Thursday, December 31, 2009

Greatest World Cup Matches: West Germany-East Germany (1974)

Football is more than just a game: as the “real” world unfolds, football becomes caught up in it, and particular matches have particular political symbolism. One such match was when West Germany played East Germany in the 1974 World Cup.
Since the end of WWII the divided Germany had become the main arena for the ongoing Cold War between East and West. While the World Cup in West Germany had been decided in 1966, the early 1970s were full of political tensions that more or less indirectly affected the world cup: the USSR did not participate after they refused to play a play-off match against the newly installed Pinochet regime in Chile, and security during the tournament was intense after the Palestinean terrorist attacks during the Olympics games in Munich two years before as well as the fear of the German Rote Armee Fraktion.
It was thus part of the political tensions when West Germany and East Germany drew each other in the first round of the World Championship to play in what is surely the most politically tense match in the history of the world cup (and that is why it is included here); the two Germany’s has started a process of normalization in the early 1970’s, and had only recognised each other in the Basic treaty of 1972.
As soon as it became clear that the two teams would face each other in a serious match for the first time ever (they had met in Olympic amateur matches), the “brotherly” match between the two German nations become more than just a football match, catching the attention of not only the politicial leadership of the two countries, but also of the people’s of both countries.
The match was to be the last match of the first round, which had started well for both teams: West Germany had defeated Chile and Australia, while the East Germans had defeated Australia and tied Chile. As Australia and Chile tied 0-0 in their last match, it became clear that both German teams would qualify, no matter the result of the match in Hamburg.
Still, it was an important match, and for sure the West Germans were huge favourites: besides being at home, the team was defending European champions, and had a core of players from the Bayern Munich team that barely a month earlier had lifted the European Champions Cup trophy after crushing Atlético Madrid in the final.
Nevertheless, the East Germans had a good team as well; the East German champions FC Magdeburg had also had European glory a month before when they won the European Cup winners Cup by defeating AC Milan 2-0. Many players had good Olympic experience, having won bronze at the 1972 Olympics (and they would win gold in 1976).
Besides each team’s strength, the players from both sides were very aware of the importance of the match. Still, the West Germans were, prior to the match, largely dismissing the East Germans, sure of a victory that would give them the group victory. In spite of this apparent arrogance, many East German fans supported the West German side, living as they did under a communist regime that was highly restrictive. Only 1500 specially selected East German fans were allowed to travel to Hamburg by train, for a match with 60,000 spectators.
It was not the best match though. The West Germans were perhaps surprised by the well-organised East Germans, but the match in first half didn’t flow well, although both teams had chances that should have resulted in goals. This theme continued in the second half, until a long ball was kicked towards the Magdeburg striker Jurgen Sparwasser, who in full speed got in between three German defenders and kicked the ball over the legendary West German goalkeeper Sepp Maier.
This goal was enough for the East Germans to win the group, and they celebrated when the referee ended the match. This was a victory that resounded in the world.
However, the continued world cup went differently for both teams. East Germany, who had paradoxically won the group, now had to face the strong sides of Brazil and the Netherlands, and were indeed eliminated. On the other hand, West Germany had an easier draw and won ther rest of their matches, also the final against the Netherlands, to become world champions, and easily forget the humilliating defeat against East Germany.
In the qualifiers for the European Championship of 1992, East and West Germany drew each other. However, before they could meet towards the end of 1990, political events overtook them: the wall fell and the two Germanies were reunified, and has since played as one country.
Still, their encounter in 1974 will be remembered as the most important match these two nations played at a time when Germany was two.

Match Stats:
  • 22nd June 1974, Volksparkstadium, Hamburg
  • Attendance: 60,350
  • Referee: Ramón Barreto Ruiz (Uruguay)
West Germany-East Germany 0-1
Goals: 0-1 Sparwasser (77)

West Germany: Maier; Vogts, Breitner, Schwarzenbeck (Hoettges), Beckenbauer, Cullmann, Grabowski, Overath (Netzer), G. Muller, Hoeness, Flohe
East Germany: Croy; Kurbjuweit, Bransch, Weise, Kreische, Waetzlich, Lauck, Sparwasser, Irmscher (Hamann), Kische, Hoffmann

