Ranking of the most powerful soccer photos in history

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Whether you’re a sports fan or not, you can probably recognize – or even remember – some of the greatest sporting moments in history. Photos like Muhammad Ali towering terrifyingly over Sonny Liston, Jesse Owens claiming his gold medal at the Aryan-supremacist Berlin Olympics, or even Roger Bannister running the first sub-four minute mile have all become iconic over the years. One sport that has certainly had its fair share of iconic moments is soccer. The beautiful game is hugely popular throughout Europe and South America, and has been moving more into the limelight across the globe in recent years.


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Whether you follow the English Premier League, The UEFA Champions League, La Liga, Major League Soccer, or just the FIFA World Cup, you’ll probably have seen some incredible soccer moments since becoming a fan. They say that a photo speaks a thousand words and that is definitely the case when capturing some of the most powerful soccer photos in history. Catching a glimpse of the passion or pain on a soccer player’s face can be any sports photographer’s finest moment. Whether they’ve missed a game-defining penalty or got their hands on a trophy, these players aren’t shy to let their feelings known. How many of these powerful soccer moments do you remember?

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Beckham takes a walk

David Beckham was the poster boy for English soccer back in the ‘90s but would soon find himself the figure of hatred among his compatriots. Beckham childishly kicked out at Diego Simeone of Argentina during the 1998 World Cup, getting himself sent off and ruining England’s chances of progressing to the next round of the tournament. Beckham was blamed for the team leaving the tournament and received much abuse on his return home, people were even burning effigies of him, they were so angry.

Baggio’s missed penalty

Soccer is an emotional game, triumph is experienced by the winners and despair by the losers. No more was that apparent than at the 1994 World Cup final in the U.S.A. Roberto Baggio had just missed a penalty during a shootout and knew that his team had lost the World Cup. It was a cruel twist of fate for Baggio who had essentially dragged Italy single-handedly to the final of the tournament with his brilliance. Sometimes sport can be a cruel game, but the drama is what keeps people watching.

Justice for the 96

96 soccer fans lost their lives at the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, where more than people died in a human crush. It had taken years of campaigning by families of the victims to get the case reopened as the police had failed to look after the supporters of Liverpool on that fateful day. Finally, the case was going to be reopened in 2012 and Liverpool’s city rivals Everton showed immense support for justice with this gesture for the fans. Each mascot at the game wore either a 9 or a 6 on their backs.

Maradona’s last World Cup goal

Maradona is a legend of the sport! He was such a great player in his prime that Argentina brought him to the World Cup in 1994, despite him being overweight and unfit. This was his celebration at scoring his last ever World Cup goal. Halfway through the tournament Maradona failed a blood test and was found to have narcotics in his system. Something that can perhaps explain the crazed look he has in his eyes following this goal.

Escobar’s own goal

Colombia were much fancied heading into the 1994 World Cup in the U.S.A. As a result, it seems as though a lot of Colombians bet plenty of cash on their team doing well. Unfortunately for Colombian defender Escobar, things didn’t go to script, and he was the scorer of an own goal. As a result, Colombia lost the game 2-1 and were sent home before making it past the group stage. Escobar was shot and died upon his return to Colombia, it was suspected gangsters were responsible for his death.

Before they were big

Soccer is a hard game to predict. There are many variables, and situations beyond people control that you just don’t know what is going to happen in the game. This image shows three of the most successful head coaches in the history of the sport. On the right is Pep Guardiola, winner of league titles with Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and Manchester City. In the middle is Jose Mourinho, winner of titles with Chelsea, Inter Milan, and Porto. This image was taken before they found their success as coaches.

Why always me?

Mario Balotelli was often in the headlines during his time playing for Manchester City. This guy had set fireworks off in his house just to see what would happen and would often walk around the city of Manchester handing out money to homeless people. After scoring a goal in a thrashing of rivals Manchester United, Balotelli revealed this shirt with the question, “Why always me?” printed on it. Earning himself another spot in the headlines of the newspapers the following day. Ironically, Balotelli later stated the question was his attempt to get tabloids to stop trailing and covering his every move.

Becoming the Invincibles

Arsenal managed to become the first team in the Premier League to go an entire season unbeaten, but it all could have been so different. In the second month of the league season, Arsenal faced Manchester United in a game that felt more like a battle than a sports match. Right at the end of the game Manchester United were awarded a penalty but missed the kick, ending the game in a tie. Martin Keown of Arsenal can be seen gloating the missed penalty in a bizarre moment of glee.

