Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Greatest World Cup matches: West Germany-Argentina 1990

The end of the 1980s and early 90’s were a time of great changes in the world as well as in the world of football. The 1980s had seen violence around the game grow, culminating in the specter of hooliganism and banning of English teams to play in Europe. Football had become a catalyst for the ugliest sides of European nationalism. On the pitch football had growm much more defensive and accepting of unfair play and horrible tackles.
Sadly, the World Cup of 1990 assembled all of these forces: “Italia 90 condensed the new social forces remaking European football: saturation media coverage, high commercials takes and the repackaged spectacular. It was perhaps the most gruelling, defensive and mean-minded tournament yet staged.”
The atmosphere at the World Cup in Italy was from the start hateful and very nationalistic, and the teams participating living off this like vultures. Foul play was ignored or even glorified in the case of Cameroon, Argentina or Italy, as long as victory was achieved.
On the pitch fans saw the World Cup with the lowest goal-scoring average ever; most teams, notably Argentina, Italy and Ireland played immensely defensive football. There was only one match where both teams scored more than one goal, with most penalty kick decisions and a record in the number of red cards.

It was the worst World Cup ever played, and the final was no exception: it is widely regarded as the worst final ever played as West Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 to win their third world title in a repeat of the 1986 final, when Argentina had won.
It was thus time for revenge, and the entire atmosphere around the final was hugely hateful and negative. Argentina had during the entire tournament played very defensively and negative football, reaching the final on the moments of glory of Diego Maradona and Claudio Cannigia, as well as spectacular goalkeeping by Sergio Goycoechea. Diego Maradona, who had become a controversial superstar in Italy while playing for Napoli, was particularly the target of a European media and fans who saw little tolerance in a star from a Third World country who was very provocative and immersed in scandals, but yet brought glory to every little team he played for, like the ever-discriminated city of Naples in southern Italy.
Maradona was hated in Europe, and this World Cup was Europe’s reckoning in the country where Maradona had shined for Napoli.
Argentina only added to the hate by playing destructive football, although their sensational defeat to Cameroon in the opening match had been as much due to harsh play by the Africans. In any case, Argentina made it through to the last-16 barely, and meeting Brazil they won 1-0 as sensationally as they had lost to Cameroon in a match where Brazil had all the chances in the world. In the quarterfinal Argentina defeated the splendid Yugoslav side (playing their last World Cup as a unified country) after penalty kicks where Sergio Goycoechea had saved two penalties. In the semifinal the Argentineans had again sensationally defeated the home team of Italy in Naples after penalty kicks, and were in spite of their unpopularity, destructive play and poor playing ready to defend their World Cup title in Rome.

West Germany was also playing its last World Cup: in November 1989 the Berlin wall had fallen, and soon the two Germanies would unite to form one Germany. Although Germany still awakened much fear in Europe and few people particularly supported them, there was no doubt that they had been the best team of the tournament.
In 1982 and 1986 the German national side had been one of the least popular sides, but making two World Cup finals. In 1990, as most other great teams were either destructive or inefficient, the Germans emerged as an outstanding side, captained by one of the best players of all time, the all-round Inter and former Bayern Munich star Lothar Matthäus, the West Germans had surely emerged as the (for many grumbling) stars of the tournament.
The Germans started the tournament by destroying Yugoslavia and the United Arab Emirated 4-1 and 5-1 respectively, and a 1-1 with Colombia was enough for them to win the group. In the last-16 the Germans defeated the defending European champions of the Netherlands 2-1 in a dramatic match, and in the quarterfinals Czechoslovakia (also playing their last World Cup as a united country) were defeated 1-0 on a Lothar Matthäus penalty goal.
In the semifinal the West Germans faced their eternal English rivals in what for the English was the best World Cup since 1966. In a tense match that ended 1-1, West Germany won after extra time, and although they were not playing splendid football, they were certainly the favourites in the final against Argentina.
To illustrate the hateful atmosphere of the tournament, thousands of fans disrespectfully booed through the Argentinean national anthem before the match. The Argentineans (without some of their best players, notably Claudio Cannigia who was banned for the final) saw their only chance in winning by playing destructively, while the German team was unable or not good enough to break through the defense, as well as being afraid of making mistakes the Argentineans were so good at taking advantage of.

It was a horrible final, and in spite of the Germans having more possession, nothing happened. First half ended 0-0, and there were hardly any chances in the second half either.
Halfway through the second half the Independiente defender Pedro Monzón, who had come on as a substitute for Oscar Ruggeri, received a red card by the Mexican referee Eduardo Codesal for a challenge on Jurgen Klinsmann.
It was the first time a player was sent off in a World Cup final, further underlining the negativity of this tournament.
Down to ten men Argentina continued defending without the Germans getting any clear chances. It was obvious that the South Americans were hoping to win like they had done in the previous two matches, by penalty kicks, counting on their outstanding goalkeeper. But only five minutes before the end Eduardo Codesal awarded the Germans a very friendly penalty kicks on a challenge on the splendid Roma striker Rudi Völler. The defender from Inter, Andreas Brehme, who had previously scored on free kicks against the Netherlands and England, scored on a well-shot penalty, although Goycoechea had seen its direction.
The penalty was enough to make West Germany world champion, but before the match another Argentinean, Cremonese’s Gustavo Dezotti was harshly sent off as the second player ever to receive this dubious honour in a World Cup final.
There was enormous criticism of the Mexican referee in Argentina in particular, as his decisions clearly favoured the Germans. That said, as a whole, West Germany was without a doubt the best team of the tournament and the right world champions, although it is overshadowed by the poor tournament and absolutely horrible final.
The German coach Franz Beckenbauer, who had captained the German winning side in 1974, became the second person ever to win the World Cup as both as a coach and a player (the first being Mario Zagallo for Brazil in 1958 and 1970).