Friday, December 25, 2009

My top ten favourite teams of the year

This is my personal top-ten list of the best teams of the year 2010:
10) VfL Wolfsburg: surprising winners of the Bundesliga under Felix Magath.
9) Brazil: came out again as huge favourites for the World Cup, qualifying in South America and winning the Confederations Cup in awesome style
8) Bordeaux: Broke the dominance of Olympique Lyon winning the French league and was splendid in the CL.
7) Chelsea: Did not win the Premier League, but are leading the PL 2009-10 under Ancelotti. They did win the FA Cup and have been outstanding in the 2009-10 CL. In the 2008-09 CL they are remembered for a splendid quarterfinal against Liverpool and a dramatic semifinal against FC Barcelona.
6) Switzerland u-17: Surprising world champions of the u-17, first time they participated, defeating Nigeria in the final in Abuja.
5) Ghana u-21: The strength of Ghanean youth football was shown when they won the u-20 world cup for the first time, and giving further hope for the huge progress in Ghanean football (Ghana is, according to myself, the most serious African candidate to reach the world cup final)
4)Estudiantes de La Plata: Argentinean Apertura Champions, winners of the Copa Sudamericana, and vice-champions of the world.
3) Shakhtar Donetsk: Somewhat surprising winners fo the UEFA Cup, and did well in the CL in an extremly difficult group.
2) Manchester United: Premier League champions in awesome style, they were nevertheless overrun by an extraordinary Barcelona in the CL final. Still, vying for the PL first place and continue strong in the CL.
1) FC Barcelona: has won every single tournament they have participated in this season, as the first team ever (Spanish Cup, Spanish League, Spanish Super Cup, CL, European Super Cup and World Club Championsip) and the team under Pep Guardiola plays some of the most beautiful football ever seen. Simply awesome.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Greatest World Cup Matches: Yugoslavia-Zaire (1974)

Zaire in 1974 was ruled by the despotic ruler Mobutu Sese Seko who ruled the country with an iron fist, and at the same time wanted to make the country a beacon of African sports. In December 1973 the Zairian national team, also known as “the Leopards”, became only the third African country to ever qualify for a World Cup, when they defeated the otherwise fancied Moroccans (who had qualified in 1970) 3-0 in an intense match in Kinshasa.
Zaire was the first sub-Saharan African country to ever qualify for a World Cup, and the country was ecstatic: Mobuto Sese-Seko gave each player a car and a house, and made high promises to the expectant players who would nevertheless go on to make a pathetic debut for sub-Saharan Africa in the World Cup.
The Africans were paired in a group with Brazil, Scotland and Yugoslavia. In their opening match, they lost 2-0 to Scotland, and were in their second match to face the strong Yugoslavs, who had opened their participation by tying 0-0 with the defending world champions of Brazil.
Zaire in fact had a Yugoslavian coach, who had been paid by Mobuto Sese-Seko’s millions: Blagoja Vidinic had also brought Morocco to the World Cup in 1970, and had now repeated the feat with the Zaireans. However, the team was, prior to the match against Yugoslavia, plagued by problems outside Vidinic’s control: in the despotic atmosphere of intimidation and rewards, the Zaireans players, who were expecting to be well-rewarded for their participation, were told that they would not be paid for their participation. At first, the players refused to play, but when threatened by the vicious secret service of Mobuto Sese-Seko, nevertheless went on the pitch for one of the most humiliating defeats in world cup history: the Zaireans hardly fought as the well-playing Yugoslavs ran around them on the pitch. The score was 5-0 after only half an hour, with five different goal-scorers. The Yugoslavs, seeing that they didn’t need to press the result, somewhat relaxed in the second half, but still made it to a stunning 9-0 win, with the Velez Mostar striker Dusan Bajevic (and current AEK Athens coach) scoring three of the goals.
At the time, this was the greatest defeat ever in world cup history (until 1982, when Hungary defeated El Salvador 10-1) and sub-Saharan Africa had been thoroughly humiliated.
The Zairean authorities immediately went on to put the blame on Vidinic, while the players had to be threatened from not being allowed to return home in case they were again humiliated by the Brazilians in their last match (they lost 3-0).
With a pathetic score of 0-14 and three defeats, the debut of sub-Saharan Africa in the World Cup was nothing to be proud of, but was fortunately only a one-off incident as other African nations were soon to take over and raise Africa’s profile in the world cup.

