What makes a game of football one of the greatest of the decade?
Well, many things. Here's a checklist:
- Stakes. Bragging rights over local rivals, a trophy, you name it - something needs to be on the line.
- Great players. Legends of the past, the present and the future, going head to head.
- A substantial amount of goals. A weird amount of goals. So many goals that you go out to the nearest WHS Smith, pick up a copy of Guinness World Records and check what the world record for 'most goals in a single game' is...it's AS Adema's 149-0 win over SO I'Emyrne, if you're wondering.
- Not just an innumerate number of goals, but quality goals too - Puskas Award-winning good preferably.
- Drama. This is essential. Be it a comeback, a bit of fisticuffs or maybe even a controversial decision, something needs to happen that gets you to the edge of your seat.
Great players? Check.
A game between the best team in South America - coming off the back of their first Copa Libertadores title since the early 60s - and a team aiming to be the best team in South America - coming off the back of signing one of the greatest Brazilian footballers of all time.
Yes, it was only a league game, but for both sets of players, this was an opportunity. An opportunity to assert dominance. An opportunity to set a marker down for the upcoming years. An opportunity for two players, in particular, to show just how good they were...
...And those players were Neymar and Ronaldinho.
Yes, you've heard of them.
In July 2011, Ronaldinho wasn't quite over-the-hill yet (he would be pretty soon, mind you) and had just arrived back in Brazil after a trophy-laden career in Europe. He was hellbent on:
a) Proving he was still one of the best players in the world.
b) Partying...probably quite a lot.
Neymar Jr, on the other hand, was just embarking upon his trophy-laden career. At 19 years old, the stick-thin forward had the world at his feet, lauded as the brightest Brazilian talent since Ronaldo, the most skilful footballer since Ronaldinho and, basically, a mix between Fergie and Jesus.
On this particular Wednesday night in July 2011, both players would star.
Ronaldinho would score a match-winning hat-trick (a hat-trick which including a free kick slipped under the jumping Santos wall).
Neymar Jr would score a brace; a brace which included the greatest goal of the century. You'll hear more about that soon.
A Million Goals
Santos scored four.
Flamengo scored five.
Ok, ok, maybe not a million goals, but still, nine goals is a lot of goals.
As hinted at earlier, the goals weren't just plentiful, but also sublime.
Ronaldinho's second goal was great; Neymar's first goal was special.
In short: It was the best goal of the 21st century.
The then-19-year-old received the ball on the left side of the opposition half, closer to the halfway line than the penalty box, and with a quick drop of the shoulder, or flick of the heel, or shimmy or...no-one knows...not least the two defenders that he evaded in the blink of an eye.
Next up was sharp one-two with Borges (who also scored a brace in the game which nobody remembers or cares about), before Neymar proceeded to the edge of the box, where he would pull off the most shockingly amazing piece of skill you will ever see in your life.
And, no that isn't even an exaggeration.
With Flamengo defender Ronaldo Angelim bearing down on him, Neymar would, in one fluid motion, roll the ball to the left with his right foot, flick the ball around the centre back with his left and weave his way into the penalty area.
The forward then capped off the move with a chip over the onrushing goalkeeper and into the net.
Neymar's strike had given Santos a three-goal lead inside the opening 25 minutes of the game at the Estadio Vila Bermiro.
A lead they would bottle.
Five minutes after Neymar scored the goal of the century, Flamengo had cut Santos' lead from three goals to one via a Ronaldinho tap-in and a Thiago Neves header. And then, on the stroke of half-time,
Oh, and Ronaldinho would prove he still had it.
The two-time FIFA World Player of the Year bagged a wonderfully audacious free kick in the 67th minute and then sealed the win with a curling effort from the left of the penalty area in the 80th.
While there were moments of incredible quality during the game, there were also some slapstick gaffes.
The first was arguably the worst, most embarrassing, miss of all time. It came of Deivid, who from the distance of about one-yard, poked the ball wide of a gaping Santos goal.
The second was a failed Panenka penalty from Ganso. Yes, a failed Panenka. Yes, it was hilarious. And it was made all the more hilarious by the fact that that Felipe (the Flamengo goalkeeper) proceeded to do kick-ups after saving it.
Santos 4-5 Flamengo.
Nine goals, a Ronaldinho hat trick, the greatest goal of the 21st century, the worst miss of the 21st century, a failed Panenka and a dramatic comeback.
The perfect game of football.