In spite of all this, any football fan was only looking forward to improvement of the game that had sunk to its lowest in Italy. The 1994 World Cup in the USA was fortunately a rebirth of football both in the sense of the fans (who in USA showed a new friendly side) and in the way of the game, as new teams (some of the great ones as England and France did not qualify), new rules and new tendencies greatly promoted the renewal of football.
The 1990 final is one of the greatest matches of all time, but not for positive reasons.

Match Stats:
  • 8th July, 1990, Stadio Olimpico, Rome
  • Attendance: 73,603
  • Referee: Eduardo Codesal (Mexico)
West Germany-Argentina 1-0
Goals: 1-0 Brehme (85) (pen)

West Germany: Illgner, Brehme, Kohler, Augenthaler, Buchwald, Berthold (Reuter), Haessler, Littbarski, Matthaus, Klinsmann, Voller
Argentina: Goycoechea, Ruggeri (Monzón), Simon, Lorenzo, Serrizuela, Sensini, Burruchaga (Calderon), Basualdo, Troglio, Dezotti, Maradona

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ynkeligt ynkeligt Brøndby

It is not much I follow Danish football as I am living abroad. Still, I try to always follow the results of Brøndby IF, although it has lately brought me in a foul mood to know that the once in Denmark so mighty Brøndby is only becoming worse and worse. It all seemed to start when Michael Laudrup left as coach - perhaps he was seeing a club with pedantic leaders who seemed to invest heavily on second-rate players from second-rate leagues and forget its youth programme. A club that had forgotten that it belongs to the fans and not to one family.
Today Brøndby lost to the bottom team of the Danish league, HB Køge, 1-3 at home, and the club that sees itself as belonging to the top of Danish football should now admit that the top of Danish football belongs to other teams that have worked hard and retained what it is to be a top football club, values that have been forgotten in Brøndby.
The coach Kent Nielsen has been fired, but truth is that the problems are much deeper: there is an inept leadership and most players are simply not good enough if Brøndby has to return to the top - most of the players go.
Ynkeligt Brøndby.

Greatest World Cup matches: Italy-Argentina (1990)

Diego Armando Maradona had been the uncontested football star of the 1980s, and is perhaps the best player that ever lived. In 1986 he had led the Argentinean team to the World Cup, and had changed club from FC Barcelona, where he had not had a happy spell because of injuries, to AS Napoli as the then most expensive player in history. The move immediately paid off, as Maradona led the club to a long-awaited Serie A title, as well as a UEFA Cup title. He immediately became a legend in the southern Italian city, jealous of the success that had for so many years only gone to the rich northern Italian teams. But at the same time, Maradona was creating controversy; with his sometimes provocative personality and scandals surrounding him, he became a vilified person outside of Naples and Argentina. This came to a head in the 1990 World Cup, where the defensive Argentinean side won few friends. In the first round Argentina had sensationally lost the opening match in Milan to Cameroun, and the entire stadium in Milan had been against the Argentineans. In the two following matches Argentina just made it into the last-16 by defeating Russia and tying Romania. In the last-16 Argentina faced their arch-rivals of Brazil, and although pressed down the entire match, it only took one brilliant moment from Maradona and Claudio Canniggia to give them a 1-0 victory (and one of Brazil’s worse World Cup performances ever!).
In the quarterfinals Argentina had faced what at the time was perhaps the most powerful European side, but that was soon to be torn apart by war, namely Yugoslavia. In another defensive match, Argentina took the Yugoslavs into penalty kicks, where the Argentinean goalkeeper from Millionarios, Sergio Goycoechea (who had replaced the hapless Neri Pumpido, who had cost the losing goal against Cameroun) stepped forward and with four saves, gave the Argentineans the place in the semifinals, where they were to play the Italian hosts.
Italy clearly expected to be world champion at home. Everything around the tournament had been set up with this in mind, and in spite of some questionable refereeing and not always strong play, Italy had won every match; in the first round they had three narrow victories against Austria, USA and Czechoslovakia; in the last-16 Uruguay had been defeated 2-0, while Ireland had been defeated 1-0 in the quarterfinals. The star of the Italian team had been the small Juventus striker Salvatore “Toto” Schillaci. He had come in as a substitute in the first match against Austria and had scored the winning goal. After this he had started in every match taking over the position as striker with great success (he was to become the most scoring player of the tournament).
The match was to take place in Naples, in Stadio Sao Paolo, which was Maradona’s home stadium. After Argentina had been booed by fans wherever they went, the Argentineans really hoped that Maradona’sstatus as a legend in Naples would lead to people support them against the hosts. Maradona himself said: “For 364 days of the year you are considered to be foreigners in your own country. Today you must do what they want by supporting the Italian team. Instead, I am a Naepolitan for 365 days out of the year.”
The Naepolitans responded by clapping of the Argentinean team, and a huge banner in the stadium read: “Maradona Napoli loves you, but Italy is our country.” There was no conflict, and it was the only stadium where the Argentinean team was met with respect. While the Naepolitan fans did support their home country in what became a very dramatic match.
It all seemed to be going Italy’s way from the start as only one quarter of an hour into the match Italy was attacking and the Sampdoria striker Gianluca Vialli had a spectacular shot that Goycoechea could not hold, and the ball went directly to a quick Schillaci who a bit clumsily kicked the ball into the goal and an Italian lead. It did not matter that the Argentineans protested that at the moment of Vialli’s shot, Schillaci had been in an off-side position; this was a detail for an immensely home-friendly French referee, Michel Vautrot (although to be fair, it is still discussed whether such a situation should be an off-side nevertheless; they are called as often as they are not…).
However, working hard and giving the Italian strikers little space (often with unfair means) the Argentinean team slowly started working their way back into the match, and as this happened the Italians got increasingly nervous. It was not a beautiful match, but it was very intense, and for the Italians, growing evermore so as they lacked chances and the Argentineans were being led by a Maradona who was playing his best match of the tournament.
Nobody had scored against Italy in the tournament so far, but halfway into the second half the Atalanta striker Claudio Caniggia rose up to a cross into the Italian penalty area by Julio Olarticoechea, and got in front of Walter Zenga, who looking very fragile, saw the ball go over him and into the Italian net.
The frustration was clear among the Italians, and coach Azeglio Vicini decided to put in Roberto Baggio and Aldo Serena. Although they pressed more, the Argentinean defense around Real Madrid’s Oscar Ruggeri was very strong, and whenever the situation came, Goycoechea was being splendid on goal, for instance making a spectacular save of a free kick from Roberto Baggio.
As the match went into extra time the nerves only got worse and so did the numerous fouls. And the French referee only contributed to this when he put on a totally uncalled for extra time of eight minutes in the first half of the extra time. In this time, the Argentinean player from Independiente de La Plata received a red card for punching Roberto Baggio. However, up one man, Italy was unable to break the deadlock, and the match went into the penalty kicks that the Argentineans had hoped for.
It did seem to everyone that Sergio Goycoechea was far more confident than Italy’s Walter Zenga. He came very close to stopping the shots from Roberto Baggio and Luigi De Agostini, while Walter Zenga had been outshot completely in the first three Argentinean penalty kicks.
At the score 3-3 AC Milan’s Roberto Donadoni’s shot was spectacularly saved by Goycoechea, and in the following shot, Diego Maradona made no mistake to score against Zenga (every Italian had hoped that Maradona, who had missed a penalty in the previous match against Yugoslavia, would miss at this crucial moment), and in the next penalty, Aldo Serena from Inter had to score, but again, Sergio Goycoechea made a save that put Argentina in the final.
Italians were devastated that the title that they had hoped to win at home had been taken away from them. There was a lot of bitterness against the Argentineans who had nevertheless won an expensive victory; Claudio Caniggia had received an unprofessional booking for handball and was banned for the final, and so were Giusti and the strong defender Sergio Batista.
Argentina lost the final 1-0 to West Germany while Italy got a meager consolation by defeating England in the match for third place.