Match Stats:
  • 18th June 1974, Parkstadium, Gelsenkirchen
  • Attendance: 20,000
  • Referee: Omar Delgado (Colombia)
Yugoslavia-Zaire 9-0
Goals: 1-0 Bajevic (8); 2-0 Dzajic (14); 3-0 Surjak (18); 4-0 Katalinski (22); 5-0 Bajevic (30); 6-0 Bogicevic (35); 7-0 Oblak (61); 8-0 Petkovic (65); 9-0 Bajevic (81)

Yugoslavia: Maric; Buljan, Hadziabdic, Katalinski, Bogicevic, Petkovic, Oblak, Surjak, Acimovic, Dzajic, Bajevic
Zaire: Kazadi (Tubilandu); Mwepu, Mukombo, Buhanga, Lobilo, Kilasu, Mana, Kembo, Kidumu, Ndaye, Kakoko (Maku)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top ten best players in 2009

My personal list of my 10 favourite players in 2010:
10) John Terry: Strong for Chelsea and for England.
9) Michael Essien: Scored one of the best goals of the year against Barcelona in the CL and has been one of the best players in the PL. His has besides this also been an important part of Ghana's awesome Worle Cup qualifying side.
8) Didier Drogba: The world's best forward he has been strong for Chelsea and for Cote d'Ivoire's World Cup qualifiers.
7) Juan Sebastian Veron: I have always had my doubts about him, but he has had a rennaisance in Estudiantes de la Plata's winning side, and has returned to the Argentine national team where I hope he does better than he has done before.
6) Cristiano Ronaldo: Was hugely important in Manchester United's championship side, and has started well in Real Madrid, although his contribution to the Portuguese national team has been weaker.
5) Iker Casillas: In my view the undisputeable best goalkeeper in the world. Crucial for Real Madrid and for Spanish national team.
4) Kaka: Was extraordinary for Brazil, taking on the leadership role the team needs. He has also been strong when starting for Real Madrid.
3) Xavi: same as for Iniesta. I don't know which one is more important, but I enjoy Iniesta slightly more.
2) Andres Iniesta: Him and Xavi are the heart of Barcelona's awesome side.
1) Lionel Messi: the most beautiful and exciting to watch, he seems to be able to do everything, but is also modest and recognises the importance of the team around him. A true football star.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lionel Messi, Balon d'Or

In connection with Lionel Messi winning the prize of the best footballer of 2009, he gave a very interesting interview in the Spanish paper El Pais, where the world's best footballer comes out very well, mature and modest. He admits his errors and that he has learned to be a team-player in FC Barcelona, and that it is better to win with the team that these individual prizes. He also talks marvels of his coach, Guardiola, as well as his team-mates (also former team-mates like Samuel Eto'o and Ronaldinho): he says he does not understand the things Andres Iniesta and Xavi can do with a ball - "things I cannot do!" (is there really anything Messi cannot do?).But most interestingly is his admission of the difficulties of coming to Barcelona when he was only 12, and how it hurts him when he is accussed in his home-country of not being a real Argentinean, although he says he feels it in his heart. I guess that is where I most sympathise with Messi, and the world around us that wants to put us all in nationalistic boxes! I know that Messi will play with his heart for Argentina in the World Cup!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Barcelona World Champions

2009 has been the year where FC Barcelona has won absolutely everything, today adding the last title: Club World Champions, after winning the final of the FIFA Club World Championship in Dubai against the Argentinean club Estudiantes de La Plata.
While it was highly expected that the match would be kind of a walkover for the Catalonians, it proved much harder than that for FC Barcelona, who eager to add this title to their list, played with their absolute strongest line-up: Estudiantes de La Plata played an extraordinary first half, where the veteran Juán Sebastián Verón played an amazing match, and the Argentineans went ahead 1-0. In the second half FC Barcelona started putting pressure on Estudiantes, who defended bravely and was still dangerous on the counter-attacks. Although Messi and in particular Ibrahimovic were very dangerous, it was only two minutes before the end of the match when FC Barcelona managed to equalize by way of a header of the young Pedro. In extra time the saviour for FC Barcelona was yet again Messi, who has been instrumental in FC Barcelona's extraordinary year.
Estudiantes de La Plata, a defensive but well-playing and galant side, did not manage to equalize, but certainly showed that they are indeed one of the best teams in the world!
But congratulations to Barcelona, who have now won it all!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Greatest World Cup Matches: Brazil-Italy (1970)

