Sunday, June 25, 2017

25 June 2010 - Ciao, Cannavaro

On 25 June 2010, Italy defender and captain Fabio Cannavaro announced his retirement from international football. With 136 appearances, he remains Italy's record cap-holder.

Cannavaro made his national team debut over thirteen years earlier in a January 1997 friendly against Northern Ireland. By 1998, he was regular starter, playing every minute for Italy in that year's World Cup before losing out to eventual winners France on penalties in the quarterfinals. They again lost to France in the Euro 2000 Final, but Cannavaro earned personal glory as one of the defenders named to the Team of the Tournament.

After disappointing early exits in the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004, Cannavaro captained Italy to World Cup glory in 2006, anchoring a defense that surrendered only two goals--an own-goal and a penalty--before beating France in a Final shootout. As a result of that performance, he finished as runner-up to France's Zinedine Zidane in voting for the tournament's Golden Ball winner.

Cannavaro missed Euro 2008 due to injury and considered retiring from the national team later that year, but decided to return to help Italy defend their World Cup in 2010. Unfortunately, their campaign was a disaster, as they finished at the bottom of their first-round group after draws with Paraguay and New Zealand, followed by a loss to Slovakia on 24 June. Cannavaro announced his international retirement the next day.

He continued to play at the club level until a knee injury ended his career in July 2011.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

24 June 1987 - The Mighty Messi

On 24 June 1987, Lionel Messi was born in Rosario, Argentina. He has since become one of the world's best players, winning a record five Ballons d'Or.

After initially playing for a local club managed by his father, Messi joined the youth program at Newell's Old Boys in 1995. There, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. The costs of treatment, reported to be approximately $900 per month, proved a barrier for a rumored move to River Plate, but Barcelona were interested and agreed to cover the expenses as part of a deal that brought Messi to Spain in 2003.

He joined the Barcelona youth team, but made his senior team debut in 2004 at the age of 17 and tallied a total of nine appearances that season, followed by 25 in 2005-06. The next season, he secured a regular place in the first team, but his breakout season came in 2008-09, when he made a total of 51 appearances and scored 38 goals as Barcelona won their first La Liga title in three years and also lifted the Champions League trophy. That led to his first Ballon d'Or (and FIFA World Player of the Year award) in 2009.

Playing with a perfect blend of balance and ball control, his scoring continued to improve, with 47 goals in 2009-10, 53 in 2010-11, and an amazing 73 in 2011-12. He currently has 507 goals in 583 appearances across all competitions for Barcelona while winning a total of eight La Liga titles, five Copas del Rey, four Champions League titles, and three FIFA Club World Cups. He also won additional Ballons d'Or in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2015.

Along the way, he has also earned 141 caps for Argentina with 74 goals.

Friday, June 23, 2017

23 June 1968 - The Puerta 12 Tragedy

On 23 June 1968, 74 people died and over 150 were injured trying to exit the stadium after a match between River Plate and Boca Juniors. It remains the largest football-related disaster in Argentina's history.

The derby rivals played to a scoreless draw at River Plate's Monumental Stadium. Afterward, several supporters attempted to leave the stadium via Gate 23 (pictured), at the bottom of a dark stairway, but found the door blocked.

Unfortunately, the people at the top of the stairs did not realize that the exit was barred and continued to force their way toward the door. In the ensuing crush, over 150 people sustained injuries and 75 died. Most of them were young, with an average age of 19.

Recriminations and accusations followed immediately afterward, with some people blaming the Boca supporters, some blaming the River supporters, and others blaming the police. An official investigation failed to identify a responsible party, however.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

22 June 2004 - Yes, It Was A Very Unusual Result

On 22 June 2004, Sweden and Denmark played to a 2-2 draw, getting just the result they needed for both to advance in the Euros at the expense of Italy.

It was the final matchday of Group C. Italy started the day two points behind Sweden and Denmark, having drawn against both, while both had already beaten Bulgaria, Italy's opponent. In the event of a Sweden-Denmark draw, a win for Italy would only pull them level on points. As a tiebreaker, the rules looked to goal differential, then goals scored, but only as compared among the tied teams.

A draw between Sweden and Denmark would give all three teams the same goal differential, making goals scored the deciding factor. Denmark's match with Italy was scoreless, while Sweden-Italy finished 1-1. So a scoreless result between Sweden and Denmark would put Italy through, while a score draw of 2-2 or higher would eliminate the Italians.

Italy raised the possibility of such a result before the games, but Sweden co-manager Lars Lagerbäck dismissed any possibility of a fix, saying "Machiavelli might have been Italian and Italians might like to think in a Machiavellian way, but it would not be possible to play for a 2-2 draw against Denmark and I don't think it will end 2-2 – that is a very unusual result."

