Thursday 19 October 2017

Stephanie Roche aiming to join elite list of immortals

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

This is the day that Stephanie Roche will find out if her moment of brilliance in front of less than 100 spectators goes down in history as one of the greatest ever goals.

If the Dubliner's name is called out in Switzerland today, she will enjoy the week of her dreams and an even more intensive bout of worldwide attention compared to the preliminaries.

The long-term satisfaction would come from knowing that future generations will always find her on the roll-call of Puskas Award winners. It is an achievement that can never be taken away.

FIFA established the gong in 2009 in honour of Ferenc Puskas, a legend of Hungarian football from their glory decade in the 1950s and a three-time European Cup winner with Real Madrid.

Roche is seeking to become the sixth winner and she is aiming to join an illustrious list, although there is precedent for a relatively low-profile victor.

The previous five recipients are three global stars, one excellent footballer backed by a strong campaign and a lesser light who won by a landslide because of the buzz that built up around an outrageous strike.

Ronaldo won the Puskas Award in 2009 while playing for Manchester United for his goal against Porto in their Champions League quarter final second leg match at the Dragao Stadium. AFP/Getty Images
Ronaldo won the Puskas Award in 2009 while playing for Manchester United for his goal against Porto in their Champions League quarter final second leg match at the Dragao Stadium. AFP/Getty Images
Hamit Altintop of Turkey receives the Fifa Puskas award for the best goal of 2010 during the FIFA Ballon d'or Gala. Michael Steele/Getty Images
Neymar won the Puskas Award in 2011 while playing for Santos for his goal against Flamengo. Scott Heavey/Getty Images
Miroslav Stoch won the Puskas Award in 2012 while playing for Fenerbahce for his goal against Genclerbirlig. EuroFootball/Getty Images
Sweden's Zlatan Ibrahimovic won the Puskas Award in 2013 for his goal against England. AFP/Getty Images

In fact, Roche can draw encouragement from a pattern which sees a success for an icon followed by a goal backed by a campaign and then an icon triumphing again. The trend would suggest that the underdog has a chance this year.

Here are the goals that claimed the prize:

2009

Cristiano Ronaldo

Manchester United vs Porto

The first winner of this honour was a household name, although he only scooped 17.68pc of the vote in a tight contest.

Ronaldo's thunderbolt for Manchester United in their Champions League tie with Porto was a goal of significance and it pipped the late Andres Iniesta strike for Barcelona that killed Chelsea's European dream in the dying seconds at Stamford Bridge

The criteria for the winner includes a reference to the importance of the match, which is the one heading where Roche is in trouble compared to the two World Cup goals.

This was certainly a factor in 2009, although Ronaldo's goal was an absolute stunner, a right-footer from distance into the top corner that left his national champions stunned. It was the power merged with accuracy that made it special.

2010

Hamit Altintop

Turkey v Kazakhstan

In the last World Cup year, the honours went to a goal that was actually scored in a Euro 2012 qualifier.

This was also a renewal which had Northern Irish interest as a superb flick from Matty Burrows for Glentoran against Portadown gathered online momentum similar to the Roche machine and made the shortlist. Burrows ended up third ahead of such luminaries as Lionel Messi and Samir Nasri.

The top ranked goal from South Africa - a thunderbolt from Giovanni van Bronckhorst in the semi final - also had to settle for minor honours.

Second place went to a goal from the Swedish domestic league, a long way behind the clear winner which picked up 40pc of the vote.

In this neck of the woods, Paul Scholes is remembered for mastering the art of meeting a corner outside the area with a first-time volley. The under-rated Altintop executed this skill perfectly and the help of a huge Turkish vote did the rest.

2011

Neymar

Santos v Flamengo

A woman made the long list of ten for the first time as the USA's Heather O'Reilly was nominated. She joined Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney among the beaten candidates, with the latter's extraordinary overhead kick in the Manchester derby giving him a strong chance.

Alas, this award was destined for a teenage star backed by another substantial parish. This is a different type of effort to all the other winners because it was all about the build-up rather than the finish.

Neymar picked up the ball on the touchline, used deft footwork to get out of a tight spot and then instigated a one-two that was followed by a trick and a clever finish. This was a terrific goal, although a similar effort from a less celebrated performer might have struggled to gain such attention.

2012

Miroslav Stoch

Fenerbahce v Genclerbirligi

This was a show of people power. Stoch, a Slovakian who had a brief spell at Chelsea, was probably deserving of the trophy.

He managed to take the Scholes/Altintop template to a new level by unleashing an even more impressive exocet to smash a corner into the roof of the net; the technique was flawless as he adjusted his body to meet a lofted delivery that was slightly behind where he might have wanted it.

Still, the Turkish jury managed to have their say again as Stoch gathered 78pc of the final vote, wiping out the opposition. Euro 2012 didn't throw up a single contender.

Two years on, the player is now on loan in the United Arab Emirates, so it's hardly propelled him to great heights.

2013

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Sweden v England

He would be the first man to say that this list would be incomplete without his presence. Given his propensity for the audacious, it was no great surprise that he made his play with a goal which - like Roche - was actually scored at the tail end of the preceding year which meant it qualified for the 2013 prize.

Some critics argued that Zlatan's improvised effort was undermined by the assist from Joe Hart, who raced outside the area in this friendly to tee the ball up with an unconvincing header.

But Zlatan still had to demonstrate his intelligence and athleticism to quickly assess the situation and execute a bicycle kick that had the perfect yardage and elevation to find the target. There was a unique quality to this entry that made it stand out and 48pc of the vote got it across the line.

Roche will hope to pick up the support of voters inclined towards a piece of skill in a genre of its own.

To vote for Stephanie log onto http://www.fifa.com/ballon-dor/puskas-award/

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