Every World Cup brings in some unique moments. Some just fade away with time, some gets engraved in the football lovers’ memory forever. Subhashis Biswas from GT handpicks 11 best moments of World Cup 2014.
11. Guillermo Ochoa’s goalkeeping
During the second group match of the World Cup against Brazil, the world suddenly took notice of the long curly-haired head-band wearing Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa. He saved a Neymar header when the ball was about to enter the goal, by flying to his right, ala Gordon Banks in 1970. He then saved a David Luiz header from point blank range in the second half, by sheer reflex. He again saved a shot from Hulk which had a goal written all over it. The ball did not enter the goal. Brazil were held to a 0-0 draw with Mexico largely due to Ochoa. Ochoa’s heroics continued in the next match against Croatia as well, and he denied Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric from scoring as Mexico won 3-1 to enter the round of 16. In that match against Netherlands, Mexico was 1-0 up against Netherlands till the 87th minute. Ochoa again saved two close range efforts from the Dutch offense line, and one of the saves were as incredible as it can get, with pure reflex denying the Dutch a sure shot goal. . Finally a Wesley Sneijder thunder and an Arjen Robben theatrics denied Mexico further progress in the World Cup, but Guillermo Ochoa, the ex-AJ Ajaccio goalkeeper, now free agent at that, had won many hearts and applauds for his performances in the World Cup. Big clubs are already lining up to get the signature of this keeper on the dotted line.
10. Flying RVP
In their first group match, Spain was up 1-0 in the match, via a controversially awarded Xabi Alonso penalty following which Diego Costa went down in the box after minimal contact. Netherlands was desperate for an equaliser. Just before the halftime, in the 44th minute, left wing back Dale Blind received a ball near the centre line, towards left side of the pitch. He quickly noticed an advancing Robin van Persie near the Spanish penalty area, with three defenders backtracking towards their goal. Blind delivered a perfect left-footed cross, which took a parabolic trajectory and was going towards the Spanish penalty area. van Persie realised he was a little behind the ball, and also realised that Iker Casillas was way off his goal line. He threw his body in front, as if he was taking off to fly, and headed the cross with his body a good 2-3 feet above the ground, in a flying position. The header exploited the gap Casillas had left behind him and the ball looped inside the Spanish goal leaving the goalkeeper hopelessly stranded. The flying picture position of Robin van Persie was symbolic as it signalled the taking off of the Dutch Wrld Cup campaign (they won the match 5-1, and eventually finished 3rd in the World Cup
9. Spain’s disastrous campaign and early exit
The signs were evident in last year’s Confederations Cup. Yet victories in the qualifying campaign forced Vincente del Bosque in denial mode. But the shortcomings of Spain finally got brutally exposed in the final round. Spain ruled the world of football for 6 six years winning everything wthat was there to be won – . 2008 Euro, 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro. They were drawn in a tough group with Netherlands, Chile and Australia, but pundits expected them to win the group. Little did they expect that an ageing midfield, ineffective defence and nonexistent forward line would be unable to put up even a fight against the Dutch and Chile. Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets can no longer execute the “tiki-taka” brand of football with perfection they used to do around three years ago. Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos were never on the same page when an attack came towards Spanish defence. Add the embarrassment of Iker Casillas to this. The legendary goalkeeper, winner of several accolades in his illustrious career, was literally scrambling in kneel-down position inside the penalty area for most of the time against Netherlands and Chile. He conceded seven goals in two matches (in 1-5 loss to Netherlands and 0-2 defeat against Chile), and Spain exited the World Cup just after 180 minutes of football. The future, though, is bright for Spain with a lot of young talents like Ilaramendi, Isco, Thiago Alacantara, David de Gea, waiting in the ranks. But first, the football association has to get out of their self-denial mode.
8. Tim Howard’s heroics
USA always comes up with a fighting and spirited display in the World Cup . This time around, it was no exception. They were grouped with eventual winner Germany, always dangerous Portugal, and last edition’s quarter finalists Ghana in Group G. They emerged from that group with four points, defeating Ghana 2-1, sharing spoils with Portugal 2-2, and losing to Germany 0-1. Their inspirational goalkeeper, Everton’s Tim Howard was the mainstay as the last line of defence, making some incredible saves during the group stage, especially against an attacking Portugal side and eventual champions Germany. But Tim Howard’s heroics scaled a different level in the round of 16 match against Belgium. He denied Divock Origi several times; including a fist to clear a thunderous 20-yard drive by the striker. He denied his Everton colleague Kevin Mirallas with his feet in the 76th minute. Vincent Kompany then headed in Kevin de Bruyne’s cross goalwards but Howard’s heroics again denied him. These are just glimpses of Tim Howard’s monumental performance that day. He marshalled the whole defence, and took the game to extra time, only to succumb to goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. He made an incredible total of 16 saves – an all time record for the World Cup in recorded matches (since 1966) – , many of which would have been goals with any other goalkeeper on any other day. USA bowed out losing 1-2, but Tim Howard’s performance will remain as one of the greatest performances by a goalkeeper in a World Cup match.
7. Chile fans stormed media center
Chile faced Spain in Estadio Maracana on 18th of June in their second group match, with Chile having a chance to qualify for the next round with a win and knocking Spain out of the World Cup. But chaos is an understatement to what had happened just before the match. About 100 Chilean fans, without tickets to the match, and wearing replica Chile jerseys, broke into the media center inside the Maracana stadium. The fans ran through the media center, then broke a glass door, and took out temporary doors, partitions, TV sets – whatever came their way. Some of the fans started taking photos with their mobile phones as if it was a moment to savour for life!. A group of fans were shouting slogans and flaunting posters. The part of media center was not heavily guarded, and the fans got a free passage, and almost were in the hallway which lead to the field and locker room. The chaos lasted for about 20 minutes before the security personnel cordoned the area and forced about 85 fans to sit in front of a wall. Most of these personnels were later deported from the country within 72 hours. Chilean fans accused FIFA of making the ticket price high in Chile, and selling tickets illegally. According to them, all Chileans should be allowed to enter inside the stadium during a “Chile match” !
6. Klose world record
This was his fourth World Cup. Miroslav Klose had already scored five goals each in 2002 and 2006, and four goals in 2010. He needed two more goals in 2014 edition to surpass Ronaldo as all time leading scorer in World Cups. Germany heavily relied on their midfield in this edition of the Cup, with Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil providing the attacking threat upfront. Klose, therefore, was not the main target man, according to Joaechim Loew’s plans. He was an unused substitute in the first match against Portugal, where Muller stole the limelight with a hattrick. Klose came in as substitute for Mario Goetze as Germany was trailing 1-2 to Ghana in their second group match (only time Germany trailed in the whole tournament). Within two minutes of coming in, he tapped in from close range after a corner, to equalise the score at 2-2. Having equalled the goals tally on 15 with Ronaldo,. Klose had to wait till the semifinal match-up against Brazil to score again. Germany routed Brazil 7-1 in that match. Klose scored the second goal for Germany in the 23rd minute in a 7-1 rout. Brazil’s meltdown stole all the limelight , but the silent assassin had done enough to register himself permanently in the World Cup history books.
