Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Outstanding Fiorentina

Anyone who may read this blog may know that I don't often have anything nice to say about Italian teams. However, as strange as it may sound, now I do: in the Champions League I watched Fiorentina play Liverpool last night, and was very impressed by the Italians, who in the first half of the match in particular were far superior to the great English side. In a non-typical Italian way, Fiorentina attacked all over the pitch, and had some outstanding players, most notably the only 19-year old Montenrgrin Stevan Jovetic who scored both Fiorentina goals in their 2-0 victory. If he can be free of inuries and continue developing, he is surely a player to watch. With two games coming up against a rather weak-looking Debrecen side (that was destroyed 0-4 at home by Olympique Lyon, who is again looking strong enough to be an outsider for the semifinals at least) , Fiorentina has good chances at continuing to the next round.
On the other hand, Liverpool is not looking too strong. The midfield without Mascherano looks very weak, and the two coming matches against Olympique Lyon will be an important test to the English side.
In the meantime, I hope to see more of the outstanding Fiorentina side.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Greatest World Cup matches: USA-England (1950)

England, the home of football, had refused to participate in the first World Cups of the 1930s due to disagreements on their qualification as part of the British championship (where they competed against Scotland, Wales and Ireland) as well as some arrogance that England was the “King of football” anyway.
So there were big expectations as England went to their first World Cup with a team that was undoubtedly one of the best of the world at the time, and entered the tournament as one of the favourites to take the title. Their team counted many stars of the top English clubs, as well as the notable Stanley Matthews, who was considered the best player in the world at the time.
England started the tournament by defeating Chile 2-0, and confident ahead of the game against the US, the team selector (who was oddly not the same as the coach, Arthur Winterbottom), Arthur Drewry, decided not to select Stanley Matthews for the match in Belo Horizonte. Still, the English team was awesome, with players such as such as Roy Bentley, Stanley Mortensen, Billy Wright, Alf Ramsey and Tom Finney.
The US was a completely unknown side, composed wholly of amateurs and part-time players, three of them who didn’t even have US citizenship (the US rules at the times allowed this). The game of soccer had no interest in the US, and only one US journalist was present at Belo Horizonte for a match whose result everyone took for granted. Harry Keogh, a surviving players from the US 1950 side has said how they were just expecting to fight to limit their defeat: "We would have been happy with a 2-0 loss. In our wildest dreams we didn't think we'd ever win. We just thought, `Well do the best we can and hope for a good result'."
This was in line with the first match that the US had played against Spain, who although not as strong as England, had many difficulties in defeating the US side by 3-1, being held at 0-1 until ten minutes before the end of the match.
Still, aboslutely nobody thought that the US stood a chance as the two teams ran on the pitch in Belo Horizonte, where 10,000 Brazilians were there mainly to see the English stars, who had taken a day off before the match.
England started like they had to by attacking the US mercilessly. Within half and hour minutes they many clear shots on goal, with two of them hitting the post and one the crossbar, but unable to convert against the outstanding US goalkeeper, Frank Borghi, an ex-baseball player who had excellent reflexes and strong arms, but avoided kicking the ball.
The Americans were nevertheless fighting hard, but unable to get on the offense, when suddenly in the 38th minute of the match, the US spectacularly scored on one of their first chances: Walter Bahr made a long cross from the right into the far post in the English area. The English goalkeeper Bert Williams jumped for the ball, but Joe Gaetjens came across and deflected the ball into the English goal to give the US a surprising lead.
The Brazilian spectators, supporting the American underedogs, exploded in support of the Americans, who seemed to have renewed strength and faith in their abilities as they entered the second half. They even managed to create a few more chances on counter-attacks as the English attacked more.
In the last ten minutes of the match England had a great chance as Stanley Mortensen was brought down by Charlie Colombo at the edge of the penalty area. On the following free-kick Frank Borghi made a spectacular save on a header by Jimmy Mullen who was sure the ball would be going in.
As the game ended, the Brazilian spectactors ran unto the pitch to carry the vioctorious Americans as the English watched incredulously on at their defeat. Some English newspapers who received the result by telegraph believed that the result of 0-1 was a typing error, and instead publicized the result of 10-1 for England, which before the match would perhaps not have been unbelievable.
A humbled English side subsequently lost their last match to Spain, and were out of their first World Cup.
The heroes of the US travelled home to their normal jobs to a country that in 1950 barely noticed the prowess. In later years, as the sport has grown in the US, many of the players have been homaged, and even a book, “The Game of their Lives”, by Geoffrey Douglas, was also made into a film in 2005. There have been many upsets in World Cup history, but this is surely the biggest. Its immensity may not be properly understood by many today, but is similar to the Andorra defeating Spain in a World Cup match. It is a one in a million event, and it happened in 1950.

