Donovan’s World Cup heroics, Leicester’s long-shot title, Man United’s UCL miracle The best moment I have seen

Over the years, our writers have been present for some of the game’s greatest occasions. In the latest installment of a multipart series, they tell the story of the best moments they have seen in person, which include Landon Donovan‘s late World Cup winner, Leicester winning the unlikeliest of titles and Man United turning around the 1999 Champions League final.

Jeff Carlisle: Donovan sparks World Cup delirium

The match: United States 1-0 Algeria (2010)
The location: Pretoria

When the draw for the 2010 World Cup was made, followers of the U.S. men’s national team let out a sigh of relief; their group, featuring England, Slovenia and Algeria, was easier — relatively speaking — than anyone dared to expect.

At which point the goal was laid out in stark terms for Bob Bradley and his side. Advance to the knockout round, and the tournament would be hailed as a success. Fail, and questions would be asked about the direction of the program.

Heading into the final day of group stage matches, and after draws with England and Slovenia, the U.S. was in control of its fate. A win against Algeria in Pretoria would be enough to advance. Anything less, however, and the Americans would exit the tournament.

The U.S. created better chances against Algeria and thought it had a first-half goal from Clint Dempsey, only for it to be ruled out by a questionable offside call. Dempsey hit the post 12 minutes into the second half, before Edson Buddle had a point-blank header saved by Algerian keeper Rais M’Bolhi.

And so it was that, as the match went into stoppage time, stories of monumental failure were being written in the press tribune, with recriminations at the ready. If the U.S. could not advance from this group, how could it expect to do so in the future? Moreover, it seemed unlikely that Bradley would survive a first-round exit.

Landon Donovan scored one of the most memorable goals in U.S. men’s team history against Algeria. AP Photo/Michael Sohn

Then everything changed in an instant. Goalkeeper Tim Howard released Landon Donovan with a pinpoint, long throw into space. Donovan played in Jozy Altidore down the right wing. Altidore’s centering feed found Dempsey inside the penalty area. Dempsey’s close-range shot was denied by M’Bolhi. But the goalkeeper could not hold the ball …

Donovan reacted quickest and slotted home the rebound. As the entire U.S. squad raced to mob their No. 10 in the corner of Loftus Versfeld, ESPN’s Ian Darke uttered the now-immortal line, “Go, go, USA!” in the commentary box and a nation erupted in a mix of joy and relief. In the press tribune, one colleague was so overcome that he hugged me and — gently — hit me in the gut.

The goal not only turned obits into plaudits, but also amounted to redemption for the U.S. — and Donovan especially — after a disappointing 2006 World Cup. The ensuing years brought plenty more criticism and accusations of underachievement, but that one, never-to-be-forgotten moment, turned his career trajectory again.

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Mark Ogden: Leicester win the league

The match: Leicester 3-1 Everton (2016)
The location: Leicester, England

This is not one moment, but being there to witness Leicester City’s Premier League title triumph was as good as it gets. From December onward, it was clear that something remarkable — and unthinkable — was going to happen. The biggest clubs usually win, but it was all so unexpected with Leicester — rated 5000-1 at the start of the season — and everyone at the club approached it with so much joy and excitement. The abiding memory is manager Claudio Ranieri laughing and smiling his way to the title.

Leicester’s title win was arguably the biggest shock in Premier League history. AP ImagesTom Marshall: Mexico upset Germany

The match: Germany 0-1 Mexico (2018)
The location: Moscow

Not every nation or club can, has or will win a major trophy but that does not mean the emotions provoked by this sport are any less volatile or real. When the final whistle blew against Germany after a 1-0 group stage win at the 2018 World Cup, tears of joy were shed by Mexico fans inside the Estadio Luzhniki as they celebrated Hirving Lozano’s winner. Personally, after four years covering the team, El Tri had recorded its best-ever win and one that, at the time, it felt like a game-changer. Alas, they were unable to go beyond the Round of 16… again.

Tim Vickery: Koeman wins Barcelona’s first European Cup

The match: Sampdoria 0-1 Barcelona (1992)
The location: London

I had gone to Wembley for the European Cup final in a Barcelona scarf, hoping they could win the big trophy for the first time, while London had turned into the Mediterranean, thanks to a glorious late-May heatwave. The game was terrific, full of ebbs and flows with two fine sides battling for supremacy, and there could have been plenty of goals, but it was still 0-0 in the second period of extra time. I really did not want penalties; I wanted a winner for either side, but preferably Barca. Cue Koeman’s magnificent free kick!