But 2-2 is what they got. Denmark took a 28th-minute lead from Jon Dahl Tomasson, then Sweden's Henrik Larsson equalized with a 47th-minute penalty. The Danes reclaimed the lead with another goal from Tomasson (66'), but Sweden again drew level, this time with a strike from Mattias Jonson (89'). Italy beat Bulgaria 2-1, but that was their last contest of the tournament.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

21 June 2002 - Germany Probably Would Have Won A Penalty Shootout, Anyway

On 21 June 2002, the United States suffered a close--and controversial--loss to Germany in the World Cup quarterfinals.

The two teams met at the Munsu Cup Stadium in Ulsan, South Korea, where a crowd of 37,337 gathered for the event. Despite entering the match as heavy underdogs, the US applied heavy pressure on the three-time World Cup champions from the opening minutes, with forwards Brian McBride and Landon Donovan both forcing early saves from keeper Oliver Kahn. The 20-year old Donovan posed a potent threat throughout the match, peppering the German goal with shots.

The Germans had a couple of early chances of their own before taking the lead with a 39th-minute header from midfielder Michael Ballack. Miroslav Klose almost added another before the break, but was denied by a brilliant save from US keeper Brad Friedel.

Shortly after the restart, the US thought they had a equalizer. A volley from center back Gregg Berhalter beat Kahn and appeared to cross the line, but struck the arm of German defender Torsten Frings and bounced back out. The US players appealed for the referee to award either a goal or a handball penalty, but were unsuccessful. 

Although the Americans outshot the Germans 11 to 6 and dominated possession (58% to 42%), the Germans held on for the 1-0 victory and advanced, eventually finishing as runners-up to Brazil.




Tuesday, June 20, 2017

20 June 1976 - Panenka's Perfect Penalty

On 20 June 1976, Czechoslovakia won the first major international tournament to be decided by a penalty shootout, beating West Germany in the European Championship Final.

Although there were only four teams--and four matches--in the tournament that year, it was hotly contested, with all four matches going to extra time. In the opening game, the Czechs got goals in the 114th and 118th minutes to defeat the Netherlands 3-1, while West Germany, the defending champions, matched them with goals in the 115th and 119th minutes to down Yugoslavia 4-2 (the Netherlands then won the third place match over Yugoslavia 3-2 with a score in the 107th minute).

The Final was played before a crowd of 30,790 at the Crvena Zvezda Stadium in Belgrade. There, Czechoslovakia jumped to a 2-0 lead with strikes from Ján Švehlík (8') and Karol Dobiaš (25'), but West Germany halved the margin three minutes later with a goal from Dieter Müller--it was his fourth goal of the tournament, making him the top scorer. The Germans then found a late equalizer through forward Bernd Hölzenbein (89') to send the match into extra time.

Unlike their previous matches, however, neither team could generate an extra-time goal and the contest went to penalties. Both sides converted their first three kicks and the Czechs made their fourth, but on West Germany's fourth attempt, midfielder Uli Hoeness sent the ball over the bar to give Czechoslovakia a 4-3 edge.

Czech midfielder Antonín Panenka (pictured, right) then stepped up to the spot. As keeper Sepp Maier dove to his left, Panenka chipped the ball right down the middle to secure the title. It was their first and only major trophy, though they went on to win gold at the Olympics in 1980.

Monday, June 19, 2017

19 June 1994 - Mimosas Take A Spill

On 19 June 1994, Ivorian club ASEC Mimosas lost their first league game in almost five years, ending their unbeaten streak at a world-record 108 matches.

Founded in 1948, Mimosas are the most successful club in Côte d'Ivoire football history, with 24 Premier Division titles. Five of those came during their record unbeaten run, which started on the first day of the 1990 season. They finished that year with their eighth overall title, then continued their run through the entire 1991, 1992, and 1993 seasons, led in part by forward Abdoulaye "Ben Badi" Traoré (pictured), who was the league's top scorer in 1992 (then again in 1994 and 1996).

They nearly extended it through the 1994 season, with eleven wins and a draw in their first twelve matches. But in their thirteenth match, they were upset 2-1 by SO Armée. Mimosas still went on to win the title--they won their next match by the league-record margin of 11-0--but their unbeaten streak stopped at 108, four games past the previous world record of 104, set by Steaua Bucureşti from 1986 to 1989.

Afterward, Mimosas continued their run of success, winning another twelve titles between 1995 and 2010, including seven straight from 2000 to 2006.