Messi vs. Real Madrid

Lionel Messi has been terrorizing defenses in Spain’s La Liga for over a decade now, and no picture sums that up better than this game against Barcelona’s bitter rivals Real Madrid. Five players are trying to stop him, but he is just too good and cannot be stopped. This dribble through the opposition showcases Messi’s talent, and you just know that at the end of this run he went on to score yet another goal for Barcelona.

Italy taking it home

After winning the 1982 World Cup in Spain, the Italian players seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing. Nevermind the fact that most professional soccer players would do anything to win this great tournament, it almost looks as though the Italian players are using the trophy as something to bid with. The image shows how, despite the fact we can idolize the players who win the tournament, they are all just ordinary people who have worked incredibly hard to get where they have.

Gazza’s flute

Paul Gascoigne had many moments on the soccer field that would show his wild side off it. He was a fun-loving character who would do almost anything for a laugh or a rise out of an opponent. When he played for Glasgow Rangers in Scotland, he mocked the fans of rival team Celtic by playing a mock flute. Rangers a Protestant team and Celtic are a Catholic team, the playing of the flute was meant as an insult to the Catholic fan base of the opposition.

The Scorpion Kick

There are moments in sporting history that young fans want to replicate when they are playing with their friends. When Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita pulled out a scorpion kick to clear a ball that was heading into his net, the whole stadium took notice. Not only the fans in attendance, but also those watching at home. The next day young children were desperately trying to do the scorpion kick that was made famous in this match between Colombia and England in 1995.

Golden Boots

David Beckham made his debut for Manchester United as a teenager. Not long after that, he was playing regularly for the Manchester team and few moments can be more iconic than the time he scored a goal from inside his own half. He kicked the ball further than half of the pitch straight into the opposition’s goal on the first day of the season. If any fans didn’t know who Beckham was before that goal, they sure knew about him afterward.

Ronaldo’s leap

Cristiano Ronaldo has become one of the best soccer stars on the planet, and has done so through hard work and dedication. When he first played for Manchester United he was a skinny kid who would be easily outmuscled by his opponents. Ronaldo developed his body into a machine and no longer was he a skinny teenager but a hulking monster of a player. That is shown here in his ability to leap into the air like a basketball player, despite not being close to 7 foot tall.

Ball in the face

Back in the 1940s cameramen had to put themselves in danger of being hit by the heavy leather balls the players used to play with. Now the cameras can be controlled remotely, but back then cameramen would sit behind the goal praying not to get hit. This shot was taken during the 1949 FA Cup semi-final between Manchester United and Wolves. As the ball came racing toward him this cameraman dived out of the way but took this incredibly well-timed shot of the ball narrowly missing the goal.

Fergie says bye

This was the moment that Alex Ferguson stepped down as the boss of Manchester United. He had completely transformed the fortunes of the Manchester club during his time there. Taking them from an average team to one of the most decorated in the history of English soccer. Alex Ferguson is regarded by many as the greatest soccer manager that ever lived, thanks to his ability to maintain success. He won two Champions Leagues during his time as well as multiple league titles.

Class of ’92

Alex Ferguson was the coach of Manchester United for over 25 years, and one of his philosophies was to bring through young and talented players to compete with the star of his senior team. Ferguson stumbled upon the greatest core of young players any team has ever had, and these players became the backbone of the great Manchester United teams of the late ‘90s and ‘00s. David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville are some of the best players to ever play in the English Premier League.

A commemoration

In 1958, eight Manchester United players lost their lives as the plane they were traveling in crashed. Fifty years after that disaster Manchester United were playing their fierce city rivals, Manchester City. The two teams stood in silence as a mark of respect for their fallen colleagues observing a perfect silence among some 70,000 fans packed into Mancher United’s stadium, Old Trafford. This just goes to show that despite any rivalry, players and fans are all humans at the end of the day and some things are more important than sport.

Champions League cartwheel

This game was one of the most dramatic in the history of the Champions League. English team Manchester United were trailing German giants Bayern Munich as the clock was approaching 90 minutes. Somehow, in the blink of an eye, Manchester United had scored two goals to lead the game 2-1 with only seconds to spare. This was one of the most remarkable comebacks in history, no wonder Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel was doing cartwheels!

