The best soccer matches of 2023: Premier League, LaLiga, more

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As we enter another jam-packed calendar year of action in 2024, it’s worth looking back at the drama, excitement and upsets across the soccer world in 2023. Domestic European leagues like the English Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and LaLiga provided some of the best matches of the year, alongside a Women’s World Cup in the summer filled with some of the wildest games in the history of the tournament.

However, don’t overlook the likes of the Czech First League, CAF Champions League or the Pakistan national team when it comes to memorable entertainment, either.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

We asked our correspondents across the world to share some of their favorite games from 2023. Check them out — listed in alphabetical order by competition, with international games at the bottom — and decide for yourself!


A-League Men

2022-23 Grand Final, Melbourne City 1-6 Central Coast Mariners, June 3

The A-League Men’s 2022/23 decider was one dripping with narratives. City stood upon the precipice of a dynasty; a win in the championship game would secure them two titles from four-straight appearances to go along with three Premiership trophies.

All that stood between them and their bountiful resources born of their presence in the City Football Group was the Central Coast Mariners, the league’s most penurious club, one that had turned around years of results so bad they came close to getting them relegated from a league with no relegation through guile, smart development, bravery, and an excellent coach. It would also be the first (and now only) men’s decider played under the league’s horrifically unpopular deal to sell grand final hosting rights to Sydney.

And then, one of the most remarkable games in league history took place. Not only was City denied their dynasty, but they were put to the sword, melting as the underdog Mariners and their island of misfit-like squads poured in six goals before capping it off with a celebration only they could do.


A-League Women

2022-23 Semifinal, Melbourne City 3 (1) – (4) 3 Melbourne Victory, April 15

The A-League Women has developed a well-earned reputation for chaos over the years, one almost perfectly encapsulated by Victory’s remarkable win over their local rivals to advance in the 2022-23 finals series — a game that also produced one of the most remarkable games and individual performances in the A-Leagues’ (men’s or women’s) history.

Melina Ayres’ 19-minute second-half hat-trick — making her just the second player, after a certain Sam Kerr, in league history with a finals hat-trick — had put Victory up 3-1 with 18 minutes to go. At 3-2 in the 89th minute, Casey Dumont saved a Holly McNamara penalty to seemingly eliminate City, only for Hannah Wilkinson to equalise in the 97th and send the game to extra time.

Penalties were subsequently required, a shootout that saw Dumont step up and slot Victory’s first and then, with ice in her veins and without breaking stride, move into the goal and subsequently save Kate Bowen’s retort for City. On that day, City’s home ground at Casey Fields became Casey’s Field. — Joey Lynch


Brazil Serie A

Botafogo 3-4 Palmeiras, Nov. 1

It was the night the title changed hands and a star was born.

Botafogo were a sure thing to win the league. They had a 13-point lead at the halfway stage of the season, with no other club seemingly able of a sustained challenge. There had been a little stumble — a draw and a defeat in the two previous games — but when Botafogo were 3-0 up at halftime, their title was not in doubt. Later in the game, they were 3-1 up and had a penalty — and they still managed to lose 4-3. They collapsed, ending the campaign in fifth place after five games without a win — and Palmeiras finished like a train to claim the title.

The star turn that night, and over the final run of games, was Real Madrid-bound, 17-year-old Endrick. Before that match he had been alright, but underwhelming this season. In that game, he scored twice and made a point of leading the charge. Later that month, he was playing for Brazil. — Tim Vickery


Bundesliga

Bayern Munich 8-0 Darmstadt, Oct. 28

Bundesliga games between perennial champions Bayern Munich and relegation-haunted sides at the Allianz Arena are usually not intriguing. Anything less than a dominant win would be considered a disappointment for Bayern and their demanding supporters. The match between the 33-time German champions and newly-promoted SV Darmstadt seemed, for a while, like it could be the upset of the season.

