Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Greatest Euro Matches: Spain-Germany (2008)

The final of the 2008 European Championships saw the clash between the old superpower in European football, Germany, clash with the new superpower, Spain.
Spain had always been a contender for titles but without ever fulfilling its potential. Their only title was the 1964 Euro, won at home after only two matches, in a tournament where many nations in Europe did not participate. So Spain had been hungering for the success that its club teams were getting. FC Barcelona and Real Madrid were among the best clubs in the world, and in particular the Catalonian side was providing the Spanish national side with a hugely talented generation that played a characteristic style of football based on possession and passing. The two FC Barcelona midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta were already important players of the team alongside the more experienced Villarreal midfielders Marcos Senna and Joan Capdevilla. But also players who had gone to England were pushing their way into the team such as Liverpool's Xabi Alonso and Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas. In defense Spain had one of the best in the world, FC Barcelona's Carles Puyol, alongside Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos and Valencia's Carlos Marchena. And behind them these defenders had arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Iker Casillas from Real Madrid, who also captained the team. Up front Valencia's David Villa, Mallorca's Dani Guiza and Liverpool's Fernando Torres fought to be the starting striker.
All in all Spain was a team combining experienced with an incredibly talented young generation that would come to dominate European football.
Spain had qualified ahead of Sweden, Northern Ireland and Denmark. In the first round they made clean sheet by defeating Russia, Sweden and defending champions Greece. In the quarterfinals they had to go into a nerve-wrecking penalty contest to defeat Italy. This was hugely important for Spain, who had always had a complex about losing to Italy in important matches (this would indeed be a tournament that would destroy a lot of Spanish complexes). In the semifinals Spain trashed Russia 0-3, and were ready to face the historically greatest European side, Germany.
Germany had a strong combination of youth and experience. The undisputed captain and star of the team was Chelsea's Michael Ballack. In goal was the 38 year old veteran Arsenal keeper Jens Lehmann. Hertha Berlin's experienced Arne Friedrich in defense played along Real Madrid's Cristoph Metzelder and the already experienced youngsters Philipp Lahm from Bayern Munich and Per Mertescaker from Werder Bremen. Another youngster with huge experience was Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteigger in midfield. Up front different players disputed the positions: Stuttgart's Mario Gomez, Schalke 04's Kevin Kuranyi, and the two veterans, Oliver Neuville from Borussia Monchengladbach and Miroslav Klose from Bayern Munich.
Germany were hungry for Euro success. While they had reached the 2002 World Cup final and the 2006 World Cup semifinals, they had been eliminated in the first round of the European championships in both 2000 and 2004. Still, they were confident that the more offensive style introduced by Jurgen Klinsmann in 2006 and continued under the new coach Joachim Low, would prove effective with a team that had become very popular in Germany proper.
Although qualification was never in doubt for Germany, they only made it through on second place behind the Czech Republic. In the first round they defeated Austria and Poland, and although losing to Croatia, they went through to the quarterfinals on second place. There they defeated Portugal 3-2 and in the semifinals they went through another thrilling match defeating the surprising Turkey 3-2. They were in the final on strong fight and will, but captain Michael Ballack was doubtful for the final with an injury.
The final took place in Vienna in a tournament that had been co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland. And the final was completely dominated by Spain, who from the start but pressure and dominated possession. In the first 20 minutes Andres Iniesta came close to scoring, and Fernando Torres had a header on the post. And after half an hour it was indeed the Liverpool striker who brought Spain deservedly ahead: Xavi made one of his through-passes through the defense, where Philipp Lahm hesitated for one moment, and Fernando Torres rushed past him and elegantly lobbed the ball over the outcoming goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann.
If anything, Spain's lead was too small at halftime, but in the second half Spanish dominance continued. But Xavi, Iniesta and Sergio Ramos all missed big chances to give Spain a second, maintaining Germany's feeble hope for an equalizer. But in reality they never came really close. Instead, Marcos Senna also had a huge chance in the final part of the match.
Spain won 1-0, which was none too small, as Spain had been absolutely dominant throughout the tournament and had sealed their superiority in this match.
Two years later the two nations would face one another again in the World Cup semi-final, with the exact same result; one that sealed Spain's total dominance of world football.

