“Scoring any goal always gives you a nice feeling, but scoring a beautiful one like that is an incredible buzz. You know that people will want to come up to you and talk about it for years and years.”
Those were the words of Ferenc Puskas about his marvellous goal in Hungary’s historic 6-3 defeat of England in 1953. It was one of the most breathtaking in the collection of a man so revered as a serial scorer of wonder goals that, when FIFA decided to create an award to honour the best goal of each year, they named it in honour of ‘The Galloping Major’. Cristiano Ronaldo was the first to get his hands on the FIFA Puskas Award, courtesy of his violent thunderbolt for Manchester United against Porto, while Hamit Altintop emerged triumphant last year thanks to a sensational volley for Turkey in Kazakhstan.
Several of the ten candidates vying to succeed the pair are renowned for scoring breathtaking goals. Dejan Stankovic, once lauded by Roberto Mancini as the greatest scorer of wonder goals on the planet, earned inclusion due to an exceptional volley from the halfway line against Schalke in the UEFA Champions League, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s 30-yard cracker earned AC Milan a point at Lecce in January. “It was such an amazing goal but he made it look so easy,” said Rossoneri coach Massimiliano Allegri thereafter.
Should Lionel Messi add another trophy to his enviable collection, he’ll owe a debt of gratitude to Andres Iniesta. With Barcelona trailing 2-1 on aggregate to Arsenal in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League last-16 tie, the 27-year-old Spain midfielder employed sumptuous footwork to beat one Arsenal opponent, glided past another and sent a gorgeous pass into the path of the little Argentinian. Messi still had work to do, but he masterfully lofted the ball over goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and volleyed home to make it 1-0 on the night and put Barça en route to a place in the quarter-finals.
“I still don’t know how he got past me,” a shocked Almunia reflected. "Messi is from a different planet.” Pep Guardiola said: “Iniesta did fantastically, and what a brilliant piece of play from Messi.”
Sometimes you hit shots like that on the training field, but to see it translate into a game of that magnitude was a very rewarding feeling.
Giovani dos Santos, who rose to fame by scoring some corkers for the Mexico U-17s, produced his effort in an actual final. With El Tri 3-2 up against USA in a thrilling colnclusion to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, he left goalkeeper Tim Howard grounded and desperately flapping at thin air, before chipping home to seal a 4-2 win.
USA are nonetheless represented in the FIFA Puskas Award running, thanks to the Heather O’ Reilly piledriver that broke the deadlock in their 3-0 defeat of Colombia at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™.
The 26-year-old midfielder said: "Sometimes you hit shots like that on the training field, but to see it translate into a game of that magnitude was a very rewarding feeling. It's an amazing honour to be nominated among all these great players, and I'm really proud there is a woman on the list."
Neymar caused jaws to drop with an exceptional goal to put Santos 3-0 up against Flamengo in a match O Peixe ultimately lost 5-4. The teenage phenomenon collected the ball on the left wing, expertly navigated his way past a number of defenders, produced an extraordinary piece of skill to move into the penalty area and poked the ball home under pressure.
Another stupefying piece of skill enabled Benjamin de Ceulaer to enter the FIFA Puskas Award running. In a Jupiler League match against Club Brugge, the Lokeren winger controlled a cross into the box with a flick, which got him past an stunned opponent and allowed him to fire into the roof of the net.
Wayne Rooney’s breathtaking 78th-minute bicycle kick snatched Manchester United victory over fierce rivals Manchester City, and Sir Alex Ferguson saluted it as the best goal he’s ever seen in his 25 years at Old Trafford. "It was stunning," said the Red Devils manager. "The execution was exceptional.”
Julio Gomez is also on the list because of an overhead-kick, and a crucial on at that. The Mexico winger’s effort came in the last minute of a FIFA U-17 World Cup semi-final to snatch his nation a 3-2 win over Germany – and this after he’d been told he couldn’t carry on playing due to a clash of heads.
Gomez told FIFA.com: “The doctor told me, ‘you have to stop now, you can’t carry on’, but I knew we didn’t have any substitutions left and I wasn’t prepared to let the team play with ten men. So, I said to him, ‘bandage me up, do whatever you want, but I am going to continue’. You always dream of scoring important goals, but this one tops them all.”
Rooney and Gomez are not the only players on the list courtesy of bicycle-kicks, though the other nominee’s inclusion is far more surprising. For although the name Lisandro Lopez is associated with goals, this scorer of this one was not the Lyon forward but an Argentinian better known for his crunching tackles. Lopez, the young Argentina centre-back, performed his masterpiece for Arsenal against Olimpo.
“I am proud and very happy that my goal is among the best ten in the world this year,” the 22-year-old told FIFA.com. “When I found out, I was surprised, because hundreds of goals are scored every week across the globe and having mine nominated feels incredible, especially as I’m a defender. It was a high cross and was too strong for the back post. When I realised there was no way I was going to head the ball, I thought about trying an overhead-kick – thank God it went in!
“If I had to pick one, I would pick mine, but I will go with Messi’s because of the way he decides on something and executes it in a second, and because he is the best player of the world.”
Lopez will not decide the outcome. That, of course, is down to you, the users of FIFA.com, and francefootball.fr. So, what are you waiting for? Check out the ten goals and get voting!