The Best XI section is an attempt to connect similar football events across different locations and share them with you. Best XI will seek to be about topics you are interested about and want explored. Send in your topics for the month of December to email@example.com and we will incorporate that.
“A player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play.
A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play.
Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.
Advantage should not be applied in situations involving serious foul play unless there is a clear subsequent opportunity to score a goal. The referee must send off the player guilty of serious foul play when the ball is next out of play.
A player who is guilty of serious foul play should be sent off and play is restarted with a direct free kick from the position where the offence occurred (see Law 13 – Position of free kick) or a penalty kick (if the offence occurred inside the offender’s penalty area).”
So one may defend his/ her superhero saying football is a body-contact game and that the player in question was not showing malicious intent. The crux of the fact remains that the one at the receiving end has been robbed of his living, his career and may be, his dream.
This edition, Best XI brings the darker side of football. The worst XI tackles ever seen on a football pitch
1. Roy Keane on Alf Inge Haaland
Roy Keane missed most of the 1997–98 season because of a cruciate ligament injury, caused by an attempt to tackle Leeds United player, Alf-Inge Haaland in the ninth Premier League game of the season. As Keane lay prone on the ground, Haaland stood over Keane, accusing the injured United captain of having tried to hurt him and of feigning injury to escape punishment; an allegation which would lead to an infamous dispute between the two players four years later. They made headlines again in the 2001 Manchester derby, a game in which Alf-Inge Haaland played.
Five minutes from the final whistle, Keane was sent off for a blatant knee-high foul on the Norwegian in what was seen by many as an act of revenge. He initially received a three game suspension and a £5,000 fine from the FA, but further punishment was to follow after the release of Keane’s autobiography in August 2002, in which he stated that he intended “to hurt” Haaland. Keane’s account of the incident was as follows:
“I’d waited long enough. I f***ing hit him hard. The ball was there (I think). Take that you c**t. And don’t ever stand over me sneering about fake injuries.”
An admission that the tackle was in fact a premeditated assault, it left the FA with no choice but to charge Keane with bringing the game into disrepute. He was banned for a further five matches and fined £150,000 in the ensuing investigation. Despite widespread condemnation, he later mentioned in his autobiography that he had no regrets about the incident, “My attitude was, f**k him. What goes around comes around. He got his just rewards. He f**ked me over and my attitude is an eye for an eye.”
On 23 February 2008, in the third minute of Birmingham’s home match against Arsenal, Taylor committed a foul on Croatian international striker Eduardo da Silva as a result of which Eduardo suffered a compound fracture to his left fibula and an open dislocation of his left ankle. He received treatment on the field for seven minutes before undergoing surgery at a local hospital, and was transferred to a London hospital the following day. The injury was so disturbing that Sky Sports, who were broadcasting the game live, decided not to show replays of the incident. Taylor was sent off for the offence.
In his post-match interview, Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger called for a life ban for Taylor, but retracted his remarks later that day, admitting they had been excessive and made in the heat of the moment. Shortly after the match, Birmingham City issued a statement asserting Taylor’s lack of malicious intent and his distress at the injury, and sending their best wishes to Eduardo.
At president Sepp Blatter’s personal request, FIFA’s disciplinary chairman reviewed the matter, suggesting that the Football Association increase Taylor’s punishment from the standard three-match ban; they refused to do so as there was no suggestion of intent.
On 25 February 2007, while participating in the 2007 Football League Cup Final against Chelsea, Diaby, while attempting to clear the ball out of the Arsenal defence, accidentally kicked rival defender John Terry in the face. Unconscious, Terry was stretchered off and hospitalized, but recovered to return to the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff for the trophy presentation following Chelsea’s 2–1 win. Though Arsenal lost, Diaby was credited with an assist on the team’s only goal of the match, which was converted by Theo Walcott.
It is still open to debate whether Diaby in fact committed a tackle, or in the circumstances the boot was high enough to be deemed dangerous play. To be fair to Diaby, he was trying to clear the ball from a natural position and there was no way he could have anticipated the consequence. But John Terry would have taken it with a pinch of salt.
On 2006-07 season, Michael Brown came under criticism from the media for a two footed lunge on Manchester United player Ryan Giggs, however as Brown was booked for the incident no further action could be taken. Brown had also been involved in media controversy later for some of his tackling, most notably tackles on Ashley Cole and Sean Davis.
David Busst’s short lived playing career came to an end on 8 April 1996, whilst playing for Coventry against Manchester United. Two minutes into the match, having ventured forward after his team won a corner, Busst collided with United players Denis Irwin and Brian McClair, resulting in extensive compound fractures to both the tibia and fibula of his right leg. The match had to be delayed for 12 minutes while blood was cleaned off the grass. It is reputed that Manchester United’s goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel vomited on the pitch upon seeing the injury and had to undergo counseling afterwards, along with a number of other players. The injury is often cited as one of the worst in the history of football.
Busst’s injuries were so bad that at one point he ran the risk of having his leg amputated. While in hospital, Busst contracted MRSA, which caused further damage to the tissue and muscle in the injured part of his leg. Despite having 26 operations, Busst remained a member of the official Coventry squad for a further seven months, but never played again and retired from the game following advice from his doctors on 6 November 1996 at the age of 29. It was however, not the break that ended his career, but the infections he suffered afterwards.
His testimonial match, played on 16 May 1997 against Manchester United, was a sell-out.
Harald Schumacher, of then West Germany, is best remembered for a highly controversial incident in the 1982 FIFA World Cup semi-final against France when he collided with and seriously injured French defender Patrick Battiston. Battiston had just Schumacher to beat after a through ball from Michel Platini, but shot wide of the goal. Instead of trying to defend the shot, Schumacher appeared to jump directly at Battiston, and collided with him in mid-air. Battiston was knocked unconscious, and later slipped into a coma. He also lost his two front teeth and had a damaged vertebra. He received oxygen on the pitch. Michel Platini later said that he thought that Battiston had died, because “he had no pulse and looked pale”. The Dutch referee Charles Corver did not award a free kick for the incident. Schumacher then proceeded to take the goal-kick and play resumed. Germany would eventually go on to win the game on penalty kicks after the match was tied at 3–3.
After winning the game, the goalkeeper caused more controversy when he was told that Battiston had lost three teeth, and replied: “If that’s all that’s wrong with him, I’ll pay him the crowns.” Schumacher later apologised in person to Battiston, and the apology was accepted by Battiston.
A French newspaper poll asked who was the least popular man in France, and Schumacher beat Adolf Hitler into second.
When West Germany and France met again in World Cup 1986, Battiston said that the incident was “forgiven and forgotten”. However, he said that he was wary of getting “close to Schumacher” and said that he would hold a distance of at least 40 meters from the German goalkeeper. Schumacher would mostly refrain from commenting on the incident.
In his autobiography, Anpfiff, published in 1987, Schumacher said the reason he did not go over to check on Battiston’s condition was because a number of French players were standing around Battiston and making threatening gestures in his direction.
This comes with a caution: Not for the faint hearted.
In a ghastly incident from South African Premier Soccer League game on 24 May 2009 between the Mpumalanga Black Aces FC and the Carara Kicks, Buti Ngulube had his leg broken into half causing a “tranverse break” of a tackle by Felix Muamba-Musasa.
Both were chasing a 50-50 ball down the sideline, Ngulube had the first touch but caught Musasa’s trailing boot. Musasa was given a red card immediately. Federation inflicted further an eight game suspension on charges of misconduct relating to unsportsmanlike behaviour and assault.
Thatcher gained notoriety on 23 August 2006, in a game between Manchester City and Portsmouth. Whilst challenging with Pedro Mendes for a loose ball, Thatcher viciously and intentionally led with his elbow, knocking Mendes into the advertising hoardings rendering him unconscious. In the immediate aftermath, Thatcher is seen to be indignant and visibly irate with his now prostrate, motionless opponent. Mendes required oxygen at pitchside and suffered a seizure while being transferred to hospital, where he spent the night. Mendes was discharged from hospital the next day, but remained under medical supervision. Thatcher, who issued a written apology to Mendes, was investigated by the FA as a result of the challenge. He was disciplined and his barrister, Rupert Bowers, read a written apology following the hearing. Greater Manchester Police noted receipt of many “statements of complaint” and also chose to investigate the matter. On August 30, Manchester City announced that Thatcher would be banned for six matches, two of which would be suspended and fined six weeks’ wages for the challenge. This punishment is separate from the sanctions made by the FA, who suspended Thatcher for eight matches, with a further fifteen game suspended ban for two years.
