Goals to win titles, goals to inspire titles: Six of the most dramatic late goals in football history


Followers of the A-League Men are used to a few things: doom and gloom about crowds, the occasional blank expression when you mention to somebody you spent the weekend watching football in December, the feeling of joy and impending loss watching a young prodigy you know won’t be around much longer, accusations of east coast bias, the excitable Irish chatter of Tristan McManus, and so on.

Over the last couple of seasons, something we’ve also become accustomed to is late drama. From Adelaide’s collection of 4-4 draws last season, including the bonkers game away to Perth which featured three goals in stoppage time, to Glory’s gloriously unlikely late smash-and-grab at home to Wanderers a few weeks earlier, to the fluctuating fortunes of Wanderers and Macarthur this season.

Rarely has there been a dull moment, and it got me thinking about the most dramatic late goals from my time watching football, stretching back to the 1990s and World Football on SBS, NSL games on a Sunday afternoon and recording the English Premier League highlights show from late Tuesday night on the ABC. It was a very different time indeed.

So, here are my six nominations – a joy of six if you like – for most dramatic late goal. Please feel free to nominate yours in the comments.

1. ‘It’s up for grabs now’: Michael Thomas, Arsenal 2 vs Liverpool 0, 26 May 1989

It’s the goal so famous Nick Hornby based a book around it, which spawned a film, which spawned a dreadful American spinoff, so it wasn’t all good.

I’m not quite old enough to remember it at the time, though I did read Fever Pitch a few years later and the moment was still fresh enough to resonate and be occasionally replayed on TV.

The game was originally scheduled for 23 April, the week after the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough. Understandably, it was postponed and wasn’t played until after Liverpool had won the cup and everybody else had finished their league campaign.

It turned out to be a sort of grand final, just one subject to a very particular criterion: Arsenal had to win by at least two goals; anything less and Liverpool would be champions.

With the clock well past 90 minutes and Arsenal leading by just the one goal, Lee Dixon launched the ball forward and it found its way to Michael Thomas, whose hopeful flick deflected off Liverpool’s Steve Nicol and somehow fell back into his path with the coast clear and Arsenal’s first title in 18 years up for grabs.

2. ‘Football, bloody hell!’: Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Manchester United 2 vs Bayern Munich 1, 26 May 1999

Exactly 10 years later, there was an even more dramatic climax to Manchester United’s bid for a historic treble of league, FA Cup and Champions League when they met Bayern Munich for the latter trophy in Barcelona. While I was largely indifferent at the time, the game is still oddly haunting.

I suppose it’s empathy – Bayern could and should’ve won it. They led for about 85 minutes, both Carsten Jancker and Mehmet Scholl hit the woodwork in the latter stages, the great Lothar Matthäus played superbly but could only watch as another European Cup was snatched away. The shock on Michael Tarnat’s face and Sammy Kuffour’s paroxysms of despair are still a little unsettling.

But it was Manchester United’s time – ‘squeaky-bum’ time to be precise. They were a goal down in the 91st minute and didn’t even need extra time. As Alex Ferguson said, “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. Football, bloody hell!”

3. The other Istanbul: Paul Reid, Wollongong Wolves 3 vs Perth Glory 3 (7-6 on penalties), 11 June 2000

Many Australian football supporters of a certain age know a Liverpool supporter. It’s probably Craig Johnston’s fault. While they may never have set foot in Anfield, they’re probably still liable to get all misty-eyed at mention of the famous 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, despite it being one of the most tedious football games ever played.

As usual, Australia was well ahead – we’d already played that narrative arc five years earlier and much better when Wollongong fought back from 0-3 down to defeat Perth on penalties in the 2000 NSL Grand Final.

Unlike the Scousers, Wolves had the dramatic sensibility to drag out the second-half comeback. Goals from a young Scott Chipperfield and Matt Horsley gave Wolves hope, but 20 minutes after Horsley’s goal and with time almost up, it was seemingly all over.

Enter Paul Reid, who latched onto a diagonal ball from the left which went where a fullback probably should’ve been and fired past Jason Petkovic to make it 3-3. Cue mostly stunned silence. Glory had blown it in front of their big, partisan home crowd at Subiaco and would have to win it all over again.

They had chances too – very good ones.

Ultimately, the penalty shootout made an unlikely hero of Wollongong keeper Les Pogliacomi, who scored a penalty himself, then saved two consecutive shots that would’ve won it for Perth, then, after Chipperfield had put Wolves in-front, denied James Afkos to clinch Wollongong’s first national title. All hail the ‘Pog’.