Vienna, 29th June 2008, Ernst Happel Stadium 
Attendance: 51,428 
Referee: Roberto Rosetti, Italy 

Spain-Germany 1-0 

Spain: Iker Casillas (c); Sergio Ramos, Carlos Marchena, Carles Puyol, Joan Capdevilla, Marcos Senna, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas (Xabi Alonso, 63), David Silva (Santi Cazorla, 66), Fernando Torres (Dani Guiza, 78). Coach: Luis Aragones. 
Germany: Jens Lehmann; Arne Friderich, Per Mertesacker, Cristoph Metzelder, Philipp Lahm (Marcell Janse, 46), Torsten Frings, Thomas Hitzlsperger (Kevin Kuranyi, 58), Bastian Schweinsteiger, Michael Ballack (c), Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose (Mario Gomez, 79). Coach: Joachim Low. 

1-0 Fernando Torres (33)

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Greatest Euro Matches: Portugal-Greece (2004)

The 2004 European Championship was a tournament full of surprises, and the first surprise was in the opening match where the underdogs of Greece defeated the Portuguese hosts and favourites. Greece had qualified for only their second European championship. The German Otto Reghagel had been coaching the team since 2001, and had with time built a solid disciplined side that qualified ahead of Spain. Still, nobody expected much from the side, who counted mostly with players from the Greek sides Olympiacos, Panathinaikos and AEK Athens. However, they were all experienced players who had all played European Champions league at highest level, and they were complemented by some other players plying their trade in Italy, Spain and Portugal. The captain of the side was Theodoros Zagorakis from AEK Athens, who would also be named player of the tournament. Among the experienced players that would be household names after the tournament were AS Roma's Traianos Dellas, Benfica's Takis Fyssas, Bolton's Stelios Giannakopulous, Inter's Giorgios Karagounis, and Panathinaikos' Giourkas Seitaridis and Angelos Basinas. Up front Werder Bremen's Angelos Charisteas, Atletico Madrid's Demis Nikolaidis and Fiorentina's Zisis Vryzas were among Reghagel's choices.
Surely not a team to be underestimated, and the Greeks showed it in the opening match winning 1-2 on goals by Karagounis and Basinas. Spain, who had lost at home to Greece in qualification, tied Greece 1-1 and even though losing 1-2 to Russia in their last group match, Greece was in the quarterfinals. Nobody expected much from them as they faced the defending champions of France, but against all odds Greece won 0-1, and continued their sensational run winning 0-1 over the Czech Republic in the semi-finals. It was becoming a fairy tale tournament for Greece who would now face the hosts of Portugal in the final, in what was a repeat of the opening match.
It was impossible to question the dedication and commitment of the Greek team, but they were not overly popular due to their defensive style, defeating teams with a much more entertaining style. So waters were divided among neutral fans before the final, which Portugal, in spite of their opening match defeat, were still favourites to win.
As hosts the Portuguese had not played qualification. But the team had certainly been favourite for the title all the time. They were managed by the 2002 World Cup winning coach, Luis Felipe Scolari, and counted some of the best players in the world at the time. The team counted some fantastic playyers from the FC Porto side that won the UEFA Champions League earlier in the year, such as Paulo Ferreiro, Costinha, Nuno Valente, Maniche, and the Brazilian-born playmaker Deco. The experienced captain was Lazio's Fernando Couto, and other experienced players were Pauleta from Paris St. Germain, Rui Costa from AC Milan, and most famous of all, the legendary Luis Figo from Real Madrid, who was to retire from the national team after the tournament. The squad also counted one of the most prolific young talents in the world, a 19-year old Cristiano Ronaldo.
This amazing Portuguese side nevertheless suffered from a certain lack of confidence and arrogance. In the 2002 World Cup, also entering as favourites, they had been eliminated in the first round, famously losing their opening match 2-3 to the USA in what the Portuguese had clearly thought would be a walkover. The side had learned from the mistakes, and had in spite of their initial loss to Greece been able to shake of the defeat by winning over Spain and Russia in the following two matches. The quarterfinal was a thrilling penalty win over England before winning 2-1 over the Netherlands in the semi-final. The side had found its confidence before the final, but at the same time there lingered a doubt about whether they could truly do it. But logically it did not seem possible that little Greece should be able to defeat Portugal twice in their home ground over a few weeks time!
First half was tight, with chances to both sides, with Deco, Ronaldo and Pauleta combining well but unable to break the organized Greek defense. The Greeks could be dangerous at counter-attack, but understanding that from the previous matches, the Portuguese defense was much more aware and with little compromise in tackling the ball away from the Greeks. Pauleta had not scored a single goal in the tournament and his lack of confidence only seemed to increase as the match advanced. 
Although far outnumbered, the Greek fans were heard in the stadium, and in the 57th minute more so as Greece took the lead. Angelo Basinas took a corner kick where Angelos Charisteas surged over the Portuguese defense to head in the goal. With more than half an hour to go Portugal now had to push forward for a goal against a team that hardly let them in. Nuno Gomes came in for the feeble Pauleta and Rui Costa for Costinha. Rui Costa, Ronaldo and Luis Figo all had good shots, but the few times the Greek defense let a Portuguese shot through, the Panathinaikos goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis was proving a strong last bastion against the Portuguese. As the Portuguese lunched forward, Zisis Vryzas even had an opening for a second for Greece, Ricardo Carvalho saved in the Portuguese defense.
In the end all Portuguese attempt were for nothing as Greece could proclaim themselves champions of Europe against all odds. After the match Greek players seemed more awestruck, not believing that they had actually won. Together with Denmark's 1992 victory this was surely the biggest upset in European Championship history.
In the meantime, Portugal are still awaiting their first title.