5. Neymar’s fracture
The game between Brazil and Colombia in the round of 16 was not for the purists a clean one. Total 54 fouls were committed. Brazil started the brutality with a series of fouls on Colombian youngster James Rodriguez – and ended that match with a staggering 31 fouls — the highest in a World Cup match since they were recorded from1966 – and slowly Colombian defenders and midfielders started to return the favour . Defender Juan Zuniga was probably the most hostile of them all. He committed a foul on Hulk in the first half which should have resulted in a yellow card. But the defining moment came on the 87th minute of the match. Brazil was winning 2-1, and Colombia was in search of an equaliser. An aerial ball came towards Neymar, and Zuniga was just behind him. Before Neymar could reach the ball, Zuniga leap-frogged over Neymar’s shoulder and tried to reach the ball. In the process, Zuniga’s knee collided fiercely with Neymar’s back. Immediately the poster boy of Brazilian football fell to the ground, writhing in pain. Medical help arrived, assessed the seriousness of the injury, and stretchered him off immediately to the hospital. The doctors diagnosed that there is a fracture at the transverse process below third lumbar vertebra, which means the fracture is at the spinal cord ! Had it been a couple of inches lower, Neymar could have been paralyzed for life. The fracture did not require surgery, but needed rest and minimal movement for recovery. Neymar was out of the World Cup, and so was Brazil, a match later, against Germany in the semi-final. Neymar lying on the ground, writhing in pain, became symbolic with Brazil’s exodus from the cup of their dreams.
4. The viral image of David Luiz cheering up James
Brazil faced Colombia in the quarter final, with one James Rodriguez hogging as much limelight as Neymar Junior before the match. James Rodriguez had scored five goals in four matches prior to the QF match, with a brace against Uruguay in the round of 16 match. His dazzling runs, dribbles, quick passing, left footed volleys and intelligent positioning had impressed football lovers around the world, and a tough match was on the cards against the Brazilians. Brazil did not give him much space though,; with Fernandinho and Marcello marking him tight during the match, Rodriguez was at the receiving end of many fouls committed by Brazil. Brazil took an early lead via Thiago Silva from the corner, and David Luiz doubled the lead via a free kick in the 2nd half. Rodriguez scored his sixth goal (and would eventually win the Golden Boot) via a penalty in the dying minutes of the match, but Colombia lost 1-2 to bow out of the tournament. Colombia won many hearts through their display of attractive skilful football. James Rodriguez cried inconsolably after the match, as the dream of a budding youngster was shattered by the host nation. David Luiz then walked up to embrace Rodriguez, exchanged jerseys with him, and pointed towards him and encouraged the crowd to appreciate the efforts of this sensational young player. The image of Luiz pointing towards Rodriguez went viral across social and print media, and became a symbol of affection and sportsman spirit during the World Cup.
3. Brazil’s fan handing cup to German fan
Clovis Acosta Fernandes,the 58-year old man with the hat and moustache, as the whole world recognises him, has been to every World Cup since 1990 and many a Copa America, totalling to over 150 international matches. He travels with the Brazil team and this is his seventh World Cup, the first one at home. Clovis carried a replica trophy of the World Cup, which is almost exactly of the similar size of the original. Only difference according to him, was that his trophy was “kissed” much more times than the original. He is often known as Brazil’s 12th man.
He was in the stands at Belo Horizonte, on 8th of July during the semi-final between Brazil and Germany. He could not believe what was happening before his eyes. Germany won the match 7-1, leading 5-0 after only 30 minutes of football. The whole country was weeping, crying. Clovis was crying. Clovis hugged the trophy with tearful eyes, as if he did not want to let his dream evaporate and was instantly labelled the the Saddest Man in Brazil all over the international media. But this man has a golden heart. After the match, Clovis walked up to a lady, who was a German fan, , handed the trophy over to her, and said ”Take this trophy with you to Maracana. It is in good hands with you. Congratulations.“ His gesture won him admiration from across the world, and showed everyone that football is all about sportsman spirit and big heart.
2. Ghana cash convoy
A series of three cars, flanked by five police cars- a convoy of total of eight cars were moving along the highway entering Brasilia, where Ghana was supposed to play Portugal in their last group match. The unusualness of this incident was that- those cars were carrying more than $3 million in cash! Yes, this was probably the only instance in World Cup history where the national federation of a country had to pay that large amount in cash to its players, that too in the face of an imminent threat to boycott just before they took the field in a World Cup match. According to their star player, Kevin- Prince Boateng, the preparation for the World Cup was a shambolic one. The Ghana team had to fly economy class on a a 12-hour flight, and stay in hotel rooms where the ceilings leaked and the rooms were flooded. The players were not paid their dues, and Ghana’s football federation did not use the money they received from FIFA for World Cup preparations. Immediately Boateng and fellow senior player Sulley Muntari were suspended and sent back home by Ghana Football Fedeartion. Ghana’s president John Mahama had to intervene and the “cash convoy” arrived in Brasilia, and the players then agreed to take the field against Portugal. Social media was flooded with the images of the cash convey arriving at the hotel with armed escort and defender John Boye kissing a stack of money after it arrived by armed escort. Apparently the players wanted the money in cash as most of them did not have even bank accounts back home! Ghana lost the match 1-2 and bowed out from the tournament with only 1 point. They were the only team not to be beaten by Germany though (2-2 draw), and only team who actually led eventual winner Germany during the World Cup.
1. Suarez Biting
Italy and Uruguay – both the teams were on three points having defeated England and lost to Costa Rica ! The superior goal difference meant Italy needed a draw where Uruguay had to win the match to qualify for the next round. The match was never entertaining, as both the teams were really aggressive and frequent fouls stopped the game from gathering any momentum. . Claudio Marchisio was sent off in the 59th minute, and the Italians were fighting hard to hold off Uruguay for rest of the match. Around the 79th minute of the match, an off the ball incident left the world completely in shock. Luis Suarez had jumped on to Giorgio Chiellini’s shoulder, then covered his face with his palm and fell on ground. Chiellini was on the ground as well, but immediately got up, exposed his shoulder from his shirt and showed the bite mark to the referee. Suarez was sitting on the ground holding his teeth!! Referee did not punish Suarez, a bemused and shell shocked Italian team conceded from a corner through Diego Godin two minutes later, and had to go back home.
