Josef Pepi Bican – The Lonely Man at the Top

We often get drawn into animated discussions or debates surrounding the greatest footballer of all time. Invariably the list narrows down largely to a handful of goal scorers, since their action culminates in the most important aspect of a football match (supposedly)– goal. But we sometime tend to overlook the bigger picture. What if there was someone who did not have the privilege of playing in a team as good as that of Pele’s? What if someone had to fight oppression just like Maradona but limelight evaded him? Debojyoti Chakraborty at Goalden Times brings to you the story of one such man; a man who conquered Europe but had to live in obscurity.

Outscoring Messis and Ronaldos

Goal scoring seems easy nowadays. That is because we are really privileged to witness two of the greatest footballers of all time play at their peaks. Day in, day out, whenever Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, in no particular order, feature in a match, they are more than likely to score than return empty handed. And such has been their goal scoring prowess over the years that every goal they score now, they reach some new landmarks. But even for these two extraordinary gentlemen, there is a man who is more likely to remain in a league of his own.

Josef Pepi Bican [Source - www.slavia.cz]
Josef Pepi Bican
[Source – www.slavia.cz]

Humble Beginning

On 25 September, 1913, in Viena, Josef Bican was born in an Austrian-Czech family. His father František was from Sedlice in Southern Bohemia, Austria and mother Ludmila was a Viennese Czech. Josef was the second of three children in the Bican family. Because of his mixed heritage, Josef inherited traits of both Viennese and Prazak (from Prague). As explained by Romana Horaka, from the Vienna University of Applied Arts, “Although grew up on the outskirts of town and went to school there, but in the summer for grandparents used to go to Sedlec near Prague.” [1]

Soon, the family had to endure days of fear and anxiety when František went to World War I. But to great relief of everyone near and dear to him, he returned unscathed from the war. That relief was short lived though. František used to play football for Hertha Vienna. He sustained an injury in his kidney during a match and then neglected doctor’s advice to get it cured through operation. As a fatal consequence, the man who had conquered the World War I, died of that freakish injury in 1921 at the ripe age of 30. The consequences of the war were looming large over the imperial city; food and basic necessities were short in supply and people were dying out of starvation. Drenched in stark poverty, Ludmila had to work in a restaurant kitchen to raise her family. But this tragedy had a silver lining. František had passed on his love for the game to his second child. And Josef Bican continued to play “all day, from morning to evening” [1] even under abject poverty. Unable to afford a proper ball, children in his neighbourhood used to tie up a bundle of rags known as “hardrak”. Boots were things of luxury for the Bican family, and hence he went barefoot. This eventually would improve Bican’s ball control and sharpen his dribbling skills.

This Boy is Special

Bican’s growth was meteoric. Even before his teens, he started playing for his father’s beloved Hertha Vienna club in their junior team, Hertha Vienna II. His knack for scoring goals caught imagination of everyone around. One of the club’s sponsors was so impressed, he offered to award Bican with a shilling for every goal. Thus, football opened up an avenue for the poor Bican family. Barely at an age of fifteen, he had made his senior debut for Schustek. Bican was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time. Football was really popular in Austria in those days. Everyone was passionate about the beautiful game and people from different strata – politics, academics, media – everyone was involved for the betterment of the game. Football being the centre of attraction of all activities, was gradually becoming a matter of national pride. And Bican had a supportive family, too. One story goes like that his mother once invaded the pitch when an opponent fouled her son and began beating him with her umbrella. Maybe the memories of her husband’s injury on the football field was too much for her to bear with and she abandoned the idea of watching Bican play live after couple of visits.

Bican’s dazzling rise was not going unnoticed and before his eighteenth birthday, he was snapped up by the biggest Austrian club Rapid Vienna. Initial signing amount was a meagre 150 shillings but Bican’s scintillating form forced Rapid to dish out a contract of 600 shillings within couple of years. Put into context, that amount would be worth £12,270 in today’s date. [2] Seems incorrigible, considering the astronomical wages players are getting nowadays. But in those days, a skilled worker would have been very happy if he could get 25 schillings a week. So Bican was earning a pretty decent amount by playing football, still not considered very highly as a career option. During his four-year-stint in the club, Bican averaged almost one goal per match as he netted 52 times in 49 appearances. Still, in 1935, soon after helping Rapid Viena win the Austrian Championship, their beloved “Pepi” – nicknamed after his short stature in his young days – decided to move on. His departure was mourned by the supporters alike and it was rather more controversial as Bican moved to city rivals Admira. However, Bican’s goal-scoring exploits continued as he amassed 18 goals in 26 appearances.

Bican was a powerfully built lad. His shooting ability with both the feet and superb ball control – thanks to his growing up years when he had to master the skill of playing barefoot – made him a complete footballer. To top it all, he was a superb sprinter. It is said that he could time a 100 metres sprint in 10.8 seconds, which was as fast as many sprinters of the time. No wonder he was a nightmare for all the defenders and he scored for fun – be it tap-ins or 30-metre-volleys. Bican had great composure in front of the goal, sometimes averaging nearly two goals a match and it is said that he missed only once out of 20 chances! And that was not by fluke, he used to train really hard to achieve this kind of perfection. Bican used to put ten bottles on top of the cross bar and hit them one by one. Generally, he was spot on with his accuracy, and even on his bad days he would definitely go on to hit nine out of ten bottles.

