For as long as there have been goals, there have been goalscorers, whether in the form of conventional poachers, advanced number 10s, or the modern-day inside forwards. Over the past few decades, numerous players have rewritten the record books in increasingly impressive style, redefining what we’ve all come to expect from forwards.
However, while records for goals and even hat-tricks are well documented, how about the often forgotten about ‘brace’? Over the course of the piece, we will examine what exactly a brace refers to in a footballing context, why they matter, and which players have scored the most in an array of competitions. This can help us understand their importance in the game and give us a different perspective on some of history’s greatest goalscorers.
What Is A Brace?
Simply put, in pure football terms, a brace refers to a player scoring two goals in a match. Therefore, it will always proceed with a hat-trick (three goals scored by one player) and will often be uttered by a commentator who predicts that a given player will go on and grab a third.
It does not matter if the brace was scored in either 45 minutes of the game, as long as two goals were netted before the full-time whistle and by the same player -any two goals are considered a ‘brace’.
The term is mainly used by British commentators and is widely popular in the Premier League and the lower leagues. The word itself has roots in the Old English language, with a ‘brace’ also being used to signify a pair of something.
Moreover, it can be traced back to the Anglo-French language, which meant a ‘pair of arms’. In hunting terminology, one might hunt down a brace of birds or rabbits, which means two of such creatures were killed. This translates to English football, where players are essentially ‘hunting’ for goals and goalscoring opportunities.
In football, the term dates back to the 19th century, when the phrase ‘scoring a brace of goals’ started to gain popularity. In the modern-day, only the word ‘brace’ is used to imply that a pair of goals have been scored.
When Do We Tend To See Braces In Football?
As you might imagine, we tend to see the most braces in matches with a lot of goals – as it provides a more significant opportunity for forwards to get on the scoresheet more than once. This becomes clear when assessing the scoring habits of some of the world’s best marksmen.
One interesting case study is Mohamed Salah’s 2021/22 Premier League record, as although he scored braces in games with plenty of goals, it wasn’t perhaps against the types of opponents you might expect. The Egyptian scored three braces in total against Man United, Everton and Leeds. However, the scorelines from each tie were 4-1, 6-0 and 4-0. A similar story emerges in the case of Real Madrid forward and Ballon d’Or favourite Karim Benzema. On only one occasion out of six in last season’s La Liga campaign, did Benzema provide his side’s only goals with his brace. Both were top scorers in their respective leagues, and both were the go-to men on their teams, but a player’s brace is rarely the sole factor in deciding the outcome of a game.
One might expect that the exception to this rule would be in the case of teams who are overly reliant on one player – such as Fulham with Aleksandar Mitrovic last season. The Serbian obliterated the Championship goal record in 2021/22, bagging 43 goals in 44 games, but despite this, the familiar pattern remains. Mitrovic scored a brace nine times during the campaign, and only twice did his pair of goals prove to be the key difference-maker.
Championship games in which Mitrovic scored a brace in the 2021/22 season:
- Birmingham City 1 Fulham 4
- Fulham 4 QPR 1
- Nottingham Forest 0 Fulham 4
- Reading 0 Fulham 7
- Fulham 3 Millwall 0
- Fulham 2 Peterborough 1
- QPR 0 Fulham 2
- Fulham 3 Preston NE 0
- Fulham 7 Luton 0
So that begs the question – are braces actually important to match outcomes, or do they generally tend to occur when a player is merely stat-padding?
Most Braces In Champions League History
One of the best ways of determining which strikers have been the most impactful in big moments is to look at their respective records in the Champions League. Against the best teams, there’s nowhere to hide, as the cream will generally rise to the top.
Currently, the two top goalscorers in Champions League history are Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – who just so happen to be two of the greatest players we’ve ever seen. But do they still top the charts regarding Champions League braces?
In short, they do indeed. Ronaldo and Messi are a long way ahead of the competition in terms of overall goals, with Ronaldo currently on 140, while his great Argentine rival has 125. Next on the list is Bayern Munich man Robert Lewandowski some distance behind at 82. Interestingly, the top three remain precisely the same regarding braces, as Ronaldo tops the list on 38, Messi is on 34, and Lewandowski comes in third with 20.
Players with the most Champions League braces
|Player||Games Played||Goals scored||Braces scored||Brace per game|
|Ruud van Nistelrooy||73||56||11||0.15|
Further down the top 10 list of all-time scorers, we do begin to see some differences when compared to players who have scored the most braces in Champions League history. Number 9 and 10 on the goals list are Zlatan Ibrahimović and Andriy Shevchenko, while Neymar and Sergio Aguero move into the top 10 of braces, perhaps speaking to the types of teams they each played in. In the case of Aguero and Neymar, both played for sides in Manchester City, Barcelona and PSG, who tended to run up big victories over opponents in Champions League ties – and thus were presented with more opportunities to score.