Suarez and Uruguay team tried to downplay the incident initially, but later, after criticism poured in from around the world, FIFA took the matter seriously. After investigation, FIFA handed a four-month and nine- match ban to Luis Suarez. Uruguay lost to Colombia 0-2 in the round of 16 match and bowed out of the competition.
The Dutch Debacle: Possible Solutions
History repeats itself as favourites Netherlands self-destroy themselves in yet another major tournament. Subhashis Biswas looks into the life of the Dutch beyond Euro 2012
When the final whistle blew at Metalist Stadium, Kharkiv on Sunday, June 17, the expressions on the faces of the Dutch players on the pitch were almost the same as they were two years ago at Johannesburg. Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vart, Robin van Persie and others were all either looking blankly at the turf or to the sky!
The difference? In Jo’burg, they had failed to win a World Cup final in their third attempt. In Kharkiv, they lost three competitive matches in a row in a major tournament for the first time in their footballing history, and thus bowed out of Euro 2012 empty-handed.
We have all seen what happened on the pitch with Dutch football in this Euro, so shall not deep dive into it. It will suffice to say that they simply did not finish effectively. The story could have been a whole lot different had they scored goals in the first match. They had created many chances, and going by the calibre of their goalscorers, they should have won that match at least 3-1.
Unfortunately, that did not happen, and nothing did happen for them afterwards. Their match with Germany was reminiscent of the Italia 1990 round of 16 match-up, sans the Voeller-Riijkaard saga. Holland was almost non-existent in that match, and some poor finishing by the Germans saved them from further blushes. The movements, the penetrations, the punching finish, were all quite evidently lacking. Could be players like Giovanni van Bronckhorst were being missed considerably.
Anyway, as there is no way to turn the clock back, at least in the real world, let us move on. It is important to think, how the Dutch should move forward, because within three months the World Cup qualifiers will be here.
A lot of people may think that this crack in the Dutch scenario is nothing much to worry about. Every possible good player is available at various positions. Maarten Stekelenburg has done his best and he is a worthy torchbearer for the likes of Edwin van der Saar. He can be nurtured into the future captain of Holland. Over the years we have seen their goalkeepers uniting a football squad short of spirit. Dutch football need not entertain the thought of a complete overhaul. Their football association must conduct a root cause analysis of Dutch failure. Not only in this Euro, but time and again, the Dutch players have been to big tournaments with plenty of dressing room problems.
Most of the Dutch star players play in separate teams, where they are indispensable for their club sides. Come national team scenario, there is bound to be some omissions from the starting eleven, and that’s where the problem begins. Having too many talented, but egoistic players vying for the same position is recipe for disaster. That is what happens with them most of the times. There were problems regarding different types of players and camps within the Dutch squad in earlier days. The Dutch team that won Euro 1988 was a tough one, and such was the stature of Ruud Gullit at the time, that other players got united under him and delivered the best performance by a Dutch side, recorded till date. But almost the same set of Dutch players then lost to Denmark in a penalty shoot-out at Euro 1992 semi-final, and stories of rift in the squad started pouring in. Before delving into the rift theory, let’s take a quick look at the current Spanish squad. Most of the players in the Spanish national team play their club football in Real Madrid and Barcelona – two of the fiercest rivals of club football, or for that matter any form of football, and the rivalry stretches much beyond the football ground. Yet when the time comes, all men playing under the La Furia Roja banner unite like they are part of one body, and deliver like there is only one goal in their life. That’s how professionals ought to play. Different individuals may have diverse upbringings, opinions and egos. But on the pitch, there should be only one goal- to put the ball inside the opponent’s goal, and protect it from entering your own.
Football is a simple game, but players tend to complicate it. Bert van Merwijk created problems by his poor reading and judgment of the squad. Mark van Bommel, alas, is no longer one of the great holding midfielders to have donned the orange jersey. Making him the captain,, when some other worthy players are warming the bench, does not look like a wise idea. Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart are both creative players and to accommodate them in the squad, Bert van Merwijk could have employed Robin van Persie as wide-left out to partner Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The formation would have been 4-3-3, and Holland could have looked more effective in that scenario. But that meant son-in-law Mark van Bommel sitting on the bench. The coach’s daughter probably would not have liked that!
Rafael van der Vaart had a relatively good season at Spurs, and was expected in the starting line-up for the Oranje. But he ended up on the bench more often than not. Same with Hunteelar. Recently Johan Cruyff billed him as the ’next best thing’ in Dutch football. After rather poor stints at AC Milan and Real Madrid, Hunteelar has settled in Schalke 04 for the last couple of seasons and found his goal-scoring touch. He wasn’t too pleased at not seeing his name in the starting XI. And those who were in the starting eleven did not live up to expectations.
Robin van Persie has scored a plethora of goals in EPL this season and carried the Gunners almost single-footedly to the next season’s Champions League. Yet, he failed to deliver in the Euro. In the first match against the Danes, he wasted a fairly simple chance of scoring at the start of the match, shooting the ball well over the bar from a relatively close range. He never was allowed a free shot at the goal in the rest of the match. Sometimes the Danish defenders suffocated the Dutch forward line at the edge of the penalty area and the Dutch players were forced to shoot from a long range, albeit ineffectively.
That 0-1 loss to Denmark probably took all the steam out of the Dutch team. What everybody termed as the match of the Euro, after the draw, the Germany-Netherlands encounter turned out to be a badly one-sided affair. Thanks to some missed chances by Thomas Muller and Mario Gomez, the scoreline looked a respectable 2-1. Something similar happened against Portugal as well. A bright start, a superb Rafael van der Vaart goal, and then Ronaldo stole the show, and the Dutch slowly but surely faded out of the tournament, registering three losses in a competitive tournament for the first time in history.
Robben jumped out of the ground from the far side and was not seen in the bench after being substituted in one match. He never looked like a team player. Sneijder admitted that the Dutch dressing room was not a place where people treat each other as friends. As long as the common goal of winning trophies remained intact, he did not have any issues with it. But the problem persisted. All the big players with their self-proclaimed superiority over the others, wanted to increase their price in the club football market. After all, the previous Euro had given rise to the likes of Andre Arshavin and Luca Modric. One could barely see the pride of playing for the country. Mark van Bommel was saying a lot of things to his previous club mate Bastian Schweinsteigerafter the Holland-Germany match. Bastian was consoling him. Consolations do not heal wounds. Unless you feel the depth and pain of the wound, you will never be able to heal it. I have seen the blank faces of Dutch players after the match against Portugal, but that pain was missing. They have to feel the agony of losing, in order to succeed in the future.