Nick Miller: Forest make a father and son happy

The match: Derby County 1-2 Nottingham Forest (2015)
The location: Derby, England

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Of the games I have attended as a fan over 31 years, only a handful have been without my dad. He had a heart attack five months before this match in January 2015 but was well enough to attend and we suffered together as Forest, our team, were terrible for most of it, only for academy graduate Ben Osborn to score a 92nd-minute winner. Given the circumstances, it was the perfect moment and we should have agreed never to go to another game: not much was going to top that.

Tom Williams: Robson-Kanu extends Wales’ fairy-tale run

The match: Wales 3-1 Belgium (2016)
The location: Lille, France

I have been fortunate to witness some incredible moments — Champions League finals, a World Cup final and Leicester winning the Premier League — but from a personal perspective, Robson-Kanu’s goal against Belgium in the Euro 2016 quarterfinals meant the most. The Cruyff turn, the pinpoint finish, the roar of the Welsh fans. I never thought I would see Wales qualify for a major tournament, let alone reach the semifinals.

Rob Dawson: Solskjaer caps Man United’s Champions League final comeback

The match: Man United 2-1 Bayern Munich (1999)
The location: Barcelona, Spain

Seconds after Teddy Sheringham had equalised, United won a corner and the roar from the crowd just before David Beckham’s delivery gave you goosebumps. When the ball hit the roof of the net off the foot of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to see a stadium the size of Camp Nou erupt is something no one there will ever forget. A truly incredible moment in the last seconds to become the first — and only — English club to win a treble.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s injury-time winner in 1999 completed the greatest Champions League turnaround in history. Photo by Matthew Ashton – EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

The match: Netherlands 0-1 Spain (2010)
The location: Johannesburg, South Africa

I travelled with Spain throughout the 2010 World Cup, stayed in their hotels, watched them work, interviewed them and shared sleepless plane journeys. During the final, I was pitchside — yards from La Roja’s bench — hoping fervently they would win as Netherlands attempted to kick them off the pitch. All of a sudden, with the score 0-0, Arjen Robben went through on goal and I felt like my heart would stop. Iker Casillas’ save, off his outstretched little toe while diving the wrong way, still seems like a miracle and was a critical moment as Spain went on to lift their first and only World Cup trophy.

Gab Marcotti: Italy beat hosts Germany

The match: Germany 0-2 Italy (2006)
The location: Dortmund, Germany

Beating the Germans in Germany at the enormous — and raucous — Westfalenstadion for a spot in the World Cup final … football fandom does not get any better. Andrea Pirlo’s reverse pass for Fabio Grosso is what everyone remembers about a game in which the Italians scored twice late in extra time, but my favourite memory is Germany keeper Jens Lehmann losing his temper after Alessandro Del Piero’s goal. Priceless.

Colin Udoh: Nigeria finally overcome Cameroon

The Match: Cameroon 1-2 Nigeria (2004)
The Place: Monastir, Tunisia

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The long Nigeria-Cameroon rivalry is full of painful memories for the Super Eagles, so when the countries were pitched against each other in the 2004 African Cup of Nations quarterfinal, many fans had already given up. In fact, media in Tunisia were already packing their bags to leave the next day! Sure enough, Samuel Eto’o opened the scoring for Cameroon and it looked as though Nigeria’s woe was set to continue, until a goal from Jay-Jay Okocha turned things around and John Utaka delivered the win. Breathtaking.

Tor-Kristian Karlsen: Placente helps Leverkusen stun Man United

The match: Bayer Leverkusen 1-1 Man United (2002)
The location: Leverkusen, Germany

There were three minutes left of the Champions League semifinal second leg and the aggregate score was 3-3 when Leverkusen’s Diego Placente cleared Diego Forlan’s goalbound shot off the line. I was working for the German club and sitting next to a stoic Sven-Goran Eriksson during the game. Rather unprofessionally, I kept jumping up and down throughout the nerve-wracking encounter as Leverkusen, who never led throughout the tie, went through on away goals.

Julien Laurens: Mbappe delivers World Cup for France

The match: France 4-2 Croatia (2018)
The location: Moscow

It is one thing to experience watching your country lift the World Cup as a fan, but to cover the team throughout a tournament and be present as they are crowned champions is very special. There were doubts on the road to Moscow — France won by one goal only once before the final — but Didier Deschamps’ men turned up when it counted and Kylian Mbappe‘s coming-of-age display saw him score against Croatia to seal glory. It was a fantastic adventure.

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