Matchs Stats:
  • 29th June, 1950, Estádio Independência, Belo Horizonte
  • Attendance: 10,000
  • Referee: Datilo (Italy)

USA-England 1-0
Goals: Gaetjaens (38)

USA: Borghi; Keough, Maca, Bahr, McIlvenny, Wallace, Colombo, Pariani, Gaetjaens, J. Souza, E. Souza

England: Williams; Ramsey, Aston, Wright, Hughes, Dickinson, Finney, Mullen, Mannion, Bentley, Mortensen

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Egypt U-20 World Cup preview

The 2009 U-20 FIFA World Cup is about to start in Egypt. This table shows the history of the tournament that started in 1977 when the USSR won the first tournament:

Tunisia 1977





Japan 1979



Australia 1981

West Germany




Mexico 1983




South Corea

USSR 1985





Chile 1987


West Germany

East Germany


Saudi Arabia 1989





Portugal 1991





Australia 1993





Qatar 1995





Malaysia 1997


Nigeria 1999


Argentina 2001


United Arab Emirates 2003


Netherlands 2005


Canada 2007

ArgentinaCzech RepublicChileAustria

Egypt 2009

As can be seen, the South American giants of Brazil and Argentina have been the most awesome countries, with the latter winning the last two tournaments. However, disappointingly, Argentina will not be able to defend their title, as they didn't qualify, and Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela (who sensationally qualified for the first time ever) will have to carry the South American flags.
It is very difficult to predict these tournaments, but one always should look for the hosts, Egypt, who are grouped with Italy, Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago. Other African sides, who traditionally have been strong but never won the tournament (as opposed to the u-17) include Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon and South Africa, while some of the European sides with good traditions in the tournament include Spain (in an interesting group with Venezuela, Nigeria and Tahiti), the Czech Republic (grouped with Brazil, Australia and Costa Rica) and Germany.
All in all, a very interesting tournament for the football stars of tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Spain: King of Europe

Spain has just won the European Championships in basketball by crushing Serbia in the final in Poland 83-65. The team was led by the NBA stars Pau Gasol and Rudy Fernandez, and was by far the best team in the tournament.
Last year, Spain won the Euro 2008, also in an overwhelming fashion, to become the kings of Europe in football.
Although you can add the fact that Spanish clubs also dominate the club scene in these sports, it is the national level, of these the two most popular sports in Europe (and the world), and in my (humble) opinion, that Spain is now the King of sports of Europe.
There seem to be yearly celebrations in Spain! Congratulations to the fans.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Argentina's nightmare

For any fan of Argentina (including myself) the current struggle of the national team to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa is something that is becoming a nerve-wrecking problem. After the latest defeats to Brazil and Paraguay, Argentina is now only on fifth place in the South American qualification group, just 1 point behind Ecuador on fourth place, and one point ahead of both Uruguay and Venezuela. Although Argentina, with its history and quality players, should be considered a team to qualify directly to the World Cup, fifth place would still give them a play-off match against the fourth placed in the CONCACAF region (which looks to be Costa Rica).
The Argentinean coach, Diego Maradona, was the greatest player ever, but he has fallen in stature for many fans (including myself) for what seems to be his inexperienced approach to the national team that he otherwise gave so much. International stars such as Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Sergio Agüero, simply do not perform on the Argentine team, that in their latest defeat against Paraguay looked without confidence in their own abilities.
Besides the stars, some of Maradona's choices have been awkward: the defense looks very weak with some ageing debutants from Velez Sarsfield, while the use of the many small players in attack is not supplemented by some more physical players such as could be Real Madrid's Gonzalo Higuain or Lyon's Lissandro López. The inclusion of the 35 year old Martin Palermo (famous for having missed three penalties in one match in 1999), from Boca Juniors, who had been away from the national team for nine years, also seems odd considering the many other quality strikers available for Argentina.
However, not everything can be blamed on Maradona, and many seem to forget that Maradona took over a team in november 2008, that was already in crisis under the previous coach (and now Boca Juniors manager), Alfio Basile, who resigned amid some mysterious controversies after a defeat to Chile, and some disappointing results against Peru and Paraguay.
Maradona, the world legend of Argentinean football, was supposed to lead the team to the world cup, in spite of his lack of coaching experience. Argentina is now paying dearly for this, and is under pressure before the last two matches against Perú and Uruguay; Argentina may not qualify, and this would surely be a loss to the entire footballing world.
I really hope they will though.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Greatest World Cup marches: Italy-Hungary (1938)