What lies ahead for Dutch football? First step: out goes Bert van Merwijk, enter Louis van Gaal. Yes, Louis van Gaal. Last time when he was the coach for a substantial period of time with the Holland national team, they failed to qualify for 2002 World Cup; their only failure to qualify for a major tournament in recent times. He tasted some success with Ajax, followed by Barca, and his last big assignment was with Bayern Munich. Overall, as the football world recognizes him, he is a decent coach. But here, old wine is served in an old bottle. The Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) thinks this is the right step forward. Although, quite a few people have doubts regarding his appointment.
Coming to players, who are the new bloods in Dutch football? First thing that popped up in my mind after the debacle in Euro, is that I missed a player named Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The ex-Arsenal and Barcelona player was a link between defence, midfield and wing players. He changed positions along the flanks frequently, and sometimes used to cut back inside effectively to create scoring opportunity. Holland lacked versatility in Euro. Same old left flank runs by Robben or powerful shooters by van Persie were no more a threat to opponents who were well prepared this time.
Ron Vlaar is creating some excitement in EPL. Some of the mid-table EPL clubs are after him. Names like John Heitinga, Joris Mathijsen and Gregory van der Wiel are common in football circle by now. The problem is players like Nigel de Jong have not evolved in the last few years. Holland is getting stuck in the midfield, no supply line, not many players who can orchestrate a game from the midfield. Wesley Sneijder needs to change his approach. He will have to get back to the level of the second half of 2010 World Cup match against Brazil. He is becoming more of a dead-ball player nowadays.
Patrick van Aanholt has been on loan in various clubs after 2009, and played just a couple of matches for Chelsea. He is a young speedy defender. Good coaching can help him cut down juvenile mistakes, based on which he can have a bright future. Jetro Willems is a strong defender, who can play in centre back along with his usual left back position. These two should be good prospects as full-backs. They also have Erik Pieters, Alexander Buttner and Urby Emanuelson to consider for the full-back positions. Urby is rather an experienced player, having played seven seasons for Ajax and currently with AC Milan.
In central defence, Daley Blind, son of Danny Blind, is a good prospect. He needs a strong marker as assistant, and some names that can pop up there are Ryan Donk, Jeffrey Bruma and Nick Viergever. Jeff Bruma has played a few games for Chelsea, and then was on loan to Leicester City and Hamburger SV. His height and presence in central defence makes him an intimidating player. Jeffrey Gouweleeuw can be another choice, though he is short on experience, and need some more playing time at the club level before he can be tested in national team. But the man who will rise strong in the central defence and counter opponent attacks both on the field and air, is Douglas Franco Teixeira. He is a sure choice for the Dutch in Brazil 2014. The defence needs to be built around him.
As holding midfielders, Dutch playing style allow only one player in that role. Kevin Strootman did not get a look-in although he was in the Euro 2012 squad. Nigel de Jong is still there, but if freshening up the squad is the agenda then Kevin is definitely a choice. He can be used as a sweeper too. Another option is Stijn Schaars. Schaars is an experienced campaigner, having played most of his club football at AZ Alkmaar, and moved to Sporting Club de Portugal last season. Some other names in this position are Jordy Clasie, Leroy Frer and Vernon Anita. Vernon Anita came through Ajax youth ranks and has been a consistent performer for Ajax in the last few years. He was also selected in the preliminary squad for 2010 World Cup, but was not picked for the final squad. Martin Jol introduced him as left-back, but later he was more successful as defensive midfielder.
In the more creative role as a midfielder, Netherlands is well set. Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vart should play together to open up the field in a more effective way. They will need some support in the upper half of the field. Marco van Genkel and Adam Maher can both be their support and backup.
Up front, Luuk de Jong is creating headlines. He had three fairly reasonable seasons with Twente, and several clubs from EPL and other leagues are looking to sign him. He recognizes the goal. He has a sense of where the opponent’s goal is, and his effectiveness in putting the ball inside the net is admirable. Dutch Eredivisie generally consists of good big defenders and Luuk de Jong showed promise by scoring goals against those defenders.
Bas Dost has been the top-scorer of Dutch Eredivisie in the 2011-12 season. He scored 32 goals in Eredivisie last season for SC Heerenveen and will be playing for Bundesliga club VfL Wolfsburg in the coming season. Under the guidance of Marco van Basten, who knows a thing or two about goal-scoring, Dost learnt the art well and can be a great prospect for the national team. He has the looks and movements of a striker. KNVB will do well to nurture him.
So the talents are there. Dutch Eredivisie has always been the place from where some spectacular world beaters came up, played the game in an artistic, passionate yet steadfast way, and achieved glory through the years, though mainly at the club level. The current group playing inside the Netherlands boundary is also capable of doing great things in future. Holland is like an emotional and unpredictable pop singer – creative minded, passionate, sometimes beautiful yet sometimes straightforward. And, like we all know, a pop singer’s life will always be eventful. Sometimes their shows are a complete sell-out, while at other times you won’t find many followers. Sometimes they might disappoint you, but can leave you spellbound too.
We cannot revisit the past and alter the course of history. Also, old habits die hard. However, what Holland need now is stability. They are due to catch the plane to Rio de Janeiro come summer of 2014. Other than Turkey, they will not have much competition to face in their World Cup qualifying round group. How they will fare in Brazil, depends a lot on the next few months. Will the artistic pop star rise again? As football lovers, we await the return of “Rhythm Total”.
The First Blood
Group B: Holland vs Denmark
Friday, 09 June 2012
1800(local time); 1200(EST); 2130(IST)
Stadion Metalist , Kharkiv
The first game in the “Group of Death” of the most recent edition of the European Championship will be on its way today at the Metalist stadium in Kharkiv. The two teams that will be battling out today are both ranked among the top 10 in the world according to the latest FIFA rankings. A high adrenaline game is definitely to be expected between the 1988 Euro Cup Champions, the Dutch and the 1992 Euro Cup Champions, the Danes. Netherlands are definitely one of the favorites to win this year’s championship, while Denmark will try to bring on an upset in order to enhance their chances of progression from the group stage. The last time these two faced was in 2010 World Cup, when goals by Daniel Agger (own goal) and Dirk Kuyt helped the Dutch to get obtain a 2-0 victory over their Scandinavian opponents.
The Dutch will be banking on their fantastic forward line up starring Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben with Ibrahim Affelay, Wesley Sneijder, Mark Van Bommel and Nigel de Jong providing an excellent support in the midfield. However, the biggest concern for the Oranje remains their defensive line up. They will be missing out Joris Mathijsen, the experienced center back due to a hamstring injury he faced against a friendly with Bulgaria few days back. Erik Pieters, the regular starting left-back was also ruled out from the tournament due to injury. It will be interesting to see how they can handle the Dane attack in absence of these regular players.
