July 5, 2008

Rossi's Rehab

Today's tale is a heartwarming story of a striker who was lost in the football wilderness but then found redemption on this day back in 1982. That he should do so on the stage of one of the greatest World Cup matches ever played adds to the legend. Enter Paolo Rossi.

He first came to the world's attention in 1978 during the World Cup in Argentina. Rossi's three goals in that tournament had helped an impressive Italian side to finish in fourth place. Having finished as top scorer in Serie A the previous season, he looked set to become one of the biggest stars in the history of the game.

Fall from grace

After his club, Vicenza, were relegated into the abyss of Serie B, Rossi was loaned out to Perugia. Whilst there he was implicated in the 'Totonero' match-fixing scandal, and was subsequently handed a two year playing ban.

So by the time of the 1982 World Cup, Rossi hadn't played a competitve match for two years. Yet amidst howls of derision from the media, the Italian manager Enzo Bearzot still picked Rossi for the squad. It would turn out to be an inspired choice, but behind the scenes the knives were being sharpened.

Unfortunately for Bearzot and Italy, the doom merchants appeared to be right. Italy's performance in their opening three matches was diabolical. Three draws against Poland, Peru and Cameroon saw them scrape through to the next phase, and Rossi was hopelessly out of sorts.


In the mini groups which constituted the second round, Italy faced Argentina and Brazil. After Argentina were beaten by both sides, the scene was set for a do-or die showdown between Italy and Brazil. Brazil just needed to draw, whereas Italy had to win to qualify for the semi-final.

The odds were stacked heavily against the Azzuri. The Brazil side which graced the 1982 tournament was one of the best ever, playing a brand of sublime attacking football rarely seen before or since. They were white hot favourites.

Now the time came for Rossi to awake from his stupor. Within five minutes he had given Italy the lead- a downward header from Cabrini's cross. Seven minutes later Socrates equalised after a beautiful turn from Zico, 1-1. Next Rossi pounced on a stray pass by Cerezo and made it 2-1. If he and his team mates could hold on they were through.

However when Falcao equalised in the 68th minute with a searing drive the advantage swung back to Brazil yet again.

Our hero was not finished yet. In the 74th minute, he latched on to a ball driven in from a corner and Italy were ahead again. This time it stayed that way, and Brazil had been dispatched by Rossi's hat-trick.

He went on to score twice in the semi-final against Poland, and grabbed another one against West Germany in the final, as the Azzuri were crowned champions in Madrid.

He finished as top scorer in the tournament, with six goals in three games. He had found his redemption. And Enzo Bearzot's canny decision to take Rossi to Spain was vindicated. He and his team had boycotted the Italian media in response to their relentlessly negative attitude.

I remember watching this game through the eyes of a child. Twenty six years later, it still saddens me that a wonderful yet fatally adventurous Brazilian side never got to win the World cup. A Spanish tragedy.

Yet even now, watching highlights of the game and Paolo Rossi's awe-inspiring performance reminds me of a comforting truth: the lost can always be found. Especially on July 5th 1982.


YouTube - brief highlights

Brazil's 1982 squad - a reminder of why they were so good

July 4, 2008

The Miracle of Berne

American Independence day holds little interest for those interested in football's wonderful history, especially when we look at today's anniversary. The 1954 World Cup Final in Berne.

History is written by those who conquer. Those who lose are often forgotten, eroded by the sands of football's continuous cycle of seasons. Yet that could never be the case with the greatest international side never to have won the World Cup.

Below is the Wikipedia account of the final and its context. I'm not normally a fan of citing Wikipedia as my primary source, however this article is a good basic description of what happened and its impact at the time. Further details can be found from the links below.


The situation prior to the match

The Mighty Magyars

Hungary, with their legendary Mighty Magyars, were huge favourites to win the 1954 Tournament. In the five years prior to the World Cup 1954 they had remained unbeaten in 32 games, were reigning Olympic Champions and winners of the Central European International Cup teams in 1953. In 1953 they defeated England 6-3, becoming the first non-UK team to beat them at Wembley Stadium. Shortly after that England had received another humiliating defeat, losing 1-7 to Hungary in Budapest just before the World Cup.

Drawn in the same group in the first round, Hungary and West Germany already met in the group stage. Hungary easily won this match on a 8-3 scoreline. However, as Germany would have to re-play Turkey in a play-off game, German coach Herberger fielded a reserve team.

These players were not able to weather the Hungarian prowess, but by not fielding the strongest eleven, Herberger managed to obscure the real strength of the German team. In the group match against Germany, Hungarian captain Ferenc Puskás was injured and missed the following games of his team. Nevertheless, even without him playing the Magyars beat Brazil and Uruguay, the runners-up and winners of the 1950 World Cup in the quarter final and semi final, respectively. Thus, they had reached the Final, to be played at Berne's Wankdorf Stadium.

