Football

Top five: Match-winning volleys from the modern era

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Zidane's strike has become iconic. (©GettyImages)
Zidane's strike has become iconic. (©GettyImages).

1) Zinedine Zidane, Real Madrid vs Bayer Leverkusen

And now for the best volleyed goal of the 21st century.

Any football fan will tell you that the two of the three greatest goals ever scored were Carlos Alberto's goal against Italy in the final of the 1970 World Cup (due to the magnificent build-up that led to the goal) and Maradona's weaving, penetrating, destructive run in the 1986 World Cup game against England.

The third goal in this unofficial list, in my humble opinion, was also the greatest volleyed goal of the 21st century.

It was scored by--again, just my humble opinion--the greatest European footballer of all time, Zinedine Zidane, on the stroke of halftime in the final of the UEFA Champions League 2001-02 played between Zidane's Real Madrid and Mikael Ballack's Bayern Leverkusen on May 15, 2002.

Zinedine Zidane was just the unique kind of footballer who made it look like everything he did on a football pitch was the epitome of aesthetic grace and footballing perfection.

It always seemed like the player, fondly christened "Zizou" by the millions who worshipped him, had a direct line of access to the footballing heavens, one which he used to pluck moments of sheer genius from thin air, time and again.

His goal against Bayer Leverkusen was the perfect example of this ability he had of being able to do things that no other player on the pitch would have deemed possible, let alone remotely probable.

With the scores at 1-1 after Lucio had cancelled Raul's opener, Real Madrid midfielder Santiago Solari played a lofted through ball to rampaging full-back Roberto Carlos. Carlos was almost at the byline by the time he got to the ball, and could therefore only hook it back towards the centre of the pitch.

As the ball traced a glorious arc into the night sky of Glasgow, Zidane lurked outside the penalty area. He saw the ball fast approaching him. He glanced up at his immediate surroundings, establishing that Mikael Ballack would not get to him in time to impede his glorious machinations.

Realising that his shifting his body to allow the ball to fall onto his right foot would mean that he would have his back to the dropping ball, he instead resorted to hit it with his weaker left foot.

As the ball dropped, his eagle-like eyes unerringly following its path, he shifted his feet in a motion so fluidly subtle you wouldn't have noticed it. As he prepared his body for the shot, he was more a dancer in full song than a footballer, more an artist than an athlete.

The ball seemed to slow down as it approached his left foot, almost timing itself to be hit by him. The image of Zidane connecting with the ball remains one of the most iconic images in the history of football, right up there with Pele celebrating in Jairzinho's arms after scoring the first goal of the 1970 World Cup final and Maradona confronting six Belgian defenders during the 1982 World Cup. 

As soon as the ball left Zidane's left boot, you knew that it was going to find a way past Hans-Jorg Butt; the Gods would have had it no other way. 

There was just a moment of absolute silence, even as the ball hit the back of the net, as those in attendance at Hampden Park took in the reality of what they'd just had the privilege of witnessing.

"Did that really happen? Did he really score? What just happened?"

And then the crowd rose to their feet as one, in a deafening salute to the man on the pitch who had graced the game with a moment of pure genius. Even now, 11 years after that goal was scored, people still wonder how Zidane scored it. Even now, the hair on the back of my neck stands on end when I watch replays of the goal.

It will forever remain the greatest moment in the history of Champions League football, and possibly the history of the The Beautiful Game itself.

Topics:
Paul Scholes
Steven Gerrard
Football
Zinedine Zidane
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