Bican had great composure in front of the goal, sometimes averaging nearly two goals a match and it is said that he missed only once out of 20 chances! And that was not by fluke, he used to train really hard to achieve this kind of perfection.

The Inevitable: Journey with Wunderteam

By the time Bican was 20, he was inducted in Wunderteam, the famous Austrian team of the 1930s, helmed by the legendary football manager Hugo Meisl. Between April 1931 and June 1934, the Wunderteam lost just three out of 31 games, and scored 101 goals. [3] They were considered one of the favourites for World Cup 1934 going into the tournament. Everything went as per plan till semi-final which saw Austria in a face-off with the hosts Italy. The tournament also showcased the dominance of central Europe, four of the three teams in the last four – Czechoslovakia and Hungary being other two – coming from that region.

the Famous Wunderteam [Source - www.elotrofutbol.es]
The Famous Wunderteam
[Source – www.elotrofutbol.es]

But Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader of Italy, had earmarked this tournament to be his propaganda machine. Not a football lover by a mile, Mussolini had pulled all the strings to ensure Italy gets every possible advantage to clinch the title. It was rumoured that the Swedish referee Ivan Eklind, nominated to officiate the semi-final match of Italy vs Austria, was invited for dinner with Mussolini. The next day, when the Austrian goalkeeper had the ball under his control a good three metres out of his goal, he was pushed over the line by the Italian forwards. Eklind whistled for the goal, notwithstanding huge protest from Bican and his teammates. Austria tried hard to come back but their smooth passing game was hampered by a muddy pitch, another home advantage strategically utilized to the fullest. Austria bowed out of the tournament being one of those great teams not to win the World Cup. Eklind was awarded with the responsibility of the final and amidst further refereeing controversy in that match, Mussolini’s Italy were crowned the World Cup champions.

War against Oppression

Bican had a short but stellar career with Austria. He scored 14 goals in 19 matches but 1934 was his only World Cup appearance. May be that is one of the reasons why his name is not so much popular with common football enthusiasts. Bican had attracted European superpowers like Juventus with his astonishing goal scoring feat. Had he accepted the offer, many feel that he might have achieved the legendary status like another fellow talisman from Central Europe, Ferenc Puskas. But he refused to go to Italy, partly due to his bitter experience during the 1934 World Cup and partly due to their communist overtone. As luck would have it, ironically the fascist regime followed Bican. Just before the next World Cup in 1938, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi gang seized control of Austria, an event known as Anschluss in history. By that time, Austria had qualified for the World Cup but Germany forced them to send a united team comprising of both German and Austrian players. Bican, and many others from the famous Wunderteam team refused to represent an oppressing government. The next World Cup would come twelve years later due to the commencement of World War II and by then Bican was past his prime. One war demolished his childhood; the other deprived him of the biggest stage to showcase his talent.

Following Nazi invasion, Bican, a staunch adversary of fascism, left Vienna for his father’s homeland Czechoslovakia. The next episode of Bican’s folklore was to be written in Prague as he joined Slavia Prague. Sešívaní was a colossal team in those days already having won eight of the inaugural thirteen editions of Czechoslovak league – and never ever finishing outside of top two. It was not easy for a new player to come in and establish himself in such a successful team. And boy, did Bican establish himself! Bican created a never-dying legacy for himself there during an eleven-year-stay by scoring 534 goals, [4] including 57 in 24 matches one particular league season. That is even after his playing days were hampered by World War II in this period. All this success, however, was a bitter pill to swallow for some of his team-mates. Bican was continuously harassed, often called by names such as Austrian bastard pointing to his unpretentious roots. But all these, if anything, made Bican more determined as he went on his merry goal scoring spree. Unperturbed as he was, he carried on his goal scoring spree. And his stats were incredible, to say the least! Three times in this period, Bican scored seven goals in a game. [5] First year in the 1939-40 league season, Bican netted seven against Zlín en route a 10–1 win. Next year Bican repeated the same feat. The victim was the poor Zlín once again, as Slavia won by a margin of 12–1. The last of Bican’s seven-star-performance came in the 1947-48 season when Slavia thrashed České Budějovice by a whopping 15–1 score line. Bican helped Slavia Prague clinch the Mitropa Cup – the predecessor of the Champions’ League – in 1938. Domestically, Slavia Prague went neck to neck with their fierce rivals Sparta Prague – both winning the league five times during Bican’s tenure.

Josef Pepi Bican
Josef Bican in action for Slavia Prague.
[Source – worldkings.org]

On the national front, Bican had applied for Czechoslovak citizenship, but the request was not processed in time for him to participate in the 1938 World Cup. However, he started to play for his father’s native country later in 1938, but then World War II hampered his international career. He could only manage fourteen appearances till 1949 and was on the score sheet twelve times. In between, he represented Bohemia and Moravia, the ethnic-Czech protectorate of Nazi Germany once in 1939 and scored a hat-trick.