The incident was the second time in less than three weeks that a Thatcher elbow had hospitalised an opponent, following an incident on August 4 in a pre-season tour of China, when his challenge caused a career-threatening collapsed lung for Yang Chungang, a 20-year-old midfielder from Shanghai Shenhua. Thatcher also faced possible action from Lancashire Police over a clash with ex-Blackburn Rovers player Ralph Welch; during a reserve game at Ewood Park in February 2006.
In the 2006-2007 season, Commins Menapi became the first player to be sent off in a New Zealand Football Championship Grand Final with a nasty studs up kick on Auckland City defender Riki van Steeden. Van Steeden’s leg was broken in the incident and Waitakere United lost the final 3-2. However, he would not be suspended for the OFC Champions League final against Ba F.C. because of the OFC and New Zealand Football being two separate organizations.
In his second season, while playing in the Eerste Divisie, Bouaouzan reached the Dutch news headlines due to a heavy foul on Niels Kokmeijer, his opponent playing for Go Ahead Eagles on December 17, 2004. Kokmeijer’s leg was broken badly and he was subsequently forced to retire from professional football. Sparta Rotterdam suspended Bouaouzan for the rest of the season, which was more than the 10 match ban the KNVB awarded him. Besides that he was taken to court by the Dutch government for battery, a unique moment in Dutch football history. Bouaouzan was sentenced to a conditional six months in jail. In April 2008 the highest Dutch court confirmed this.
At the end of the season Sparta Rotterdam qualified for the play-offs where Bouaouzan returned on the pitch. In the last and final play-off match, Bouaouzan scored Sparta’s winning goal over Helmond Sport, thus securing them a spot in the Eredivisie for 2005–06.
Maurizio Gaudino is a retired German football midfielder. He was capped five times for Germany in 1993 and 1994, and was in their squad for the 1994 World Cup. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is a British journalist and Conservative Party politician, who has been the elected Mayor of London since 2008.
So the remotest of chances they would ever meet on football pitch was to be in a charity match.
In 2006, in a charity football match between England and Germany, consisting of celebrities and former players, Boris Johnson came on as a substitute for England in the 85th minute, and infamously rugby tackled former German international Maurizio Gaudino, in a vain attempt to win the ball with his head.
Sex and the City is an American television comedy-drama series created by Darren Star and produced by HBO.
Set and filmed in New York City and based on the book of the same name by Candace Bushnell, the show follows the lives of four New York women – who, throughout their varied careers, with all their idiosyncrasies and ever-changing sex lives, remain inseparable and confide in each other.
The quirky series had multiple continuing storylines that tackled relevant and modern social issues like sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, safe sex, promiscuity, femininity while exploring the difference between friendships and relationships.
A feature film based on Sex and the City, written, produced and directed by Michael Patrick King, was released in 2008. Sex and the City 2, a sequel, was released in May of 2010.
This article has allusions to the popular TV series.
Scene 1: 8:20AM, Ms Evans’ bedroom
Ms Evans woke up with a hangover and a very sore lower torso. This was not the first time that she’d woken up in the morning, feeling this way. Usually she would indulge in a tall glass of Irish every time she woke up with a hangover, an age-old practice from her Belfast days.
But this one was a totally different ball game. The pain was excruciating. More than the pain, it was the feeling of having woken up from a terrible nightmare. She collected herself, rolled the comforter over and just lay in bed, in a trance, for a while longer.
“Did I really do that? And at my place?” she wondered, as the nightmare kept flashing across her mind. Was there a way to find out?
Scene 2: Flashback early morning 1AM, K2, China Town
The ladies had a business meeting and the boss had taken the team to The Haçienda. It was also a pre-birthday treat for Mrs. Rooney. Ms. Evans, still recollecting scenes from the night before, could clearly remember a clown, who kept toppling prime Belgian beer over his own head in an attempt to impress the ladies around.
“Such an idiot”, slipped through her lips. She recalled the sarcastic comments she had deliberately made audible to the big-mouthed, queer-dressed punk and his friends in the disco. What she witnessed in her nightmare was probably just a manifestation of her subconscious.
Scene 3: 8:45AM, Ms Evans’ kitchen
While brewing the Irish in the coffee maker, Ms Evans felt an insatiable urge to figure out whether it really was a nightmare or it did happen. But whatever it was, she didn’t want her mates to know. So, she decided the best thing would be to call up Mrs. Rooney and wish her happy birthday, to begin with. She would then try to piece the puzzle together. She made that call from her new iPhone 4S that was already flashing the birthday reminder. Ms Evans did her best to underplay her anxiety as she spoke to the birthday girl. Mrs. Rooney seemed quite collected, more than she had expected, as if nothing had happened last night. They discussed the party and the boys. It was not until then that Mrs. Rooney mentioned the noisy gang from the previous night, some of whom, Mrs. Rooney had invited to her party tonight as well. Ms Evans was getting it slowly but steadily. The party from last night was not all in her nightmare; part of it was true, after all.
Scene 4: 10:05AM, still in Ms. Evans’ kitchen
Ms. Evans took a long shower, still trying to locate the missing pieces of the jigsaw. Munching her fish and chips, she started gathering her thoughts again. This was not the first time such a thing had happened – earlier she had ended up where she should not have.
“So, what happened then?” she asked herself and noted down how things would shape up if it had really been true.
The boss would be furious – either he would throw a boot at her or shout at her; she quickly scrolled through the missed calls. Nope, he did not call. Had such a thing happened, Mrs. Evra would send her some jokes to cheer her up. But no, the last message was from an unknown number. She opened it quickly and it read, ‘Why always me’. As if the morning was not mysterious enough without this cryptic message.
Good God! What had she got herself into?!?
While running through other options, what struck her was the young Latina. Definitely the hairiest Latina she had ever come across, but now is not probably a time to laugh at her looks. She needed her. She dialled her number and ended up reaching her voice message.
Scene 5: 12:35PM, Ms De Gea’s residence
Ms Evans did not waste any more time thinking, quickly gobbled up the remaining breakfast and zipped out. The only time she could spare was to decide the colour of her stilettos. She then rushed through the busy Manchester traffic and reached Ms. De Gea’s residence on the other side of the city. She parked the car outside their apartment and walked up to the door only to find it locked.
“So she is out and not receiving calls either – wonder what this new girl is up to,” thought Ms Evans. She was about to leave a post-it on the front door with a message to call her back, when the next door neighbour looked at her inquisitively.
“You amigo of the gal?” asked the lady, with a broken half-Italian-half-English accent and
oddly sporting a scarf indoors. What she then told Ms Evans was shocking. Ms De Gea was in a city hospital. She had been abused, beaten black and blue and robbed by a bunch of hooligans after her friends abandoned her post a late night party.
Ms Evans’ face turned pale. She went back quietly, wishing she’d never dropped by to find out. It was all coming back to her now.
Scene 6: 10:35PM, Boss’ office, Beetham Tower, City Center
The view from his 19th floor office would be worth walking miles for anyone else, but when you see it every day from your cabin, it loses its charm. The old man stood quietly, his eyes looking beyond the Manchester skyline. He had gotten used to this view for 25 years now. Everything always seemed so small from his 19th floor office.
The doctor would not recommend him working so late at 70, but today that was the least of his concerns. He had tried hard to concentrate on his work all day, but was continuously distracted by the loud music from the office next door. They were having a party to celebrate some great feat. This was not a stray occurrence though, the once quiet and low key neighbours had started having these loud parties quite often in the past couple of years, and it was increasingly becoming a challenge to work peacefully. But today he wasn’t able to take his mind off how his girls had let him down – they should have been more careful. It was so humiliating, he felt like one of those tiny dots on the pedestrian crossing from the 19th floor. He was missing the services of his senior officers who had retired last year. Mrs. Vidic had also called in sick at the last moment. Could they have controlled the girls and prevented the situation from getting out of hand? He had also thought of appointing some efficient middle managers to keep things in control, but alas, his company was no longer the highest paymaster in town and could not afford them.
Just about then, a spine-chilling thought crossed his mind and his hands started shaking like it had happened that day. Could he have approached the game differently? Was it in his power to avoid the shame that was?
“There is only one way to go, Alex,” he said to himself.
The grim jaws chewed on the no-more sweet gum as the long-shot faded off in the distant sky.
