Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Greatest Euro Matches: Germany-Czech Republic (1996)

The 1996 European Championships in England were a renewal to European football in many ways. Firstly, it was the first European Championships where the new off-side rules and returning the ball to the keeper were applied. Also, a victory would now give three points instead of two, all aspects promoting a more attacking football style. Another reform was the introduction of “sudden-death” in the extra-time of matches, where first goal scored would end the match, and thus avoiding the apparent lottery of a penalty kicks decision.
Also, the tournament saw a significant expansion: between 1980 and 1992 the European Championships had featured eight teams in two groups of four, where the two winners went to semifinals. In 1996 16 teams participated in four groups, where the two winners of each group would go into quarterfinals. It was thus the biggest European Championship ever. Germany entered the tournament hungry for success after their sensational defeat to Denmark in the 1992 Euro final, and their humiliating elimination to Bulgaria in the 1994 World Cup. The team had many starts, most of all Lothar Matthaus, who had nevertheless not been called up for the tournament by coach Berti Vogts. Germany did enter the tournament as favourites with a long list of fantastic players: in defense the experienced veterans from Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Kohler and Stefan Reuter, played alongside Bayern Munich's Thomas Helmer; in midfied Mattias Sammer and Andreas Moller, both from Borussia Dortmund, formed a strong axis alongside the veteran Thomas Hassler from Karlsruher SC, and complemented by Bayern Munich's Mehmet Scholl and Christian Ziege. Up front Jurgen Klinsmann was the undisputed striker and captain of the team.
Although Germany entered the tournament as title contenders, doubt remained about the team's cohesion after the controversy surrounding Lothar Matthaus. However, the side also seemed to thrive in such a climate. In the first round of the tournament they had been in a difficult group with the Czech Republic, Russia and Italy. After defeating the first two countries 2-0 and 3-0 respectively, 0-0 against Italy was enough to put them in the quarterfinals, where they defeated Croatia 2-1. The Germans were surely as excited about the semi-final against England as the English were, hoping to get revenge for the defeat of 1966, which they felt very much had come thanks to an illegal goal. In an intense match Germany defeated England after penalty kicks, and were going to face the surprising Czechs in the final. The Czech Republic were participating in their first international tournament after Czechoslovakia had split into the Czech Replublic and Slovakia in 1993. When part of Czechoslovakia, the country had a proud footballing tradition, winning a European title in 1976. In qualification the Czechs had won their group ahead of the Netherlands, but few people considered them by the time the tournament started, with their side of largely home-based players, but many of whom would become household names by the end of the tournament. The team captain was Kaiserslautern's veteran Miroslav Kadlec, who alongside him had some extremely talented young players: Slavia Prague's Karel Poborsky, Radek Bejbl, Vladimir Smicer and Pavel Novotny. Also, the young Patrik Berger from Borussia Dortmund and Pavel Nedved from Sparta Prague, the last who would go on to have an extraordinary career in Italy.
In the first round the Czechs had started by losing 0-2 to Germany but had then stunned Italy by winning 2-1. This had practically sealed their progress as Italy was unable to defeat Germany in their last match, and 3-3 against Russia had been enough for the Czechs. In the quarterfinals the Czechs had defeated Portugal 1-0 on a fantastic Karel Poborsky goal, and had in the semi-finals defeated France after penalty kicks. It had been a hard-fought tournament for the Czechs, but they were now eager to repeat Denmark's sensational victory of 1992. Also, the final came 20 years after Czechoslovakia had stunned West Germany in the 1976 European Championship final.
Although Germany were favourites, the side was plagued by injuries, with even Klinsmann playing with a calf injury, and this was also a hope for the Czechs, who knew to control Matthias Sammer, one of the tournament's great players. Although a tactically controlled first half, Germany had a couple of good chances that were cleared by the Czech defense, and on the other side the German defense looked a bit shaky although the Czechs did not have as clear chances as the Germans, except for a Pavel Kuka shot that he shot straight at goalkeeper Andreas Kopke. The Germans certainly had some problems controlling Karel Poborsky, who had become the best player of the tournament. 24 minutes into the second half Poborsky made one of his characteristic runs towards goal and Matthias Sammer brought him down at the edge of the German penalty area. While the foul had been outside the penalty area, the referee awarded the Czechs a penalty which Patrik Berger scored on.
The sensation was half an hour away, and Berti Vogts did not have many cards to play. With 20 minutes to go he brought in the Udineses striker Oliver Bierhoff for the creative Mehmet Scholl. Bierhoff had been a substitute throughout the tournament, but only four minutes after he entered the match he got ahead of the Czech defense after a Christian Ziege free-kick and equalized for Germany.
1-1 and the match had to go into extra time. It only took five minutes before Oliver Bierhoff became the hero for Germany: receiving the ball inside the Czech area he turned and shot between two defenders. The shot was not particularly hard, but it grazed a defender and went around Petr Kouba. First goal, first winner, and there was nothing more to play for.
Germany were champions.

