The end of what many have taken to calling football’s golden decade is nearly upon us and what a decade of international football it has been. Spain won a World Cup, Chile and Germany stopped Lionel Messi from hitting Maradona-esque heights, Iceland beat England, and France broke Croatia’s hearts.
2010: Andres Iniesta scores his greatest ever goal
It’s been called the goal of the century. It’s been called the greatest ever kick for Spanish football. It’s been called Andre Iniesta’s greatest ever and rightly so. Not because of the skill or technique or even the move despite the fact that all three were present in overabundance. That’s because this was Spain at their very best, the pinnacle of their greatest achievement as a footballing nation. And with a perfect first touch and the La Masia-esque second, Spain had a World Cup.
2011: Paraguay reach the Copa America Final
32 years, that’s how long it took Paraguay to reach the Copa America final. They’d come rather close in the years since the 1972 tournament, which they won, but never as close as they came in the 2011 tournament. So, what’s so special about this one?? Well, as Dario Verson stepped up and thundered in his spot-kick, it would mean that Paraguay reached the final of the Copa America without winning a single game. Six games, five draws, one loss and a sixth runners-up crown.
Antagonizing someone like Zlatan Ibrahimovic will always tend to bite you in the backside. So much so that it took England six years to recover from the beating that the Swede handed. He scored four goals and the first three were all good in their own way. But the fourth, the fourth goal is something only Zlatan would try and ever succeed at. It’s the goal that ended Ryan Shawcross’ international career after just one cap. It’s the goal that the world will look back at a 100 years into the future and wonder how does a man even have the confidence, let alone the skill, to try that.
2013: Daouda Diakité saves the penalty that sends Burkina Faso to their first final.
It wasn’t the greatest save he would ever make, but it was, is and will always be the save that Daouda Diakité will be remembered for. Not because it was Gordon Banks-esque but because it was the save that sent Burkina Faso to their first-ever final. Their first-ever final in any tournament ever since they started playing as Burkina Faso. They finished at the top of their group, beat Togo and tournament favourites Ghana which was where Diakite sent an Agyemang-Badu shot into their hall of fame. Nigeria would lift the 2013 AFCON but it was Burkina Faso that the world remembers.
2014: Miroslav Klose breaks Ronaldo’s record in Brazil
It’s perhaps fitting that few around the world actually remember what Miroslav Klose has done for football but rather what he did in a World Cup. Never has the world ever seen someone so consistently excellent in a tournament and the German is the definition of the fact that hard work will always help you succeed. And the fact that he broke Ronaldo’s record, in Brazil, in the stadium the legendary forward strived to greatness as a teen, might get, fittingly, overshadowed by the fact that Klose did in that infamous game.
2015: Alexis Sanchez panenkaes his and Chile’s way to their first Copa America
It was supposed to be the Messi vs Neymar battle. It was supposed to be an Argentina vs Brazil final but nothing in football ever turns out the way it does, does it? But then Chile beat Uruguay in the quarter-finals, beat Peru and with that, set up a final against Argentina. Not the easiest fixture for the Albiceleste but it was supposed to be their final. And then everybody but Lionel Messi missed their penalty and Alexis Sanchez panenkaed his way into Chile’s heart. Maybe, that’s why he’s called El Niño Maravilla.
2016: Iceland and their moment of greatness
Euro 2016 will always be remembered for the fact that Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo won their first trophy as a country and for some, it established Ronaldo’s legacy. But there was another story and one that few have forgotten about, especially given how well Iceland played in their first international tournament. They beat the Dutch twice in the qualifiers to get there and then waltzed out of their group stage unbeaten. Then the smallest nation ever to participate in a FIFA tournament showed more heart, courage and skill than England’s golden generation ever managed or had in their little pinky.
2017: England win the U20 and the U17 World Cups
For all the hype surrounding the 2018 World Cup, England and the incredibly catchy “Three Lions”, people tend to forget that England actually won not one but two trophies the year before. Naturally since their glorious “first team” never did it, UK and the rest of the world don’t even remember. But the English and their youth teams dominated not one but two World Cups as they swept to both the U17 and the U20 World Cups held in Asia; with teams that included Lewis Cook, Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, Rhian Brewster, Dean Henderson Ademola Lookman and a few others.
2018: England break their penalty shootout jinx
Steven Gerrard couldn’t do it. Frank Lampard couldn’t do it. Gary Lineker couldn’t do it. Peter Crouch couldn’t do it. David Beckham couldn’t do it. It took the team of a Gareth Southgate, who missed one himself, to finally break their World Cup penalty shootout curse and as Mr. Consistent Jordan Henderson missed, the world laughed yet again and Colombia rejoiced. Then Andres Uribe hit the bar, Jordan Pickford pulled off a brilliant save and then Eric Dier did it. Of all the people, in all the timelines and all the worlds, it was the last person anyone would ever expect.
2019: Finland qualify for their first major tournament
Whether they perform or struggle in 2020, whether they thrive or fall well short in the 2020 Euro and whether they never qualify for another tournament again, this is going down in the history books. It took them 100 years. A hundred looong years and 34 qualifying stages across the World Cup and the Euros before the Finnish eventually made it. They did something that their golden generation loaded with Jari Litmanen, Sami Hyypiä, Jussi Jääskeläinen, Antti Niemi, Hannu Tihinen and others failed to do. Now they need to make sure it wasn’t all for nothing.