Collective goals drowned in a flood of individual strikes
Published 06/07/2014 | 02:30
When Marcelo turned the ball into his own net after 11 minutes of the opening match, it fairly knocked the wind out of everyone’s sails.
The carnival had just started but the host nation were suddenly trailing to an own goal, of all things. Brazil fell silent; it was not a good omen.
But it was a false one. Neymar equalised on the half-hour and Brazil went on to win 3-1. All was well again. And aprés Marcelo, the deluge.
The goals have since rained in at this World Cup: 154 before the quarter-finals began last Friday, outstripping the 145 overall total scored at South Africa 2010.
Every goal will be treasured by the man who scored it: a life memory, a family memento, an heirloom that won’t be found by eager grandchildren in the sitting room, but somewhere in the internet’s cosmos.
Eventually everyone will forget, bar a close circle of family and friends. In fact we’re already forgetting dozens of perfectly decent goals and even some good ones, lost in the sensory overload of the last three weeks, buried in the avalanche.
The goals that haven’t been washed away in the downpour are the ones that jolted their way into the consciousness in the first place: the spectacular strikes that smashed their way into the memory vaults and by their brilliance, stayed there.
James Rodriguez’s simultaneous chest control-turn-and-volley against Uruguay. Lionel Messi’s 90th minute winner — a bolt from the blue — against Iran. Jermaine Jones’s thunderous long-range wallop for USA against Portugal. Xherdan Shaqiri’s sumptuous drive for Switzerland against Honduras.
And maybe pipping them all was Tim Cahill’s magnificent volley of a dropping ball against the Netherlands, a marvel of timing and technique and audacity. It was one of the greatest moments of his life, he said. “It just felt so right to hit it.”
Robin van Persie’s flop-header against Spain had all the intelligence and technical precision of a highly-drilled Dutch footballer. It too is one for the ages.
My personal favourite of these individual goals is Arjen Robben’s second against Spain in Salvador: a foot race from behind the half-way line to reach the ball, won with blinding pace having started a few yards down. Jabbing the ball on with his first touch, at high speed, and then, faced by Iker Casillas, doing a 180 degree turn and nudging the ball away, twice, from the scrambling goalkeeper. All fire on the approach, all ice on the finish.
It is these goals, executed with theatrical power and stylised skills that capture the public imagination and linger longest in the memory. They are moments of spectacle, performed in a setting of such grandeur that it is designed almost purely for spectacle.
But most of them are built on individual flair, conjured solo, almost detached from the surrounding orchestra. They are all about the execution, because usually there is little in the way of prior construction. (And they have an element of luck riding shotgun also. When a player thrashes a ball into the net from long range, he is not fully in control of the dip and bend and flight that takes it inside the post or under the crossbar.)
A criterion in judging the best goals has to be the degree of difficulty in the build-up. The best, arguably, are not the most spectacular but those that are hardest to construct. Team goals, in other words, involving a sequence of passes and a chain of players. Several players have to do their jobs correctly to pull it off: the weight and precision of the pass, the timing of the runners, the movement of the next colleague. Every link in the chain has to perform; a fractional error in calculation and the move breaks down.
Chile’s first against Spain in Rio de Janeiro was one such goal: intricately woven, geometric passing from Vidal, Sanchez and Aranguiz that culminated in a simple finish for Eduardo Vargas.
Or Yacine Brahimi’s for Algeria against Korea in Porto Alegre. A move that began with the centre backs knocking the ball to each other before it was played to Sofiane Feghouli in midfield. Feghouli circled and swivelled away from his marker and injected pace. A sequin of flicked passes with Brahimi released the latter in behind the last defender.
And then there was Switzerland’s 93rd minute winner against Ecuador in their opening group game. Ecuador had created a goal chance of their own that was killed dead by a superbly-timed tackle by Valon Behrami inside his penalty area. Behrami took the ball out of defence, strode up through midfield and was bundled over. The referee played advantage, Behrami rolled to his feet and continued; he played it wide right; the player wide right switched it wide left. The left-back’s low cross was turned home by Haris Seferovic at the near post.
None of these goals will linger in the memory, at least not among neutrals, mainly because the finish in each case required nothing spectacular. But they required nothing spectacular because the build-up play had already cleared the way.
When it comes to the tournament highlight reels, Cahill and Messi and Van Persie and Rodriguez and Robben are bound to be remembered and included. Vargas, Brahimi and Seferovic may be left on the cutting room floor. The show moves on, but they deserve to be remembered too, before the show leaves them behind as if they never existed.
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