Saturday, November 18, 2017

18 November 2011 - An Apology Is Better Than Nothing (But Not By Much)

On 18 November 2011, Sepp Blatter apologized for remarks he made earlier in the week about racism in football. It was the latest in a series of events over the course of a difficult year for the FIFA president.

No stranger to controversy, Blatter had previously provoked strong reactions for several statements, including his opinion that women's football would be more popular if the players wore tight shorts and his description of Cristiano Ronaldo's contract situation as a form of slavery. During his 2010 campaign for re-election to his FIFA post, he fell under intense scrutiny for allegations of corruption throughout the organization.

Then, in mid-November 2011, he addressed the problem of racism in football by suggesting that the players resolve any on-field incidents with a post-match handshake. The comment immediately drew harsh criticism from a wide variety of sources, most notably from Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, who called the comment "so condescending it's almost laughable." Many people called for Blatter's resignation.

The pressure led to his eventual apology. He did not deliver it in person, however, but instead submitted a written statement that was read by FIFA official Tokyo Sexwale. The statement read: "When you have done something which was not totally correct, I can only say I am sorry for all those people affected by my declarations. It hurts and I am still hurting because I couldn't envisage such a reaction."

Despite continued calls for his resignation, Blatter refused, saying that such a step was "not compatible with [his] fighting spirit." He finally resigned in 2015 after a widespread corruption scandal and is currently serving a six-year FIFA suspension that will last until 2022.

Friday, November 17, 2017

17 November 1993 - A Bulgarian Brace Beats Les Bleus

On 17 November 1993, a very late goal helped Bulgaria upset France in a World Cup qualifier in Paris to earn their place in the tournament and eliminate the hosts.

It was the last match of their qualification group. Sweden had already secured the top spot, leaving only one more ticket to the World Cup up for grabs. France started the day in second, one point ahead of third-place Bulgaria, and needed only a draw to advance.

Even though Bulgaria won the first meeting in Sofia, 2-0, Les Bleus looked like the more likely team to get the needed result, especially once they took a 1-0 lead with a 31st-minute goal from Eric Cantona. The visitors quickly answered with a strike from Emil Kostadinov (pictured) six minutes later, but the match remained level at 1-1 until deep in the second half.

Then, in the last few seconds of the 90th minute, Kostadinov struck again, blasting the ball into the roof of the net from close range. The final score of 1-2 switched the two teams in the table, putting Bulgaria in the World Cup and leaving France out.

The Bulgarians went on to make their best-ever World Cup showing, reaching the semifinals before falling to Italy, then finishing fourth after a loss to Sweden in the third-place match.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

16 November 1974 - All Hail The Ginger Prince

On 16 November 1974, former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes was born in Salford. He went on to make over 700 appearances for the club.

He joined United as a youth player in 1991, then joined the first team for the 1993-94 season, but did not appear in a competitive match until the following season. By September 1995, he had become a regular fixture in the starting XI, helping them to a league and FA Cup Double.

More honors followed, including a staggering nine additional league titles, two more FA Cups, and two Champions League trophies. Along the way, he built a reputation as one of the best midfielders of his generation, earning plaudits from opposing players and coaches such as Barcelona midfielder Xavi, who has called Scholes the best midfielder he's seen in the past 20 years.

Scholes earned his first cap for England in 1997 and made a total of 66 appearances before his international retirement in 2004.

He retired from United in May 2011 and took up a coaching role with the club, but was later convinced to change his mind at the urging of manager Alex Ferguson and returned to the pitch in January 2012. He retired for good in 2013 with a career total of 718 appearances across all competitions.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

15 November 2009 - In His Defense, He Never Actually Said What "It" Was

On 15 November 2009, FIFA issued a two-month ban to Diego Maradona and fined him £15,000 as the result of a press conference he gave the previous month.

After taking over as manager of the Argentinian national team in 2008, the former star midfielder guided them through a difficult qualification campaign for the 2010 World Cup that included a 6-1 defeat to Bolivia as well as losses to Ecuador, Brazil, and Paraguay. With two matches remaining, Argentina were in fifth place and in danger of missing the World Cup.

