing corner to the end of the celebrations of the third goal takes up exactly five minutes, and can be found here

As for the years since then… well, winning the title proved too costly, relegation happened, and most of the years since then have been spent in the second tier. But we’ll always have Garður and possibly one of the best goals ever to clinch a Championship, anywhere.

Mackie – Aberdeen vs Celtic – 2001

6 02 2011

Calum writes at his blog Good Feet For A Big Man and tweets @calumcm … This is his favourite goal:

A goal’s a goal, of course, and they all count the same. Except it isn’t, and they don’t. A winner is better than a consolation, a 20-yarder better than a tap-in and a goal in the last minute tops one in the first. Usually. Within those guidelines, beauties and scrubbers are distinguished. There are no hard and fast and rules. Goals, by their very nature, divide opinion. By and large, a goal will upset as many people as it will excite. Except in Scotland. Scottish football has its own rules and principles. Well, two rules and two principles: goal against Celtic, good; goal against Rangers, good.

When David Cameron was trying to hammer home the difference between ‘big government’ and ‘big society’ he should have used the analogy of the SPL. Big government, you see, is like The Old Firm. It’s a bunch of big city boys power wielding, intent on spoiling things for the rest of us. Big society? Well that’s the rest of us. That’s Aberdeen and Dundee United, Kilmarnock and Motherwell. Old and tired clubs being slowly suffocated by the bloated bullies at the top. If he’d said that Scotland would have understood. Then voted Labour anyway.

If anything, Scottish football was even more top heavy as 2001 drew to a close than it is now. At season’s end The Old Firm had a combined goal difference of +131 goals and second placed Rangers finished 27 points above their nearest challengers (Livingston). When the eventual champions traveled North to snowy Pittodrie, Aberdeen on the Saturday before Christmas, they did so with Henrik Larsson, John Hartson and Chris Sutton in their ranks. There isn’t quality like that in Old Firm strike-forces these days.

Their hosts, however, were on a rare post-80s high. Having won our previous eight home matches, the Dandy Dons were one match short of equaling a Fergie-set record of nine consecutive, home league victories.

I was 16 and seated in the incongruously tall Richard Donald Stand (or Dick’s Erection). In the first half, in front of us, Eugene Dadi performed the Marseille turn, Derek Young had an effort blocked on the line and Rab Douglas (in a precursor for what was to come) let a Robbie Winters shot trundle through his legs to clip the post behind him. Celtic were struggling.

At half-time it was 0-0 and cautious optimism reigned. No one got carried away, at least not after Neil Lennon had sprinted into the cover of the tunnel to avoid the barrage of snowballs. Celtic were famous for the lateness of their winners and Tam Cowan was making a career out of jokes about Celtic matches ending too late to be included in the evening papers.

Even when Hartson handled in the box and Winters dispatched the penalty to send us in front we were worried. Our keeper made a great save, Phil McGuire headed off the line. We were very very nervous. Captain Derek Whyte’s late red card made things worse.

Then, with watches being checked all round 19 year-old Darren Mackie hared alone after his typically heavy touch into the Celtic half. The Belgian international Joos Valgaeren showed his experience in getting his body between the spry striker and the ball and carefully rolled it back to Scotland’s number one. Probably, a more experienced player than Mackie would have backed off then, and rejoined his teammates in defence. He didn’t. Instead, he absolutely exploded from behind Valgaeren taking the big Celtic goalie by surprise and possibly causing his slightly weighty first touch. Bravely, Mackie lunged at the ball, won it and leapt to his feet, somehow closer to the ball than Douglas. It rolled slowly goalwards and probably would have crossed the line without the final dash of youthful exuberance Mackie applied in lashing it into the net from millimetres out before sprinting off again in delighted celebration.

2-0. The Dick Donald Stand throbbed with excitement.

A win-clinching goal from a few millimetres, in the final minutes, with no assist, for a team with 10-men, courtesy of a goalkeeping howler, to secure a record-equaling run combines the good and the bad of goal evaluation criteria. The opposition tip the balance. Celtic lost one league game that season, and Darren Mackie’s precocious lash sealed it. On that day my young eyes saw that things could be different. That youth could triumph, that the little guys could fight back and stick it up the man. Of course, the status quo returned. We lost our next home match. Celtic won the league. Big society turned out to be aggressive conservative bollocks. But goals are about moments, and in Darren Mackie’s moment things were different.