Mike Gibbons

Mike Gibbons is an aspiring young journalist from the UK who has followed the World Cup with passion from an early age. He will share his views about the past, present and future of this event.

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A Joy Forever

    It is a common feeling in life that you witness things that you think can never possibly be bettered. Once seen, you ingrain it in your consciousness that no matter what follows an unsurpassable benchmark has been set. I’m often guilty of thinking like this. For me, there could never be a band who could record an album that is better than The Stone Roses; no boxer will ever grace the ring like Sugar Ray Robinson; no comedian could induce gut-wrenching laughter the way Bill Hicks did.

    This stubborn mindset of mine also covers the World Cup, and any goals scored therein. What individual goal could possibly rival the gambetta that Maradona used to destroy England in 1986? I will laugh out of the room anyone who suggests Saeed al-Owairan’s effort against Belgium in USA 94 as he lost control of the ball near the end, something Diego would never do. For long range strikes the two that flew past the great Dino Zoff in 1978, courtesy of Arie Haan and Nelinho, are in a peerless league of their own. For team goals Carlos Alberto’s glorious final flourish against Italy in the 1970 final is by common consensus the apex, and I have always agreed. I scoffed recently at a suggestion on this site that Salif Diao’s effort for Senegal against Denmark in 2002 was a better goal. Unquestionably brilliant but not in the same category as Alberto’s. That was a work of art, a statement of creative genius that can never be surpassed. Can it?

    It can. I have purposely held off writing this article for a few days as I wanted to be sure I wasn’t being lulled by the modern phenomenon of thinking that anything that happens today is automatically better than anything that went before. My opinion has not changed – on Friday I saw the greatest team goal ever scored at the World Cup, one of the best I have ever seen in my life.

    Thankfully, I witnessed it at the time. With a choice that ranks by my standards as pretty damn good, I decided to take a late lunch on Friday and watch the first half of Argentina versus Serbia and Montenegro in the pub with two friends of mine. Argentina went into the lead quickly, the game was being played at a cracking pace and the Albiceleste were looking pretty awesome, picking up from where they left off against the Ivory Coast. Even the enforced substitution of Esteban Cambiasso for Luis Gonzalez didn’t upset their rhythm.

    It started in the thirtieth minute. Kezman overran the ball, and Heinze played a quick pass to Maschareno on the left. A neat bout of interchanging and short passing began between Maschareno, Rodriguez, Riquelme and Sorin, before working it from the left into the centre, to the right and back via Ayala and Cambiasso. Argentina were probing, and the ball went out to the left again for some more short, neat triangles between Riquelme, Maschareno and Sorin.

    With the nineteenth pass of the move, Sorin played the ball to Saviola on the left corner of the Serbia and Montenegro penalty area. Saviola span quickly and the move was suddenly brimming with menace, the Sevilla forward deciding to take it up a level, and the rest of the team went with him. Saviola chipped the ball to Riquelme, who hooked it back to him first time. Saviola controlled it instantly, and with a defender flying in at him played a pass on the half volley across the area to Cambiasso. As the ball landed in front of him Cambiasso touched it first time to Crespo, lurking just inside the area with a defender at his back. He took one touch to control it, and moving to his right he played the deftest of back-heels to roll the ball into the path of Cambiasso, who had continued his run into the area. With defenders closing in and the goalkeeper coming out he shot immediately with his left foot and the ball flew high into the roof of the net.

    Cue euphoria. In the pub we were in everyone was on their feet cheering and applauding, and the crowd in the Arena AufSchalke went wild. Maradona, twenty years on from his own moment of sublime genius, was the cheerleader-in-chief. The Argentinean players mobbed Cambiasso. Hernan Crespo has since said it was the greatest goal he has ever been involved in. It may be the greatest goal anyone has been involved in.

    What makes this astonishing goal so special is the amount of elements to it. Nine players are involved in the move, the only exceptions being the goalkeeper Abbondanzieri and the right-back Burdisso. There were twenty-four passes prior to Cambiasso’s finish, and in possession no Argentinean player takes more than three touches of the ball. It is the ultimate team goal as no one player dominates the move; it is utterly socialist in creation. Maschareno, Sorin, Riquelme and Rodriguez make four of the passes, Cambiasso three, Saviola two and one each from Crespo, Ayala and Heinze.

    Apart from the slick bout of possession that encompasses the first eighteen passes and the patience to wait for the opening, the collective will to go for the jugular and subsequent skill with which it was executed elevate this goal onto a whole new plateau. The lighting one-two between Saviola and Riquelme opens up the move, and Saviola’s quick pass to Cambiasso takes out another defender. The sleight of touch with which Cambiasso drops the ball into Crespo’s feet is only matched by the lightly under-hit backheel from Crespo that guides the ball back perfectly into the Inter midfielder’s path. Hardly noted for his finishing ability, the coup de grace applied by Cambiasso in driving the ball high into the roof of the net was thoroughly in keeping with all that went before.

    As a footnote, the defence that they have taken to pieces during this audacious fifty-six seconds was one that conceded only one goal in qualifying. With the game at one-nil it was still very much in the balance, and it’s easy to forget that Carlos Alberto’s wonder goal came against an Italian team that were two goals behind with only a few minutes remaining, having run themselves into the ground against West Germany in extra-time just four days earlier.

    One of the great ironies surrounding this goal is that twenty-five minutes earlier Maxi Rodriguez had opened the scoring with the best goal of this World Cup so far after another blizzard of passing, movement and pace down the left flank. The match in general is the most devastating performance by any one team at the Finals since Denmark took Uruguay apart to the tune of six goals in Nez in 1986. Winning three-nil, the decision to throw Messi and Tevez into the fray against a Serbia and Montenegro team reduced to ten men bordered on the inhumane, and each scored a superb goal to seal the victory.

    Although they must now surely be the favourites for the World Cup any number of things could happen between now and July 9th to stop them. There is the theory that they may have peaked too early, although there are numerous examples of teams getting a flying start and going on to win the tournament – Brazil in 1970, West Germany in 1990, France in 1998. It is more likely that they will now encounter teams devising ways to stop them, and the chalkboards will be out in every coach’s room, with particular attention to be paid to the attacks that develop on the Argentinean left wing, with Sorin advanced and Saviola dropping wide. They may come a cropper somewhere along the line but only the most miserable soul would not want this team in the tournament for as long as possible.

    Whatever happens, they have changed my cynical mind at least. Whether it can be considered to be the greatest World Cup goal ever I don’t know, it depends on your penchant for long range thunderbolts or spectacular acts of individual skill and dribbling as well. Categorising goals is easy, comparing categories is impossible. I’m old enough to remember Maradona slicing through England in the Azteca, and I would certainly put Cambiasso’s goal (it should really be called Argentina’s goal) on a par with that. Flipping a coin would be the only way to separate them.

    As far as the team goal is concerned, the bar has been raised spectacularly. Carlos Alberto and friends are now one rung lower on the ladder. I cannot imagine how good a goal will need to be scored for me to change my mind again, but then I never thought the creation by those golden shirted magicians in 1970 would be topped either. Therein lies the beauty of the World Cup, and of football – every now and then it has this innate capacity to make you jump out of your seat in sheer amazement. Pekerman’s boys may or may not win the World Cup, but what they conjured up on June 16th in Gelsenkirchen will never, ever be forgotten.



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