Most Competitive League in Europe
“Competitionis acontestbetween individuals, groups, animals, etc. for territory, a niche, or a location ofresources. It arises whenever two or more parties strive for a goal which cannot be shared.” Wikipedia defines competition this way. However, it is not so easy to define I guess. How do we classify competitiveness of a European football league? Surely, the most popular football league in the world need not necessarily be the most competitive one. Neither the Galacticos nor supposedly the best ever club team playing in the same league can ensure that.
English Premier League Spanish La LigaItalian Serie A
German Bundesliga French Ligue 1Dutch Eredivisie
Some may feel that the number of winners over the past few years is the best parameter to judge the ruthlessness of any league. But here’s a question. How many of us have heard of the Campionato Sammarinese di Calcio? Not many, in my opinion. It is the football league operated in San Marino. Since its inception in 1985, it has seen 10 different winners – 5 in the last decade. This league is ranked 53rd in Europe by UEFA. The Swedish Allsvenskan, top division football league in Sweden has seen the trophy taking a tour of as many as 7 different club locker rooms during the same period. There can be several leagues in Europe which do not feature highly in the UEFA league rankings, or are not watched by billions, but they are certainly competitive by this parameter. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that EPL or La Liga is the most predictable league in Europe. There are other contenders. Last time the Scottish League was won by a club other than Celtic or Rangers, was way back in 1984/85 – the club was Aberdeen, managed by a certain (not Sir yet) Alex Ferguson. So, let’s not complicate things – just get on with some hard core facts and statistics.
In this research, we have made certain assumptions and here is a quick snapshot to start off.
Select Leagues from Europe
For this analysis, top 3 leagues from Europe have been shortlisted – English Premier League, Italian Serie A and Spanish La Liga. For the German Bundesliga, French League 1, Dutch Eredivisie fans, I seek an apology. The 3 leagues chosen had the maximum number (4) of clubs appearing in the UEFA Champions League for the past few years. Germany has overtaken Italy this year and will be having 4 teams in the Champions League season 2012-13, but for the time period considered – more on that later – Italy used to have more participants than Germany. Under the parameters considered, the French or German League could have come up with the honours if included, but we have taken into consideration the pedigree of the league also.
Certain parameters have been shortlisted to take the analysis forward. They are:
No. of drawn games
No. of matches won with a victory margin of 3+
Difference in points across the league table
Point gap between the 1st and 5th placed teams
No. of Goals scored
No. of different winners
No. of different Teams featuring in the top 4
Points dropped by the top 4 teams against the Mid table opponents
Points dropped by the top 4 teams against the Bottom 5 teams
For the analysis, 5 years of recent data has been collected from the respective league’s official website. There is no need for normalization as the league structure is the same for all the 3 leagues – 20 teams play in the home and away basis, at the end of which 3 teams get relegated. So number of teams, matches played, and the number of survivors in the league – are well synchronized to help our analysis. For the analysis, point deductions or any penalties imposed (most notably in Serie A 2006-07 season for the match fixing fiasco) have been ignored. Subsequently, the league standings have also been altered and updated. For example, Fiorentina was deducted 15 points at the start of the season and hence finished 6th in the League. Had they not been penalized, they would have finished 3rd and that is the place they have been put in for this piece’s analysis. We are dissecting the competitiveness in the field, so any off-the-field implications are best kept away with.
It is very difficult to rank the parameters or to decide which factor is to be given how much weightage. So, let us just assess the parameters individually as far as possible and see if we reach a coherent conclusion from there.
1. Number of Drawn Games
A drawn game, more often than not, depicts the inability to win of either sides playing. Putting it in the colloquial lingo, “they have cancelled each other out… it’s a stalemate.”
La Liga has a lower number of drawn games historically and that too at a downward trend. EPL and Serie A seem to lock horns with each other with the former taking over the mantle from the latter in recent years. This is due to the fact that EPL has an upward trend in number of drawn games, whereas Serie A is quite the opposite. Overall the number of drawn games in these 3 leagues hover around the 25% mark, take one or two percent here and there. So, it means effectively 9-10 drawn games for each team in a season on an average basis. That is pretty high, show-casing the high level of competition in each of the leagues.
2. Number. of Matches with Winning Margin 3+
These score lines have been few and far between in EPL & Serie A
Fiercely competitive teams, when playing against each other, will have a very narrow winning margin. As a thumb rule, a margin of anything over 2-0 or 3-1 or likewise can be termed as a stroll in the park. Agreed, results can be misleading; but in a wide horizon, these anomalies are likely to be ironed out. So, let us see how many thrashing we have witnessed in the recent past.
As expected, Serie A teams have lived up to their reputation of having a tight defence and thus have had fewer experiences of these thrashings. The teams from Italy on an average experience this kind of humiliation only once in the entire season.For the other 2 leagues, the number almost doubles.The number of such matches has, more or less, remained constant over the years for each individual league. La Liga & EPL are neck and neck, although the former is slightly ahead.
3. Difference in points across the League
Let us now see by how much have the table toppers leapfrogged the last boys? To do that, we have categorized the 20 teams in any league under 3 broad subheads:
Top 4 teams – they are the Top teams as they go on to participate in the top tier of European Club Football, the Champions League.
Bottom 5 teams –3 of these teams were relegated eventually, whereas the rest are assumed to be involved in a dogfight for survival for the majority of the season. Hence, it makes perfect sense to categorize them in the same bracket.
The Mid tablers – rest 11 teams in the league.
Now average points earned by each of these 3 groups have been taken up for calculating standard deviation – a statistical parameter, to measure the proximity of variables under consideration – of points in the league. This gives us a fair idea of how closely the teams, or rather cluster of teams, are finishing the league.
EPL is showing steady decrease in this, meaning the teams are getting ever closer. The figures are more or less constant for Serie A, although with a decreasing trend. La Liga is just the opposite in this regard – the teams are finishing with some considerable point gap among them. This was the scenario in EPL a few years back, but they have become quite competitive over the years. The case of La Liga is simply opposite.
4. Point Gap between 1st & 5th placed teams
The team to finish 5th in these leagues are given a pat at the back with consolation. They nearly miss out to an elusive Champions League Football spot. So, let us see how the gap between the Champion and this unfortunate side has evolved over the years.
In sync with the previous stat, the gap seems to get more and more widened in La Liga. This is expected, as their champion team is a certain Barcelona. Also, the spread between the 2nd and the 3rd placed teams are widening quite alarmingly – 5, 10, 8, 21 and 25 points over the last 5 years. Just to put it into perspective, the 21 or 25 points gap is by far the biggest gap between any two consecutive placed teams for these 3 leagues over the last 5 years. In fact 25 point gap encompassed all the teams baring the top 5 in year 2010-11 in EPL. People do not call this league a 2-horse race just for fun. For Serie A and EPL, there is a downward trend in this regard. So it shows there is an increasing competition towards the business end of the league.
Udinese edging out Lazio for the last Champions League spot by goal difference in 2010-11
5. Points dropped by the Top 4 against Mid-tablers
Depth of any league is measured by the skill, tactics and determination applied on the field by the mid-tablers – teams finishing 6th to 15th in the final standing. More often than not, they fancy their chances against the big boys, especially playing at home, and are capable of getting a point, sometimes even 3. Teams like Sunderland, Mallorca and Palermo have often played a significant part in deciding the fate of the league winner. Stronger these teams, more cut-throat is guaranteed in the league.
In La Liga, the mid-tablers are losing the ground steadily to the front runners – there is a steady decline in the points dropped. EPL demonstrates just the reverse trend, the mid-table toddlers are going from strength to strength. However, Serie A has been the leader by far in this respect over the years. EPL, though, has a sharper trend and may overtake Serie A if the pattern continues. Overall, the top teams drop one-third of points against the mid-table opponents across these 3 leagues. This is quite a hefty proportion – 1 draw every 2 matches.
Mid Table teams look to set the scores straight
6. Points dropped by the Top 4 against Bottom 5 Teams
The relegation contenders often play a spoil sport. The top teams are expected to win against them, that too handsomely. However, they can sometime cause an upset to the joy of other title contenders. A Fulham can upset Arsenal’s plans of automatic qualification to the Champions League. A Livorno can snatch away the title from Roma. So, let us see how the stats stack up over the years.
