The mark of a true great is the ability to perform when it matters the most. A player may have a mediocre season but to come good in the big games – in the big moments – is what could make the difference between their team finishing as winners or runners-up.
In football, the two biggest games in a player’s career are the UEFA Champions League final and the FIFA World Cup final. To score in either game is a dream come true. But only five players have scored in both finals.
#1 Mario Mandzukic (Bayern Munich & Juventus / Croatia)
Mandzukic has scored for Bayern Munich and Juventus in European finals. In 2013, it was the Croatian striker’s goal that saw the Bavarian club take the lead against Borussia Dortmund at the hour mark.
Although Ilkay Gindogan had equalised from the spot, Arjen Robben scored a late goal to give Bayern the win after losing two finals in three years prior to 2013.
Mandzukic also scored one of the finest “team goals” when he opened the scoring for Juventus against Real Madrid in 2017. It was a stunning equaliser after Cristiano Ronaldo had given Los Blancos the lead and it involved a number of aerial passes without the ball touching the ground, ending in an overhead kick.
It was a spectacular goal that saw Juventus swing the momentum their way but Ronaldo ensured Real Madrid went home with yet another Champions League title with a 4-1 win.
In the 2018 World Cup final, Mandzukic was unlucky when his attempted clearance on a France set-piece ended in the back of the net to see him become the first player to score an own goal in the final.
However, he did make up for it in the second half when he closed down Hugo Lloris who attempted to dribble his way out of trouble. Sticking his foot out, Mandzukic managed to nick the ball from the French goalkeeper and saw the ball deflect into the back of the net to give Croatia a fighting chance.
Nevertheless, France held on for a 4-2 win to see Mandzukic go home with another runners-up medal.
#2 Ferenc Puskas (Real Madrid / Hungary)
History would have been so much different had Hungary’s Mighty Magyars won the World Cup back in 1954. Instead, it was West Germany that kickstarted their era of consistent performances with a 3-2 win over Hungary in the final.
It was one the biggest upset in world football at the time. Between 1950 and 1956, that team won 42 times and were held to just 7 draws. The one defeat? Against West Germany in the final of the World Cup.
Hungary had taken the lead and doubled it within eight minutes as Ferenc Puskas and Zoltan Czibor scored in the sixth and eighth minute. It seemed like it was going according to plan but West Germany fought back almost immediately before a late winner from Helmut Rahn saw the Germans win their first World Cup.
At the club level, though, Puskas was untouchable. With Real Madrid, he won three European Cups (1958/59, 1959/60, and 1965/66). But it was the final in 1960 that was Puskas’ final.
Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 in one of the greatest displays of attacking football. Alfredo Di Stefano scored a hat-trick but Puskas scored four times – including one from the spot.
#3 Gerd Muller (Bayern Munich / West Germany)
In the 1970s, few players could play on the same level as Gerd Muller of Bayern Munich and West Germany. A Ballon d’Or winner in 1970, Muller has scored 721 goals in his career. Four of these goals came in finals of the Champions League and the World Cup.
For the Germans, it was his goal in the 1974 World Cup final that saw them beat Netherlands 2-1. The Dutch had taken a very early lead – in the second minute – when Johan Neeskens scored from the spot but Paul Breitner returned the favour from a penalty of their own.
At 1-1, West Germany battled hard for a second goal and it was Muller who scored in the 43rd minute – his last ever goal for the national team after he retired from international football.
For Bayern Munich, Muller scored twice in the second half of the 1974 final replay to beat Atletico Madrid 4-0 while he also doubled the lead in 1975 to beat Leeds United 2-0.
The forward did play in 1976 final when Bayern won their third consecutive European title but Muller did not get on the scoresheet in that 1-0 win over Saint-Etienne.
#4 Zoltan Czibor (Barcelona / Hungary)
Yet another integral member of the Mighty Magyars was Zoltan Czibor, the striker who played for a host of clubs including AS Roma and Barcelona. But it was his time with the Golden Team that immortalised him in the annals of European football history.
Together with Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, and Nandor Hidegkuti, that Hungary squad was one of the finest teams to play the game. It was a shame that they lost the 1954 final where he had doubled the lead after Puskas had opened the scoring.
At the club level, he wasn’t very successful in terms of trophies won. His best time came at Barcelona when he won La Liga in 1958/59 and 1959/60.
Had things gone the Catalan club’s way in 1961, Barcelona would have won their first ever European title then. Unfortunately, they came across a Benfica side that was managed by none other than the legendary Bela Guttmann.
Barcelona had taken the lead through his Hungarian teammate Kocsis before Benfica scored twice before half-time to make it 2-1. The Portuguese side scored again after half-time and, although Czibor’s goal cut the deficit, it wasn’t enough to mount a comeback.
#5 Zinedine Zidane (Real Madrid / France)
Has there been a bigger player than Zinedine Zidane to turn up in the biggest games for club and country? Heck, he has even done it as a manager with three consecutive Champions League titles to his name – an unprecedented achievement in the modern era.
Although he never got far in Europe with Juventus, Real Madrid spent big on him and it paid huge dividends as he led them to a Champions League triumph in his very first season with Los Blancos.
Real had taken the lead over Bayer Leverkusen in the final before Lucio equalised. But the highlight of the final was easily Zidane’s goal – a goal that would be remembered for years to come as he made sweet contact to volley a high cross into the top corner.
At the World Cup, though, Zidane was a different beast. So much so that prior to the 2017 final, Zidane had scored 60% of all first-half goals in World Cup finals between 1982 and 2014!
It was his headers in the first half of the final in 1998 that ensured France won their first-ever World Cup title in a 3-0 win. It was an inspired performance against favourites Brazil.
He would lead them to the final again in 2006 – after coming out of retirement. Everyone remembers how his career ended in disgrace when he headbutted Marco Materazzi. But few remember his goal to give France the lead when he beat Gianluigi Buffon from the spot.
But three goals in World Cup finals only cemented his legacy as one of the greatest players of his generation.