London, 30/6/1996, Wembley Stadium 
Attendance: 73,611 
Referee: Pierluigi Pairetto

Italy Germany-Czech Republic 2-1 (aet) 

Germany: Andreas Kopke; Thomas Helmer, Matthias Sammer, Mehmet Scholl (Oliver Bierhoff, 69), Thomas Hassler, Steffan Kuntz, Markus Babbel, Christian Ziege, Thomas Strunz, Jurgen Klinsmann (c), Dieter Ellis (Marco Bode, 46). Coach: Berti Vogts 
Czech Republic: Petr Kouba; Jan Suchparek, Pavel Nedved, Miroslav Kadlec (c), Jiri Nemec, Karel Poborsky, Pavel Kuka, Radek Bejbl, Patrik Berger, Michal Hornak, Karel Rada. Coach: Dusan Uhrin. 

1-0 Patrik Berger (59) (pen) 
1-1 Oliver Bierhoff (73) 
2-1 Oliver Bierhoff (95) (gg)

Monday, April 25, 2016

One victory away

Tottenham have been in the heels of Leicester in the title race for the English Premier League. Or not really; Tottenham have been under pressure to keep the difference of 5 points. After Leicester destroyed Swansea 4-0 (without Jamie Vardy) Tottenham needed a victory over West Bromwich Albions to keep the difference of 5 points with three games left.
But it was not Tottenham's evening: they started well, went ahead 1-0 and even hit the woodwork three times in the match... Bad luck, yes, but in the second half they never managed to keep the pressure against a West Bromwich side that played as if they were Leicester.
The match ended 1-1 and seemed like a defeat for Tottenham. And it probably was. Leicester are now seven points clear with three matches left. They only need to win one of the three matches to take a title nobody expected and which the entire football world is waiting for.
I cannot wait. I will be celebrating a Leicester title!!!!

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Greatest Euro Matches: England-Germany (1996)