Like the previous section, La Liga table toppers are improving year after year against the minnows. On the other hand, the other two leagues are finding it more and more difficult to walk away with the honours against the bottom clubs. EPL though, in spite of this trend, has a lower average points dropped – there the top 4 teams are doing fairly well against the less fancied opponents. Serie A teams have been the front runner in this stat – they are way ahead of the competition and are steadily increasing the gap. Overall, the top 4 teams are performing well enough against the lower clubs – they concede only 10% points in these encounters. However, the position of the league table, the time of the season when they are dropping points – these factors are more important. Like the bottom most team in the league table, Wolves were the first team in the EPL 2010-11 season to beat the eventual champions Manchester United. The defeat set the Red Devils on a poor run of form and Chelsea had the opportunity to cash in.
David v/s Goliath is not always a foregone conclusion
So many statistics and analysis! So where are we now? Can we reach any conclusion? Let us try to recapitulate the results in a nutshell.
In the above analysis, the most competitive league based on each parameter has been given rank 1. The arrow’s direction represents the trend, whereas its colour depicts the competitiveness – green for more cut-throat, red for the opposite and yellow for middle-of-the-road competitiveness. For example, a green downward arrow means that the league has a downward trend as far as the parameter (say, Point gap between the 1st & the 5th placed Teams) is concerned, and that fact (the arrow being green) will make the league more competitive in the coming years.
It is quite evident from our analysis that Serie A is by far the most competitive League. EPL may be just edging out La Liga for the period under consideration. So, what about the hue and cry about EPL being the most competitive league in Europe? What does their dominance in the Champions League (i.e. number of teams featuring in quarters or semis) mean?
One thing going in favour of EPL is the number of goals scored. Serie A, being a defence dominated league, logically has less number of goals. EPL, though not as competitive as Serie A, scores over in this aspect.
A definitive answer lies in the trend analysis of our findings. While La Liga is finding it difficult to remain competitive as per the parameters provided here, EPL is fast catching up with the Serie A. In recent 2-3 years, they have surely leapfrogged Serie A in every aspect of competitiveness. Moreover, number of goals scored in Seria A is shrinking. EPL is quite the opposite – far more goals are scored there and the rate is even better than La Liga. It is not surprising, since the top English clubs are now massive sports franchises which can lure the top players to the Premier league. So, EPL apart from being quite competitive is a fairly entertaining league (after all, a goal is what every football lover wants to see, isn’t it!). If the trend continues for the coming years, EPL fans’ claim will be hard to turn down.
Debojyoti Chakraborty is a hardcore Manchester United and East Bengal (India) fan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Triviela – Beyond Trivia
The Trivela is a Portuguese term to denote the art of kicking the football with the outside of one’s foot. It is used to hide one’s weaker foot and also to suddenly fool the opposition with a wickedly swerving ball from a difficult angle. In Triviela, we will attempt to find some football feats/facts which would make you sit up and take note, like it happens when you see Ricardo Quaresma try these.
The Spanish Armada has completely overpowered the cream of World and European competitions. They currently own the European Cup, the World Cup (only the 3rd team ever to have this distinction after West Germany of ‘72 and ‘74 and France of ‘98 and ‘00), and in 2011, their youngsters have shown that the supply line is truly brilliant. The different Spanish age group sides have gone on to win the UEFA U21 European championship (3rd title) and the UEFA U19 Championship (5th title). Only a tiebreaker loss to eventual champions Brazil in the quarter finals of the FIFA U20 World Cup prevented a 3/3 scenario. The 4th global age group tournament – the FIFA U17 World Cup, did not have a Spanish team though.
The talking point of this article though, was the first age group tournament that took place – the U21 Championship. The squad included two players – star man Juan Mata and Captain Javi Martinez who were parts of the victorious Spanish team from the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Both had also made identical 20 minute appearances in the group stages – Javi against Chile and Mata against Honduras.
It is not unique enough that a player wins an age group tournament along with a World Cup, it is the ordering of those wins which is slightly confounding to say the least. Incidentally the youngest member of 2010 Spanish World Cup team was Sergi Busquets at 21 but he was not part of the U21 team that won the Euros. This achievement is so rare, that in European age group football, Javi and Mata are the only two to have achieved it. It may be pointed out here that a host of victorious Italian members from the 2004 U21 Euros would also win the World Cup two years later but that was in the right order of progression.
Our research of South American U20 Championships hasn’t thrown anybody either who won that tournament after being in a victorious World Cup team. Since no other continent has won the World Cup, this sets Mata and Martinez as truly unique players, probably of all time
Talking Point: Javi Martinez is surely the world’s only player ever who has won three continental/world tournaments without ever winning anything for his club. Playing for a club like Bilbao has something to do with it though, and till now he has two runner-up medals from the 2008-09 Copa del Rey and the 2009 Supercopa de Espana. In contrast, he has the winning medals of UEFA U19 European championship in 2007 as well as the World Cup in 2010 and captaining the 2011 Spain U21 team to European glory. It might be a matter of time before this is rectified though, as a move to a bigger club may be in the offing.
Winning without Playing in National Colours
Our tryst with the Spanish players’ unique records continues and this one was pointed out first by Andrew Thomas (@twisted_blood) so a big thanks to him for initiating this research. We will not consider men who never appeared for their country and won laurels. Neither will we take wins made in lower divisions.
Victor Valdes has won all that can be won at club and country level. But he only made his 6th appearance in the Spanish colours in the loss to a young Italian at the San Nicola stadium in Bari. Valdes came in as a half time substitute for the man who has made 125 appearances since his debut as a 19 year old in 2000 – Iker Casillas. Valdes has won 5 La Ligas, 1 Spanish Cup, 3 Champions Leagues, 5 Spanish Super Cups, 2 UEFA Super Cups, 1 FIFA Club World Cup and 1 FIFA World Cup – 18 team trophies. With his 6 caps, we can give him a resultant total of 12 (18-6). We will try and find players whose tournament wins for club (in top division and continental tournaments) and country far outnumbers their individual appearances for their country.
For obvious reasons, it is goalkeepers who hold onto the topmost positions because more often than not, it is that position where if there is an established keeper, it is difficult to dislodge him, like it was for Valdes to take the place of Casillas.
20 wins for Vasco, Porto & Brazil
Victor Valdes (Spain)
18 wins for Spain and Barcelona
Dejan Nemec (Slovenia)
13 wins for NK Domzale and Club Brugge
Lionel Charbonier (France)
12 wins for Auxerre, Rangers and France
Alan Kennedy (England)
13 wins with Liverpool
Mauro Tassotti (Italy)
17 wins with Milan
Albert Celades (Spain)
14 wins with Real Madrid and Barcelona
Chris Sutton (England)
9 wins with Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea and Celtic
14 wins for Corinthians, Arsenal and Barcelona
9 wins for Benfica and Portugal
[*In case you have a name who fits this bill, do let us know. We’ll include it with your name]
Talking Point: One current player, who can win a lot and whose national career has ‘ended’ is Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati. He already has 8 trophies with Milan and has chances to win more. His national cap count is 4 and is not expected to increase, considering he is 34 and not in Prandelli’s plans.
The Three Halves and Halves Nots
A few months ago the media was awash with reports that FIFA was toying with the idea of introducing three halves of thirty minutes each in the 2022 Qatar World Cup. Though I couldn’t find any official statement from FIFA confirming this (in fact they had swiftly moved to refute the rumours), I can’t wait for this strategy to be introduced. It may turn out to be one of the most important innovations in football, comparable to the banning of snoods and booking players for taking off their shirt.
For starters, the term “three halves” is path breaking in itself. It can potentially change the entire footballing paradigm where every match, in fact, becomes a match and a half. It is straight out of the Kevin Keegan world of football expressions where there is no bigger honour than being the second best team in the world, where there isn’t anyone bigger or smaller than Maradona. With it, FIFA can scale the marketing heights of Woolworth or Sainsbury’s by offering three matches at the price of two tickets. Besides, with two half time breaks, they must come up with appropriate names for them too. Taking a cue from cricket, the breaks could be named tea and high tea, or supper and dinner depending on when the game is played, and embellished with appropriate sponsorships.