Goals, Glamour and Trouble

Bican was one of the most popular footballers of the 1930s and his legacy grew day by day in Prague. He was so much valued at the club that his wife Jarmila vividly recalls, “Chairman Valousek always said we have 14 sections Josef. You have to make money for them all. And there weren’t sponsors in those days. And he said don’t forget we have an equestrian section and you’ve got to make money for hay for the horses. I think today’s footballers wouldn’t be able to support 14 sections – or pay for the hay for the horses!” [6] Basically, Bican had to earn the bread for the entire club!!! Apart from enthralling the crowd with his sublime skills, there were other facets of his eventful life too. Bican had chosen an extravagant, conspicuous lifestyle. It might appear very ironic but while the entire Europe, or even a good part of the world, was at war, Bican was making his presence felt amongst the social elite class of Czechoslovakia. This fact is more lucidly conveyed by the writing of Ian Willoughby on Bican. According to Willoughby, the prolific scorer “… played tennis with the famous actor Vlasta Burian, dined with the actor Jan Werich and knew the film star Adina Mandlova.”[6] This inspiring story of growing up from the wrecks of war-rigged Vienna to becoming one of the most sought after celebrity in Prague had captured the imagination of entire Central Europe. It was a great morale booster for a huge stratum of population who were still very much unsure what the future held for them with a war not very far away. Josef Bican’s larger than life image had established him as one of the biggest name in the country. But his happy days were soon to be over.

Trouble was brewing from the socio-political issues which unfortunately Bican could not overcome. Throughout his life, Bican had tried to be as far away from the communist regime as possible. But however good he was at escaping the tackles from defenders, he was never half decent at avoiding the political infringement in his life. In 1948, communism came to Czechoslovakia. Bican was left frustrated. Things were not turning up according to his plan, he was facing a tremendous moral dilemma. He had turned down a great career opportunity in Italy only to avoid such political environment and now he found himself exactly in the same position.

Bican’s iconic stature lured the communist government and they approached Bican to appear as the public face of KSC party leader, Klement Gottwald. Quite predictably, Bican stuck to his ideologies and declined the offer. He though had to pay the price for going against the government. The Czechoslovak authorities picked up his association with Slavia Prague, a club traditionally popular among the middle-class, and accused him to be a bourgeois Viennese. They simply turned a deaf ear to Bican’s plea that his origins were humble. [7]

Bican feared that he was about to lose everything. To protect himself, his family and all of his hard-earned wealth, Bican left Slavia. At the same time, he was becoming conscious of “resurrecting” his image as a common man and hence in 1949, he joined Železárny Vítkovice. Vítkovice, a club run by the steelworkers and hence it was a perfect move for Bican to play for them and portray himself as a person closer to the working class. Bican carried his goal scoring boots with him to his new club. 58 official matches for his new club saw him racking up 74 goals. [4] But Bican was unsettled, he again packed his bags to Skoda Hradec Králové in 1952. Králové was trying their luck in the second division but Bican’s goal scoring feat continued. Records are incomplete particularly for this period, but still it can be safely said that Bican had scored at least eleven times in eight matches. But it was an off the field incident here which made an everlasting impression in his life.

It was 1 May, 1953. May Day parade was organized with full gusto and Bican was forced to join the parade. Little did the organizers know that this decision to include a star figure in their propaganda event would backfire! While the loudspeakers were screaming “Long Live President Zapotocky, Long Live President Zapotocky”, the crowd on the street shouted “Long Live Bican, Long Live Bican”. It was a tight slap on the face of the Communist Party. Inevitably he had to face the consequences. Even though Bican was not at fault, to cover up for the goof up, Bican was ordered to leave the city immediately with his family. Within an hour, Bican with his family were escorted to the station by two comrades. En route, a group of 50 workers happened to see them and they sensed foul. They were anxious of Bicans’ safety but he assured that everything was fine. That was a narrow escape. Had the workers not been convinced by the reply, they would have gone on strike. And then Bican would have been sentenced to at least 20 years of imprisonment for inciting a strike. The two guards did not take it lightly though and they remained stationary till the train carrying Bicans had left the station. [6]

While the loudspeakers were screaming “Long Live President Zapotocky, Long Live President Zapotocky”, the crowd on the street shouted “Long Live Bican, Long Live Bican”.

The End and Beyond

Next stop for Bican was his beloved city Prague. And as destiny had it, he was re-united with his old love Slavia Prague, now known as Dynamo Prague under the communist influence. Even in the twilight of his career, Bican was scoring for fun. Incredibly Bican scored the most number of goals (57) [7] in a season in 1953-54, which happened to be his penultimate one. He doubled up as coach in the last phase of his footballing career. Soon he hung up his boots in 1956, at the age of 42 being the oldest footballer in the league, as a living legend in Czechoslovakia.

Life went on a topsy-turvy course for the Bican family. He coached quite a few clubs across the country but could not make any significant impact. Bican was a gentleman out and out and hence he found it difficult to cope up with average players and their coarse behaviour. Actually, he was a broken man by then. Pepi valued his life style a lot, having come from a humble background and worked his shocks off to achieve all the glory. Under the Communist regime, much of his properties were seized. Ideological differences always put him at a crossroad with the ruling party. Even his friends and well-wishers too turned their back on him. These things hurt him very badly. Devoid of his wealth, left stranded by their friends, dumped by the Czechoslovak Physical Exercise Union, Bican wondered if his entire past has been wiped out. He had no choice but to work as a roadside labour at Prague’s Holesovice railway station as his life drifted into obscurity and poverty.

During the spring of 1968, Bican impressed the visiting Belgian team Tongeren and got a contract to coach them. This was the first time he had ventured out of Central Europe during his club career. Ironically the legendary Pele was nearing his 1,000th goal and thus Bican’s name popped up. His ex-teammate Franz Bimbo Binder claimed that Bican had netted close to 5,000 goals. Though this figure – an average of 185 goals each season – is highly unlikely, it can be assumed that Bican might have reached very close to the four-figure mark excluding the friendly matches.

