The Sweden striker's fourth gaol against England was a masterpiece – but it falls down in the big debate on the question of context and importance of occasion
According to Steven Gerrard, that goal Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored for Sweden in their 4-2 victory over England in Stockholm on Wednesday night is the "best goal" he has ever witnessed in the flesh, and when such an assessment comes from a man who has spent 14 years at the top of his sport, establishing a career that has taken in two Champions League finals, three FA Cup finals, a Uefa Cup final and, after Wednesday, 100 international caps, it is worth listening to. But exactly how good was Ibrahimovic's 30-yard overhead kick, and is it, as the likes of Gerrard have suggested, one of the very best ever scored?
Debates like these are of course highly subjective. Different goals mean different things to different people, making one man or woman's wonder strike another's run-of-the-mill kick-and-hope. What most can agree on is that when assessing a goal for its value, certain, basic parameters are required, most notably context and quality.
On the later count, there is no doubt that the fourth of Ibrahimovic's goals against England was a moment of sublime mastery. Yes, the 31-year-old was aided greatly by Joe Hart's wild decision to come rushing out of his area and head the ball upwards instead of outwards, allowing the Sweden forward the time and scope to counter with a strike on goal, but for him to have the imagination even to consider attempting an instant, overhead kick and then to execute it perfectly and precisely with the ball high in the air, was utterly brilliant.
It is, however, on the context count that this goal falls down. It may have rounded off Sweden's first match at the newly built Friends Arena, and an encounter in which Ibrahimovic passed Henrik Larsson to become his country's all-time leading goalscorer, but ultimately this was nothing more than a friendly, and some time before Ibrahimovic achieved his remarkable feat, England's defence had become a shambles, mainly through a change of personnel that had Ryan Shawcross and Carl Jenkinson attempting to keep Sweden at bay. In other words, this was hardly a high-class game against high-class opponents in a highly pressurised situation.
It could be for this reason alone that in a matter of months, if not weeks, Ibrahimovic's goal slips out of many people's mind, and explains why some other great goals continue to resonate. Most notably Diego Maradona's second goal for Argentina in their 2-1 victory over England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals, a strike that has become to "greatest goal" debates what Del Boy falling through the bar has become to "greatest comedy moment" polls – a natural starting point and, for many, quite simply the best.
In truth it is hard to argue with that assertion. "The goal of the century" saw Maradona twist past two players on the halfway line before bursting past another pair and, under pressure from Terry Butcher's lunge, round Peter Shilton from practically on the goalline to win a World Cup quarter-final for his nation and send them towards ultimately glory at the competition and him towards the ranking of the greatest player of his generation. It was a piece of sublime skill allied to courage, achieved at the highest level, and helped shape a narrative of lasting greatness. Few goals, if any, tick so many boxes.
There are, of course, other contenders; Brazil's fabulous team goal that rounded off their 4-1 victory over Italy in the 1970 World Cup final, Marco van Basten's geometry-defying volley that secured the 1988 European Championship final for Holland against the USSR, while at club level there will forever be the majesty of Zinedine Zidane's volley for Real Madrid against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 Champions League final.
The list goes on and, as mentioned, certain goals are for certain people the greatest for reasons that go beyond aesthetics. For Celtic supporters, for instance, Steve Chalmers' winner against Internazionale in the 1967 European Cup final may not be the prettiest strike they have ever seen but it sure is the most special, while for Crystal Palace fans the goal Darren Ambrose scored from 16 yards out in their 2-2 draw with Sheffield Wednesday on 2 May 2010 may well be the most important in their history given it helped secure their Championship status and, more significantly, held off the very real threat of liquidation.
There is no harm in adding Ibrahimovic's fourth goal against England into the never-ending and always interesting debate surrounding the greatest goal of all time, and for audacity, imagination and technical execution it is undeniably a reasonable contender.
However, that is not even the great overhead kick I have seen result in a goal. That accolade instead goes to the 89th-minute strike that secured Rivaldo's hat-trick for Barcelona in their 3-2 victory over Valencia at the Camp Nou in the final match of the 2000-01 La Liga season. Knowing Barcelona had to win to ensure their qualification for the Champions League, the Brazilian, stationed on the edge of the area, controlled a straight pass on his chest and instantly launched a shot over his shoulder and past the despairing reach of Santiago Cañizares to win a crucial match for his team at the death. Remarkable goal, remarkable drama.