Beyond these obvious marketing and promotional opportunities, there are other ways to leverage the third half to make the beautiful game even more beautiful. The basic game of football has not changed since it started. It has always been played in two halves where two teams, comprising 11 players, fight for a ball. Tournaments like Moretti were a whole new ball game though. Now with three halves, FIFA will be well-equipped to introduce three-way match ups, much like the three-way elimination matches so widespread and popular in professional wrestling. Let us try to understand how it will work. In a match between Team A, B and C – Team A plays Team B, Team B plays Team C while Team C plays Team A in the first, second and third halves respectively. The goal difference for each team over the three halves is computed and the team with the highest goal difference declared the winner. If there is more than one team with the highest goal difference, the points are split. In case of knock-out matches without a clear winner, there are two or three-way penalty shootouts as necessary. Three-way penalty shootouts work in exactly the same way as the three-way match.
The question is what is in it for FIFA, apart from revenue, that is. Well, with three-way match ups of 90 minutes split in three halves, FIFA will be able to increase the number of participating teams from 32 to 48 with zero overhead. This is likely to reduce the chances of global favourites such as England missing the tournament by bowing out in the qualifiers. Besides, with more teams participating, TV revenue will also surge.
However, in the mundane world of domestic and continental football, it will not be justifiable to have three-way matches for the simple reason that to maintain the traditional home and away format, the number of matches will increase beyond control and the schedule will become unmanageable. Nevertheless, an idea as radical and path-breaking as a game of three halves has its advantages. The domestic and continental competitions can continue to be held between two teams, but introduction of the extra half will add value to the player and spectator experience, as well as introduce avenues for new tactical thinking. In the following paragraphs I shall explain how.
One aspect football has not been able to market is the toss. It is such a trivial affair in the game that nobody but the referee is usually bothered about it. However, this third half might just give the toss a new lease of life. Journalists can spend column inches on which way the wind will blow, while broadcasters can perhaps slip in a weather report into the match preview. We may also have a full-fledged pitch report where the venerable experts will pick up blades of grass and blow them in the air, measure the hardness of the soil in various areas, especially the penalty box and provide expert comments. Captains will be interrogated on their decision and blasted or commended on it, and the armchair fan will have another topic to ruminate on. Of course, all the while the camera will silently follow them around to seize every moment that can enhance the drawing room-audience experience. What’s more, it will positively contribute to the employment scenario as meteorologists and geologists will now be added to the entourage of coaches, doctors, physiotherapists, dietitians, nutritionists, psychologists, philosophers and the likes.
Most football fans will agree that time added on due to injuries and substitutions, is fast becoming one of the most intriguing topics of discussion. From waiting for the fourth referee to flash the number of minutes to be added, to anticipating when the referee will decide that enough time has been added and blow the whistle, to Manchester United inevitably scoring a goal well beyond the anticipated end of the half, time added on continues to enthral the football fanatics and divide opinion. What happens during half time is also occupying increased mindshare with pizza fights, handbags and accusations of referees visiting opponent dressing rooms bandied about with increased regularity. The additional half time break will obviously enhance these simple but nonetheless essential appendages to the football experience. Certain managers will also no doubt be delighted to find another window for unleashing the hairdryer to make sure that everyone is on their toes.
The move is also expected to have social and economic impact reaching far beyond the perimeters of the football field. With two half time breaks, the sales of hamburgers, baguettes and sandwiches in the stadium are sure to skyrocket, thus substantially boosting the stadium refreshments business, and creating more employment opportunities. Back home, we can expect a marginal increase in domestic harmony as during the extra break the football fan will perhaps spend a bit more time with his family during the hectic Saturday and Sunday evenings.
However, the question remains, what is in it for the players. There certainly is something. It is not apparent because we, the unforgiving audience, treat them like Roman gladiators and do not spend a moment to consider the trials they undergo on the field. We pulverize them for making simple mistakes without considering that they may be in obvious physical discomfort, the likes of which we seldom need to face. Have we considered that some of the misplaced passes, fluffed clearances, scuffed shots and flapped corners, inability to track back or mark the opponent could have a physiological reason? In other words, have we considered that not every player may be blessed with the industry of Jens Lehmann? So, the three halves will obviously give that additional opportunity to answer nature’s calls, both proactively and reactively, that may have been inhibiting them from playing to their potential. Given that, I must say, every professional footballer will be flushed with delight if FIFA’s new move is implemented.
World War II had ravaged the world. The entire continent of Europe was in ruins. The World Cup trophy would have been lost amongst many other valuables which were seized by the Nazis. The Nazis were after the trophy as well, but it was saved by the efforts of a man named Ottorino Barassi. He was the president of the FIGC (Fedeazione Italiana Guioco Calcio or Italian Football federation) during the war. As Italy was the defending champions, the trophy was in a bank vault in Rome. Barassi sensing the danger to the trophy took it home and kept it in a shoe-box under his bed till the end of the war. There were very few countries willing to host the tournament after the war. People felt that spending money for a football tournament was wasteful when countries were rebuilding themselves from the ravages of war. Before the cancellation of the 1942 tournament, FIFA had received two bids from Brazil and Germany. The Brazilians presented their bid to FIFA again in 1946 when it was decided that the tournament would go back to South America after two decades. Barassi , the saviour of the trophy, was assigned to assist the Brazilian federation in organising the tournament, drawing on his experience from the 1934 tournament held in his country. The Brazilians presented the idea of building the largest stadium of the world in Rio de Janeiro, double the capacity of Wembley stadium, then the largest in the world.
The hosts started as favourites as they had won the Copa America in 1949 beating Paraguay 7-0 in the finals and Uruguay 5-1 before that. They had an impressive trio of inside-forwards in Zizinho, Ademir and Jair. Italy, the defending champions were weakened by the Superga air disaster involving the Torino team which resulted in the death of ten national team players. Sweden, the Olympic champion of 1948 was a strong team but their coach had refused to include players playing for foreign clubs. The best Swedish players had been signed up by Italian clubs after the Olympics, so they did not have their best side for this tournament. Yugoslavia, silver medallists from the Olympics were a good team. There was huge anticipation over the debut of England who had lost Frank Swift, Tommy Lawton and Raich Carter but still had Billy Wright, Stan Mortensen and ‘The wizard of the dribble’ Stanley Matthews in their ranks. FIFA had decided that the first two teams of the British Home Championships would qualify automatically for the tournament. England and Scotland both had qualified based on this FIFA directive. George Graham, the chief of the Scottish FA decided that Scotland would play only if they won the Home Championships. They lost the final to England and despite the pleading of Billy Wright, the England captain and Jules Rimet, they refused to go to Brazil. Uruguay had some good players like Juan Schiaffino and Alcide Ghiggia. All the East European countries like Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Soviet Union refused to play the qualification matches. Turkey refused to go, citing financial difficulties. In Asia – Philippines, Burma and Indonesia – all destroyed by war pulled out of qualification matches while India qualified by default. Argentina withdrew citing differences with the Brazilian Football federation. France and Portugal were invited in place of Turkey and Scotland. Portugal refused but France accepted. Germany and Japan were banned from playing international football by FIFA.
FIFA had changed the format of the tournament with four groups where all teams played each other, with each group winner advancing to another group of four teams to decide the champions. The format was to ensure that each team would play more than one match as opposed to the knockout format used for the last two editions of the tournament. There was no final match but the last match became a final by circumstances. There was no zoning of the groups and all teams with the exception of the hosts had to travel large distances to play their matches which was not ideal in those times. The draw was held in Rio just before the tournament with the 15 participating teams.
Group 1: Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland and Yugoslavia
Group 2: England, Chile, Spain and the USA
Group 3: Italy, India, Paraguay and Sweden
Group 4: Uruguay, Bolivia and France
India wanted to pull out citing financial difficulties, but FIFA agreed to bear the major part of the expenses. They still pulled out as they played barefoot and FIFA had banned barefoot play in 1948. France also withdrew due to the large amount of travelling involved in playing their two matches. Finally, only thirteen nations remained in the fray, same as the last tournament in the same continent twenty years ago.
The tournament started on June 24, 1950 at the huge Maracanã stadium, then known as the Municipal in Rio de Janeiro with the hosts playing Mexico. The capacity of the stadium was halved as it was not complete. There were fireworks, 5000 pigeons and a 21 gun salute which did not bode well for the unfinished concrete structure. The people in the stands were covered in shards of concrete but thankfully none of them were large in size. The host team however was better prepared than the venue. The Brazilians hit the post in the 6th minute by a Jair shot. Then Ademir tapped the ball into the goal past the advancing goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal to put Brazil ahead. Mayhem ensued with fifteen radio commentators and a dozen reporters rushing onto the pitch for instant interviews! The referee George Reader of England cleared the pitch without much of a problem and the game resumed. Brazil kept dominating and hit the woodwork five times. After halftime, Ademir and Balthazar switched positions. Jair scored with a cross-shot and Balthazar added a third with a header off a corner from ten yards. Ademir added his second of the game by a driving in Jair’s short pass. Brazil had won 4-0 but still their coach, Flavio Costa wasn’t sure about their forward line.