Back home, things started to change for good with the Velvet Revolution of 1989. The communists were gone. Bican got some of his property back. More than that, he cherished that his reputation was restored in public.

The Legacy

Bican had an illustrious playing career to say the least. His goal scoring exploits earned him the top-scorer of league twelve times – one more than couple of greats from Brazil namely Pele and Romario – during his resplendent career spanning 27 years. More significantly, from 1939-40 to 1943-44, he was Europe’s top scorer for five consecutive seasons. While some would argue that most of the young and physically fit players were involved in the war in that time frame, no one can take away the goal-scoring panache from Bican.

In those days, little did people care about keeping records of all the matches. So, by the time Bican hang up his boots, God knows how many of his achievements had been lost in the isle of time. This is exactly what happened during an award ceremony organised by International Federation of Football Historians and Statisticians (IFFHS), when they failed to count his wartime goals. Bican, though being invited, opted to spend the evening with his wife in their hotel room having tea from a thermos flask, claiming they had “stolen” his goals. [7] Later IFFHS recognised the 229 goals he scored during the World War II, even though Czechoslovakia was not independent at that time. And subsequently Josef Bican was awarded the “Golden Ball” as the greatest goal scorer of the last century. He played for clubs and nations not considered to be elite in Europe. But still, scoring those many goals are no mean feat even in amateur leagues.

Bican with the Golden Ball
Bican with the Golden Ball

Bican was honoured with the Freedom of Slavia Prague in 2001, in remembrance of his contribution to the club and the city. Finally, Bican was content with his life. However, he was hospitalised in the winter of 2001 and was hoping that he could be back home for the Christmas. Tragically he breathed his last on 12 December, 2001, but after knowing that his achievements have been duly recognised. He was buried in Vyšehrad cemetery, a place reserved for some of the most prolific figures in Czech history. Footballing statistics page Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation (RSSSF) made an effort and finally estimated that Bican scored about 800 goals – 805 at least [4] – across all competitive matches, excluding friendly ones.

Top Goalscorers of all time (+ indicates incomplete data availability, the numbers are on the lower side)
Top Goalscorers of all time (+ indicates incomplete data availability, the numbers are on the lower side)

This statistic places Bican comfortably atop of the scoring charts in football history. A chart that consists of great Brazilians like Pele and Romario, a chart comprising of legends of the game Ferenc Puskás and Gerd Müller, a chart continuously changed by the heroics of Messi and Ronaldo. Bican has been lonely at the top for more than 60 years now. And it does not look like anyone would come close to greet him soon. The wait at the top, rather a lonely wait shrouded with honour and dignity, continues for Pepi.

Reference

[1] www.ceskatelevize.cz
[2] MeasuringWorth.com
[3] FIFA.com
[4] www.rsssf.com
[5] fotbal.idnes.cz
[6] www.radio.cz
[7] The Telegraph

Featured Image Source – FOOTY FAIR

Cracking the Ballon d’Or 2013

This year FIFA’s best player award went to Cristiano Ronaldo amidst a lot of speculation. We at Goalden Times look at the voting pattern to understand the dynamics behind the final choice.

So, as expected widely – and deservedly so – Cristiano Ronaldo reclaims the most prestigious individual award in world football after four years. While the debate continues on whether it is justified to award one individual in a team game, no one is questioning why Ronaldo won it. Ballon d’Or winner is decided by coaches, captains and media personnel across the globe. Each can nominate three players who, according to them, have outperformed their counterparts. The first ranked player gets five points, second three and the last player gets one point from each vote.

If we analyse the numbers from last two years’ voting – actually, there is no need for analysis –Lionel Messi won it hands down against Ronaldo.

BDR_1
As is evident from the above tables, captains, coaches and media representatives across the world had unanimously chosen Messi as the best player in 2011 and 2012. Even though there was a slight shift towards the Portuguese star in 2012, that was not enough to cover the mammoth gap between the two.

But the focus shifted to a certain Franck Ribery in 2013 on the back of his treble winning season with Bayern Munich. So, let us see how he fared against these two, along with Andres Iniesta and Xavi – voted the third best player for the last few seasons – and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will always be the winner in his own opinion.

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This is undoubtedly one of the most fiercely contested years — at least among the top three. And that does not include Zlatan. It is apparent that Ribery was the media favourite. But that is not all, let us dig a bit deeper.

Messi and Ribery had to contend with their own teammates who were all in good form throughout the season! This is a paradox, especially considering football is a team game where individual brilliance should auger well only for the team. But not here. Barcelona and Bayern teammates have robbed Messi and Ribery off precious points which might not have changed the outcome but certainly would have resulted in a photo finish between Ronaldo and Messi.

BDR_3

BDR_4

BDR_6BDR_5

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So we find the following:

  • Ribery has been Media favourite in Asia and Europe – he got the First choice vote almost three times more than his closest rival, Ronaldo there.
  • In other regions, he runs close to both Messi and Ronaldo and thus emerges the overall Media favourite.
  • Ronaldo and Messi carry on their usual battle in every other category – barring the African Coaches’ voting, where Messi misses out the 2nd spot to Ribery by a single vote, Ribery does not feature in the top two in any other segment.
  • Asia – the region which generates maximum revenue for the European football through television rights – is equally divided between the top two as far as the national team captains and coaches are concerned.
  • Same is the case for European coaches. However, European captains have been faithful to their continental colours – only six out of 45 thought Messi was the most outstanding player of the year.
  • But they cannot be blamed. In Africa, both the captains’ and coaches’ groups thought that Messi was only second best to Ronaldo.
  • The competition was neck to neck in Other regions.