But they won those last two matches, over Peru and Uruguay, to claim the last guaranteed CONCACAF spot. After the second one, Maradona held a live televised press conference in which he railed against the Argentinian press for the criticism they had delivered during the campaign. The most memorable part of his rant was when he said the journalists "can suck it and keep on sucking it," which prompted FIFA's action.

The ban expired on 15 January 2010. Maradona led Argentina to the World Cup quarterfinals, then fell out with the Argentina Football Federation, who decided later that summer not to renew his contract.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

14 November 1990 - It Didn't Get Much Better From There

On 14 November 1990, San Marino played their first FIFA-sanctioned international, losing 0-4 to Switzerland in a European qualifier.

San Marino's national team dates back to 1986, but they did not join FIFA until four years later, just in time to participate in qualification for Euro 1992. They hosted their first qualifier at the Stadio Olimpico in Serravale against the Swiss, who had already played twice (a 2-0 win over Bulgaria and a 1-1 loss to Scotland).

That additional preparation undoubtedly helped Switzerland, who were up 0-3 at the end of the first half, then scored once more in the 87th minute to cap the 0-4 victory.

San Marino played another seven qualifiers and lost them all, conceding a total of 32 goals and scoring only once (a penalty). In fact, they lost all of their games until a draw with Turkey in March 1993 and did not win a match until beating Liechtenstein in April 2004.

Monday, November 13, 2017

13 November 1982 - Being First Isn't Always Best

On 13 November 1982, Real Madrid won the first Supercopa de España match, beating Real Sociedad 1-0. Unfortunately for them, it was only the first of two legs.

The winners of the league and Copa del Rey had met in previous competitions over the years, most notably the Copa Eva Duarte, which had been played from 1947 to 1953. But that was the last time until the establishment of the Supercopa in 1982.

Real Madrid, the previous season's Copa del Rey winners, hosted the first match against Sociedad, the reigning league champions. With a crowd of 45,000 looking on, Madrid defender John Metgod (pictured at bottom left) scored the match's only goal in the 44th minute to give the hosts the win.

The teams didn't meet for the second leg until 28 December, when Sociedad got three extra-time goals to win the match 4-0, taking the cup 4-1 on aggregate.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

12 November 1939 - A Fitting Mark For The Occasion

On 12 November 1939, forward Josef Bican commemorated his appearance for a third national team by scoring a hat-trick.

Bican, who was born in Vienna in 1913, made his first national team appearance for Austria in 1933. He went on to play for them a total of nineteen times--and scoring a total of nineteen goals--through 1936. The following year, he left Austria to play for Slavia Prague where he spent the majority of his career, scoring 395 goals in 217 matches between 1937 and 1948.

After moving to Prague, he switched his national team allegiance to Czechoslovakia. But after only three games (and eight goals), Czechoslovakia fell to the Nazis, who disbanded the team. They attempted to persuade Bican to turn out for Germany, but he declined, choosing instead to play for the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia which, while Nazi-controlled, remained ethnically Czech.

In his lone appearance for the Protectorate, Bican provided three goals in what turned out to be a 4-4 draw with Germany.

He rejoined the Czechoslovakian national team when they resumed play in 1946, making another eleven appearances for them until retiring from international football in 1949.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

11 November 2011 - Maybe They Needed A Longer Break

On 11 November 2011, São Tomé and Príncipe played their first World Cup qualifier after an eight-year hiatus. They lost 5-0.

An African island nation located in the Gulf of Guinea, São Tomé and Príncipe formed their football team in the 1970s and played their first match, a 5-0 loss to Chad, in 1976. They either did not enter or withdrew from World Cup qualification until 2002, when they lost to Sierra Leone in the first round of CAF qualification by the aggregate score of 2-4 over two legs.

They did even worse in 2006 qualification, losing to Libya in the first round 9-0 on aggregate. Afterward, they decided not to try for the 2010 World Cup ad withdrew from the qualifying process.

