The list of footballers who scored on their international debuts and then failed to do much more is uncomfortably long: Francis Jeffers, Rickie Lambert, David Nugent and Kieran Richardson are all relatively recent victims of such a fate (and that’s just England).
These, however, were the strikes that ushered in international stars of the future…
Zinedine Zidane (France, 1994)
In August 1994, France were 2-0 down to the Czech Republic in a friendly that was turning out to be rather forgettable. Good thing they had a solid option on the bench to change all of that, then. The 22-year-old Zizou came on for his first full cap and proceeded to score an outrageous goal, running through the Czech defence with ease before slamming home from long distance. Then he headed in from a corner – quite brilliantly, we’re sure you’ll agree – to complete his brace and France’s comeback.
That bullet header was a sign of things to come. Four years later, Zidane nodded in twice as hosts France beat Brazil 3-0 in the 1998 World Cup Final. Of course, his bonce would later get him in trouble in 2006, when he was sent off for sinking his noggin into Marco Materazzi.
Yet overall, the midfielder’s international career of 108 caps, 31 goals, one World Cup victory and a European Championship triumph can probably be considered fairly successful. It’s just a shame that great players don’t become great manag- oh.
Bobby Charlton (England, 1958)
Goal at 1.35
Few international debut goals were followed by a more stellar career than that of Sir Bobby Charlton. The then-20-year-old attacking midfielder created England’s first goal in a 4-0 win over Scotland in 1958, lifting a delicate free-kick into the six-yard box for Bryan Douglas to head home.
Charlton received a taste of his own delicious medicine in the second half as Tom Finney put in a well-timed cross, met by Charlton’s sweetly struck right-foot volley. That finish proved to be his first of 49 goals in an England shirt – a record only beaten by Wayne Rooney. Oh, and he won the 1966 World Cup, which is a nice touch.
Pele (Brazil, 1957)
He was the greatest goalscorer of his era, so it’s little surprise that Pele scored on his Brazil debut. Yet the 16-year-old had to suffer disappointment, as his strike came in a 2-1 defeat at home to rivals Argentina in 1957. Still, it did kick-start an international career of 77 goals in 92 appearances across 14 years of service. Not bad going.
Pele was the key figure in helping his national team to win three World Cups, spanning four tournaments from 1958 to 1970. Much like Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo, whether Pele was better than Diego Maradona is a debate that football fans still seemingly never tire of. Either way, Pele scored on his international debut – and probably no one better did.
Miroslav Klose (Germany, 2001)
Two minutes in…
He might not have been the most prolific goalscorer at club level – and particularly struggled during a four-year spell at Bayern Munich – but Klose always came alive on the international stage. He’s the top goalscorer in World Cup history with 16 goals (one ahead of the Brazilian Ronaldo), after all.
But before all that, the Poland-born striker made his dramatic debut for Germany in 2001. Die Mannschaft were drawing 1-1 with Albania in a World Cup qualifier when Klose was brought off the bench. With two minutes left on the clock, the 22-year-old popped up with the most needless diving header of all time (seriously, the ball is so low – just kick it, Miroslav) to win the game 2-1.
It was the first of 71 goals in 137 games for Germany, in a career which involved two World Cup final appearances – including a triumphant one in 2014.
Just Fontaine (France, 1953)
Never mind scoring a goal to calm the nerves on your debut, the 20-year-old Fontaine won over the French fans in 1953 with a hat-trick. Mind you, it did come in an 8-0 win over a poor Luxembourg side – but they all count.
Fontaine knew this lesson better than most, as he had the most prolific World Cup any player has ever experienced. It took Fontaine just one World Cup, in 1958, to score 13 goals for France in six matches (four of them against defending champions West Germany). With an incredible ratio of 30 goals in only 21 outings for Les Bleus, ‘Justo’ suffered a career-ending injury in 1962 at the age of 28.