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Legends Of Soccer: Rivaldo’s Barca Hat-Trick

Rivaldo’s Barca hat-trick against Valancia in 2001 will go down as one of the magic moments of the Beautiful Game. and confirmed the Brazilian’s status as a legend of soccer. By Greg McKay.

Magic Moments In The Beautiful Game – Rivaldo’s Spectacular Hat-Trick For Barcelona

June 16, 2001 was the tipping point. I was fifteen at the time, a youth soccer player who had been plying his trade in suburban Maryland for ten years. I enjoyed the game, appreciated the community it brought and the opportunities to spend weekends in exotic places like Virginia Beach with my closest friends, but soccer was yet to become a central element of my life. 

Malcolm Gladwell describes the tipping point as the “moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” Though often applied to concepts such as epidemics and various cultural phenomena, I’ve wondered in recent days, where soccer has become defined by absence more than anything else, when my life began to revolve around the sport in such a fundamental way.

Up until that late spring day in 2001, soccer was an activity to do after school and on weekends. I loved playing and could watch the occasional match on television but I don’t recall appreciating, or feeling, the game’s importance. I hadn’t planned my day around getting home by 2:45 for kick-off, but I did turn on the television that afternoon to catch Valencia versus Barcelona in the last match of the 2000-2001 La Liga season.


At stake that day at the Camp Nou was a spot in next season’s Champions League competition. In a somewhat lackluster season, Barcelona sat three points behind Valencia in the table. A draw would suffice to punch Valencia’s ticket to top level European football, while Barcelona needed to win.

At the time, Valencia was a real European heavyweight, having lost two straight Champions League finals. The club had a trio of Argentines in Roberto Ayala, Pablo Aimar and Kily Gonzalez who I’d watched since their days competing for Boca Juniors and River Plate. Barcelona, on the other hand, had a number of Dutch stars in Marc Overmars, Patrick Kluivert and Frank de Boer, but the team’s biggest star was Rivaldo.


After winning the Ballon d’ Or and FIFA World Player of the Year in 1999, Rivaldo was a player at the peak of his powers, even if somewhat under appreciated and unloved by Barcelona’s fans. The Brazilian possessed a magician’s wand of a left foot and propensity for showing up in some of the game’s biggest moments.

Against Valencia, Rivaldo scored his first goal in the third minute from a stunning free kick, bending the ball effortlessly just over the wall and off the near post. Valencia tied the match up only for Rivaldo to respond again with another left-footed shot from outside the box.

Whereas the free kick was the perfect combination of power and placement, Rivaldo’s second goal had some truly merciless movement on it giving the keeper no chance. Valencia tied the match once more after the break and looked to be cruising to a birth in Europe’s top competition.

But then lightning struck and a teenager thousands of miles away crossed a threshold, reached his boiling point and soccer took on a critical mass that has yet to diminish twenty years later. Someone who casually enjoyed the sport, started to live for it—watching, playing and dreaming about the game.


Frank de Boer chipped the ball from his deep lying midfield position into traffic near the top of the box where it found the chest of Rivaldo with his back to goal. With what seemed at first like a heavy touch, the Brazilian popped the ball into the air above his head and with an act of beauty, bravado and sheer audacity, rifled a bicycle kick from twenty yards past a helpless diving Cañizares.

It was a brilliant goal by any standard—Goal of the Year quality. But I’d seen great goals before, nearly wearing out my VHS tape of the best goals from Euro 1996 watching Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland. The real magic in Rivaldo’s goal was the incredible sense of the moment. Seeing Rivaldo complete his hat trick in a temple of football to secure a Champions League spot was like watching Van Gogh paint Starry Night in person.

Over the next twenty years, crossing that tipping point led me to rush home from school, skip classes, shut my office door at work to watch big football matches. I can remember exactly where I was, the person I was at the time and what was going on in my life for some of football’s biggest moments.

Failing my drivers test at sixteen but jumping around my living room watching Brian McBride and Landon Donovan (on a recorded VHS tape) score to beat Mexico in the 2002 World Cup. The joy of being at the beach with friends during college and watching Liverpool complete the comeback in Istanbul. Dreading the end of a relationship in Wuxi, China while experiencing the euphoria that came with Donovan’s goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup.

The magical moments football provided became a way to measure time. The absence of football, both playing and watching, means a lack of something that feels central to life. But when I think of the wonder I felt on June 16, 2001, it gives something for this football fan to look forward to when life returns to something resembling normalcy.

By Greg McKay 

Rivaldo, Barcelona

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