Lisbon, 4th July 2004, Estadio da Luz 
Attendance: 62,685 
Referee: Markus Merk, Germany 

Portugal-Greece 0-1 

Portugal: Ricardo; Jorge Andrade, Costinha (Rui Costa, 60), Luis Figo (c ), Pauleta (Nuno Gomes, 74), Miguel (Paulo Ferreira, 43), Nuno Valente, Ricardo Carvalho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Maniche, Deco. Coach: Luis Felipe Scolari 
Greece: Antonis Nikopolidis; Giourkas Seitaridis, Traianos Dellas, Angelos Basinas, Theodoros. Zagorakis (c ), Stelios Giannakopoulos (Stelios Venetidis, 76), Angelos Charisteas, Takis Fyssas, Zisis Vryzas (Dimitris Papadopoulos, 81), Michalis Kapsis, Kostas Katsouranis. Coach: Otto Renhagel 

0-1 Angelos Charisteas (57)

The Great Andalusians

It is a pity that most talk about the Europa League final was about, and continues to be, about Liverpool. Because lets face it: number 8 in the Premier League proved to be far below the level of number 7 in La Liga (and this does prevent me from saying that I much prefer to watch the Premier League). Although Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp may have a plan for the future, the final proved that there is still a long way to go, and that much of the material inherited from the hapless Brendan Rogers is not up to the level of Klopp: Moreno, Lovren, Lallana, Firmino, Sturridge (despite his fantastic goal, but it was the only thing he did the entire match); none of this were really up to standard of a European final. And Mignolet is not a class goalkeeper.
I know many Liverpool fans will not like this, but it must be said that if Liverpool is to achieve what Klopp wants, they have to overhaul half the players.

