The 1990 World Cup was regarded as one of the worst in the tournament’s history, with negative tactics and spiteful fouling aplenty. Half of the 16 knockout round matches required extra time, with four of those eight going to penalty shoot-outs. While the additional 30 minutes in England’s 3-2 win over Cameroon were compelling, the other extra time periods were pedestrian at best. Football’s rulemakers sought to implement a way to make extra time more exciting and less defensive-minded and, in 1993, a new concept was introduced. The golden goal stipulated that the first team to score in extra time would immediately win the match and its name was chosen carefully, with FIFA rejecting ‘sudden death’ because of its negative connotations. The idea was that introducing a ‘next goal wins’ rule, a throwback to twilight football games played as kids when their parents were desperate to get them indoors for the night, would encourage teams to take a more offensive approach during extra time.
While the golden goal seemed a revolutionary concept, it had a couple of precursors. A ruling of the same idea but a different name was used in the final of the Cromwell Cup in Sheffield all of 150 years ago, with The Wednesday winning by virtue of this method. Just over a century later, the idea was used in some North American leagues, but it never reached Europe or South America. That was until FIFA formally introduced it in 1993, although it was done on a soft launch basis with no obligation on any competition organiser to use it if that was their wish.
As with more recent developments such as goal-line technology and VAR, FIFA used its second-tier tournaments in which to trial the golden goal rule. The guinea pig for the concept was the 1993 World Youth Championship in Australia and the host nation would have the honour of scoring the first golden goal in a FIFA competition. Anthony Carbone was the history maker, scoring nine minutes into extra time to settle their quarter-final against Uruguay in Brisbane. It was the only golden goal in the tournament and FIFA decided not to introduce it to the following year’s senior World Cup in the United States.
The first noteworthy golden goal in a club match was scored in 1995, although The Football League followed FIFA’s lead in testing it out in a perceived ‘lesser’ competition. The much-derided Football League Trophy, then known as the Auto Windscreens Shield for sponsorship reasons, was won by Birmingham against Carlisle at Wembley and it was Paul Tait whose strike instantly won the competition for the Blues.
UEFA introduced the golden goal for the 1996 European Championships and, with two quarter-finals and both semi-finals finishing level after 90 minutes, opportunities for a moment of tournament history were abundant. However, all four of those contests ended up being settled by penalties, so Euro 96 looked set to finish without a golden goal being scored. Instead, that was exactly how the first 16-team staging of the competition would conclude. Five minutes into extra time, German striker Oliver Bierhoff turned in the penalty area and fired a shot towards goal. Czech Republic goalkeeper Petr Kouba was in a good position to stop it, only to inadvertently palm the ball behind him and backtrack hurriedly as it trickled agonisingly into the net. As Bierhoff, who had equalised for Germany in normal time, whipped off his shirt and was promptly engulfed by his jubilant team-mates, the Czechs fumed as they believed the German to have been offside when he took the shot. Their protests were futile and Bierhoff could enjoy his moment of European Championships history.
FIFA continued to try out the golden goal across several tournaments, including the 1997 Confederations Cup. In a quirky coincidence, this was the second FIFA competition in which the first golden goal was scored by an Australian player to defeat Uruguay. On this occasion, it was a young Harry Kewell who needed just two minutes of extra time to send the Socceroos into the final, where they were promptly hammered by Brazil.
A year later, golden goal was introduced to the senior World Cup in France. Four of the 16 knockout round matches required extra time but only one of them was settled prior to penalties. Just as the first ever World Cup goal was scored by a Frenchman with Laurent in his name (Lucien Laurent in 1930), so too would the tournament’s first golden goal. Paraguay were six minutes away from taking the hosts to penalties when Laurent Blanc popped up with a historic strike to take Les Bleus into the quarter-finals. The talismanic defender would miss the final through suspension but he could watch on gleefully as his team-mates defeated Brazil to win France their first world title.
UEFA kept the rule in place for Euro 2000, and while none of the quarter-finals required extra time, both semi-finals did. In the first of those, France and Portugal were level at 1-1 and drawing closer to a penalty shoot-out when Abel Xavier was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box and a spot kick was given. The Portuguese protested vehemently and the peroxide-haired defender was sent off. Amidst the chaos, Zinedine Zidane coolly slotted the penalty to send France into the final. For the second European Championships in a row, the champion would be decided by a golden goal and, just as in 1996, the eventual winners came from behind in the final. Italy had been moments from victory when Sylvain Wiltord struck to send the game into extra time, during which David Trezeguet netted in the 103rd minute to add the European title to his nation’s World Cup crown.
UEFA also had the golden goal rule in effect for its club tournaments, but extra time was something of a rarity in two-legged knockout ties where the away goals rule applied. No Champions League match was ever settled by a golden goal; indeed, only one of the six finals for which the rule was in place ended up going to extra time and penalties. The 2000/01 European club season was bookended by golden goal winners to decide trophies, however. Galatasaray won the Super Cup by this method against Real Madrid, Mario Jardel the hero for the Turkish side. Nine months later, a remarkable UEFA Cup final between Liverpool and Alaves ended abruptly in the 116th minute when Delfi Geli unluckily diverted a header into his own net to give Liverpool their third triumph in the competition. It wasn’t as if the match in Dortmund lacked for drama already, with the teams level at 4-4 at the end of 90 minutes.
