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12 of the best goalscoring defenders in football history

Pique Champions League goals

Laurent Blanc (146 goals)

Eric Cantona, Roger Milla and Olivier Giroud all played for Montpellier, but Blanc is the club’s all-time leading scorer after netting 77 times in 251 games between 1983 and 1991. He came through as an attacking midfielder in his early days and many of his goals came from the penalty spot, but he also took the odd free-kick – including a brilliant curler in Montpellier's 1990 Coupe de France triumph over RC Paris.

Blanc’s most memorable open-play effort was the golden goal which sent France through to the last eight of the 1998 World Cup at the expense of Paraguay. 

Franz Beckenbauer (108 goals)

Beckenbauer wasn’t a defender in the traditional sense: the former Germany and Bayern Munich man spent much of his career in an attacking sweeper role which allowed him to advance up the pitch when his side had the ball.

That helps to explain why he was so effective in and around the opposition penalty area: 75 goals for Bayern, 19 for New York Cosmos and 14 for the national team. One of his most famous efforts came in the 1970 World Cup against England, Beckenbauer scoring Germany’s first as Die Mannschaft came from 2-1 down to win 3-2 in the quarter-finals.

Sinisa Mihajlovic (105 goals)

Mihajlovic was an expert free-kick taker and the majority of his 105 goals for club and country came from dead-ball situations. The Yugoslavia international struck 10 times for his country, including a low free-kick to open the scoring against Iran at the 1998 World Cup, and on 61 occasions for four different sides in Serie A.

Together with Andrea Pirlo, the ex-Roma, Sampdoria, Lazio and Inter left-back holds the all-time record for most free-kick goals (28) in the Italian top flight, and he also scored regularly from the penalty spot during his time on the peninsula.

Graham Alexander (130 goals)

Despite being occasionally deployed in defensive midfield at various clubs throughout his career, Alexander was a right-back by trade – although a glance at his scoring record would seem to suggest he played much further forward.

The former Scunthorpe, Luton, Preston and Burnley man scored 130 goals in 981 matches at club level, including 11 in both 2002/03 (for Preston) and 2008/09 (for Burnley). A penalty specialist, Alexander also played 40 times for Scotland but never got on the scoresheet for his country.

Sergio Ramos (88 goals)

Ramos’s record isn’t quite as impressive as many of the names on this list, but it’s worth remembering that the 32-year-old still has plenty left to offer before he hangs up his boots. The striking thing about the Real Madrid defender, however, is the significance of the goals he’s scored.

The Spanish stopper is yet to net at an international tournament, but he’s struck twice in two separate Champions League finals against Atletico Madrid and also notched several vital efforts in crunch La Liga encounters. Ramos’s tally only becomes more impressive when you remember that he rarely takes penalties.

Steve Bruce (113 goals)

Mention the words ‘Steve Bruce’ and ‘goal’ to any Manchester United fan and there’s only game that will spring to mind. The former Red Devils centre-back scored twice late on in a pivotal come-from-behind victory over Sheffield Wednesday in 1992/93 – and had the defender not popped up in the Owls’ penalty box, Alex Ferguson’s side may not have gone on to win the club’s first league title in 26 years.

Goals weren’t exactly a rarity for Bruce, though: the uncapped Englishman netted 113 of them throughout a career which also included spells at Gillingham, Norwich, Birmingham and Sheffield United. The 1990/91 season was his most prolific  – 19 goals in all competitions.

Ronald Koeman (253 goals)

There are many strikers who would feel justifiably proud of Koeman’s career return of 253 goals in 763 professional outings. The former Holland international was regularly used as a sweeper and thus afforded license to get forward, while he also took penalties and free-kicks for many of his clubs.

Koeman once scored 26 goals in a season for PSV, before finding the net 19 times for Barcelona in both 1989/90 and 1993/94. His most important effort for the Blaugrana came in 1991/92, when the Dutchman’s 112th-minute free-kick won the Catalans their first ever European Cup against Sampdoria.

He also scored the goal which effectively ended England's chances of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup – mere minutes after escaping a clear red card. "The referee's got me the sack," huffed Graham Taylor to an unsuspecting official in The Impossible Job. "Thank him ever so much for that, won't you?"  

Roberto Carlos (113 goals)

Critics of Roberto Carlos claim he never scored another free-kick after his sensational effort for Brazil against France in 1997, but by the end of his career the flying full-back had made the net bulge on no fewer than 113 occasions.

Many of his goals came from dead-balls, including a 30-yarder on his Inter debut and a crucial free-kick on the final day of Real Madrid’s title-winning campaign of 2002/03. The left-back also had an eye for the spectacular in open play, as evidenced by this vicious, swerving strike against Tenerife in the Copa del Rey.

Daniel Passarella (175 goals)

If either Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi is the greatest attacking player Argentina have ever produced, there’s no doubt that Passarella is the South American nation’s foremost defender. The ex-River Plate and Fiorentina centre-back captained the Albiceleste to 1978 World Cup glory on home soil, while he was also a non-playing member of the squad that repeated the feat in Mexico eight years later.

Despite standing at just 5ft 8in, Passarella was excellent in the air and many of his 175 career goals were headers. He often took penalties at both club and international level too, scoring from the spot for Argentina against France on the way to their aforementioned triumph in '78.

Fernando Hierro (163 goals)

Hierro’s only goal for Bolton came in a forgetful defeat by Norwich in December 2004, but before his move to Lancashire he was a prolific defender in Spain. His 127 goals for Real Madrid rank him above many of the club’s former centre-forwards in los Blancos’ all-time scoring standings, with Hierro a threat from both set-pieces and open play.

His best individual season came at Madrid in 1991/92, when the centre-back notched an astonishing 26 goals in 53 appearances. He was also effective in attack for his country, netting the goal against Denmark which qualified Spain for the 1994 World Cup.

Paul Breitner (113 goals)

Breitner stepped forward into midfield during the latter stages of his career, but before that he was a left-back for clubs - Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Eintracht Braunschweig - and country. The former West Germany international won Euro '72 and the 1974 World Cup with his country, scoring three goals at the latter tournament - including the equalising penalty against Holland in the final.

In fact, he's one of only four players (quiz: name the rest – answers at the bottom*) to score in two World Cup finals, having plundered another in the 1982 showpiece against Italy. Ten of Breitner's career goals came for Die Mannschaft, with the rest notched at club level. His most prolific spell came during his midfield days at Bayern, but he still posed a threat to the opposition goal even when utilised in a deeper role.

Ian Harte (97 goals)

Harte's sweet left foot made him a natural set-piece taker for every side he represented. The full-back scored 39 times in 288 appearances for Leeds, including the brilliant free-kick below against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Harte later netted 10 goals for Levante, 21 for Carlisle, 15 for Reading and one for Bournemouth, before retiring in 2015. He was also effective at international level, notching 12 strikes in 64 outings for the Republic of Ireland.

* Quiz answers: Vava, Brazil (1958, 1962); Pele, Brazil (1958, 1970); Zinedine Zidane (1998, 2006). 

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