Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Biggest Upsets in European Cup/Champions League History

Footballing tournaments such as the World Cup, the European Championships and the UEFA Champions League, formely the European Cup always leave open a window of opportunity for improbable results to become possible. In the case of the Champions League/European Cup, it’s a much more unpredictable tournament than you might think, despite the best teams in the world squaring off against some of Europe’s minnows. However, results in this tournament have never been particularly cut and dry. In this list, I will be looking at some of the biggest upsets seen in the tournament’s history, both in its current and previous format

Some of these matches involved teams overcoming almost insurmountable deficits to progress to the next round, while other matches were Champions League finals that involved teams having to go to the penalty shootout to decide the winner – at least once after a thrilling lead was cancelled out by the time the 90 minutes were up.

Barcelona 0-0 Steaua Bucharest (Steaua Bucharest won 2-0 on penalties, European Cup Final, 1986)

Steaua became the first Eastern European side to win the European Cup in 1986, as they produced a remarkable victory over the Spanish La Liga champions Barcelona, who enjoyed tremendous support with the final being played in Seville. It is very unlikely that you will see a Romanian side win the biggest prize in European club football again.
Steaua Bucharest defeated the odds and a much stronger Barcelona side managed by Terry Venables. The game itself was dull, with the favourites doing all the attacking and the underdogs playing for penalties from the start.
The Romanian side benefited hugely from the heroics of goalkeeper Helmuth Duckadam, who followed keeping a clean sheet in the match, by going on to save all four of Barcelona's penalties to help win the cup, and a result he was known as the ‘Hero of Seville.’
Steaua, who had not previously triumphed in any European competition, went on to claim the Super Cup later that year, while they finished as runners-up to AC Milan in the European Cup in 1989.

Chelsea 4-1 Napoli (2nd leg, Champions League, round of 16, 2011/2012)

File:Chelsea FC.svg
Under the brief management of Roberto Di Matteo, Chelsea’s hopes in the 2011-12 Champions League looked all but dashed against Napoli of the Serie A, after losing 3-1 to the Italian outfit in the first leg of the Round of 16. However, the second leg at Stamford Bridge would see a dramatically different outcome in favour of the Blues: Didier Drogba and John Terry opened the scoring at 2-0, though Chelsea were again in hot water when Gökhan Inler cut the deficit in half for Napoli in the 55th minute. Luckily for Chelsea, a Frank Lampard penalty and an extra time goal by Branislav Ivanović were enough to complete a dramatic comeback leading up to Chelsea’s eventual Champions League victory that season.

Barcelona 0-4 AC Milan (Champions League Final, 1994)

File:AC Milan.svgA final remembered not just for the surprising scoreline, but for the fantastic quality of an attacking master class by the Milanese. It was only two years earlier that Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona had won the European Cup at Wembley and defenses in La Liga and Europe continued to be terrorized by a lineup boasting players including Romario, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup and Hristo Stoichkov. Milan went into the game in Athens minus suspended defenders Franco Baresi and Bruno Costacurta, as well as long term injury Michael Van Basten, a two-time World Player of the Year.
The Catalans were heavily fancied but Fabio Capello's AC Milan had other plans: two goals from Daniele Massaro in the the first half put the Rossoneri 2-0 up, before Dejan Savićević and Marcel Desailly added two more before the hour mark. It would be enough to see Milan take home the Champions League trophy in style, by what is still the biggest margin of a defeat in a Champions League final. That same season, Milan went on to win their third consecutive Scudetto.

FC Basel 2-1 Manchester United (Champions League, group stage, 2011/2012)

File:FC Basel.pngFC Basel made it into the Champions League round of 16 for only the second time in their history with a stunning 2-1 home win over Manchester United.
It was a result which saw three-time European champions United crash out of the competition at the group stage for only the third time in 17 years.
Needing only a point to knock out Basel and secure their passage into the last 16 from Group C, the Red Devils were the overwhelming favourites and going into the game seemed much more likely to win.
But it all went downhill after Marco Streller put the hosts ahead on nine minutes. United captain Nemanja Vidic went off injured soon after, and the visitors were ultimately made to pay for their wasted chances going forward and vulnerability on the counter-attack, with Alexander Frei putting Basel 2-0 up and out of reach in the 84th minute. Phil Jones put United back in it at 2-1, but it was too little too late for the world football superpower, with Basel securing the most unfancied home win in their history.

