John Barnes vs Brazil: Looking Back at Englands Greatest Ever Goal 35 Years On

"I don't remember much of the goal. In fact, even when I see it on television again, it's like having an out-of-body experience... Because I cannot remember doing that."


On June 10th, 1984, Bobby Robson's bruised and bedraggled England side - who had failed to qualify for the European Championships of that year - travelled to South America for a three-game tour designed to blood the youth and restore a semblance of pride in the national team. 

Among those youngsters seeking to make an impression were Watford's 20-year-old Jamaican-born forward John Barnes and 22-year-old Stoke City full back-come-winger Mark Chamberlain.

Perhaps unusually for such a tour, the opening game was also the headline act, because it doesn't get any bigger than Brazil at the Maracana. 

The Selecao had not been beaten at the 200,000-seater/stander since the 1960s and, even with a depleted side and a crowd of 'just' 56,000, they remained a spectacular force to be reckoned with, just as the Maracana remained one of the world's greatest stages.

For the most part, the game, and many of the other players that played in it, have been lost to the confines of history. This is partly because it was an inconsequential friendly, and partly because there was only one moment worth remembering. One moment worth saving for the remaining generations. 

John Barnes' moment. 

And, the thing about this moment, what separates it from so many others, what secures its status in the football pantheon, is that no one else matters. Not one player on that pitch is worthy of recognition save for Barnes. Indeed, Chamberlain was only mentioned for a moment that would occur some 30 years later inside the very same stadium. But that's to come.

For now, it's all about Barnes.  

Operating on the left wing, Barnes receives the ball on that side of the field, collecting a clipped ball from [no one cares] with a cushioned touch off his chest about a quarter of the way inside the Brazilians' half.

What happens next comes in a stretched out, hazy, fleet-footed flash, that, unsurprisingly given its continued prescience, requires repeat viewings just to comprehend. 

The initial incomprehensible thing about this is the speed and purpose with which Barnes is moving in comparison to those around him. As alluded to, his first touch was perfectly fine, setting him on his way towards goal, but it did bring a nondescript Selecao defender into the game. 

Yet Barnes' second touch, an angled chop inside with his left foot, instantaneously takes him right out of it again. It also serves to give both him, and his left foot, some much-need confidence, for he then proceeds to take four more touches with said foot in an unchallenged barrelling towards the box.

Clearly, the intent of this run catches the Brazilians out, because after a laborious effort from a covering defender to get back at him, Barnes' next barrier doesn't come until he's bearing down on the box itself. 

The problem is, Barnes is travelling with such velocity that the whole rearguard have been instinctively forced to back-track. This back-tracking has taken them well beyond the 18-yard line, so by the time one of them is forced step up in reaction, it's too late. Barnes is far too dialled-in to give it up by then.

After using a series of practical touches since that chop, Barnes once again returns to the ethereal to scoop it away from the inconsequential stepper-upper. Which is when things start to get tight, and therefore when Barnes brings his right foot into play for the first time. 

With the confounded defenders now beginning to congregate, Barnes is facing a decision: pass to an unnamed teammate or continue his improbable meandering. Thing is, we've since learnt there was no decision-making at play here, as per the man himself. It was pure instinct. 

So, instinctually, he just kept on running and, with a series of touches back and forth between his foot that, even with the most intense dissection, still bamboozle, Barnes wriggles through two more converging defenders. 

He now has just the keeper, who is to his left in co-ordinance with the diagonal path that he has taken, and a tracking defender, to his right, to beat. 

In the blink of an eye, he returns to that trusty scoop of his left foot that got him into the box in the first place, putting it on a plate for his rested right foot, which knocks it into the net just before the defender's sliding boots have a chance to do anything about it.

And, suddenly, an audibly astonished crowd is watching Barnes peeling away, where he is promptly swamped by nigh-on every teammate in proximity, including Chamberlain. 

It was with great poignancy, then, that 29 years later, in June of 2013, Chamberlain's own son, a certain Alex Oxlade, was gracing the Maracana with similar English excellence, scoring the second-greatest goal the historic stadium had ever seen from the Three Lions, with an unforgiving half-volley. 

But, the legacy of Barnes' solo effort is so strong that not even father Mark would attest to it being the better goal. In fact, speaking to ITV in a documentary about Barnes, Mark aimed even higher: "We always look at [Diego] Maradona's against England in '86...John's was much better."

Even if that's probably not true, it doesn't take away from the fact that it remains England's greatest ever goal, and will take some beating, too.


Source : 90min

Source: 90min