In 1966, after a qualification marked by controversy, withdrawals and political intrigue, North Korea arrived to play in the World Cup as unknown players from a land that few knew very much of. Typical of the British culture, ever keen to support the underdog though, the fans took to the ‘Chollima’ squad with their small stature and naïve innocence.
It was an approach that saw them vanquish Italy in one of the most sensational results in World Cup history and then lead Portugal by three goals to nil, before being swamped by the brilliance of Eusebio. The football observing public were charmed by these apparent innocents abroad. A brief dip into the fairy-tale of make believe that, as always seems to be the case, eventually fell short. The North Koreans left for home, leaving behind them nothing but fond memories of a team small in stature, but big in heart. Continue reading →
On 25th March Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez scored the opening goal in a 2-0 victory for Mexico over Costa Rica. As well as giving his team an early lead, the goal also brought the Bayer Leverkusen striker’s international tally to 46, equalling the record of Jared Borgetti. Hernandez will be well known to fans of the Premier League for his five years at OId Trafford as Manchester United, under Sir Alex Ferguson dominated the English game, in the first decade of this century. Perhaps less well-known though is that Borgetti also plied his trade in the English north-west for a while, but with much less success. Continue reading →
On 20th August 2006, in a match against Cruzeiro, São Paulo goalkeeper Rogério Ceni saved a penalty. A feat worthy of mention in the context of most games of course, but perhaps not much beyond that. A few minutes later however, Ceni was called forward from his sentinel position between the sticks to take on a free-kick at the other end of the park. He scored. Now it all begins to sound a little unusual. Add on top of it that, later in the game, Ceni also took and concerted a penalty to draw his team level with their opponents and it all gets a bit special. Now, consider that the penalty was Ceni’s 64th goal for his club, surpassing by two, the exploits of legendary Paraguayan goalkeeper, José Luis Chilavert and you realise there’s more than a bit of a story relating to the career and exploits of Rogério Ceni – goalkeeper and goal-scorer. Continue reading →
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 →
The Olympiastdion in Munich on 7th July 1974. On a seasonably warm Bavarian afternoon, the coronation of Holland’s ‘Oranje’ was expected. Rinus Michel’s team had scorched the the pitches of West Germany with the vivid bright flame of their football. The ‘Cruyff turn’ had been born when Sweden’s Olssen, bamboozled by the Dutchman’s manoeuvre not only had to buy a ticket to get back into the stadium, he also needed a taxi to get back there, so far had he been sent the wrong way. A Brazil squad, shorn of Pele for the first time in a generation had eschewed their ‘jogo bonita’ for a style some called pragmatic, others called brutal. In a beauty and the beast contest however, the Dutch had eliminated the reigning champions. Whilst the Dutch masters created flowing football with the panache of an artist, the Brazilians were cutlass-wielding barbarians in comparison. Wherever they were when they saw the performance, the souls of the ‘Pearl,’ Gerson and Tostao would surely have been uneasy. Continue reading →
Back in January 2015, Lothar Matthäus, hero of the Italia ’90 World Cup victory, was embroiled in a bout of verbal sparring with Arsenal striker and compatriot Lukas Podolski. Speaking on German television, Matthaus remarked that “Lukas has his qualities; now he must prove them by bringing them back to the pitch. In the past we heard how he tweets more than he plays. He needs to concentrate on football.” The comments came during speculation regarding a potential move for Podolski to Inter Milan. It was advice that Podolski did not take too kindly to however. Apparently not content to leave it there however, Matthäus also took a swing at his former club, saying, “Inter is no longer the team of the past. Italy lost charm. Too many scandals, little modern infrastructure. In the 90s Inter and AC Milan have written the history of football, had players like Gullit, Van Basten, Hansi Müller and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Today the top players play in Spain, Germany and England, not in Italy.” The Nerazzuri tifosi must have loved that one. ‘A fanabla, Lothar!’ Continue reading →
There’s a certain type of wisdom that only comes with age and the experience; of seeing many things; by observing quietly and absorbing; by understanding. Sitting in the suburb of Santa Úrsula in Mexico City, the Estadio Azteca is not only an imposing architectural edifice, it can also boast a rich history of hosting some of the most celebrated matches in the history of international football. Being the first venue to host two World Cup Finals, it’s fair to say that the old stadium has witnessed a fair bit of the ‘beautiful game’ with some of the rarest of talents ever to grace the international arena treading its turf. When the Azteca speaks of greatness therefore, it’s done with the authority of age and experience. It’s beholding on us all to listen. Continue reading →
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 →
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 →
Describing the defender that he had played alongside for so many glorious years in the Rossoneri, backline, Paolo Maldini, in an interview with Jamie Carragher said: “That’s exactly it. He was special.” In that simple phrase, he encapsulated the aura and majesty of a player who graced the famous red and black as a ‘one club’ player. A hero of the tifosi on the Curva Sud at the Stadio Guiseppe Meazza San Siro in the Lombardian city of Milan and the man for whom AC Milan retired the number six shirt; the incomparable Franco Baresi. Continue reading →