You’ve just got to love the catchy headline.
The 2010s have been a sensational decade for football. We’ve seen arguably the greatest team of all time, two of the all-time greats dominate around the world, and underdog stories that will last a lifetime.
Starting this Friday, I’ll be ranking my 15 personal favourite football matches from across the decade that should conclude on the 27th of December. That is… unless University work disrupts this schedule. I’ve been planning this series for quite a while now and I’m excited to see the responses to it.
To prevent showing too much favouritism towards Arsenal, I’ve selected a maximum of three games from the Gunners and ranked them at different stages to prevent repetition. Also, this series will unsurprisingly only consist of football matches that I have watched so some highly rated games will miss out for that reason.
Finally, here is your official warning that everything you read in this series is based on my own opinions. My opinions are not wrong and there’s a high chance you’ll disagree with some, if not all, of my choices.
With that being said, today I’ll be kicking off this series with five honourable mentions that came to close to being featured in my final series.
Honourable Mention No.1: “The most underrated game of the decade?”
Match: Santos 4 – 5 Flamengo | Date: 27th July 2011 | Competition: Campeonato Brasileiro Série A
The clash between two of Brazil’s most prominent football clubs on the final Wednesday of July in 2011 was nothing short of spectacular. Emotions ran high, the level of football on display was superb, and there are many moments that are still looked back on fondly today. This game showcased one exciting youngster and one legendary player.
The first half of the fixture included a six-goal thriller which saw Flamengo come back from 3-0 down while Elano missed a penalty for the home side. Meanwhile, the visitors stepped up their game in the second half and clinched all three points with a 5-4 victory.
This was the football match that introduced me to the then 19-year-old Neymar and it’s the last great performance that I can remember from the legendary Ronaldinho.
Regarding the former, the young Brazillian delivered a performance of a lifetime. With various reports linking him to top European clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Chelsea at the time, his performance here showed that he was capable of living up to the hype.
On the night, Neymar registered one assist and also scored two goals, one of which would eventually go on to win the 2011 Puskas award. This goal was orchestrated beautifully. The forward utilised his speed and dribbling ability effectively while also linking up well with Keirrison during the attack.
However, despite Neymar’s best efforts, it wasn’t enough for the home side to win the game. As I mentioned previously, it was the Brazillian icon, Ronaldinho, who stole the show. The versatile midfielder played a pivotal role in Flamengo’s come back and victory where he scored a hat-trick and also produced an assist in the process.
The battle between Santos’ Neymar and Flamengo’s Ronaldinho was a fantastic story in its own right on the night. On one side was an exciting youngster that was waiting to take Europe by storm while on the other side was an icon that returned home after cementing his legacy in Europe.
The clash between these two Brazillian clubs and these two Brazillian players was a joy to watch and I’d definitely recommend you watch as much of this match as you possibly can.
Honourable Mention No.2: “Robert Lewandowski rocks Los Blancos.”
Match: Dortmund 4 – 1 Real Madrid | Date: 24th April 2013 | Competition: Champions League Semi-Final Leg 1
Borussia Dortmund’s dominant 4-1 victory over Real Madrid is a game of football that still surprises me to this very day. I don’t think anyone at the time could’ve predicted the home side’s landslide victory let alone Robert Lewandowski’s world-class performance.
It’s a performance that many people, including myself, will always remember as one of the best in Lewandowski’s illustrious career.
Despite coming up against top defenders in Pepe and Raphael Varane, the then 24-year-old embarrassed Madrid’s entire backline for a majority of the night, scoring four goals in the process. The forward’s tricky footwork, movement off the ball, and link-up with fellow teammates in attack played a crucial role in achieving this.
It’s worth mentioning the likes of Marco Reus, Mario Gotze, and also Ilkay Gundogan considering the contributions they too made to the team offensively. The former caused problems out wide with his ability on the ball, Gotze created multiple goal-scoring chances for the likes of Lewandowski and Reus, and the latter caused multiple problems for Madrid’s midfield with his exceptional all-round performance.
Watching this game back reminded me of just how enjoyable this Dortmund team was to watch back in the 2012/13 league season under Jurgen Klopp, especially in attack.
The quartet of Lewandowski leading the line, Reus and Jakub Blaszczykowski supporting on the flanks and Mario Gotze down the middle was thrilling. All four players were at their very best on this night at the Signal Iduna Park and once again this is a match you definitely need to see.
Honourable Mention No.3: “France become champions of the world.”
Match: France 4 – 2 Croatia | Date: 15th July 2018 | Competition: World Cup Final
The 2018 World Cup final certainly lived up to expectations and was an entertaining way to conclude what was a memorable tournament.
On the night at the Luzhniki Stadium, it was France that lived up to everyone’s assumptions as their outstanding performance guided them past Croatia to their second World Cup triumph. Overall, the game had everything you could want in a final – an interesting narrative, memorable moments, and of course, great goals.
The story between the two sides heading into the match certainly helped build up the spectacle. As I mentioned, on one side were the early favourites to lift the trophy, France, that wowed spectators with dominant performances against the likes of Belgium, Uruguay, and, Argentina. On the other side were the unlikely underdogs in Croatia, led by midfielder Luka Modric, that eliminated England and Russia on their way to the final.
Unfortunately for the underdogs, Croatia just didn’t have enough in them this final time to maintain a good performance for the entire 90 minutes. Their late results in previous knockout fixtures certainly played a role in Croatia’s downfall in this match.