In the fourth minute, Bayern midfielder Joshua Kimmich made a critical error resulting in a red card. Despite having the numerical advantage, Darmstadt, managed by the intense Torsten Lieberknecht, didn’t attempt to control the game. Instead, the underdogs pushed forward aggressively, leading to several turnovers. Consequently, two of their three defenders were sent off before half-time due to mistimed last-ditch tackles.

Bayern capitalized without mercy, scoring eight goals in the second half, one of which was an incredible 60-yard shot by Harry Kane from the centre-circle. What could have been a historic day for Darmstadt ended in an 8-0 thrashing in the Bavarian capital. — Constantin Eckner

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Harry Kane scores from beyond the halfway line with remarkable lob

Harry Kane lobs one over the keeper from the halfway line for his second goal of the match.


CAF Champions League

Mamelodi Sundowns 2-2 Wydad AC, May 20, semifinal second leg

There wasn’t too much in 2023 that could beat the CAF Champions League semifinal second leg between Mamelodi Sundowns and Wydad Casablanca for drama and heartache. A 0-0 draw in Morocco in the first leg hardly hinted at the thriller to follow back in Pretoria, but things certainly sprang to life during a frantic final 40 minutes.

Themba Zwane gave South Africa’s champions Sundowns control with an opening goal after 50 minutes, only for Ayoub El Amloud to equalise for the visitors — and put them in pole position to advance on away goals. Seven minutes later, Peter Shalulile restored the hosts’ lead, leaving on course for the final, only for the unfortunate Mothobi Mvala — with just seven minutes on the clock — to head a Wydad free-kick past his own keeper.

There was to be no third goal for Downs, despite the furious encouragement of the home supporters, and reigning African champions Wydad would advance to defend their title (unsuccessfully) against Al Ahly. — Ed Dove


Czech First League

Mlada Boleslav 9-5 FC Zlin, Oct. 21

Mlada Boleslav and FC Zlin produced an almost unprecedented scoreline with this goal-fest, which was the highest-scoring game in the history of the Czech top flight. Remarkably, relegation-battlers FC Zlin had led 3-1 early in the second half before Mlada Boleslav delivered eight second-half goals, including three goals in four minutes.

A chaotic second half saw a goal roughly every four minutes, aided by some goalkeeping howlers and defensive blunders that FC Zlin’s backline will not remember fondly. Even when the game was clearly beyond Zlin, the hosts showed no sign of letting up, with 11 players in total getting on the scoresheet. Somewhat inevitably, FC Zlin drew their next game away to Sigma Olomouc 0-0. — Paul Watson


LaLiga

Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid, Oct. 28

I know, I know, it’s unimaginative to pick El Clasico … but when the biggest game in Spanish football — or football, full stop — delivers in such breathtaking fashion, how could I not? This was an enthralling, dramatic contest, played in the gorgeous autumn sunshine at Montjuic, with the Rolling Stones in attendance.

Barcelona dominated for an hour, before Jude Bellingham stepped up with the most spectacular goal of his Madrid career so far, and followed it with a 92nd minute winner. The only appropriate response felt like laughing at just how absurdly easy Bellingham is making life in Spain look.

Barcelona 3-2 Celta Vigo, Sept. 29

This was just a textbook, last-gasp comeback. Barcelona were 0-2 down and struggling with 10 minutes left. Three superb goals in eight minutes later, two from Robert Lewandowski and the other, an 89th minute winner by João Cancelo, they’d turned the game around and left Celta coach Rafa Benitez fuming.

And not that it matters to anybody else, but I was sat immediately behind the goal Barca were attacking in that second half, just a few metres from the action — one of the perks of covering the match pitch-side for ESPN. Pretty special. — Alex Kirkland


Leagues Cup group stage

Inter Miami 2-1 Cruz Azul, July 21

Lionel Messi’s arrival in the United States couldn’t have been scripted much better. He came on as a second-half substitute in Inter Miami’s Leagues Cup match against Mexican side Cruz Azul and while he didn’t immediately make his mark, the perfect moment eventually arrived.

