All of us, fans of the beautiful game, remember with fondness the most memorable games of our favorite footballers. Unforgettable games that helped some athletes enter the pantheon of the sport’s greatest heroes. With that on mind, I’ve decided to make a list with the two best single game performances (one for club and the other for international football) of those who I consider to be the 6 greatest players of all time: Pelé, Maradona, Garrincha, Messi, Cruyff and Di Stéfano. UPDATE IN 06/08/2017: as much as a love Garrincha, I now put Cristiano Ronaldo in my top 6 (Pelé, Maradona, Messi, Cruyff, Di Stéfano and Cristiano Ronaldo), because of his extraodinary longevity at the top and accomplishments during his amazing career. One can than other players have been better, but there it would be extremely hard to claim guys like Garrincha, Ronaldo, Romario, Zidane, and others, had superior and more consistent careers than the Portuguese star.
In order to elucidate the reader’s curiosity about my top 10, I tell you that Beckenbauer would be the seventh player in my list and that several other legends would fight for the last 3 spots: Zico, Zidane, Eusébio, Ronaldo, Puskas, Romário, Cristiano Ronaldo, Platini, George Best, Bobby Charlton, Maldini, Didi, Rivera, Gérson, Gerd Müller, Rivellino, Van Basten, Roberto Baggio, Giuseppe Meazza, among others. I can’t choose! If possible, write down your lists in the comments section.
As bonus, at the end, I’ll will post videos of the best games of some of those great players: Zico, Zidane, Beckenbauer, Eusébio, Puskas, Platini, Ronaldo, Lothar Matthäus, Romário, Gerd Müeller, Roberto Baggio, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo. Therefore, 20 legends (the 6 greatest plus 14 on the bonus section).
Next, let’s see all the great games I have chosen.
Benfica 2 x 5 Santos — Lisbon, Portugal, 10/11/1962 — Intercontinental Cup Final.
Pelé: 3 goals and 1 assist.
In the game considered by Pele himself as his best, Santos beat the European Champions (Benfica of the legendary Eusébio) and won their first Intercontinental Cup.
Inspired by Pelé’s fantastic performance (with amazing dribbling and moves in his goals and assists), the Portuguese goalkeeper described like this the Brazilian great after the game:
Brazil 5 x 2 Sweden — Solna, Sweden, 06/29/1958 — World Cup Final.
Pelé: 2 goals.
In an epic performance, the 17-year-old teenager delighted the world and helped Brazil on winning their first ever World Cup. His first goal, after a marvelous lobby over the opponent, is among the most famous in the history of the sport. Because of that goal, the Swedish defender, Sigge Parling, confessed in an interview: “After Pele set the final score of 5 to 2 with an artistic goal, a masterpiece, I just wanted to join the crowd and applaud him.
Argentinos Jrs. 5 x 3 Boca Jrs — Buenos Aires, 11/9/1980 — Argentina League.
Maradona: 4 goals.
After being called a “gordito” (fatty) by the folclorical Boca Goalkeeeper, Hugo Gatti, a 20-year-old Maradoda did what he had previously promised: 4 goals.
Argentina 2 x 1 England — Mexico City, 6/22/1986 — World Cup Quarter-Finals.
Maradona: 2 goals.
In a game fueled by political issues (the Falklands War), Maradona qualified Argentina to the Semifinal with an historical performance, scoring two famous goals: the first won with “the hand of God”; the second, the most beautiful goal ever. About this goal, the English striker, Gary Lineker, said: “If it hadn’t have been such an important game I would have applauded it – it’s really impressive to score a goal like that”.
Barcelona 4 x 1 Arsenal — Barcelona, 4/6/2010 — Champions League Quarter-Finals.
Messi: 4 goals.
Messi, perhaps in his peak, took Barcelona under his wing to the Champions semifinal, scoring beautiful goals in individual plays. After the game, Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia said after the game: “How do you stop this kind of player?”.
Brasil 3 x 4 Argentina, Nova Jersey, USA — 6/9/2012 — Friendly.
Messi: 3 goals.
Messi had 3 goals, including the final comeback goal in a hard shot from distance, leading the Argentina senior team against Brazil (fielded with only players younger than 23, but representing the senior team). Messi became the eighth player to score a hat-trick in the great South American derby (in chronological order: Seoante, Peucelle, Mendéz, Sanfilippo, Pelé, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Messi), the first Argentinian since José Sanfilippo in 1959.
Botafogo 3 x 0 Flamengo — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 12/15/1962 — Carioca League Final.
Garrincha: 2 goals.
At a full packed Maracanã Stadium, Garrincha was part of every goals scored by Botafogo in the championship game against Flamengo, their biggest rival.
Brazil 3 x 1 England — Viña del Mar, Chile — World Cup Quarter-finals.
Garrincha: 2 goals.
In his best performance at that Cup, Garrincha scored two goals (a rare header goal and the other after a long distance shot) and took the free-kick that resulted in Vavá’s goal, helping Brazil to knock out the powerful English team.
Concerning that game, the English player Johnny Haynes said: “How do you set about stopping the unstoppable?”.
Ajax 2 x 0 Internazionale — Rotterdam, Netherlands, 5/31/1972 —European Cup Final
Through their total football and in one of their greatest games, Ajax dominated the Italians all game long. The best player of that generation, the late Cruyff, scored both goals of the game.
Netherlands 4 x 0 Argentina — Gelsenkirchen, Germany, 6/26/1974 — Second round of the World Cup.
Cruyff: 1 goal and 1 assist.