Denmark, on the other hand, will have their full team at hand, except regular goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, who received an injury during a friendly with Brazil. Denmark will definitely be banking on Christian Eriksen, Dennis Rommedahl and of course, Niklas Bendtner for strengthening their attack. The key point to note is how these three can utilize the absence of regular players in the Dutch defense and score. Daniel Agger, who had probably his best season with Liverpool this year, will be looking to block Van Persie from scoring.
Denmark came into the tournament on a high note, with winning 6 of the 8 games in the qualifying round. Although they lost to both Russia and Brazil recently, the last game played by them was against Australia, when they brought home a clear 2-0 victory. Denmark topped Group H at the qualifying round, even ahead of their current group-mates Portugal.
Last 5 games: WWLLW
Netherlands qualified for the European Championship by making it to the top of Group E with 9 victories out of the 10 games. Their recent losses against Bayern Munich and Bulgaria (at their home ground) might be shocking, but their glorious victories over the last two games before coming for this tournament against Slovakia and Northern Ireland will surely regain their confidence.
Last 5 games: WLLWW
Teams and Formations
Netherlands: (4-2-3-1): Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel, Heitinga, Vlaar, Willems, De Jong, Van Bommel, Robben, Sneijder, Afellay, Van Persie
Manager: Bert van Marwijk
Denmark: (4-2-3-1): Anderson, Jacobsen, Kjaer, Agger, S. Poulsen, C. Poulsen, Kvist, Rommedahl, Eriksen, Krondelhi, Bendtner
Manager: Morten Olson
Match Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
Assistant Referees: Primoz Arhar (Slovenia) and Matej Zunic (Slovenia)
“They say they’re going to be underdogs and I think so as well, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for us.”
Bert van Marwijk doesnt think it will be easy.
“I’m actually quite jealous of the Dutch as we’re not in their shoes. The Dutch say that if they don’t win the title then that will be a tremendous disappointment; we can’t say that. What we can say is that if we get through this group then we’ve already won.”
Morten Olsen the Danish manager outlines the difference in targets.
The Year That Was – When Romance Returned to Football
As the football season resumes in earnest again, Debopam Roy takes you through the year that just went by – a year when romance returned to football. So grab some popcorn and read on
Year 2011 has been one of romance and glory for football. We witnessed celebrated victories of AC Milan in Serie A (ending a five year dominance of rivals Inter), of Lille in the French Ligue 1 (after a 56-year wait), of Borussia Dortmund in Germany (after a decade) of Uruguay in the Copa America (their 15th win overall, but one that came after 15 years). But the one thing that has been a permanent fixture is the dominance of Barcelona in the Spanish and international club scene. A Jose Mourinho-inspired Real managed to prise Copa del Rey away in April but otherwise the blaugrana have been ruling the roost pretty well – that Copa del Rey loss being the only blemish in all the competitions they participated in. The peak probably came when Barcelona ruthlessly exposed the shortcomings of a Manchester United club, which had attained its holy grail of 19 league championships, overtaking Liverpool’s long standing record. The Red Devils would then reach dizzy heights including THAT 8-2 but would also see the troughs of 6-1 shellacking at home in the derby and end up without Champions League knockout stage qualification for only the third time in the history of the Champions League. The city of Manchester was united in that disappointment as Manchester City too bowed out of Europe on the same day but 2011 was a seminal year otherwise for them, and City won their first ever title in close to 40 years by winning the FA Cup. They followed that up with a solid showing in the Premier League, which has seen them march past most of their opponents for much of the 2011-12 season. The year had many such vignettes and we try to capture some of them here.
Return of the Prodigal Son
Honourable Mention II: Barcelona finally managed to sign Cesc Fabregas after …well, since the day he was let go. A couple of years of ‘will he, won’t he’ and the prank Barcelona jersey put on him by Gerard Pique and Andres Iniesta during the 2010 World Cup celebrations, Fabregas finally made the jump in 2011, after seven years with Arsenal and has proved that it was much more than a bench role, by scoring nine times in thirteen games, for the Catalan giants.
Honourable Mention I: Twice FIFA World Player of the Year, feted for his skills in leading Barcelona to their first Champions League win in 15 years, Ronaldinho was supposedly dumped for a pre-retirement jaunt by Milan, at the beginning of 2011. He was back in Brazil playing for Flamengo and with 21 goals and eight assists in the 52 matches thereafter, he had made up for lost time. He inspired the team to the Taça Guanabara, Taça Rio and Campeonato Carioca and had worked his way into the Brazilian team. This was no mean feat, as he had been ostracised from the national team since 2008.
And the 2011 “Return of the Prodigal Son” is Kenny Dalglish aka King Kenny.
Back in the club of his greatest adventure and at a time when they were looking at the real spectre of relegation dogfight, King Kenny rallied Liverpool to a sixth place finish. On another day that would have been sufficient for European action but with Fulham, Stoke City and Birmingham City all qualifying from either cup competitions or fair play leagues, Liverpool endured their first season out of Europe in over a decade. Still Kenny Dalglish deserves praise for rallying around a team of misfiring, disjointed players who had been in decline for some time.
The Oil League
Honourable Mention II: Anzhi Makhachkala is owned by Suleyman Kerimov, a man listed as #118 on the Forbes list of the World’s Billionaires. Anzhi sprung the most unlikely coup by luring Samuel Eto’o from Inter Milan for €28 mn and in the process making him the richest salaried football player (or even athlete if you believe some reports) at €20.5 mn. Anzhi though just about managed to qualify for second stage in the revamped Russian Premier League. This second stage involves the top eight teams from the regular season, which has 30 matches home and away and plays another double-legged league. Anzhi finished eighth to qualify for this but doesn’t look like winning the championship anytime soon.
Honourable Mention I: Malaga CF was reportedly bought for €36mn by Sheikh Al Thani, a member of the Qatari Royal family. Unlike the other oil rich clubs, Malaga has been looking at older marquee players rather than buying top notch players for astronomical fees. Hence players like Julio Baptista, Martin Demichelis, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Joris Mathijsen have found favour. The managerial reins are with Manuel Pellegrini who had taken over the club while being in the relegation zone and led them to an 11th place finish. The 2011-12 season has been even better so far with Malaga sitting in sixth place and in a La Liga sharply polarised between the top two and the rest of the eighteen teams, stands a bright chance to qualify for Europe next year.
But the Oil League’s top dogs have been the cousins of the Qatari Royal family who controlled Paris St.Germain (PSG) and Manchester City. They spent €86 mn and €93 mn in the summer transfer window. This money can be considered well spent though, as apart from buying some of the biggest names of world football – Sergio Aguero, Javier Pastore, Samir Nasri – both the teams managed to finish 2011 at the top of their leagues. There was continental disappointment though as PSG crashed out of Europa League and City crashed out of Champions League.