Messi had an injury , and by his own unbelievably high standards, a pretty moderate season. So Ronaldo was a firm favourite to win this year. But even with Messi’s average year, most of the people thought he was too good not to be their second choice. This is where Ribery lost ground – it was a three-horse race where Ribery ran Ronaldo close for the first choice vote but was nowhere close as the second choice.BDR_8

More numbers

  • There were representatives from 19 countries – and a total of 92 votes – where the top vote did not go to any of the podium finishers. But there was no country where the national team coach, captain and media representative – all three picked up someone besides Ronaldo, Messi and Ribery as their favourite.
  • Only 27 people did not have anyone of the top three feature in their top two picks. Only one team’s – New Zealand – captain and coach did not vote for any of the top-two. They preferred Gareth Bale followed by Neymar. But their last vote went to Messi.
  • There were 11 instances where the entire vote set differed with the final outcome. Understandably this exclusive list comprises Messi and Ronaldo themselves – being captain of their national teams, they could not vote for themselves and hence decided not to vote for their direct competitors also. The list also features coaches from Belgium and Italy. And only one media personnel, Seium Michael from Eritrea, Eastern Africa.

Ronaldo Squeezes Life out of Oranje

Portugal 2 Holland 1

R van der Vaart (0-1), C Ronaldo (1-1), C Ronaldo (2-1)

Cristiano Ronaldo finally put his mark at the Euro 2012, scoring twice to confine a set of talented Dutch footballers, to their first ever major tournament, where they lost all their matches. A multi-talented Dutch team, boasting some of the best footballers across European leagues, can’t shed their underachiever tag once more as reports of internal dissent started coming out. The Portuguese, who many thought, would be a one man team and hence unlikely to progress, has actually displayed that there is more to them than Cristiano and now may turn out to be the dark-horses of the tournament.

The match started with Dutch manager Bert van Marwijk, taking some bold decisions in midfield and attack. Out went captain and son-in-law Mark van Bommel and in came Tottenham man Rafael van der Vaart. Ron Vlaar partnered Joris Mathijsen in defense instead of Johnny Heitinga. And most significantly, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was put as the focal point of attack, and taking Robin van Persie  as a free roving attacking midfielder. The Dutch started brilliantly, with purpose. Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder were working the wings and van der Vaart was advancing to partner van Persie as the attacking threat from middle. The goal came from one such early move as Robben cut in to pass to van der Vaart, who unleased a left footed shot that settled into the net. Surprisingly, there was no closing down at the top of the Portugal box.

But unfortunately, none of the Dutch wide men are true wingers, and they relied more on their wing backs to push through to create width as both Robben and Sneijder were content to cut in. As the sidebacks pushed forward, to provide width, so the Dutch defense became open to sweeping Portuguese counter attacks.  Nani & Ronaldo against the Vlaar-Mathijsen pairing seemed like 4G network competing with a dial-up modem. Ronaldo kept vrooming past Vlaar on numerous occasions. Coupled with this was that the front 4 of Holland, showed least inclination to track back and add men in the defense. It was reminiscent of Leonardo’s reign at AC Milan, when he played a 4-2-Fantasia formation. Milan scored goals but also shipped many. Today the Dutch couldn’t create enough chances and Ronaldo alone outshot the entire Dutch team.

Finally in his Stride

Cristiano Ronaldo had missed the easiest of chances against Denmark, putting the win in jeopardy, but today he got opportunities on platter and scored once in either half, hit the post, had shots saved and just wide of the post, created chances on platter for his teammates and really should have had a hattrick. It was a complete tour de force from the best European player of the time and he was assisted by the shocking defending from the Dutch. From the moment, Ronaldo had that first chance, it was clear that this Dutch defence was not equipped to handle his speed. It seemed a matter of time before he scores and his first goal was from a peach of a pass from Joao Pereira and Ronaldo had timed his run behind the defense perfectly to place past the keeper. The second goal came in the second half from a sweeping Nani ball and Ronaldo had the time to compose himself and then shoot leaving the backtracking Dutch defense behind.

Holland did get a few more opportunities and a couple of van Persie efforts were close. But with a mandate that they win this match by a margin of 2 goals, it was far too much a bridge to cross.

After Thought

The Dutch manager was adventurous to begin with. But probably he should also have tempered his aggression. Arjen Robben has been one of the major flops of the tournament and today of all days; he needed someone like Dirk Kuyt to do the workhorse duties, someone who would track back and help with the defense. The defence was too slow and there was no obvious connect between defence and attack. Many a time the defenders would not have a release ball, being hounded by the Portuguese attackers and would concede an easy ball for the Portuguese.

Portugal started cagily but once they conceded, and news filtered in that Denmark were drawing Germany, which meant Portugal were going out, they opened up. They have a strong team right through. The midfield is more functional than creative but they have Nani and Ronaldo to create havoc in most defences. This team can actually surprise a lot if they keep their spirit intact.