Match Stats:
  • 3rd July 1990, Stadio San Paolo, Naples
  • Attendance: 60,000
  • Referee: Michel Vautrot (France)
Italy-Argentina 1-1 (After extra time)
Goals: 1-0 Schillaci (17), 1-1 Caniggia (67)

Penalty kicks:
Italy-Argentina 3-4
1-0 Baresi
1-1 Serrizuela
2-1 R. Baggio
2-2 Burruchaga
3-2 De Agostini
3-3 Olarticoechea
Donadoni missed for Italy
3-4 Maradona
Serena missed for Italy

Italy: Zenga; Baresi, Bergomi, De Agostini, Ferri, Maldini, De Napoli, Giannini (R. Baggio), Donadoni, Schillaci, Vialli (Serena)
Argentina: Goycoechea; Basualdo (Batista), Ruggeri, Calderón (Troglio), Burruchaga, Caniggia, Maradona, Giusti (RC, 112), Olarticoechea, Serrizuela, Simon

Monday, March 22, 2010

The best: Lionel Messi

Today Barcelona defeated Zaragoza 4-2 in the Spanish League, and the small Argentinean super-star, Lionel Messi, scored three goals and got himself a penalty that he humbly let Ibrahimovic take and score. With these three goals Messi has scored eight goals in a week, and is far ahead in the top scoring list of the Spanish League. Messi is a one-man army, keeping a rather unstable Barcelona side fighting. And truly, the way Messi is playing, Barcelona can still win it all.
It is not only that he scores a lot of goals, but it is also the way he does it: they are gorgeous goals, and every moment he has the ball, one is expecting something great to happen. What Messi does is beyond football; it is art. There can be no doubt whatsoever that Messi is the best player in the world at the moment; that players like him only come once in a lifetime.
Besides this talent that all football fans are in awe about, the man is a model star: serious, hardworking, a team-player, as well as modest and humble, and these are all things where his greatness lies.
God has given all football fans a gift by letting us see Messi play football.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Greatest World Cup matches: West Germany-England (1990)

