Off the Ball

When one goal just won’t do...

Spain's Emilio Butragueno
© Getty Images

Scoring goals is the ultimate aim of every team, and particularly for the men paid to put the ball in the net, the strikers. As evidenced down through the history of the game, in the final analysis strikers are measured on goals. If the front man scores, he’s done his job. If not, he has a problem, regardless of his selfless running, work-rate or assists.

France star Thierry Henry put it succinctly when he said, "Sometimes in football you have to score goals,” a sentiment clearly shared by German coach Otto Rehhagel when he famously said, "There’s only one truth in football: you have to put the ball in the net."

Forwards are always in the news, and never more than when they weigh in with not just one, but two, three or even more goals during a match. In December 2010, Manchester United star Dimitar Berbatov contributed a stunning five goals to his team’s 7-1 English Premier League victory over Blackburn Rovers. Unbelievable as it sounds, three other players had previously achieved the feat in the English top flight, namely Andrew Cole (1995), Alan Shearer (1999) and Jermain Defoe (2009).

"It's a huge honour to be up there with greats like Alan Shearer and Andy Cole,” the 29-year-old Bulgarian commented. Berbatov, who has two further hat-tricks to his name already this term, currently tops the Premier League scoring chart. 

From a different planetKolbeinn Sigthorsson is not the top scorer in the Netherlands right now, but the Icelandic hitman deserves a mention here. The 20-year-old also netted five times as his club Alkmaar thrashed VVV-Venlo 6-1 a few weeks ago. 

Two other deadly predators stand out in the Dutch hall of goal-scoring fame. Johan Voskamp of Sparta Rotterdam once put eight past Almere City in the local second division, and Afonso Alves scored seven for Heerenveen against Heracles Almelo. 

"You’ll only score if you really, really want to,” German 1990 FIFA World Cup™ winner Jurgen Kohler once declared. Recent FIFA World Players of the Year cannot be said to lack the desire highlighted by Kohler. In 2010, Barcelona megastar Lionel Messi scored twice on more than 20 occasions, with five hat-tricks. His predecessor Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid has his nose in front in the current 2010/2011 season, with six double strikes, two hat-tricks and one four-goal show in his side’s demolition of Racing Santander.

Diminutive Argentinian Messi created another entry for himself in the history books with four goals in a UEFA Champions League meeting with Arsenal, a feat never before achieved in the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club competition. "He’s from another planet,” marvelled Barça boss Pep Guardiola. 

I think it was the highlight of my career. I scored four times – that’s incomprehensible.

Since the inaugural Champions League in 1992, six players have scored four goals in a match. Apart from Messi, the history makers are Marco van Basten (1992), Simone Inzaghi (2000), Dado Prso (2003), Ruud van Nistelrooij (2004) and Andriy Shevchenko (2005). 

Highlight of a careerNaturally, in a sport with such a long and rich history, multiple goal-scoring has an extensive and honourable tradition. At the 1986 FIFA World Cup, Spain were trailing 1-0 to Denmark in the Round of 16, before Emilio Butragueno stepped forward to strike four goals and propel La Roja to a crushing 5-1-victory. 

"I think it was the highlight of my career. I scored four times – that’s incomprehensible. Four goals in a game at the World Cup was beyond my powers of imagination. Reality has been kinder to me than anything I ever dreamed of as a kid, although it didn’t really sink in at the time. My father, who was in the stands with my future wife, was ecstatic. He was over the moon but I was pretty relaxed about it,” the Vulture reflected in a interview 

Edmund Conen (Germany) and Oleg Salenko (Russia) are also firm fixtures in our roll of honour. At the 1934 FIFA World Cup, Conen notched the first-recorded "perfect" hat-trick, a strict definition where the three goals are scored consecutively and within one half of the game. The German scored on 66, 70, and 87 minutes to seal his place in history. Some 60 years later, at the 1994 finals in the USA, Salenko scored five in the Russians’ 6-1 victory over Cameroon, setting a record which stands to this day. 

By comparison, scorers of mere hat-tricks may seem rather ordinary, but Argentina pair Carlos Tevez and Gabriel Batistuta are still worthy of mention. The latter holds a unique record as the scorer of hat-tricks at two consecutive FIFA World Cups, in a 4-0 victory over Greece in 1994, and a 5-0 success against Jamaica four years later. For Tevez, meanwhile, hitting three last weekend for his club Manchester City was not that unusual, but it was the timing which made it so special, coming as it did on his 27th birthday. 

Goals galore from Qatar to BrazilBut turning back to the original theme of exceptional scoring feats, history was made just a few weeks ago at the AFC Asian Cup, where Bahrain goal-getter Ismaeel Abdulatif became only the third player in tournament history to score four in a match, as his side beat India 5-2. Iran duo Behtash Fariba (1980) and Ali Daei (1996) are the other marksmen in question. 

Also in Qatar, host nation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Ghana sharp-shooter Mohammed Razak scored all four as his club Lekhwiya downed Al Siliya 4-0 in September 2010. Al Siliya were clearly inspired by their humbling experience, as their striker Moumouni Dagano, a Burkina Faso international, struck all five goals in his club’s 5-2 victory over Al Arabi two months later. 

The 2014 FIFA World Cup hosts have never been short on talented forwards, and the new star of the Brazilian footballing scene is no exception. Neymar is still only 18, but the starlet scored all the goals in his side’s 4-2 victory over Paraguay at the South American U-20 championship, in a match where A Seleção finished with nine men. 

The legendary George Best once scored six goals in an FA Cup tie back in 1970, Fabrizio Ravanelli fired five for Juventus against CSKA Sofia in the UEFA Cup, and Alfredo Moreno hit the same number for Boca Juniors against Blooming in the Copa Libertadores. Yet even these feats pale into insignificance compared to Australia’s Archie Thompson back in April 2001. A 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifier against American Samoa produced two international records surely destined to stand the test of time, Australia’s 31–0 winning margin, and Thompson’s 13-goal contribution. 

Have your sayWhich feat of multiple goal-scoring has impressed you most. Click on ‘Add your comment’ and let us know.

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