The English were excited to host the 1996 European Championship 30 years after hosting the World Cup. Back then they had taken the title, so now hope were high that England had the chance of a repeat. The official anthem of the English national team was a song called “Football's coming home”, underlining the high expectations to the English side.
England had a mixed record in the 1990s. After reaching the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup, they had been eliminated in the first round of Euro 1992 and had failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the USA. After such a debacle Terry Venables had taken over as manager. England's layers were all drawn from the English league, with the exception of Paul Ince, from Inter Milan, and the controversial and super-talented Paul Gascoigne, who at the time was playing in Glasgow Rangers. Gascoigne's talent had brought him to many clubs, but his controversial personality and heavy drinking had caused him much criticism. In the second game of the tournament he scored a memorable goal against Scotland, and celebrated it by pretending to be drinking, in order to get back at his many critics.
The English side was captained by Arsenal's experienced defender Tony Adams, and with Nottingham Forest's Stuart Pearce and Aston Villa's Neville Southgate in defense, in front of Arsenal's David Seaman in goal. Gaiscoigne, Paul Ince, Arsenal's veteran David Platt and Liverpool's Steve McManaman made for a qualified midfield, Tottenham's Teddy Sheringham and Blackburn's Alan Shearer were Venable's preferences up front.
England opened the tournament with a disappointing 1-1 draw with Switzerland, but a 2-0 win against Scotland and a 4-1 trashing of the mighty Netherlands returned optimism to the English. In the quarterfinals England had to resort to a home referee (Spain had one clear penalty call and two goals disallowed for offside, one of them controversially) and penalty kicks to defeat Spain.
The echoes of history were all over when it became clear that England would be facing their eternal arch-rivals of Germany in the semi-final at Wembley, same place where they had defeated them in the World Cup final of 1966.
After winning the 1990 World Cup Germany had been full of confidence, if not to say arrogance, about the prospects for German dominance in the football world. But this had soon been shattered when they sensationally lost the Euro 1992 final to Denmark, and in the 1994 World Cup Germany had been eliminated by a strong Bulgarian side in the quarterfinals. For the qualification for this European Championship they had gotten some revenge as they had won their group ahead of Bulgaria.
 Berti Vogts continued to coach a team captained by the Bayern Munich striker Jurgen Klinsmann. The veteran Lothar Matthaus had not been called up due to feuding with Vogts, but the team still had a wide base of experienced players coming mostly from the two dominant German clubs Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Matthias Sammer from Borussia Dortmund had taken over the role of the dominant midfield-player alongside Andreas Moller, also from Dortmund, and the veteran Thomas Hassler from Karlsruher SC. Bayern Munich's Mehmet Scholl, Christian Ziege and Mario Bassler complemented a strong midfield. In defense there were solid veterans like Borussia Dortmund's Jurgen Kohler and Stefan Reuter, as well as Bayern Munich's Thomas Helmer. Klinsmann was the undisputed striker, other choices were Udinese's Oliver Bierhoff, Besiktas Stefan Kuntz and Stuttgart's Fredi Bobic.
Surely Germany entered the tournament as title contenders, but doubt remained about the team's cohesion. But as had been seen in previous tournaments in history, German teams seemed to thrive more in the face of internal disagreement. In the first round of the tournament they had been in a difficult group with the Czech Republic, Russia and Italy. After defeating the first two countries 2-0 and 3-0 respectively, 0-0 against Italy was enough to put them in the quarterfinals, where they defeated Croatia 2-1. The Germans were surely as excited about the semi-final against England as the English were, hoping to get revenge for the defeat of 1966, which they felt very much had come thanks to an illegal goal.
The match was only three minutes on before the locals erupted in cheers. Shortly after Andreas Kopke had made a good save on a Paul Ince shot, Allan Shearer scored after Darren Anderton had flicked a corner kick at the first post, to leave Shearer to head the ball in. But Germany was quick to react and in the 16th minute Andreas Moller played Thomas Helmer in the English area and his flat cross was reached first by Stefan Kuntz, who pushed the ball into 1-1.
England seemed to want the victory more and were denied a couple of good chances, even though both teams played with tactical discipline in the second half. The match ended 1-1 and would have to go into and extra time with a new “golden goal” rule where first goal would win the match. England, already fearful of a dreadful history of penalty shootouts tried pressing the Germans but without results. Still, Stefan Kuntz managed to score for Germany on a strong header after a corner-kick, but the goal was disallowed for an apparent foul in the area by an England-friendly referee.
But the match ended 1-1 and once again penalty kicks would be decisive. All England's memories were surely in 1990, when they lost a legendary World Cup semifinal by penalty kicks to the later World Champions of West Germany.
History repeated itself, but it was an agonizing penalty shootout. Both teams scored on their first five shots, until Gareth Southgate's weak sixth shot was saved by Kopke, and Andreas Moller scored on the following shot to put Germany in the final.
Germany went on to win the final in Wembley agains the Czech Republic, get a small revenge for the famous 1966 World Cup defeat in that same stadium. For the English it was a bitter defeat to their arch-rivals, losing for yet another semifinal. Gary Lineker's famous quote just rang more true to English fans: "Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win”.

London, 26/6/1996 Wembley Stadium 
Attendance: 75,862 
Referee: Sandor Puhl, Hungary 

England-Germany 1-1 
Penalty Kicks: England-Germany 5-6 

England: David Seaman; Stuart Pearce, Paul Ince, Tony Adams (c), Gareth Southgate, David Platt, Paul Gascoigne, Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Darren Anderton, Steven McManaman. Coach: Terry Venables
Germany: Andreas Kopke; Stefan Reuter, Steffen Freund (Thomas Strunz, 118), Thomas Helmer (Marco Bode, 110), Matthias Sammer, Andreas Moller (c), Mehmet Scholl (Thomas Hassler, 77), Steffan Kuntz, Markus Babbel, Christian Ziege, Dieter Elits. Coach: Berti Vogts 

1-0 Alan Shearer (3) 
1-1 Stefan Kuntz (16) 

Penalty Kicks:
1-0 Alan Shearer 
1-1 Thomas Hassler 
2-1 David Platt 
2-2 Thomas Strunz 
3-2 Stuart Pearce 
3-3 Stefan Reuter 
4-3 Paul Gascoigne 
4-4 Christian Ziege 
5-4 Teddy Sheringham 
5-5 Stefan Kuntz 
Gareth Southgate missed for England 
5-6 Andreas Moller

