Football is a team sport.
For any side to be successful, you need all 11 players to at the very top of their game.
But you’re also relying on your very best players to produce moments of magic. Matches are won by a player scoring a wonder goal, going on an incredible run or executing a superb bit of defending.
Therefore, we’ve decided to forget all about the notion there is no i in team. We’re here to celebrate the individual.
So, GiveMeSport have ranked the 15 greatest individual performances in a single match of all-time.
To help us rank them in order, we’ve taken into account the opposition and the occasion, as well as the performance itself.
There will no doubt be plenty of incredible individual performances that we’ve missed. Be sure to let us know if there’s a glaringly obvious omission.
But here are, in our opinion, the 15 greatest individual performances of all-time:
15th. Michael Owen vs Germany | 2001
England’s – and Owen’s – finest hour.
In a crucial World Cup qualifier, England fell behind after just six minutes. But Michael Owen equalised after 12 minutes converting from Nicky Barmby’s knockdown. Steven Gerrard put the Three Lions ahead just before half-time before it became the Owen show after the break.
Minutes into the second half, his half-volley found a way past Oliver Kahn before an accomplished finish made it 4-1 after 66 minutes. Emile Heskey put the icing on the cake as Sven Goran Eriksson’s side went on to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.
14th. Dimitar Berbatov vs Liverpool | 2010
Dimitar Berbatov earned legendary status at Old Trafford with a brilliant hat-trick against rivals Liverpool in a 3-2 win.
His first goal was very un-Berbatov like as he scored with a header from a Ryan Giggs corner.
His second, however, was simply incredible. From Nani’s cross, Berbatov controlled the ball on his knee with his back to goal and then produced an overhead kick which went in off the crossbar.
After Steven Gerrard’s brace made it 2-2, Berbatov won the game for United with a late header, beating Jamie Carragher in the air.
13th. Andrey Arshavin vs Liverpool | 2009
Liverpool needed a win back in April 2009 to go ahead of Manchester United in the search for their first ever Premier League title.
However, Andrey Arshavin and Arsenal had other ideas.
Arshavin’s first came just before half-time as Cesc Fabregas’ pull-back found him six-yards out as the Russian scored via the crossbar.
Liverpool looked set to go top of the table as they took a 2-1 lead but Arshavin levelled with a fantastic strike from outside of the box. And he completed his hat-trick a few minutes later, capitalising from Fabio Aurelio’s poor clearance. He wheeled away looking as confused as everyone as Arsenal went 3-2 ahead.
After Torres equalised and Liverpool pushed forward for a winner, Theo Walcott and Arshavin broke, allowing the latter to smash home his fourth goal. The image of him showing four fingers and shaking his head in disbelief was etched in the minds of Liverpool fans for the following years.
A late Yossi Benayoun equaliser did very little to ruin Arshavin’s night.
Not the last player to score four against Liverpool to feature in this list…
12th. Jack Wilshere vs Barcelona | 2011
A 19-year-old Jack Wilshere bossed a Barcelona midfield consisting of Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andres Iniesta back in 2011. Arsenal beat Barca 2-1 that night and Wilshere played out of his skin, running rings around the legendary midfield trio. Four years after the match, Xavi still believed that Wilshere was a special player.
“If he had a career that had been injury-free we would already be talking about him as one of the top central midfield players in Europe,” Xavi said.
“I have played against him, I have watched him carefully, and if he can overcome injuries, then he can still go on an be one of the best midfield players in the world.
“With all respect, he doesn’t play the English way. He has an excellent passing range, an ability not to lose the ball, it is clear that he has had his education at Arsenal.
“Now I see Wilshere as the future of English football, that is why it is so important they keep him fit.”
Unfortunately, that performance back on 16 February 2011 was as good as Wilshere career got as injuries ruined his potential.
11th. Mark Viduka vs Liverpool | 2000
One of the greatest Premier League matches ever.
Leeds had a whole host of injuries and found themselves 2-0 down inside 18 minutes against Liverpool at Elland Road.
But Mark Viduka – who had only recently signed for the club from Celtic for £6 million – scored his first of the game as he dinked the ball over Sander Westerveld after Alan Smith had charged down Christian Ziege’s clearance – it wouldn’t be the last Viduka dink of the day either.
It was 2-2 shortly after half-time when Viduka headed in from Gary Kelly’s cross.
But when Liverpool went 3-2 ahead through Vladimir Smicer, it looked as though Viduka’s two goals meant very little.
But the Australian had only just begun.
He was soon spinning Liverpool’s defence in knots to equalise. Then, with 15 minutes remaining, he broke free to dink the ball beautifully over Westerveld to send the home fans wild.
