Throughout history, there have been certain moments that marked a team, a tournament or even a career. A football match sometimes happens to be more important than it looks on paper and that’s what made this game so beautiful. For example, there have been some performances in only one game that marked a player’s career or that sent them to the top.
Perhaps right now some of these feats aren’t as common as before, but it can still happen. Now, we will list which we consider the 10 best single-game performance in football; clashes that are still remembered today and that served to create legends.
Honorable Mention: Gareth Bale vs. Inter (2010)
10. Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Sweden (2013)
Love him or hate him, nobody can say Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t show up every time his team needs him. Whether it is with his club or national team, the Portuguese striker knows how to respond when the pressure is on him. He has demonstrated why is considered as the best footballer in the world several times and back in 2013 CR7 dispatched one of the best games in his career.
Six years ago, Cristiano and his country were trying to qualify to the 2014 FIFA World Cup and had to face Sweden in the UEFA playoff. This was a very longed-for series as two of the best players in the world, Zlatan and Cristiano, were head to head to define a FIFA World Cup participant. Well, Cristiano overshadowed Ibrahimovic on the second leg of the series when he scored a hat-trick that sent Portugal to Brazil in one of the best nights of his career.
9. Thierry Henry vs. Inter (2003)
The 2003/04 season was a magical and unbeaten one for Thierry Henry’s Arsenal; however, things didn’t start very well for the Gunners, who were having troubles in Champions League, losing games at home and being on the verge to get eliminated of competition. Everything looked bad for the North London team as they were facing Inter at San Siro, in a non-favorable picture for them.
It was Henry himself who took Arsenal to a magical victory, scoring two goals and assisting for two others, having a wonderful night, trashing Inter in Italy and revenging Arsenal’s 3-0 loss to the same rival a couple of weeks earlier. This night is remembered as the one when Henry and his Arsenal silenced San Siro.
8. Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Atletico Madrid (2019)
Again Cristiano Ronaldo and arguably the best single-game performance we have seen so far this season. The Portuguese player wasn’t having his best time with Juventus in Europe at the moment they clashed with Atletico Madrid for the UCL last-16 round; things got worse when Los Colchoneros defeated his side at Madrid by 2-0, leaving Juve with not so many chances to qualify.
Luckily for the Zebras, they count with a player who plays impressively whenever he is needed to do so. Back in Turin, Cristiano stood up and showed the path to follow, destroying Atletico by scoring a hat trick that sealed the qualification of his side to the quarter-finals. Just when everybody thought Cristiano was done, he proved that wasn’t true and what a great way he did so.
7. Lionel Messi vs. Arsenal (2010)
Arsenal is one of the favorite rivals for Argentinean star Lionel Messi, who has displayed some of his best games against the English team. For instance, one of Lio’s best performances in a single game was precisely against Arsenal about nine years ago. Barcelona and Arsenal were paired up on the 2009/10 Champions League round of 16 and it looked like a really close series. It was in the first game as they tied 2-2 thanks to a penalty by Cesc Fabregas -playing for Arsenal.
Nevertheless, Lio Messi made the second leg his particular show, as the striker demonstrated why he was the best player on earth during that game. He scored four goals against Arsenal, whose game plan was basically to wait for Barcelona to attack and then see if they could counter-attack. Well, that only served to show that that’s not a style of play that worked with Barcelona since Lio Messi would rip you off if you gave him the chance. That was a marvelous night for Messi and an awful one for Arsenal’s supporters.
Messi then would have a better performance than this, demonstrating he’s not from this planet.
6. Robert Lewandowski vs. Real Madrid (2013)
During the 2012/13 Champions League tournament, Borussia Dortmund was a pleasant surprise thanks to all the good players they had in their ranks; one of them was seen as a very promising player and proved why during this tournament. Robert Lewandowski had an astonishing tournament that year and the pinnacle of his great form was the semis first leg against Real Madrid.