Monday, April 18, 2016

Book Review: Danish Dynamite

I just read the book "Danish Dynamite", by Rob Smyth, Lars Eriksen and Mike Gibbons.
This book is for the football romantics, and specifically for the football romantics who adore the Danish national team of the mid-80s.
I am myself one of the fans with fond memories of that side: notably the 1986 World Cup, which was the best World Cup of legendary sides, where the Danish team was one among many. In that sense I do not see this book as totally objective. It is a declaration of love to this team, and as many declarations of love, it overplays the superlatives and fails to mention some of the darker sides: surely the 1980s were other times, but they were not always good. The game was harsher, and some of the Danish players did not hesitate to play as harsh as anyone, with tasteless tackles and acting. This is only mentioned superficially (specifically on Klaus Bergreen's excessive attack on Charlie Nichols in 1986), and only excused. The same can be said for the Danish Roligans; indeed, great fans that became very popular at a time when Hooligans were overshadowing fan culture. But that is also why they became so popular, and one cannot ignore some of the more tasteless aspects of Roligans such as rowdy drunken behaviour (without getting violent admittedly) and a general disrespect for opposition, mostly seen in the tradition of whistling during other team's national anthems.
The most interesting parts of the book are about the role of Sepp Piontek as a coach who inculcated discipline and a new offensive strategy based on a very talented generation of Danish footballers. There is nevertheless little about the football tactics behind this, where Piontek indeed used a strong midfield that both looked back to Total Football, but also looked ahead at more modern use of holding midfielders and a hanging striker.
The last chapters of the book were the most interesting in terms of the legacy of the team: when the 1980s team ended, Denmark went on to win the Euro 1992 under coach Richard Moller Nielsen, playing a style of football that in many ways seemed the antithesis of the 1980s team. In my view Danish football has suffered from this, as Denmark now seems light years away from producing players of the technical level of the 1980s side, but seems intent on producing technically mediocre work-men, like some of the players that won the 1992 Euro. It is mentioned shortly in the last chapter, but it seems that Denmark is stuck between what in Argentina is the Menotti-Bilardo schizophrenia. This was perhaps illustrated by the role Morten Olsen played as national team coach: I am certain that Mr. Olsen would have wanted to play a similar style to that practiced by the 1980s side he captained, but he never had the players for it, and also, an also, he was pushed for a focus on results, rather than “glory”... In that sense, the heritage of the legendary 1980s Danish side appears as little more than fond memories, and that is truly a pity for Danish football.
But if you are a romantic about the 1980s side, this is your book.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Valencia making me happy

It has not been a good season to be a Valencia fan. They are out of the Europa League, far down in La Liga, with no prospect for European football next season. But in all the misery, a 1-2 victory against mighty FC Barcelona in the Camp Nou makes me more than happy!
Valencia CF were more organized than I have seen them at any time during the season, and looked dangerous in their counter-attack. In fact, they had seen Atletico Madrid's recent victory over the Catalans, and played a similar way, and it worked perfectly.
Great teams are measured more by how they face adversity, and in that, FC Barcelona is failing miserably. Not only are they out of the CL, but they have lost three consecutive La Liga matches (first time this happens since 2003). They squad clearly lacks depth, with no options when things go against them.
La Liga is now on fire, with FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid both with 76 points, and Real Madrid with 75.
But I could care less, because I am just delighted that Valencia won!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

European semi-finals

The quarterfinals of the Champions League and Europa League were great, and we now have the semi-finals draws.
In the Champions league:
  • Real Madrid-Manchester City: Real Madrid's giants made it through thanks to an incredible Cristiano Ronaldo, but do not look unbeatable, so Manchester City's semi-final debutants surely have a chance. To beat Paris St. Germain they were organized and intelligent, and not least had a fantastic Kevin DeBruyne. The League title seems lost for both sides, who are bound to put everything into the Champions League.
  • Atletico Madrid-Bayern Munich: Atletico Madrid eliminated the defending champions, mighty FC Barcelona, playing their typical committed, physical and tactically intelligent football. They should have good chances against a Bayern Munich side that plays similar type of football as Barcelona, but who are at the same time much more cool-headed and a has more complete tactical variations than the Catalans.  
In the Europa League:
  • Liverpool-Villarreal: Liverpool are in the semifinals after a thrilling quarterfinal contest with Borussia Dortmund. Villarreal are there after defeating a strong Sparta Prague side in two matches. In terms of next season's CL, Liverpool are unlikely to be there, while Villarreal are almost ensured at least qualifiers being 4th in the Spanish League. Be sure though that both teams will fight for this title, and I think this could be one of the most entertaining matches among the semi-finals.
  • Shakhtar Donetsk-Sevilla: Sevilla are the defending champions and most winning side in the Europa League, has won the last two, but had to struggle to get there on penalties against Athletic Bilbao. They should nevertheless probably be favourites in this match. That said, Shakhtar Donetsk won the competition in 2009 and swept aside Braga to make it to the semifinals. Both teams qualified to the Europa League through the Champions League, and will be looking for Champions League next year: Sevilla are very unlikely to make it next season, while Shakhtar Donetsk are in comfortable second spot in the Ukranian league, almost sure to get CL qualifiers next season.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Two winning teams

Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund are both teams I really like without being a fan; they have fantastic fans, a great history, and play great football.
So I had big expectations to tonight's Europa League Quarterfinal second leg in Liverpool, and these expectations were lived up to in excess.
In an incredible atmosphere both teams played fantastic football (although one cynic may criticize their defenses for giving too much space) and gave any fan of good football an unforgettable experience. It all seemed over when Dortmund went ahead 0-2, and then 1-3 at the start of the second half. But never underestimate Liverpool, who must be World Champions in Memorable Comebacks (remember against Alaves in 2001 and against AC Milan in 2005...?): first Coutinho scored 2-3, then Mamadou Sakho made it 3-3, and in the 91st minute Dejan Lovren scored the 4-3 winner (even though Dortmund even managed a good chance for 4-4 in the last minute).
One can only feel sorry for Borussia Dortmund, but there are indeed matches with two winners, and this was certainly one of them.
Liverpool is now in the semifinal of the Europa League.

The Greatest Euro Matches: Croatia-Denmark (1996)

In 1992 Denmark had become European champions after replacing a Yugoslavia torn apart by civil war. By 1996, some of the countries that Yugoslavia had been composed of had become independent countries. One of these countries was Croatia, who during the time of Yugoslavia had also been home to some of the country's best clubs and footballers. The qualification for Euro 1996 had been their first tournament after independence and they were awesome, winning their group ahead of Italy, Ukraine, Lithuania, Slovenia and Estonia. For a newly independent country to participate in the tournament meant much more than just football, but for many also meant the country entering the international stage.
And indeed, they entered the tournament with a team of star-players that should not be underestimated by anyone: a strong and robust defense with players such as Betis Seville's Robert Jarni, Igor Stimac from Derby County and Slaven Bilic from West Ham United. Zvonomir Boban, one of the best players in the world and a star at AC Milan was the midfield general of the Croat side, supplemented by Aljosa Asanovic from Hajduk Split, Mario Stanic from Club Brugge and the outstanding Robert Procineski from FC Barcelona. The striking duo was outstanding in the form of Davor Suker from Sevilla and Alen Boksic from Lazio.
Denmark had been under pressure since winning the Euro 1992. As champions that all of Europe wanted to defeat, they had struggled as favourites, not qualifying for the 1994 World Cup. Still, their side was strong, and with the return of the legendary Michael Laudrup from Real Madrid (who had not played in 1992), only seemed to have gotten even stronger. The Danes had other outstanding players, such as Manchester United's Peter Schmeichel in goal, Thomas Helveg from Udinese, together with Marc Rieper from West Ham and Brondby's veteran Lars Olsen in defense. Michael Laudrup's brother Brian, from Glasgow Rangers, continued to be a threat up front.
Denmark had opened the tournament with a hard-fought 1-1 tie against Portugal, while Croatia had defeated Turkey 1-0 on a late strike by Padova's Goran Vlaovic, so Denmark were forced to go for a result, while the Croats were undoubtedly eager to take such an important scalp as it would be to defeat the defending European champions.
First half ended 0-0 in a tactical match where neither team had come to open chances, although Asanovic and Boban had slowly gained control of the midfield, where in particular the Hajduk Split player was distributing great passes to the two strikers, Suker and Vlaovic, who had started in together for the first time in the tournament. But the second half was to have one super-star: Davor Suker.
The Danes were playing without taking risks, preferring rather to keep the result and score on a counter-attack, than to go for a result. Of course, this style had given them the title in 1992, but it was harder to follow-up on when you were the favourite. After eight minutes in the second half the defender Slaven Bilic made a perfect through pass to Club Brugge's Mario Stanic on the wrong side of the Danish off-side trap. Stanic rounded Peter Schmeichel who barely got a hand on the ball while taking down Stanic.
Penalty for Croatia.
Davor Suker had already had some good shots on the world's great goalkeeper, but he gave Schmeichel no chance in the penalty, with a low hard and well-placed shot.
1-0 for Croatia.
The Danes now ventured forward a bit more, with coach Moller-Nielsen making some more offensive changes. But the Croatians were also skillful at the counter-attacking game, and as they grew more and more confident, also got the chances. Only two minutes after Igor Stimac had hit the crossbar, Davor Suker skillfully broke through on the left side and crossed the ball to the far post where a storming Zvonimir Boban got to the ball ahead of Schmeichel and made it 2-0 for Croatia.
It was a resigned Danish side who decided to throw it all forward. In the last minute of the match Peter Schmeichel had ventured forward when the Croatians broke the Danish attack. Schmeichel managed to rush back, but stood halfway between Suker and the goal-line when the striker elegantly lobbed the ball over the tall Dane to complete the humiliation of the European champions.
Although the Danes won their last match 3-0 against Turkey, they were out of the tournament. On the other hand the Croatians had with this match announced that a new footballing power had emerged. They were out in the quarterfinals of the tournament after losing 2-1 to the later champions of Germany, but two years later they cemented their position by making it to the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup.

