Heads We Win

May 20, 2008 at 1:25 pm (Rajib Sarkar, Sports)

    

Just one day away from the UEFA Champions League final at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, my mind is veering towards the last encounter between the contenders of the club football’s greatest prize this year.   

    

On the 26th of the last month during the English Premier League, the Battle of Stamford Bridge witnessed something really special. It was the head of the resurgent German, Michael Ballack who struck first with a plunging header and then unleashed the sort of clear headed penalty with which his countrymen have broken so many English hearts down the years.    

    

I don’t want to dwell more on Chelsea’s that breathless victory over Manchester United.  For me, there was only one incandescent moment  in that match.   

    

It was Ballack’s first goal by that lightning of a header.   

    

As the first half went into stoppage time, Didier Drogba’s cross from deep on the right, picked out an unmarked Ballack who lunged diagonally from the far post and headed the delivery flush across that redoubtable keeper Edwin Van der Sar.    

    

While much of the header was trademark Ballack, what made it a stand-out was the way Ballack transferred his momentum by collapsing his tall frame of 6’2.5’ into a single point of contact with the ball and directing it with the typical German precision. What Van der Sar’s left hand managed to elude was a bullet of the size of a football.   

    

There are a few things about headers that fascinate me.   

    

Rarely do you use the header in the midfield. A header gets its importance only near the goalpost – either in saving or scoring a goal. There is an air of climactic thrill around a header.   

    

When a center gets floated near the post, bodies defy gravitation to change the trajectory of an airborne missile. To control the direction of a vector, balancing both power and position, calls for an instinctive ability to conquer suddenness.   

    

If a dazzling dribble is about stretching a golden moment, a blinding header is about seizing it.    

    

Now let me share with you the list of three best headers I’ve ever seen.   

    

In 1982 (Spain) World Cup, Italy’s Paolo Rossi’s header in Italy (3) vs. Brazil (2) Italy match was a spectacular beginning to a classic cliff hanger. It was a second round match in the Group of Death, comprising of Brazil, Argentina and Italy. Incidentally, Azzurris went on to win the cup with Rossi receiving the golden boot.    

    

Germany’s Jorgen Klinsman’s header following an angular dive in 1990 World Cup (Italy) in Germany (4) vs. Yugoslavia (1) match was one of the rare moments that lit up which was otherwise a very dull tournament.    

    

O.J. Simpson lookalike Sweden’s Martin Dahlin header in Sweden (3) vs. Russia (1) match in 1994 (the USA) World Cup was a fine fusion between ballet’s pirouette and boxing’s power ducking.   

    

There are, of course, quite a few headers who come very close. Among the current exponents of the art of heading, two German headmasters – Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski come to mind readily.   

    

As long as football is played, there will be no dearth of soaring moments involving heads.   

    

After all, football remains the only macho head game in town.     

  

– Rajib Sarkar.   

    

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