Every team has its heroes and, in most cases, the elevated status of these legendary figures has been secured gradually over years of outstanding service. There are, however, a group of footballers who bypassed this long route to adoration. For this select few, as FIFA.com discovers, one game has been sufficient to etch their names into the folklore of club and country.
Take, for example, Mike Trebilcock. The overall statistics from the striker’s Everton career – 14 appearances, three goals - would suggest that his time at Goodison Park was at best underwhelming. But Trebilcock, who now lives in Darwin, Australia, is guaranteed a hero’s welcome when he returns to Merseyside because one of those 14 matches yielded a cup-winning, career-defining performance.
It was Trebilcock, after all – surprisingly picked ahead of England international Fred Pickering for the 1966 FA Cup final – who scored twice to inspire Everton to come from two goals down to beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2. “People still talk to me about that cup final day, it never changes,” the Wembley hero recently told Everton’s official website. “People say to me, 'When did you stop celebrating?' And I say, 'We haven't!' Even in Australia people still ask and I say, 'We're still celebrating and I'll be celebrating until the day I die’.”
Another of Britain’s great football cities has produced a similar type of hero. It would be near-impossible to find a Celtic fan with a bad word to say about Harald Brattbakk and yet, if pressed, all would admit that the Norwegian was largely unimpressive during his three years at the club. But while all the striker’s below-par performances have faded easily from the memory, what remains is the unforgettable image of a goal that ended one of the bleakest periods in the club’s history.
“That goal won the title on the final day of the season. It also stopped Rangers winning ten-in-a-row, which would have broken Celtic’s record,” Brattbakk explained in a recent interview with FIFA.com. “As achievements go, that was definitely the highlight of my career. It meant so, so much to so many people.”
It would be tough to beat the drama and emotion of a title-clincher on the last day of such a season, but if anyone has a claim to having done so, it is Jimmy Glass. The journeyman keeper was on loan at struggling Carlisle United in 1999 and kept goal for their final match of the campaign, when a win against Plymouth Argyle was needed to prevent the club falling out of the football league altogether.
With just ten seconds remaining, and the score locked at 1-1, Glass lumbered forward for a corner and, when the ball fell loose, volleyed unstoppably past his opposite number. Carlisle survived - and a legend was born. "I always was a frustrated forward," he told The Independent ten years on. “People think the goal was a bit of a freak occurrence but I scored a hat-trick the day before in training.” Yet this fateful match was one of just three he played for Carlisle and, within two years - aged just 27 - Glass had hung up his gloves for good.
Another player who appeared suddenly in the headlines and then disappeared just as quickly was Roy Essandoh. The striker scored arguably the most important goal in Wycombe Wanderers’ history, heading home the winner against Premier League side Leicester City to seal a place in the FA Cup semi-final. The story was all the more remarkable as Essandoh had got his chance by answering a Wycombe plea on the now-obsolete digital TV news service Ceefax for a fit, non-cup-tied forward. Yet the Northern Irishman’s headed winner was the only goal he scored in 13 appearances for the club, and his career since has been spent almost exclusively in non-league obscurity.
Britain may provide some of the most memorable examples, but one-game wonders are a global phenomenon. Every football fan in Argentina will, after all, know the names of Claudio Benetti and Ruben Bruno, and yet neither hit spectacular heights during their respective careers. Benetti, though, scored a goal every bit as important for Boca Juniors fans as Brattbakk’s was for Celtic, sealing a first title in 11 years in 1992. Bruno, meanwhile, ended River Plate’s longest-ever period without a trophy, taking advantage of a professional players’ strike in 1975 to claim, at 17, the goal that won Los Millonarios’ first championship since 1957.
Just as this duo will never be celebrated among their country’s all-time greats, so Dirk Weetendorf is unlikely to feature on any list of Bundesliga legends. He did, after all, find the net just three times in disappointing top-flight career. Nonetheless, Weetendorf remains a beloved figure at Hamburg – even earning the nickname ‘Horst-Uwe’, referring to club idols Horst Hrubesch and Uwe Seeler – because two of that trio of goals came in a 2-1 win over Borussia Dortmund that helped save the club from relegation.
Germany also has an international equivalent. Only last month, David Odonkor retired from professional football at the age of 29, cutting short his contract with Ukraine’s Hoverla Uzhhorod and bringing down the curtain on a career that never lived up to its promise. Yet in his homeland, this flying winger will always be remembered fondly for the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, when his injection of pace and inch-perfect cross provided a goal for Oliver Neuville that sunk Poland and was pivotal in Jurgen Klinsmann’s side’s memorable campaign.
Nia Kunzer is arguably more important still in Germany, having scored the Golden Goal that brought her nation its first-ever FIFA Women’s World Cup™ title in 2003. She was still 23 at the time, and seemed to have a glittering career ahead of her. But while Germany and team-mates such as Birgit Prinz went from strength to strength, Kunzer suffered a cruciate ligament injury just a few months later and never fully recovered, retiring from the game in 2006.
Physical problems have also marred the career of China’s Deng Zhuoxiang but, like Kunzer, he is remembered and celebrated for an outstanding display and goal – in his case a superb solo effort in the 3-0 win over Korea Republic that brought glory in the 2010 East Asian Cup.
World Cup heroes to zeros
While on the subject of wonder goals, everyone will surely remember Saudi Arabia’s Saeed Al-Owairan weaving his way through the Belgian defence to provide one of the great FIFA World Cup moments at USA 1994. But if you are wondering why little was heard of him thereafter, it is because his career petered out, with a nadir reached when Al-Owairan was suspended from football for a year and jailed for violating his country’s alcohol laws.
Josimar is another player who left his mark on a World Cup, and not only with a stunning strike against Northern Ireland at Mexico 1982. However, while the Brazilian was voted the tournament’s outstanding right-back and seemed set for a stellar career, the pressures of overnight fame led to a spectacular fall from grace. “I just lost it,” Josimar admitted to FourFourTwo. “I was poor one day but a celebrity the next and everyone knew me.”
World Cups have a habit of throwing up career-defining matches, of course, and no-one knows that better than Oleg Salenko. The Russian striker arrived at USA 1994 without a single international goal to his name and yet, in one single match – a 6-1 demolition of Cameroon – he scored five, setting a new group stage record in the process.
Remarkably though, while that haul made him joint-winner of the ‘94 edition’s adidas Golden Boot, he was out of the team for Russia’s next match. Indeed, Salenko - perhaps the ultimate one-game wonder - never appeared for his country again.
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