Messi, Ronaldinho, Cavani and the greatest goals that almost were

A collection of the greatest could have been moments from some of the world's greatest players

3:30am on Wednesday 11th November 2020
Team FC

This is a list of if-only's.

We are celebrating some of the best nearly goals in football.

PELE: Brazil v Uruguay – 1970

If you were to select the top 10 moments of the 1970 World Cup, Pele would feature in at least half of them. There was the lob against Czechoslovakia, the header versus England that was miraculously saved by Gordon Banks, the gravity-defying leap for the opening goal against Italy, and the assist for Carlos Alberto’s clincher in that final.

But perhaps Pele’s greatest moment of ingenuity in Mexico came in the semi-final victory over Uruguay. This was a historic game for Brazil. For 20 years, they had lived with the pain and hurt of the Maracanazo, the infamous collapse to Uruguay which had cost them the World Cup on home soil.

This was finally their chance for revenge and redemption. The game was on a knife edge in the second half when Tostao slipped a through ball to Pele. Ladislao Mazurkiewicz raced out towards Pele, who dummied the Uruguay goalkeeper without touching the ball. The No. 10 then ran around the beguiled keeper as the Guadalajara crowd went wild, but he pulled his finish just wide from an acute angle with a Uruguay defender also defending the goal line.

The greatest dummy in history deserved a goal, but at least Brazil went on to win the game and then lift the World Cup a few days later.

EDER: Brazil v Argentina – 1982

Along with Hungary 1954 and Netherlands 1974, Brazil’s glorious 1982 side are the greatest team not to win the World Cup.

Boasting superstars such as Zico, Falcao and Socrates, Tele Santana’s team lit up the tournament in Spain before their epic 3-2 loss to eventual winners Italy.

Brazil scored a host of sensational goals that World Cup but one that didn’t count was Eder’s quite blistering long-range free kick in the 3-1 win over holders Argentina in the second round group stage.

Nicknamed ‘The Cannon’ due to the ferocity of his long shots, Eder unleashed a missile of a free kick from fully 40 yards that swerved wildly before crashing off the underside of the bar.

The ball appeared to have crossed the line but Zico raced in to poach home the rebound and give Brazil the lead. Officially the goal was awarded to Zico, robbing Eder of what would have been one of the best free kick goals in history.

PELE: Brazil v Czechoslovakia – 1970

When Pele attempted to lob Czechoslovakia goalkeeper Ivo Viktor from inside his own half during the opening game of the 1970 World Cup, fans reacted like he’d just walked on water.

Back then, no one even dared to pull off such an audacious act. Unlike today’s fully synthetic balls which are light and move in all kinds of bizarre directions, the footballs of 50 years ago were made of leather and were very heavy.

That didn’t stop Pele – a genius years ahead of his time – from trying the impossible. A quick glance from ‘O Rei’ noticed Viktor – a future Ballon d’Or bronze-medallist – slightly off his line. Pele leaned back to pull the trigger and the ball looks in the entire way until it moves slightly to Viktor’s left at the final moment to drift inches wide.

The slow-motion replay from behind the goal perfectly encapsulates the drama as Viktor watches open-mouthed expecting the ball to hit the back of the net. What a shame it didn’t!

Lucas Moura: PSG v Marseille - 2014

Lucas Moura might never have quite lived up to the hype that surrounded him when Paris Saint-Germain beat Manchester United to his signature for €45 million in 2014, yet the early days of his stay in France suggested that the capital side had captured themselves a very special player indeed.

He came close to producing arguably the greatest goal in the history of France’s greatest rivalry as PSG hosted Marseille in a Ligue 1 encounter they won 2-0.

Picking the ball up midway inside his own half, he showed a quick change of direction to evade Andre Ayew, whose attempt to track back and win possession for a second time only resulted in him being shrugged off by the Brazilian.

From there, the former Sao Paulo player showcased his pace and power as he charged through the heart of the OM defence, accelerating clear past several foundering opponents.

With the stadium having risen to its feet in expectation, Lucas held his nerve to clip the ball past visiting goalkeeper Steve Mandanda, though his effort marginally lacked the pace to get the better of Souleymane Camara, whose despairing lunge on the line prevented a solo goal that would have lived forever.