Sheffield, 16th June 1996 Hillsborough Stadium
Attendance: 33,600 
Referee: Marc Batta (France) 

Croatia-Denmark 3-0 
Croatia: Dražen Ladić; Slaven Bilić, Nikola Jerkan, Igor Štimac, Mario Stanić, Aljoša Asanović, Zvonimir Boban (c) (Zvonimir Soldo, 82), Robert Prosinečki (Mladen Mladenović, 88), Robert Jarni, Davor Šuker, Goran Vlaović ( Nikola Jurčević, 82). Coach: Miroslav Blažević 
Denmark: Peter Schmeichel; Thomas Helveg ( Jacob Laursen, 46), Marc Rieper, Jes Høgh, Michael Schjønberg, Brian Steen Nielsen, Claus Thomsen, Henrik Larsen (Stig Tøfting, 69), Michael Laudrup (c) , Kim Vilfort (Mikkel Beck, 59), Brian Laudrup. Coach: Richard Møller Nielsen

1-0 Davor Suker (53) (pen) 
2-0 Boban (81) 
3-0 Davor Suker (90)

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Unpredictable quarterfinals

The first round of the 2015-16 quarterfinals is over, and with fantastic games and close results, the second round is all but impossible to predict:
  • Atletico Madrid-Barcelona: Barcelona won 2-1 at home after some help from the referee when he threw out an admittedly over-eager Fernando Torres. But the way FC Barcelona have looked in the last two matches, nothing is certain as they go away to Madrid. Atletico Madrid are tactically astute, physically strong and strong enough to get the needed 1-0 home victory. It will be a thrilling encounter
  • Benfica-Bayern Munich: The South Germans looked to be opening the floodgates as they went ahead 1-0 in the first minute, but that was in fact the final result of the match. 1-0 at home is never certain before you go to Portugal, and be reminded that another Portuguese team, Porto, defeated Bayern 3-1 in Portugal in last year's quarterfinal. Bayern Munich then went on to win 6-1 at home, but that option is no longer available. 
  • Manchester City-Paris Saint Germain: 2-2 was a great result to get home from Paris for Manchester City after a match where both teams made awful defensive errors. Both teams have great striking power as well, so that combination is sure to be impossible to predict before the next match in Manchester. It will be a drama and fantastic match.
  • Real Madrid-Wolfsburg: As Spanish teams so often do, they underestimate the Germans, and are punished for it. Wolfsburg shocked an arrogant and uncharming Real Madrid side (where Marcelo is a disgrace for his blatant kicking, headbutting and acting, all in one play) by winning 2-0 at home. Real Madrid are thus against the wall as they play at home, and will have to attack with everything they have, which is bound to be interesting. At the same time, they must not underestimate a Wolfsburg side that is so strong on counter-attack.
I am already counting down for next weeks matches, and every minute moves as slow as the last five minutes of a final you are winning 1-0....

The Greatest Euro Matches: Denmark-Germany (1992)