Many people believed Real Madrid had everything to trash Dortmund until Lewandowski told otherwise; he was the one that trashed the Spanish giants by scoring four goals in a night that neither Robert nor Borussia and Madrid’s fans have been able to forget. The way he played that day earned him the right to be considered one of the best strikers in the world and he continues like that until today.
5. Neymar vs. Paris Saint-Germain (2017)
Brazilian superstar Neymar Jr. wasn’t going through his best moment in Barcelona since he landed in Catalonia. Some communication and chemistry issues with teammates Luis Suarez and Lio Messi had the forward on a not very favorable position in the team’s dressing room. Plus, the team faced a 4-0 disadvantage from PSG after the first leg of the 2016/17 Champions League round of 16, which made things harder for him.
Now it looks like that only served to Neymar to demonstrate he was capable of leading a team, especially Barcelona and more when they are not in the best moment. Barca pulled off the feat and eliminated PSG thanks a 6-1 score at Camp Nou, with Neymar leading the way, scoring two goals and assisting on three more -including the last-gap from Sergi Roberto that send the Blaugrana to quarter-finals- in arguably the best performance of his tenure in Barcelona.
4. Kaka vs. Manchester United (2007)
Kaka was on his way to become the best footballer in the world in 2007, leading his Milan to have an outstanding Champions League that saw how the Brazilian destroyed everybody on his way to the tournament’s final. Sure, he had plenty of good games during his time with the Rossoneri, but the one he had against Manchester United in the second leg of the 2006/07 UCL semi-finals was something else.
Although Man. Utd. won the game by 3-2, those two goals helped Milan to get to the big game. As you imagine, Kaka did those goals, but that’s not the most impressive thing, but the development and the quality of those scorings. He drove the Red Devils crazy through the entire goal, dribbling rivals, hiding the ball, distributing it. It was a masterpiece for Kaka that is still remembered today.
3. Lionel Messi vs. Bayer Leverkusen (2012)
Messi didn’t have enough with the things he did to Arsenal and had to pull off this monstrosity of a game. During the 2011/12 Champions League round of 16, Barcelona had to face German side Bayer Leverkusen; things were good for the Blaugrana in the first leg and they won the game by 3-1, expecting to have a comfortable game at Camp Nou.
It was indeed comfortably for Barcelona, but a total nightmare for its rival, which received seven goals in one night. The most impressive thing of all is that Messi managed to score not one or two or three goals, but five, setting a record at the time. Messi didn’t give any chance to a Leverkusen team that only traveled to Spain to be the best spectator of Messi’s show.
2. Ronaldo vs. Manchester United (2003)
Kaka’s performance in 2007 was certainly good, but he didn’t do anything new, as another Brazilian legend, Ronaldo Nazario, had a similar game against the Red Devils four years earlier. It was during the 2002/03 UCL quarter-finals when Ronaldo and his Real Madrid clashed with Manchester United in one of the most electrifying series in the last 20 years.
Following a 3-1 victory at Santiago Bernabeu, Los Blancos landed in Manchester with high hopes to get onto the next round and that’s when Ronaldo decided it was time for him to shine. Despite losing the game, Real Madrid managed to qualify to the semi-finals thanks to an amazing performance by The Phenomenon, who scored a hat trick and showed Sir Alex Ferguson and his team why he’s the best striker of all time.
1. Ronaldinho vs. Real Madrid (2005)
This has to be the most memorable single-game performance in football history, considering the background of this game, the rivalry between the two teams involved and the fact that this player wasn’t even playing in his stadium. That’s right, Ronaldinho was something different, perhaps the most talented player that ever stood on a football pitch and this game must be the maximum example of that.
Back in 2005, Barcelona and Real Madrid clashed at Santiago Bernabeu to play another edition of the Spanish derby. Little they knew what they were about to see when both teams get to the stadium.
When everybody though Los Galacticos were going to destroy Barca, Ronaldinho appeared for his side and made a complete fool of Real Madrid defense. He scored two solo goals embarrassing defenders, created plenty of chances for his teammates and was a complete beast against a shocking crowd that ended up cheering Ronaldinho when he was replaced.