Hat-trick Heaven

September 10 2007

A few months ago I wrote about the greatest hat-trick of all-time, and came to the conclusion that few could better the stunning trio of goals that Rivaldo scored for Barcelona against Valencia in the final game of the 2001-2002 season.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a new contender. Step forward River Plate captain Fernando Belluschi, who scored three absolute screamers in an Argentine league game against Velez Sarsfield yesterday.

For his first, he nutmegged an opponent and then unleashed a left-footed 25-yard belter that cannoned off the crossbar and went in.

His second saw him hang, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style in the air before despatching a cool left-footed volley into the top left-hand corner (which eventually found the back of the net via the keeper’s hand, the crossbar and then the keeper’s backside).

He saved his best till last, exchanging passes with a team-mate from a short corner and then curling a delicious lob into the far corner with his right foot.

Mind you, anything Belluschi can do, Rivaldo can do better…

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Would you pay a barber to cut your hair if he only had the tools to do half your head, or a chef to cook you a meal if he could only provide half a plate of food? Probably not, I imagine, and yet football clubs the world over readily employ half-players.

I am talking, of course, about the strange phenomenon of the strictly one-footed player.

Some one-footed players get away with it. I am thinking primarily of players like Diego Maradona, Gheorghe Hagi and Rivaldo, whose left feet possessed more guile and dexterity than most players possess in both put together.

But these are rare exceptions. Most one-footed players suffer by virtue of their one-footedness. Witness the fear on Michael Owen’s face as he realises he will have to shoot with his left foot, or the panic that grips Petr Cech when forced to clear a back-pass with his right.

Most of the time, players get away with it. After all, if you’re a one-footed professional player you’ve had plenty of time to teach yourself how to quickly transfer the ball to your stronger foot.

But occasionally situations arise when you simply have to use your weaker foot. And one such situation arose in Chelsea’s defeat at Aston Villa yesterday, when Ashley “When I heard Jonathan repeat the figure of £55,000 I nearly swerved off the road” Cole used the wrong foot when attempting to clear Zat Knight’s goalbound header off the line.

Likewise, it was a misjudged, left-footed clearance from Cole in a game against Reading last season that directly caused an own goal by Michael Essien.

In these circumstances, the one-footedness of the player actively harms his team. If Ashley Cole finds a wage of £55,000 a week so incredibly insulting, he would do well to consider how much he might be worth if he could use two feet instead of one.

No real reason for this, but then it’s not every day you came across footage of an obscure Japanese midfielder scoring a goal from sixty yards.

His name is Mitsuo Ogasawara, he’s 5 foot 8 and he plays for Kashima Antlers. The goal was scored in a friendly against Finland in February last year.

In the ranks of halfway-line lobs, I’d put him above Xabi Alonso and on a par with David Beckham and Rivaldo. None of them, however, come close to this breath-taking OG from Frank Queudrue.

Michael Chopra’s hat-trick for Cardiff against Leicester last week was pretty special. My friend Ciaran, a life-long Bluebirds fan, reckons it was the best hat-trick ever scored at Ninian Park. While that might not be the most illustrious praise ever bestowed upon a hat-trick, it is testament to the quality of all three strikes. The second one in particular is absolutely delicious.

And it got me thinking. About hat-tricks, mostly. What is the greatest hat-trick ever scored? There are some obvious contenders. Wayne Rooney’s debut hat-trick for Man United against Fenerbahce in 2004 (the first and second goals in this clip are unfortunately in the wrong order) will live long in the memory. Less well-remembered but no less impressive were Ronnie Rosenthal’s three goals for Spurs in a Cup game at Southampton in 1995.

Further down the leagues, Chris Byrne’s classic left-foot/right-foot/header combo for Macclesfield Town against Kettering Town on the final day of the 1996-1997 season sent his club into the Football League, but a trawl for footage on YouTube proved unsurprisingly fruitless.

Yugoslav dead ball expert Sinisa Mihajlovic scored a hat-trick of free-kicks for Lazio against Sampdoria in 1998 (the first goal is after 50 seconds). Just a shame he’s a racist scumbag.

The Daddy of them all, however, has to be this hat-trick by bandy-legged, Mizuno-wearing, Brazilian maestro Rivaldo. On the final day of the 2000-2001 season, Barcelona hosted Valencia, needing a win to qualify for the Champions League at the expense of their opponents. Twice Rivaldo put Barcelona ahead with stunning strikes, and twice Valencia equalised. As the game entered its final minute, the home fans in the Nou Camp feared the worst. And then Rivaldo received a chipped pass from Frank de Boer on the edge of the area. With his back to goal, he chested the ball into the air and then unleashed an exquisite overhead bicycle kick which flew into the net. I don’t think even Roy of the Rovers ever managed a hat-trick quite so dramatic.

But I could be wrong. Has an even more sensational hat-trick passed me by? Do let me know if you think I’ve missed one…