Europe was in the shadow of war as the World Cup went underway: Austria had been annexed by Germany (and players from the excellent Austrian football team lined up for Germany, who were nevertheless eliminated by Switzerland in the first round), and Spain did not participate, immersed in a bloody civil war.
The defending world champions of Italy were to defend the title in France, where many Italian refugees from Fascism had sought asylum, and for Mussolini it was important that Italy should win in the face of this.
When the Italians faced the French hosts in the quarterfinals in a preview of one of the most classic matches in European football, the match was played amid the political undertones. In line with the political climate, the Italian team put on black shirts, the colour of the Fascist party, and made the Fascist salute before the start of the match, upsetting the 61,000 spectators in Paris. However, the enmity of the spectators did nothing to Italy’s superiority, and they deservedly won 3-1.
In the semifinal Italy had defeated the excellently playing Brazilians, who had arrogantly underestimated the Italians, who were still eager to show that their title in 1934 had been no coincidence of favourable referees.
Hungary seemed to have had an easier road to the final: defeating the Dutch East Indies 6-0 in their first match, they had first won 2-0 against Switzerland in the quarterfinals, and demolished Sweden 5-1 in the semifinals. Thirteen goals in three matches spoke of a team that loved to attack, and also in possession of some extraordinary players, among whom the legendary Újpest FC striker Gyula Zsengeller stood out with seven goals (he trailed Leonidas from Brazil as the most scoring player in the tournament though).
The final in Paris was thus an encounter between efficient and tactically-minded Italians with a solid defense, against the more technical and elegant Hungarians. Before the match, Mussolini sent a note to each player of the national team with the Fascist cry of “Vincire o morire!” (“Win or die!”), and this perhaps incited the Italians for a strong start, when the Triestina striker, Gino Colaussi brought Italy ahead after only six minutes. However, only two minutes later Pal Titkos equalized for the Hungarians.
The Italians were not shaken though, and played a great match, and based on the formidable defense that has become legendary for Italian sides, they also had a great attack. First, the legendary Lazio striker Silvio Piola brought Italy ahead 2-1 and then Colaussi scored his second goal to make it 3-1, the score at half-time.
The Italians seemed to relax their grip in the second half, but were still strong in defense, until a defensive error (the only one) allowed the Hungarian captain György Sárosi to make a second for Hungary. While the score 3-2 would perhaps make other teams nervous, this didn’t happen to the Italians, who instead started attacking to seal off the match, leading to Silvio Piola scoring an outstanding goal after beautiful combination with Amedeo Biavati. Piola, who is still the most prolific goalscorer in the Serie A, and is creditted for having invented the bycicle kick, thus made it into the World Cup history as well.
Italy had become deserved world champions by playing efficient, tactical and solid in defense, the kind of qualities that have made them great since.
After this final the Italians would hold on to the trophy for 12 years, since the following two World Cups were cancelled due to the war that descended on the world.

Match Stats:
  • 19th June, 1938, Stade Colombes, Paris
  • Attendance: 55,000
  • Referee: Georges Capdeville (France)
Italy-Hungary 4-2
: 1-0 Colaussi (6), 1-1 Titkos (8), 2-1 Piola (15), 3-1 Colaussi (35), 3-2 Sarosi (70), 4-2 Piola (80)

Italy: Olivieri, Foni, Rava, Seratoni, Andreolo, Locatelli, Biavati, Meazza, Piola, Ferrari, Colaussi
Hungary: Szabo, Polgar, Biro, Szalay, Szücs, Lazar, Sas, Zsengeller, Sarosi, Vincze, Titkos

Saturday, September 12, 2009

England to South Africa

I was in London the day after England crushed Croatia 5-1 in Wembley, on two goals by Frank Lampard, two by Steven Gerrard and one by Wayne Rooney. The atmosphere was understandable ecstatic as England thus made sure that with wight consecutive victories in the World Cup qualifying Group 6, they are now sure to be going to South Africa.
England has been poor for the last tournaments, something that they should not considering the players they have; basically their coaches have been inept. However, this seems to have changed under the serious and disciplined Fabio Capello, who has really brought out the best of the English players, and has managed to calm the many egos. His strategy and organisation are outstanding.
This time it is not only exaggerated expectations by the English fans; this is really the first time ever that I consider England a serious candidate for the World Cup title (although I won't support them), and it will be exciting to see how they do next year.
Congratulations to England!

