The Bicycle Kick and the 15 Most Difficult Feats in Football
Football is a fantastically varied and technical game, but it's also pretty simple too. You can play a five-yard pass, control the ball without moving and use any part of your body to move it except your hands and arms.
Or, you can go for broke and try to perform one of the many tricky, complex but spectacular-looking pieces of skill which some of the top players attempt—and some of those lower down the league ladder, too.
An overhead kick, also known as a bicycle kick, for example is a pretty awesome-looking trick when it comes off.
Experience can tell you that plying your trade in a higher-quality division is no guarantee of success!
Not all of the toughest feats in the game are pieces of skill, of course.
Here are the 15 most difficult ones in football.
The Bicycle Kick
We might as well start with the bicycle kick, everybody's favourite way of seeing players make a complete fool of themselves when they get it wrong.
When they get it right, however, it's as special as they come. And what's better than scoring a goal from one of these, right?
Well, how about scoring one in the 92nd minute of a game?
Away from home?
How about... when you do it as a goalkeeper?
Step forward Danish second division stopper Jakob Kohler!
The David Dunn... Done Properly
Some pieces of individual skill are the craft of flair, improvisation, on-the-spot invention and a flash of genius.
Sometimes those moments can unlock a tight defence, set up a goalscoring chance or just give the crowd a big lift, but at their best they are almost always sudden, spontaneous and unexpected.
Take a moment too long to think about what you're doing and it can all go horribly awry...as David Dunn found out.
Ronaldinho's signature move for a while, the flip-flap involves huge close control and agility, being able to change directions twice while running with the ball within a fraction of a second and the vision to still do something worthwhile at the end of it.
Defenders can be bamboozled by this manoeuvre, but equally, forwards can easily lose control of the ball, making this a very worthwhile addition to the most difficult feats in the game.
Scoring a Perfect Hat-Trick
One of the hardest parts of the game for players at all levels is also one of the most important aspects—scoring goals.
Without them, you can't win matches. With plenty of them, you have a shot at trophies and titles.
Those charged with finding the back of the net on a regular basis can count themselves extremely fortunate, or extremely talented, if they manage anything approaching a goal every two games in the top divisions in the world.
What about, then, scoring a hat-trick? If scoring once is difficult enough, scoring three times in the same game even more so.
But players do score hat-tricks, and fairly regularly. Even those who don't find the net on a regular basis sometimes find themselves netting three times in a single match—Ray Parlour, Steve Nicol, Gordon Strachan and the, er, less-than-mercurial Kevin Lisbie all netted trebles in their careers—but there is one step further to go to net the "perfect hat-trick."
One with the right foot, one with the left foot and one with the head.
Peter Crouch netted one such treble in a Premier League fixture against Arsenal while at Liverpool, while the lesser-heralded Jordan Rhodes and Danny Butterfield also achieved the feat.
The Panenka Penalty
This is absolutely one of those times when the saying "If you're gonna do it wrong, do it right" applies.
The "Panenka" penalty stems from Antonin Panenka, a former footballer who won the 1976 European Championships with Czechoslovakia.
Not only did he win it, but he scored the winning penalty in the shoot-out, chipping the ball delicately down the middle of the goal as the goalkeeper dived the wrong way.
Some amount of nerve is needed to take one, but so is anticipation, technique and an ability to fool the 'keeper in front of you. See Andrea Pirlo vs. England in Euro 2012, for example.
Doing it the way of Maicosuel, in a Champions League qualifier penalty shoot-out for Udinese against Braga last month, is not the way to go.
His side lost, by the way, and that was the only penalty missed.
The Last-Ditch Tackle
Let us leave the tricks and flicks for a moment and focus on some of the more unheralded aspects of the game, which nonetheless are hugely difficult to execute, potentially match-altering if they are gotten right (or wrong) and which require magnificent technique, anticipation and execution.
The last-ditch sliding tackle certainly comes into those categories; frequently occurring when the defender is the last man between the ball and an almost-certain goal.
Get it wrong, a red card and possible penalty occur. Get it right, you're the hero of the team. For the minute.
Hitting a First-Time Volley
One of the most spectacular and technique-reliant feats to achieve on the football pitch is to cleanly and perfectly connect with a dropping ball, first time on the volley.
Paul Scholes is a long time exponent of the skill, as is showcased here against Aston Villa, but there have been plenty of other wondrous goals scored in a similar manner.
Control out of the Sky
Some players just ooze class and control.