Sevilla has made history: third consecutive Europa League victory, and fifth over the last 11 years. While many (in particular in England) may look down at the Europa League, this is an incredible achievement for a team that has no chance of winning anything in the domestic league, and largely have players that were discarded from other teams, but whose quality cannot be questioned from yesterday's incredible second half performance (although Liverpool were pathetically bad, in my view, it was largely Sevilla who were good): Ever Banega, Coke and Vitolo were all spectacular (all showed a level Liverpool players are far from achieving), and Carrico, Escudero and N'Zonzi all showed high class.
But most credit should go to Sevilla manager Unai Emery. The Spaniard spent four years in Valencia and then a short spell in Spartak Moscow, two clubs that are very hard on managers. In Sevilla since 2013 he has found glory and the respect he deserves. Not only is he an avid tactician (something that has often been overlooked), but he must also have great man management skills as he managed to lift Sevilla to their second half performance in half time, when they were down 0-1.
I have no doubt that Unai Emery is one of the most overseen managers in Europe.

I have never been a big fan of Sevilla, but of course this achievement is worth a big congratulations!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Greatest Euro Matches: France-Italy (2000)

The 2000 European Championships were the first that were held in two countries, as Belgium and the Netherlands co-hosted the tournament that following the 1996 tournament continued to involve 16 teams.
In 1998 France had won the World Cup at home in awesome style, and had thus entered the European Championships as favourites for the European title, as they indeed had one of the best teams in the world led by the undisputed best player in the world at the time, Zinedine Zidane, who at the time was playing for Juventus. But Zidane was not the only star in the French side. The veteran Manchester United keeper Fabien Barthez stood behind a strong defense led by Inter's veteran Laurent Blanc, alongside a string of outstanding defenders: Parma's Lilian Thurram, Bayern Munich's Bixente Lizarazu, Arsenal's Patrick Vieira and Chelsea's Marcel Desailly. Chelsea's Didier Deschamps was the captain of a team with a fantastic midfield alongside Zinedine Zidane, alongside Arsenal's Emmanuel Petit, Marseille's Robert Pires or Kaiserslautern's veteran Youri Djorkaeff. Up front coach Roger Lemerre had difficult but luxurious choices: Bordaux's Christophe Dugarry, Real Madrid's Nikolas Anelka, Monaco's David Trezeguet or the young Arsenal striker, Thierry Henry.
In spite of it all France had struggled a bit in qualification winning their group ahead of Ukraine and Russia. In the first round of the tournament they had beaten Denmark 3-0, the Czech Republic 2-1, and had lost the final match 2-3 to the Netherlands to take second place in the group.
But France had proven that they were a great team that grew with the tournament, and they defeated Spain 2-1 in quarterfinals and Portugal 2-1 in a difficult semifinal match, with a Zinedine Zidane that had grown steadily with each man to become the best player of the tournament. He and France were now in the final to try to become the first team since West Germany in the 1970s to take both the World and European titles.
 Italy were the rivals.
Italy had not done well in the European Championships since they had taken the title in 1968. Coach Dino Zoff nevertheless had a strong list of players from the best clubs in Europe: AC Milan's veteran Paolo Maldini was the captain of the side alongside other of Europe's best defenders: Parma's Fabio Cannavaro, Juventus Gianlucca Pessotto, Lazio's Alessandro Nesta and AC Milan's Demetrio Albertini. In midfield there were some fantastic offensive players such as Juventus Alessandro del Piero and Rom'as Francesco Totti with the striker's choices being Roma's Marco Delvecchio, Vicenzo Montella and Juventus Filippo Inzaghi.
Italy had qualified ahead of Denmark and Wales and had won their first round group with three straight victories over Turkey, Belgium and Sweden. In the quarterfinals they had defeated Romania 2-0 and had been in a long semifinal against the Netherlands, winning a goalless match only on penalties.
The match was largely seen as a contest between the French offensive prowess and the Italian disciplined defense. Alessandro del Piero was left on the bench as three players were put on the Italian midfield to check Zinedine Zidane, who was largely absent from the first half. Still, France had some isolated attempt, most closely Youri Djourkaeff when he shot weakly almost alone in front of the Fiorentina keeper Francesco Toldo.
Thierry Henry hit the post in a rather clumsy shot that wasn't really threatening, but repeatedly troubled the Italian defense with his speed, and they fouled him repeatedly. In the second half the French coach decided to push Zinedine Zidane forward to get him more involved in the match. Ironically, this had the effect of freeing up the Italian midfielders, and with the introduction of Alessandro del Piero Italy became more threatening. In the 55th minute Francesco Totti made an heel kick overlap to Gianlucca Pessoto that completely took apart the French defense. Pessotto's cross into the French area was first-timed into goal by Marco Delvecchio, sneaking in between two defenders.
The French reply was to introduce two new strikers, Bordeaux's Sylvain Wiltord and David Trezeguet, in the next twenty minutes, and pushing forward. This gave the Italians more space up front, where Alessandro del Piero missed a couple of chances that would have sentenced the match.
However, it was mostly France trying to get that vital equalizer, and it happened in the third minute of injury time, when Italian fans were are already celebrating the title. Sylvain Wiltord, one of the substitutes, received the ball inside the right hand side of the Italian area. At a rather steep angle he shot flat and hard towards the near post and the ball seemed to sneak in below Francesco Toldo, who should perhaps have had it.
France had managed the equalizer against all odds, and the match now went into extra-time, with a newly added courage against the Italian disappointment. It was France pressing in extra time, and towards the end of the first half it was two substitutes who produced the golden goal: Robert Pires elegantly dribbled through four Italian defenders on the left side, and his cross into the Italian area was a bit behind David Trezeguet, who nevertheless stepped back and in one elegant movement and hammered the ball into the upper right-hand corner of the goal, this time with no chance whatsoever for Toldo.
This was the second time a Euro final was decided by a golden goal, and the last time as well, since the rule was discontinued afterwards. It just seemed too odd to fans that there was no chance of return. The clash between these two arch-rivals would be repeated in the 2006 World Cup final, where Italy would get their revenge for this painful defeat.
At the same time this was the last tournament won by this great French side.

