17 years ago today Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola scored one of the most iconic goals in FA Cup history. With all the transfer speculation surrounding the club at the moment, take a trip down memory lane and indulge in a moment of pure class from the little Italian.
16th January 2002 – Chelsea met Norwich City at Carrow Road in an FA Cup third round replay after a goalless draw could not separate the sides 11 days prior. The Blues fielded a strong lineup including the likes of Frank Lampard, William Gallas, Marcel Desailly and Eidur Gudjohnsen, but it was the 35-year-old Italian who stole the show.
Mario Stanic and Frank Lampard scored 11 minutes into each half to give their side a 2-0 lead over the Canaries. Then, the magic. Left-back Graeme Le Saux fired in a low inswinging corner in the 62nd minute which met an oncoming Zola at the front post. He guided the ball beautifully into the top corner with a deft backheel flick between his legs. The angle was tight but Zola’s delicate touch with his right foot squeezed inside the post beyond the outstretched Norwich, and current Chelsea, goalkeeper Rob Green.
Relive the jaw-dropping moment here: (Credit – YouTube: EveryFourthYear).
The goal was simply magnificent and sums up Zola’s flair and skill. Not many players would have the audacity to even try the shot, let alone pull it off. But what else would you expect from an Italian maestro such as Zola? The convincing 4-0 win was topped off by Mikael Forssell a minute from fulltime. Post match, Claudio Ranieri, the Chelsea manager at the time, described the goal as ‘fantasy’ and ‘magic’. He said:
“Only Maradona or Pele – only the big players – would do something like that. Gianfranco tries everything because he is a wizard and wizards must try.”
The goal even shocked the man himself. “Don’t ask me how I did it,” Zola said, “because I don’t know. You could try it 100 times and it won’t come off again.”
Zola is now an integral member of Maurzio Sarri’s coaching staff and attempted to recreate the goal last year with Le Saux. After many failed attempts the pair eventually managed the challenge, although it was not near as perfect.
Watch the two Chelsea greats’ attempt here: (Credit – YouTube: Chelsea Football Club).
Just when the goal could not get more magical, Zola dedicated the moment to a terminally ill boy he had visited in hospital. He promised the boy he would do something special for him but the youngster tragically passed away from a brain tumor before he had the chance. A classy Zola said:
“I was touched by the smile he gave me. He was in agony and I hope he will see the goal from wherever he is.”
The 2001/02 FA Cup campaign was a memorable one for Chelsea in which their run to the final included three victories against fellow London sides, one of which was a 4-0 humiliation of rivals Tottenham, revenge for a 5-1 loss earlier in the season in the Worthington Cup. The Blues fell short in the final to another London club, this time Arsenal, losing 2-0 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Ranieri gave Zola the number 10 shirt at Napoli after Maradona departed, and 17 years ago today we were certainly reminded why.
Written by Liam Wilson.
All quotes credited to The Guardian.