On occasions it can seem like the ball is glued to their feet, such is their deftness of touch and ability to keep in close contact with it.
For teams looking to up the tempo, play a fast-attacking game or keep a single flowing move going, a good first touch is of paramount importance.
Greats of the current game such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Xabi Alonso are all noted for an excellent technique—no coincidence that they are all of the same nationality—but for the operation of trapping the ball, stone dead, as it falls out the sky following a long or high pass, there are few better players around than Dimitar Berbatov, now of Fulham.
Win 100 International Caps
Since FIFA records began, just 227 men have managed to amass 100 caps or more for their countries.
It might seem like a high number to be saying "just" about, but when you think that FIFA currently has 208 member associations and most would have an average squad of at least 20 players—that's well over 4,000 internationals in the game right now.
How many generations do you need to go back to reach the last 10,000 or 50,000 players to have played football at international level?
Not many, would be my guess.
For only a couple of hundred of them to reach the 100-cap level marks it out as a special milestone indeed.
The current record holder is Egypt's Ahmed Hassan, with 184 caps and counting.
Win the Champions League/Copa Libertadores
Right at the top end of the professional game, even above winning a domestic league title for many fans and clubs is winning the continental game's biggest prize.
In Europe, the Champions League takes pride of place and in South America, the Copa Libertadores is revered the same way.
Every team's aspiration is to qualify for the biggest tournament, for the profile and the financial benefits it can provide, and to win the trophy outright and be able to say, "We were the best."
Even if they really weren't.
Win the World Cup or Any Major FIFA Zone Championship
Out of all those FIFA associations we mentioned earlier, only a single one of them can win the World Cup, once every four years.
Though the month of the tournament finals itself often seems to fly by, the build up and qualification stages are often long and hard-going for teams, who have to pass through multiple draws, play-offs and group stages just to be handed one of the 32 tickets going for the tournament.
After that, you compete against the very best players on the planet for the right to be called the greatest football nation on earth.
Just once, every four years.
To a lesser extent of course the Championships zones are the same, though fewer nations compete in the qualifying rounds.
The European Championships are likewise held once every four years, but the African Cup of Nations is held twice as often and therefore slightly less difficult to win, percentages-wise.
Score a Lob from Inside Your Own Half
Few dare try it and an even smaller number manage to pull it off.
The great Pele famously spent the latter period of his career trying to accomplish the feat of scoring from inside his own half, but never managed to do so.
A feat speculative at worst and visionary genius at best, trying to lob a goalkeeper from inside a player's own half of the pitch requires both control and an amount of power in a shot, as well as precision and perhaps a slice of fortune.
David Beckham and Xabi Alonso are two of the modern-day players perhaps most associated with making it happen.
Saving a Penalty
While enjoying all these goals, we shouldn't forget the poor folk on the receiving end—the goalkeepers.
They do a remarkable job in stopping as many shots as they do, all told.
Agility, bravery, organisational skills, good distribution, sharp reflexes and icy concentration are the requirements of a top goalkeeper—but any of them in the world can have their moment of magic when they save a penalty.
The odds are against them making a save, so when it happens, it's joy all around.
Except for the player who missed, of course.
Win the World Player of the Year Award
Even disregarding the fact that at present it is hugely difficult to win the Ballon D'Or for everybody whose name is not Leo Messi, to be regarded as the No.1 player on the entire planet is a phenomenal task.
Consistency and a standout ability must be allied to success on the pitch and, for the most part, an exemplary attitude.
Consider: In Europe's top eight leagues alone (top divisions in England, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia, Portugal, Holland) there are 148 teams.
If each team has a core squad of 20 players—and some use significantly more—that's already close to 3,000 players.
Throw in the next level down in each country and you've at least doubled that number. Then the rest of the continent. Then North and South American teams, Asian teams, and everywhere else...it's estimated that over 265 million people worldwide play, from semi-professional level upwards, football in a structured, FIFA-led format.
And out of all of them, only a very small handful have even the slightest chance of being No.1.
Embark on a Run from Inside Your Own Half, Culminating in a Goal
The solo goal.
Maybe the most fantastic spectacle in football to eyewitness; a magnificent blend of poise, pace, control, skill and determination, with the composure and ability to score a goal at the end of a run which might have covered 70 metres or more in less than 10 seconds.
Leo Messi, George Weah, Saeed Al-Owairan... the names are as memorable as the goals themselves (most of the time).
We take our leave with perhaps the greatest and most important one of them all—an extraordinary goal at the end of an extraordinary feat.