Gabriel Omar Batistuta scored 200 league goals during his 13-year stint in Italy and attempting to choose his best effort is nigh-on impossible.
Deft flicks, powerful headers, acrobatic volleys and thunderous strikes, Batigol, as he was nicknamed by the Fiorentina faithful, scored all sorts of goals. However, those falling in the latter category are among some of his finest.Here are six of Batistuta’s greatest thunderbolts.
FIORENTINA vs Vicenza, 28 January 1996
Batistuta’s fifth season with Fiorentina saw the club pick up their first piece of silverware in 21 years, as they beat Atalanta in the Coppa Italia final 3-0 on aggregate. The Argentine scored in both fixtures of the two-legged affair as the Viola claimed the trophy for the fifth time, while his 19 league goals helped Fiorentina to a joint-third place finish.
Between November 1994 and March 1995, the Viola went on a 15-match unbeaten run, during which Batistuta scored 12 times. His 10th goal came in January against Vicenza and was a trademark finish.
With the game barely seven minutes old, Manuel Rui Costa won the ball on the left flank before transferring it quickly to Francesco Baiano, who passed it back to Giovanni Piacentini. The latter, standing just outside the centre circle in Vicenza’s half, took a touch before directing the ball towards Batistuta, who was over 30 yards from goal and who, as it turned out, had been given far too much space from the visitors’ defence.
The Argentine opened his body to face the goal as he controlled the ball with his right foot before exploding a shot that flew, swerved and kept low as it nestled in the bottom right corner past the hapless Luca Mondini.
AC Milan vs FIORENTINA, 25 August 1996
San Siro was one of Batigol’s favourite stadiums and he scored a combined 11 times against AC Milan and Inter during his spells with Fiorentina and Roma.
The two he scored in the Italian Super Cup final, however, stand out. The winner, a trademark free-kick seven minutes from time gave Fiorentina their second trophy in as many seasons and made them the first team to defeat the defending league champions in the Italian Super Cup final.
If possible, however, the first was even better. Standing in the centre circle, Rui Costa flicked the ball toward the onrushing Sandro Cois, who expertly lobbed it across the field toward Batistuta in one fluid movement. Squeezed between Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi, two of the greatest defenders of all time, and running towards the right touchline, the Argentine opted against controlling the ball, preferring instead to flick it over Baresi’s head.
The touch forced the Milan’s captain to swiftly change direction, losing track of the Argentine for a split second. It was all Batistuta needed. He motored past Baresi on the outside, getting in front of him just as the ball landed, before ruthlessly drilling it past Sebastiano Rossi at the near post after shrugging off the Milan’s captain last-ditch tackle.
In a replay from a different angle, the panic on Baresi’s face epitomises the realisation of a man seasoned enough to know he was about to come up second best. The Lion King, as Fiorentina fans called Batistuta, had seized upon his prey.
Barcelona vs. FIORENTINA, 10 April 1997#
Fiorentina’s Coppa Italia triumph in 1996 earned them a spot in the Cup Winner’s Cup the following season, which saw Claudio Ranieri’s men pitted against Sir Bobby Robson’s Barcelona in a glamorous semi-final. Despite boasting the likes of Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Hristo Stoichkov Barcelona needed a defender, Miguel Angel Nadal, to break the deadlock in the first leg at the Camp Nou.
With almost 20 minutes gone in the second half, Batistuta, drifting just inside the box, received a cross from the right and controlled it with his chest before cushioning it with his right knee.
At this point, for a fraction of a second, time appeared to stand still as Fernando Couto stepped in Batisuta’s direction, expecting the Argentine to move towards goal. Instead, the Argentine moved away from goal, towards the edge of the penalty box and exactly where the ball was about to land.
Like a batsman waiting for the ball to come onto the bat before playing the perfect cover drive, Batistuta waited for the ball to bounce then detonated a ferocious shot that flashed past Vitor Baia, stinging his palms in the process, before flying in.
