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Analysis: How Zidane scored the greatest ever Champions League final goal

How the Frenchman finally secured European football’s most coveted trophy in spectacular fashion.

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Final - Real Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane scores his most famous goal in the 2002 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen. Source: EMPICS Sport

Overview

WHEN IT COMES to the greatest goals scored in Champions League finals, there is only one contender for best-ever: Zinedine Zidane’s masterful volley in the 2002 climax.

Not only was the goal brilliant, it was also very important in the context of European football history. Zidane’s strike turned out to be the winner in a tense clash between Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen, who were left to ponder a hapless treble, having also finished second in the Bundesliga as well as losing out in the German Cup final all in the same campaign.

Raúl gave Real a ninth-minute lead during this closely fought encounter, latching on to Roberto Carlos’ mammoth, Rory Delap-esque long throw and producing a classic poacher’s finish. Five minutes later, Brazilian centre back Lucio equalised for the German side, powerfully heading home an inswinging Bernd Schneider free-kick.

It was a scrappy enough affair in the subsequent minutes, far from vintage Real Madrid, until Zidane, who was having an unusually quiet game up until that point, intervened with his moment of genius.

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Final - Real Madrid v Bayer Leverkusen Real Madrid's Zinedine Zidane is mobbed by his teammates after scoring Real Madrid's second goal. Source: EMPICS Sport

Leverkusen struggled to create chances thereafter, and only forced the young substitute goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, into making three excellent saves during the seven minutes of second-half injury time that were played.

Consequently, Zidane’s masterpiece proved the match-winner. It meant that Real ended their centenary season with a ninth European Cup triumph, and their third in the space of five seasons. So on a symbolic as well as an aesthetic level, the Frenchman’s magnificent volley has earned a unique place in the Spanish club’s storied history.

“My goal was very nice, but the most important thing was that we won. It has brought me and the team great satisfaction,” man-of-the-match Zidane said in typically unfussy fashion, but the vast majority of those watching in Hampden Park and on TV screens across the world that evening were not quite so composed.

It’s also important to note that at this point, Zidane was widely considered to be the world’s best player. By this stage, with France, he had already won the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championships in 2000, scoring a brace in the final of the former tournament. He had also won two Serie A titles with Juventus, the Ballon D’Or and several other team and individual accolades. And with his 30th birthday just over a month away, Zidane was very much at the zenith of his footballing powers.

Moreover, this moment was not a once-off for Zidane. As the compilation below shows, he was well accustomed to scoring spectacular goals.

Source: Peradze/YouTube

This exceptional half-volley, in particular, rivals the Leverkusen goal…

vol

Setup

So with all its layers of significance in mind, let’s take a closer look at the footballing genius’ extraordinary strike, as the night of 15 May 2002 will ultimately be what Zidane is remembered for most.

The move to enable the Frenchman’s greatest moment of individual brilliance begins with Roberto Carlos on the left. As you see below, there is no obvious danger. Leverkusen are relatively well set up with plenty of men behind the ball, even if holding midfielder Carsten Ramelow (seen below jogging back in the centre of the picture) is slightly out of position.

carlos

From this point on though, Real show what a world-class side they were back then. Carlos plays a simple pass to Santiago Solari — one of the least famous of Real’s Galaticos, but one of the most underrated individuals in the team.

Solari, along with Claude Makélélé, helped to provide the side with a defensive balance to complement the attacking flair that the likes of Luis Figo, Raúl and  Fernando Morientes possessed in spades. However, the Argentine midfielder was also technically excellent in his own right, as this perfectly judged pass to Roberto Carlos illustrates…

ball

In addition, note the space between Carlos and opposition full-back Zoltán Sebescen. The Real Madrid man has a serious amount of distance to make up to get beyond his rival.

carlos

Yet what Carlos has in his favour is momentum. It’s obvious, even before he passes it, that the full-back is planning on sprinting forward. Sebescen, by contrast, is caught a little flat-footed, and simply cannot deal with his opponent’s electric pace.

So despite giving Sebescen a considerable head start, in a matter of seconds, Carlos is comfortably ahead of his marker.

carlos3

Thanks to Solari’s perfect pass, Carlos — who would ultimately win as many as 125 Brazil caps, four La Liga titles, three Champions League trophies and one World Cup over the course of an incredibly distinguished career — manages to find Zidane with an intelligent (or perhaps hopeful) looping cross.

Opposition

Soccer - UEFA Champions League - Final - Bayer Leverkusen v Real Madrid Source: EMPICS Sport

You could argue that the defending could be better. To leave a player who had been bought by Real from Juventus for approximately €75 million the previous summer free on the edge of the area seems more than a little naive from the German side.

However, it’s difficult to be too harsh on Leverkusen. With Raul and Morientes both lurking in the penalty area, the German side’s defenders would have been understandably reluctant to divert their attentions away from Madrid’s penalty box predators. Letting Zidane having a pot shot from a near-impossible distance would probably have seemed like the safer option at the time.

marked

Furthermore, the incredible speed of the attack is such that the German side barely had any time to react to what was happening. No more than eight seconds elapse between Carlos’ initial innocuous pass to Solari and the ball hitting the back of the net in stunning fashion.

And as then-Bayer coach Klaus Toppmoller said after the game: “We can spend all the time on the training ground planning for Real’s tactics, but then something special happens that you cannot plan for and in this case it was Zidane’s goal.”

If you were to be harsh and less interested in the romance of this goal, you might suggest that a then-25-year-old Michael Ballack was a little too lax, and that a more alert player could have got back in time to prevent the Frenchman shooting, but football lovers and non-Leverkusen fans everywhere are likely thankful for the ex-German international’s momentary sluggishness.

ballack

Execution

What’s most impressive from Zidane’s perspective is the sheer concentration he demonstrates. Notice how much time he has to wait for the ball to drop from the air…

fantastic

Despite it being a packed stadium. Despite it being the biggest game of the season. Despite Ballack’s off-putting run right behind him. Despite everything, it might as well just be Zidane and the football in a deserted field, such is his impeccable composure.

You’ve seen the same situation a million times in a football match, and it invariably ends with the ball in row Z, but Zidane is a one in a million player, who improbably managed to reserve a one in a million moment for the biggest night of the football season.

The former midfielder’s technique to place the ball inches beyond Hans-Jörg Butt’s despairing dive is similarly exquisite. He performs a pirouette, wrapping his foot around the ball magnificently, while demonstrating the type of technique that’s rare even for a world-class footballer to exhibit and which is particularly unusual on such a high-pressure occasion.

Often, great players look as if they’re operating in slow-motion. They possess an elegance that makes footballers around them look foolish — as if everything is easy — and Zidane’s winning goal was a prime example of this phenomenon. In every sense, he had peaked as a footballer.

Source: Quan Pham/YouTube

Which of this week’s Champions League goals came close to Zidane’s? Visit Nissan’s competition page to register your vote and be in with a chance to win tickets for a Uefa Champions League quarter-final second leg and €500 worth of spending money.

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