Rotterdam, 2nd July, 2000, Feyenoord Stadium 
Attendance: 48,200
Referee: Anders Frisk, Sweden

France-Italy 2-1 (AET) 

France: Fabien Barthez; Bixente Lizarazu (Robert Pires, 86), Patrick Vieira, Laurent Blanc, Youri Djorkaeff (David Trezeguet, 76), Didier Deschamps (c ), Marcel Desailly, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Liliam Thuram, Christophe Dugarry (Sylvain Wiltord, 58). Coach: Roger Lemerre. 
Italy: Francesco Toldo; Paolo Maldini (c), Demetrio Albertini, Fabio Cannavaro, Gianlucca Pessotto, Alessandro Nesta, Luigi Di Baggio (Massimo Ambrosini, 66), Mark Iuliano, Stefano Fiore (Alessandro Del Piero, 53), Francesco Totti, Marco Delvecchio (Vicenzo Montella, 86). Coach: Dino Zoff 

0-1 Delvecchio (55) 
1-1 Sylvain Wiltord (90+4) 
2-1 David Trezeguet (103) (gg)

Thursday, May 05, 2016

The Greatest Euro Matches: Yugoslavia-Spain (2000)

Spain and Yugoslavia had always been two great footballing nations who had somehow punched below their weight. Spain had won the Euro in 1964, but had since not been overly successful in spite of important clubs and great expectations. In fact, the 2000 Champions League final had been a purely Spanish affair between Real Madrid and Valencia, with Barcelona also making it to the semi-final.In 2000 they had qualified in awesome style in spite of being in a rather easy group (Israel, Austria, Cyprus and San Marino).
Yugoslavia had in 1992 had the best team in Europe, but had been refused entry to the Euro 1992 because of UN sanctions, and could only see in regret that their replacement, Denmark, had gone on to win the tournament. When the country split, one of the new countries, Croatia, had done well in the 1996 European Championships. In 2000 the remainder of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) qualified for their first European Championship since the civil war. They had won their group against Ireland and Croatia, and had an experienced side of players who had made it to the last-16 in the 1998 World Cup.
Both teams had drawn one another in the first round, together with Norway and Slovenia. Spain had started by sensationally losing 0-1 to Norway, but had then come back to defeat Slovenia 1-2. Yugoslavia had tied Slovenia 3-3 in their opening match and defeated Norway 0-1. This meant that Spain needed a victory to progress, while Yugoslavia could tie, although Norway not winning against Slovenia could put both teams through.
It proved to be one of the most exciting matches of European Championship history.
Yugoslavia had an ageing but very experienced side with an intimate knowledge of Spanish football, since many of the player were or had at some point been playing for Spanish clubs. To mention some: Miroslav Djukic was a prominent Valencia defender, Jovan Stankovic led the midfield at Mallorcaand Savo Milosevic was the striker of Real Zaragoza. Predrag Mijatovic, from Fiorentina, had throughout the 1990s had an extraordinary career in Valencia and then Real Madrid, leading the latter to the 1998 Champions League trophy.
In the 30th minute, after initial Spanish dominance it was in fact Milosevic who brought the Yugoslavs ahead. It happened after an elegant pass on midfield by captain Dragan Stojkovic, who left FC Porto's Ljubinko Robovic with space on the Spanish right side to cross into the area, where Milosevic did not forgive the header.
But Spain continued its pressure and it was only eight minutes before Real Madrid's star, Raul, made a good run on the Yugoslav defense. The Real Betis striker picked up the ball and shipped the ball past the PSV Eindhoven keeper Ivica Krajl.