10th. Gareth Bale vs Inter Milan | 2010
The night that Gareth Bale became an overnight superstar.
He couldn’t possibly have predicted that would be the case as his Tottenham side found themselves 4-0 down with a man sent off at the San Siro after just 35 minutes.
However, a sensational second-half hat-trick not only restored some pride for his side but made everyone across the continent sit up and take notice.
The 21-year-old absolutely destroyed one of the best right-backs in Europe at the time, Maicon. Some say the Brazilian has never recovered from his two matches up against Bale.
His first was unbelievable as he picked the ball up midway inside his own half, knocked the ball past Maicon, outpaced Javier Zanetti and fired a stunning shot into the far corner past Julio Cesar – he even had the cheek to get the ball out of the back of the net!
His second in the 90th-minute was almost a carbon-copy – albeit without the run beforehand. He was played in by Tom Huddlestone and he took on Zanetti again before another fierce drive across Cesar and into the corner.
Seconds later, he completed his hat-trick as Aaron Lennon found the Welshman in the box as Bale let the ball run across his body before finding that same bottom corner again.
Bale had announced himself to the world.
9th. Fabio Cannavaro v Germany | 2006
The only defender to feature in this list but Fabio Cannavaro is well worthy of a place.
It’s little wonder that he claimed the Ballon d’Or later this year if his World Cup semi-final performance against Germany is anything to go by.
Despite only being 5’9”, the Italian dominated the physical Miroslav Klose in the air, while he produced blocks, interceptions, last-ditch tackles, perfect positioning and composure on the ball during the 120 minutes in which Italy won 2-0.
He would, of course, go on to lift the World Cup after beating France in the final.
8th. Ronaldo vs Manchester United | 2003
Before ‘Fat Ronaldo’ was a thing, Ronaldo Nazario was one of the greatest players in world football. And his greatest performance came at Old Trafford against Manchester United back in April 2003. Real Madrid had beaten Manchester United 3-1 in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.
United scored enough goals in the second leg to go through – four. But Ronaldo single-handedly sent them crashing out with an incredible hat-trick during the seven-goal thriller.
His first saw him run off Rio Ferdinand, pick up a ball from Guti and fire past Fabian Barthez at the near post. His second was put on a plate for him after a brilliant move from Roberto Carlos and Zinedine Zidane. His third, though, was just incredible. He picked the ball up 25 yards out, ran with the ball before firing it past Barthez into the top corner.
When he was substituted off, he received a standing ovation from the Manchester United fans.
7th. Cristiano Ronaldo vs Atletico Madrid | 2019
If there was a side you wouldn’t want to trail 2-0 against from the first leg of a Champions League last-16 tie, it’s Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. But if there’s a player you wouldn’t want to face in a Champions League knockout match, it’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo scored a hat-trick to see Juve win 3-0 and progress to the quarter-finals in what was probably his greatest individual performance to date.
Two towering headers and a penalty saw Ronaldo help the Old Lady pull off a sensational comeback as he dubbed it a “magical night.”
6th. Steven Gerrard vs West Ham | 2006
The Steven Gerrard final.
As far as performances in an FA Cup final go, this has got to be the greatest.
Liverpool found themselves 2-0 down to West Ham when Steve Gerrard decided to produce his greatest performance in a Liverpool shirt.
A sensational 40-yard pass set up Djibril Cisse to pull a goal back before half-time. Gerrard himself made it 2-2 when he hit an unstoppable half-volley into the top corner from Peter Crouch’s nod down.
But when Paul Konchesky’s cross found the back of the net for West Ham to put them 3-2 ahead, it just looked as though their name was on the cup.
With minutes remaining, Gerrard was down with cramp and he was surely out of the final. When the ball bounced to him 35 yards out, he had no energy to do anything but hit it as hard as he could. He did just that as the ball arrowed its way into the bottom corner past Shaka Hislop.
Gerrard wasn’t done there, though, as he scored in the penalty shootout before lifting the FA Cup for Rafa Benitez’s side.
5th. Xavi vs Real Madrid | 2009
Xavi is one of the best midfielders in football history and his performance during Barcelona’s 6-2 victory over Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in 2009 is simply incredible.
He barely gave the ball away all match and registered four – yes four – assists.
His first was a perfect free-kick onto the head of Carles Puyol. His second wasn’t quite so perfect but showed a different side of his game as he dispossessed Lassana Diarra with the ball rolling into the path of Lionel Messi. His third was a beautiful clipped through ball behind Real’s defence to Thierry Henry. But his fourth assist of the day was the best as he pirouettes in between Fernando Gago and Fabio Cannavaro before finding Messi with a pass that took Gabriel Heinze out of the game.