Underdog Story of the Year
Honourable Mention II: The 2011 Copa America was supposed to be the crowning glory for an Argentinian team led by Leo Messi. Hosting the tournament with Messi, widely recognized as the best player in the planet and comparisons with all time greats a common occurrence; it was almost granted that Messi would lead the hugely talented Argentine attacking line to the title. The challenge was supposed to come from a Brazilian national team, which boasted new stars on the block – Neymar and Ganso. What transpired instead was elimination at the quarter final stage and it was Uruguay continuing the resurgence under Oscar Tabarez. The semi-final appearance that Uruguay had managed in the 2010 World Cup was not a fluke was reiterated once more as Uruguay defeated Argentina on its way to a title, which made them the team with the highest number of Copa titles and also their first title in 15 years. A new generation has come up in the national team embodied by Edinson Cavani and this team is primed for even more glories.
Honourable Mention I: To properly understand what Apeol FC has managed, one needs to maybe look at what it means for the country’s European co-efficients. After the 2010-11 season, Cyprus lay at the 20th position in the European coefficient rankings but six months of 2011-12 has seen them rising to 16th, over teams like Czech Republic and Croatia among others. A major part of this dramatic rise is owing to the exploits of Apoel F.C. in Europe. Rank outsiders and in only their second foray in the marquee league, Apoel stunned all to top their group, which contained Porto, Shakhtar and Zenit. In the process, they confined last season’s Europa champions, Porto out of the Champions league. This achievement becomes even more creditable when you consider that Apoel had to overcome three opponents in the qualifying tournament just to get into the Champions League group stages. A second round match against Lyon will not daunt them and Cyprus may look out for a further boost to their rankings.
The French Ligue 1 has been dominated in the 21st century by Lyon and finally Bordeaux has managed to break that stranglehold. However, little Lille stunned everyone to win both the league and the Coupe de France in 2011 scoring a league-leading 72 goals and winning the league with rounds to spare. Lille have managed to do it with a string of homegrown players, the leader of that pack being Eden Hazard and to this mix, players like Moussa Sow and Rio Mavuba have been added. Sow especially was hugely impressive scoring 25 goals including three hat-tricks, the final of which came on the last day of the season. Sow has carried on that form into the 2011-12 season as well as leading the scoring charts for this richly talented Lille side. The oil money of PSG (read above) notwithstanding, Lille would be fighting for further glory this year, and another domestic double is not out of reach.
Forget the fact that he was ridiculed as a fashion accessory and on his way to retirement when he left Real Madrid for the lucrative confines of Major League Soccer; David Beckham is honest and diligentin his efforts. It might have taken him four years but he has finally managed to win a trophy with the Los Angeles Galaxy. The Los Galacticos are one of the heavyweights of the MLS but have remained empty-handed since 2005. Since his move in 2007, Beckham had been hardly inspiring for the team with his spate of injuries and multiple loan spells to Milan. 2011 though would change that and Galaxy would win the MLS Cup and the MLS Supporter’s Shield. Beckham became the most influential player, scoring 2 goals and providing 13 assists in the 27 matches he played in. To put it into perspective, that count of 13 assists is the highest that Beckham has ever managed in his professional career in a single season.
Japan had been devastated in 2011 in a Tsunami, which had rendered a threat of nuclear pollution in the entire Asian region but within months, the Nadeshikowent on an amazing winning spree, to claim the first ever Football World Cup at the senior level for Asia. In the process, Japan became only the fourth ever winner of the Women’s World Cup. They had already beaten the hosts and two-time reigning champions Germany in the quarter final 1-0 after extra time and then easily disposed of the Swedes in the semis. Another two-time champion and heavyweights of the women’s game, the US awaited them in the final. Twice, the US took the lead; twice Japan equalised. The first was in the 81st minute and the second in the 117th minute. Ultimately, they would win 3-1 in the penalty shoot out to claim the first Asian World Cup. In addition, Japan won the FIFA Fair Play trophy too while ace forward, Homare Sawa won both the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot. It was a magical night when all the stories that you have heard of David slaying Goliath came true.
Year of the Minnows
Honourable Mention II: A 30-year-old Romanian computer programmer, Eduard Ranghiuc spotted something which brought into focus the whole procedure in which teams are ranked by FIFA. Normally FIFA ranks and awards points in whole numbers and as per that ranking system, Wales was ahead of Faroe Island. However, with Mr. Ranghiuc spotting an error in FIFA’s calculation, he claimed the Faroese should have got 0.7 points more and that would push them beyond the Wales. The Faroe Association lobbied hard and Wales suffered the ignominy of being in the last pot of UEFA for the Qualifying draw. It may not matter ultimately as the Faroese have drawn Germany, Sweden, Irish Republic, Austria and Kazakhstan, and the Kazakhs are possibly their best chance to earn some points. The Welsh drew Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Belgium and fellow British side, Scotland.
Honourable Mention I: Back in Asia, it was a remarkable achievement when Afghanistan reached the finals of the South Asian Cup. Ravaged by war and ranked a lowly 178, the Afghans surprised everyone, including themselves by drawing with hosts and firm favourites, India in the lung opener. However, they then exceeded that performance by beating Sri Lanka and Bhutan in the group stages and then defeating the formidable Nepal (nearly 30 places ahead of them in FIFA rankings) in the semi finals. Their opponent in the final was India again. It was a tough match; the scores were tied till the Afghan goalkeeper was shown red and a penalty was awarded to India. After this incident, the Afghan resistance wilted and they lost the match 4-0.
They had last won a match in 1983 when neither they nor their opponent were part of FIFA. They have the world record for conceding the highest number of goals (31-0 shellacking at the hands of the Aussies). But 2011 must be remembered as a watershed for little American Samoa. That 1983 win was their only win in the international front till November 23, 2011, when a long ranger from Ramin Ott and a chipped finish by Shalom Luani led them to a 2-1 win over Tonga in the Oceania World Cup qualifiers. Coached by Thomas Rongen who played in the legendary Ajax side of the 70s, American Samoa would draw their next match with Cook Islands but a loss to Samoa put paid to their hopes of qualification.
The Thing About 18
Worldwide, 18 is considered the age when we attain maturity and are given the rights to drive a car or to vote. The target of 18 is thus the holy grail for many a teenager who would like to enjoy life to their fullest in a legal manner. 2011 strangely can be entwined around 18 with some of the best clubs entwined together at that number.