Expectations to Brazil, who had been outstanding during the entire tournament, were huge before the final, where the somewhat cynical Italians would nevertheless not be an easy task.
Brazil was coached by Mario Zagallo, who had played in the 1958-world champions side in Sweden. He had taken over the team after the previous coach, João Saldanha, had resigned amid pressure to include some of the immensely talented players on the Brazilian team. This did not seem to affect Zagallo, who put an extraordinary team together.
Of course, most outstanding among the stars was Pelé, who 29-years old was about to play his last World Cup, also the crowning achievement of his career. Other players were: the Botafogo striker Jairzinho, who had scored in every match of the tournament (and scoring in the final, he is one of only three players, the other being Alcides Ghiggia and Just Fontaine, to have done this); the São Paulo midfielder Gerson, who was and still is considered one of the best passers of all time; the captain of the team, Carlos Alberto, perhaps the best defender in Brazilian football ever; the outstanding left-winger with the powerful left-foot (Mexican fans in the tournament had dubbed him “Patada Atómica”) Rivelino, from Corinthians, who is today ranked as the fourth best Brazilian player of all time (after Pelé, Zico and Garrincha); Tostão, from Cruzeiro, a prolific goalscorer with outstanding passing abilities.
The team is arguably the best national team in the incredible history of Brazilian football.
In spite of being the underdogs, Italy, defending European champions, had a very strong team centered around AC Milan’s Gianni Rivera, an incredibly strong and well-organised defense, and some powerful strikers in Cagliari’s Gigi Riva and Inter’s Roberto Boninsegna. Their way to the final had nevertheless not been overly impressive with two 0-0 ties against Israel and Uruguay and a 1-0 win against Sweden. Italy had then defeated the home side of Mexico 4-1 in the quarterfinals, and then West Germany 4-3 in the semifinals in a memorable extra-time drama. The Italians had not been overly popular for their defensive style, and most fans in the full Azteca Stadium were most eager to see the Brazilian attacking machine in action.
The match was more than a match for the world championship: both teams could get their third win, and thus get the Jules Rimet trophy for good.
The game between the two different styles of football started as was expected, with Brazil attacking and the Italians defending, hoping to get a lucky strike and defend. However, after 18 minutes Brazil took the lead by what is probably Pelé’s most famous goal: after a throw-in, Rivelino crossed the ball into the area from the left side, and Pelé rose majestically above the Italian defenders and headed downwards, not giving goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi a chance for catching the ball. This was Brazil’s 100th world cup goal ever, and had brought Brazil one step closer to the Jules Rimet trophy.
Although the Italians now had to attack, they patiently waited for their chance, and after 37 minutes it came; Clodoaldo clumsily made a back-heel pass that caught the Brazilian defense off guard, and a quick Roberto Boninsgna caught the ball, and alone with the goalkeeper Felix, equalized for Italy.
It was not a well-deserved goal, but Italy had shown that they could not be underestimated as the result held until halftime.
Italy continued defending in the second half, but this time the Brazilians made no mistakes in their continuous attacking. Twenty minutes into the second half Gerson scored a beautiful goal with a powerful shot outside the area, and only five minutes later a high ball into the Italian area was picked up by Pelé, who headed it on to Jairzinho, who pressed by an Italian defender nevertheless managed to push the ball into goal.
After this the result was clear: the tired Italian players had little response to the Brazilians, who made no mistakes and instead continued attacking. Only four minutes before the end of match beautiful Brazilian combinations ended with Pelé, who without looking up somehow saw Carlos Alberto coming from behind in full speed into the Italian penalty box; Pelé set up the ball perfectly for the Brazilian captain, who with a precise and hard shot made it 4-1 for what was undoubtedly the best team in the world, and playing a style of football that captivated the entire world.
Brazilian coach Mario Zagalo had become the first man ever to become world champion as player and as coach, while Pelé had won his third title, sealing his status of one of the greatest football legends of all time. Brazil had become an outstanding world champion, and won the Jules Rimet trophy for their permanent ownership (in 1983 the trophy was stolen from the Brazilian Football Confederation headquarters, and has never been recovered).

