Throughout the course of football history, the last day of a season usually sees a few teams fighting to secure either a league title, European football or seeking to beat relegation. Those who stand up and deliver for their side during it’s time of need are heroes, icons in the eyes of fans and no one has ever fulfilled this duty in more spectacular fashion that Brazillian legend, Rivaldo.
Back in the 2000/01 season, the Spanish footballing force that is Barcelona were not the all-conquering Goliath we see today; they were distinctly average, fighting to make the Champions League places and in the final game of the season, Louis van Gaal’s men had to overcome Valencia at the Nou Camp.
Los Che were ahead of the Blaugrana by three points and anything but a victory would see the Catalan side in the UEFA Cup places. Goal difference did not matter, Barca had beaten Valencia at the Mestalla 1-0 earlier in the season and another victory would see van Gaal’s men edge past their rivals on the head-to-head.
Everyone knew the season was poised for a stunning climax but few could have predicted how one man would leave jaws dropped across Europe with his brilliance. Rivaldo was the main man for the Blaugrana, a South American star oozing class wherever he trod across La Liga and prior to the match, he had scored 20 league goals.
He and Patrick Kliuvert had kept the club afloat throughout the season but it was the Brazilian who delivered at the most crucial of times. He gave Barca the lead with a stunning free-kick just four minutes into the game but the Spanish side – with Pep Guardiola in midfield – were not at their best and were punished from a corner by former Spanish international, Ruben Baraja, on 26 minutes.
Then, just before the break, Rivaldo produced another miracle to bail out the under-performing Catalans. Throwing a perfectly executed dummy, the Brazillian produced a tracer bullet of an effort with his left foot from 20 yards which arrowed into the corner, leaving Santiago Canizares with no chance.
The Champions League was seemingly in the palms of their hands and their South American Messiah was the catalyst. However, his work was far from over. Just after the interval, Baraja got his second and at 2-2, the Blaugrana were set for a season in Europe’s second-tier competition.
They probed Los Che’s stubborn defence, giving the ball to Rivaldo at all times but neither he, Kluivert or Marc Overmars could pick the lock. As the final few minutes approached at the Nou Camp, faces of anguish, despair and defeat filled the famous stadium.
But, on 87 minutes, Rivaldo produced a moment that will forever live in footballing folklore. A hopeful ball was dropped into the path of the Brazilian, which he expertly controlled on his chest. Standing around 25 yards away with his back to Canizares’ goal, the South American star launched his body into the air and produced a textbook bicycle kick which flew into the bottom corner. Rivaldo turned around to see his moment of magic come to fruition and duly celebrated by whipping off his shirt, taking in the rapturous applause in the stadium
It is a moment of skill which has never been replicated at such a crucial moment. Few would dare to attempt it at 5-0 up but Rivaldo, with all his sheer elegance and talent, delivered a snippet of outrageousness befitting of his Brazilian heritage. If you add up the circumstances and skill factor, it is simply the greatest goal ever witnessed on a professional football pitch, the benchmark of bicycle kicks.