With the score level, 1-1, in stoppage time, Miami earned a free kick just outside the penalty box. It felt almost too good to be true. Messi calmly curled the winner over the wall, sending the home crowd into a frenzy. The goal — and game — will go down as one of MLS’ true where-were-you-when events. — Kyle Bonagura

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Lionel Messi scores stunning free kick winner in stoppage time

Lionel Messi bends in a free kick in stoppage time to win it late for Inter Miami.


Liga MX

Puebla 5-4 Leon, Nov. 3

This was a perfect encapsulation of the attack-minded chaos that can emerge from Liga MX. With playoff spots up for grabs in the second-to-last weekend of the season, Leon were at first in cruise control with a 3-1 result by halftime, before stumbling in dramatic fashion and letting Puebla take a 4-3 lead through goals in the 51st, 79th and 83rd minutes.

Then came a breathtaking 91st minute equalizer from Leon’s Omar Fernandez to make it 4-4, and literally seconds after Leon missed a close-range attempt for a possible game-winner in the 93rd minute, Puebla pounced on a counter and stole the game-winner for themselves off a strike from Miguel Sansores.

TV commentators lost complete control in the 20 seconds that led to Puebla’s fifth goal, laughing, screaming and applauding the entertaining mess on display. — Cesar Hernandez


Ligue 1

PSG 4-3 Lille, Feb. 19

This game summed up perfectly 2023 for PSG. On paper, it was special. Having Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé in the same team was extraordinary. Yet, this was only the fourth (and last) time where all three of them scored in the same game.

Lille, who led 3-2 until the 86th minute, were the better side against a Paris team with not much control or certainties after three defeats in a row in all competitions (Marseille, Monaco, Bayern). But Mbappé in the 87th minute and Messi in the 95th with a direct free kick won the game and avoided a big crisis. Neymar also got badly injured that day, a recurrence in his PSG career.

The Parisians won the title by a point last season and this underserved victory made a massive difference in their quest. — Julien Laurens


NWSL

OL Reign 0-0 Washington Spirit, Oct. 6

Megan Rapinoe’s farewell match at Lumen Field in Seattle was notable for a few reasons, not least because it was the last regular season appearance for the esteemed veteran of longtime international fame. With 34,130 fans showing up to sing her farewell, the match with Washington Spirit (which ended 0-0) broke NWSL’s single-match, regular season attendance record.

Aired on primetime CBS and streamed on Paramount+, CBS confirmed that Rapinoe’s farewell also broke the NWSL’s regular season viewership record with 683,000 viewers tuning in, and became the most-streamed regular-season match in NWSL history.

Portland Thorns 4-2 Washington Spirit, June 23

In the months leading up to this summer’s historic World Cup, fans of myriad international sides tracked their players’ progress in NWSL as if reading tea leaves for tournament success. For fans of the USA, Sophia Smith’s incredible form with Portland felt like a positive premonition for glory that wasn’t to come.

In her final club match before joining former coach Vlatko Andonovski’s side for her first World Cup, Smith scored her second hat-trick of the year and set a few records in the process. In the 4-2 victory over Washington Spirit, Smith became the third player in NWSL to net two hat-tricks in one season, and the youngest player to reach 30 goals as the hat-trick marked 31. — Megan Swanick


Premier League

Chelsea 4-4 Manchester City, Nov. 12

A game that showcased just why the Premier League is the most exciting and unpredictable league in the world and maybe the one which exposed the weaknesses in Pep Guardiola’s great Manchester City team. Chelsea were naive defensively, but bold going forward and they showed that City can be hurt when opponents are brave enough to take them on.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side trailed the treble winners three times at Stamford Bridge, but they sealed a point deep into the stoppage time when Cole Palmer — transferred out by City for £42.5m in the summer — displayed nerves of steel to score a penalty and deny his old team the victory.