With Batistuta suspended after receiving a yellow card at the Camp Nou, Barcelona would go on to win the second leg 2-0 en route to lift the trophy but ‘Batigol’ had left his mark
Arsenal vs FIORENTINA, 27 October 1999
To mark the arrival of the new millennium, UEFA opted to expand the Champions League, which saw the introduction of two further groups and of a second group stage. This suited Fiorentina, which reaped the rewards of Italy’s four Champions League spots and returned to the competition for the first time in 30 years.
However, Giovanni Trapattoni’s side found themselves in a group containing Arsenal and Barcelona and travelled to London in the penultimate game of the group knowing the winner of the game would go through to the next round, while a draw would keep both alive until the final game.
The task ahead was colossal. Fiorentina had lost three consecutive league games going into this tie, while Arsene Wenger could pick his best XI for the first time since the beginning of the season.
As the game developed, Arsenal grew in stature and began to assert control, though they struggled to find the finishing touch as the old Wembley, where the Gunners had decided to play their European games, watched on.
Then, with 15 minutes left, Aldo Firicano tackled Patrick Vieira in midfield, before Fiorentina moved the ball towards Jorg Heinrich to allow the German to gallop forward from midfield. At the edge of the box, Heinrich came under pressure and barely had time to play the ball towards Batistuta, who was lurking ominously close to the right corner of the penalty box.
The Argentine cushioned the ball and, as Nigel Winterburn began to move towards him, he dragged the ball along the line and past the Arsenal defender. However, with the angle now incredibly tight and Winterburn lunging into a desperate tackle Batistuta looked to have ran out of options. He had not. Shortly before approaching the byline he pulled the trigger, unleashing a thunderous drive that rose over David Seaman and into the far corner.
It was, arguably, the last great goal scored at that famous old ground.
Manchester United vs FIORENTINA, 15 March 2000
If Batistuta’s goal against Arsenal had revealed him to the mainstream English crowd, rather than just the disciples of Channel 4’s Football Italia, the two meetings against Manchester United further cemented his reputation.Having scored the opener as Fiorentina beat the defending champions 2-0 in the opening game of the second group stage, the Argentine was also on target in the reverse fixture. Batistuta had described United as the “best team in the world” and, fittingly, his only appearance at Old Trafford was marked by a trademark finish. With the scoreboard still untroubled after 13 minutes, he received a pass from Angelo Di Livio about 30 yards from goal.
Anticipating Batistuta might decide to run at him, Jaap Stam backed off slightly. The Fiorentina number 9, however, had no intention to take the Dutchman, or anybody else, on. He took a touch, turned towards goal and larruped a right-footed effort that soared and thundered past Mark Bosnich. The ball hit the net with such violence that it then ricocheted out of the goal.
Fiorentina would end up losing the game 3-1 before two late goals in their last group game saw them fall agonisingly short of the quarter finals.
ROMA vs. Fiorentina, 26 November 2000
“One title with this club is worth more than 10 with Milan or Juventus”, said Batistuta when asked about his reluctance to leave Fiorentina. Few men have embodied a club and established such a relationship with the fans as Batigol did in Florence. At 31, however, the Argentine decided to allow his head to rule over his heart and moved to Roma in pursuit of the Serie A title, which had proved so elusive with the Viola. In fact, the Giallorossi were so keen to land their man that they paid £23.5 million, still a world record fee for a player in his thirties.
With Fabio Capello at the helm, Roma won six of their first seven Serie A games by the time Fiorentina arrived at the Stadio Olimpico in late November. Much had been made of Batistuta’s first meeting against his former club, with whom he had scored a club record 152 Serie A goals, but there looked to be no headline with the game heading for a stalemate draw.
Then, seven minutes from time, Batisuta peeled off the edge of the box away from goal, to collect a cushioned header by Gianni Guigou. As the ball bounced, the Argentine opened up his body, pulled back the lever and released a volley of outstanding beauty that sailed past Francesco Toldo.
Batistuta, who had scored two goals, including a thunderous free-kick against Verona the previous week, then refused to celebrate, struggling to hold back the tears as his new teammates mobbed him.
“I played the whole match with these conflicting thoughts in my head – I am sorry for Fiorentina,” he said afterward. “It was important, though, because I want to win for Roma so I was trying hard but I can not forget my past.”