ERIC CANTONA: Manchester Utd v Chelsea - 1993

‘King Eric’ perhaps more than anyone set the tone for Manchester United to earn the reputation as a cavalier attacking side capable of moments of off-the-cuff brilliance, setting them apart from the rest of English football for much of the 1990s.

Aside from kung-fu kicking a Crystal Palace fan, he is best remembered for his dazzling array of goals, including an outrageous lob against Sunderland that arrived after some wonderful individualism and a superb dipping strike against Arsenal that found the net via the crossbar.

He was just the width of the woodwork away from adding what might have been considered his masterpiece against Chelsea.

With Dmitri Kharine out of his goal having headed clear outside of his box, the ball broke bouncing for the Frenchman, who had his back to goal around 45 yards out. Instinctively, he hooked a lobbed effort over his shoulder that beat the stricken goalkeeper but bounced short of the line then rebounded up to kiss the face of the bar.

It was a moment that highlighted Cantona’s ingenuity and why he was such a draw for neutrals throughout his career.

Lionel Messi: Barcelona v Atletico - 2009

As FC well knows, Lionel Messi’s career is littered with brilliant goals, but while the Barcelona ace has amassed a collection of stunning strikes that could well be the greatest in history, there are numerous moments when he came incredibly close to adding to it.

Perhaps the best example came in a 2009 encounter against Atletico Madrid, who he had already tortured in the first half of the game by scoring an outstanding solo strike, in which he had taken out three defenders before coolly poking past Gregory Coupet.

His second-half slalom would have been a superior goal, yet has largely been forgotten in the maelstrom of a 4-3 defeat that at the time opened up the title race once again to give Real Madrid a sliver of false hope.

Messi gathered possession on the right touchline, facing away from the Atleti goal. From a standing position, he feinted to come inside but instead dodged outside a challenge before accelerating hard down the wing.

Coming inside, he dodged two further challenges in trademark style but for once lacked the finish as his effort came bouncing back off the bar.

It was ultimately not to matter as Barca went on to win the title, but had it gone in, it would have been remembered as one of his greatest solo goals.

RONALDINHO: Barcelona v Athletic - 2007

In this league fixture, Ronaldinho put in one of the best performances you will ever see from an attacker which doesn't actually get on the scoresheet, but he very nearly did, more than once.

In what would probably have been the Goal of the Season in Spain, the Brazilian magician collects possession down the left wing before quickly and cleverly dinking the ball over the oncoming tackle.

From there, he moves into a more central area, jinking and twisting and turning and terrorising a couple of Athletic defenders.

After a couple of successful 'Elastico' moments of skill, he eventually hits the byline before looking to chip home, only for the keeper to somehow touch the attempt on to the bar.

Samuel Eto'o's face says it all in this one.

ADRIANO: Inter v Valencia - 2004

In a fiery Champions League clash in 2004, Inter ran out superb 5-1 winners away at the Mestalla versus Valencia.

Adriano got one of the goals that night, but very nearly got another which would have been absolutely outrageous.

After showing a clean pair of heels to Santiago Canizares to move down into the box right the right channel, he proceeds to, on the spin, flick the ball through the legs of the retreating David Navarro.

With Canizares running back, and several other defenders nearly back in position, he attempted to flash a strike home from the highest of angles, only for it to slam into the side netting.

EDINSON CAVANI: Napoli v Barcelona - 2011

In a pre-season friendly at the Camp Nou, Barcelona eventually defeated Napoli 5-0 at the beginning of the decade.

In that game, Cavani scored what would have been a goal to fit any football match.

After a cross is floated into the box, the Uruguayan rises to an incredible height to catch a sensational overhead kick into the top corner, with Victor Valdes left helpless on his line.

However, unfortunately for Cavani, and Napoli, the referee deemed that it was dangerous play due to how high he had his boot.

Cavani was clearly frustrated at the controversial decision and quickly confronted the ref.

The one silver lining for this one is that it wouldn't have mattered that much anyway, with it being a friendly and all.

BONUS - Dragan Stojkovic

Yugoslavia and Serbia legend Dragan Stojkovic went on to manage Nagoya Grampus after previously playing for the club for seven seasons.

Even while wearing a suit in the dugout, he captured the imagination of the fans with this, quite frankly ridiculous, volleyed first-time clearance from the halfway line which bounces into the roof of the net.

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