Archive for May, 2009

May 22 – Milan Are Europe’s Top Dogs

ONE of the reasons Alex Ferguson did not retire as planned a few years ago, was his burning desire to win the European Cup at least one more time. He felt that a club like Manchester United should have won the trophy more often. Compare United’s three wins to Real Madrid’s nine, and AC Milan’s seven.

It was today in 1963 that Milan got their European trophy cabinet collection started when they won the competition for the first time.

In the early days Real Madrid enjoyed something of a monopoly on the cup, winning it for each of the first five years it was held.

It was Benfica who finally wrestled it away from Real in 1961, and then retained it the following year, Eusebio helping the Portuguese club to a 5-3 win over Real in the 1962 final.

Benfica made it three finals on the trot in 1963 but this time Milan were waiting for them, and their defence was not nearly as charitable as Real’s had been in 1962.

But it was the Italian side that conceded first in the showpiece game that was being held at Wembley Stadium for the first time. Eusebio scored after 18 minutes but that would prove to be all the joy he and Benfica got all night.

In the second half Milan hit back thanks to Brazilian striker José Altafini who scored twice in eight minutes to give them a 2-1. For the rest of the match the Italians’ defence, led by Giovanni Trapattoni, held firm and Milan took the victory and prevented Benfica from sealing a hat-trick of European Cup wins.

The Cup was brought back to Milan in each of the following two years but not by AC Milan; cross-city rivals Internazionale were instead victorious.

Milan’s seven wins in the competition make dismal reading for fellow Italian giants Juventus who have just two European Cup wins to their name. The second came today in 1996 – as chirpy newspaper boys in the 1930s used to say “read all about it here”.

More tomorrow readers so until then, don’t have nightmares…

May 21 – Mourinho’s Porto Beat Celtic

JOSE Mourinho seems like such a big figure in the football universe that it seems hard to remember a time when he wasn’t there, dishing out his pearls of wisdom like a cool, modern-day version of Brian Clough.

But it was today in 2003, just six years ago, that the Portuguezzer pricked the collective consciousness of British football fans for the first time when his Porto team took on Martin O’Neill’s Celtic in the Uefa Cup Final in Seville.

The Bhoys were hoping for a triumph to add to the famous 1967 European Cup win and 80,000 of their fans descended on Seville for the game.

But standing in their way was Mourinho and his team who took the lead just before half time thanks to Derlei. Henrick Larsson equalised soon after, and had to do so again on 56 minutes after Dmitri Alenitchev had put Porto ahead again just two minutes earlier.

The match went to extra time and with just five minutes before penalties, Derlei scored the winner to break Celtic hearts.

Martin O’Neill was unhappy at some of Porto’s tactics. “I will probably get into trouble for this, but it was poor sportsmanship,” he said. “The rolling over, the time wasting. But they have beaten us, well done to them and it’s up to us to learn from this.

“It is a steep learning curve, but this was a wonderful, wonderful experience. The players put everything into it and the fans have been fantastic.”

Predictably, Mourinho begged to differ with O’Neill. “I’d prefer to ask whether the behaviour of the Celtic players was normal in your country,” he said. “What Balde did to Deco in front of me could have ended his career. The referee didn’t affect the result, in that there were no doubtful decisions, but I think Balde could have had a direct red for his foul and Thompson could also have seen a second yellow card on two occasions.

“There was a lot of commitment in Celtic’s game, commitment, toughness and aggression. I’m tempted to use another word – but I won’t.”

“We have given a great example to the world and those who love football and we have also made history by taking the Uefa Cup to Portugal for the first time ever,” he added.

The following season Mourinho led Porto to the European Cup, making more history in the process and paving the way for his move to Chelsea.

As usual, we’ll have more historical football high jinx tomorrow, but until then, click here to read about the best world cup song ever made.

May 20 – Barça Break Their Duck

FOR a club so steeped in history that it is seen as a social and political phenomenon, it comes as a surprise that Barcelona’s first European Cup only came today in 1992, when Barça sent Catalonia into raptures by downing Sampdoria to lift the trophy first made famous by their bitter rivals in Madrid.

The early 1990s saw one of Barça’s golden ages, as club legend Johan Cruijff brought in players such as Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Gheorghe Hagi, Hristo Stoichkov and current Barcelona boss Josep Guardiola.

Cruijff led the Catalan side to the 1991 La Liga title, their first since 1985, ending Real Madrid’s run of five consecutive top-placed finishes in the process. This gave Barça a place in the final edition of the European Cup before Uefa got their re-brand on and conceived the Champions League format.