The Scudetto has been won an astounding 63 times out of 107 by three clubs – Juventus and the two Milan giants, Milan and Internazionale. Juventus have won 27 and Inter had raced to 18 on the back of 5 straight Scudetti since 2005-6, the first of which was awarded to them after the Calciopoli scandal. The 2005-06 Scudetto was won by Juventus who were stripped of the title and runner-up Milan was handed points penalty and Inter was thus handed the Scudetto by the Italian Football Federation (FIGC). The then Juventus Director of Sport, Luciano Moggi was implicated and handed a life ban. Moggi has kept on fighting the same in the courts and finally in 2011, new evidence was unearthed which showed that the phone calls, which were taken as evidence in 2011 did not include the whole set, which incidentally also showed calls made by the Inter President Giachento Fachetti. The obvious implications were that Inter were no less guilty of influencing referees than the other teams that were penalised in 2006. There was a huge uproar of taking that scudetto back from Inter or Inter voluntarily renouncing it. The club, however, were not ready to do that. Legally too there was no way to punish them as the events were more than five years old and under Italian law, they could not be prosecuted.
Meanwhile, city rivals Milan, who were stuck on 17 since 2003-04, surged ahead to win a ‘legitimate’ 18th Scudetto. For star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose transfer from Barcelona was the force behind Milan’s title push in 7 years, it was his 18th title playing for Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona and Milan.
At England though, Manchester United and Liverpool were already tied on 18 titles. (Notably, Liverpool’s 18th title had come when Kenny Dalglish was last in charge). The charge to 19 has eluded Liverpool for over two decades and 2011 marked the year when they were no longer the ‘winningest club in the top division of England’. Manchester United swept to #19 in effortless style, thus attaining the holy grail of breaking the long standing hoodoo of 18.
Incidentally, the World Club Cup that Barcelona won at the end of 2011 thrashing Santos, was their 18th title in the 21st century, or to be precise their 18th title since 2004-05 season. Well what’s so special about 2004-05? A barely 18 (17 years and 114 days to be precise) Lionel Messi made his debut for Barcelona in the league and life in Catalonia or world football community has not been the same again.
The Era Continues
While 18 is an enticing age for many, 25 is when probably we are slowly rising to the peak of our powers. But to stay for 25 years in the peak is indeed a very rare achievement. Two men achieved that in 2011 and in their own way, they have made their clubs the talking point for the past 25 years.
1986 was the year when Silvio Berlusconi, then a media magnate, bought Milan, saving it from bankruptcy and appointed a promising manager, Arrigo Sacchi at the helm. In a year, three Dutch players – Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit was bought and Italian and European football was never the same again. For a team, which had been relegated twice in the last eight years before Silvio stepped in, Milan since 1986 went on to win eight Scudetti, one Coppa Italia, five Supercoppa Italiana, five Champions League trophies, five UEFA Super Cups, two Intercontinental Cups and one FIFA Club World Cup. Milan still remains the last club to win consecutive Champions League/European Cup.
Mirroring that rise of Milan and Berlusconi has been that of Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United.A relatively unknown Alex Ferguson was brought in to take over a Manchester United team, which was flirting with relegation in 1986 under Ron Atkinson and Ferguson led them to an 11th finish. There was not an immediate impact like Milan had done but once Ferguson had built up his team, there was no stopping him or his club. The twenty-five years have brought in twelve Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four League cups, ten Community Shields, two Champions leagues, one Cup Winners Cup, one UEFA Super Cup, one Intercontinental Cup and one Club World Cup.
Both Berlusconi and Ferguson achieved distinctions outside the game, which were related directly or indirectly to their team’s performance. Berlusconi led his Forza Italia party to two terms as the Prime Minister of Italy and Ferguson was knighted for his services to the game.
Ironically, they both ended 2011 on a low. Berlusconi had to resign in the wake of the economic crisis gripping Italy and Sir Alex had to endure only the third ever elimination from the group stages of Champions League and a 6-1 thrashing in the Manchester derby – his worst ever defeat. One hopes they both survive these and such events turn out to be mere scares than watershed points of their reign.
Transfer Deal of the Year
Every year there are millions of transfers and it is very difficult to pick three that proved extremely valuable and the players in question played at a sufficiently high level to warrant discussion. Here, we discuss three men who came for free or next to nothing and had a huge impact in their club’s showing.
Honourable Mention II: What do you say when an absolute legend of the club, after a decade of winning every trophy and honour there is to win, chooses to walk away and join the biggest league rivals? Some feel betrayed but most are eager to wait and see what a 32-year-old legend discarded as too slow and on the downward slide, does to show there is still some fight left. Most Milan fans had that reaction when watching Andrea Pirlo in the black and white of Juventus after he opted not to renew his contract and moved on for free. In 16 matches, Pirlo didn’t score any goal and only contributed four assists, but his overall impact and gameplay was responsible for Juventus jointly topping the league ironically with Pirlo’s former club – Milan.
Honourable Mention I: That Milan push for the league was founded on an incredible 11 match unbeaten streak of which they drew only 2. Antonio Nocerino, former Juventus youth product, who was brought in the last hours before the summer transfer window closed for 0.5mn and co-ownership of a youth player. This, for an Italy international is really pittance. Nocerino though, took the opportunity to really burst through and establish himself as one of the starting members of the Milan midfield. In 15 matches, he scored 6 goals including a stunninghat trickagainstParma. This, in itself was more than he had ever managed in any season. Milan had found a true successor to Rino Gattuso.
But the transfer deal of the year is Demba Ba, a French born Senegalese footballer who joined Newcastle in the summer after joining West Ham in the end of the winter transfer window in 2011. Less than half the season with the Hammers was enough to prove his worth as he scored 7 goals in 13 appearances. But it was not enough and when the Hammers were relegated, Ba invoked a release clause and became a free agent. Newcastle snapped him up for the 2011-12 season and in 21 appearances for the Magpies, he scored 15 goals, easily becoming the principal reason for his team being in European slots after half the matches are over.
Transfer Deal of the Year (Not)
Life throws us opportunities at different times: what we do with them shows how good a strategist we are. Coincidentally, all three players chosen here can yet have a wonderful ending to the 2011-12 season but the huge amount of money spent on them by clubs bore little fruit.
Honorable Mention II: Young Jordan Henderson was plucked by Liverpool for €18 m and was touted as the best thing to have happened to Liverpool midfield since one Steven Gerrard burst through. Playing in 20 games though, he has only managed one goal and one assist. If the promise that he had shown at Sunderland is not evident, then one wonders if he would be discarded after a couple of seasons as an expensive mistake.
Honorable Mention I: Henderson though, can say that as a midfielder he is not supposed to score too many goals. That cannot be true for the other big signing that Liverpool made – Andy Carroll. As many as 31 matches for Liverpool fetched just 6 goals and no assists. A 22-year-old young striker settling down in his first big club may be a possible excuse but when you consider that he was bought for a transfer fee of €41mn, then you ought to check who was in charge of Liverpool negotiations.
