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Rivaldo remembers the greatest hat-trick ever scored

Exclusive interview: This week, The Independent is counting down the 100 best players of the last twenty years. In at No 37 is Rivaldo, architect of the greatest hat-trick ever scored

Luke Brown
Thursday 17 October 2019 10:04 BST
Rivaldo completes his historic hat-trick
Rivaldo completes his historic hat-trick (Getty)

Before he had yet twisted his body a hard ninety degrees to the left, or shuffled a small step away from an unsuspecting Mauricio Pellegrino, or waited for the ball to descend from the heavens, Rivaldo first performed a series of intricate and instantaneous mathematical calculations.

Scanning the field, he recognised that Frank de Boer’s left boot had lofted the ball in his direction with just a fraction less power than what was ideal. Then, out of his peripheral vision, he registered that Valencia goalkeeper Santiago Cañizares – who had been anxiously monitoring De Boer’s progress down Barcelona’s left flank – had taken one fateful step to his right. Finally, as the ball began to drop, he inched away from the goal, minutely adjusted his weight, and waited.

“In the moment that De Boer passed the ball, I was aware that I was a good distance away from the goal, so I knew that when I struck the ball it would have to be very hard,” Rivaldo tells The Independent, 18 years after scoring a hat-trick against Valencia which is widely considered the greatest of all-time. “And, as soon as I touched the ball to control it, I knew that the shot was going to be nice and on target.

“I wasn’t yet sure it was going to go in, but I knew that it was good and that Cañizares might struggle to stop it.”

His first goal on that wondrous night at the Camp Nou had been extraordinary: a fourth-minute, thirty yard free kick hit with so much mutant force that it gave those unfortunate enough to be stood in the wall whiplash. His second was somehow better. Picking up the ball in almost exactly the same pocket of space where he had earlier scored, Rivaldo feinted, double feinted and then triple feinted Kily González, at last driving the ball towards goal. Only it didn’t fly beyond Cañizares in a straight line. Instead, it wibbled and wobbled a half-inch above the ground like a pebble skipped across rough seas, careering into the bottom left-hand corner.

But the third was something from another planet entirely.

On the very edge of the penalty area, with Valencia defenders clinging to him like moss, Rivaldo controlled De Boer’s deft pass with the top of his chest. The ball spat back upwards in front of him and, as he waited for the law of gravity to run its course, Rivaldo nervelessly leaned back into the night air with the assured ease of a man sinking into a hammock. He eventually struck it with the laces of his left boot, both the man and ball falling in a perfect unison. Poor Cañizares did not stand a chance.

“I remember having to really focus on controlling the ball properly to set up the bicycle kick,” Rivaldo recollects. “You may well plan something in football but it is not always easy to make it real, so thank god that it happened on that occasion. It wasn’t easy as I was stood outside of the box, far away from the goal, so really it was a perfect strike.”

He pauses. “But I could never imagine that I would connect quite that well with the ball. And I could never imagine that I would score such a fantastic goal.”

Some context. The chaotic Barcelona of 2001 were not the all-conquering superbrand of some years later. The visit of Valencia on 21 June was the last match of a disastrous campaign, which had seen the club sack Lorenzo Serra Ferrer, crash out of the Europe before Christmas and drop out of the top four altogether. This was their final chance to salvage some salvation. Win and Barcelona were back in the Champions League. Lose or draw, and Valencia would pip them to the post.

This, then, was not just any other match. And so it was fortunate that Rivaldo was not just any player. He completed his hat-trick for the ages with just one minute remaining — after Ruben Baraja had twice equalised — rolling back the stone and leading Barcelona into the light with three distinct moments of tongue-lolling genius that atoned for a season of mediocrity.

Rivaldo's moment of immortality (Reuters) (Getty)

Recorded footage of the match is, by now, grainy. And the famous old stadium has since seen plenty more miracles. But Rivaldo still remembers his greatest individual triumph with a vivid clarity. “It was a remarkable night,” he says. “It happened 18 years ago but it still seems as though it was yesterday because every day or week somebody talks about that game or asks me about it.

“It is a day that I will never forget. We needed to beat Valencia to qualify for the Champions League and so it became even more special for that reason. I had other great matches and scored some important goals — like in the World Cups — but this was a special game. Not only for my overhead kick, but also because of the repercussions it had around the world.”

Within months, Rivaldo’s career was to scale new heights. The following summer he won the World Cup in Japan, scoring five goals in consecutive games alongside Ronaldinho and Ronaldo — “sensational players who made by life much easier playing alongside them” — in one of the most feared attacks international football has ever seen. He then moved to AC Milan, winning the Champions League in his first season, before a nomadic late career with stops in Greece, Uzbekistan, Angola and his native Brazil.

There was to be more magic, more goals, more success. But for Rivaldo — a World Cup, Copa América, Super Cup, Champions League, La Liga, Brazilian Série A and Ballon d’Or winner — his iconic hat-trick stands alone in splendid isolation. In the relentless age of the super club, where individual records fall like leaves in autumn, there is something constant about that night at the Camp Nou: a moment in time that won’t be altered, forgotten, lost among sport’s shifting sands.

Rivaldo 3-2 Valencia (Reuters)

“I scored other bicycle kicks in my career, but nothing like this,” he adds. “I scored one against Valladolid and another against Manchester United, which wasn’t a perfect bicycle kick but did go in. But this was perfect. It was perfect because it happened almost at the very end of the game, in such an important match for Barcelona.

“In football you must take a risk and, sometimes, things can go wrong. But this is what makes the difference between players. That is what makes it so special.”

For more from Betfair Ambassador Rivaldo click here. And to find out more about the new Betfair Exchange ‘How to Hub’ click here.

The Century

This week, we are counting down the 100 greatest players of the 21st century, revealing 20 per day until the winner is announced on Friday.

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