Yugoslavia comfortably defeated Switzerland 3-0 with their incisive passing. This was the first finals match where the floodlights were switched on. Alfred Bickel, the Swiss captain was one of two players who had played in the last World Cup before the war. The other was Erik Nilsson, the Swedish captain. Incidentally both the players were from countries which were neutral during World War II. Yugoslavia defeated Mexico 4-1 in their next match living up to their reputation as one of the best teams in the tournament. Brazil played Switzerland in Sao Paolo in their second match. The Brazilian coach called their opponents as a team without any importance. He brought in a lot of new players from the Sao Paolo club to please the crowd. The same crowd wanted to lynch him at the end of the match and riot police had to be deployed. Leaving out Jair was a bad decision. The Brazilians struggled against the plucky Swiss and led 2-1 at halftime. In the 88th minute, Bickel got away and crossed for Jacky Fatton to score his second goal of the game and stun the crowd. The result meant that Yugoslavia needed only a draw against Brazil in the last match. The hosts were in danger of being eliminated. There was massive amount of tension in Rio when Brazil met Yugoslavia to decide who would reach the final group. Brazil had a huge slice of luck when Zlatko Cajkovski, the Yugoslavian midfielder cut his head in an unfinished steel girder at the stadium. The referee, Mervyn Griffiths refused to delay the start in a stoic show of British punctuality. Ten man Yugoslavia were made to pay for their deficiency by conceding a goal scored by Ademir in the third minute. Cajkovski rejoined in the tenth minute and the Yugoslavs matched the hosts in creating chances. The Yugoslav goalkeeper, Srdan Mrkusic was asked to change his jersey as he was wearing the same all-white strip of the Brazilians after 30 minutes (Shades of Graham Poll of 2006). Cajkovski hit the post and missed with the goalkeeper at his mercy in the second. The host eventually made the match safe with Zizinho scoring in the 69th minute. The hosts had just about made it to the final pool.
The English played their first World Cup finals match against Chile. The Chileans were facing their first European opposition since the 1930 World Cup tournament. Neil Franklin, one of England’s best defenders had left England to play for Independiente Santa Fe of Bogotá for 5000 pounds and 35 pounds of bonus for each win. He was not pleased with the 20 pound a week wage cap imposed on footballers by the English FA in England. Columbia was not a member of FIFA and he refused to join the English teamfor the tournament which was a big loss for them. The coach, Walter Winterbottom did not even play Matthews. They defeated Chile with goals by Mortensen and Wilf Mannion in each half but looked far from comfortable at the back with Chilean George Robledo who played for Newcastle causing them problems. England team used oxygen cylinders to cope with the humidity during the halftime break but Billy Wright just didn’t like the concept. United States played Spain and led through a Gino Pariani goal for 80 minutes. The Spaniards eventually equalised through Silvester Igoa and won 3-1 with further goals from Estanislao Basora and Telmo Zarraonandia, better known as Zarra, in the 82nd and 85th minute. The scoreline did not reflect the real story of the match. American defender Charlie (Chuck) Columbo played with gloves raising a few eyebrows. Spain next played Chile and defeated them 2-0 with both Basora and Zarra on target in the first half.
England played USA in Belo Horizonte in a match that has been touted as the greatest upset in the history of football. The truth was that the Americans were not a bad side as they had shown against Spain in the last match. The English media has described the American win as nothing short of a miracle over the years but they were being unkind to their opponents to gloss over the shortcomings of their own team. Matthews was still not on the team as Winterbottom did not consider their opponents good enough to play the great man. Joe Gatjaens scored the only goal of the match with a diving header in the 38th minute. The English media describe the match as a procession of missed English chances and acrobatics by Frank Borghi, the American goalkeeper. Mortensen and Mullen missed chances but the Americans had their own chances to extend their lead. Pariani brought out a great save from Bert Williams, the English keeper. Alf Ramsey cleared off the line from a Frank Valicenti (Wallace) shot. The crowd grew from 10,000 to 40,000 by the end. An editor in London thought the scoreline was a misprint of 10-1 in favour of England. It was a bad day for the English against colonials as on the very same day England lost for the first time in a cricket test match against West Indies. The score in reality should have been 3-0 in favour of England as the Americans had fielded three foreigners in their team. The goal-scorer Gatjaens had played for Haiti, Joe Maca was a Scottish player and Ed McIlvenny was a Belgian. There was a FIFA letter showing that the three were ineligible. However, Jules Rimet was persuaded by the American ambassador, Herschel Johnson who conveyed the wish of a certain President Harry Trueman to overlook such small deficiencies and shortcomings. In their last match, England needed a win against Spain. At last Matthews started and Jacky Milburn was brought in. Both of them played well but the rest of the team were demoralised by the loss in the last match and Spain won it by a goal from Zarra in the 48th minute. Spain had qualified for the final pool with an all win record. In the inconsequential last match, the Americans were defeated by the Chileans 5-2.
The first match was between defending world champions Italy against the defending Olympic champions Sweden. Sweden had not selected the great AC Milan trio Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm, known as the great Grenoli. Again a lot of people say what if? The match was well fought with the Swedes bossing the possession with crisp passing. The Scandinavians were 2-1 ahead at halftime through goals by Hans Jeppson and Sune Andersson after Italians had taken the lead through Riccardo Carapellesse. Jeppson added another in the second half. Ermes Muccinelli pulled one goal back in the 75th minute but the Swedes comfortably controlled the game till the final whistle to win 3-2. Nearly all the Swedish players were signed by Italian clubs after this match. The Swedes played the Copa America runners up Paraguay next and were two goals up within half an hour. Paraguayans fought back with goals in the 34th and 75th minute. After that the Swedes shut shop and played for the 2-2 draw. The Paraguayans needed to beat the Italians by a two goal margin to qualify for the final pool but were handed a 2-0 defeat. The Italians played well and it was the last the Italians were seen in a World Cup for 12 years as their national team went into decline. Italy was the first defending champions to be eliminated in the group stage, an ‘achievement’ which they repeated six decades later. Sweden qualified for the final pool.
There was only one match in this group which was hit by the pulling out of France. Uruguay crushed Bolivia 8-3. In this match, Uruguay showed that they had some very good players like Roque Maspoli in goal, Rodriguez Andrade the nephew of the great player of the 1930 cup winning team and Obdulio Varela their captain. Schaiffino and Ghiggia were both impressive with Omar Miguez scoring a hat-trick. Uruguay made it to the final pool, easily playing just a single match which meant that they were much fresher and less travel weary than the other teams.
Final Pool: Brazil, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay
The first match in the final pool was between Uruguay and Spain. Both teams were very physical and rough. Zarra was marked out of the game by the Uruguayans. Ghiggia sprinted in to score the first goal in the 27th minute. Spain hit back with two goals from Basora in the 39th and 41st minute. Uruguay was saved by Varela who moved up-field and went past two opposition defenders and scored from the edge of the box. The bruising match finished 2-2 and two Uruguayans missed their next match. After narrowly qualifying from the group stage, Brazil unleashed their attacking prowess against Sweden by annihilating them 7-1. The Swedes were not a bad team by any stretch but four goals by Ademir, a brace of goals by Chico and one by Maneca finished their chances in the tournament. The three inside forwards Ademir, Jair and Zizinho were magnificent with their inter-passing and movement which was far more skilful than anything seen in Europe in those times. All the three were lanky and sported pencil moustaches. They would have scored more goals if they had not played exhibition football for the last 30 minutes.
Uruguay played Sweden in their second match. It was a close match, the Swedes taking the lead through Karl-Erik Palmer in the fourth minute, after he controlled and shot high across the keeper from a long floating free-kick from the wing. Uruguay equalised through Ghiggia in the 39th minute, who after a characteristic surging run through the midfield, volleyed a long shot to the keepers right. Sweden immediately regained their lead through a Stig Sundkvist goal with a left footed volley, after the second choice Uruguayan keeper Anibal Paz came out and dropped a cross under pressure from Jeppson to take a 2-1 lead into the break. After the break the Uruguayans kept attacking without any success. Eventually Miguez scored twice from loose balls in the 77th and 84th minute to give Uruguay a 3-2 victory and kept alive their chances of winning the tournament. Brazil played Spain and was equally impressive as the last match winning 6-1. Jair, Ademir and Zizinho were magnificent again with their inter play leaving their opponents mesmerised.