Dinamo Tbilisi 3-0 Liverpool (Dinamo Tbilisi won 4-2 on agg: European Cup, first round, 1979/1980)

File:FC Dinamo Tbilisi logo.pngTeams from behind the Iron Curtain were always shrouded in mystery – in previews they were habitually referred to as "the crack Soviet outfit" or "the ruthless Red Army" but no one knew for sure how good they would turn out to be. Would Tbilisi be as nifty as Ferencvaros and Red Star Belgrade had proved when upsetting Liverpool earlier in the decade, albeit before Bob Paisley had elevated the club to a higher level with two European Cup triumphs?
No. They would turn out to be better than anything the English champions had ever encountered. Already in the first leg at Anfield, where the home side had prevailed 2-1, Dinamo had shown flashes of a technical and tactical sophistication that perplexed the hosts. In Tibilisi came the full onslaught.
Liverpool barely slept the night before the match – some 200 Dinamo fans having staged a torchlight parade around their hotel at 4am – but mostly it was Dinamo's rapid passing and jagged running that made them so sluggish. Dinamo made it 1-0 on the night after a moment that should feature permanently in the Match of the Day intro footage: David Kipiani dazzled past Alan Hansen with a piece of trickery that left the acclaimed denouncer of diabolical defending floundering like a drunk in the dark. Ray Clemence diverted the ensuing cross, but only as far as Vladimir Gutsaev, who slammed it into the net. The Georgians' second arrived in the 75th minute when Georgiy Chilaya collected the ball in his own half, slalomed past three opponents and slipped in Ramaz Shengelia, who casually lifted the ball over Clemence to make it 2-0.
Three minutes later came the third after Phil Thompson conceded a penalty and Alexandre Chivadze converted with ease.
Hansen has since said this was the best Liverpool team he ever played in. Kevin Keegan's Hamburg would avenge them in the next round, knocking out Dinamo.

Barcelona 1 Rubin Kazan 2 (Champions League, group stage, 2009/2010)
File:Rubin Kazan Logo.png
The Russians beat defending champions FC Barcelona 2-1 in the Group F game, despite Barca virtually fielding their strongest line-up—with Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andres Iniesta, Yaya Toure, Xavi, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves, Eric Abidal and Victor Valdes all starting for Barca.
Aleksandr Ryazantsev gave the visitors a shock lead after just two minutes, with a stunning 30-yard strike.
Ibrahimovic equalised for Barca just after half-time, and despite the hosts brutally asserting their dominance over their inferior counterparts, it was Rubin Kazan who re-took the lead, with Gokdeniz Karadeniz coolly slotting past Valdes to stun the Camp Nou crowd, and the watching world. Before the game, Rubin Kazan were 22/1 to win.

CSKA Sofia 2-0 Ajax (CSKA Sofia won 2-1 on agg: European Cup, second round, 1973/1974)

File:CSKA Sofia logo.svgAjax had been shocked before – not least in 1960 when they were beaten 4-3 by the Norwegian amateurs Fredrikstad – but those defeats came before they had evolved into the European powerhouse of the early 1970s. This came when they were close to the height of their powers. In 1971, '72 and '73 they had won a hat-trick of European Cups under Rinus Michels and then Istvan Kovacs. Johan Cruyff had departed for Barcelona in the summer of 1973, but this was still the team of Johan Neeskens, Arie Haan, Johnny Rep and Piet Keizer. They had not been beaten in Europe since the defeat to Arsenal in the semi-final of the Fairs Cup in 1969-70. They had won six of the previous eight Dutch Eredivise titles.
CSKA by comparison, despite their domestic success (four back-to-back titles from 1969), had never made an impact on the European scene. They'd reached the European Cup semis in 1967 but in the previous year's European Cup they had been destroyed 6-1 over two legs by the same Ajax side. They'd reached the second round in bizarre circumstances after their second leg with Panathinaikos was replayed after the game had gone to penalties. A Jan Mulder goal gave Ajax a 1-0 victory in the first leg, but that was nullified in Sofia when Dimitar Marashliev scored in the 68th minute.
Extra-time was needed. In the 116th minute, Stefan Mikhailov struck to give the Bulgarians a famous victory and effectively end Ajax's golden era. It was to be 14 years before the once-dominant club won another European title.

