Tuesday, June 27, 2017

27 June 1977 - The Rise Of Raúl

On 27 June 1977, Raúl González was born in Madrid. He went on to become Real Madrid's all-time leader in goals and appearances.

The striker joined the club's youth squad in 1992 after spells at San Cristobal (1987-90) and Atlético Madrid (1990-92) and made his professional debut with the first team on 29 October 1994. Only 17 years and 124 days old at the time, he set his first club record as the youngest player to appear for the club (though it was broken later that season). He made a total of 30 appearances that season, scoring 10 goals.

It was a sign of things to come; over the next fifteen seasons, Raúl made a total of 741 appearances and scored 323 goals, both club records at the time, though he is now second in goals after Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 406. Along the way, he won six league titles, three Champions League trophies, and two Intercontinental Cups. He also twice won the Pichichi as La Liga's top scorer.

(He was also once Spain's top scorer, with 44 goals in 106 caps between 1996 and 2006, but David Villa has since overtaken him.)

In 2010, with age and injury combining to diminish his role in Madrid, Raúl left for Schalke, where he spent two successful seasons, including winning the German Cup in 2011. He last played for the New York Cosmos in 2014-15.

Monday, June 26, 2017

26 June 2011 - River Flows Downhill

On 26 June 2011, River Plate were relegated to the Argentine second division for the first time in its 110-year history after drawing 1-1 with Belgrano.

Since winning the 2008 Clausura—their 34th national title—River Plate had fallen on hard times, including a last-place finish in the 2008 Apertura and a series of subsequent mid-table finishes. After a ninth-place finish in the 2011 Clausura, their three-year points-per-game average dropped to 1.237, which placed them 17th in the Primera División relegation table and sent them into a two-legged playoff against Primera B's fourth-place team, Belgrano.

River Plate lost the first leg away, 2-0, then hosted the second leg at the Monumental in Buenos Aires, where Mariano Pavone scored in the sixth minute to close the aggregate gap to 2-1. But they could not find another and instead conceded a goal to Belgrano's Guillermo Farre (62') to finish the series 3-1.

Before the match ended, the home supporters rioted, throwing objects at the players from the stands, then ripping seats out of the concrete. The situation was even worse outside the stadium, where police used tear gas and attack dogs in an attempt to quell the mob.

Despite the drama, River Plate returned to the Primera Division at their first opportunity and won the 2014 Torneo Final.

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 for an outfield player.

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.