In 1992 it seemed that Germany would be the new great power of international football. World champions in 1990 as West Germany, the reunification of East and West Germany had only made the German side stronger and with a wider base of players. Thus, for the European Championship in Sweden, Germany entered the tournament as favourites, perhaps only to be threatened by their eternal rivals, the Netherlands. In fact, the two sides faced one another in the first round of the tournament, where the Dutch went away with a 3-1 victory, but everyone expected the tournament to be a contest between the two great sides.
Germany had no problems qualifying ahead of Wales, Belgium and Luxembourg. They opened the tournament with 1-1 against the ex-USSR team of the Community of Independent States, and then defeated Scotland 2-0. The 1-3 defeat to the Netherlands mattered little as they went to the semifinals to meet the hosts of Sweden. Germany dominated the match and won 2-3 on two goals by the Lazio striker Karl-Heinz Riedle. In fact, many of the German players plied their trade in Italy after their 1990 victory. The midfielder Thomas Doll also played for Lazio, while the defenders Jurgen Kohler and Stefan Reuter player for Juventus. Thomas Hassler and Rudi Voller both played for Roma, while the captain Andreas Brehme and the great striker Jurgen Klinsmann played in Inter Milan. Of course, the team also contained great players from the German league: goalkeeper Bodo Ilgner from FC Cologne, the veteran Guido Buchwald from Stuttgart, as well as Mattias Sammer from Stuttgart and the young Stefan Effenberg from Bayern Munich.
When the Germans learned that Denmark had upset the Netherlands to make it to the final, they were expecting that their third European title would only be a matter of a match. Arrogantly, Germans had started the preparations for welcoming the champions home before the match. The Danes had shown that they should not be underestimated.
It did seem it would be going Germany's way at the start of the match, where Denmark barely got to the German side of the pitch. Instead, Guido Buchwald and Stefan Reuter had good chances that were saved by Schmeichel, who as the match went on, only became a more and more impenetrable wall. In the 18th minute Denmark finally approached the German area. Kim Vilfort won a tussle with Andreas Brehme, and passed the ball to Flemming Povlsen, who passed it on to a rushing John Jensen at the edge of the penalty area. John Jensen did not hesitate and his perfect first-time shot went straight to the back of the net. John Jensen was known for making one feeble shot after another, but there he got it right. As Schmeichel said in an interview years later: “Talking about luck! John Jensen scoring!”.
Denmark had taken its first step to the sensation, but the world champions were determined not to be denied, and continued to press on. Schmeichel had more good saves from Jurgen Klinsmann and Stefan Effenberg before halftime. In second half the Germans continued their pressure, but the Danish defense grew more and more confident ahead of an unbeatable Peter Schmeichel, who even had the arrogance to take the ball down with one hand during a cross.
In the 78th minute the Danes struck back amid the German pressure. Kim Vilfort received a random ball at the edge of the German area, and after one move took a shot. It was not particularly hard, but it took the far edge of the post, outside Bodo Ilgner's range, and Denmark were 2-0 up.
Nothing went wrong from then on. It had not been pretty from an overly defensive and counter-attacking side, but the sensation that a small country could beat the giants to become European champions ran across Europe, and is by many indeed remember as a fairy tale ending of Euro 1992.

Gothenburg, 26th June 1992 Nye Ullevi Stadium 
Attendance: 37,800 
Referee: Bruno Galler (Switzerland) 

Denmark-Germany 2-0 

Denmark: Peter Schmeichel; Lars Olsen (c), Torben Piechnik, Kent Nielsen, John Sivebæk (Claus Christiansen, 66), Kim Christofte, John Jensen, Kim Vilfort, Henrik Larsen, Brian Laudrup, Flemming Povlsen. Coach: Richard Moller Nielsen 
Germany: Bodo Illgner; Guido Buchwald, Jürgen Kohler, Thomas Helmer, Stefan Reuter, Andreas Brehme (c), Matthias Sammer (Thomas Doll, 46), Stefan Effenberg (Andreas Thorn, 80), Thomas Hässler, Karlheinz Riedle, Jürgen Klinsmann. Coach: Berti Vogts 

1-0 John Jensen (18) 
2-0 Kim Vilfort (78)

Saturday, April 02, 2016

The Greatest Euro Matches: Netherlands-Denmark (1992)

In 1992 Europe was changing, and that was also felt on the football arena. A united Germany participated for the first time in the European Championships, while the dissolution of the USSR had meant that they participated as a composed team of “Community of Independent States”. But more directly the events unfolding in Europe affected directly on one of the participating teams. Denmark had in their qualifying group ended behind Yugoslavia, who at the time had one of the strongest teams in the world. But in 1992 the terrible civil war that was tearing apart this southern European country was in full force, and UN sanctions meant that the Yugoslavs, who had qualified ahead of Denmark, were not permitted to participate. Instead, Denmark were called in hastily; players were recalled from their summer vacation to go to neighboring Sweden to play three matches against England, Sweden and France, in what pretty much everyone, including the Danes themselves, considered to be lost matches beforehand. The hosts were highly motivated with a strong side that had prepared long for the tournament. England were hoping for Euro success finally, while France had a team of superstars under Michel Platini, that most people considered favourites for the title.

But Denmark surprised everyone: they opened with a respectful 0-0 against England, which they could have won. They then lost 0-1 to Sweden, and when most people thought Denmark were out of the tournament, they pulled the sensation in their last group match, defeating France 2-1 and thus making it to the Euro semi-finals behind Sweden.