The unfancied Germans

Prior to 1954, Germany’s World Cup record was modest, a third place in the 1934 World Cup the pinnacle of their achievements. Germany was among those European nations who had not sent a team to Uruguay in 1930, citing economic reasons.

After the disaster of the 1936 Summer Olympics where a hapless German team succumbed to a 0-2 loss to Norway in the quarter-final, new coach Sepp Herberger had formed a quite successful German team in 1937, nicknamed the "Breslau-Elf" (Breslau Eleven) after beating Denmark 8-0 in Breslau. Just prior to the 1938 World Cup, Austrian players were ordered to join the German team as Austria became part of the German Empire in the so called Anschluss. This "united" German team was surprisingly knocked out in the first round of the 1938 World Cup after two unsuccessful games against Switzerland.

After the Second World War, the three German states (West and East Germany and the Saar) of that time were not allowed to compete in the 1950 World Cup. Thus, the qualification games for the 1954 World Cup were the first return of the then west German national squad to international competitions.

Many of the players on the German team were experienced but old, playing for the German club 1.FC Kaiserslautern who had lost the German Championship final prior to the World Cup against Hannover 96, in a 1-5 upset. That loss led the German public to give their national team only slim chances to even progress from the group stage of the tournament. However, the hard-earned 2-0 victory over Yugoslavia in the quarter final gave the team a boost leading them to a stunning 6-1 victory over Austria in the semi final.

The Match

The Wankdorf Stadion in Berne was packed with a crowd of 64,000 people, eagerly anticipating the encounter between the two teams. The match was played in heavy rain, weather conditions the German side had christened "Fritz Walter-weather", as the German team captain Fritz Walter was known for playing his best football under those conditions.

When it had rained a few days before the final, German coach Sepp Herberger had sent his players out to practice during heavy rain, as if foreseeing the weather conditions. In addition, the Germans were equipped with footwear supplied by adidas, which had produced a hitherto unheard of design of boot with exchangeable, screw-in studs that could be adapted to any weather. This enabled the German players to wear their regular boots despite the adverse weather.

Although he was not fully fit in time, Ferenc Puskás was back in the Hungarian lineup for the final match, and he put his team ahead after only 6 minutes. When Zoltán Czibor added the second goal for Hungary a mere two minutes later, the pre-tournament favourites seemed destined to ease to victory over Germany, just as they had in the group, and take the trophy.

However, Germany did not give up and equalised quickly, with goals from Max Morlock (10') and Helmut Rahn (18'). Having leveled the scores, the Germans now looked a match for the Hungarians and managed to reach half time at 2-2, both teams having missed several promising chances to take the lead. In the second half, the Hungarians poured forward looking to retake the lead, but their attempts were repeatedly foiled by the German defence with goalkeeper Toni Turek pulling off several fine saves.

With six minutes left and the Germans still holding out at 2-2, German striker Helmut Rahn, nicknamed "The Boss" reached the ball on a speculative German attack 20 yards in front of the Hungarian goal. Deceiving the Hungarian defender by shooting with his weaker left foot, he scored West Germany's third goal with an accurate drive to the bottom left of the goal, leaving Hungarian goalkeeper Grocics no chance. Two minutes before the end, Puskás equalised once more, but his goal was ruled off-side by the English linesman. The match and Hungary’s unbeaten run ended in one of the biggest upsets in the history of football.

Impact on German history

The unexpected win evoked a wave of euphoria throughout Germany, still suffering in the aftermath of World War II. The 1954 victory is regarded as a turning point in post-war German history by German historians Arthur Heinrich and Joachim Fest, due to being the first feeling of success for a beaten nation, living in a destroyed country.

As television was only available to few homes or public places then, German radio commentator Herbert Zimmermann emerged as a person of German contemporary history, due to his emotional radio report, heard by millions in Germany.

His reporting style borne by deep emotions ("call me crazy, call me nuts") and especially his ecstatic cries when Germany scored the winning goal ("Rahn should shoot from the background, Rahn shoots - goal, goal, goal!" - "Aus dem Hintergrund müsste Rahn schießen, Rahn schießt - TOR, TOR, TOR!"), and after the final whistle ("Over! Over! The game is over! Germany is World Champion, beating Hungary 3-2!" - "AUS! AUS! AUS! Das Spiel ist aus. Deutschland ist Weltmeister, schlägt Ungarn 3 zu 2!") are very well known and popular in Germany to this day, even to people who are not interested in football.