The first half was all in all intense, with dramatic duels and a Yugoslav side that played all its cards, in particular physically, to disturb the Spanish game. The French referee, Gilles Veissere was having a difficult time keeping the players and spectators adrenaline under control. It did not improve in the second half.
Both coaches made changes in halftime, and it was Boskov who initially benefitted: the RKC Waalwijk midfielder Dejan Govedarica had come on for Vladimir Jugovic, and after five minutes he scored on a strong shot from the edge of the Spanish area with no chance for the Valencia keeper Santiago Canizares.
But again Spain struck back, and again it was a substitute. Racing Santander striker Pedro Munitis had come on for Michel Salgado in Camacho's attempt to strengthen the offensive, and it soon bore fruit when Munitis's curling shot from the edge of the area became an equalizer for Spain.
Tension grew, and in the 60th minute the French referee gave the Deportivo la Coruna player Slavica Jokanovic his second yellow card. This infuriated the Yugoslav players and fans, and amid chaotic scenes a fan even came on the pitch trying to attack the referee. But the decision remained and things now looked more difficult for Yugoslavia down to 10 men against a Spanish team that would now increase its pressure. But the Yugoslavs had been in this situation before: they had come back from 0-3 against Slovenia and had won against Norway being only ten men on the pitch. So perhaps it surprised only the Spaniard when Slobodan Komljenovic, who plied his trade in Kaiserslautern in Germany, brought Yugoslavia ahead 3-2 inside the Spanish area when the Spanish defense proved unable to get the ball away in a scramble. Everything seemed to be going against a Spanish side that had again entered the tournament as favourites and had scored an impressive 42 goals in qualification. It was now everything forward for the Spaniards against an experienced Yugoslav defense with a deadly counter-attack.
The referee unsurprisingly added a lot of time due to the incidences with spectators and many duels during the first half, but according to the Yugoslavs it was too much. It was four minutes into stoppage time when Govedarica brought down the Barcelona defender Abelardo, and the referee immediately awarded Spain a penalty. It was not a big penalty, but Valencia's midfield-general, Gaizka Mendieta, was cool and scored the equalizer.
In the other match in the group Norway and Slovenia had tied 0-0, and the result of this match would put Norway and Yugoslavia through.
It seemed to be impossible and everything was thrown forward by the Spaniards. In the dying seconds (96th minute) Barcelona's Pep Guardiola just kicked the ball into the area, where Atheltic Bilbao's Ismael Urzaiz headed it towards Alfonso at the edge of the area. Without time, and barely without thinking, Alfonso just kicked first time, and the ball went through two Yugoslav defenders and into goal.
Spain erupted in wild celebrations while the Yugoslavs complained bitterly. The match ended right there, and the referee had to be escorted by police as angry Yugoslav fans tried to attack him. Hit by a coin, the referee went out bleeding.
But Yugoslavia were not out. The real losers of this match were Norway, who were out of the tournament. Yugoslavia progressed to the next round where they were trashed 6-1 by the Netherlands. A Spanish side full of hope lost to the later champions of France.
Nevertheless both teams had given fans one of the most memorable and dramatic matches of Euro history.

