F365's Top Ten Diving Headers

After Robin van Persie's sexy goal against Spain, Daniel Storey picks ten of his favourite diving headers from down the years. There's some filth in here...

Last Updated: 17/06/14 at 08:16 Post Comment

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10) Andrzej Szarmach (Poland v Peru, 1978)
The first of three World Cup goals that make the grade, and by far the least famous. Poland topped their group to qualify for the second group stage of the 1978 World Cup, where they came rather unstuck against the might of Brazil and Argentina.

They did beat Peru, however, courtesy of a quite glorious header from Adrzej Szarmach, who hung in the air wonderfully to beat Ramon Quiroga at his near post. Most important, of course, is the nonchalant celebration from a man with a moustache so magnificent it should be knighted.


9) Andy Gray (Everton v Notts County, 1984)

There is a fairly loose formula which suggests that a diving header gets better (or at least more enjoyable to watch) the closer the ball is to the ground upon point of impact. Judging by that standard alone would leave Andy Gray top of the list for this wonderful effort against Notts County in an FA Cup match in 1984.

It was a cross from the left that screamed for Gray to guide the ball home with his right foot, but instead the striker effectively threw his face into a questionable pitch surface in order to squirt the ball into the bottom corner. Gray's celebration indicated a slight embarrassment at the 'technique' displayed.


8) John Terry (England v Slovenia, 2010)

Go on, show me where at the top of the page it stipulates that these have to be goals? Exactly, so shush.

This was the moment that England's rose, England's brave and England's lionheart John Terry demonstrated his dedication to his country with the most ridiculous attempt at a blocked shot ever seen in the World Cup. Part heroic soldier, part helpless salmon attempting to escape the clutches of a grizzly bear.

And it was all worth it. Terry was part of a side that gloriously finished second ahead of Algeria and Slovenia and then were unlucky to lose to Germany in the last 16.


7) Paul Agostino (Australia v Uruguay, 1993)
Tip of the hat to the Guardian's Joy of Six column, who five years ago managed to find this beauty. I'm up for some research, but the quarter-final of the 1993 World Youth Championship is a step too far I'm afraid.

The evident beauty in Agostino's header is that he manages to get completely horizontal around five feet from the floor. The only time I've ever managed that is on a bouncy castle after a few too many bottles of cider last summer, and now I'm not allowed to go to any more children's parties.

Surprisingly, Agostino managed to avoid serious injury on his landing, and went on to celebrate putting his side into the semi-finals, where they lost to Brazil.


6) Yordan Letchkov (Bulgaria v Germany, 1994)
As I mentioned here, Letchkov's header is the stand out memory from my childhood. There was something about a tall, slightly ungainly looking man who looked about 55 years old throwing himself at a header in order to knock out the world champions that made me giggle. Zlatko Yankov had beaten two challenges and sent a cross into the box, and suddenly Letchkov was horizontal in mid-air, beating Thomas Hassler to the ball and sending it past Bodo Ilgner.

This was a country that had never previously won a World Cup match prior to USA '94, and were celebrating like children finding themselves in an unguarded sweet shop. After 1990 penalty heartbreak and Diana Ross' woeful penalty this was it, this was the World Cup I wanted to believe in.


5) Keith Houchen (Coventry v Tottenham, 1987)
One of the abiding memories of the FA Cup is Houchen's full-length dive to win the cup final for unfancied Coventry against Tottenham in 1987, the journeyman striker from Middlesbrough levelling the game at 2-2 and winning him the Match of the Day Goal of the Season award.

"The cross came in and I never took my eyes off it," Houchen explain. "I had to throw myself at it, or I would never have got on the end of it. I can't say I was consciously thinking: 'If it comes in, I'm going to dive and head it.' It's all instinct.

"When it is perfect timing, it's like a dance - it all comes together. I knew I was getting it. When I scored, I was totally disorientated. I hit the ground, bounced back up again and off I went. All you could hear was this deafening noise."

And now I've got the hair on the back of my neck standing up whilst writing about bloody Coventry City. Good ol' football.


4) Marco van Basten (AC Milan v Real Madrid)
It's not quite as good the Van Basten goal that you really know well, but a) this one's excellent too, b) you will have seen it fewer times and c) it's a diving header, unlike the one against Russia, which makes it easier to get into this list.

In fact, the great Dutch forward shows some absolutely fabulous technique to get on the end of Mauro Tassotti's cross in the European Cup semi-final second leg in 1989. Tassotti's ball from the right is comfortably behind Van Basten, but rather than take the ball down and aim to get a shot on goal, he instead uses an unacceptable amount of neck strength to send the ball past Madrid goalkeeper Paco Buyo and into the goal via the crossbar.

A man who specialised in making the improbable seem worryingly easy just doing what he does. Breathtaking to us mere mortals.


3) Robin van Persie (Netherlands v Spain, 2014)
The goal that effectively inspired the list, you've by now seen it enough times ,so instead watch it in flick book form, largely because it's pretty beautiful.

The best strikers appear to have the game mapped out in front of them, like a chess player planning an intricate strategy. Very few would have expected the ball from Daley Blind to have been played with such height or accuracy, but fewer still would have managed to calculate the power and loop needed to take the ball over Iker Casillas and into the net, all done with the assuredness of a man straightening his tie and sitting down to work.

Van Persie struggled immensely to deal with losses of form, fitness and Alex Ferguson last season. This was the reminder that he is still amongst the greatest players in the world when at his peak.


2) Henrik Larsson (Sweden v Bulgaria)
The key to the perfect diving-headed goal is to challenge reality, to make those watching rub their eyes in disbelief. The scorer must seemingly hang in the air for just longer than is deemed humanly possible, and must also be apparently motionless when heading the ball and yet have enough forward momentum to meet the incoming ball perfectly, with enough power to leave the goalkeeper helpless.

If I was only ever going to choose one player to watch score diving headers, it would be Henrik Larsson (watch this). The Swede had the freedom of the Bulgarian penalty area in order to control the ball and score, and yet instead we watched a player back his own technique and brilliance. Complete majesty.


1) Graziano Mannari (AC Milan v Juventus, 1989)
Part Henrik Larsson and part Esteban Cambiasso in the 2006 World Cup, Mannari's goal for AC Milan against Juventus contains enough of each of those two to take it to the top of our list. Had a pesky/spoilsport Juve defender not got a touch on the ball 15-20 passes in it may have been my favourite goal of all time. Simplicity at its best, topped off by a wonderful piece of skill.

It also came during the same season as the Van Basten goal in number 4) on this list. Milan fans truly were living the dream.

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