Led by Cruyff, “the Clockwork Orange”, with its total football, did not give a chance to Argentina, who could have been defeated by an even bigger margin. The great Dutch superstar scored his goal after dribbling past the Argentinian Goalkeeper.
About Cruyff and the Dutch team, Àngel Bargas, Argentinian defender in that year, stated: “The Dutch don’t have specialists. There’s a goalkeeper and ten players who do everything — and can do everything. They are at the same time too close and too far from one another. It’s a total vertigo this blur of orange jerseys on field. The most dangerous ones are those without the ball, all of them orchestrated by Cruyff”.
Real Madrid 7 x 3 Eintracht Frankfurt — Glasgow, Scotland, 5/18/1960 — European Cup Final.
Di Stéfano: 3 goals.
In a match widely considered one of greatest in football history, Di Stéfano and Puskas scored all 7 Real Madrid goals (3 by the Argentinian and 4 by the Hungarian).
In regard to that game, the British “Daily Mail” wrote: “It’s just a pity that the thousands of people at the game, and those who have to return to watching Scottish football, must have thought that they were dreaming”.
About that legendary Real Madrid team (arguably the greatest of all time), the great English footballer Bobby Charlton said in 1957, before a game against the Spanish club: “To be honest, I saw Di Stefano and those others and I thought these people aren’t human. It’s not the sort of game I’ve been taught”.
Argentina 6 x 0 Colômbia — Guayaquil, Ecuador, 12/18/1947 — South American Championship.
Di Stéfano: 3 goals.
Di Stéfano did not have a great international career, especially because of bureaucratic problems: Argentina refused to participate in the 1950 World Cup; and in 1954, FIFA forbid his participation because he had previously played for both Colombia and Argentina. In 1958, playing for Spain, Stefano was not able to help Spain qualify for the World Cup, which he did in 1962, but, sadly, he suffered an injury before the tournament.
All of Di Stéfano 6 goals for Argentina happened in the 1947 South American Championship won by his national team. In one of the games, he scored an unforgettable hat-trick against Colombia, his best game in that tournament, in which he finished second in the top scorers list. Unfortunately, I could not find any footage of that game.
Flamento 2 x 0 Cobreloa — 1981 Libertadores Final.
Zico: 2 goals.
Brazil 3 x 1 Argentina —1982 World Cup:
Zico: 1 goal and 1 assist.
Benfica 5 x 3 Real Madrid —1962 European Cup Final.
Eusébio: 2 goals and 1 assist.
Portugal 5 x 3 North Korea —1966 World Cup.
Eusébio: 4 goals.
Real Madrid 7 x 3 Eintracht Frankfurt — 1960 European Cup Final.
Puskas: 4 goals.
England 3 x 6 Hungary — “The match of the century”, friendly in 1953.
Puskas: 2 goals and 1 assist.
Juventus 2 x 2 Argentinos Juniors — 1985 Intercontinental Cup Final.
Platini: 1 goal and 1 assist (he also scored a masterpiece goal, which was wrongly ruled offside by the referee).
France 3 x 2 Yugoslavia — 1984 Euro .
Platini: 3 goals.
Manchester United 4 x 3 Real Madrid — 2003 Champions League Quarter- finals.
Ronaldo: 3 goals.
Brazil 2 x 0 Germany — 2002 World Cup Final.
Internazionale 2 x 1 Napoli — 1989 Italian League.
Matthäus: 1 goal.
Germany 4 x 1 Yugoslavia — 1990 World Cup.
Matthäus: 1 goal.
Barcelona 5 x 0 Real Madrid — 1994 Spanish League.
Romário: 3 goals and 1 assist.
Brazil 2 x 0 Uruguay —1994 World Cup Qualification.
Romário: 2 goals.
Atlético Madrid 0 x 4 Bayern München — 1974 European Cup Final replay (first game was a draw).
Müeller: 2 goals.
Germany 3 x 0 Peru — 1970 World Cup.
Müller: 3 goals.
Bayer Leverkusen 1 x 2 Real Madrid — 2002 Champions League Final.
Zidane: 1 goal.
Brazil 0 x 1 France —2006 World Cup Quarters-finals.
Zidane: 1 assist.
Bayern München 2 x 0 Real Madrid — 1976 European Cup Semi-final.
The German legend perfectly showed the role of a sweeper, great at both defending and organizing the team on offense.
Germany 3 x 2 England — 1970 World Cup Quarter-finals (despite the symbolic game against Italy, in which he kept playing despite a dislocated shoulder, I think Beckenbauer had his best game against England).
Beckenbauer: 1 goal.
Juventus 3 x 0 Borrusia Dortumund — 1993 UEFA Cup Final.
Baggio: 1 assist.
Bulgaria 1 x 2 Italy. 1994 World Cup Semifinal .
Baggio: 2 goals.
Real Madrid 3 x 0 Wolsfurg —2016 Champions League de 2016 Quarter-finals.
Ronaldo: 3 goals.
Sweden 2 x 3 Portugal — 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification – UEFA Second Round.
Ronaldo: 3 goals.
Real Madrid 0 x 3 Barcelona —2005 Spanish League.
Ronaldinho: 2 goals.
Brazil 2 x 1 England —2002 World Cup Quarters-finals.
Ronaldinho: 1 goal and 1 assist.
Barcelona 3 x 2 Valência —2001 Spanish League.
Rivaldo: 3 goals.
Brasil 4 x 2 Argentina —1999 Friendly.
Rivaldo: 3 goals and 1 assist.