Greatest World Cup matches: Brazil-Italy (1938)

Brazil was a great South American football nation, but in the 1930s still stood in the shadow of Argentina and Uruguay: in both 1930 and 1934 they were eliminated in the first round of the World Cup. There was nevertheless no doubt that Brazil was an outstanding footballing nation, and they were eager to prove it at the 1938 World Cup in France, where they alone represented South America after both Argentina and Uruguay had refused to participate, protesting what they understood as the implicit agreement that the World Cup should have been held in South America.
The Brazilians started the tournament winning a spectacular 6-5 over Poland after extra time. Brazil’s shining star was Leonidas da Silva, who scored four of Brazil’s goal, and eventually went on to become the top-scorer of the tournament with eight goals.
In the quarterfinals Brazil had faced the elegant Czechoslovaks in what became a disappointingly violent match, where both the 1934 top-scorer, the Czechoslovaks Nejedly and captain Planicka, fractured bones during the encounter. The match ended 1-1, and an extra match had to be played where only two of the original 11 Brazilians could play.
They nevertheless won, and Brazil was in the semifinals.
With Europe on the verge of war, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was determined that Italy should again show fascism’s apparent superiority and win the World Cup for the second time in a row, this time in France, where many Italian political refugees had been seeking asylum.
After narrowly defeating Norway 2-1 in the first round, Italy had defeated the French hosts 3-1 in the quarterfinals, in a match full of political undertones, where the Italians played in black shirts. After this victory, they were to face the Brazilians in the semifinal.
Brazil-Italy has since become the most classic match in World Cup football, but this 1938 semifinal in Marseille was the first time they were to face one another.
In spite of the fact that they were facing the defending World champions, the Brazilians were extremely confident; so sure were they of their victory that they purchased all plane tickets from Marseille to Paris before the final, and the Brazilian coach decided not to line up some of the stars like Leonidas, Tim or Brandão, but rather spare them for the final: “We don’t need them to defeat the Italians!”, he even said arrogantly.
However, as the semifinal started, the arrogant Brazilians did not look so strong against the efficient, strong and tactically intelligent Italians, who completely managed to close down on the Brazilian attack, and first half was a rather eventless affair that ended 0-0.
In the second half, Brazil was still unable to force through the strong Italian defence, and on a deadly counter-attack Gino Colaussi brought Italy ahead 1-0.
Five minutes later, a controversial situation led to Italy’s second goal; the Swiss referee Hans Wutrich awarded Italy a penalty kick after the Brazilian defender Domingos da Guia had kicked Piola, apparently in retribution for an earlier kick.
The Brazilian goalkeeper Walter seemed confident that he could save the shot as the legendary Milan-star Giuseppe Meazza stepped up to take the kick. Just as Meazza was about to kick, his pants fell off, and while Walter was laughing, he pulled up his shorts with one hand and scored Italy’s second goal.
This rather odd goal was the last goal Meazza scored for Italy.
In spite of Romeu scoring a late goal for Brazil, the Italians had deservedly won and made it to their second World Cup final in a row. Italy had certainly been the better team, and the Brazilian arrogance in not playing some of their best players proved a fatal mistake. This was nevertheless only the first of many classic encounters between these two national sides.
The Italians now had to go to Paris for the final, tried to buy the plane tickets from the Brazilians. However, the disappointed Brazilians wouldn’t sell them, and the Italians were forced to take the train for the final in Paris. This didn’t affect the Italians though, who were succesful in defending their title by winning 4-2 against Hungary.