This meant that teams such as US Luxembourg, Hamrun Spartans and Portadown were all thrown into the first round, without any of this group stage malarkey. Obviously, they all lost heavily, but there’s something romantic about the early-round European Cup ties of old.

Barça almost came unstuck as early as the second round, when they snuck past German champions Kaiserslautern on away goals, but progressed into a newly-thought up group stage that would soon catch on, where the winners of two groups would meet in the final.

Pitted against Sparta Prague, Benfica and Dynamo Kyiv, Barça were taken to the wire by the Czech side, but would go on to make it to the final at Wembley Stadium against a classic Sampdoria side that featured the likes of Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Mancini and Attillo Lombardo.

Barça remain the only club on the continent to have played in European competition in every season and were desperate to pick up the trophy that Real had made their own in the 1960s. They fell one step short in 1986 when they suffered penalty shoot-out heartache in the final against Steaua Bucharest under Terry Venables’ stewardship and also tasted defeat in 1961 to Benfica.

Having beaten Samp in the 1989 Cup Winners’ Cup final, Cruyff and his so-called ‘Dream Team’ fancied their chances, but the match itself was a tense affair that looked destined for penalties until the Catalan side won a free kick with only eight minutes left in extra time.

As a wise man (or a bad ITV commentator) once said, cometh the hour, cometh the man. Up stepped Dutch defender Ronald Koeman who hit one of the sweetest free-kicks to ever grace such an occasion to give Barça the cup and ensure that they were dancing in Las Ramblas and with the 1992 Olympics about to be held in the city there probably wasn’t many better places to be that that night.

Barça would have to wait another 14 years before they picked up the trophy again, but will have a chance to make it a hat-trick of titles next week when they take on Manchester United in Rome.

Until then you’ll have to make do with some footage of assorted Barça legends from back in the day below and a look at what else was going down today in the crazy world of football here. Until tomorrow you lucky people…

May 19 – Milan’s Invincibles

END of season matches in Serie A have a bit of a reputation for throwing up the occasional ‘surprise’ result, so Bari’s 2-1 win over Milan today in 1991 probably didn’t raise too many eyebrows.

Arrigo Sacchi’s men bounced back however, as this would be their last league defeat for 58 games, as the ‘Incredibles’ went on one of the most barnstorming runs ever seen in European football.

Milan had spent the early 1980s in the doldrums, suffering demotion in 1980 thanks to their part in one of Italy’s many match-fixing scandals. Although they won Serie B the next season they suffered their worst ever campaign the year after, being relegated at the end of the 1981/82 season.

With the Rossoneri reeling both on the pitch and financially it took the arrival of the not-so-shy-and-retiring media mogul Silvio Berlusconi to bring around a change in the clubs fortunes.

The future Italian Prime Minister brought in up-and-coming coach Arrigo Sacchi who signed up Dutch trio Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten and Italian leading lights Roberto Donadoni and Carlo Ancelotti. Throw in legendary defender Franco Baresi and some kid named Paulo Maldini and all of a sudden Milan’s future was looking rosy.

Despite trailing Diego Maradona’s Napoli side for most of the 1987-88 season, Sacchi’s men picked up their first Scudetto for nine years and would win their third European Cup the following season.

Sacchi left to coach the Italian national side in 1991 and the reigns were handed over to Fabio Capello who raised the bar even higher, with the likes of Marcel Desailly and Croatian national hero Zvonimir Boban joining the party.

Capello was the man in charge during Milan’s unprecedented 58-match run, as he led them to three consecutive scudetti and also the spellbinding performance that we brought to you yesterday in the 1994 European Cup final.

Their undefeated Serie A run finally came to an end on 21 March 193, where a Faustino Asprilla goal gave Parma a 1-0 win over the Rossoneri.

Capello left to join Real Madrid in 1996 and Milan would lose their aura of invincibility, falling to 11th place in 1996/97.

These days, the only Invincible that remains is the peerless 40-year-old Paolo Maldini, although he assures us this will be his last season. But we’ve all heard that before.

The only other link to that famous team is the owner, but since returning to the office of Prime Minister last year, Berlusconi has had to step down as club president. In recent months he has filled this void by making a play for the George W. Award for Funniest/Stupidest World Leader, describing Barack Obama as ‘tanned’, trying to play hide and seek with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a summit and telling those that had lost their homes in the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake that they should view the experience as a camping weekend.

