Five of football’s greatest individual performances

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Lionel Messi was rampant once again in Barcelona’s evisceration of Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League last-16, scoring five goals.


It was yet another exhibition of football artistry at its pinnacle and you can be excused for falling into the bracket of those who are proclaiming the Argentine to be the greatest player to have ever lived.


Such dominant individual performances are rare in football and we should cherish and be grateful for the opportunity to see someone give a performance such as he did last night.


Whether the view that Messi pretty much does football as well as it can be done is a debate for another day, but whether the destruction of the Bundesliga side was one of the best individual performances seen before is not. And we are about to have it.


Having talent in abundance and being able to make the football do seemingly impossible things is one thing, to play so effectively and give a performance so outstanding that it is the single driving force behind the victory is another.


GMF saw Messi’s five-star display and wondered if they had ever seen another player win a game so single-handedly before.


We weren’t sure, but compiling the following list of contenders was some of the most fun we have had.


So, after much deliberation we decided that the amount of goals a person scores in the performance is slightly outweighed by the importance and significance of the win.


Here they are...


Roy Keane, Juventus 2-3 Manchester United, April 21, 1999


It will forever be remembered as one of the most influential performances by a single player, so who are we to argue? This is mainly due to the fact that Keane received a booking that meant he would be suspended for the Champions League final, this being the second leg of the semi-final.


Keane had already scored the first of a magnificent comeback from 2-0 down in the Stadio Delli Alpi before he received his booking. This does not make the performance any less significant and the way he drove his team forward to turn the game around and see them to their first European cup final in 31 years was inspiring.


Diego Maradona, Argentina 2-1 England, June 22, 1986


Diego Armando’s performance in the whole tournament is really why he must be mentioned – he dragged a team that was not terrible, but they were certainly no world-beaters until the great No.10 was amongst them, to World Cup glory.


The quarter-final against England epitomised everything Maradona was about; ruthless and unapologetic in his desire to all that was required for victory, as well as being blessed with such rare ability. The ‘Hand of God’ goal made him a villain on these shores, but the solo effort that followed gave credence to the view that he was undoubtedly the greatest player of his era.


David Beckham, England 2-2 Greece, October 6, 2001


This day will forever be remembered fondly by England fans as the day that David Beckham cemented his place in the hearts of a nation. England needed to match the result of Germany in their encounter with Finland and many were seeing this as a straightforward win in the offing.


Germany were drawing with Finland and Sven Goran Eriksson’s side were struggling to see off a spirited Greek side under the soon to be legendary Greece manager Otto Rehhagel.


The Greeks were 2-1 up going into the last minute of injury time, when Beckham stepped up to take the last of a number of free-kicks he had missed in between covering a staggering 16.1 km in the match. The German side were celebrating at the time as they thought it was finished, but Beckham had other ideas as he curled an unstoppable shot in to the top corner to send England to World Cup 2002 and create one of the most iconic sporting moments of this generation.


Zinedine Zidane, France 3-0 Brazil, July 12, 1998


The build up to the 1998 World Cup final was dominated by rumours of Ronaldo’s fitness and whether he would play or not. This was soon forgotten when France’s talisman Zinedine Zidane put in one of the great World Cup performances to leave the host nation in raptures.


Two headed goals in the first half gave the French the lead, but that was only half of what was a dominating display to control the match and lift the greatest prize in football.


Steven Gerrard, Liverpool 3-3 West Ham (3-1 on pens), May 13, 2006


There have been a number of occasions where the Liverpool captain has dragged his team to victory, but there is always something extra special about doing it in a cup final.


West Ham were the underdogs but had muscled themselves into a two-goal lead before Gerrard’s exquisite lofted pass found Djibril Cisse to volley home. The Anfield favourite then scored a nice finish into the top of the goal to equalise, but West Ham somehow were ahead going into injury time thanks to an over-hit Paul Konchesky cross. Gerrard was fighting cramp in the middle of the pitch after running his socks off, but found reserves from somewhere to smash an unstoppable volley into the bottom corner just as the clock passed the 90 minutes mark.


The game went to penalties and Gerrard scored his as Pepe Reina took plaudits for saving three and Liverpool lifted the cup.



Ok, there are GMF’s choices for greatest individual performances, but we have given them with the knowledge that there are countless more to be considered and so we apologise in advance for the one you are thinking of that was not present.


We aren’t including Messi’s from this week because it allowed us to reminisce further – we are sure you can think of another of his showings (four against Arsenal maybe?), and we are also sure he will be making a few more entries in the future.


It does not end with the above five, however, as GMF want you to participate and tell us what other great performances could go alongside the ones we have chosen.


Comment below with your suggestions….

Do YOU want to write for GiveMeSport? Get started today by signing-up and submitting an article HERE:

David Beckham
Premier League
UEFA Champions League
Manchester United
Steven Gerrard

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