Match Stats:
  • 16th June, 1938, Stade Velodrome, Marseille
  • Attendance 33, 000
  • Referee: Hans Wutrich (Switzerland)
Italy-Brazil 2-1
Goals:Gino Colaussi (55), Giuseppe Meazza (60) (pen), Romeu (87)

Italy: Olivieri; Foni, Rava, Seratoni, Andreolo, Locatelli, Biavati, Meazza, Piola, Ferrari, Colaussi
Brazil: Valter, Machado, Lopes, Luisinho, Romeu, Zeze Procopio, Afosinho, Patesko, Peracio, Martim, Domingos

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Greatest World Cup matches: Italy-Czechoslovakia (1934)

The scourge of Fascism had descended on a Europe in crisis, and in Italy Benito Mussolini had wanted to promote his regime by staging the second World Cup in 1934. A major propaganda campaign was launched before the tournament and everything was done for Italy to win, including sending coach Vittorio Pozzo sent to England to study football tactics, and players were retrieved from the outside Italy.
Five players on the Italian national team were technically not Italians; Orsi, Guatia, Monti and Demaria were Argentinians (Luis Monti had indeed been one of the backbones of Argentina's 1930 World Cup team) and Guarisi was Brazilian. The first three had crucial roles in an Italian team that qualified to the World Cup after a 4-0 victory over Greece, where the Greeks subsequently withdrew after the Italians promised to build a new stadium for them.
Despite a solid team led by the legendary goalkeeper Giampiero Combi, Italy had some controversial help from the referees in the quarter- and semi-finals against Spain and Austria respectively. After a scandalous 1-1 tie with Spain, Italy won the extra match 1-0, that still led to the Swiss referee Rene Mercer becoming excluded for life from refereeing by the Swiss Football Federation.
A narrow 1-0 victory in the semifinal on goals by Guatia against the excellent Austrian team, then gave Italy a place in the finals against Czechoslovakia.
Led by their outstanding captain and goalkeeper Franticek Planicka, the Czechoslovaks had played excellent, and had outplayed Germany in the semifinal, where a 3-1 victory did not reveal the qualitative different between the two teams. Oldřich Nejedly, the eventual top scorer of the tournament, scored two goals against the Germans.
The Final was a great day for Mussolini who presided over the stadium in Rome as as a Cesar for a gladiatorial match (Planicka is credited to have said about Mussolini that players greeted him as a gladiator greeted Caesar before they died in combat).
Mussolini would not accept defeat, and the pressure on the Italian team was huge. Luis Monti, who had also played in Uruguay in 1930, commented ironically many years later, that in 1930 he had feared being killed if Argentina won, and in 1934 he feared what should happen if they didn’t win.
As if the pressure was not large enough, Mussolini sent a personal message to the team to "win or die," and another note to coach Pozzo that read "May God help you if you do not win."
At the same time the Swedish referee Ivan Eklind, was subjected to great pressure; he was personally invited to dinner by Mussolini, and numerous allegations of corruption came to the fore after the match, where it was said that Eklind cheated the Czechs for a penalty and missed a couple of red cards to Italian players.
It must be added though, that nothing was ever proven and Mr. Eklind continued his international career as a referee after the World Cup.
The match between the elegant Czechoslovaks and the tactical Italians caught the attention of an unprecedented number of the international media of the time, and the game was watched and listened to in many parts of Europe.
They were not disappointed as they were witness to a dramatic battle between two different football philosophies in the midst of the ideological conflicts that were engulfing Europe. The Czechoslovaks combined skillfully and beautifully, while the Italians were more aggressive and tactically clever. In spite of this, there were no goals until 25 minutes into the second half, when the well-playing Czechoslovaks finally got started by Antonin Puc, whose long range effort was simply too hard for the Italian goalkeeper Combi to react to.
The goal nevertheless set the Italians in motion, perhaps for fear of how Mussolini would react to a defeat. The started attacking eagerly and only eight minutes before the end of the match the Argentine Juventus star Raimundo Orsi equalized for Italy. The goal was a brilliant piece of skill: he turned quickly, cheated a defender with a quick move and scored on an outstanding shot. Orsi was asked to repeat the feat in front of the press on the following day, but after many attempts was unable to do it!
After the goal, the physically strong Italians began to completely dominate the match, but the shaken Czechoslovaks still managed to get the 1-1, so the match went into extra time.
Five minutes into the extra time the legendary Milan attacker Giusseppe Meazza was allowed to rush down the right side and made a cross to Guaita in front of goal. Guaita stopped the ball and quickly turned to make the pass to the Bologna striker Angelo Schiavio who scored a deserved winner for the Italians.
It is perhaps a pity that so much doubt has been put on the Italian victory due to the controversial referees. There is no doubt that Italy had an outstanding team, one of the best in the world at the time (together with Uruguay, Argentina, Austria, England, Czechoslovakia and Hungary) and surely would have been a candidate for the World Cup title in spite of the controversies surrounding their victory (and they showed this four years later).
In 1934 Italy had become World champions at home in front of an ecstatic audience and a delighted Mussolini. It was the first - but not last - time, Italy, one of the world's biggest footballing nations took the title.

