Category Archives: Champions League

Un-be-liev-able!

There are many reasons why certain goals are memorable. They can come in big matches, be part of an ongoing rivalry between the goalscorer and the team he nets against. Perhaps it’s the type of goal where the player runs the length of the pitch before rounding then goalkeeper and scoring, something especially difficult in an away game against a massive club in one of the biggest tournaments. Or, perhaps it’s the sort of goal that rewards a team for outstanding fortitude against the odds, when all seemed lost. Some goals have a few of these elements, but very few have them all, and this is the tale of one that does just that; a goal that Gary Neville described as “Un-bel-eive-able!”

On 24 April 2012, Chelsea turned up at the Camp Nou to defend the slenderest of leads, thanks to a backs-to-the-wall effort at Stamford Bridge where, in a game overwhelmingly dominated by the visitors, Didier Drogba had managed to snaffle a precious goal on one the home team’s rare visits to the opposition penalty area. Now they had it all to do keep their Champions League aspirations alive in a game where Barcelona were sure to be looking to secure the goals their domination should have earned a couple of weeks previously in west London.

Things didn’t start well for the visitors. A dozen minutes in, Gary Cahill tweaked a hamstring and had to be replaced. It would get worse. Despite holding out until ten minutes before the break, a rare goal by Sergio Busquets brought the aggregate scores level. Two minutes later, a malevolent rush of blood to the head saw John Terry dismissed after a senseless knee into the back of Alexis Sanchez. It didn’t end there. Just two minutes ahead of the break, Andrés Iniesta netted the second for Barcelona to put them ahead, and leaving Chelsea “…a mountain to climb,” in the words of Martin Tyler. The game looked well and truly up for Roberto di Matteo’s team.

A goal by Ramires in injury time at the end of the half seemed scant consolation. Yes, it put Chelsea ahead on away goals, but surely wouldn’t be enough. The second period would inevitably bring a Blaugrana onslaught and down to ten men, with both first-choice centre-backs off the field it looked like it would need something extraordinary if Chelsea were to survive; something quite “unbelievable” in fact.

Sitting on the Chelsea bench as the white line held firm against the home team’s swarming attacks was Fernando Torres. Born in Fuenlabrada in the Madrid Metropolitan Area, El Niño had log been a hate figure for the Cules in the Camp Nou. As well as hailing from the heart of Castilian Spain, in his first period with Atletico Madrid, he had scored seven goals in a mere ten games against Barcelona, and last year took that total to 11 in 17 games. The goal he would notch in this particular game however may well have been the most galling for the Cules.

As the expected onslaught raged on the pitch, Torres watched from the sidelines. For over half-an-hour the attacks battered at the white wall Di Matteo had organised to prevent his team capitulating under the pressure. Chance after chance was squandered, but still a Barça goal didn’t come; Messi even crashed a penalty against the bar and away, as the home team charged forward. With just one substitute change remaining, Chelsea’s Italian manager threw the fresh legs of Torres into the fray with ten minutes to play, detailing him to defend the left flank of the stubborn defence.

Another home attack broke down, and the ball fell to Torres. Trying to drive downfield to ease the pressure, he hit the ball forward and then chased. Possession was lost though, and Torres slowed to an amble, then a trot forsaking his defensive position. The ball was driven into the Chelsea box for the umpteenth time, but another block diverted the ball up onto Ashley Cole’s chest. The full-back lashed the ball clear, with surely ne’er a thought to it being a potential through ball. It was simply a hack away from danger.

As the TV screen followed the ball however, Fernando Torres also honed into view. His aborted breakout had taken him past the last defender, and as the ball dropped to his feet around the halfway line, he was clear. Only                 Carles Puyol was even in the same screen, but he was some 15 metres behind the galloping striker. Back in Spain, and at a ground where he had scored a number of times previously, Torres shed the cement overcoat that had hampered so much of his play for Chelsea, skated clear, rounded Valdes and rolled the ball into the net. “Ooooh,” orgasmed Gary Neville as Torres turned away, sinking to his knees in front of the home fans who were probably shouting anything except “Bueno, El Niño!” Two minutes into injury time, Torres had returned and thrust an estoque into the worn-out bull that was the Blaugrana team.

(This short All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘Golden Goals series on ‘The Open Veins of Football’ website).

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“He sat there silent, watching their love expire.” A lament for Arsène Wenger through the prism of Marcel Proust’s ‘À la Recherche du Temps Perdu.’

The title of Proust’s epic seven-volume masterpiece has been variously translated as either “In Search of Lost Times” or “Remembrance of Things Past.” Either seems to broadly fit the theme of the stories it contains, such being a retrospective consideration on the loss of time and lack of meaning to the world as the years pass by with increasing regularity. Perhaps however there are further insights to be taken from the work, and if I can borrow a few of quotations from the various elements of the book, they may help to throw a light on the particularly troubled waters being negotiated by the Arsenal manager currently, and why his endeavours may be fated to fail. Continue reading →

MTV, poetry and Johann Cruyff’s Dream Team – A new Ballad of Reading Gaol.

