Off The Ball

Getting to grips with the ‘gol olímpico’

Though the term ‘gol olímpico’ (Olympic Goal), used to describe a goal scored directly from a corner, is commonplace in Latin countries, the tag has yet to catch on for English-speaking followers of the beautiful game.

However, this has not prevented the genre of strike generating plenty of interest from football lovers across the globe, as reveals with a look back at the history of the corner-kick goal and some of the players who have enhanced their reputations by mastering it.

Testing the boundaries

Way back in June 1924, the International Football Association Board (IFAB) modified article 11 of the Laws of the Game to allow goals to be scored directly from a corner kick for the first time. Upon reading about said change, a sports journalist from Liverpool called Ernest Edwards found a loophole in the new edict, which he shared with the powers-that-be at Everton: “There's nothing in the book as it stands to prevent you dribbling the ball right into the middle instead of kicking it from the corner. Why not try it out and see what happens?”

Edwards had an ideal accomplice for his experiment in the shape of Everton’s then forward and usual corner-taker Sam Chedgzoy. Following Edwards’ suggestion in a game against Woolwich Arsenal, Chedgzoy placed the ball for a corner kick before calmly dribbling it goalwards, while everyone present looked on in amazement. When the referee began to reprimand him, the winger simply asked him, “What's in the rules to stop me doing it?”

Unable to deny the player’s logic, the official was quick to report the incident, which led to an emergency meeting of the IFAB, who amended the rules in early August 1924. The first goal struck after the rule change was scored by Billy Alston later that month in Scottish second-division action, although the first to be dubbed a gol olímpico would not come until October.

From the River Plate to the world

Following Uruguay’s victory at the Olympic Football Tournament Paris 1924, neighbours Argentina challenged the gold-medal winners to a two-match friendly series. The first of these on 21 September ended in a 1-1 draw in Montevideo, with the second kicking off a week later in Buenos Aires. However, off-the-field incidents forced the game to be suspended, with La Albiceleste eventually winning the return match 2-1on 2 October.

Fifteen minutes into that rescheduled match with the score still 0-0, Argentinian attacker Cesareo Onzari sent in a corner from the left with so much spin that it fooled Uruguay keeper Antonio Mazzali and crept in at the near post. The local sporting press at the time, delighted at the audacity of the strike and the victory over their lauded rivals, thus dubbed Onzari’s effort the first gol olímpico in reference to their opponents' Olympic crown.

Maybe the keeper got out of the wrong side of the bed that day or there were players blocking his path, because I never scored a goal like that again. 

“It happened because it was destined to,” said Onzari, who passed away in January 1964. “Maybe the keeper got out of the wrong side of the bed that day or there were players blocking his path, because I never scored a goal like that again. To be honest, when I saw the ball go in I couldn’t believe it.”

One man not taken aback by the strike was the game’s Uruguayan referee Ricardo Villarino. He stood firm in allowing the goal to stand having learned of the rule change by himself, “even though the Uruguayan FA hadn’t yet told its referees about the new ruling”, as he would later reveal.

The specialists

One player who made scoring from corner kicks an integral part of his repertoire is the Argentinian Juan Ernesto Cococho Alvarez. During six seasons in Colombia, Alvarez netted a modest 35 times in 226 games, but incredibly eight of these were goles olímpicos. If that were not impressive enough, while in the colours of Deportivo Cali he even managed two in one game in 1976, with the red-faced Deportivo Cucuta on the receiving end.

Asked what his secret was, Alvarez said: “The Colombian Nato (Angel Maria) Torres and I used to stay on after training, taking corner kicks to see who could put away the most. In 1979 we again scored two in one game, against Quilmes in a Copa Libertadores tie, but this time we got one apiece. I don’t know how many other teams can claim something like that.”

The German Bernd Nickel is another who earned a reputation for his mastery of this skill. While on the books of Eintracht Frankfurt in the 70s and 80s, he racked up 141 goals, with four coming directly from corner kicks. Even more notably, the striker managed the feat from each of the four corners of the old Waldstadion. His first victim was legendary Bayern Munich and Germany keeper Sepp Maier in a historic 6-0 rout of the Bavarian giants in 1975. That particular strike earned notoriety as Nickel executed it from the left corner, using the outside of his left foot no less.

Of course, Nickel is far from the only player to net a corner kick with the outside of his foot. Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos hit the headlines in 2011 when he managed it for Corinthians, as did Jorge Gomez (1965), Francisco Macedo (1971) and Carlos Reinoso (1980), strikes that continue to be appreciated thanks to their circulation on the internet.

Another Argentinian who deserves a special mention is Anibal Francisco Cibeyra, who left his homeland to play for Ecuador’s Emelec in the 70s. What is amazing about his three corner-kick goals is that they came in three successive derby games against Barcelona de Guayaquil in 1978, an achievement that earned him the deserved sobriquet of El Loco de los goles olímpicos (The corner-goal fanatic).

Memorable moments

In 1953, the late Northern Ireland international Charlie Tully scored directly from a corner for Celtic away to Falkirk, only for the referee to order it retaken after adjudging the ball to have been outside the corner arc when struck. Unperturbed, Tully duly obliged and curled home another. Nor was it the first time he had managed the feat, having converted in similar fashion the previous year in a home international against England.

One memorable scorer of goles olímpicos was Germany’s Mario Basler, who proved in the 1994-1995 Bundesliga season that the Mannschaft coach Berti Vogts had erred in neglecting his talents earlier in USA 1994. Basler scored 20 goals in 33 games for Werder Bremen that season, two of which came direct from corners against Duisburg and Freiburg. The latter is still commemorated with a display in the lounge at Weser Stadium.

While credit invariably must go to the corner-kick taker, they occasionally receive a helping hand from opposition defence – just ask Pep Guardiola. While defending Barça’s colours under Johan Cruyff in the 90’s, Pep let what he thought was a harmless corner kick by Javier de Pedro go past him, assuming his team-mates had it covered.

It proved a rare error of judgement by the former Azulgrana coach and it gifted the Real Sociedad player the first of his two corner-kick goals. De Pedro, who played alongside Guardiola at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, scored his second against Salamanca some time after, prompting him to do a tongue-in-cheek guide to scoring from corner kicks after his retirement.

Prior to 2011 the only goal scored this way at a FIFA World Cup was by the Colombian Marcos Coll at Chile 1962, with the vanquished keeper none other than the legendary Russian Lev Yashin. “There was a huge roar because I scored a goal against the man who was the best goalkeeper in the world at that time," Coll recalled in an interview with FIFA. "Everyone was excited because I scored an Olympic goal direct from the corner. It really was madness."

Mexico’s Jorge Espericueta joined that exclusive club in July 2011, when he curled one home against Germany in the semi-final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup on home soil.

And just as David Beckham and Ronaldinho have ben among the household names from men's football to get in on the act, so some of the women's game's top players have also proved capable. The most memorable example came at London 2012, when USA’s Megan Rapinoe became the first ever player to score directly from a corner in the Olympic Games. It was a vitally important goal too, with her whipped set piece squeezing in at the near post against Canada to level the scores in a match the eventual gold-winners went on to win 4-3.

“It was funny because what I should have done right away was to claim it, but I didn't," said Rapinoe. "I actually thought that it was an own goal. I didn't really mean it but it's pretty cool though when it comes to being the first to do it in the Olympics from both males and females."

Over 90 years have passed since Onzari stunned Uruguay, and the decades since have brought a variety of different Olympic goals. One thing all have in common, though, is that they never fail to amaze.

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