Liverpool 7-0 Manchester United, March 5

This was a historic victory for Liverpool, their biggest-ever winning margin against their biggest rivals, and it was even more remarkable because third-placed United were 10 points ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s sixth-placed team at the start of game.

United also went into the game having won the Carabao Cup and beaten Barcelona in the Europa League in the week leading into the trip to Anfield. But Liverpool inflicted humiliation on United by scoring six second-half goals to romp to victory. Mohamed Salah, Darwin Núñez and Cody Gakpo all scored twice on a day that will be remembered by both clubs, for differing reasons, 100 years from now. — Mark Ogden


Serie A

Napoli 5-1 Juventus, Jan. 13

This is, more than any other Serie A game last season, the best proof of the domination of Luciano Spalletti’s amazing title-winning Napoli team. They came to this game with a seven-point lead in the table over AC Milan. They faced a Juve side on an eight-game winning run and who hadn’t conceded a single goal in 770 minutes. And the future champions blew them away.

Leading 2-1 at halftime, Napoli destroyed Juve after the break scoring three more times. It was champagne football. Victor Osimhen (two goals, one assist) and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (one goal, two assists) ran riot in the Turin defence. The last time Juventus conceded five goals was back in May 1993 against Pescara, almost 30 years ago! And a few months later Napoli won in style their first Scudetto since the 1989-90 season. — Laurens


UEFA Champions League

Ferencvaros 0-3 KÍ Klaksvik, July 19, First Qualifying Round

KÍ Klaksvik’s heroic European run defied all the odds, and the Faroe Islanders’ triumph away to Hungarian side Ferencvaros was arguably the most unlikely result of all. When the team of part-timers from a fishing town of just 5,000 people held Ferencvaros to a 0-0 draw in the home leg, it was seen as a remarkable achievement against a much more illustrious side with considerable European pedigree. But Magne Hoseth’s men had no intention of rolling over in Hungary and thoroughly deserved their 3-0 win.

The hero of the evening was Faroese forward Árni Frederiksberg, who bagged a brace and temporarily became the top scorer in the Champions League while holding down a day job running an import food business.

While KÍ were to bow out of the Champions League to Norway’s Molde, they made history as the first Faroese club to reach the group stage of a European club competition when they booked a place in the UEFA Europa Conference League. — Watson

Liverpool 2-5 Real Madrid, Feb. 21, Round of 16 first leg

The wasn’t just a rematch of the previous years final in Paris, which saw Real Madrid triumph. Carlo Ancelotti’s crew were eight points back in LaLiga, and Liverpool were stuck in mid-table in the Premier League. So both sides, by necessity, had all their eggs in the Champions League basket.

After 20 minutes, Liverpool were 2-0 up and Anfield was rocking. And then, Madrid hit them five times. Yes, they won 5-2 at Anfield, coming from behind. It’s not just the comeback that makes this game stand out, but the moments of skill on both sides (Nunez’s back-heel, Alisson’s save from Vinícius Jr on one side, Vini’s goal to make it 2-1 and, of course, that Luka Modric counter to set up Karim Benzema for the fifth goal).

Oh, and the blunders from both keepers: a reminder that you can be among the top two or three in the world and still make mistakes. Because, well, you’re human too. — Gab Marcotti


UEFA Women’s Champions League final

Wolfsburg 2-3 Barcelona, June 3

Recognised as the best team in Europe now, Barcelona still had to prove that they could mix it with those who’ve lifted the Champions League before — Wolfsburg in their sixth final, although nine years removed from their last European crown.

Two goals down at the break, the Catalans were heading for their third finals loss and first back-to-back loss, having been trumped by Lyon the year before. But the Spanish champions fought back, the second half all theirs as they turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win with oft overlooked midfielder Patri Guijarro playing a vital role. The triumph rubber-stamped Barcelona’s place at the summit of European football. — Sophie Lawson


Women’s Super League

Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal, Dec. 16

On paper, Spurs shouldn’t be beating Arsenal, not least with the injuries the Lilywhites had going into their final game of the calendar year.