I’ve heard it said that non-football fans are – to paraphrase Bart Simpson – the MTV Generation, knowing neither highs nor lows. Anyone not hooked up with a femme fatale of a football club – someone upon which you pour your affections, only to be scorned and disheartened at so many turns – is incapable of understanding the all-too-brief but euphoric highs of success for the object of your adoration. Sometimes though, albeit so very rarely, those highs linger and join together to offer an enticing view of a world full of joy and bereft of despair and disappointment, a sunlit upland that will be yours for ever and ever; your club becomes dominant – the paragon, a beauty inarnate, the iconoclast that kicks down the rules of normal roller-coaster emotions. Into the mid-nineties, the Barcelona team of Johann Cruyff was such a team. Continue reading →

The warm Riazor evening when Depor tore apart the champions of Europe.

On Tuesday, 23rd March 2004, AC Milan entertained Deportivo La Coruna at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in that season’s Champions League competition. As well as being the reigning champions, the Rossoneri, under coach Carlo Ancelotti were many pundits’ favourites to win the title again. The outcome of this first leg match certainly did little to shake any such opinions. Continue reading →

When Lyon’s six of the best wiped the floor with Ajax.

The Champions League can throw up some strange results and incredible performances, but for delivering on the unexpected, the tournament across the 2011-12 season would surely take some beating. Big clubs, flickered then failed. Others got off the floor and prospered. When the chips were down though, hardly anything seemed to go with expectations. Continue reading →

Buckets of cold water, wet pitches and floodlights – How Wolverhampton Wanderers rescued English football and forged the European Cup in the Black Country.

wolves-v-honved

On a chastening November day at Wembley in 1953, any outdated and misguided ideas about English preeminence in the football world were cruelly banished by the cherry-shirted Magical Magyars of Hungary. Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis, Nandor Hideguti and their compatriots comprising a team that would go almost a decade with just a single defeat recorded against them – albeit in the World Cup Final of 1954 – delivered the sort of sobering wake up call akin to being doused with bucketful of cold water after a long and particularly intoxicating night on the tiles.    Continue reading →

The club that led Britain into the European Cup.

Hibs soon added Bobby Johnstone to a forward line already including Gordon Smith, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond

Hibs soon added Bobby Johnstone to a forward line already including Gordon Smith, Lawrie Reilly, Eddie Turnbull and Willie Ormond

Although the European Cup is the the preeminent competition for club football, and participation in it is regarded akin to  a ‘coming out party’ as a top club for any who secures it, British clubs’ relationship with European competition was not always anything like fully committed. Continue reading →

Eintracht Frankfurt – The story of the ‘other team’ in the greatest game ever played.

 

Real Madrid 7 Eintracht Frankfurt 3

It’s probably the most famous club game in the history of football. The 1960 European Cup Final, played at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland. You know the one. It was the game when the might of Real Madrid secured their fifth successive title as Champions of Europe under new manager Miguel Munoz. The former Bernabeu midfielder had joined the club on 13th April 1960, just over a month ahead of the final. He would be at the helm of Los Blancos for almost 14 years, winning nine La Liga titles, twice triumphing in the Copa del Rey and landing two European Cups, as well as one Intercontinental Cup. It was the game when legendary striker Alfredo Di Stefano struck a hat-trick, but was outgunned by the ‘Galloping Major’ Ferenc Puskas who netted four times. It was the game when legends were born. It was the game when a crowd of some 127,621 officially attended the game, but for years afterwards, many more would have claimed to have done so. Everyone wanted to say that they were there at the game where Real Madrid received their coronation as the best club side on the planet.

Continue reading →

Watching football in the house of Cholo.

Simeone

Following the dismissal of Jose Mourinho from the hot seat at Chelsea, one of the names mentioned as a the long-term replacement is Diego Simeone, currently managing Atletico Madrid in La Liga. There’s a relationship already in place between the two clubs with players moving between them. Could El Cholo be the next one to move from the Vicente Calderon to Stamford Bridge? If the Bookies are right it could well be the case. There is however, something special in the fit between the Simeone and Atleti. It’s something that just works; something that may not be transferable. It’s something I experienced earlier this year. Continue reading →

The man who made Benfica Champions of Europe – and then cursed them for 100 years.

The manager who won two European Cups for Benfica, and later 'cursed' them not to win another for 100 years.

The manager who won two European Cups for Benfica, and later ‘cursed’ them not to win another for 100 years.

In sport, especially within the often wildly unpredictable world of football, there is rarely anything like a guaranteed winning bet. The Europa League Final on 14th May 2014 was however, probably as close to being a ‘dead cert’ as almost anything ever is when the ‘beautiful game’ is involved. Bet on Sevilla to beat Benfica and lift the trophy, was the call. It’s as close to being brass in the bank as any bet can ever be. Honestly! Would I lie to you? On paper it appeared to be a close contest. Both clubs had enjoyed a reasonably successful season, and had deservedly reached the showpiece final in Turin. That was as may be, but it didn’t mean backing Sevilla wasn’t a good money shot. Continue reading →