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Nov 15, 2012

Best ever? Ibrahimovic goal wins plaudits

Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the toast of the football world -- and newspaper headlines -- on Thursday 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 quarterfinals; 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 10 best goals of 2012, a list featuring efforts by Lionel Messi and Neymar. FIFA said Thursday 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 in England's Daily Telegraph. "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 the country's new national stadium -- the Friends Arena. Ibrahimovic scored all of Sweden's goals in a masterful individual display.

"What a fantastic goal of Zlatan Ibrahimovic against England!!!" tweeted retired Brazilian great Ronaldo.

France legend Zinedine Zidane also expressed his admiration for the Swede's wonder goal.

Ibrahimovic is "an extraordinary player. It was magnificent -- especially the overhead kick," Zidane was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.

"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 that it was a friendly -- 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 greatness.

"Outrageous, acrobatic and touched with genius … Zlatan scores 'the greatest ever,'" English newspaper The Daily Mail said on its back page.

Marca was equally effusive in its praise about the striker's master class.

"Super Ibra. Superlative, unique, spectacular," the Spanish daily said, as translated by Yahoo! Sport. "Ibrahimovic completed one of the remaining games for the legend."

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.

That Ibrahimovic's goal came in a friendly 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 Zidane in the 2001 Champions League final between Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen deserves a mention, as does Ryan Giggs' dribble from the halfway line in extra time of an FA Cup semifinal between Manchester United and Arsenal in 1999.

Other goals usually raised in "best of all time" debates include 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 silenced the section of England fans who minutes earlier had serenaded Ibrahimovic with derogatory songs comparing him to Andy Carroll, the much-maligned English striker who also has a ponytail.

"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, which I've said earlier, it feels like a coliseum."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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