Match Stats:
  • 10th June, 1934, Stadio PNF, Rome
  • Attendance: 55,000
  • Referee: Ivan Eklind (Sweden)
Italy-Czechoslovakia 2-1 (After Extra Time)
Goals: 0-1 Puc (70), 1-1 Orsi (82), 2-1 Schiavio (95)

Italy: Combi, Monzeglio, Allemandi, Ferraris IV, Monti, Bertolini, Guaita, Meazza, Schiavio, Ferrari, Orsi
Czechoslovakia: Planicka, Ctyroky, Zenisek, Kostalek, Cambal, Krcil, Junek, Svoboda, Sobatka, Nejedly, Puc

Sunday, September 06, 2009

On the way to South Africa 2010

After this weekend's interesting qualifiers for the World Cup i South Africa, we had more countries qualify, so that we now know eight of the nations that will surely be in South Africa next year.

The Asian countries qualified in June , and the only pending issue is the match between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, about who will get a play-off match against New Zealand:

  • Australia
  • Japan
  • South Corea
  • North Corea

In South America, after defeating Argentina away 1-3 (Argentina's only second home defeat in World Cup qualifiers ever), the five-time champions have qualified:

  • Brazil

In the meaintime, Chile and Paraguay are just one step away from qualifying: Chile will be playing Brazil next, while Paraguay will face Argentina. Argentina is still in fourth place, but is increasingly being threatened by the fifth place, where four teams are nevertheless contesting the post: Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela. The ending of the South American qualifiers will be a drama!

In the CONCACAF region no team has qualified for sure yet. USA defeated El Salvador 2-1, Honduras trashed Trinidad and Tobago 4-1, while Mexico defeated Costa Rica 3-1. After this results, the three teams going to South Africa will surely be either Mexico, USA, Honduras or Costa Rica, while one of these teams will get a play-off match with South America's fifth.

In Africa, the hosts are of course qualified, by one team qualfied this weekend after defating Sudan 2-1, namely the great West African nation of Ghana, who will be going to its second consecutive World Cup:

  • South Africa
  • Ghana

In the meantime, Ivory Coast is just one match away from qualifying, while Tunisia is also very close to booking their tickets.

In Europe only one team has qualified, as they have been awesome in their group:

  • Netherlands

In the meantime however, other teams have been as awesome as the Dutch! The European Champions of Spain have won all their matches, lately 5-0 against Belgium, but are still theoretically not certain to qualify directly. However, with one more victory they will book their tickets. England has also won all matches, and a victory against Croatia on wednesday will put them in South Africa.

France tied 1-1 with Romania in Paris, and it is looking difficult for them to catch Serbia, who can qualify if they defeat France in Belgrade on wednesday.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Greatest World Cup matches: Uruguay-Argentina (1930)

