Best-ever goal and worst-ever penalty on same day
For an FIFA date with mostly friendlies scheduled, Wednesday, November 14, produced two historic moments: Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s wonder goal and Neymar’s equally astounding penalty miss. Let’s start with the good.
Surely, some sourpusses will poo poo Zlatan’s fourth goal against England in Sweden saying it was in a meaningless game which was already decided. They might also say that it was a freak goal, not worthy of consideration among the greatest ever because it resulted from a broken play.
Poppycock! To both.
Everything about the goal itself was majestic, starting with the audacity to even consider taking a shot from that distance with your back to goal. Ibrahimovic is among the few in the world that would contemplate such an attempt. For all their greatness, I doubt whether Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo would ever think of making such an effort. Some of the same things that make Ibrahimovic a villain much of the time – his arrogance and aloofness – worked in his favor as we can only guess what he was thinking: (I've already have my hat trick, let me try something here that no sane human being would even think of!)
It says something about Ibra’s insatiability that he even gave chase to the ball in injury time after already being the man of the match. When England goalkeeper Joe Hart ventured out of the penalty box to head it to safety (or so he thought) most players in Zlatan’s position might not even chase the ball. Instead, the big Swede turned around sprinted in the opposite direction acrobatically jumped for the ball and delivered one of the most improbable shots in the history of the sport.
Ibra’s positioning and pressuring of what looked like a lost ball reminded me of similar goals scored by another great, Diego Armando Maradona, while at Napoli. See those goals here and here as the third goal in this list of Diego’s all time best (by the way, you’re welcome for that link!).
Of course, Ibra’s goal was hit as a bicycle kick, chilena, scissor kick or whatever else you want to call it. Most players dream of scoring with such a volley from inside the box at close range, but I venture to proffer that few if any ever dreamed of such a strike from that distance and angle.
Not only did he think of it, but the execution was divine. How many times have you seen a player attempt a bicycle kick and mistime it or whiff altogether? Usually, the ball is coming to you, not like in this case where Ibra ran to it.
There was an unquestioned element to luck in the go also, as somehow it shot dipped right under the crossbar and barely escaped a sprawling defender, but those elements only add to its allure.
Even if you don’t want to call it the best ever, consensus must be that it was the most unlikely.
But if Ibrahimovic’s goal was among the best ever, Neymar’s penalty miss against Colombia in New Jersey has to be among the worst as well.
We don’t derive pleasure from pointing out the failings of others at Tiki Taka (well, maybe a little), but the 20-year old’s strike could very well have been the worst ever. Of course, the jokes flew all over the social media sphere and nicknames have already started to surface (we like our own creation, Skymar!)
Far from being criticized, we think Neymar should be congratulated on the kick. It’s practically impossible to shoot a ball so high so close to the goal. At least when Neymar missed a spot kick against Universidad de Chile earlier this year it was at least partially because he slipped and fell on the turf.
This time, the Brazilian looked at the spot on the pitch where he placed the ball as means of explanation. After the game, "The penalty was horrible but you probably noticed the state the pitch was in, it didn't have any stability, I tried to take it slowly but it didn't work out…these things happen," he said. The pitch might have been below par, but so far as we know there was no earthquake or even remnant winds from Sandy that destabilized the ball in his run-up to it.
It was so bad that even Colombian keeper David Ospina and Mario Yepes commiserated with Neymar.
In the end, it will just be a sour anecdote in what will likely be a historic career and just a blip on a fine performance during Wednesday's match – his earlier goal was, after all, sublime. Even so, in the age of social media and widespread video, this shot will be remembered for a long time — and not just by the family of the pigeon that was struck dead high over the stadium by the shot!