Quotes

“I am proud of what we did as a team and satisfied that we have succeeded in reaching our aim.”

Portugal manager Paolo Bento

“Had we won that first game when we had so many chances we might have had a different team.”

Bert van Marwijk, Holland manager wonders.

Nine or Ten ?

Match Facts

Group B: Denmark vs. Portugal

Wednesday June 13, 2012

7 pm Local Time,

Arena Lviv, Lviv, Ukraine

Two adjacent FIFA ranking teams, Denmark (ranked 9) and Portugal (ranked 10) will be clashing against each other today at Lviv, Ukraine. Both teams will be playing their second game in the “Group of Death”. Denmark will be starting high on confidence, since they are already at the top of the group after defeating the mighty Netherlands in their last game. On the other hand, Portugal, having lost their first game against Germany by a late Mario Gomez goal, will have to win this game at any cost to ensure a finite probability of progression to the quarterfinals. The last time these two teams met was during the Euro qualifying Group H games, when Denmark defeated Portugal by a margin of 2-1 at Copenhagen. The last four encounters between these two teams resulted in two wins for Denmark and one for Portugal – thus, Denmark are clearly not starting as underdogs.

Denmark will be playing almost the same team that emerged winners against the 2010 World Cup Finalists. The only change might be Michael Silberbauer, who successfully marked Cristiano Ronaldo in the match at Copenhagen. At the front, the Danes will be looking towards Krohn-Dehli, the goal scorer from the Dutch game as well as Niklas Bendtner for converting chances. They will take every opportunity to build a solid counter-attack and score. Portugal, on the other hand, will be relying on Cristiano Ronaldo heavily for registering their first win at the European Championship. Nani, who had scored 3 international goals against Denmark will also be a key factor for the Portugese. Hugo Almeida has recovered and will probably replace Helder Postiga, after the latter failed to make even a single impact against Germany.

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Time to lead from the front

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Form Guide

Denmark is in peak form after winning the last two international encounters against Australia and Netherlands.

Last 5 games: WLLWW

Portugal is having a nightmare time with just one win over the last 5 games. Consecutive losses to Turkey and Germany will surely decline their spirits. Moreover, as in the previous 3 games, Portugal hasn’t scored in their last game.

Last 5 games: DWDDLL

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Team Formation

Denmark (4-2-3-1): Stephan Andersen Michael Silberbauer, Daniel Agger, Simon Kjaer, Lars Jacobsen, Niki Zimling, William Kvist, Michael Krohn-Delhi, Christian Eriksen, Dennis Rommedahl, Nicklas Bendtner

Manager: Morten Olsen

Portugal (4-3-3): Rui Patricio; Fabio Coentrao, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Joao Pereira; Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho, Raul Meireles; Cristiano Ronaldo, Hugo Almeida, Nani

Manager: Paulo Bento

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Quotes

“We have closed down Cristiano Ronaldo before and we firmly believe we can do it again” – Simon Kjaer

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“Losing is a word we can’t even let enter our minds” — Miguel Veloso

UEFA Champions League and Europa Cup Semi-Final Preview

The biggest club team honour is reaching its finale while the second-tier club competition in Europe is gathering momentum too. Get the showdown of the semi-final encounters with Debojyoti Chakraborty

The quarter-final stage of the Champions League 2011-12 got over without much brouhaha. A Milan faithful may not agree, but Barcelona was a clear favourite for this tie. Real Madrid surged past APOEL FC leaving them looking rather distraught. Their opponents, Bayern Munich also eased their way through to the last four after seeing Marseille off. Chelsea had to endure the toughest of the ties as they shook off a strong fightback from a 10-man Benfica. Teams to feature in the semi-finals have been really consistent throughout the tournament as is evident from the fact that they have topped their respective groups. Spain continued its dominance here as well while Real and Barcelona established themselves as the two top club teams. Italy have lost out on one Champions League spot to Germany from next season and they should not feel hard done by as none of the Serie A teams could make it to the last four whereas German Champions Bayern Munich look to challenge the Spanish Armada. The biggest surprise in the lineup is Chelsea, who have managed to come so far this season. So after a roller coaster ride, it is that time of the season when finally men are separated from the boys. Now let us prepare for the last two-legged encounter of the season.

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FC Bayern Munchen (GER) vs Real Madrid FC (ESP)

April 17, 2012

Fußball Arena München, Munich (GER)

Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid (ESP)

April 25, 2012

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Winner – 4, Runners-up – 4

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Winner – 9, Runners-up – 3

Quarter-Final

Quarter-Final

Olympique de Marseille (2-0, 2-0)

Apoel FC (3-0, 5-2)

Round of 16

Round of 16

FC Basel 1893 (0-1, 7-0)

PFC CSKA Moskva (1-1, 4-1)