Before the last match there was the league match to decide third place. Spain just needed a draw and Sweden needed a win. The Swedes won 3-1 to claim the third position. This was the best performance in the World Cup by Spain till 2010. Brazil went into the last match against Uruguay, just needing a draw to win the World Cup. They were overwhelming favourites playing at home in front of a crowd of 205,000, the biggest ever to watch a football match. The Brazilian press had already termed their team as champions. The Uruguayan captain bought a newspaper which proclaimed the Brazilians as champions and ordered his teammates to urinate on it to stoke their anger and focus. The mayor of Rio de Janeiro referred to Brazil as the champions in his speech before the match. The Brazilians were exceptional in their forward play but their defence had a few problems. The diagonal defensive formation left their wing-halves with no cover if the opposition wingers managed to penetrate. The Brazilians started off like their last two matches attacking Uruguay relentlessly. They had eight shots in the first five minutes but were frustrated by a wall of Uruguayan defenders. Eusebio Tajera marked Ademir and he was helped by Varela who was falling back. Above all, the Uruguayan goalkeeper Maspoli played the game of his life.
Maspoli saved a thumping shot from Ademir after some crisp interplay between Jair and Zizinho. Then he saved a great header to deny Ademir again. Chico had his shot saved by Maspoli after that. There was no goal at halftime but the spectators were in good spirit singing and dancing to the samba beats. The goal came in the 47th minute. The Uruguayan defence was in the left side to cover Ademir and Jair. A reverse pass from Ademir sent Friaca clear on the right side of the goal. He managed to hold off Andrade and beat Maspoli with a flopping cross cum shot (0-1). The entire stadium was in raptures. The volume was louder and the samba rhythm faster. The goal coming in the second half did not demoralise the Uruguayans who took heart from the fact that they had thwarted the hosts for so long. Varela started to make forays into the Brazilian half. Ghiggia then started to give the Brazilian left-back Bigode a harrowing time. In the 66th minute he took a pass from Varela and pulled Bigode to the left touchline, beat him by a body sway, crossed for Schiaffino to score with a sweeping shot just beating Brazilian defender Juvenal’s tackle and goalkeeper Barbosa’s outstretched hands (1-1). The stadium was silent. The Brazilians were still going to win the Cup if the score remained the same but the crowd reaction was as if they had lost the Cup.
The Brazilian manager many years later said that it was the silence in the stadium that terrorised his players. Ghiggia repeated the move only to see Schiaffino shoot wide in the 71st minute. The Brazilian coach Flavio Costa should have done something to protect poor Bigode. Defensive tactical acumen was not the forte of Costa. Brazil kept attacking and Maspoli kept saving. Brazil had 30 shots on goal in the game to Uruguay’s 12. In the 77th minute Julio Perez, the Uruguayan half back played a one-two with Ghiggia which flummoxed hapless Bigode. Ghiggia angled in from the right wing and Barbosa stayed back on his line expecting another cross, instead the Uruguayan unleashed a fierce shot below the keeper’s hands, who got a faint touch (2-1). The spectators were now horrified.
On the other end of the pitch, Maspoli continued his procession of great saves, first from a Jair shot, another from a Chico toe-poke. Then Ademir volleyed over the goal from close range. In the last action of the game, Maspoli dropped a high cross after being challenged. His teammate Andrade was the first to the ball and the final whistle was blown by George Reader, the English referee. The Uruguayans had triumphed for the second time in South America and were yet to be beaten in the tournament. Schiaffino described the after-match ceremony as having the atmosphere of a despondent funeral.
The Brazilians unfairly blamed the players of African origin for their loss, namely, Barbosa the goalkeeper. Thirteen years later Barbosa was given the goalposts as souvenir, which he took home and promptly used as fuel for a neighbourhood barbecue. The Brazilian all white jersey was deemed unlucky and with permission from the Football Confederation a newspaper held a design competition for a new jersey. The competition was won by a 19 year old named Aldyr Garcia Schlee who designed the current uniform reflecting their national flag. Ruben Moran is the only player to make his debut in the World Cup final and win. It was a very successful tournament with huge turnouts to the matches. The only down side was that an entire country was in mourning after the tournament finished.
Journey from the Iron Curtain to Perestroika: Soviet and Russian Football
The world we live in today is far from what it was, say twenty five years ago. In this age of media blitz and consumerism, many of us remember the old days when the world was divided into two blocks. Winston Churchill on March 5, 1946 had delivered a speech at Westminster College in Missouri. It had a line which spoke of dominating the social and political scenario of the world for the next four decades. “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ’iron curtain’ has descended across the continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe.” This was the popularisation of the term – ‘Iron Curtain’. The term had been used before in similar context, but this speech made it famous. The main country behind this Iron Curtain was Soviet Union. The Soviets were a power not only in the military and political circles but also in the world of sports. The Soviet football teams were very strong during this period. Sadly, the successor of the then powerful Soviet team, Russia has failed to achieve similar results. We will try and understand the reasons behind this decline and try to obtain some answers regarding this.
Soviet Union national team crest
The Russian revolution occurred in 1917, after which the entire country was under the grip of a terrible civil war for the next six years which led to a large scale loss of lives and property. There was no time for football or any sports during this period. The first official match played by the Soviet national team was on November 16, 1924 against Turkey which resulted in a 3-0 Soviet victory. There was an unofficial match played against the then independent nation of Estonia in 1923 which was won 4-2 by the Soviets. The national team was sponsored by the state and main emphasis was laid more on Olympics than on the World Cup. However, the team qualified for seven final editions of the tournament from 1958 to 1990, with the exception of 1974 and 1978. The results in the Olympics were far more spectacular with two gold medals and three bronze medals. In the UEFA Euro Cup they won the inaugural tournament in 1960 and finished runners up in three occasions. The Soviet national team also won the inaugural Under 20 World Cup in 1977.
Gavriil Kachilin Victor Maslov
Golden Age of the 60s
Much of the success in the 1960s was under the managerial skills of Gavriil Kachilin, who was a keen man manager with a great rapport with the communist party bosses whom he persuaded not to interfere in his team matters. A Moscow XI made up of different Soviet players managed by Kachilin was the only team to beat the great Hungarian team in their winning run of 34 matches in 1952-54. This victory brought him to the notice of the sports minister who put him in charge of the national squad. Another big influence on Soviet and world football during this period was Victor Maslov, the former coach of Torpedo Moscow and Dinamo Kyiv. Maslov is credited to have been the inventor of the 4-4-2 formation and the concept of pressing in the early 1960s much before its implementation by Sir Alf Ramsey of England in 1966. He was the first person to understand the concept of not allowing opponents time with the ball. According to the noted football journalist Jonathan Wilson he was the initiator of modern football tactics as we know it today.
The Soviet national team of the 60s
This was the golden age of Soviet football with a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics and victory in the 1960 European nation’s cup. The best results in the World Cup were also during this period. The 1968 European nation’s cup semi -final against Italy, which finished in a goalless draw after extra time, was also a memorable match. Till date it is the only senior international final tournament match to be decided by the toss of a coin. The Soviet captain Albert Shesternyov called incorrectly and Italy advanced to the final and eventually won the trophy. The man who was identified as the face of Soviet football during this time was the legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin, voted as the best goalkeeper of the century in 2000 by International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS). Other major players of this period were Albert Shesternyov, Valeriy Voronin, Valentin Ivanov, Igor Netto, Igor Chislenko, Eduard Streltsov, Viktor Ponedelnik, Mikheil Meskhi and Murtaz Khurtsilava.