4th. Lionel Messi vs Arsenal | 2010
After a 2-2 draw in the first leg of the Champions League tie, it was all to play for at the Camp Nou. And when Nicklas Bendtner put Arsenal ahead in Spain, Barca were really up against it. It turned out they were simply poking the bear – the bear being Lionel Messi.
The equaliser came within minutes. Messi inadvertently played a one-two with Mikael Silvestre and, despite being surrounded by four Arsenal defender, struck a fierce shot past Manuel Almunia. And in a blink of the eye, Messi put his side 2-1 ahead as he ran onto the ball, took a perfect touch with his right foot to take him past Silvestre before clipping the ball with the same boot over the onrushing Almunia. And the tie was over before half-time as Messi raced through on ball and produced a trademark dink to complete his hat-trick.
With just minutes remaining, Messi grabbed his and Barcelona’s fourth as he embarrassed Emmanual Eboue, saw his first shot saved before firing through the legs of Almunia to complete an incredible night for him and his team.
3rd. Roy Keane vs Juventus | 1999
The night Manchester United captain, Roy Keane, became a club legend.
United were looking to reach the final of the European Cup for the first time since 1968 but after a 1-1 draw in the first leg of their semi-final vs Juventus, that seemed unlikely.
It seemed even more unlikely after they found themselves 2-0 down inside 11 minutes.
But Keane hauled his side back into the match with a terrific header after 24 minutes. Ten minutes later, though, the Irishman picked up a yellow card that would rule him out of the final after a rash tackle on Zinedine Zidane.
Knowing they would be out of the final, many players would have crumbled and their performance may have suffered. But Keane went the other way.
United went on to win 3-2 with Keane winning his midfield battle against the likes of Zidane, Edgar Davids and Didier Deschamps.
Sir Alex Ferguson summed up Keane’s performance that night perfectly so we’ll let him describe it:
“I did not think I could have a higher opinion of any footballer than I already had of the Irishman but he rose even further in my estimation at the Stadio Delle Alpi. The minute he was booked and out of the final, he seemed to redouble his efforts to get the team there,” Ferguson said.
“It was the most emphatic display of selflessness I have seen on a football field. Pounding over every blade of grass, competing as if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honour to be associated with such a player.”
2nd. Ronaldinho vs Real Madrid | 2005
When you receive a standing ovation from the opposite set of fans in an El Clasico, you know you’ve played pretty well. That’s what happened to Ronaldinho at the Bernabeu after his masterclass. The Brazilian had just won the European Footballer of the Year award and proved he was the best player in the world at the time during Barcelona’s 3-0 win.
Throughout the match, Ronaldinho played as if he was featuring in an exhibition match. The number of times he made Michel Salgado and Sergio Ramos look foolish was quite ridiculous. But he had an end product on the night as well.
After Samuel Eto’o had given Barca an early lead, Ronaldinho made sure the match will always be remembered for his performance in the second half.
His first goal was sublime. He picked up the ball on the halfway line and saw his opportunity to run at Ramos. He skipped past the defender, leaving him on the floor. He glided into the box, sold Ivan Helguerea a dummy to cut inside onto his right foot and then gave Iker Casillas the eyes to stick it in at the near post. What. A. Goal.
Not long later, he was doing something equally sensational as he breezed past Ramos again and finished beautifully past Casillas. Magnificent.
And the Real fans knew they were witnessing something special and they had very little choice but to stand up and applaud.
“It was a perfect game,” Ronaldinho later reflected. “I will never forget this because it is very rare for any footballer to be applauded in this way by the opposition fans.”
1st. Zinedine Zidane vs Brazil | 2006
The greatest individual performance of all-time.
The 2006 World Cup quarter-final between France and Brazil was one of Zinedine Zidane’s last ever matches – and he saved his best performance for it.
It wasn’t because he scored a hat-trick – like many of the incredible performances in this list. Zidane didn’t even score. (Although he did grab an assist for the only goal of the game). It was just his general care-free performance on the biggest stage of them all against the most successful nation in World Cup history.
It took just 35 seconds for the 34-year-old Zidane to start toying with the opposition as he stands on the ball before gliding past Ze Roberto, Kaka and Gilberto Silva. It set the tone for the entire match as Zidane played as if he was on the school playground. Commentator Clive Tyldesley knew he was witnessing something amazing as he gushed “Here is the mystical Zidane, the magical Zidane” at one point in the first half.
He also played a large role in the only goal of the game as his floated free-kick found Thierry Henry at the backpost.
It capped off a quite sensational individual display by one of the greatest players to have played the game.