Group Stage | Group A Winner

Group Stage | Group D Winner

Villarreal CF (A) 2-0

SSC Napoli (H) 3-2

GNK Dinamo Zagreb (A) 1-0

Olympique Lyonnais (A) 2-0

Manchester City (H) 2-0

Villarreal CF (H) 3-1

AFC Ajax (H) 3-0

GNZK Dinamo Zagreb (H) 6-2

SSC Napoli (A) 1-1

Manchester City (A) 0-2

Olympique Lyonnais (H) 4-0

AFC Ajax (A) 3-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

There is no bigger incentive for Bayern to win this tie than to feature in their home turf for the final on May 19. They face a mighty Real Madrid, a record nine-time conquerors of the continent. While many are preparing for another El Clasico in the final, it is the German Superpowers who seem to have a realistic chance of preventing that from happening. They had to come through the rigours of play-offs but they have looked sharper and clinical as the tournament approaches its crescendo. The Bavarians then topped the Group of Death before annihilating FC Basel 7-0 at home in the Round of 16 following a shock defeat in the first leg. A typical professional German display saw them ease past Marseille thereafter. Now they find themselves in a proper Big Match, and anyone can win it. Mario Gomez vs Karim Benzema, Franck Ribery vs Kaka, Philipp Lahm vs Sergio Ramos, Manuel Neuer vs Iker Casillas – it is perfect show time. These two superpowers of Europe have locked horns quite a few times resulting in almost even honours. Real has been in superb form from their group stages where they secured a perfect win record – only the fifth club in the history of the tournament to do so. A creditable draw in the freezing Moscow turf set them up nicely for the Round of 16. Los Blancos followed it up with bidding adieu to APOEL FC from little Cyprus – story of the season so far. Cristiano Ronaldo may be leading his counterpart in La Liga in terms of goal scoring but he is still some way behind in Europe. It will be a good stage for him to set the records straight as the competition nears its business end. Real has a star-studded side which is performing like a well-oiled machine – they have top two assist providers in Kaka and Karim Benzema, 3 out of the top 5 scorers are from Bernabéu (Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and José Callejón). Coupled with a compact defence which has conceded the least number of goals so far, this is a mouth-watering tie.

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Chelsea FC (ENG) vs FC Barcelona (ESP)

 

April 18, 2012

Stamford Bridge, London (ENG)

Camp Nou, Barcelona (ESP)

April 24, 2012

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Runners-up – 1

Top European Cup / Champions League Honours:

Winner – 4, Runners-up – 3

Quarter-Final

Quarter-Final

SL Benfica (1-0, 2-1)

AC Milan (0-0, 3-1)

Round of 16

Round of 16

Napoli (1-3, 4-1)

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (1-3, 7-1)

Group Stage | Group E Winner

Group Stage | Group H Winner

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (H) 2-0

KRC Genk (A) 1-1

AC Milan (H) 2-2

FC Viktoria Plzen (A) 4-0

Valencia CF (A) 1-1

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (A) 1-2

FC Bate Borisov (A) 5-0

AC Milan (A) 3-2

KRC Genk (H) 5-0

Valencia CF (H) 3-0

FC Viktoria Plzen (H) 2-0

FC Bate Borisov (H) 4-0

Talking Point

Talking Point

Chelsea seem to have over-achieved this season in the Champions League considering their woeful domestic form and unrest in the dressing room. They saw off Valencia in the last match day in a must-win encounter in some style before staging one of the most memorable comebacks in the history of Champions League against Napoli in the Round of 16. Another tough nut waited in the quarter-finals and Chelsea rode their luck a little to knock out a resolute and gritty Benfica side. They would be determined to keep their continental form going as automatic Champions League qualification from the EPL is uncertain and hence winning this year’s Cup would be their only hope. They face the mighty Barcelona in a repeat fixture to 2009 edition. That time, Barcelona advanced on away goals and Chelsea would hope to do it one better this time.   Chelsea seem to be the weakest of the surviving teams – they have hardly been able to hold on to the ball, rarely threatened the goal mouth, scored the least and conceded the most number of goals. Add to that the quality of opposition over the two-legged semi-final tie – possibly the greatest club team ever to have played the game – and Chelsea seem down and out. But matches have never been won on paper and Chelsea would dearly love to prove this once again. Barcelona are through to the semi-finals of this competition fifth time in a row. By doing so, they have equalled the feat set by their archrivals Real Madrid in the late ‘50s – then known as the European Cup. And they would like to match another envious record held by their quarter-final rivals – win consecutive top European Club honours. Records are nothing new to the man named Lionel Messi. He became the youngest man, and fourth overall, to score 50 Champions League goals and also bettered his own Cup record of 12 goals in a season. The little magician has netted only 56 times so far this season and there will be hardly anyone who would bet against him scoring in this tie. People mesmerised by the tiki-taka brand of football often fail to appreciate their tight defence – Barca have not lost at home in Europe since 2009. They have some problem against aerial balls, but they more than make up for it through their defensive organisation. Except for Milan in the group stages, the Catalan side have conceded only 3 goals while scoring a staggering 28 in seven matches. They do keep the ball well – better than any other team in the competition – and make good use of it as they have outscored everyone else. This should be a good test for Barcelona, but not likely to be much more than a good warm-up for the impending final.

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The Europa Cup Previews

Some call it the poor cousin of the Champions League, but the teams vying for the Europa League would strongly object to that. After much blood, sweat and rigour of the horrific schedule, four teams survive to fight it out. The all-conquering Spanish dominance is even more evident here as we have Sporting Clube de Portugal sandwiched between three clubs from Spain. Some may argue that the competition is dampened by the reluctance of top clubs to compete in this demanding tournament and they have preferred to focus on their respective domestic leagues. But this, in no way, can undermine the achievements of the semi-finalists. Let us build up to these matches.