The other good period of Soviet football was in the late 1970’s to late 1980’s under the mercurial Ukrainian manager Valeriy Lobanovskyi, who had successfully managed the Dynamo Kyiv club to three European trophies in the 70s. During this period, Oleg Blokhin of Dynamo Kyiv emerged as one of the best forwards in Europe winning the Ballon D’Or in 1975. In the 1986 World Cup the Soviets topped their group by goal difference, winning their matches against Hungary and Canada easily. They drew the other group game against the defending European champions, France in a match which the media described as a match between two genuine contenders for the trophy. In the 2nd round they faced Belgium who were one of the best third placed teams to advance from the group stages. The Soviets were overwhelming favourites. The Soviet team dominated for long periods of the match and led by an Igor Belanov goal at halftime. The Belgians, unimpressive in the tournament till then, had two world class players in Jan Ceulemans and a young Enzo Scifo. Scifo equalised as the Soviet defence were put under pressure with counter-attacks and long balls by the opposition. Belanov restored the lead only to have Ceulemans equalise to take the match into extra time. The Soviets kept attacking and dominating their opponents in extra time, but conceded two counter-attacking goals, both of which were potentially off-side. Belanov completed his hat-trick by converting a penalty to reduce the margin. The Soviets laid siege to the Belgian goal during this period but could not equalise due to the magnificent performance of Jean Marie Pfaff, the Belgian goalkeeper. The exit of the Soviet team was described as a loss to the tournament. Ukrainian Belanov went on to win the Ballon D’Or that year after a very successful club season with Dynamo Kyiv.
Igor Belanov with the Ballon D’Or in 1986.
The team won gold at the 1988 Olympics defeating Brazil with Romario, Bebeto, Jorginho and Tafferel in the final 2-1 in an enthralling encounter. In Euro 1988 the Soviet team topped their group beating Netherlands on the way to the final. In the finals they were favourites against the Dutch whom they had defeated earlier, but fell to the genius of Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten. Igor Belanov missed a penalty to add to their woes. It was ironic that Lobanovskyi was defeated by the team managed by Rinus Michel whose idea of total football he tried to incorporate in his side. That was the last we saw of a strong Soviet side.
Decline and Fall
All this changed in 1989 after the fall of the Berlin wall, the subsequent advent of perestroika and glasnost and the demise of communism in Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union as a nation broke into different countries like Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia and Belarus. The system which was in place was finished, as the financial support of the government was required for other important things. The state of the art facilities that they enjoyed were all destroyed due to neglect. The Soviet clubs which were majorly backed by large government organisations were left to fend for themselves financially. This started an exodus as majority of the players started to move abroad to play for foreign clubs with lucrative contracts. The team did play as Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) for a few years and also managed to qualify for the Euro 1992 finals in Sweden. However, the CIS team was replaced by Russia in the finals by a FIFA decision as all the different countries wanted to develop their own national teams.
Facts figures and answers
The question which a lot of people ask is why does the current Russian team fail to produce similar results in international tournaments like the erstwhile Soviet teams? The answer is very simple – the current Russian team have the very industrious and organised mid-fielders and defenders. The Soviet team had their share of these players, but they had something extra. They had their creative Ukrainian mid-fielders, the lighting quick Belarusian wingers and very skilled Georgian full-backs. The current Russian national team has very few creative players like these. Similarly the Ukrainian and Georgian teams lack the organisation in defence and midfield of the Russian team. That was the essence of the Soviet team where the Russians would hold fort defensively and work hard. The Ukrainians, Belarusians and the Georgians would add the creative spark and flair. There have also been a few Latvian and Estonian defenders and wingers who have also been part of the Soviet teams. The Russians have played a little more than half the number of matches played by the Soviets till date. One cannot compare a single country with a conglomeration of fifteen different countries who have played double the number of matches. The game in the former Soviet states has also been plagued by politics, corruption and the advent of oligarchs of different types into the national federations. This has meant that the development of the game has evolved from the disciplined approach of the state to the whims and wishes of individuals. It is also a major reason for the number of players from these countries shining in clubs abroad but the national teams lagging behind.
The Soviet oligarchs have taken more interest in foreign clubs than their own. Chelsea and Roman Abrahamovich is the obvious example but others like Alisher Usmanov who owns a large share of Arsenal and Vladimir Antonov who bought Portsmouth from his countryman Alexander Gaydamuk, are also there. FC Schalke 04, the German Bundesliga club is sponsored by Gazprom, one of the major petroleum companies of Russia. It is a status symbol of the Russian elite glitterati to own a football club in a western nation. A few of these billionaires own some of the clubs at home as well. Leonid Fedun owns Spartak Moscow and the newest entrant to this elite group is Suleyman Kerimov, the owner of Anzhi Makhachkala. Anzhi have stunned the football world with a number of big name signings with massive sums of money like Samuel Eto and Roberto Carlos. Anzhi however is a product of the regional prestige of the Dagestan republic, who are proud of their roots and culture. The strange part is, the entire team stays and trains in Moscow, 2000 kilometres away and fly down to play their home matches in Makhachkala. This type of a system which is haphazard and based more on personal and regional egos and whims than logic, cannot possibly help in development of the game in the long run.
One positive point is that Russia will be hosting the World Cup in 2018. This will help in the building of a long term infrastructure like stadiums and training facilities. The Russian national team is also on the ascendancy with some good players playing in the major leagues of Europe. With the Russian system we can only say that either ‘madness is their method’ or ‘there is method in their madness’.
If we make a table of all the matches ever played by the Soviet Union it would read like this:
A team which has won nearly 56% of all their games and drawn a further 24% and lost only around 20% can be deemed to have a very successful record. Majority of the matches were against European opposition.
A similar table of all the matches played by Russia after the dissolution of the CIS:
This winning percentage is 52% with 24% matches drawn and loss percentage of 24%. The Russians have played more matches against lower ranked teams than their predecessors.
An all star Soviet Union squad of all times was selected by European Journalists in 1992 when the team was no longer in existence. It is a tribute to a bygone era where individuals rose above regional and ethnic differences and felt proud to play under a single flag and nation.
Soviet Union All Star Squad (All Time)
Name: Nationality: Club (Most appearances): Soviet National Team tenure
Eduard Streltsov: Russia : FC Torpedo Moscow: 1955–1968
Valentin Ivanov: Russia: FC Torpedo Moscow: 1956 – 1965
Mikheil Meskhi : Georgia: FC Dinamo Tbilisi: 1959–1966
Igor Belanov : Ukraine: : Dinamo Kyiv 1985–1990
Oleg Blokhin: Ukraine: Dinamo Kyiv: 1972–1988
Grigory Fedotov : Russia: CSKA Moscow: 1937–1945
Viktor Ponedelnik : Russia: SKA Rostov-on-Don: 1960–1966
Igor Chislenko: Russia: Dinamo Moscow : 1959 – 1968
Cover Page – November, 2011
November edition of Goalden Times has been published. Follow Us Follow Football. This edition is full of interesting picks all across the globe by columnists from vast cultural backgrounds.
First Whistle – November, 2011
Here’s presenting the fourth issue of Goalden Times and it’s been like ‘watching the baby grow – from the tiny bundle of joy, kicking in the air to rolling over and then taking its first wobbly toddler step to feel the earth that is soon to become its playing field’. It’s the most fascinating magic show in the world – perhaps only comparable to the magic on a football pitch. One is never prepared for the surprises that a fascinating game of football can present on a given day.
Take for instance, how Sir Alex Ferguson reeled for a while from the merciless drubbing as his “noisy neighbours” emerged as the club of the month to retain the top spot in England. And first time around in UEFA Champions League, they have turned the tables and brought alive the group of death. Moving on to Germany, Bayern Munich seems to be cruising through both the domestic and European competitions, but it remains to be seen how they perform after losing their charismatic midfielder, Bastian Schweinsteiger to an unfortunate injury which can keep him out of action for the rest of the year. In Spain, Real Madrid appears to be in great form. They have established a 3-point lead over their archrival Barcelona and look forward to changing the colour of the ribbon on the league trophy. Serie A continues to be the most competitive league with Udinese and Lazio sharing the top spot and Milan right behind them; but Juventus have a game in hand and a win will bring them back on top and make it a 4-way title fight.
In the European circuit, Ronaldo led Portugal into Euro 2012. They were joined by Czech Republic, Croatia and Ireland who also won their respective play-off matches. Moving to the land of Africa, Esperance have lifted the prized CAF Champions league and Zimbabwe striker Edward Sadomba has won the Golden Boot. In other news, as FC Barcelona players continued to dominate the Ballon d’Or shortlist this year, the club president has triggered a fresh debate, suggesting FIFA should pay players during the World Cup. We will keep an eye on how this debate unfolds.
The month was marked by sudden, unexplained illnesses of Rino Gattuso and Antonio Cassano. Last heard, they are recovering steadily and inching back to being match-ready. As true blue football fans, we’d like to wish them all the best and look forward to their speedy return to the pitch. As Diego Armando Maradona says: “Forza Antonio. Forza Rino. Football needs you.”