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Dec 11, 2009

The greatest goals of the decade

The decade has witnessed all manner of great goals and sublime strikes. It may be faintly ridiculous to restrict a selection to ten, but such events demand a nice, neat list. Feel free to add your own favourites at the bottom of the page if they do not appear in this collection.

Paolo Di Canio, West Ham v Wimbledon, 2000

The decade was only three months old when the enigmatic Di Canio put his own indelible stamp on the Premier League. Sizing up a cross-field pass from Trevor Sinclair at Upton Park, the Italian eschewed any thoughts of taking a touch or controlling the aerial ball. Instead, he leapt into the air to execute a technically-perfect volley, sending the ball arching past Neil Sullivan and into the far corner of the net. Slow motion replays accentuate the sense of suspense and beauty that saw this effort named Goal of the Season in 1999-2000.

Rivaldo, Barcelona v Valencia, 2001

What makes a great goal? Technique? Imagination? Audacity? Or perhaps it is all three, brewed together in the cauldron of a truly crucial encounter. The stakes were rarely as high as they were on the final day of the 2000-01 La Liga season, as Barcelona faced Valencia knowing that only a win would snatch the final Champions League place away from their opponents. Rivaldo had already scored twice, only to see Valencia equalise through two Ruben Baraja headers. With the game heading into the final minute, Barca were desperate and Frank de Boer lofted a ball forward to Rivaldo, who was lurking on the edge of the box with his back to goal. The Brazilian magician controlled expertly with his chest and then unleashed a stunning overhead kick that flew past Santiago Canizares. Quite the conclusion to a league season.

Gianfranco Zola, Chelsea v Norwich, 2002

"Don't ask me how I did it," Zola said. "Because I don't know. It is one of those goals you could try 100 times and it will probably never come off again." The little Italian was right in that his wonderful backheeled volley in an FA Cup encounter in January 2002 was truly unique, but forget 100 attempts, 100,000 is more like it. Zola clearly had the idea in his head when suddenly darting to the near post to meet a Graeme Le Saux corner, but no one could have anticipated what would happen next. Leaping into the air, Zola met the ball with his right boot and delicately flicked it through his legs and squeezed it between goalkeeper and post. The perfect union of technique, genius and timing.

Dennis Bergkamp, Arsenal v Newcastle, 2002

It is rare that, on first viewing, a goal is so supremely and unexpectedly executed that the crowd are left wondering exactly what just happened. It is rarer still that seven years on, the mind is still beguiled. Such was the brilliance of Bergkamp's goal at St James' Park on March 2, 2002. Receiving a pass from Robert Pires with his back to goal and with Nikos Dabizas in close attendance, Bergkamp stretched out his left boot and, in one fluid movement, flicked the ball one side of his marker while pirouetting the other, before casually brushing Dabizias aside and slipping the ball coolly past Shay Given. A classic work of art from the Dutch master.

Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen, 2002

Sometimes, timing is everything. Not just the exquisite timing with which Zidane planted his right foot, cocked his left and then spun on a pivot, smashing a perfect volley past Hans-Jorg Butt. No. The timing was in the fact that this was the Champions League final. In Real Madrid's centenary year. Having seen Lucio respond to Raul's opener, Real approached half-time contemplating a 1-1 scoreline in Glasgow. But then, in the stadium where Alfredo di Stefano and Ferenc Puskas ran riot in the 1960 final, Zidane joined the ranks of Real greats. There looked to be little on when Roberto Carlos hopefully hooked the ball in Zidane's general direction but the great Frenchman was alert, monitoring the falling ball like a killer whale watches a stray seal. He pounced gracefully on the edge of the box, his swinging left foot cutting a perfect arc through the Glasgow air and propelling the ball into the top corner. £47 million well spent.

Jared Borgetti, Mexico v Italy, 2002

Heading is a largely underrated art and nodding one in from close range certainly doesn't capture the imagination like a long-range missile or a thrilling dribble. But Jared Borgetti's goal against Italy at the 2002 World Cup demands a place on this list. It is not just the expert finish - or the context; against the Azzurri on the greatest stage of all - as this was the culmination of a flowing team move. Mexico won the ball in their own penalty area, kept it for over a minute and strung together 15 passes before Cuauhtemoc Blanco took possession some 25 yards from goal. He spotted Borgetti lurking just in front of Paolo Maldini and chipped a pass into his team-mate. Jogging to the left-hand side of the six-yard box, and with the ball fizzing in at a real height, Borgetti calculated his angles with all the expertise of a master architect, twisted his body and sent a perfect header over his left shoulder, back across goal, looping over the static Gianluigi Buffon and into the far opposite corner of the net. Sublime.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ajax v NAC Breda, 2004

Stunning volleys, outrageous pieces of skill and acrobatic efforts are all well and good, but there is something special, something otherworldly, about seeing a ridiculous individual effort. It's almost as if such a goal could only occur on a computer, with the difficulty set to easy, or on a school playground. Ibrahimovic scored such a goal in the Eredivisie in August 2004 when embarking on one of the most outrageous dribbles ever seen. With the ball not so much stuck as superglued to his boot, Ibra collected the ball 20 yards from goal, beat Mendes da Silva, Koning, Koning again, Stam and Mendes again, before showing the calm and dexterity to drag the ball back, committing the hapless goalkeeper, before rolling his shot home. It showcased the utter confidence and arrogance of a man destined to become one of the world's best strikers.

Estebian Cambiasso, Argentina v Serbia, 2006

The finish itself was unremarkable - a prodded effort that didn't even find the top corner - but the sweeping, hypnotic, 25-pass move that preceded it ensured that Cambiasso's strike in the first round of the 2006 World Cup is now considered as one of the great all-time team goals. Right-back Nicolas Burdisso was the only outfield player not involved in the move as Argentina spread the ball around the Gelsenkirchen turf with confidence, but momentum was suddenly generated when Juan Roman Riquelme flicked the ball to Javier Saviola with the outside of his boot. Saviola rode a challenge and offloaded to Cambiasso, who slipped in Hernan Crespo. A clever backheel returned the ball to Cambiasso and the midfielder ensured immortality by finishing. The final denouement wasn't as classy as Carlos Alberto's belter in the 1970 final, but the move was every bit as perfectly constructed.

Lionel Messi, Barcelona v Getafe, 2007

The tag of 'the new Maradona' has weighed heavily on a number of Argentinean players in recent times, but none have invited it as conspicuously and as sensationally as Messi. In a Copa del Rey match against Getafe in April 2007, the Barcelona star produced a near replica of Maradona's famous goal against England in the 1986 World Cup. Picking up the ball in his own half, Messi quickly darted away from one challenge before accelerating towards goal. Ghosting past another four players, the little magician then skirted around the keeper and finished from a tight angle. The similarities with Maradona's masterpiece were spooky.

Grafite, Wolfsburg v Bayern Munich, 2009

A game that provided evidence of a real shift in the balance of power in German football, Wolfsburg's tremendous 5-1 win over Bayern in April 2009 also witnessed of the great Bundesliga goals. Grafite collected the ball from strike partner Edin Dzeko some 35 yards from goal and in the left channel. Darting forward and into the box, the Brazilian turned Andreas Ottl inside-out before nicking the ball away from Christian Lell and then grounded goalkeeper Michael Rensing. With his back to goal and Philipp Lahm and Breno in attendance, Grafite summoned up a nonchalant backheel that rolled lazily past Breno and the hapless Ottl for a finish that was clinical and cheeky in equal measure. Marrying expert dribbling and unadulterated arrogance, it was a unique goal.

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