Despite the Danish team being somewhat unprepared for the tournament it was not a wholly inexperienced side. They were missing their superstar Michael Laudrup, who had refused to play under coach Richard Moller Nielsen, but had his brother Brian Laudrup, from Bayern Munich, as one of the technically most gifted players in Europe. In goal Denmark had Manchester United's Peter Schmeichel, widely considered one of the best in the world, and a solid defense of experienced players around Trabzonspor's Lars Olsen, who captained the side. Other of the experienced players from the side were Borussia Dortmund's Flemming Poulsen, Brondy's John Jensen, FC Cologne's Henrik Andersen, or the AS Monaco veteran John Sivebaek.

The Netherlands were huge favourites before the semifinal match. As defending champions they had made it to the quarterfinals of the 1990 World Cup, only to lose to the later champions of Germany, and the final of this tournament was widely expected to be a clash between the two giants. They had already faced one another in the group stages, where the Dutch had won 3-1, and after defeating Scotland and tying the CIS, they had every reason to be confident against the Danish minnows. The side had the AC Milan trio as its dynamo: captain Ruud Gullit, Frank Riijkaard, and the best striker in the world, Marco Van Basten. In defense FC Barcelona's Ronald Koeman was also a powerful free-kick taker, and the young Dennis Bergkamp from Ajax Amsterdam gave the team further attacking power.

The Netherlands were rightly considered to be one of the best teams in the world, and they also entered the pitch as a team that had won beforehand. But the Danes, without the pressure of expectation, were ready to give everything in a match that became an epic struggle.

The Dutch team had barely settled into the match when Brian Laudrup got through on the right side, and from the back line centered into the Dutch area. At the far post a completely unmarked Henrik Larsen from Lyngby, could easily head the ball in behind Hans Van Breukelen to the surprise of everyone present. While the goal may have given the Danes some belief, the Dutch side quickly shook the initial shock and put pressure on the Danes. 18 Minutes after the Danish goal, Dennis Bergkamp equalized for the Dutch when he received the ball from Frank Rijkaard at the edge of the Danish area and patiently placed the ball in the furthest corner of the Danish goal. But the Danes were unshaken, and ten minutes later the Danes went ahead again. Henrik Larsen was again the unlikely hero when he received a loose ball headed out of the Dutch area and resolutely took a shot.

Denmark were sensationally ahead 2-1 at half-time, deservedly, playing with a solid defense and a dangerous counter-attack. In the second half the hard-fighting Danish defense were tested again and again, and when the Dutch finally got through, their shots were saved by a splendid Peter Schmeichel. As the minutes ticked away it seemed as if they might pull the sensation, but four minutes before time Frank Rijkaard equalized for the Dutch when he hammered the ball in at close range after a corner kick.

Denmark continued fighting heroically in extra time, even pulling a few chances, and one man down when Henrik Andersen got his knee-cap destroyed in one of the most horrific TV injuries in modern football. In the end, both teams were dead-tired when the match ended, and it went into penalty shoot-out. Two great goalkeepers faced each other. On the Netherlands second kick, Peter Schmeichel saved Marco Van Basten's shot. A good save, but as Schmeichel later said, it was luck. And with some cool and much luck, the Danes scored on their subsequent shots until it came down to Kim Christofte's last shot. A cool and soft shot almost at the center of goal totally confused Van Breukelen, and the Danes had pulled out one of the most unlikely surprises in modern football, making it to the final, where they completed the sensation by defeating the German world champions 2-0, showing that their victory against the Dutch European champions had been no coincidence.

Gothenburg, 22nd June 1992 Nye Ullevi Stadium 
Attendance: 37,450 
Referee: Emilio S. Aladren, Spain 

Netherlands-Denmark 2-2 (AET) 
Penalty kicks: Netherlands-Denmark 4-5 

Netherlands: Hans van Breukelen; Frank de Boer (Wim Kieft, 46), Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard, Adri van Tiggelen, Ruud Gullit, Rob Witschge, Jan Wouters, Dennis Bergkamp, Bryan Roy (John vant Schip, 115), Marco van Basten. Coach: Rinus Michels 
Denmark: Peter Schmeichel; Henrik Andersen, Kim Christofte, Lars Christian Olsen, Torben Piechnik, John Sivebaek, John Jensen, Henrik Larsen, Kim Vilfort, Brian Laudrup, Flemming Povlsen. Coach: Richard Møller Nielsen 

0-1 Larsen (5) 
1-1 Bergkamp (23) 
1-2 Larsen (33) 
2-2 Rijkaard (86) 

Penalty kicks:
1-0 Koeman 
1-1 Larsen 
Van Basten missed for the Netherlands 
1-2 Povlsen 
2-2 Bergkamp 
2-3 Elstrup 
3-3 Rijkaard 
3-4 Vilfort 
4-4 Witschge 
4-5 Christofte