Footballing encounters between these two European nations have always been immersed in a strong rivalry, and from the English side, in a WWII rhetoric. In spite of winning the 1966 World Cup final, English teams seem to have had a minority complex against the Germans, and this particular semi-final was a case in point, as both teams were hunting World Cup success, albeit from two very different angles!
Modern football was born in England, but besides the triumph in the 1966, the team has grossly underperformed. In the late 1970s and first half of the 1980s, England arguably had the best clubs in Europe, with Liverpool, Notthingham Forest and Aston Villa taking six European Champions Cup titles in a row. However, the national team was under-performing, and the horrible violence of English hooligans was destroying the game. When, in the European Cup final in 1985 at Heysel, Liverpool fans rioting caused the death of 39 fans, English teams were banned from playing in Europe, effectively putting an end to English dominance at the club level. But at the national team level, the second half of the 1980s saw a resurgence in the English national team: only a mighty Maradona managed to stop them at the 1986 world cup quarter-finals, and although England had not progressed from the first round of the 1988 European Championships, there was careful optimism about the team for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
West Germany was throughout the 1980s perhaps the most powerful European footballing nation: winners of the 1980 European Championships, and semifinalist in 1988, while the country had made it to the World Cup final in 1982 and 1986. The Germans had nevertheless been very unpopular, playing a particularly cynical style of football. But in Italy 1990 the cynical defensive football prevailed, while the Germans began playing more offensive attacking football, but without losing their organisation and discipline. In their first two matches West Germany had trashed Yugoslavia and the United Arab Emirates 4-1 and 5-1 respectively, and 1-1 against Colombia in their last group match had been enough to give them the group victory. In the last-16 West Germany had played their Dutch arch-rivals, and had gotten revenge for their defeat in the 1988 European championship by winning 2-1 in an intense match.
Czechoslovakia had been defeated 1-0 in the quarter-final on a penalty goal by their captain Lothar Matthäus. The Inter midfielder was playing his third World Cup with Germany, and was proving the best player of the tournament as West Germany prepared to face England in the semi-final.
England had been steadily improving during the tournament, in spite of not looking that strong in the first round group, where England started against two teams that had defeated them two years before, at the 1988 Euro, Ireland and the Netherlands, as well as the strong but underestimated north Africans from Egypt. In the first two matches, against the European side, England managed a 1-1 with Ireland and a 0-0 with the Dutch, and a narrow 1-0 victory in the last match against the excellent Egyptians gave England the first spot in the group. The English had not played well and had not scored many goals, and in the last-16 it took 119 minutes before David Platt scored the winner for England against Belgium.
In the quarter-final England faced Cameroon, who were the sensation of the tournament. Led by the ageing Roger Milla Cameroon went ahead 2-1 and seemed on the verge of a World Cup semifinal when the Tottenham striker and top goalscorer from the 1986 World Cup, Gary Lineker scored on two penalties to give England a spot in the semifinal against the European arch-rivals of West Germany, in what would become one of the most memorable encounters ever between the two footballing giants, and surely one of the most exciting encounters in an otherwise boring and defensive world cup.
England’s team was one of the most talented English sides in a generation with players such as the legendary goalkeeper Peter Shilton, the Nottingham Forest captain Stuart Pearce, Chris Waddle from Olympique Marseille, Liverpool’s Peter Beardsley, the controversial Tottenham player Paul Gascoigne and the also Tottenham striker and top-scorer from the 1986 World Cup, Gary Lineker. The English were determined that this was their moment to make it to the World Cup final for the second time ever, and the match would indeed be one of the most legendary matches in the history of English football.
It all started well for England, for was the better team in the first half, with good chances to both Paul Gascoigne and Chris Waddle. However, the score was 0-0 at half-time. Fifteen minuted into the second half the Germans got a free kick just outside the English area. The strong Inter defender Andreas Brehme took the free kick that got deflected by Paul Parker in the defensive wall and in a high curve looped over Peter Shilton, who looked rather faulty at the goal.
The Germans were ahead, and England pressed on. All of England was surely praying for a goal when, with ten minutes remaining, Paul Parker kicks the ball with little direction into the German area, where three German defenders looked confused as the ball fell down; Klaus Augethaler touched it, but not controlling it, the ball went to Gary Lineker who immediately thanked the defender and scored resolutely.
With this goal, the game had to go into a thrilling extra time. Both teams were looking for the victory, and both come close by hitting the post. At the same time, Paul Gascoigne broke down in tears after receiving a yellow card that effectively would keep him out of the final if England made it. A horrible mistake by the German defence that put the English back into the game.
The match had to be decided by penalties. Both teams scored on their first three shots, but on England’s fourth shot, after Karlheinz Riedle had equalized to 3-3 for West Germany, the German goalkeeper Bodo Illgner managed to save the shot from the Nottingham Forest captain Stuart Pearce. As Olaf Thon scored on West Germany’s next kick, Chris Waddle was forced to score to keep England in the game. But his nerves didn’t hold, as he shot the ball over the bar, giving Germany the victory amid English tears.
West Germany became world champions by defeating Argentina in the final. They have not been champions since, while England has yet not come as close to a world cup final as they were then. This match went into history as one of the great matches between the two European arch-rivals.
Gary Lineker has later been quoted for saying that “football is a game of eleven against eleven, and Germany always wins.”

Match Stats:
  • 4th July 1990, Stadio delle Alpi, Turin
  • Attendance: 62,630
  • Referee: José Roberto Wright (Brazil)
West Germany-England 1-1 (after extra time)
Goals: 1-0 Brehme (60), 1-1 Lineker (80)

Penalty Kicks:
West Germany-England 4-3
0-1 Lineker
1-1 Brehme
1-2 Beardsley
2-2 Matthäus
2-3 Platt
3-3 Riedle
Pearce missed for England
4-3 Thon
Waddle missed for England

West Germany: Illgner; Brehme, Kohler, Augenthaler, Buchwald, Haessler (Reuter), Völler (Riedle), Matthäus, Berthold, Klinsmann, Thon
England: Shilton; Pearce, Walker, Butcher (Steven), Waddle, Beardsley, Lineker, Parker, Wright, Platt, Gascoigne

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Football life in Caracas

Notwithstanding that I am not normally able to watch Champions League, since it is in working hours, I was able to watch second half of Inter's splendid victory against Chelsea. It is not often that I support the Italian teams, but this time it was awesome to see them outplay a Chelsea side that with the years has lost its modesty. It is not often that I have supported Italian teams, but seeing Inter further in the tournament will surely be interesting. It is great to see that this season's CL has more variety across countries in the quarterfinal, with one Spanish team, one Italian team, one German team, one Russian team, and two English and (perhaps the surprise) French teams each.
In any case, I won't get to see much of CL quartefinals either. However, I went to my second Copa Libertadores match in Caracas, as Caracas FC hosted Universidad Católica de Chile. Both teams needed a victory, and in fact Caracas sought it more in the first half against a rather pathetic Chilean side. On the other hand, Caracas were slow in attack, and committed mistakes in defence. In the second half the teams were more equal, but both played poorly. The match ended 0-0, and had it not been for a great atmosphere, beer and songs it would have been a waste.
I have a ticket for the last first-round Libertadores match Caracas will play, on April 13th against Universidad de Chile, but I doubt I will use it: the match is bound to mean nothing as both teams are out.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Greatest World Cup Matches: Cameroon-Argentina (1990)

