The Goal That Shook The World : Dennis Bergkamp, World Cup 1998

Where do you start with Dennis Bergkamp? The Dutchman emerged at the end of the 20th century, a technical master whose unbeatable work ethic enabled him to master his craft and rise to the top of his profession.⠀

By the late 1990s, the striker had carved a niche role for himself in the international game, renowned for feats of inventive excellence that would turn unremarkable attacks into game-changing, career-defining occasions of creative brilliance. When author Simon Kuper called him a “footballer of moments”, you imagine Bergkamp’s goal in Marseille in 1998 was exactly what he had in mind.⠀

The World Cup Quarter Final. A sweltering July evening. Argentina. 1-1. 90 minutes on the clock. Extra-time looming. ⠀

Frank de Boer stops a South American attack in its tracks and strolls upfield. He lifts his head to assess his options – there aren’t a lot… except Dennis.⠀

As if on cue, the striker has set off, a 60-yard sprint just one of the obstacles separating him from Argentina’s goal. He summons his remaining strength to get where he needs to be.⠀

Then there’s the first touch. Seeing his run, de Boer has launched the ball forward, a quarter-back in tangerine orange. If the ball is to safely return to earth, only a first-touch of the highest quality will do – the kind of first touch Sunday league footballers often try and always get wrong. But this isn’t a Sunday league footballer. This is Dennis Bergkamp.⠀

He cushions the ball down, simultaneously keeping it away from an Argentinian defender in hot pursuit. It’s effortless and, quite frankly, unbelievable. No player should have a first touch that good, especially in the last minute of a game. But this isn’t any player. This is Dennis Bergkamp.⠀

Ball under control, a finishing touch is required. He won’t let us down now, will he? Of course he won’t, this is Dennis Bergkamp, and of course it isn’t just any old finish either. He takes one touch to turn a defender then another, with the outside of his boot, to guide the ball into the corner of the net. The keeper has no chance. Argentina are out of the World Cup. The world is in awe.

This includes Frank Rijkaard, a pundit that day for the BBC. In case you were wondering, a live TV broadcast isn’t the best place to be lost for words, but Frank plays the hand he’s been dealt and manages to survive. “If you see how he controls this ball…it’s amazing. I think it’s technical…technical…I think it’s perfect what he does”.

And the craziest thing? In retrospect, it probably isn’t even the best goal that Bergkamp scores in his career.

Long story short, today is Dennis’s 51st birthday. So happy birthday Dennis. Here’s to all your goals. And here’s to all your unreal first touches that left us scratching our heads and asking “How?”

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