Category Archives: Tournaments

The Never, Never Land of The Netherlands at the World Cup.

There’s a poignant inevitability about the fate of the Dutch national team in the World Cups played out in 1974 and 1978. Scornful of victory, embracing the creation and innovation rather than the denouement. Movement, flow and fluidity marked their way. Two losing finals; contrasting in so many ways, and yet so very similar in that both ultimately ended in shattering defeats by the tournament hosts. On the road, but not arriving. Bridesmaids donned in orange.

Widely touted as potential winners in 1974, but falling at the final hurdle despite having taken the lead when, perhaps an inherent arrogance surpassed their intoxicatingly tantalising skills. West Germany took advantage of the hubris and lifted the trophy. The Dutch shuffled away, not licking their wounds, but contemplating what might have been; off-shade tangerine dreamers. Continue reading →

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“Once upon a time in Argentina.” The story of Ally MacLeod and his Tartan Army.

Ally MacLeod

In his book ‘A matter of Life and Death: A History of Football in 100 Quotations’ The Telegraph’s columnist Jim White quotes former Scotland manager Ally MacLeod as saying, “You can mark down 25 June 1978 as the day Scottish football conquers the world.” As was later to be harshly proven, it didn’t quite turn out that way. The tale of Scotland’s venture to South America for the World Cup Finals has gone down in infamy, and if the epithet of ‘pantomime’ that many have sought to label the Tartan Army’s travails in Argentina with is appropriate, many would also be keen to cast MacLeod in the role of the piece’s villain.

Is that too harsh a judgement though? Yes, there was massive hype, and yes, there was even bigger disappointment as the whole edifice came crumbling down, but is it right that the blame for the whole sorry episode should be laid at MacLeod’s door? Was he some buffoon-like character, full of bluster and blunder, or merely an innocent abroad, a patriot wrapped up in the hopes of a nation when Scottish football was at a high-water mark, promoted ahead of his ability, for who the fates turned their faces against at the moment of truth? Continue reading →

When God was Bulgarian!

Letchkov celebrates after heading the winning goal against Germany that gave a fairytale ending to Bulgaria's most improbable of World Cup runs.

Iordan Letchkov celebrates after heading the winning goal against Germany that topped off Bulgaria’s most improbable of World Cup runs.

Football folklore is replete with tales of unfancied teams fighting back in the face of seemingly overwhelming adversity, recovering from an apparently inevitable defeat to down one of the giants of the game, when a last minute goal gets a team through a difficult match that seemed to be pointing to elimination, when the opposition fails to convert any of the first three penalties in a shoot-out or when a team comes back after losing an opening game to unexpectedly qualify from a group stage of the biggest tournament in the world. Other tales may speak of seemingly hopeless situations when unforeseen results conspire to offer a chance that had surely been extinguished, when last minute goals work wonders and unexpectedly transform successive matches, when winning goals are created and scored by players who really shoudn’t have been on the pitch or when a giant stumbles and lets the little guy through; when the most unexpected of events happen again, and again, and again. Some tales have such a feature, some have a two or three, but very few have all of them. The story of Bulgaria’s ‘American Dream’ at the 1994 World Cup and the strange combination of results and events off the park that conspired to get them there however, is one of them. Continue reading →

Francesco Totti – Emperor of Roma

Roma captain and club icon - Francesco Totti

Roma captain and club icon – Francesco Totti

Recently, 37 year-old Frank Lampard appeared to be leading the rebellion against Old Father Time when he netted four times in less than a week for Manchester City while serving out a loan period ahead of his move to America and New York City. One full game and two substitute appearances for the ex-Chelsea legend, including a goal against his old club, seemed to be striking a blow for the ‘more mature’ player. When AS Roma rocked up at the Etihad for a Champions League game in midweek however, a different member of the ‘older generation’ eclipsed Lampard with a commanding performance, neatly topped off with elegantly chipped goal to earn his team a draw against the Premier League Champions. With the goal, Francesco Totti became the oldest player ever to score in the competition.

Continue reading →

Come in number 39. Your time is up?

39 steps

Any film buffs among you will remember the closing scene of Hitchcock’s film ‘The 39 Steps.’ Based in 1914, the film centres around the murky world of espionage. At its denouement, the hero, Richard Hannay after surviving a series of escapades, is in a music hall. On stage is ‘Mr Memory’ an act who can recall myriad facts at the drop of a hat. Questions are fired at him, and he replies accurately. Hannay however knows that the man’s memory is being used by a secret organisation of spies – called The 39 Steps – to smuggle secret formulae out of the country.  Hannay calls out a question. “What is The 39 Steps?” Aware that armed members of the gang are in the theatre, Mr Memory hesitates. Hannay asks again and again. Mr Memory eventually gives way to his professional pride and reveals the secret, at which he is gunned down by an unseen assailant.  All very dramatic, I hear you say, but it doesn’t have a lot to do with football. Well, yes and no. And the reason why lies in a few numbers.

