The Europa League is sometimes seen as the knock-off version of the Champions League and really, it doesn't help itself by employing a similarly epic theme tune, similar tournament structure and taking the rejects from the Champions League group stage into its knockout rounds.
But in its own right, the Europa has given us moments of absolute genius over the years. Teams that we never expected to go all the way, players who wrote their names into history with campaigns of brilliance and in the case of this list, singular pieces of individual brilliance worth the entire competition.
10. Jonathan Soriano (Red Bull Salzburg vs Ajax, 2013/14)
Red Bull Salzburg were already 2-0 up against Ajax in this game (Sadio Mané scored one of the other goals), strutting towards a comfortable second-round win. So Jonathan Soriano decided to improvise.
It’s sometimes easy to think that goals from way, way out are lucky; that any footballer could try it and from that point, fortune decides whether it goes in. But that doesn’t make them any less satisfying – or aesthetically pleasing. This goal was both, the intersection between confidence/arrogance and a clean strike of the ball, leaving Ajax keeper Jasper Cillessen circling underneath it and looking very silly indeed.
9. Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli vs Legia Warsaw, 2015/16)
Napoli’s brilliant football is not a new thing. They’ve been slicing and dicing teams for years, and one opponent on the receiving end were Legia Warsaw in an otherwise-routine group stage win back in 2015.
There’s a lovely rhythm to this goal; a sweeping team move from penalty area to penalty area that essentially only involved two players speeding down the left, exchanging flicks and passes until Omar El Kaddouri fed Gonzalo Higuain. The Argentine striker then swept home a brilliant shot from outside the box.
8. Olivier Giroud (Arsenal vs Red Star Belgrade, 2017/18)
Poor old Olivier Giroud. He really was a very good goalscorer for Arsenal over the years, and what’s more he managed an alarming number of spectacular strikes too. The scorpion kick against Crystal Palace, for one, and this absolute beauty to liven up an otherwise fairly staid group game in Belgrade in 2017.
Giroud finished off a flowing team move with a brilliantly hooked overhead kick. “I was a little bit lucky because it was top corner, back of the net,” said Giroud afterwards. Luck or no luck, this was a delightful goal.
7. Radamel Falcao (Atletico Madrid vs Athletic Bilbao, 2011/12)
For a couple of years, the Europa League belonged to Falcao. In 2011, he scored the winner in the final for Porto as they beat Braga, then a year later he was Atletico Madrid’s main man in their victory over Athletic Bilbao.
This was probably the peak of Falcao, in his third of four consecutive 30+ goal seasons, and two of them came in this final. Both were brilliant strikes but it’s the first that gets the nod in this list, a glorious combination of poise, control and power as the Colombian spun near the edge of the box and curled his shot into the top corner.
6. Lars Stindl (Hannover vs Copenhagen, 2011/12)
An obscure cut, this one, scored in a group game that few beyond the participants might remember – except for this remarkable goal by Lars Stindl. Now a Bundesliga big shot with Borussia Mönchengladbach and Germany, Stindl was still a promising youth back in 2011 when his Hannover side travelled to face Copenhagen in the Europa League.
Having gone a goal down, Hannover equalised. A few minutes later, Stindl took that as his cue to ever-so-casually hook a long pass from his right to his left, then crack a volley into the net. The simplicity of its brutality is probably what makes this goal special.
5. Jonathan dos Santos (Villarreal vs Viktoria Plzen 2015/16)
This is the sort of goal that’s particularly enjoyable because it’s one that the player had absolutely no business even trying. And 99 times out of 100 (no, scratch that, 999 times out of 1,000), this would fly into the stands and result in some filthy looks from his team-mates.
It was a nonsensical shot, but for whatever reason Jonathan dos Santos took it. From an absurd angle on the right, the Mexican battered the ball with power in a manner designed to prove it wasn’t a cross gone wrong. Ridiculous, but brilliant.
4. Erik Lamela (Tottenham vs Asteras Tripolis, 2014/15)
The rabona is a ludicrous and almost always unnecessary thing. A reductive but essentially accurate view is that it’s just a fancy way of avoiding using your weaker foot. But at the same time, they’re magnificently entertaining when anyone tries them, let alone when they pull it off... let alone when they score from one.
It’s worth noting that the game in which Erik Lamela scored his, against Asteras Tripolis, Harry Kane scored a hat-trick and then had to go in goal – and he was still the second-most entertaining player on the pitch. Lamela would famously score another rabona in a North London Derby – but he managed not to get himself sent off in this game.
3. Taison (Metalist Kharkiv vs Rosenborg, 2012/13)
There's something about a perfectly-struck volley that's incredibly satisfying. It's probably the combination of the cerebral and visceral: the appreciation of what's an extremely difficult technical skill, while providing a proper ‘S***! – DID YOU SEE THAT?’ moment.
This, from Taison when he played for Metalist Kharkiv against Rosenborg, is maybe the perfect example of the genre – with the added value of it being first-time, from a long cross-field pass. Woof.
2. Vasyl Kobin (Metalist Kharkiv vs Legia Warsaw, 2014/15)
Ultimately, this goal didn’t mean a thing. Metalist Kharkiv didn’t win a game in the 2014/15 Europa League, and only scored two other goals in their six group games. This strike gave them the lead, but not for long as Legia Warsaw strolled back into control, won the game 2-1 and the group at a canter.
But this goal… Good lord, this goal. Cristiano Ronaldo put an extra coat of paint on his genius with a similar strike, but while Vasyl Kobin isn’t quite of that overall standard, he did produce a bicycle kick of similar quality, plucked from the air and the cover hit off the ball on its way into the corner of the net.
1. Clint Dempsey (Fulham vs Juventus, 2009/10)
It almost seems unfair to pick out one moment from Fulham’s extraordinary run to the Europa League final in 2010, but the standout performance was their implausible comeback against Juventus. With the Cottagers 3-1 down from the first leg, a David Trezeguet goal at the start of the second seemed to end the tie.
However, Roy Hodgson's mob stormed back and managed to level the tie just after half-time via goals from Bobby Zamora and Zoltan Gera (two). A tense second half ensued before Clint Dempsey punctured the pressure in the most delicate, spectacular manner possible: the American produced a phenomenal chip that seemed to hang in the air forever, before eventually dropping into the net.
"Nine times out of 10 you won't make it but sometimes you've got to take a risk,” Dempsey said afterwards. We’re all glad he did.
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