The most popular sport on the planet, football, is a passion for hundreds of millions of people. Whether they are following their national team, a local side, or a European powerhouse club, football fans wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Football is defined by goals, which is why the greatest players in history are the ones who play to win and come up with a decisive contribution in the most pivotal of moments.
Below is a rundown of the top four goals of all time. Some goals on this list are moments of individual brilliance, while others showcase the quality of a team passing their way through the opposition.
1. Zinedine Zidane against Bayer Leverkusen – 2002
The year is 2002 and Real Madrid is attempting to win yet another UEFA Champions League. After pushing their way into the final, Real take on German underdogs Bayer Leverkusen.
Despite beating Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United en route to the final in Glasgow, Leverkusen’s stubborn defensive endeavors were not enough to stop Real Madrid. While they were able to keep most of the players on the Real team quiet, they did not have an answer for French maestro Zinedine Zidane.
The attacking midfielder, who was playing off the left flank for Real in the game, waited patiently on the edge of the penalty area for the ball to come into his path. Left back Roberto Carlos whipped in a high cross, which fell straight towards the boot of Zidane.
Rather than taking a touch to settle himself, Zidane swung his left boot at the high cross, meeting it on the volley and smashing the ball into the top corner. What looked like a routine goal was one of the most difficult strikes that you can see from a footballer, which is why the goal is memorialized by Real fans and neutrals.
2. Geoff Hurst wins the World Cup for England – 1966
The founders of the sport that is beloved throughout the world have been starved of success themselves, at least on the international stage. England has zero European Championships and a solitary World Cup to their name.
That World Cup triumph came on home soil in 1966 when a star-studded team that featured the likes of Sir Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore triumphed against the odds.
England took on Germany in the final in 1966, meeting their arch-rivals in the most important game in their history. Despite the odds being in favor of the Germans, England put in a stellar display throughout the game and did enough to win the game.
Geoff Hurst is the England attacker who got the vital goal in that game, settling the encounter and delivering the much desired World Cup trophy to his countrymen.
Those who look back at that team have to settle for YouTube videos of this classic goal. Even then, a mixture of the momentous occasion, the black and white video footage, and vintage commentary from Kenneth Wolstenholme, make this goal a truly special moment in footballing history.
3. Roberto Carlos hits an improbable free kick – 1997
Most right and left backs are famous for being outstanding defensively and managing the occasional attacking foray for their teams. Roberto Carlos is the exception, as much of his quality play came in the opponent’s final third.
Never one who concerned himself with sitting back and defending, Carlos was a front foot player who only had one thing on his mind. He wanted to take the game to the opposition, provide quality goals and assists for his team, and shine on the biggest stage.
One of the best goals he scored, and an all-time great free kick, happened against France in 1997. Carlos hits a free kick that initially swerves from his right to left, which is why French goalkeeper Fabian Barthez moved in that direction.
However, Carlos’ kick has such an incredible spin on it that it soon begins to move in the other direction, which was unheard of at the time. That is why the French keeper is rooted to his spot, unable to do anything as the ball sails past him in the other direction.
4. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wins the Champions League – 1999
Occasionally, a particular team winning trophies seems inevitable, despite everything that happens during their games. Manchester United in 1999 was one of those teams.
Known for having tenacity, quality, and a never say die attitude, United came from behind in countless games in the 1998/1999 season, both at home and in Europe. A famous example was their UEFA Champions League semi-final triumph over Juventus, where going 0-2 down in the second leg was not enough to put an end to their dream of lifting the European Cup.
United went on to win that game 3-2, booking a place in the final against Bayern Munich in Barcelona. They struggled in that game, with Bayern taking an early lead and dominating for large portions of the final.
However, United never gave up, and eventually created sustained pressure on the Bayern goal. They equalized in the 91st minute through Teddy Sheringham, and the game seemed destined for penalties.
A minute later, United had another corner, which David Beckham whipped into the box. Sheringham got his head on the cross, which took it into the path of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. One kick of his right boot was enough to win the game for United, completing an unlikely comeback in the last moments of the game.
Witness the next all-time great goal
Sport constantly presents athletes with opportunities to write their names in history books. When they can produce magical moments during the latter stages of competitions, players can memorialize themselves forever.
Whether it happens in the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League, every four years during the FIFA World Cup, or during the final few weeks of a tightly contested Premier League, La Liga, or Serie A season, such goals define seasons and careers.
Those who continue to follow the sport will eagerly await the next all-time great goal and will hope that it happens in favor of the team they support.