With eight years to recalibrate, São Tomé and Príncipe chose to compete for the 2014 World Cup, opening their campaign with a two-legged tie against Congo and promptly lost the first leg at home, 5-0, on 11 November. They did better in the second leg, playing to a 1-1 draw, but it was not enough as the 6-1 aggregate deficit eliminated them.

Friday, November 10, 2017

10 November 2007 - Cobh Rambles To The Top Flight

On 10 November 2007, Cobh Ramblers beat Athlone Town 0-1 to win the League of Ireland First Division title, securing promotion to the top flight.

Founded in 1922, Cobh joined the league in 1985 and had played only three seasons in the Premier Division, with their last spell in the top flight ending in 1995. But they started the 2007 season in excellent form, going on a 27-match unbeaten streak in the league that ran from 24 March to 28 September.

That run lifted them to the top of the table, one point clear of Finn Harps, when they arrived at Athlone Town for their last match of the season. They had beaten Athlone twice already by scores of 3-0 and 2-0, but had not yet played them away.

Athlone proved more resilient in front of their home fans, keeping the game scoreless until the 73rd minute, when a free kick into the box dropped at the foot of Cobh defender Kevin Murray, who poked it into the net for the match winner. It turned out to be the First Division winner, keeping them one point clear of Finn Harps, who won their own match.

Unfortunately for Cobh, their return to the Premier Division lasted only one season and they were relegated back to the First Division in 2008.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

9 November 2003 - The Earthquakes Shake Up The Playoffs

On 9 November 2003, the San Jose Earthquakes staged the biggest comeback in MLS playoff history to beat the Los Angeles Galaxy in the semifinals.

As the league's only California teams, San Jose and Los Angeles had developed a strong rivalry, nicknamed the California Clásico and capped two years earlier when the Earthquakes, making their first appearance in the championship match, beat the Galaxy 2-1, handing LA their loss in three MLS Cup appearances.

By 2003, the Galaxy were fortunate to make the playoffs at all, finishing fourth out of five teams in the Western Conference while San Jose were in first. But when the teams met at the Home Depot Center on 1 November for the first leg of the semifinal, LA won 2-0. And when they reconvened at Spartan Stadium in San Jose eight days later, LA again took a two-goal lead with strikes from Carlos Ruiz (7') and Peter Vagenas (13'), giving San Jose an aggregate hill to climb that was four goals high.

The comeback started in the first half with Jeff Agoos (21') and Landon Donovan (35') finding the back of the net. Jamil Walker scored early in the second half (50'), but LA looked likely to hold on to their 4-3 aggregate lead. Then, in the 90th minute, Chris Roner scored to send the match into extra time.

At the time, the MLS Cup used the golden goal rule, which meant that the first goal scored in extra time would win the match. And San Jose's Rodrigo Faria found it in the 96th minute (it was his only goal of the season). San Jose went on to beat Kansas City in the conference final, then defeated Chicago in the championship game.

In addition to being the biggest comeback in MLS playoff history, the 5-2 win in that second leg was the biggest victory in the California Clásico.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

8 November 2005 - Votes Are Harder To Get Than Goals

On 8 November 2005, George Weah, the 1995 World Player of the Year, lost his bid to become president of Liberia.

The striker enjoyed a long and successful career in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East from 1985 to 2003, including lengthy and prominent spells at Monaco (1988-92), Paris Saint-Germain (1992-95), and Milan (1995-2000). He also made 60 appearances for the Liberian national team between 1988 and 2007.

A three-time African Player of the Year (1989, 1994, 1995), Weah's annus mirabilus came in 1995, when he finished his final season at PSG by winning the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue, as well as leading the UEFA Champions League in scoring. A few months later, he won the FIFA World Player of the Year Award and the Ballon d'Or. He remains the only African player to claim either award.

Upon his retirement from club football in 2005, he declared his intention to run for president of Liberia. Despite heavy criticism for lacking a formal education, Weah finished first among all candidates in the 11 October general election, which put him in a runoff against Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the second-place finisher. But Weah lost the 8 November runoff, taking 40.6% of the vote compared to 59.4% for Sirleaf. He initially claimed the election had been corrupted, but later withdrew the allegations.