Match Stats:
  • 21st June, 1970, Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
  • Attendance: 107,000
  • Referee: Rudi Gloeckner (West Germany)
Brazil-Italy 4-1
Goals: 1-0 Pelé (18). 1-1 Bonninsegna (37), 2-1 Gerson (65), 3-1 Jairzinho (70), 4-1 Carlos Alberto (86)

Brazil: Felix, Carlos Alberto, Brito, Piazza, Everaldo, Clodoaldo, Gerson, Jairzinho, Tostao, Pelé, Rivelino
Italy: Albertosi, Cera, Burgnich, Bertini (Juliano), Rosato, Domeghini, Mazzola, de Sisti, Bonninsegna (Rivera), Riva

Champions League knock-out draw

The draw for the Champions League first knock-out round in February 2010 ahs taken place with the following teams set to face one another:
  • VfB Stuttgart-FC Barcelona: Surely challenging for the Germans against a Catalan side that is getting into gear.
  • Inter-Chelsea: A thrilling match where Jose Mourinho will face his former team, while Carlo Ancelotti will face his former arch-rivals.
  • Bayern Munich-Fiorentina: The Germans looked incredible when they destroyed Juventus, and Fiorentina should surely take notice!
  • CSKA Moscow-Sevilla: The Spaniards have looked very strong in the first round.
  • Olympique Lyon-Real Madrid: Another thrilling encounter that will see Karim Benzema against his former team-mates.
  • FC Porto-Arsenal: Both team can win this match that will surely be very close.
  • AC Milan-Manchester United: An anticipated encounter between two of the giants of European football.
Who can wait? I can´t...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Venezuelan national football team

Not counting the Guyanas and Surinam, there is only one country in South America that has never been to a World Cup: Venezuela. Considering that I love football so much, and that South America indeed is the powerhouse of football passion, it may seem ironic that I have recently moved to Venezuela.
Its special history and closer links to the Caribbean and the US, made that the main sport in Venezuela became baseball. It remains so, and Venezuelans are as passionate as any fan when the local baseball teams are playing. This surely contributed greatly to the fact that playing Venezuela was always a sure win for any team in the World Cup qualifiers and Copa America. Following the increased popularity of football in other baseball-crazed countries like Japan and the US, football also became more popular in the second half of the 1990s, with the national team becoming more competitive. By now, Venezuela is a team that all teams consider playing: in 2008 they defeated Brazil for the first time ever (in a friendly match) and for the 2010 qualifiers Venezuela had quite an amazing run, among other things defeating Ecuador in Quito, and ending only three points from what would have been a qualifying spot. The team has a core of talented players who have excellent experience from foreign clubs.
And it does seem that things are going in the right direction: youth teams are under development, and Venezuela recently played their first World Cup ever, the U-21 World Cup, eliminating the defending world champions of Argentina, and making it to the quarterfinals of the tournament! Since I have a good karma on the football of the countries I live in, I expect to see Venezuela do even better!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Greatest World Cup matches: Brazil-Uruguay (1970)