The very first World Cup final took place in Montevideo’s Estadio Monumental, specially built for the World Cup. he home team of Uruguay and Argentina both made it to the final after winning 6-1 over Yugoslavia and the United States respectively, and the stage was set to one of the biggest rivalries in football: the countries that had also played for Olympic gold in 1928 (when Uruguay won), and had stood face to face in the South American championships many times during the 1920s (most recently in 1929 when Argentina was over with the title after a 2-0 victory over Uruguay).
There was therefore an enormous pressure on the players from both sides, although the Argentines were being subject to hateful harassment. The tension was so intense that some Argentine players expressed fears about what would happen if they in fact won the match!
One of Argentina's most important player was the defensive midfieler from San Lorenzo, Luis Monti. He had played an excellent tournament, and was with his hard but efficient style one of the best players in the world at the time. Up to the final, he received numerous death threats against himself and his family, and eventually played a very anonymous final, which some have attributed as a major reason for Argentina’s defeat. (There have subsequently been conspiracy theories that attribute the threats against Monti to Italian agents, since Mussolini wanted Monti to play for Italy: Immediately after the tournament Monti got a contract with Juventus, which he eventually won three championships with, and became a crucial player on the Italian national team that won the World Cup in 1934!)
The tension between the countries was not limited to their supporters. The legendary Argentine tango singer Carlos Gardel, who had sung for the Argentine national team before the Olympic final in Amsterdam, tried to bring both teams together for a cozy gathering with tango music, which unfortunately ended in a brawl between the Argentinean Raimundo Orsi and the Uruguayan Leandro Andrade…
There were 93,000 fanatical supporters for the final battle in Montevideo. Thousands had also tried to arrive from Buenos Aires, where large crowds had gathered together around radios.
The atmosphere was so intense that the Belgian referee, Jan Langenus, had felt so threatened up to the final that he had pleaded FIFA to take out a life insurance on him, and after the match he left directly from the stadium to the boat that would sail him to Europe. He was also at the center stage even before the start of the match, as both teams insisted on playing with their own balls, and in a Solomonic solution, he decided that each team would get one half with their own ball.
The Argentinian lineup was somewhat weakened before the match, as their strong striker, "Pacho" Varallo was injured, but on the order of the directors of the Argentine Football Association, he was forced to play nevertheless. After only ten minutes his knees were in such pain that he had to be taken out. Since substitutions were not allowed until 1970 Argentina had to play the rest of the match with only ten players.
In line with the expectations from the home supporters, Uruguay went ahead by Pablo Dorado after only 12 minutes. But the mood changed within half an hour when first the great technical player Carlos Peucelle equalized for Argentina, and then Guillermo Stabile put Argentina ahead on a beautiful goal from a very sharp angle.
It was Stabile’s eighth goal in the tournament, and made him the first World Cup's top scorer. Somewhat ironically, he had come to the World Cup as a substitute for Roberto Cherro who left the tournament before the first match due to nerves. Stabile went on to score hat-trick in his debut against Mexico!
In the second half the Uruguayans came out with renewed energy, while the Argentineans seemed somewhat tense, possibly because of the strong pressure and hateful atmosphere in the stadium.
Uruguay played extremely hard as well; the Argentinian goalkeeper Botasso suffered a brutal tackle that made that he could hardly stand throughout the second half (and remember that subsitutions were not allowed!). However, The Argentine captain Manuel Ferreira, later said that Uruguay always played hard, and the Uruguayan attacker Pedro Cea defended the style with "it was certainly not match battle between married and unmarried people; but it was the World Cup title!"
Uruguay finally came into the match: Pedro Cea equalized to 2-2, after which Santos Iriarte brought the celebration to Montevideo when he made it 3-2 in the 68th minute with an outstanding long shot.
Argentina tried to put pressure on Uruguay, but the home team well in defense, led by José Nasazzi and José Andrade, who threw themselves heroically to block the Argentinean shots. And as so often happens in football, the efficient Uruguayans made it 4-2 in a last minute counter-attack on a header by the one-armed Hector Castro.
Uruguay became a huge celebration as the legendary argues Jose Nasazzi received Jules Rimet trophy for the first time in history.
The following day was declared a national holiday.
The mood was somewhat different in Argentina; disappointed fans attacked the Uruguayan consulate and diplomatic relations with the neighboring country were icy.
The existing rivalry between these two countries (which are the two national teams that have met most times in football history) was only reinforced by this World Cup final.
It is perhaps tempting to say that this World Cup was not a reflection of the real footballing power then. However, this is not correct: Uruguay, a small nation of 3 million inhabitants - one of the smallest nations that have participated in the World Cup at all -, remains the only country with less than 40 million people that has won a World Cup medal at all!

Match Stats:
  • 30th July, 1930, Estadio Centenario (Montevideo)
  • Spectators: 93,000
  • Referee: John Langenus (Belgium)
Uruguay-Argentina 4-2

Goals: 1-0 Dorado (12), 1-1 Peucelle (20), 1-2 Stabile (37), 2-2 Cea (57), 3-2 Iriarte (68), 4-2 Castro (90)


Uruguay: Ballesteros, Nasazzi, Mascheroni, Andrade, Fernandez, Gestido, Dorado, Scarone, Castro, Cea, Iriarte

Argentina: Botasso, Della Torre, Paternoster, J. Evaristo, Monti, Suarez, Peucelle, Varallo, Stabile, Ferreira, M. Evaristo