African teams had slowly been rising since 1978 when Tunisia had been the first African team to win a match. In 1982 Algeria had been the first to defeat a European side, West Germany, while Cameroon had been eliminated without losing a single match, and in 1986 Morocco had been the first African group winners. However, when Argentina and Cameroon were to play the opening match of the 1990 World Cup at the Giuseppe Meazza stadium in Milan, nobody really thought that the Africans had a chance against the Argentinean defending world champions.
Argentina’s team was a combination of veterans from the 1986 team, and some new players, but the one overshadowing them all was Diego Maradona, who as a Napoli player felt at home in Italy.
Cameroon’s team, on the other hand, was a combination of players from the domestic league and low-key French clubs, with the exception of the goalkeeper Thomas Nkono from RCD Espanyol, arguably one of the best African goalkeepers of all time.
Argentina did not play a bad match, but were perhaps surprised by the tactics of the Camerooneans who, with strong support for being the underdogs, played very well but with very poor sportsmanship. Within the first half hour the Camerooneans had received three yellow cards and made a number of bad fouls, in particular targeting Maradona. The Argentineans, although no aliens to playing dirty, seemed unable to counter the harsh play of the Africans.
Although the score was 0-0 at half-time, Argentina could have been ahead, and things seemed to be going the right way when in the 61st minute, the Cameroonean defender André Kana-Biyik was shown a direct red card for taking down the dangerous Atalanta striker Claudio Canniggia on a free run towards the Cameroonean goal. However, only five minutes later Cameroon got a free kick on the left side. Emmanuel Kunde centered rather poorly, but the ball was deflected on a high curve towards the center where Kana-Biyik’s brother, Francois Omam-Biyik, rose above the Argentinean defender. His header was not particularly powerful, and Argentina’s veteran goalkeeper from Betis Seville, Nery Pumpido, must be blamed for fumbling the ball into goal. Pumpido was injured in the next match, and his substitute Sergio Goycoechea became the best goalkeeper of the tournament.
Cameroon were sensationally ahead, and one man down defended heroically against the oncoming Argentinean attacks. In particular Claudio Canniggia was creating havoc, and on a spectacular run towards the end of the match he was violently brought down by Benjamin Massing, who was also given a red card.
The score held.
Cameroon had sensationally defeated the world champions, and immediately became the darlings of the tournament. Cameroon made it to the quarter-final where only England’s Gary Lineker was able to stop the Africans. For many, this was the game that definitively brought African football to the fore of world football.
Although Argentina had suffered what seemed a humiliating defeat, the team still fought hard and in spite of not playing good football, still made it all the way to the final, where they lost to West Germany in a repeat of the 1986 final.

Match Stats:
  • 8th June, 1990, Stadio Giusseppe Meazza, Milano
  • Attendance: 73,780
  • Referee: Michel Vautrot (France)
Cameroon-Argentina 1-0
Goals: 1-0 Omam-Biyik (67)

Argentina: Pumpido; Batista, Balbo, Basualdo, Burruchaga, Lorenzo, Fabbri, Maradona, Sensini (Calderón), Ruggeri (Caniggia), Simon
Cameroon: Nkono; Kana-Biyik (RC, 61), Massing (RC, 89), Ebwelle, Kunde, Omam-Biyik, Mbouh, Mfede (Libiih), Tataw, Ndip, Makanaky (Milla)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Messi 3-Valencia 0

FC Barcelona is this not as awesome as last season, and last weekend they lost the leading position in the Spanish League to the arch-rivals from Real Madrid. This week, they had to play against the third placed Valencia and had to win to keep pace with Real Madrid.
Valencia started best, and were really putting up a great fight against a rather disappointing Barcelona side, where only Leo Messi was representing danger. Still, the score was 0-0 at half-time, and it seemed that the close encounter was to continue in the second half. But truly, as Barcelona is not as awesome as last season, there is one thing that makes the Catalans better than any other team: Leo Messi is continually being Barcelona's saviour, and today he was extraordinary in the second half, with three extraordinary goals he pulled the entire team up to give them this important victory. It was not Barcelona who defeated Valencia; it was Leo Messi, who is without doubt the best player in the world at the time.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Caracas FC versus Flamengo

After watching the second half of Real Madrid's 1-1 with Lyon, that efectively eliminated the Spaniards, I went to my first football match in Caracas: the home team of Caracas FC was playing the Brazilian champions of Flamengo in the UCV Stadium in Caracas, in the first round of the Copa Libertadores (this was also the first time I attended a match in this prestigious tournament).

Of course, I largely went to see the legendary Brazilian side, but Caracas is a team that I will surely go to watch again: the fans were excellent, creating a great atmosphere in the small stadium (and may I add that as everywhere in Caracas, there are also incredibly beautiful women at football matches!). It was endearing as the proud and somewhat arrogant Caracans really thought that they had a chance against mighty Flamengo...
Caracas played a good match; they had plenty of possession and did create some chances (the goal to 1-1 by Rafael Castellín was excellent, and they hit the post on an outstanding free kick), but their pace was simply too slow; every time they regained possession, they gave the Brazilians plenty of time to get into position. They simply did not run enough (a particular sinner being Jesús Gómez, who slowed down every attack and never ran back when he lost the ball in attack) and did not take enough advantage of the slow Brazilian fullbacks.
Flamengo did not play well, but were much more clever, playing an efficient and modern counter-attacking style where they were very quick to switch many players to attack.
Their first goal came on a penalty given after such a counter-attack (a handball on a shot by the veteran Serbian player Petkovic).
In the second half, shortly after Caracas equalizer, Flamengo had a man sent-off. This gave the home-team renewed energy, and this was when they had their best chances, and Flamengo seemed shaken.
Had it not been for a foolish fan that threw something at the linesman, Caracas might have continued this rhythm. Instead, the five minutes break gave the Brazilians time to calm down and reorganize, and in the last ten minutes, they had some outstanding chances on quick coutner-attacks where their striker Vagner Love completely caught the advanced Venezuelan defence off-guard. Vagner Love scored a second for Flamengo, while in the last second Rodrigo Alvim scored a third for Flamengo on another excellent counter-attack.