Twenty years after the most painful defeat in the history of Brazilian football in the World Cup final of 1950, Brazil and Uruguay were again facing each other in the semifinal of the World Cup in Mexico.
Both South American teams were strong, although the Brazilians had captivated the world with its beautiful style as they had cruised themselves to the final. In the first round Brazil had won all their matches against Czechoslovakia, Romania, and the defending world champions of England (a match remembered particularly for Gordons Banks spectacular save of a Pelé header), and in the quarterfinal had defeated Perú 4-2 in a match that arguably has been one of the most entertaining in terms of attacking technical football in the history of the world cup.
With Pelé as the star, the Brazilian team nevertheless had some of the most talented players of an entire generation of Brazilian football: Jairzinho, Rivelino, Tostão, Gerson, Clodoaldo and Carlos Alberto were some of the players of a team that by many is considered the best in the history of Brazilian football.
Uruguay played an entirely different defensive style of football than Brazil or Perú, and had more difficulty in reaching the semifinals: in the first round group they had just barely finished second behind Italy, after defeating Israel, tying with the Italians, and losing to Sweden.
In the semifinal Uruguay had defeated the USSR 1-0 after a extra time on a goal by Victor Espárrago in a match that was quickly forgotten. Uruguay’s star player was its goalkeeper, Ladislao Mazurkiewicz, who was also the best goalkeeper in the world at the time, and everyone was surely expecting his to have to play his best against the Brazilian attacking machine.
Due to its historical precedents, the match immediately caught the imagination of the world, in particular in Uruguay and Brazil, where a war of nerves ensued as the Uruguayans tried to appeal to the history of these matches: as some joked, Uruguay would be world champion every twenty years! (1930-1950-1970).
When Uruguay went ahead by 1-0 19 minutes into the match, it seemed history would repeat itself; the Uruguayans had played defensively and well-organized, and had scored by the Nacional player Luis Cubilla.
Although Brazil then tried attacking, it only bore fruit in the last minute of the first half when the extraordinary dribler Clodoaldo equalized for Brazil.
The Brazilians went out to the second half with a determination that history should not repeat itself, and there were some big chances before Jairzinho managed to bring Brazil ahead after a splendid pass from Tostão that split the Uruguayan defense.
Uruguay proved unable to respond, and in the last minute of the match Rivelino put the definitive score of 3-1 for Brazil with a shot from the edge of the area after a pass from Pelé.
The match is perhaps best remembered for a goal that wasn’t, and is perhaps considered one of Pelé biggest misses: on a one-on-one with Mazurkiewicz, Pelé totally confused the Uruguayan goalkeeper by letting the ball pass to the left of the goalkeeper while he himself runs around his right. Alone with goal, Pelé nevertheless miscalculates his shot, that goes wide of the goal.
Nevertheless, Brazil had been victorious and were now ready to take on the Italians in the final to finally exorcise the painful memories of 1950.

Match Stats:
  • 17th June, 1970, Guadalajara, Jalisco
  • Attendance: 61,000
  • Referee: José Maria Ortiz de Mendibil (Spain)
Brazil-Uruguay 3-1
Goals: 0-1 Cubilla (19), 1-1 Clodoaldo (44), 2-1 Jairzinho (76), 3-1 Rivelino (89)

Brazil: Felix; Brito, Piazza, Carlos Alberto, Clodoaldo, Jairzinho, Gerson, Tostão, Pelé, Rivelino, Everaldo
Uruguay: Mazurkiewicz; Ancheta, Matosas, Ubinas, Montero, Mujica, Cubilla, Maneiro (Esparrago), Morales, Fontes, Cortez

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Last night's Champions League last round of the group stages saw some very impressive performances (for good and for bad):
1) Bayern Munich had their back against the wall in what would normally seem a very difficult away game against Juventus, where the Germans needed a victory. Initially, they went down 1-0 on a goal by David Trezeguet, and it all seemed lost; but Bayern Munich never gives up, and on an impressive comeback they scored 4 goals by goalkeeper Butt, Ivica Olic, Mario Gomes and Tymoschuk, to give Juventus a historic ass-kicking. Any team should be nervous about drawing Bayern Munich in the next round.
2) I have always been a Michael Owen fan since his 1998 World Cup, and was happy and impressed to play overwhelmingly well and score three goals in Manchester United's away victory 3-1 against Wolfsburg.
3) Cristiano Ronaldo had an off-day in the Spanish league last weekend, getting a red card and missing a penalty. He certainly showed them today against Olympique Marseille, where Real Madrid got a difficult away victory of 3-1, and Cristiano Ronaldo was man of the match and scored on an incredible free kick.
4) Atlético Madrid has had a lousy CL season, and although they had no chance at home against FC Porto, their 0-3 defeat at home was still pathetic, and although Atlético Madrid is to play the Europa League, one has the feeling that they will be easy prey there as well.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Manchester City-Chelsea

I haven't watched much football for a while, and after a busy week, I found a pub to drink beer and relax in Caracas, Venezuela. The game to watch in the early afternoon (Venezuelan time) was Manchester City-Chelsea.
Chelsea are currently one, if not the, of the best teams in the world at the moment; leading the Premier League, they have seemed awesome under Carlo Ancelotti and were looking to cement their lead in this away match in Manchester. And it all looked to go as planned as Chelsea went ahead early on, by a clumsy own goal by Adebayor.
However, Manchester City has invested heavily in players, and has an excellent team, looking to threaten the hegemony of the "big four" in the Premier League, although this has so far eluded them. But this evening (afternoon in Caracas....) they rose to the challenge, and on goals by Adebayor and Carlos Tevez (on a direct free kick where Petr Cech was caught on the wrong leg) they deservedly took the lead, which could have been even larger. In the dying minutes, Frank Lampard missed a penalty chance to underservedly equalize for Chelsea, and the victory was City's.
It will be interesting to follow whether Manchester City can keep it up. And until then, I found a nice place to watch football in Caracas!