Anyway, back on the pitch, you can remind yourself just how good that Milan side’s star striker Marco van Basten was below and see what another red-striped team were up to today by clicking here.

May 18 – Capello’s Milan Destroy Barca

ON this day last year we brought you the story of the 1960 European Cup Final. The Real Madrid team of Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano destroyed a hapless Eintracht Frankfurt side 7-3 in Glasgow in a show of such brilliance and domination that it is remembered as the best ever final in the history of the big-eared trophy.

The final played today in 1994 is perhaps the only one to rival the great Madrid performance, and is certainly the best final played in modern times when, with so much at stake, the final can often be terribly boring as neither side wants to make the crucial mistake.

None of that today when Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona ‘dream team’ were favourites against Fabio Capello’s AC Milan. Barca had marched to the final with an aplomb and were confident of a winning the cup for the second time in three years.

By contrast, Milan were not in great shape coming into the game. In the 3-0 win over Monaco in the semi-final at the San Siro, key defenders Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta both received yellow cards that ruled them out of the final. Worse still, Capello was forced to leave out Florin Raducioiu, Jean-Pierre Papin and Brian Laudrup as well because of the Uefa rules about fielding a maximum of three non-nationals.

One of the non-nationals Capello did pick was Marcel Desailly, the Frenchman who, the previous season, had been in the Marseille team that had beaten Milan in the final.

Despite all the changes Capello had been forced into, his side quickly began to take a hold on the game, denying highly-fancied Barca the chance to impose themselves on it.

After 22 minutes Milan made their pressure pay when Dejan Savicevic ran down the right flank and passed to Daniele Massaro who tapped the ball into an empty net. 1-0. It was 2-0 just before half time when Massaro bagged his second of the night after being set up by Roberto Donadoni from the left wing.

Barca went in 2-0 down at the break and hoping to re-group. But any hopes of a famous come-back were surely snuffed out just two minutes after the re-start when Dejan Savicevic capitalised on a defensive error by Miguel Angel Nadal to lob goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta for the third goal.

Eight minutes later and Desailly, who Capello, in a tactical masterstroke, had played in front of the back-four, made it 4-0 when he beat the offside trap to score.

It was a crushing victory and Capello’s finest hour as coach and Desailly became the first man to win the European Cup in successive seasons with two different clubs.

Watch the whole darn shooting match above, and come back tomorrow when we’ll have more tales of the unexpected (by which we mean ‘about football’). TTFN.

May 17 – Gullit, Di Matteo and Chelsea win the Cup

THE FA Cup. The oldest cup competition in the world. As English as warm beer, cricket and celebrity-based tittle-tattle magazines.

Today in 1997 the Cup was won by a foreign manager for the first time ever (which we found a tad surprising given the oft-peddled assertion that all players, managers and owners have been from abroad ever since Rupert Murdoch began running the game in 1992).

The victorious man in question was Rudd Gullit who was then the gaffer at Chelsea. In those heady pre-Abramovich days the Stamford Bridge regulars were not quite as spoilt as they are now and Chelsea were looking for their first FA Cup win since 1970.

Their opponents were those heroic failures Middlesbrough who, under the able stewardship of Bryan Robson had not only managed to get relegated, but had also already lost the League Cup final.

The portents were not good for Robson’s band of merry men and they didn’t get any better when the match started.

It was took just 42 seconds for the ‘Boro defence to be breached when Juninho gave away the ball and Dennis Wise passed to Italian midfield maestro Roberto Di Matteo who carried the ball unopposed into the ‘Boro half and let rip from fully 35 yards. Ben Roberts in the ‘Boro goal was beaten and the Smoggies season just got that little bit worse.

Even worse was to come when Fabrizio Ravanelli limped off injured after just 20 minutes, but they were spared when a goal by Gianluca (Uncle) Festa was chalked off for offside.

But late in the second half Gianfranco Zola superbly back-heeled the ball in midair to Eddie Newton who blasted home the winner.

Newton said later the team had been raring to go before kick-off. “In the final itself, we were very confident going into the game. We honestly believed we would win if we stuck to our gameplan, and we did,” he said.

“I played in 1994 when we lost to United. We had a lot of young players who hadn’t experienced the big-time games yet. This was a totally different scenario. We had such a good blend of youth and experience, and of English and foreign players. It just seemed the perfect mix. We got the best possible start through Roberto Di Matteo’s goal and the rest is history as they say.”

