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Crucial FA Cup semi-final goals

ESPN staff
April 12, 2013
Ryan Giggs scored arguably the greatest FA Cup semi-final winner in the competition's history © Getty Images

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The FA Cup semi-finals. The matches no team wants to lose. Nobody ever remembers beaten semi-finalists. It is the competition's most agonising stage, it demands the biggest leap, and therefore it creates some of the greatest heroes.

Below we remember ten of the most famous, the most important, the most defining goals in FA Cup semi-final history - beginning with arguably the best.

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Ryan Giggs, Manchester United v Arsenal - 1999

The ball barely moved. It barely deviated in its path to goal, and that was the genius of it. Ryan Giggs, setting off from the halfway line, waltzed directly through the middle of an Arsenal defence that only conceded 17 goals in 38 league games - a Premier League record at that time - to score a jaw-dropping FA Cup semi-final winner. And the ball barely changed direction.

United had earlier taken the lead through a David Beckham long-ranger before Dennis Bergkamp levelled in the second half. Roy Keane - not for the first time in his career - was sent off, and in injury-time Bergkamp's penalty was saved by Peter Schmeichel to force extra-time.

Cue drama. In the second period of extra-time the ball fell to the feet of Giggs, whose hips suddenly became mesmerisingly separate from his body. While the ball advanced almost in a straight line towards goal, Giggs' body swerves were buying Arsenal's defenders one-way tickets out of Villa Park. The final blow, the smash over David Seaman, was emphatic, and it sent United en route to the famous Treble.

Paul Gascoigne, Tottenham v Arsenal - 1991

If ever one game defined Paul Gascoigne's virtuosity, it had to be Wembley 1991 when he tore into Arsenal for half an hour. There are undoubtedly other games that could be picked to encapsulate the fragile genius of Gazza - the famous on-pitch tears in England's World Cup semi-final against West Germany spring to mind - but his ambush of Arsenal was a celebration of his natural talent on a football.

For a start, the unpredictable midfielder was barely fit after an abdominal operation. It was well known that he did not have 90 minutes in him, so Gazza simply made sure the game was won before he departed.

A stunning free-kick that flew into the stanchion will always be remembered - "Schoolboy's Own stuff" said commentator Barry Davies - and it was Gascoigne who set up Gary Lineker as Spurs led 2-0 inside 10 minutes. They eventually won 3-1 and went on to claim the cup, although Gazza watched part of the final from hospital after a different side to his erratic character saw him injure himself with a reckless challenge against Nottingham Forest.

Yaya Toure, Manchester City v Manchester United - 2011

The goal that, perhaps more than any other, confirmed Manchester City as something a little more irritating than the "noisy neighbours" Sir Alex Ferguson had previously labelled them. The Manchester United boss first belittled the blue half of Manchester in 2009, but after Yaya Toure's Wembley strike, Fergie made sure "noisy neighbours" became a nationwide headline in the summer of 2011.

However, by then City already had their teeth into their rivals. Rio Ferdinand lost his cool with a smirking Mario Balotelli in the aftermath of their 1-0 FA Cup semi-final loss, and City went on to end their 35-year trophy drought. The next season would bring the league title.

The winning goal in the semi-final perhaps summed up the contrasting paths of the two sides. Michael Carrick, complacent in possession, under-estimated the hunger and drive of Toure. The engine of the Manchester City midfield burst through the heart of the United defence, and in doing so tore away the Red Devils' previous dominance of the city. United's Treble hopes for that season disappeared, and next season so did the title.

Andy Carroll, Liverpool v Everton - 2012

Andy Carroll's most important Liverpool goal came at Wembley © Getty Images

To date, the most important goal of Andy Carroll's Liverpool career. Whether he will ever better it in Merseyside Red is highly doubtful. The £35 million man - now on loan at West Ham - was the toast of the Kop after he settled the 2012 semi-final, although it nearly finished so differently for the towering England forward.

Earlier in the contest, with Liverpool trailing 1-0, Carroll's shirt was pulled over his head not in celebration, but in total embarrassment after he choked an easy finish from Stewart Downing's cross. It could so easily have been a lasting image of Carroll's Anfield career.

However, after Sylvain Distin gifted Luis Suarez an equaliser to cancel out Nikica Jelavic's equally fortuitous opener, the scores were locked in the 86th minute. Craig Bellamy delivered an inswinging free-kick from the left, and Carroll leapt highest to glance home the winner.

He also scored in the final, against Chelsea, and had a bullet header incredibly saved by Petr Cech, as Liverpool's trademark fightback fell short in a 2-1 defeat.

Jamie Hewitt, Chesterfield v Middlesbrough - 1997

With wins against Bolton, Nottingham Forest and Wrexham already logged en route to the semi-finals, Division Two Chesterfield continued the fairytale when they went 2-0 up against Bryan Robson's Middlesbrough through Andy Morris and a Sean Dyche penalty.