Friday, December 04, 2009

The World Cup draw

The draw for the World Cup in South Africa was today, and there are some very interesting matches to look forward to!

Group A:

  • South Africa
  • Mexico
  • Uruguay
  • France

The hosts of South Africa will be playing their opening match against Mexico in what is arguably one of the most difficult groups to predict. France may seem like the favourites, but neither Mexico or Uruguay should be underestimated!

Group B:

  • Argentina
  • Nigeria
  • South Corea
  • Greece

A very interesting group where Argentina and Nigeria are undoubtedly favourites; both teams have faced one another in very interesting matches before, for instance in USA 1994, where both teams also defeated Greece. The best Asian team will have its hands full in this group.

Group C:

  • England
  • USA
  • Algeria
  • Slovenia

A group where England are undoubtedly favourites in what will be a repeat of the legendary 1950 sensation where USA defeated England in the British team's first world cup ever. Algeria are participating again after 1986, while Slovenia are looking to improve their meager participation of 2002.

Group D:

  • Germany
  • Australia
  • Serbia
  • Ghana

Undoubtfully one of the most interesting groups. Germany are always strong, but will have their hands full against the Australians, who have been steadily improving for the last decade, Serbia, who have been awesome in their qualifying group ahead of France, and Ghana, who are surely Africa's most serious candidate for a finalist.

Group E:

  • Netherlands
  • Denmark
  • Japan
  • Cameroun

Netherlands look as favourites against three teams that should undoubtfully not be underestimated, but in particularly Cameroun and Denmark will likely be fighting between them for the second spot.

Group F:

  • Italy
  • Paraguay
  • New Zealand
  • Slovakia

The defending world champions have had a lucky draw: the only team that apparently can threaten them are Paraguay, but then you have to be a staunch Paraguay supporter. Italy will probably go through on one 0-0 and two 1-0 victories.... It will be interesting to see the only debutants in the tournament, Slovakia.

Group G:

  • Brazil
  • North Corea
  • Cote d'Ivoire
  • Portugal

An extremely interesting group: the two lusophone powers Portugal and Brazil face one another, while Cote d'Ivoire is the African dark horse of the group, that could in fact take first place. North Corea is a totally unwritten team in all this, whose main asset seem to be their sensational tournament of 1966.

Group H:

  • Spain
  • Honduras
  • Chile
  • Switzerland

Spain enter the tournament as favourites yet again, but with a European Championship title. In 1982 at home, they totally missed their chance, for instance against Honduras, who will be looking to upset the Spaniards yet again in their second World Cup (I wouldn't put my money on it though...). Switzerland look strong yet again, but the really interesting team of this group is Chile, who under Marcelo Bielsa has bloomed into one of the teams to keep an eye on in this tournament!

The World Cup is on the way!

Greatest World Cup Matches: West Germany-Italy (1970)

