- On 16 June 2005, Mexico opened their FIFA Confederations Cup Germany 2005 campaign against Japan
- Antonio "Zinha" Naelson bagged a sublime first-half equaliser for El Tri in the 2-1 victory
- The goal was voted the best in FIFA Confederations Cup history by users of FIFA.com and FIFA TV on YouTube in 2013
Some of the world’s best players have scored sumptuous goals at the FIFA Confederations Cup over the course of the last 25 years. But it’s not Ronaldinho, Neymar, Miroslav Klose or David Villa whose strikes were voted best in the history of the tournament by internet users. That’s an honour reserved for a Mexican with a decidedly lower profile. Zinha, now 40 and still lining up for his beloved Toluca, told FIFA.com about his wonder-strike from Germany 2005 that, in 2013, was picked as the best Confederations Cup goal of all-time by FIFA’s YouTube users.
“It was a normal build-up for us as we liked to move up the flanks at that time,” the Brazilian-born Antonio Naelson, known simply as Zinha, said, remembering his brush with global immortality. “There was a give-and-go between Pavel Pardo and Salvador Carmona. I don’t remember exactly how, but the next thing I knew, the ball had worked its way over to me at the edge of the penalty area.”
Ask any football journalist who’s covered the game for a decade or more, and they’ll tell you that players’ descriptions of their own goals lack detail. They lack poetry. There’s no spark to the telling. They don’t see them the way we do from the stands, or the media tribunes, or our sofas at home. For the scorer, the goal is a captured moment in time that turns foggy like morning mist. The clock slows down and everything goes blurry. That’s the way for Zinha, who now, only with the distance and perspective that years allow, knows the meaning of that goal. “I had the ball under control almost immediately. I was maybe 30 yards from the goal. A long way away. But the ball prepared itself before me and I didn’t have to adjust my body at all.”
The Confederations Cup has a special place in the heart of Mexican players and fans. It’s the only global senior men’s competition they’ve ever won, and that came on home soil – at the mythical Azteca – in 1999. “We’d won the title a few years before,” said Zinha. “And there was a lot expected of us in Germany.”
A goal to turn the tide
Despite being defending CONCACAF champions, Mexico were up against it early in their opener with Asian champions Japan. Ricardo La Volpe’s El Tri were pegged back by a goal form Atsushi Yanagisawa after only 12 minutes. It was then that Zinha’s moment of magic changed the trajectory of the game, and Mexico’s entire competition.
With the ball under his spell, Zinha – an elegant midfielder of rare control and worthy of the No10 he wears to this day – unleashed a powerful strike from long-distance that arced, dipped and curled. It left Japan’s shot-stopper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi with no chance. In fact, it is likely a stepladder would not have helped the goalkeeper as this shot had eyes only for the top corner. “There are some goals that will always stay with you as a player,” Zinha said. “And this is the one. It’s the one I remember, my family and friends remember it too. It was special.”
It was the kind of goal that changes games, demoralises foes, and it spurred the Mexicans on to a 2-1 win on the day and, eventually, to a fourth-place finish. Whether or not it’s categorically and veritably the best goal in the history of the Confederations Cup is a matter of perspective, and very much a subjective issue. Mexican fans and users of YouTube and FIFA.com, certainly think so. But what is certain is that it’s a moment Zinha, who appeared for the last time in a Mexico jersey in 2013, will never forget. “It lives like a spotlight in my mind,” said Zinha, who refuses to hang up his boots despite his advanced age, perhaps chasing one more moment to rival that one from June of 2005 in Hanover. “I remember it clearer than many other moments in my career.”
“That goal, and the voting of the fans, has made me a happy man. I’ve said it before,” added Zinha, who went on to play again in Germany the next year in the FIFA World Cup finals. “Some of the best players in the world scored goals in the Confederations Cup, so I’m grateful and humbled and thanks must go ultimately to those who voted for me. That was my moment.”