4. ‘Maletines’ and Hail Mary: Ferran Corominas, Espanyol 1 vs Real Sociedad 0, 13 May 2006

Maybe one day in the A-League, an otherwise hum-drum final round will see a desperate struggle against relegation, with an established team staring into the abyss. It’s unlikely we’ll ever hear the sort of talk that used to surround relegation battles in Spain. Good thing, too.

It all seemed innocent enough, and the scenario was straight-forward: Espanyol would be safe if they won at home to Real Sociedad (La Real); anything less than that and Alaves could leapfrog them with a win at home to Deportivo.

La Real thus found themselves in an interesting position. In theory, they could be relied upon to fight for their Basque brothers, Alaves, but how hard would they fight given they had nothing to gain themselves?

Enter the infamous ‘maletines’ (cash inducements). Some would have you believe that then Alaves President, Dmitri Piterman had sent or promised a suitcase full of notes to La Real to ensure they tried their hardest against Espanyol. It’s not unethical to pay people to win, right?

Phil Ball writing for ESPN at the time reported that when questioned about this, Piterman remarked that “Football’s an expensive business, and there’s a lot of money hanging on the outcomes of games. It seems perfectly natural to me”. Hmm.

It was always hard to tell if there was anything to all this, or if it was just idle chatter in the press. Thankfully, maletines haven’t been heard of lately, either because it doesn’t happen anymore, because making light of dodgy doings is not wise in the Spain which emerged from the GFC and the infamous ‘Gürtel’ corruption case, or both.

When the day of reckoning came, the supposed incentives seemed to be working. La Real were giving Espanyol a tough time and the nil-nil refused to budge, while Deportivo, who had nothing – financial or otherwise – to play for, predictably fell behind to Alaves in Vitoria.

Espanyol were going down as the clock ticked past 90 minutes in Barcelona and there was nothing left to do but say ‘hail mary’ and launch it.

5. When all hell broke loose: Andrés Iniesta, Barcelona 1 vs Chelsea 1, 7 May 2009

It’s easy to forget that Pep Guardiola’s tenure at FC Barcelona began with a limp 0-1 defeat away in the wilds of Soria (Numancia), a 1-1 draw at home to Racing Club and a couple of unconvincing performances in Europe. He was widely seen as a populist choice – a club legend taking charge after ‘foreigners’ had dug them into a hole – rather than a footballing choice.

Nobody was expecting a revolution, but that’s what they got. By late April 2009, Barça were humming toward a treble. They’d won the league, made the cup final and overwhelmed Lyon and Bayern Munich on their way to a Champions League semi-final against Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea.

Naturally, ‘Aussie Guus’ and his charges had other ideas. After parking the bus at Camp Nou and getting away with a scoreless draw, Chelsea scored early in London and were going through to the final only for Leo Messi to tee-up Iniesta in the 93rd minute for the decisive away goal.

But Chelsea were more than a bit miffed about all this, and much of their ire centred on Norwegian referee Tom Henning Øvrebø. To be fair, few would’ve batted an eyelid if he’d given Chelsea two or even three penalties on the night. Barça were extremely lucky, Chelsea were robbed.

None of which excuses the harassment and intimidation Øvrebø faced on the pitch and then in the aftermath. Multiple Chelsea players were suspended for their actions, there were death threats against Øvrebø, and his security detail were reportedly so worried they spirited him away to a different hotel that night.

6. ‘PAARTALU!’: Eric Paartalu, Brisbane Roar 2 vs Central Coast Mariners 2 (4-2 on penalties), 13 March 2011

It was a typical Brisbane afternoon in early spring, which is to say it was stinking hot as the sweaty masses descended on Lang Park and Ange Postecoglou’s Brisbane Roar limbered-up for what would be the crowning glory of a near-perfect season.

But the Roar were a little off, a little laboured. Mariners were handling them quite comfortably. When the obligatory thunderstorm hit just after half-time, accompanied by an almost biblical downpour, it didn’t help. It was too much water too quickly; the pitch was briefly waterlogged, and the players were churning it up. The game slowed down even more.

Graham Arnold introduced the speedy Bernie Ibini late in the second half, the tactics were clear, and the ambush duly arrived five minutes into extra-time when Adam Kwasnik poked home, before Oli Bozanic added a second on the break. It was over and the sea of orange was starting to drain toward the exits.

But wait, the Costa Rican sun god, Jean Carlos Solorzano teed-up Henrique for an apparent consolation. The Roar kept going and launched one last attack. Rocky Visconte muscled his way to left side of the box and won a corner. There were about 40 seconds left and it had to go in…

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