On the way to the World Cup

David Beckham had suffered some serious abuse after he was blamed for England’s exit from the World Cup in 1998. In 2002 the pressure was on as England needed a win against Greece to qualify for the upcoming tournament. The game was tied at 1-1 going into the final seconds when England received a free kick just outside the box. Beckham stepped up and curled the ball into the net, sending England to the World Cup. That moment of joy helped Beckham win over the England fans once again.

That bite

Luis Suarez can be considered one of the most talented soccer stars when he is on form, unfortunately, he is also one of the dirtiest players. This incident occurred during a Premier League game between Suarez’s Liverpool and Chelsea. Suarez tries to gain a competitive advantage any way he can but took it way more than just a step too far when he sunk his teeth into the Chelsea defender. Amazingly this is not the only time Suarez bit an opponent, he did it again at the 2014 World Cup.

Tardelli Cry

Many goals have been scored where an outcry of emotion has swept over the goal scorer, but few celebrations can be as memorable as Marco Tardelli’s. Tardelli had just scored the goal that basically guaranteed Italy’s third World Cup and sprinted toward his team’s bench with tears in his eyes. He beat his chest and embraced his colleagues as he now knew that it would be Italy who were taking home the famous soccer trophy, not their formidable West German opponents.

Moore and Pele

England were the World Cup holders in 1970 but came up against a formidable opponent in the Brazilian team featuring iconic star, Pele. The tournament had been littered with disgusting moments of racism and the image of two of the greatest stars in the sport became one of hope that times would change. Although Brazil ultimately conquered England on that day, the two teams played out a hugely competitive fixture in the heat of Mexico.

A dedication

Andres Iniesta is one of the most important players in the history of Spanish soccer. When he scored the winning goal in extra time against the Netherlands in 2010, instead of basking in the glory, he chose that moment to show the message of solidarity he had been wearing the whole game. His message translates to “Always with us,” in reference to Dani Jarque, a Spanish soccer player who had died of a heart attack the year before the World Cup.

Brothers in arms

AC Milan and Internazionale are fierce rivals. Despite the fact that they share a stadium, these two teams from Milan are not friends. This was the moment when the players were able to put their rivalries aside as AC Milan goalkeeper was struck by a stray flare. Internazionale had a goal disallowed which sent the crowd into a frenzy, but the two rival players took a moment to soak up the atmosphere, transcending the bad feelings they were ‘supposed’ to feel toward each other.

An England win

If you ask an English soccer fan what their country’s greatest sporting achievement was, most will tell you it was winning the World Cup in 1966. This is the moment the England captain, Bobby Moore is lifted up by his teammates as they won the tournament in their own country, turning the players from men to heroes. England beat their huge rivals, Germany 4-2 in the final and all the members of that team were treated as legends from that moment onward.

Pele lifted

Brazilian soccer star Pele is considered by many fans and former players to be the best there ever was. He had been playing in the senior men’s team from the age of 16 and had helped his country lift the World Cup three times during his playing career. This photo shows the moment Pele was immortalized as a soccer hero in Brazil. He was lifted high in the air by teammate Jairzinho after scoring his first goal in the 1970 World Cup final.

Gazzamania

Paul Gascoigne, or Gazza as he was commonly known, was one of the best soccer players in the world during the 1990 World Cup. He had the hopes of the English nation resting on his shoulders as England were facing Germany in the semi final. Gazza played without fear and was a fierce competitor but he had just received a yellow card, ruling him out of the final should England make it. He couldn’t hide his emotions and burst into tears in a moment English soccer fans will never forget.

Embrace of the Soul

Soccer fans are arguably the most passionate sports fans in the world. They follow their teams to every corner of the world in the hope to see them victorious. In the 1978 World Cup final Argentina beat the Netherlands 3-1 to lift the famous trophy, in their own country no less. This picture was dubbed “embrace of the soul” as this armless man was unable to physically hug his countryman in celebration. The man embodied a nation that had overcome depression to rejoice at their very first World Cup triumph.

Hand of God

This is the moment that Diego Maradona managed to stamp his name all over the history of soccer. Argentine Maradona quite visibly cheated in order to help his team beat England in the 1986 World Cup. The referee chose to allow the goal to stand despite Maradona using his hand to push the ball into the goal. Later on in this World Cup quarter-final Maradona scored one of the best goals ever, but it was overshadowed by this “Hand of God” as it was dubbed.