Continue reading… http://www.footballbloggingawards.co.uk/blog/football-blog-game-39/

 

 

The morning after: ‘Schadenfreude’ isn’t a word the Germans recognise.

Brazil fan

Indulge me for a moment. Let me paint you a scenario. England actually got through the group stages and ploughed on through the competition looking increasingly impressive until they came up against the hosts, Brazil, in the semi-final of the World Cup. Sure, Brazil would be without the talismanic Neymar, plus the suspended skipper and defensive rock, Thiago Silva, but this is Brazil – in Brazil. Nevertheless, England turn in one of the most complete performances in world Cup history to trounce Brazil 7-1. Yes, I know it’s stretching the imagination a little – a lot, in fact – but bear with me a moment longer. Now, just for a few seconds, imagine how the team, the fans and especially the media would be reacting.  OK, stop now. Get down from the ceiling. Pull those flags back in from the windows. Calm down, it’s not real.

What is real however, is that Germany completed that that very journey described above. They went into Brazil’s backyard; a place where the Selecao have not lost a competitive game since 1975, and delivered the comprehensive beating of a former champion in the history of the World Cup. ‘Brazil 1 Germany 7’ may well never be beaten as the most outrageous, but fully-deserved result in the World Cup – ever. They turned up at the Copacabana and kicked over Brazil’s castle built on sand.

Brazil 1 Germany 7 - Luiz

So what was the reaction of the German team and media? Was it for outlandish celebration? Would they be glorying in the victory? Are they contacting their agents to demand more money for sponsorship deals? Not so much as you’d notice. Continue reading →

The ‘beautiful game’ in the USA.

Barrak Obama

From pictures of Barack Obama watching in apparent rapt attention on Air Force One, to videos of him publicly telephoning the squad and telling them “You did us proud!” it seems like America has finally ‘got’ football – and got it bad! On the day after the American team was eliminated from the World Cup by Belgium, ‘USA Today’ reported that despite the defeat, “soccer in America…got nothing but a big win!”

Cossetted in his penthouse in Brazil, such comments must warm the cockles of Sepp Blatter’s heart. If the 78 year-old danced a little Swiss jig of joy that his sport has finally broken into the most lucrative market in the world however, he probably should temper his exaltation and read on a little. The article goes on the say that “Did everyone understand the rules? Most certainly not. Will a lot of the people who watched the game stop caring about soccer tomorrow morning? Absolutely.” Hmm, perhaps not so much on the big breakthrough then, eh Sepp? So, USA. All that ‘soccer’ thing. How’s that working out for you?

Continue reading →

Penalties, Dutch courage and what might have been…

tim krul penalty save

Yes, I know a lot of people will say things like ‘You say that now…’ but you’re going to have to either believe me or not, I guess. It is true however that Louis van Gaal’s goalkeeper substitution shenanigans in the World Cup quarter final over the weekend brought back memories of another penalty shoot-out some twenty-four years ago, and an outlandish suggestion I made at the time. Continue reading →

Neymar injury deflates Brazil

Neymar injured

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 →

With Pato and passport in your pocket – Ben Starosta: A modern footballer’s tale

Ben Starosta

One day, sitting in the office, I was chewing the fat over recent events in the football world with my colleague Sull – nothing unusual about that. Sull lives in Nuneaton, and he was telling me about the triumphs and trials of his local club, Nuneaton Town. He was bemoaning the fact that The ‘Boro’ as the club are known due to a previous incarnation, had enjoyed a fairly successful season, but had then lost their manager to Wrexham. The new man in charge was former Ayr United manager Brian Reid, who apparently had previously been managing in the Philippines. Being a football blogger, my interest was piqued as it sounded like it might be an interesting story to write about.

Casually dropping into research mode, I asked Sull a few further questions and found out that the club had also signed a player from Reid’s old club in the Philippines; someone who had been been a star of the Polish U20 team and had then travelled around world playing for various clubs before landing in the small Warwickshire town. By now I was becoming intrigued. Grabbing my ever-handy, trusty notebook and pencil like the seasoned hack I always envisaged I was, I made a few notes and planned how I could find out more.  Continue reading →