Whilst West Germany went on to greater things, Hungarian football has never recovered from that devastating blow on this day in 1954. Rather than partying with the Americans today, I'm off to hold moment's silence for the greatest team never to have won the World Cup.


The Observer - some excellent background info which places the final firmly in its social context

The Independent - it's been claimed at various times over the years that the German players were given stimulants prior to the match. This has been denied by the DFB.

YouTube - Footage of the final in four parts.


Behind the Curtain - pages 79-84

tor! The Story of German Football - pages 119-132

The Complete Book of the World Cup - pages 88-89


The Miracle of Berne

July 3, 2008

Charles Buchan Signs for Arsenal

The 3rd July 1925 was a significant day in the history of Arsenal, as they signed the immensely gifted inside-forward Charlie Buchan from Sunderland, then one of the top clubs in England. He already was a legend up in Wearside, having scored 224 goals in 413 appearances. His three years spent in North London would have a similar effect on the Highbury faithful.

Buchan was enigmatic Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman's first signing after he had arrived from Huddersfield Town, and the terms of the transfer were especially noteworthy.

Sunderland put a valuation of £4,000 on their star player, but Chapman refused to match that figure. A compromise was reached. Arsenal would pay £2,000 outright, with a further £100 going to Sunderland for every goal that Buchan scored the following season!

As it transpired, Buchan scored 19 league and two FA cup goals in that season, which meant that Chapman paid a total of £4,100 for the inside-forward.

Buchan made a lasting contribution to the club by assisting Chapman in developing a tactical revolution. In 1925 the offside law was amended so that only two, rather than three, defenders had to be goalside of an attacker. Their response to this was to make Arsenal play with a deeper lying centre-half who could counteract the increased advantage given to the opposition's forwards. This became known as the 'Third Back Game' and was widely copied because of its success.

He only won 6 caps for England despite his immeasurable talent. Although WW1 interrupted his playing career for both club and country, it was more likely his attitude to football's authorities that cost him further appearances for the national side. Buchan was neither slow nor reticent in voicing his opinions.

After his playing career ended, Buchan became a famous, if somewhat one-dimensional, journalist and radio broadcaster, noted for his refined tones. He was famously caught off guard once, though, in May 1954, during England's 7-1 trouncing by Hungary in Budapest. Assuming that his microphone was switched off, he repeatedly lambasted the English players over their dire performance. Perhaps John Motson should have done something similar during England's two matches with Croatia during the Euro 2008 qualifiers.

His legacy was to produce the famous (and much loved in its day) "Charles Buchan's Football Monthly", a godsend to football news starved youths of the immediate post-war era. It remains a rich archive for football historians to this day.


Spartacus - article on life and career

Charles Buchan's Football Monthly - profile of the man and the magazine that he helped launch

July 2, 2008

Andreas Escobar Shot Dead

Today's anniversary is a tragic reminder that football is only a game.

It was on this day back in 1994, during the World Cup in the USA, that the Colombian international defender Andreas Escobar was killed outside a nightclub in the city of Medellin. Fourteen years on from the killing, it's still not clear whether his murder was ordered by a gambling cartel or if it was the work of one disgruntled individual.

The Colombian team arrived in the USA as one of the favourites. They put in a fairly impressive qualifying campaign, the highlight of which was their 5-0 demolition of Argentina in Buenos Aires. This would lead to Pele's prediction that Colombia would win the World Cup.

That turned out to be an unmitigated disaster, like many of Pele's business deals. Amidst murmurings of gambling syndicates and drug cartels hovering over the squad, the team shocked the world by losing 3-1 to a Hagi-inspired Romania.

But worse was to come next. The USA beat them 2-1, with Escobar scoring his apocalyptic own-goal to help them on their way. A 2-0 victory over Switzerland in their final game could not save them from finishing bottom of the group and crashing out in the first round.

And so a few days later on July 2nd 1994, the gunman struck. It's said that the killer shouted 'Goal' as each of the twelve bullets were fired.

It seems overly simplistic to believe that Escobar's murder happened as a result of his own-goal. After all, the whole team under-performed. Unfortunately the murderer chose not to see it that way. Had he or his contractors lost large sums of money as a result of Colombia's early exit?

A postcript to the sad tale is that the gunman was released early from prison in 2005, having served only 11 years of his 43 year sentence. Justice?


Wikipedia - article on Escobar

BBC Sport - from 2002 World Cup preview

BBC Sport - Jan 10 2006 - reminder that Colombian footballers being shot is an ongoing problem

The Independent - March 24 2007 - tradition in sport is to carry on when tragedy strikes

YouTube - clip of Escobar's own goal

YouTube - a tribute to him