There are few better sights in football than a striker at the peak of their powers. Scoring goals is supposed to be the toughest task of them all. It is why supporters celebrate so wildly when
the ball hits the back of the net – they know that each goal is so precious.
Yet there are some players that make finding the target look remarkably easy. One such example is Andriy Shevchenko during his first spell at Milan. Having arrived from Dynamo Kyiv in the summer of 1999, the young Ukrainian took Serie A by storm.
Shevchenko was the league’s top scorer in his maiden campaign, netting on 24 occasions, and matching that total the following season. By 2001, he was widely recognised as one of the finest forwards in Europe. In just a short time, Shevchenko had developed into the complete striker. His eye for goal was obvious, but his change of pace was also impressive, and his belief never
wavered. He was willing to try things on a football pitch that others could hardly consider doing.
These attributes were all on show when Juventus arrived in Milan in December 2001. The Turin-based team were full of superstars. With Alessandro Del Piero and David Trezequet up front, backed by Pavel Nedved on the left flank, and an experienced back-
line containing World Cup winner Lilian Thuram, Juventus had a formidable side. Milan had their work cut out, and needed Shevchenko to be at his absolute best.
Luckily for them, he was. After scoring a brace the previous week in a 3-2 win over Chievo Verona, Shevchenko’s confidence was sky-high, and anything seemed possible for him. The game started quietly and there was little to split the teams in the early exchanges. Then in the 23rd minute, Shevchenko took centre stage.
The move started fairly innocuously. Rui Costa flicked a hopeful ball into the Juventus half which was headed into the air by Paolo Montero, who went to win the ball again in an aerial contest with Milan forward Javi Moreno. Instead, Moreno managed to guide a header into the path of his strike partner Shevchenko. Receiving the ball over 35 yards from goal, Shevchenko still had plenty to do.
Firstly, he had to control the ball. Taking the ball on his left thigh with Edgar Davids breathing down his neck was hardly ideal. Yet this was no ordinary striker – it was Shevchenko, in his prime. He could cope. In fact, he could do better than that.
Shevchenko accelerated past Davids and was immediately confronted by Mark Iuliano. The confrontation was brief. Shevchenko flicked the ball with the outside of his right boot past the outstretched leg of Iuliano was now in full flow. The crowd began to rise.
Gianluca Pessotto put in a desperate slide tackle. Shevchenko skipped past him with the use of the outside of his right boot once more. He was making the Juventus defence look foolish.
The crowd noise lifted up another notch. There was only one problem – he was traveling at his maximum pace and was moving further and further away from goal as he drifted out
towards the right-hand-side. Where was he going? Should he cross the ball?
Rui Costa was starting to make a run into the penalty area, but was being well tracked by Thuram. Ümit Davala was trying to get involved in the attack, but had not arrived in the box
yet. Shevchenko glanced over his left shoulder and realised that his options were limited. He was going to have to shoot.
Standing between him and glory was a young Gianluigi Buffon, already on his way to greatness at this stage. Having looked like he was running towards the corner flag, Shevchenko suddenly swivelled his body, hitting his effort from just outside the penalty box whilst off-balance.
What happened next was extraordinary: Despite moving away from goal at full speed, Shevchenko managed to hit his shot with scarcely believable power. The accuracy of the strike was impeccable, and Buffon was left with no chance as the ball arrowed perfectly into the top corner. The stadium erupted.
Shevchenko wheeled away, racing down the touchline grabbing his shirt, with a look of pure joy on his face. He knew he had produced something truly special. Goals like that deserve to win games. Unfortunately for Shevchenko and Milan, it was not to
be this time, as Juventus rescued a 1-1 draw thanks to a second half Del Piero penalty. Yet there was no doubt as to who had delivered the moment of the match. Through skill, pace and having the sheer audacity to even attempt such an effort against one of the world’s best goalkeepers, Shevchenko had shown that he was capable of pure brilliance against one of Europe’s strongest sides.
He would go on to win the Ballon d’Or in 2003 after scoring the decisive penalty in the Champions League final penalty shootout victory over Juventus, as he cemented his place as one of the great strikers of the early 2000s. A disappointing spell at Chelsea followed, before he returned to Milan and struggled to replicate the form that he had previously produced in Serie A.
Yet his legacy was already secured. Shevchenko left the club for the final time in 2009, second only to Gunnar Nordahl on Milan’s all-time top scorer list. A scorer of many goals, and plenty of them were spectacular. There cannot have been many better than that goal on a chilly December evening against Juventus.
Words by Sam Brookes: @frcalciosam