Brugges, 21st June 2000, Jan Breydel Stadion 
Attendance: 24,000 
Referee: Gilles Veissiere, France 

Yugoslavia-Spain 3-4 

Yugoslavia: Ivica Krajl; Slobodan Komljenovic, Miroslav Djukic, Sinisa Mihaijlovic, Goran Djorovic (Jovan Stakovic, 12), Dragan Stojkovic (c) (Nisa Saveljic, 68), Vladimir Jugovic (Dejan Govedarica, 46), Slavica Jokanovic (RC, 63), Ljubinko Drulovic, Predrag Mijatovic, Savo Milosevic. Coach: Jujadin Boskov 
Spain: Santiago Canizares; Michel Salgado (Pedro Munitis, 46), Abelardo (c), Paco (Izmail Urzaiz, 64), Sergi, Gaizka Mendita, Pep Guardiola, Ivan Helguera, Fran (Joseba Etxeberria, 22), Raul, Alfonso. Coach: Jose Antonio Camacho 

1-0 Milosevic (30) 
1-1 Alfonso (38) 
2-1 Govedarica (50) 
2-2 Munitis (51) 
3-2 Komljenovic (75) 
3-3 Mendieta (94) (pen) 
3-4 Alfonso (96)

Monday, May 02, 2016

Witness to a miracle

I have seen football miracles: when Denmark won the Euro 1992; when Liverpool came back to defeat AC Milan in the 2005 Champions League final, or when hapless Herfolge won the Danish League in 2000.
But nothing compares to what we have been witness to this season: Leicester City winning the Premier League title!
Today it happened: after Leicester managed a good fight in a 1-1 away tie to mighty Manchester United, Tottenham seemed to continue on their tails as they were 0-2 up against last year's champions Chelsea. But Gary Cahill and Eden Hazard may get special awards in Leicester as they made it 2-2, to give Leicester the title with two matches to spare (and on the last match day they will play Chelsea).

You have to be stupid not to understand how big this is: a team with a roster of 24 million Euros (where the big clubs pay that amount for one player) had a now famous 5000-1 odds against them at the start of the season; odds were more likely that Elvis would be found alive (2500-1), or that Simon Cowell would become British Prime Minister (500-1).

Leicester have been good on all fronts: a solid team combining defensive experience (Roberth Huth, Christian Huth and Wes Morgan are all old experienced players), a wonderfully talented midfield of players discovered this season (Danny Drinkwater, Riyad Mahrez and N'golo Kante), as well as the late-bloomer Jamie Vardy up front.
And my apologies to Claudio Ranieri: a coach I have strongly criticised and never been a fan of. But what he has done here will go over in history.

It has been impossible not to love Leicester City, but also because it is one of those rarities in the modern world (and not just in football): they have brought people together. Leicester is a multi-cultural city, and this is also seen in a team that, above all, has shown great unity among players from all over the world: England, France, Ghana, Algeria, Jamaica, Argentina, Germany, Denmark, Japan.  And the manager is Italian and the Chairman is Thai.
Leicester City has reminded us all why football is great, and that we should all be thankful for.