It was a pity for Caracas, indeed, but after seeing them, I would have considered it a great surprise if they had been able to win; they were simply up against a much more clever and experienced team. That said, I will return to watch them; I have to learn the song:
"Eso que dice la gente
Que somos borrachos
Vagos delincuentes
No le paro bolas
Yo soy del Caracas
Y al rojo lo quiero"

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thank you Olympique Lyon

All due respect to Real Madrid, which I have never liked. But the royal Spaniards have a tendency to blow themselves up after one good match: their incredible 3-2 victory against Sevilla last weekend, had caused them to predict another large victory over Olympique Lyon. The French had been the far better team in the first match in Lyon, although they only won 1-0. Still, a star like Sergio Ramos had before the match said that Real Madrid would win 3-0.
I think it is wisest for players to shut up before matches, because they only look like fools. Real Madrid started well, and were leading 1-0 at halftime. But they were a complete disaster in the second half in particular, and Lyon should have won the match after their equalizer.
It is always wonderful to see arrogance pounded, and arrogance was yet again defeated by Real Madrid's elimination.

Greatest World Cup Matches: Argentina-West Germany (1986)

The World cup in Mexico in 1986 is perhaps the best world cup in terms of the sheer number of quality teams, players, and intense matches: Italy and Poland were giants in decline; Brazil, France, West Germany and the USSR all had some of their best teams ever, while smaller footballing nations such as Denmark, Belgium and Morocco, had some of their best squads ever. In this conundrum of great matches, one man nevertheless stood out from all of them: Diego Maradona, who at the time unquestionably was the best player in the world, captained a strong Argentina side to rise above all the others, and were in the final against West Germany in Azteca stadium in Mexico City.
If anything, compared to the other great teams, Argentina was the most stable team, and all players, besides Maradona, performed excellently: the Real Madrid striker Jorge Valdano had scored three goals, Jorge Burruchaga from Nantes was extremely strong in midfield, while the defence organization around River Plates’ Jorge Ruggeri, Jose Luis Brown and Sergio Batista was probably the best of the tournament. In the first round Argentina had started by tying 1-1 with the defending world champions of Italy, while defeating South Corea and Bulgaria. In the last-16 they had met their eternal arch-rivals from Uruguay, whom they defeated 1-0. In the quarter-final Argentina defeated England 2-1 in a controversial match, where Maradona scored both goals, one being the infamous hand-of-God goal, and another that has been hailed as the best goal in world cup history. In the semi-final Maradona again scored two beautiful goals to give Argentina a 2-0 victory over Belgium and a place in the final.

In Spain in 1982 the German team had been extremely unpopular. In Mexico, the Germans were not particularly popular either, with a cynical and result-oriented style: in the first round they had progressed behind Denmark, after tying to Uruguay, defeating Scotland 2-1 and then losing 2-0 to the Danes. With second place, the Germans had avoided playing against the strong Spanish in the last-16 (whom the Danes lost 5-1 to), and instead faced Morocco, whom they were somewhat lucky to defeat 1-0 on a late strike by Lothar Matthäus and excellent goalkeeping by the 1982 villain, Harald “Toni” Schumacher.
Schumacher also took the headlines in the quarter-final against the Mexican hosts: in a boring 0-0 match, Schumacher made two consecutive saves on the penalty shoot-out to give West Germany a 4-1 victory.
The semi-final was a repeat of the 1982 legendary quarter-final between France and West Germany. Although the French were now the favourites, West Germany played their best match of the tournament and won 2-0, qualifying for their second consecutive World Cup final, after losing the 1982 final to Italy.