The Gunners had humiliated the champions Chelsea the previous weekend, flexing their attacking muscles and staking their claim for this season’s title as Tottenham extended their winless streak in the league to five games. Meanwhile, Spurs had yet to keep a clean sheet in nine WSL games and having shipped 11 goals in their previous two games, questions were being asked of manager Robert Vilahamn’s positive impact and instances of a new passing game for the Lilywhites.

Against Arsenal, the hosts weathered the storm and claimed a first win over their neighbours with a silky flowing move just before the hour. The narrative was of an underdog, a collective becoming greater than the sum of its parts — as Arsenal struggled the more attackers they had on the pitch — and of a rebirth under a new coach, handing a beleaguered team a piece of history. — Lawson


International

South Africa 3-2 Italy, Women’s World Cup group stage, Aug. 2

South Africa’s Women’s World Cup record, heading into their final group game against Italy, was played five, drawn one, lost four. You would have been forgiven for not expecting too much from them against Le Azzurre. However, an outstanding come-from-behind 3-2 victory for Banyana Banyana — with Thembi Kgatlana netting a 92nd-minute winner from close range — secured South Africa’s first-ever knockout qualification, with Italy falling by the wayside.

“Over the last two weeks, I’ve lost three family members,” Kgatlana revealed after the match, shedding light on her difficult personal circumstances. “I could have gone home, but I chose to stay with my girls because that’s how much it means.” — Dove

Australia 0 (7) – (6) 0 France, Women’s World Cup quarter-final, Aug. 12

It would be easy enough to cite the history involved with Australia reaching their first-ever semifinal with their win over France, or to talk about the sheer tension of 120 scoreless minutes capped off with the longest-ever World Cup shootout. Or to mention that the decibel level recorded during the match, which set a record for an event at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

It was a result that went beyond the confines of the match, prompting a drunk euphoria across all of Australia, the scenes of simply everyone — from AFL coaches to a plane full of people — watching along through the tortuous shootout. The 2+ hours of football that preceded Cortnee Vine’s winning penalty all but dissolved away as Australia (playing co-host to the tournament) plunged into delirium. The impact of those silly little spot kicks and instant Matildas Madness that gripped the nation is my overriding memory of the whole tournament. — Lawson

Pakistan 1-0 Cambodia, AFC World Cup 2026 Qualifier, Oct. 17

Pakistan won their first-ever World Cup qualifier when they edged out Cambodia 1-0 in an impossibly tense game at the Jinnah Sports Stadium in Islamabad.

After five years and 13 matches without a win, this was a huge achievement for a Pakistan side ranked just 197th in the world. It was also another feather in the cap of English coach Stephen Constantine, one of the game’s most intrepid and travelled managers, who took the job on with barely two weeks to prepare the side for arguably the most important game in their history.

After the first leg in Cambodia had ended 0-0, the return match was always likely to be a tight affair, and so it proved. With nearly 70 minutes on the clock and the atmosphere becoming stifling, St Albans City midfielder Harun Hamid seized on a bouncing ball on the edge of the box and produced an inch-prefect finish to send the crowd wild and make history. — Watson

Brazil 0-1 Argentina, CONMEBOL World Cup 2026 Qualifier, Nov. 21

World Cup qualification in South America is special — it’s the moment when the stars come back from Europe. Brazil vs. Argentina is always special, and to be there when history is made — this was the first World Cup qualifier Brazil have ever lost at home — makes it very special indeed — or should be.

This one will certainly stick in the memory, but for some negative reasons. There was the crowd trouble before the start, the delayed kick off and then an ugly, brutal game that generated much more heat than light. It was also the night when Messi was substituted with 15 minutes to go, an indication that the era is drawing to an end. History was made by Nicolas Otamendi’s match-winning header. It was memorable, but not palatable. — Vickery





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