Club Atletico de Madrid vs Valencia CF

In their last meeting in Europe, Atletico Madrid edged past Valencia on the basis of away goals in the quarter-finals of Europa League in 2009-10 and went all the way to lift the trophy. This time they will host Valencia on April 19 with the away match a week later. The club from Madrid has failed to score against their La Liga counterpart in the domestic season and they would surely love to break the shackles this time. Thibaut Courtois, on loan from Chelsea, has been in superb form under the bars for them – taking over from the now Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea – conceding the least number of goals in the competition. Up front, Falcao Garcia, the leading goal scorer in the tournament, has impressed some cash rich clubs in Europe and he would surely like to prove his worth. Not only him – Adrian Lopez, Eduardo Salvio – Atletico have quite a few options going forward and they are clear favourites to clinch it.  They have shown the desire by eliminating Manchester United from the tournament. On the other hand, Valencia are the only team to have come from the Champions League, having been eliminated on the last match day of the group stages in the hands of Chelsea. They boast of a strong defence consisting of Victor Ruiz and Adil Rami. They have a free-flowing approach to the game, reminiscent of any modern top Spanish side. They have netted 4 goals in two consecutive home matches and they would look to hone their goal scoring skills once again against their Spanish compatriots.

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Sporting Clube de Portugal vs Athletic Club

Only non-Spanish team left in the competition, Sporting Club will entertain Athletic Club on April 19 in an Iberian derby. They are enjoying their best season in Europe since 2005. History favours the Portuguese side in this tie as they have beaten – that too after trailing in the first leg – Athletic Club in their only meeting so far, way back in 1985-86 season. But they will have to go past a fantastic Gorka Iraizoz who has made the most number of saves (37) in the competition. Sporting is inspired by the ex-Liverpool left-back Emiliano Insua who is having a tremendous season. Ricky van Wolfswinkel up front also has performed beyond expectation. They are up against an Athletic team, which is the only team to compete with Atletico de Madrid in terms of goal scoring. Diego da Cunha is leading the pack in the midfield as he leads the assists chart with four of them while chipping in a few on his own. They have come back from behind twice against FC Schalke 04 to clinch the tie which shows their hunger for success. In fact, they have had the most number of attempts – 67, close to six per match on an average – in goal amongst the teams surviving in the competition. Markel Susaeta has orchestrated the midfield quite well and he will have a major part to play in this tie as well. But they have leaked quite generously in the back and this is one area where they would like to improve. They will be further handicapped as star defender Javi Martinez has been suspended. This should be a fierce battle as both the teams rank right up there in terms of fouls committed throughout the tournament. Nonetheless, this promises to be an enthralling contest – plenty of goals, some shrewd tactics being employed and a nail-biting finish.

Best XI

Football is a beautiful game and the excitement that a 90-minute match can pack in, is not comparable with too many sports across the world. We see brilliant teams with sublime individuals creating magic on the field  but… football’s magic is sometimes tarnished with some not-so sublime moments of ‘play-acting’ on the pitch. While acts like diving, faking injuries et al can be annoying on the one hand, they can be quite funny to watch, on the other. This month we have put together XI somewhat upsetting yet hilarious moments on the pitch which had ‘purists’ tearing their hair out!

  • Brazilian great Rivaldo is known to many for his sublime left foot. But you can watch him displaying some additional skills too! This was one bizarre incident of the 2002 World Cup that I recall. An innocuous corner kick turned into a farce by Rivaldo during the semi-final match between Brazil and Turkey.

             

  • Juergen Klinsmann is a German great but some Albiceleste fans might not welcome him with open arms. Most English football fans who have seen Klinsmann in action for Tottenham Hotspur will concur that despite his brilliance with the ball and sublime skills, he had this habit of falling over a bit too easily. Hell, he at times even celebrated his goals by mocking his diving skills!

  • This was Ecuador against Chile: Bryan Carrasco grabs the arm of Edson Montaño and strikes himself to create another ‘sublime’ moment in South American football!

  • In my opinion, Alberto Gilardino here was shot by an unknown sniper, so please leave the kid alone! Even in real-time it was clearly a dive and the referee promptly produced a yellow card. Now, isn’t that hilarious?

  • One moment David Villa was writhing with pain and the next, he was ready to participate in a brawl! Amazing healing powers, must be in the DNA.

  • Robert Pires is one of the best footballers to grace the shores of Great Britain but didn’t really cover himself with glory in this case. Pires came to English Football with Portsmouth but it seems he came back with lot more than some of the sublime skills that he displayed at Arsenal.

  • Emmanuel Eboue showing his not so perfect skills off the ball! There are a lot more Eboue moments but this one was surely one of the most desperate tries by him.

  • Taking only one incident from Cristiano Ronaldo’s compilation is an injustice to his ‘talent’ but we have to give others some space too!

  • Captain Fantastic’s not so ‘fantastic’ moment on the pitch! Steven Gerrard represents everything good about Liverpool – talent, passion and guts, but this incident might even have ‘The Kop’ cringing in disbelief.

  • Dynamo Kiev’s Olexandr Aliyev showing his own set of healing powers in Champions League game against Arsenal. Amazing stuff!

  • We will end with some of the modern day masters of the ‘art’. Mind you, this is ‘more than a simulation! Barcelona is considered the epitome of club football, right now. Players like Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi create poetry on the football pitch. Sometimes players like Javier Mascherano, Pedro and Sergio Busquets, create some jarring notes on the football pitch that has fans gasping for fresh air.