He remained active in Liberian politics, running against Sirleaf again in 2011, that time as vice-presidential candidate, but Sirleaf won with 90.7% of the vote. Weah was elected to the Senate in 2014 and is currently running again for President in the 2017 election.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

7 November 1984 - Rapid Slows Down Celtic's Travel Plans

On 7 November 1984, Celtic beat Rapid Wien 3-0 to advance in the European Cup Winners' Cup, but it didn't count.

The teams met in the tournament's second round, with Rapid winning the first leg in Vienna on 24 October, 3-1. Thirteen days later, Celtic hosted the second leg in Glasgow, where they drew level on aggregate with first-half goals from Brian McClair (32') and Murdo MacLeod (45'). Tommy Burns then added another goal in the 68th minute.

Four minutes later, Burns was involved in a incident that saw the referee eject Rapid's Reinhard Kienast. As the Austrian were protesting the decision, midfielder Rudi Weinhofer went down clutching his face, apparently hit by an object thrown from the stands. He had to leave the game, which left Rapid down to 10 men as they had already used all of their substitutes. Captain Hans Krankl threatened to lead his team off the pitch in protest, but the match eventually resumed after a 15-minute delay. It ended 3-0 to Celtic, which put them through 4-3 on aggregate.

Rapid protested the result, however, and a UEFA appeals panel determined that the injury to Weinhofer justified a replay which they ordered to be played at least 100 miles away from Glasgow. So the teams met at Old Trafford in Manchester on 12 December.

Rapid won that match 1-0 to advance 4-1 on aggregate and ended up going all the way to the final in Rotterdam, where they lost to Everton, 3-1.

Monday, November 6, 2017

6 November 1960 - Camp Nou Was A Fortress

On 6 November 1960, Barcelona recorded their Spanish-record 39th straight home league victory, beating Espanyol 4-1.

The record run started during in 1958 with a 3-0 win over Sporting Gijón at Camp Nou on 16 February, then extended through the entire 1958-59 and 1959-60 seasons (Barcelona won the league in both, as well as the 1959 Copa del Rey). Along the way, they were led in attack by their Brazilian forward Evaristo de Macedo (their leading scorer in 1958-59 with 20 goals) and Paraguayan-born striker Eulogio Martínez (their top scorer in 1959-60 with 23).

After setting the record against Espanyol, Barça's run ended two weeks later after they drew at home with Sevilla 2-2, followed by a 3-5 loss to Real Madrid in their next home game on 4 December.

Although Barcelona went on to finish the season in fourth place. Their mark of 39 straight home league wins, however, remains the best such streak in Spanish history.

Barcelona also holds the Spanish record for most consecutive away league wins with 12, set from May 2010 to February 2011.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

5 November 1875 - They Would Probably Be Happy With A Little Less Roving

On 5 November 1875, a meeting at the St. Leger Hotel led to the founding of Blackburn Rovers. They went on to become the only Premier League champions to drop out of the top flight.

Arthur Constantine and John Lewis organized that first meeting--with fifteen other people in attendance--for the purpose of forming a new association football club. Although they originally adopted green and white quartered shirts, they soon changed them in favor of the blue and white halves that the continue to use at present.

They played their first match in December 1875 and grew quickly into a dominant club, winning three straight FA Cups in 1884, 1885, and 1886, then two more in 1890 and 1891 (a sixth followed in 1928). They also became a force in the new Football League, winning the title in 1912 and 1914.  But they were relegated to the second division in 1936 and have spent the intervening years vacillating between the top two flights (with a handful of seasons in the third division during the 1970s).

Rovers were promoted back to the top flight in 1992, just in time for the first Premier League season which they finished in fourth place. A second-place finish followed in 1993-94, then they won the league in 1995 led by top scorer, Alan Shearer. They remain one of only five teams to lift the Premier League trophy, along with Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester City.

That success proved difficult to maintain in the ensuing seasons, however, and Blackburn were relegated in 1999. They returned to the Premier League after two seasons, but were again relegated in 2012 and currently play in the Championship.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

4 November 1945 - Willkommen Zu Hause

On 4 November 1945, after a short break, league football returned to Germany. Part of Germany, anyway.

