This story first appeared in the July 2016 edition of the Arsenal Magazine.
Legendary BBC football commentator
The only way I can really describe Dennis Bergkamp’s goal for the Netherlands in the last minute of their World Cup quarter-final against Argentina in 1998 is as one of the finest scored in the tournament in recent years.
Not only was it a great goal, it was also a very significant one. It took the Netherlands through to the semi-finals, where they were eventually beaten by Brazil on penalties. Everything about the goal was spectacular. Frank De Boer’s pass was a precise one but really that goal was all about Bergkamp.
His control was sumptuous, and typical of him. His quick thinking to take the ball inside Roberto Ayala was so clever, and the finish, bent into the top corner with the outside of his foot was both emphatic and classy. It was such a superb finish and very cool, as Bergkamp always was, both when playing for Arsenal and for the Netherlands. His touch was just sublime, as he showcased when scoring that goal.
You could say he had a velvet foot because he was that smooth when on the ball. He was just a master of that early control and was able to put things into place almost before the defence had time to react. To score a goal like that in the 90th minute just brings incredible emotion. Barry Davies was commentating on the game and he responded with a tremendous shout of appreciation. Any goal like that lifts the spirits and the reaction of a commentator.
Barry would always react according to what he saw and I’d imagine that that would have been one of the great moments in his World Cup lexicon. Coming in the 90th minute against a team like Argentina and in the way the goal was scored just makes it stand out as a wonderful World Cup moment - and it made a sheer impact at a tournament where some other very good goals were scored.
France 1998 was an excellent tournament, the best I’ve ever been to. The stadiums were built for football and the French were the inventors of the World Cup, so it meant a lot to them to win it on their own territory. People will remember them winning it, but another standout memory is certainly Bergkamp’s goal. When I think about international goals scored by Arsenal players, that’s the one that comes to my mind very quickly.
Former Arsenal midfielder, now freelance broadcaster and writer
Every now and then football throws up a head scratching, did-that-really-happen moment. In the swing of a right boot, I don’t think a nation’s collective thought process has ever shifted as quickly from ‘Oh no,’ to ‘Oh Yeeeeesssssssssss!!!!’ more dramatically than when John Jensen scored his screamer in the 1992 European Championship Final. He was such an unlikely hero.
While Denmark fans admired the soon-to-be Arsenal midfielder’s selfless work-rate and willingness to crunch unflinchingly into 50-50s, everyone knew shooting was not his strong suit. Boasting an unwanted reputation for blazing most of his efforts high into orbit, I imagine those crammed onto the Gothenburg terraces were ducking for cover as striker Flemming Povlsen rolled the ball back towards the onrushing Jensen, 18 minutes into the final against favourites Germany.
"I think this has to be the best international goal scored by an Arsenal player because it was so significant"
And from Copenhagen, to Aalborg, to Odense, to Aarhus, no one watching on TV back home would have foreseen what came next either…
The goal itself didn’t have the grace or beautiful nuances of Bergkamp in ‘98, but in technical terms the degree of difficulty was still ever so high. Striding onto a ball that’s rolling towards you is never easy to judge, and if the turf is a little bobbly (as it was that night) the task of keeping the ball down is made even harder. With a German defender throwing himself in front of ‘JJ’ there was also every chance he’d be distracted too. Not so.
Seventeen yards out, with his knee over the ball, watching it intently as it made contact with his boot, Jensen conjured up a bobby-dazzler thunderbolt that whizzed past Bodo Illgner, and into the keepers’ near top corner before he’d even set himself. Denmark went delirious. Suddenly believing they could cause an upset, Richard Moller Neilsen’s underdogs bravely went on to beat a star-studded German side 2-0, and etch their names into footballing history.
They shouldn’t even have participated in the tournament. The Danes missed out on qualification by finishing as runners up to Yugoslavia, but when UEFA excluded the war-torn country 10 days before Euro ’92 kicked off, Neilsen’s men received a late ‘lucky losers’ call up. I think this has to be the best international goal scored by an Arsenal player because it was so significant.
Creating one of the greatest shocks international football has ever seen, it remains Denmark’s only triumph at a major tournament. It was also a goal that caught the eye of Gunners boss George Graham. Just 18 days after becoming a national hero, Jensen signed for Arsenal in a life-changing £1.2million deal. To him and his country, it was a perfect, priceless goal.
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