While they did look good for a majority of the first half, it was individual errors that let the side down. Mario Mandzukic’s own goal gave his country unnecessary problems to deal with just after 15 minutes and Ivan Perisic was foolish to give away a penalty.
Paul Pogba’s goal just before the 60th-minute mark was the final nail in the coffin for the side. Despite scoring another goal, it was clear that they wouldn’t be able to break down the French defence.
Elsewhere, there are so many moments to take away that will always make this game one that I will remember. For example, Kylian Mbappe’s strike just after 60 minutes made him the second-ever teenager, after the legendary Pele, to score in a World Cup final. His goal was the perfect way to cap off the past few years of his unpredictable yet fantastic career so far.
Also, the game created a motivational story for France manager Didier Deschamps. Following his country’s victory, Deschamps became the third man after Mario Zagallo and Franz Beckenbauer to win the World Cup as both a player and also a manager.
Finally, this final played a significant role in highlighting the effectiveness of video assistant-referee (VAR) technology. This was the first World Cup tournament to utilise the technology and an aforementioned incident involving Perisic in the 34th minute of the game showed why the game needs VAR. Initially, the 30-year-old’s handball had been awarded as a corner for France but an investigation into the incident awarded a penalty for the home side instead.
In the end, it was France that just had too much for Croatia to overcome. They were the favourites for a reason and they proved that on the night too. But, that shouldn’t take away from Croatia’s journey to the World Cup final or even the final itself.
Honourable Mention No.4: “Kylian Mbappe runs Argentina ragged.”
Match: France 4 – 3 Argentina | Date: 30th June 2018 | Competition: World Cup Round Of 16
It took him some time, but this seven-goal thriller was truly the Kylian Mbappe show.
While all eyes were on the legendary Lionel Messi to produce his next moment of magic, it was instead a 19-year-old footballer from the suburbs of Paris that stole the headlines.
Up until this game, neither France or Argentina had been overly impressive in the tournament. But, that didn’t stop either side from producing an intense and back-and-forth game of football which Mbappe was at the forefront of.
Argentina struggled to deal with the 19-year-old for a majority of the game as a result of his quick runs and movement off the ball. This came into effect just after the 10th minute when the forward won a penalty after his run was ended by a foul from Marcos Rojo. Antoine Griezmann scored from the spot which gave the hosts a deserved lead.
Regarding his impact in front of goal, Mbappe scored on two occasions in the second half where his movement and ability on the ball came into play significantly. The 19-year-old was France’s driving force in this game and I personally think this was Mbappe’s best performance in the tournament.
Away from his performance, fans were also treated to two amazing goals. Angel Di Maria’s equalising effort for Argentina from outside the box was weighted perfectly while Benjamin Pavard’s unlikely equaliser later in the game for France was breathtaking. I think I’ll always remember his goal in particular.
Finally, while it may have sounded like I was criticising Messi earlier on, this isn’t actually the case. The forward was undisputedly Argentina’s best performer during the tournament and he was clearly their best player on the night too.
Unfortunately, his two assists weren’t enough for his nation to qualify for the quarter-finals and France were clearly the better team overall. It’s a shame his tournament ended the way it did but I’m hoping this isn’t the end for Lionel Messi at the World Cup.
Honourable Mention No.5: “Messi’s 500th goal sends Barcelona top.”
Match: Real Madrid 2 – 3 Barcelona | Date: 23rd April 2017 | Competition: La Liga
This game was always going to be a classic.
The clash between Spain’s two biggest football clubs just a month before the 2016/17 season concluded was extraordinary. Going into the fixture, Real Madrid was already three points clear of their rivals, Barcelona, in the league table and also had a game in hand. Victory for Los Blancos would’ve all but cemented a clear path to their first league title in five years.
Unfortunately, I’ve missed out on quite a few memorable El Clasicos from the past decade but I’m glad I didn’t miss out on this particular fixture. This game had so much drama, the level of football on display was unsurprisingly brilliant, and one particular Argentinian delivered a sensational performance.
Personally, I think Messi’s performance on this night will be looked back on as one of the best in his career. The then 29-year-old played in a deeper position for Barca and was the driving force in their attacking plays, linking well with Paco Alcacer and Luis Suarez further forward with his passes.
Also, both of Messi’s goals further cemented his sensational performance. His first came just after the 30th-minute mark where he received the ball on the edge of the box from Ivan Rakitic. The 29-year-old’s control with the ball as he glided past Luka Modric and Dani Carvajal with ease before scoring his first goal was simply beautiful to watch.
His second goal was even more impactful. With the Madrid players chasing victory, Barcelona exploited Los Blancos with a stunning counter-attack in the final minute of the game, orchestrated by Sergi Roberto. The Spaniard passed to Andre Gomes, Gomed laid it off to Jordi Alba on the overlap, and the fullback cut the ball back in the perfect position for Messi to strike the ball home and break the hearts of Madridistas around the world.
Madrid’s game plan worked for parts of the game, but this one moment nearly derailed their entire season. Barcelona’s victory sent them to the top of the table but it was Madrid’s single game in hand at the end that prevented them from essentially gifting the title to their rivals on this night.
That goal in the 93rd minute is up there as one of the best and most memorable last-minute goals I’ve ever seen in football. Messi’s winning strike was his 500th goal for Barcelona and he decided to celebrate by lifting his shirt to the Real Madrid fans in what I’ll look back to as one of the most iconic images of the 21st century.
As Ray Hudson himself said, the menacing man arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu, and he conquered the land with his world-class performance.