West Germany entered the 1970 World Cup in Italy with a strong team of quite experienced players. Among them was Franz Beckenbauer, who only 25 years old already was one of the most experienced and established players in international football. The team was still captained by the legendary Uwe Seeler, who was playing his last World Cup, while the Bayern Munich striker Gerd Müller had seemed unstoppable, scoring seven goals in the first three matches, which the Germans won against Peru, Bulgaria and Morocco.
In the quarterfinals West Germany had played England, in a repeat of the 1966 final. This time though, the Germans were better prepared against an English team that was arguably better than it had been in 1966, but was apparently not well-adapted to the intense Mexican atmosphere. Also, Coach Alf Ramsey made obvious tactical changes when England could have carried the match away. In the end, West Germany won 3-2 after extra time, on a Gerd Müller goal.
This was only the second time England lost to West Germany, and as has happened so much since, the English swam over in references to the war.
Italy had not had good results for the World Cup for many years, but under coach Feruccio Valccareggi had built up a very strong team playing the reputed “Catenaccio” style, around a highly organised and very strong defense. The midfield led by AC Milan’s Gianni Rivera (who and 1969 had won the “Balon d’or” as best player of the year), and with powerful strikers, notably Gigi Riva from Cagliari (who is still the most scoring player in the history of the Italian national team). In 1968 Italy had won the European championship and was surely one of the best teams of the world at the time.
However, the Italians were not popular for their “catennaccio” style after their first round matches where they tied 0-0 with Uruguay and Israel, and defeated Sweden 1-0. In the quarterfinals they had nevertheless shown their attacking power against the hosts of Mexico, and won 4-1, and were now ready to the semifinal, where the winner would play the winner between Brazil and Uruguay.
The match in from of a full Azteca Stadium started well for the Italians: only eight minutes into the match the Inter striker Roberto Boninsegna got a return ball at the edge of the German area and resolutely shot and scored.
After this, Italy pulled back around its strong defense, and while the Germans had the ball the most, they were unable to open up the defense. It was frustrating for the many spectators as well as for the German players, to see the German team in possession and attacking, but unable to score. In particular Franz Beckenbauer was playing a strong match, and in the second half he dislocated his shoulder in a fearless tackle. However, unwilling to be substituted, the Bayern Munich star continued playing with a bandaged shoulder for the remainder of the match for what must have been a very painful sacrifice.
In the 90th minute of the match, the frantic German attacks finally paid off when the AC Milan defender Karl-Heinz Schnellinger (”Volkswagen”) suddenly found himself alone in front of the Italian goal on a cross by Jurgen Grabowski, and just had to put the foot on the ball, that went straight into the net. It was one of the few mistakes that the well-organized Italian defense had made.
West Germany had equalized and now seemed to have everything going for them as the match went into extra time.
Only four minutes later, Gerd Müller took advantage of a misunderstanding between the goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi and the defender Fabrizio Pelotti; when either decide to grab the ball, Gerd Müller quickly got in between them and squeezed the ball into goal for a German lead.
With the match completely turned on its head, it was now Italy’s turn to start attacking against the partly amputated German defense, and only four minutes later the Inter defender Tarcisio Burgnich scored after receiving a bounced off ball from a German defender. Another defensive mistake had equalized it for the Italians, who nevertheless continued attacking after the goal. At the end of the first half of the extra time, Gigi Riva was given too much space at the edge of the German area, and in spite of it not being a very hard shot, it was well-placed towards the far corner of the goal, and Sepp Maier had no chance.
The match had in fifteen minutes turned around twice!
Again it was West Germany’s time to attack as the teams went into the last fifteen minutes of the match, and after only a few minutes Gerd Müller scored to 3-3 on a header.
But the Italians, immediately when putting the ball into play, scored again, without the Germans even touching the ball: Boninsegna crossed the ball to a Gianni Rivera and the Milan striker made no mistake when carefully placing the ball perfectly behind Sepp Maier!
Anything seemed possible in this crazy semifinal, but it was the last goal of the extraordinary drama which Italy won 4-3 and put them in the World Cup final against Brazil.
An anecdote of this match tells that the guards at a prison near Acapulco, absorbed in the dramatic match on TV, didn’t notice the escape of 23 prisoners…
Surely one of the greatest World Cup dramas!

Match Stats:
  • 17th June 1970, Estadio Azteca, Mexico City
  • Attendance: 102,000
  • Referee: Arturo Yamasaki Maldonado (Peru)
West Germany-Italy 3-4 (After extra time)
Goals: 0-1 Boninsegna (8), 1-1 Schnellinger (90), 2-1 G. Muller (94), 2-2 Burgnich (98), 2-3 Riva (104), 3-3 G. Muller (110), 3-4 Rivera (111)

West Germany: Maier; Schnellinger, Beckenbauer, Schulz, Vogts, Seeler, Overath, G. Muller, Patzke (Held), Loehr (Libuda), Grabowski
Italy: Albertosi; Burgnich, Facchetti, Cera, Rosato (Poletti), Bertini, Riva, Domenghini, Mazzola (Rivera), De Sisti, Boninsegna