That Liverpool was bidding in that range was a domino effect instigated by the mega deal that Chelsea had offered them for Fernando Torres. A club favourite, Torres antagonised the Red supporters when he turned hostile and asked to be transferred to Chelsea. In the end it was €58.5 that managed to prise open Liverpool’s grasp. Thought to be a new lease of life in the troubled striker’s career, he managed 5 goals and 8 assists in 39 matches. It also included this miss which really defined his season and made him a subject of ridicule.
Comebacks are always exciting, and the ones especially achieved on the road are particularly so. The Japanese women came back twice to level in the Women’s World Cup before winning it on penalties. However, we have picked three league matches where the trailing team showed extraordinary fighting spirit to come back and win, or level from a hopeless cause.
Honourable Mention II: Newcastle 4 Arsenal 4. Arsenal were leading by 4 goals to nil till the 68th minute when Laurent Koscielny brought down Leon Best for a penalty, which Joey Barton converted. Then Best had a goal incorrectly disallowed for offside before making it 4-2 from a Jose Enrique cross. Newcastle was on a roll and soon Koscielny succumbed again, fouling Mike Williamson to concede the second penalty, which Barton converted again. The 4th goal was a blistering long ranger from Chiek Tiote in the 87th minute.
Honourable Mention I: Lecce 3 Milan 4. Milan had travelled to Lecce with just two wins in seven matches. However, they were caught unaware as Lecce scored 3 goals in 37 minutes and Milan were looking at a despondent loss. Manager Max Allegri threw in the cavalry during half time with Alberto Aquilani and Kevin-Prince Boateng replacing Massimo Ambrosini and Robinho. The impact was stunning. Boateng started connecting with laser- guided missiles, which found the back of the Lecce net. 16 minutes after the restart, he had tied the scores at 3-3, scoring a 14-minute hat-trick in the process. The final winning goal would come from the oldest man on the field – Mario Yepes, heading home an Antonio Cassano cross. Milan’s miracle was complete.
The most memorable comeback though was Santos 4 Flamengo 5. It was built up as the clash between age and youth – of Ronaldinho’s Flamengo and Neymar’s Santos. Santos had begun the match on a fire and were up by 3 goals within 25 minutes but Flamengo tied-up the match by scoring 3 goals of their own. In between, Elano of Santos missed a penalty but Neymar restored the lead at the start of the second half. But the last laugh was to be Dinho’s who scored twice to complete his hat-trick and an epic come-from-behind win at the home ground of the South American and Brazilian champion club.
I Can’t Believe This Happened
Honourable mention II: Manchester United failed to reach the Champions League knockout rounds for only the third time since the two-legged group structure had started. A team which had reached three of the last four Champions League finals, winning one and only losing out to the collective brilliance of Barcelona, managed to defeat the Romanian debutants Otelul Galati in the group stages. Losses to Basel and draws with Benfica sealed their fate, and the fact that Manchester City too were dumped out of the knockout rounds by a brilliant Napoli team, was scant consolation.
Honourable Mention I: 2011 is the first time since Juventus and Liverpool are both missing out on any European action since….the 1962-63 season. The previous season (61-62), Juventus had finished 12th while Liverpool were champions in the Second Division, thus gaining promotion to the First Division. Together, these two behemoths of European competition have won seven Champions Leagues/European Cups, six UEFA Cups, five UEFA Super Cups, one Cup Winners Cup, one Intertoto Cup and two Intercontinental Cups. So when they both spend a season completely out of Europe, you pinch yourself to believe it.
The most unlikely event of 2011 was River Plate getting demoted. Goalden Times have already covered this story in detailbut one statistic alone would show the magnitude of the shock. Since the professional league started in Argentina in 1931, River has won 33 titles in 80 years. They are easily the most decorated and venerated club of the nation and a season without El Clasico with Boca Juniors is something fans of both clubs would never have imagined.
Honorable Mention II: Mario Balotelli is no stranger to controversy. His recent antics include throwing darts during training and the incident of the training bib. But he seemingly outdid that when prior to the Manchester derby, a firework was set off in his flat’s bathroom, which subsequently burnt the house down. A quite unfazed Balotelli opened the scoring in the derby though in what would turn out to be a 6-1 thrashing. What made that goal celebration even more epic was Super Mario’s shirt display.
Honorable Mention I: If Mario was cheeky, with his celebrations, then Gerard Pique and his Barcelona teammates were positively barmy. After winning their fourth Champions League, the Barcelona players were looking to take some Wembley mementos back home. But Gerard Pique had ‘bigger’ ideas and hemanaged to pry off the entire nets from the goal posts. Apparently, he was following a tradition established by the basketball side of Barcelona, who cut the net as a memento when they win a trophy. But not since Madonna’s ‘Human Nature’ has someone been seen with so much rope and net….for all one knows, Shakira may have a new rope trick.
The most whacky celebrations though happened in Italian football at the end of the 2010-11 season in Serie A and Serie B. In the post-Scudetto winning revelry, with most players in their shorts and fully inebriated, Massimo Oddo tried an Olympicrun. But in Serie B, an even more eccentric man was celebrating an even more momentous occasion. Novara had won the Serie B play-offs and were returning to Serie A after 55 long years and Jimmy Fontana was not really sure how best to celebrateit.
Best Football Performances
Honourable Mention II: Robin van Persie has been the single most in-form player of 2011 outside of anyone who does not play in Madrid or Barcelona. 35 Premier League goals in 2011, the 2nd highest in a calendar year since Alan Shearer struck 36 in 1995 and already 17 Premier League goals this season in 20 games marks 2011 as a truly phenomenal year for the Dutchman.
Honourable Mention I: Zlatan Ibrahimovic courts more controversy than goals but his record of winning eight consecutive league championships is simply unmatched. He is the talisman that can lead any club to a league win. These eight wins were achieved with Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona and Milan. But for the Barcelona win, every other club that actually won the league with Ibra broke a streak of some other club. He is that kind of a player – someone who can pull his team through in the big home games or tough away fixtures. Now if only he could score in the Champions League.
However, the best football achievement was the tango that Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo unfurled in La Liga. It was a personal war within the two-team battle that Barcelona and Real Madrid have made La Liga. Messi scored 51 goals in the 2010-11 season and Ronaldo managed 53. While Messi won the La Liga and the Champions League, Ronaldo won the Copa del Rey. In the 2011-12 season, it is no different. Ronaldo has 26 goals in 25 matches for Madrid while Messi has 31 goals in 30 matches for Barcelona. They are the two best players of their generation and it is fitting they go head-to-head in the same league.
Best Performance by a Footballer
This is one of a kind and deserves its own space. We end this look back at the year that went by withthisperformanceby Kevin-Prince Boateng. That he could manage that, dothisand thisand thisand of coursethismakes him a complete entertainer.