My apologies for the late post today. I got a text from sunshine saying that he would be out of position for the next couple of days and asking me to cover the posting. Through a rather unlikely coincidence, this text arrived in one of those small windows during which I am not constantly looking at my phone and as a consequence I didn’t see it until today. Where is sunshine, you might ask? Well, I’m not at liberty to say, but let’s just say that his absence and the resignation of the Pope are not purely coincidental.
I’ve been hanging around with sunshine so long that I often forget to listen to what he says. I really must put a stop to this. Yesterday’s post (and the pounding that I subsequently received) illustrate the need for greater coordination. I knew that he was irritated about the whole thing even before I woke up this morning with a horse’s head in my bed.
The heads. You’re looking at the heads. I, uh – sometimes he goes too far, you know – he’s the first one to admit it!”
As far as most of the stories discussed in yesterday’s post go, there is pretty much a dearth of new information. Unless MP has hit is Twitter account again I may be pretty hard pressed to get a full post out of this.
Ok, I’m making a command decision. There’s just not enough to talk about in Timbersland today, so I’m just going to talk about something else for a little bit. Every now and then you’ll see videos posted on sports websites or on Youtube or wherever touting the greatest goal ever scored. It is natural that people do this. Football is an intensely subjective matter. This applies not only to team preference, but also to myriad aspects of the game not summed up in the final score. What deserves the title of greatest goal ever depends a lot on these subjective factors, but I will here make my argument for why I think one goal in particular is the greatest ever.
The scene is the 1998 World Cup Finals, played in France. In the quarterfinals, the Dutch faced perennial WC powerhouse Argentina. As usual, the Argentines were stacked with talent including the likes of Gabriel Batistuta, Diego Simeone, Juan-Sebastian Veron, Claudio López, and Roberto Ayala. They had cruised through the group stages, beating Japan, Croatia, and Jamaica without conceding a single goal.
The Dutch were, it must be said, not wholly lacking in talent. Their defense included Michael Reiziger, Frank de Boer, and Jaap Stam, arguably the best defender of the era. Their attacking force featured Patrick Kluivert and Dennis Bergkamp, two of the most prolific strikers in the European game. They had not looked terribly impressive in the group stages, drawing with Mexico and Belgium and only winning the group by virtue of a 5-0 thrashing of South Korea. Still, they had special motivation for wanting to beat Argentina, over and above the desire to get to the semifinals. Twenty years before, Argentina had beaten the Netherlands to win the World Cup in 1978. This was the closest that the Netherlands had ever come to winning the ultimate prize and their overtime loss stamped itself in the Dutch footballing consciousness for decades afterward.
The match itself was one of the most flowing that I have ever seen at the World Cup. Often, especially in the later stages of tournaments, teams will tend to play somewhat cautiously, hoping to keep things solid and nick a winner when their opponents make an error. Not so this match. Both teams showed that they were well up for it from the opening whistle, and both showed that they had the capacity to play complex, high energy attacking football.
The Dutch opened the scoring on twelve minutes. Ronald de Boer sent a right to left diagonal ball into the box which Bergkamp headed into the patch of the onrushing Kluivert. Kluivert’s toe poke went underneath the charging Roa and the Dutch had the lead. Argentina took only six minutes to reply. The usually rock solid Frank de Boer failed to execute the offside trap correctly and Claudio López went through on goal, beating van der Saar one on one.
Throughout the match Argentina seemed slightly put off by the play of the Dutch. With only a few exceptions, teams that play Argentina try to keep things tight, hold possession, and try not to get snowed under. The Dutch seemed to understand that this would not work. Instead the launched a series of wild attacks, throwing men forward at every opportunity. They seemed to know that their only hope was to take the fight to the Argentines and to have decided that if they were to lose they were going to down swinging.
Their hopes seemed to be dashed in the 78th minute when Arthur Numan was sent off for a second yellow card. But the scales were rebalanced twelve minutes later when Ariel Ortega (in one of the great moments of late stage tournament stupidity) was given a straight red for headbutting van der Saar.
So here we are: World Cup Quarter Final, 89th minute, tied 1-1, when the following events unfold:
Frank de Boer brings the ball out of defense. He plays a sixty yard diagonal ball that Bergkamp takes on the fly at the top of the penalty area, with his right foot. Ayala has spotted the danger and gets back in coverage. He is goal side of Bergkamp and has every reason to believe that the latter’s momentum will take him to the end line. Bergkamp executes one the most remarkable moves that I have ever seen. After spooning the ball down with his right foot, he then uses that same foot to shift the ball to the left, simultaneously (and very much improbably) changing the direction of his run. In the space of half a second, Ayala goes from having things under control to overrunning the play and having to contort his body in a vain attempt to spin back and cover the new threat. Roa it as his near post, having made the logical assumption that Bergkamp’s run (and Ayala’s defense) will direct things to the right. He is thus rudely surprised to find that Bergkamp has now freed himself from Ayala and has pretty much the whole goal to work with. Bergkamp puts the finishing touch on the move, once again using his right foot to curve a ball inside the far post past Roa’s despairing wave.
Why is this the greatest goal ever scored?
1. Circumstances: It’s late in the game in the quarter finals of a major (the most major) international tournament. Moreover, it comes against a team at the time were the odds on favorite to win the whole thing.
2. The move: Three straight touches with the right foot, the second of which really defies belief. One can’t blame Ayala for over running the play, because no one should have been able to do what Bergkamp did given the speed and vector of his run.
3. The call: Jack van Gelder’s call of the is one of the real classics of football broadcasting. The best part is when, after screaming Bergkamp’s name over and over, he becomes completely incoherent. Well played.
That’s enough for today. I suppose. I’ll be back tomorrow (unless sunshine has had himself declared Pope in which case we’ll have enough money to bring on some other writers).