Argentina were favourites as the teams walked onto the pitch, not least because of Maradona, who had scored four goals in the previous two matches before the final. Knowing this, the Germans would aim their entire tactics on neutralizing Maradona, by putting the outstanding Bayern Munich midfielder Lothar Matthäus to mark him. But before the match the Argentinean coach Carlos Bilardo had expected the Germans to mark Maradona, and predicted that the match would be decided in the duel between Real Madrid’s striker Jorge Valdano and Hellas Verona’s defender Hans Peter Briegel.
And in the shadow of Maradona, the other Argentinean players stepped in to show that they would be worthy world champions. The first half hour of the match completely belonged to Argentina, who after 22 minutes went ahead by 1-0 on a header by the veteran defender Jorge “Tata” Brown, after a free-kick taken from the right-hand side by Jorge Burruchaga. Harald Schumacher, who had otherwise been the best goalkeeper of the tournament, completely mistook the trajectory of the ball, and let the Argentinean defender score.
Brown had been doubtful for the final due to a serious shoulder injury, but had insisted on playing, and this was the only goal he ever scored on the national team.
The Germans now had to step forward, but were still losing 1-0 at half-time.
Entering the second half the West Germans put the Werder Bremen striker Rudi Völler onto the pitch for Klaus Allofs, signalling that they would start attacking. However, 10 minutes into the second half, Argentina went ahead 2-0: Maradona and River Plate’s Hector Enrique combined quickly, and caught the advancing German defence on the wrong side of the off-side trap as Jorge Valdano pushed forward. Valdano ran directly toward the goal and coldly placed the ball to the left of Schumacher.
Everything seemed to go Argentina’s way, but as everyone knows, the Germans never give up.
West Germany’s coach Franz Beckenbauer now put on an extra striker, Bayern Munich’s veteran Uli Hoenness, and started pressing forward against the Argentineans who seemed to think the match was over, as Valdano admitted afterwards, “we thought we were already world champions…”
In the 73rd minute another Bayern Munich veteran, Karl-Heinz Rummennigge pulled one back for West Germany after a corner-kick, where the Argentinean defence looked to stand still as Rummennigge lurged forward in front of the goal inside the Argentinean area.
Eight minutes later West Germany had a corner-kick from the exact same place as the previous goal, but this time it was kicked towards the far post, where Thomas Berthold headed the ball into the six-yard box; a completely unmarked Rudi Völler came forward and headed the ball into goal.
2-2, and Argentina seemed to have thrown it all away withing ten minutes.
However, only four minutes later Maradona, who closely marked had been quite anonymous the entire match, showed one moment of brilliance when he made a perfect through-pass to Jorge Burruchaga at the very moment when Hans-Peter Briegel was pushing forward to put the player off-side. Burruchaga rushed towards goal with a desperate Briegel behind him, and put his shot under Schumacher before Briegel could tackle.
Argentina was now ahead 3-2, and were now confident that in the final six minutes, the Germans would not get back into the match.
West Germany had lost its second consecutive World Cup final, while Argentina had won its second World Cup title. In the eight years since the previous title in 1978 Argentina had undergone significant changes, become a democracy, and this victory seemed sweeter amid the controversies of the 1978 victory. There was no doubt that Argentina, led by Maradona, had been the best team of the tournament.

Match Stats:
  • 29th June, 1986, Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
  • Attendance: 114,590
  • Referee: Romualdo Arppi Filho (Brazil)
Argentina-West Germany 3-2
Goals: 1-0 Brown (22), 2-0 Valdano (55), 2-1 Rummenigge (73), 2-2 Voller (81), 3-2 Burruchaga (84)

Argentina: Pumpido, Cuciuffo, Brown, Ruggeri, Olarticoechea, Batista, Giusti, Enrique, Burruchaga (Trobbiani), Maradona, Valdano
West Germany: Schumacher, Brehme, K.H. Forster, Jakobs, Briegel, Eder, Matthaus, Magath (Hoeness), Berthold, Allofs (Voller), Rummenigge

Sad for Fiorentina

Fiorentina has in my view been one of the best teams to watch in this season's Champions League; I have never followed them closely, but they have been great to watch, in particular the young Montenegrin Stevan Jovetic. It was therefore disappointing that they have just been eliminated in the Champions League after defeating Bayern Munich 3-2 at home. After losing 2-1 in Munich, the Germans are progressing to the next round because of the away goals. Fiorentina was close though: they were 3-1 up until Arjen Robben scored a great second goal for Bayern midway through the second half, giving Bayern the ticket to the quarterfinals.
Bayern Munich played well, and were probably the better team, but the elimination must hurt Fiorentina the more knowing that Miroslav Klose's second goal in the first match in Munich was a clear off-side, and should have been annulled; a correct call then, would have meant that the match tonight would have been different.
But thus is football (until they allow the usage of TV pictures), and it will surely be interesting to see Bayern Munich in the next round, although Fiorentina shall be missed.

In the other match tonight Arsenal destroyed FC Porto 5-0 and is now in the quartefinals with 6-2 on aggregate.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Interesting friendlies

The world cup is soon starting, and this week's friendly matches can perhaps give us a small indication of what forms some teams are in:
  • The defending world champions from Italy tied another world cup participant, Cameroon, 0-0 (repeating their 1982 world cup feat). While both are looking solid in defense, the match said little about their offensive capabilities.
  • Spain again showed that they must be considered favourites for the title after a 2-0 away victory to France on goals by David Villa and Sergio Ramos.
  • England, immersed in scandals about some players, had a difficult time defeating the African champions of Egypt, and even went behind 0-1, but managed to pull back a 3-1 victory.
  • Ghana, one of the African hopefuls, lost 2-1 to Bosnia in a match where they did not play too well, but were also missing many of the stars.
  • Another African participant, Algeria, was destroyed 3-0 by Serbia. In the meantime, the Serbians, who qualified in an awesome manner, are cementing a position as an important "Dark Horse" for the World Cup.
  • Uruguay defeated another World Cup participant, Switzerland, 3-1 away, where three of their extraordinary strikers scored a goal each: Diego Forlán, Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Uruguay will also be a team to watch in South Africa, particularly due to their awesome strikers.
  • Another of the favourites for the title is surely Argentina. Although coach Maradona has been heavily criticised their 1-0 away victory against Germany should send warning signs to anyone who underestimates the Argentineans. The entire team stood well, played intelligently, and their strikers gave the Germans trouble. Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuaín, who is currently in great form, scored the Argentinean winner.
  • The Netherlands defeated the USA 2-1.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Zinedine Zidane's apology

Some things are so horrible that they don't deserve an apology, and surely what Materazzi said to Zinedine Zidane in the world cup final was one of those things. It has nothing to do with fair play - Zinedine Zidane got and accepted his punishment for what he did. Materazzi got all the glory in the world and his apparent apology is not credible.
Zidane has apologised to his fans and to the football world, and we have accepted his apology. That he does not want to apologize to Materazzi should not bother anyone.
Zinedine Zidane will always be remembered foremost for being one of the greatest players ever, and a man of honour. Materazzi is the complete opposite.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Greatest World Cup Matches: Argentina-England (1986)