See both goals below and come back tomorrow for another bite-sized dose of football history. Until then ratfans, check out this story which, had it played out differently, could have altered the course of British football history FOREVER! WHoooaaaa!

May 16 – Spain Shock the English

HUNGARY’S 6-3 win over England in 1953 was seen by many as the day that English football was overtaken and the Three Lions’ superiority ended.

Look further back though, and you’ll see that the writing was on the wall long before the Mighty Magyars rode into town, as today in 1929 saw England lose 4-3 to an up-and-coming Spain side that were starting to get the hang of this international football lark.

England had over 50 years worth of international experience in the locker, since the early clashes with Scotland in the 1870s, and believed they had pre-ordained right to be the best at the sport they had invented.

Spain were the rising stars of the continent and were managed Jose Maria Mateos who was assisted by an ex-pat Englishman Fred Pentland who had turned out five times for England.

England had arrived in Spain after 4-1 and 5-1 wins over France and Belgium respectively, but newspaper the Daily Sketch and Graphic saw some flaws in the England team: “The Englishmen played none too well. They lacked speed and will have to play better if they are to beat Spain, who a month ago beat France by eight goals to one,” they said.

England started the match all guns blazing, as Joe Carter bagged two early goals to put his side 2-0 up after only 20 minutes. Spain weren’t over-awed by this though and evened things up by half-time through goals from Gaspar Rubio and Jamie Lazcano.

Realizing they had a fight on their hands England again took the lead when Joe Bradford scored and it looked like the Three Lions had put the Spaniards to bed.

But, with England being England, nothing is ever that simple. Lazcano scored an equalizer that prompted a pitch invasion at the Estadio Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid, as England tired in the blistering afternoon heat.

The onrushing crowd were forced off the pitch by civil guards brandishing swords and two minutes later Severino Goiburu scored a famous winner for the home side.

The Daily Express was shell-shocked, writing: “I never thought I would live to see the day when 11 Spanish players humbled the might – more or less – of English soccer.”

Whilst Spain’s oft-forgotten win over England is not heralded as the beginning of the end for the England team, it was a distinct marker for the advancement of the international game.

Sadly technology in 1920s Spain wasn’t as advanced as her football team, so check out this other retro Anglo-Spain clash from 1982 below and see what else happened today here.

May 15 – The Greatest Escape

WHEN Bryan Robson opened his Christmas presents in 2004 you could have forgiven him for being a tad preoccupied. His West Brom team sat at the bottom of the Premier League pile, with just a solitary league win, and as everyone knows, the team that’s bottom at Christmas is always relegated.

But, as he no doubt sat down that afternoon to watch Steve McQueen iconically motorcycling his way out his POW camp in everyone’s favourite Christmas Day movie, he might have just got inspired, as he set about leading the Baggies back from the brink.

Fast-forward five months and it all came down to Survival Sunday, today in 2005. After 37 rounds of Premier League action not a single team had been relegated, as West Brom, Southampton, Crystal Palace and Norwich all took turns to flit between bottom of the league and that all-important 17th place.

Sky Sports, meanwhile, couldn’t believe their luck and turned the hype-o-meter up to 11. Adverts for Survival Sunday flowed thick and fast on our screen, dripped in hyperbole, as Jeff Stelling prepared and the lads got ready for one of hell of an edition of Soccer Saturday (er… on a Sunday though).

Norwich started the day safe, two points from bottom of the table West Brom. Saints and Palace sat level on points between the Canaries and the Baggies, so there were enough permutations knocking around to confuse even Stephen Hawking.

The only team with their destiny in their own hands were Norwich, and boy did they make a dog’s dinner out if, as Delia’s finest crumbled 6-0 away to Fulham. Southampton had the unenviable task of hosting Manchester United and would lose 2-1, meaning their 27-year spell in the top-flight was over, much to the distress of club legend Matt LeTissier. Le Tiss wasn’t in the Sky Sports studio that day, but foolishly put himself through the mixer three years later as Saints dallied with relegation from the Championship.

Palace meanwhile, were 2-1 up at Charlton with less than 20 minutes to go, which put Ian Dowie’s men in the box seat for survival. On a day featuring more plot twists than an hour in the life of Jack Bauer, Jonathan Fortune bagged an equaliser and now it was West Brom, winning 2-0 at home to Portsmouth, that were in the promised land of fourth-from-bottom.

