“I, Big Phil, will go down in history as the Brazil coach who lost to Honduras. It’s horrible.”
So said, Luiz Felipe Scolari, as he contemplated how a defeat, so unexpected, so demoralising, so contrary to the established order of things, would surely blight his career and reputation for evermore.
Pitted against the Hondurans in the quarter-final of the Copa America of 2001, Brazil would already have been planning their semi-final strategy ahead of the game. After all, Brazil were, in most people’s eyes, the stand-out squad at the tournament. In contrast, Honduras had only been invited to join the other teams in Colombia at the last minute – in fact the last seconds of the last minute – following Argentina’s late withdrawal. Consequently, they had precious little preparation time and their squad was shorn of a number of key players still engaged in domestic matters. Last minute guests to the party, they were under-prepared, under-manned and – as it turned out to Brazil’s cost – underestimated. Just how late the Hondurans’ invite to the party popped through their letterbox can be illustrated by a brief resume of the events prior to the tournament. Continue reading →
“In football, unlike bullfighting, there is no death. In football no one dies; no one gets killed.” The tragic story of Andres Escobar.
Nacional Medellin defender and Colombia international Andres Escobar Saldariaga was once asked by Gonzalo Medina, a compatriot and journalist why he liked football. In an answer that proved to be chillingly inaccurate, the articulate Escobar replied that, “This sport illustrates the close relationship between life and the game. In football, unlike bullfighting, there is no death. In football no one dies; no one gets killed. It’s more about the fun of it, about enjoying.”
On 23rd June 1994, during the World Cup tournament in the USA, Escobar was playing for the highly-fancied Colombians against the hosts in their second group game. Following a qualifying tournament of 26 matches wherein they had been beaten on only a single occasion, culminating in a glorious 5-0 victory against Argentina in Buenos Aires, Francisco Maturana’s squad had even been tipped by the great Pele as genuine contenders to win the tournament. After losing their initial encounter to a Gheorghe Hagi-inspired Romania, the South Americans were strongly fancied to win and get their campaign back on track. Continue reading →
“People argue between Pele or Maradona. Di Stéfano is the best, much more complete.” (Pele)
The appellation ‘legend’ is often overused. The merely good become star players and such stars receive an even more exalted status. With the case of Alfredo Di Stefano however, it’s a label that fits comfortably with the history and record of the player. Although his zenith was a little before my time, it’s not difficult to discern from grainy tapes of games that here was a player with the poise and balance of an genuine athlete, and the ability to play in virtually any outfield position and still be outstanding
The Argentine-born striker played just under 400 games for Los Blancos, netting 308 goals during his time in the capital. Between 1954 and 1964, he also accumulated eight La Liga titles, five consecutive European Cups, one Spanish Cup and one Intercontinental Cup. It could however have been so different, as the first kit he donned in Spain was not the white of Real Madrid, but the Blaugrana of fierce rivals Barcelona. How this came to happen is a story full of intrigue and conspiracy theories, all painted in the colours of the people deploying their own particular versions of it. Continue reading →
Neymar injury deflates Brazil
Although hardly an impolite nudge in the back, the contact didn’t seem all that serious when it happened. Yes, the player did seem to be in, but that’s hardly a novele feature in this tournament, with apparently stricken souls suddenly revitalised by the ministering hands of the physio. This time however it was serious. Continue reading →