By contrast, the Swede and Ukrainian legends both spent many years playing for Italian clubs, where games would often be tighter, and goals were harder to come by (some might also argue that they played against greater defenders). This potentially helps us explain the personnel difference inside each respective top 10.
Most Braces In A Premier League Season
All-time braces are one thing, but just how many could we really expect to see from top-class forwards in one domestic season? The Premier League is a good case study for this, as, throughout its 30-year existence, some of the world’s greatest strikers have graced its pitches. The most goals we have seen from one player in the Premier League were 34 [Andy Cole and Alan Shearer] for a 42-game season and 32 for a 38-game campaign [Mohamed Salah].
Former Blackburn and Newcastle striker Shearer also holds the record for the most braces in a 42-game season, at 10, while four players jointly hold the 38-game record. Kevin Phillips (99/00), Thierry Henry (05/06), Cristiano Ronaldo (07/08) and Luis Suarez (13/14) all scored a brace nine times in a single campaign, with all of the forwards above going on to win the golden boot that year.
Once again, what’s interesting to note here is the calibre of players who have scored the most braces, as we’re talking about the greatest Premier League players we’ve ever seen. Shearer’s record of 10 shows that he isn’t merely in the record books for longevity, as he also had some genuinely remarkable individual campaigns.
Braces At The World Cup
International football tournaments, where players and teams have a shorter time to
prove their credentials, can produce unusual results. Despite this, the game’s true greats have still managed to produce at World Cups and European Championships, as evidenced by the World Cup top scorers list. That is currently headed by German legend Miroslav Klose on 16, with ‘O Phenomeno’ Ronaldo second on 15 and Gerd Muller one behind in third. All three are regarded as genuinely legendary strikers – but did they also manage to produce the most braces of any other players in World Cups?
As it turns out, Klose is not the man who has scored the most braces in World Cup history, as he is joint second on the list alongside two other legendary players. Top of the pile is the Brazilian Ronaldo, who has four braces to his name from 19 appearances at the tournament. Three of these were against Chile, Costa Rica and Japan in convincing group wins, once again underlining how braces tend to come against weaker oppositions. However, as the greats often do, Ronaldo bucked that trend with a defining double in the final of the 2002 World Cup final – bagging the winning goals in a 2-0 win against Germany.
Just below Ronaldo are Klose, Diego Maradona and Brazilian icon Vava, each of whom have three World Cup braces overall. Each feat is impressive for vastly different reasons. In the case of the German, he scored a brace in three different World Cups, while Vava did it twice in the same World Cup , only for Maradona to do so in successive knockout rounds of the 1986 tournament.
A host of players have grabbed two World Cup braces, including Roberto Baggio, Gary Lineker, Just Fontaine, Christian Vieri and Rudy Voller. Interestingly, the man who is third on the all-time World Cup goalscorer list, Gerd Muller, only has one brace to his name. However, few other men have managed to do what Ronaldo did in bagging a brace in a World Cup final.
Pele and Vava both scored a brace in Brazil’s 1958 final win over hosts Sweden, while Helmut Rahn did the same for West Germany four years earlier against Hungary. In the modern era, Zinedine Zidane is arguably the only out-and-out midfielder to have doubled up in the final, grabbing two vital goals as France beat Brazil in 1998 on home soil.
Mario Kempes achieved a very similar feat with Argentina in 1978, scoring a second in extra-time as Argentina saw off the mighty Netherlands in Buenos Aires. The only man to do so in the pre-war era was Italian winger Gino Colaussi, who scored twice in their 4-2 victory over Hungary in 1938. On every occasion, the player who scored a brace in the final of a FIFA World Cup went on to lift the Jules Rimet trophy – reiterating the success ratio of such feats.
Players with the most braces in World Cup history
|Player||WC games played||Overall goals scored||Average goals per game||Braces scored|
Braces in football are peculiar things. While essential for success, they can leave the scorer unsatisfied thanks to the enduring appeal of the hat-trick. A brace can therefore feel incomplete by comparison, as if something was still left out on the field of play after the final whistle. And yet, as we have shown, a brace is a vital indicator of success, and if you have a player on your team who can deliver a handful of doubles throughout a campaign or tournament, you have a much greater chance of achieving your goals as a team.
Moreover, a brace can still be as significant and memorable as a hat-trick might otherwise be for the individual. See the example of Zidane’s brace in ’98 or Ronaldo’s in the 2002 World Cup final, where both men made the difference on the day. Nobody else on the pitch was capable of such an impact, which manifested in the form of a brace.