While some countries suspended their football leagues for the duration of World War II, the sport continued to be played in Germany, with the last recorded match under the Third Reich being a 3-2 Bayern Munich win over 1860 Munich in April 1945. When the German government surrendered three weeks later, the Allied powers occupied Germany and banned all organizations, including sports clubs.

But in September 1945, the Americans, in charge of southeastern Germany including the states of Bavaria and Hesse, allowed matches in their zone and then, at the end of October, sanctioned the formation of a new  league. Called the Oberliga Süd, it consisted of 16 teams, with league play starting on 4 November. Each team played thirty games, with Stuttgart (pictured) winning the inaugural title.

Four other leagues soon followed in the other occupied zones, with each being the top flight in their regions: the Oberliga Berlin and Oberliga Südwest in 1945, the Oberliga Nord and Oberliga West in 1947.

The Oberliga system lasted until 1963, when it was replaced by the nationwide Bundesliga.

Friday, November 3, 2017

3 November 2010 - Inzaghi Becomes King Of Europe

On 3 November 2010, Milan striker Filippo "Pippo" Inzaghi scored his 70th goal in European competition to share the honors as UEFA's top scorer. Briefly.

The goal came in a Champions League group stage match against Real Madrid, who had beaten Milan 2-0 in Spain the previous month. Playing before a crowd of 76,357 in the return leg at the San Siro, Real Madrid took the lead with a 45th-minute score from Gonzalo Higuaín. But in the second half, Inzaghi struck twice to put Milan ahead.

His first goal of the day was a 68th-minute header that took advantage of a rare mistake from Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas. He struck again ten minutes later to notch his 70th goal in UEFA competitions, matching the record set by former Real Madrid forward Raúl González, who had moved to Schalke earlier that year.

Unfortunately for Milan, the lead did not last, as Madrid winger Pedro León scored an equalizer in the fourth minute of stoppage time to earn a 2-2 draw. Inzaghi's share of the record did not last long either, as Raúl scored three months later in Schalke's 1-0 win over Valencia in the Round of 16 to push his total to 71. Since then, that number has been passed  by both Cristiano Ronaldo (113) and Lionel Messi (100), pushing Inzaghi down to fourth.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

2 November 1997 - The Yanks Get The Point

On 2 November 1997, the United States earned their first point in Mexico, playing El Tri to a scoreless draw in a World Cup qualifier.

The US-Mexico rivalry dates back to 1934, when the teams met in Rome for a World Cup qualifier, with the US wining 4-2. But Mexico won the next match, a 7-2 win in Mexico City in 1937, then continued to dominate the US over the next several years, not losing to them again until 1980.

By the time they met for that 1997 qualifier, played before a crowd of 115,000 at the Estadio Azteca, the US had turned things around, winning four and drawing three of the last ten. But they had lost nineteen straight in Mexico, dating back to that first loss in 1937.  Nevertheless, they managed to hold the Mexican team scoreless to walk out with a 0-0 draw.

Points in Mexico continue to be elusive for the US, with their next ones not coming until a 1-0 win in August 2012.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

1 November 1927 - Peru Starts Down The Path

On 1 November 1927, Peru played their first official international, losing 0-4 to Uruguay in the South American Championship.

The history of Peruvian football dates back to the second half of the nineteenth century, when it was introduced by English sailors in the port of Callao. Its popularity quickly spread, with clubs sprouting up all across the country. That, in turn, led to the creation of the Peruvian Football Federation in 1922.

An unofficial national team played an exhibition against Uruguay that year, but it took another five years to form an official team sanctioned by FIFA. The catalyst was Peru's role as host of the 1927 South American Championship (the tournament now known as the Copa América).

They played their first match of the tournament against Uruguay at the Estadio Nacional in Lima and lost, 0-4 (the first goal was an own goal scored by Peru's Daniel Ulloa). They followed it with a 3-2 win over Bolivia and a 5-1 loss to Argentina to finish third out of four teams.

Since then, Peru has twice won the South American Championship (1939, 1975) and twice reached the World Cup quarterfinals (1970, 1978).