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Portugal on the edge

Portugal's participation in the World Cup in South Africa is highly expected by a lot of people. Of course, the Portuguese fans themselves, who know that they have some of the best players in the world, notably Cristiano Ronaldo, but also players like Miguel, Deco, and the new Brazilian-born striker Liedson. At the same time, South Africa will almost be like playing at home for the Portuguese, since many thousand people of Portuguese descent live in South Africa, all who will have great expectations for the participation of Portugal.
The Portuguese have nevertheless started the qualification not too well: they lost at home to Denmark, tied Sweden twice, and tied Albania at home, and are only on fourth place in their qualifying group 1, behind Denmark, Hungary and Sweden.
With four matches left, Portugual is under pressure to win all of the remaining matches (although favourable results in other matches may still help them), and the next big test comes this Saturday against Denmark in Copenhagen. The Danes, after having defeated both Portugal and Sweden in away matches, have all things going for them, and can go on the pitch confidently knowing that even with a loss, they are on their way to South Africa. On the other hand, the pressure is all on Portugal, who now have to show that they are indeed one of the best teams in the world, or just a bunch of overpaid footballers.
It will surely be a drama!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Greatest World Cup matches: France-Mexico (1930)

There are 40 weeks left to the world cup in South Africa, and as a preparation to the event, I will try to make a weekly blog-posting on the greatest world cup matches in history. By "greatest", I mean matches that have had a historical significance and/or have caught the attention of the world or football historians in some way or another. As I have no way of ranking the matches, I will do them in chronological order, starting with the World Cup in Uruguay in 1930:

Until 1930 the Olympic Games were the unofficial world championships. In the 1924 and 1928 Olympics little Uruguay had taken the European nations by storm by taking the gold medals twice in a row.
South America was thus emerging as the main power of football, not only by tactical and physical qualities, but also on how they played: many passes, speed and technical prowess that was unprecedented in European football, and eventually changed the game of football itself.
It had been discussed before to hold a World Cup, and after Julet Rimet became FIFA Secretary General, and the fact that football was taken out by the 1932 Olympics, FIFA decided to give the hosting of the world's first World Cup to the strong Uruguayans on the year of the centenary of Uruguay's Constitution.
All FIFA members were invited to participate, but only four European nations (France, Yugoslavia, Romania and Belgium) accepted to take the long trip to South America. However, this could not dampen the Uruguayans enthusiasm and pride at having been given the World Cup for their country. A whole new Stadium, the Centenario (named after the Constitution), with space for nearly 100,000 spectators was built in just over six months to accommodate the tournament.
The very first match of a tournament that would become the greatest sporting event in the world, didn’t take place in the Centenario, but in the smaller local stadium, Pocitos, where the local club of Peñarol played until they moved to the Centenario after the World Cup (The Centenario was said to be a large version of the Pocitos, that demolished a few years later).
France faced Mexico in the first World Cup match ever. Both teams had travelled far to be in Uruguay, and there were not many spectators at Pocitos to see when Lucien Laurent scored the very first goal in World Cup history. Interestingly this player was the only player alive from the 1930 team to see France lift the World Cup trophy in 1998.
Both France and Mexico were eliminated after the first round. France nevertheless went on to host the 1938 World Cup, and has been at the forefront of world football since then.
Mexico was the leading nation of the Concacaf region for many years, but still had problems when at the world stage. It wasn’t until 1962 that they won their very first match, and only made it to a quarterfinal when hosting the World Cup in 1970 and then again in 1986.
This match was perhaps not the greatest in the history of football, but it was the the first, and thus deserves to be remembered.

Match Stats:
  • July 13th 1930, Estadio Pocitos (Montevideo)
  • Attendance: 1000
  • Referee: Lombardi (Uruguay)
France-Mexico 4-1
Goals: 1-0 Laurent (19), 2-0 Langiller (40), 3-0 Maschinot (43), 3-1 Carreño (70), 4-1 Maschinot (87)
France: Thépot; Mattler, Capelle, Chantrel, Villaplane, Delfour, Pinel, Laurent, Maschinot, Liberati, Langiller
Mexico: Bonfiglio; Garza Gutiérrez, M. Rosas, Amezcua, A. Sánchez, F. Rosas, López, Ruíz, Mejía, Carreño, Pérez