The quarterfinal of the 1986 World Cup between Argentina and England was immersed in a bitter football and political rivalry between the two countries. In football terms, the rivalry had started in the 1966 World Cup where the English coach Sir Alf Ramsey had called the Argentinean animals. In political terms, the two countries had only three years before ended a short but bloody war over the Falklands Islands in the southern Atlantic.
Although the players denied that the political situation had any influence on the match, the coaches of both teams, Carlos Bilardo and Bobby Robson, told the players not to mention the Falklands, and only talk about football. However, specially the Argentineans could not take the war off their mind, and Maradona later said: "Although we had said before the game that football had nothing to do with the Malvinas war, we knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys there (…). And this was revenge."
The mid 1980s were a period of crisis for English football, not least for their violent followers, who in 1985 for the European Champions Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus at Heysel had caused the death of 85 fans. This had led to English clubs being banned from international competition, but their national team still competed, albeit under very strict security measures.
England had not started the tournament well, losing to Portugal 0-1 and playing 0-0 with Morocco before securing the second place in their group (behind Morocco) with a 3-0 victory over Poland, in a match where the Everton striker Gary Lineker had scored all three goals.
In the last-16 the English had faced Paraguay, and had won 3-0 on two more goals by Gary Lineker and one by the little Liverpoool star Peter Beardsley.
Argentina had started the tournament very well: a very strong defense and the world’s best footballer, Diego Maradona, had helped them to win their first round group after tying 1-1 with Italy’s defending world champions, and defeating Bulgaria and South Corea. In the last-16 the Argentineans defeated their arch-rivals from Uruguay 1-0, and were now to play England in what became a hugely anticipated match.
Both teams seemed nervous at its importance as the match got underway in the monumental Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. The English perhaps had too little respect for the Argentinean side, and notably Maradona, as the Argentineans slowly started dominating, and had some good chances for bringing themselves ahead, although Peter Beardsley had a god chance when the Argentinean goalkeeper Neri Pumpido made a mistake.
Still, the score was 0-0 at half-time.
Six minutes into the second half came one of the most controversial and infamous moments in World Cup history: Maradona and Valdano were attempting a combination outside the English area, but the Aston Villa defender, Steve Hodge, blocked the pass. However, Hodge hit the ball completely wrong, and it flew backwards high into the English penalty area. Maradona continued his run into the area, against goalkeeper Peter Shilton, and they both jumped for the ball coming down. Maradona, significantly smaller than Peter Shilton, reached the ball with his left hand, and it sailed above Shilton into the English goal.
The English immediately protested to the Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser, while the Argentineans celebrated the goal. As the entire world saw the hand on replays on TV while the English players protested, Bin Nasser was surely the only person in the world that had not seen Maradona’s hand. But he was the one who had to make the decision.
Argentina was ahead 1-0, and the English felt cheated, while Maradona famously and ironically said after the match that it had been with a little help from “the hand of God”, something that greatly angered many of the normally so satirically humoured Englishmen.
Maradona had cunningly humilliated England, and that is how all Argentina fans (including myself, who living in Argentina then, was and is an unrepentant Argentina and Maradona fan!) still see that goal in spite of the controversy it arises.
In any case, Argentina was now ahead because of the world’s best footballer’s cheat, but only three minutes later Maradona showed that he was unique, when scoring what has been considered the goal of the century. Receiving the ball from River Plate’s Hector Enrique (who after the match joked that Maradona could not avoid scoring on such a great pass!) in his own half, Maradona made the most stunning rush of 60 meters, past six English players, including Peter Shilton, to score a second for Argentina.
All over the world the goal is legendary. Jorge Valdano has called it another way of tango - of beauty. The Argentinean commentator Victor Hugo Morales perhaps symbolized the sensation for Argentineans as his emotive screams of goals, and his “…Thank you God, for football! For Maradona! For... for these tears…. For this... Argentina 2, England 0.
Even the English, in spite of bitterness of the first goal, had to recognise the pure genious of the second goal, as the great Gary Lineker later recalled: "The second goal was, and still is, the best goal ever scored. You have to take into account the significance of the football match and the conditions, as it was unbelievably hot and we were playing on a pitch that moved every time you put your foot down. It was pretty unplayable. To do what he did was just extraordinary. I have to say I just stood there on the halfway line and thought, 'Wow'."
England now had to push forward, and suddenly began playing less timidly. The entrance of Liverpool’s John Barnes, helped the Islanders to create some chances against the otherwise very strong Argentinean defense, but it was only nine minutes before the end of the match when Gary Lineker scored his sixth goal of the tournament (making him the most scoring player of the tournament) on a cross from Peter Beardsley.
But it was not enough. The ever-dangerous Argentineans even hit the post a few minutes later on some of the counter-attacks that they were so brilliant at.
Argentina had won 2-1, and went on to win the World Cup by defeating Belgium and West Germany in the following two matches. However, for many people, this was the real final, where the controversy and genious of Maradona reached its pinnacle.
England and Argentina are two of the greatest footballing nations in the world. Perhaps in no other nation the passion about football is as deep-seated as in these two countries.
After this match in particular, they now have the greatest rivalry in international football (the only cross-continental rivalry) and the matches between them are considered a classic in international football.

Match Stats:
  • 22nd June 1986, Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
  • Attendance: 115,000
  • Referee: Ali Bin Nasser (Tunisia)
Argentina-England 2-1
Goals: 1-0 Maradona (51), 2-0 Maradona (54), 2-1 Lineker (81)

Pumpido; Ruggeri, Batista, Brown, Burruchaga (Tapia), Olarticoechea, Cuciuffo, Enrique Giusti, Maradona, Valdano
England: Shilton; Stevens, Sansom, Hoddle, Butcher, Lineker, Fenwick, Reid (Waddle), Steven (Barnes), Hodge, Beardsley