Their chances were further improved by the fact Vladimir Kinder was sent off for a second yellow card, but Boro back then had some special players, not least Fabrizio Ravanelli who dragged the Premier League side back into the contest before Craig Hignett levelled.

Next came controversy. Jonathan Howard's shot clearly crossed the line after crashing off the underside of the bar but Chesterfield were not awarded the goal. Instead they headed to extra-time, where Gianluca Festa handed Boro the lead and what looked like the winner. However, with 65 seconds left to play Jamie Hewitt - the only Chesterfield- born player in the underdogs' line-up - struck one of the most memorable goals in the club's history to force a replay.

Alan Pardew, Crystal Palace v Liverpool - 1990

Liverpool fans hid behind sofas every time Palace won a corner, while Palace fans kept pinching themselves that they were beating the same team that had hammered them 9-0 earlier in the season. The mighty Reds were en route to another league title, and Palace simply were not given a chance in their semi-final.

However, a closer look revealed Liverpool were operating with an increasingly creaky defence, one that really struggled at set-pieces. The Merseysiders led 1-0, trailed 2-1 and led 3-2 in 90 minutes, forced to extra-time by Andy Gray's last-gasp header. In the added period, a high ball into the box inevitably proved Liverpool's undoing as Pardew leapt highest, powering Palace into the FA Cup final.

"They were special days and you knew that if you could get through two or three rounds and the publicity that brought, you could maybe make a name for yourself," Pardew recalled. "For me, at the time, I really wanted to be a pro so it was an opportunity for me to put myself in the shop window and those Cup games were massive for me. I was fortunate enough to get the winning goal and all of the headlines, but it gives out special magic moments."

Kanu, Portsmouth v West Brom - 2008

A goal of historical significance, and a goal that followed all guidelines of how to make a romantic FA Cup tale. Kanu, the lanky Nigerian striker with a mind-boggling box of tricks, scored the goal that took Portsmouth to their first FA Cup final in 69 years, and it just so happened that it came against his former club.

The goal itself was about as forgettable as they come. Milan Baros, a Champions League winner with Liverpool, had forced a save from Dean Kiely, but the loose ball fell for Kanu who simply side-footed into an empty net.

However, this was a Kanu who had missed an even easier chance - famously - for West Brom years earlier. It was a Kanu who had seen his career almost ended before it had started due to a serious heart defect while at Inter Milan. And it was a Kanu who went on to score the winner in the final, earning Pompey their first FA Cup triumph since 1939.

Mark Hughes, Manchester United v Oldham - 1994

Here's to the dream: One game from the final

So many late goals for Manchester United sum up Sir Alex Ferguson's glorious reign at Old Trafford - eventually creating the term "Fergie-time" for mystery periods of added time - but the legacy of late goals can perhaps be dated back as far as 1994 - to Mark Hughes.

With United trailing Oldham at Wembley in the last-minute of extra-time, Fergie's first league and FA Cup Double was slipping away. United had taken to punting aimless balls into the box and a blue wall kept repelling.

However, when Brian McClair flicked a delicate little ball over the Oldham defence to get them turned towards their own goal, Hughes reacted first, leaning back almost horizontally as he volleyed a beauty of an equaliser into the far corner. United won the replay, and then the Cup, completing the first of several multiple-trophy seasons for Sir Alex.

Mark Bright, Sheffield Wednesday v Sheffield United - 1993

Two goals of contrasting extravagance sent Sheffield Wednesday to the 1993 FA Cup final - most importantly inflicting heartache on local rivals United in the process. Chris Waddle's opener was a thing of beauty, typical of the unorthodox England winger; Mark Bright's towering winner was also something of a trademark finish - although rather more agricultural in its creation.

No man was left in Sheffield as the entire city travelled to London, and the occasion duly lived up to the billing from the moment Waddle bent a glorious free-kick inside the post. United played their part, forcing extra-time through Alan Cork. The scene was set for a hero, and Bright proved that man as he buried a header with time running out to secure bragging rights for The Owls.

Tony Adams, Arsenal v Tottenham - 1993

Providing Wednesday's opposition in the '93 final would be Arsenal, winners of Tottenham who had beaten them two years earlier. On that occasion Gascoigne's magic had been the difference, but this time it was the figurehead of Tony Adams who stole the headlines.

Spurs were arguably the better side at Wembley, with Adams and his colleagues forced to defend for long periods. However, Adams had a sense of timing that would punctuate his legendary Arsenal career. The words, "That... sums it all up", are synonymous with the England man's goal against Everton that put the final seal on a wonderful title win in 1998, but five years before that the Gunners needed their man to see off Spurs.

Paul Merson launched the cross towards the far post, and with only 11 minutes remaining Adams went to attack it. The Arsenal skipper buried his header to spark delirium among the red and white ranks at Wembley, and Arsenal went on to lift the cup.

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