Five knockout round matches at the 2002 World Cup went to extra time and only two of those finished with a penalty shoot-out (coincidentally, both featured Spain). Senegal became just the second African team to reach a World Cup quarter-final and it was thanks to a golden goal from Henri Camara, who had already netted in normal time against Sweden. Two days later, a tournament rife with shock results had another added to the list when South Korea’s Ahn Jung-hwan scored a headed winner against Italy, for whom a golden goal put pay to their hopes for a second major tournament in a row. Ironically, Ahn had been playing his club football in Italy at the time with Perugia, whose eccentric owner Luciano Gaucci saw fit to cancel the Korean striker’s contract. The last World Cup golden goal was scored by Turkey’s Ilhan Mansiz, who netted four minutes into extra time in the quarter-finals against Senegal, who had now been stung by the same ruling from which they benefitted in the previous round.
While that trio of golden goals may have seemed like a justification of the ruling, the method was not popular among football fans. An idea which has been concocted with the intention of encouraging attacking play often ended up having the opposite effect, with the reward of scoring a golden goal regularly eclipsed by the fear of conceding one. 2003 was the last year in which the ruling was frequently in place, although it did settle two tournaments that year. Germany’s Nia Kunzer won the World Cup for her country with her goal in the final against Sweden, while France kept up their good fortune with the golden goal ruling to lift the Confederations Cup, Thierry Henry scoring against Cameroon in the tournament decider. Even that goal, though, was not one to be celebrated as, three days previously, Cameroon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe collapsed on the pitch during their semi-final win over Colombia and later died. Henry and his French team-mates marked the goal by pointing skyward in recognition of a player alongside whom several of them played at club level.
The golden goal also gave rise to one of the most bizarre episodes in football history in 1994 in the otherwise nondescript Caribbean Cup. A qualifying match between Barbados and Grenada ended in farce when, with the former 2-1 up and needing to win by a two-goal margin to qualify, they deliberately scored an own goal to take the contest into extra time. The reason for this seemingly inexplicable act? Extra time golden goals counted double, so when they struck again in extra time, they technically won 4-2 and progressed to the next round. In the three-minute spell between the Barbados own goal and the end of normal time, we had the unique scenario of Grenada trying to score into either net, only to be met by Barbadian walls in both six-yard boxes. If CONCACAF had been trying to raise the profile of the tournament, they did it in a rather roundabout fashion, with this strangest of matches attracting global attention. The organisation had been ridiculed for their implementation of the golden goal ruling, though, and it was to nobody’s surprise that this format was never used again in the Caribbean Cup.
UEFA introduced a variation on a theme in 2002 when implementing the ‘silver goal’ ruling into its club competitions. This stated that a goal scored in extra time would not immediately end the game, but if it was scored in the first half of extra time and no further goals were scored, the match would end at half-time. There were only two notable instances of the silver goal taking effect. One was in the qualifying rounds for the 2003/04 Champions League when Ajax defender Tomas Galasek scored a 103rd-minute penalty against Graz AK. At half-time in extra time, with the Dutch side 2-1 ahead, the match ended and Ajax progressed to the group stage.
At Euro 2004, two quarter-finals went through extra time and penalties before the second semi-final between Greece and Czech Republic saw extra time necessitated. Right at the end of the first half of extra time, Greece won a corner from which Traianos Dellas headed to the net. It might not have been a golden goal in name but it was in practicality, as the referee blew for half-time (and, by proxy, full-time). In an ironic twist, Galasek was a member of the Czech side who suffered at the brunt of what proved to be Dellas’ solitary international goal across 53 caps.
If the golden goal was unloved, the silver goal was downright detested. It only encouraged teams to be even more cautious in extra time and was undemocratic in its nature as a goal scored in the first or last minute of the first half of extra time would count the same but have far graver consequences for the team conceding it. Had Dellas scored in the 91st rather than the 105th minute, Czech Republic would have had just under 15 minutes to find an equaliser. As it transpired, they never even got the chance to restart.
Following Euro 2004, the sport’s law-makers IFAB concluded that the old method of extra time whereby 30 minutes would be played irrespective of how many goals were scored, or when, was probably the best. An additional half-hour might not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially after drab 0-0 draws where neither team is likely to find a sudden urge to go all-out in pursuit of a goal. The Football League has helpfully removed extra time from Carabao Cup matches this season, with games level after 90 minutes going straight to penalties.
The golden goal was a good idea in theory and was worth a go, but once it became evident that it caused more teams to play cautiously than adventurously, IFAB were left with little choice but to abandon the idea after roughly a decade. The golden goal was far from popular, but it has defined the careers of players such as Tait, Bierhoff, Trezeguet, Camara, Mansiz and (though he surely wishes otherwise) Geli.