The final whistle at the Hawthorns brought about mass scenes of celebration, as the homes fans swamped the pitch and were joined in the party atmosphere by the visiting Pompey support, revelling in their bitter rivals Southampton’s relegation. We’re not saying this was a fix, but if we had the conspiratory mind of an Italian, then who knows?

Bryan Robson’s masterplan was complete, be it equal parts luck, design and even more luck. This was the first time since Sheffield United beat the drop during the 1990/91 season that the bottom-placed team at Christmas had survived.

Having said that, West Brom had the worst record of any Premiership team to survive, having mustered just six wins and 34 points. And at the time of writing, they’re giving it another go this season.

See the action unfolding on Sky below (skip to one minute 55 seconds for the 04/05 action) and see other football happenings were occurring today here.

May 14 – Ricky Villa Becomes Immortal

TOTTENHAM Hotspur manager Keith Burkinshaw stunned British football when he signed Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa in 1978. Spurs had just been promoted back to Division One and Burkinshaw brought in the two Argentine World Cup stars to boost his side – they were the first high profile foreign stars to be brought to an English club.

Some claimed it would be a disaster, that they would never keep up with the pace of the English game, and even that they would not be able to adapt to the colder climate.

But the two proved all their doubters wrong and became two of the most celebrated players in Spurs’ history.

Today in 1981 Ricky Villa cemented his place in Tottenham legend when he scored the best goal ever seen in an FA Cup Final.

The first time Tottenham lined up to face final opponents Manchester City, Tommy Hutchison was both hero and villain for City when he scored for them, before also scoring an own goal, meaning the tie was level at 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes.

In those days the Cup Final went to a replay and it was in that second match that Villa got his shooting boots on. He scored his first in the eighth minute before Steve MacKenzie got one back just three minutes later. A Kevin Reeves penalty followed by a Garth Crooks goal meant the teams were again level, this time at 2-2.

The Villa stepped up to the plate. He picked up a pass from Tony Galvin on the edge of the area and then weaved his way past Tony Caton, Ray Ranson then, almost humiliatingly, Caton again before sliding a shot beyond the advancing Joe Corrigan.

Tottenham had won the Cup and Villa was an instant hero, and his goal was later chosen as the best goal ever scored at Wembley. He said: “That goal immortalized me, I even received a prize for it. It was a goal in the Argentine way: cunning and imaginative.”

And he knows the place his goal has in English football, adding: “I recognise that I am a little part of the history of English football.”

His pal Ossie Ardiles says Ricky has a script when asked about the goal. “People ask the question and it’s like he’s turned a tape recorder on,” he said. “I know exactly what he’s going to say. Seriously, he only talks about it when he’s been asked and it deserves the attention. It was a wonderful, wonderful goal and I am so pleased that it has been chosen as one of the best FA Cup goals ever.”

Have a look at the goal here, and come on back tomorrow for more football history from us. Also, you may remember this happening a few years back. Apparently it was something of a shock…

May 13 – Total Retirement

SUPPORTERS of Dutch second division club PEC Zwolle watch their football in the Johan Cruyff stand. Cruyff never played for the club but they did provide the opposition when he played his very last match, on this day in 1984.

When property developer Marten Eibrink took over Zwolle in 1982 he had the club’s stadium renovated and decided to commemorate the moment by renaming the stadium’s main stand after the Total Footballer.

Cruyff’s final season as a player was not at his beloved Ajax, but instead with Feyenoord. After leading Ajax to a league and cup double in 1982-83, Cruyff was incensed when the club decided not to offer him a new contract, presumably because they thought he was past it.

Cruyff responded to the snub by signing for arch rivals Feyenoord but initially he might have feared the worst: in the first meeting between the two clubs since Cruyff’s switch Feyenoord were absolutely hammered 8-2 – their heaviest ever defeat.

But Cruyff and Feyenoord responded brilliantly, dishing out a 4-1 defeat in the return fixture several months later. And just to prove the Ajax directors spectacularly wrong, Cruyff played 33 of 34 league games and led Feyenoord to the double – so much for being past it.

Ajax ended the season trophyless and with more egg on their faces than Edwina Currie (on this website even our jokes are historical).

So the Total Footballer played his last ever match at PEC Zwolle and the story of the most gifted and remarkable player to ever emerge from Europe was over. Oh, and he went out a high – Feyenoord won 2-1.

Take a couple of minutes out of your day to watch the video above of Cruyff at his best, and come back tomorrow for more from us. Or if you want more now, have a look at this story, also from this day in football history.