Chelsea 2-2 Barcelona (Champions League, quarter-final, 2011/2012)

File:Chelsea FC.svgFollowing the comeback against Napoli, Chelsea faced much more fearsome opponents in Barcelona in the quarterfinals. A 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge courtesy of a Didier Drogba goal was hardly a reassuring lead, and the odds against them keeping their lead at the Nou Camp were small. Furthermore, John Terry would get sent off in the 37th minute, reducing Chelsea to 10 men for the rest of the match. However, Chelsea again caused an upset after Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta put the Blaugrana up 2-0, the game seemed a forgone conclusion, with even some of the Chelsea players clearly thinking the match was beyond their reach.
Even when Ramires levelled just before halftime, still the game seemed out of Chelsea's hands. But after a missed Lionel Messi penalty and a Fernando Torres equaliser, it was the Londoners who had shocked the world and made it through to only their second ever Champions League final.

Real Madrid 1-3 Spartak Moscow (S.Moscow won 3-1 on agg: European Cup, quarter-final, 1990/91)

File:FC Spartak Moscow Logo.pngSpartak went into this match on the back of early round victories over Sparta Prague and Napoli.
Having ground out a 0-0 draw at Spartak Moscow, Real would have been confident of putting the Russians to the sword back in Madrid during the 1990/91 quarter-finals. That confidence would have only been bolstered once Emilio Butragueno had struck on nine minutes, considering it was Los Blancos’ 22nd goal of the tournament.
That lead didn’t last long, though, and Real were behind before half-time. The likes of Hugo Sanchez had no reply and the final word went to Dmitri Radchenko and Valeri Shmarov, who gave the Muscovites a 3-1 win and a ticket to the semis. Unfortunately Spartak lost the semi-final to Marseille, a Club who were very much in their most succesful era of all-time, and included in their team the likes of Basile Boli, Abedi Pelé, Jean-Pierre Papin and Chris Waddle.

Bayern Munich 1 Manchester United 2 (Champions League Final, 1998/1999)
File:Manchester United FC crest.svg
As the Champions League trophy stood decked out with Bayern Munich’s ribbons and with 90 minutes on the clock, the two teams played out the conclusion to a hitherto unremarkable final.
Bayern Munich looked to have done enough to deserve to win the trophy following a first-half Mario Basler free kick which had put them in the lead. With three minutes of injury time remaining on the clock, Manchester United managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with two quick fire goals from Teddy Sheringham and "super sub" Ole Gunnar Solksjaer. The Germans were left stunned in what was to be Peter Schmeichel’s last game between the sticks for United.

AC Milan 3-3 Liverpool (Liverpool won 3-2 on penalties, Champions League Final, 2005)

File:Liverpool FC.svgThe "Miracle of Istanbul", the 2005 UEFA Champions League Final between AC Milan and Liverpool will forever be remembered as one of the greatest finals in world football history.
Almost every football fan knows the tale of this final—played at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul—in which Milan went 3-0 up at halftime.
At that point, it was shaping up to be one of the most one-sided finals ever, with AC Milan playing some of the most beautiful football seen in a Champions League final.
The result seemed a forgone conclusion just 60 seconds into the encounter, when captain Paolo Maldini volleyed home Andrea Pirlo's free-kick cross to put Milan 1-0 up, before a Hernan Crespo brace before halftime seemingly sealed Liverpool's fate.
Even on 54 minutes when Steven Gerrard gave Liverpool a lifeline and scored to make it 3-1, the final result never seemed in doubt. But what happened next changed football history forever.
Given space on the edge of the Milan penalty area, Vladimir Smicer hit a powerful yet hopeful shot which somehow found it's way past the Italian's packed defence and in to the bottom corner past Milan goalkeeper Dida.
With the score at 3-2 and Liverpool now attacking fast and full of hope, nerves got the Milan defence as they conceded a penalty as Gennaro Gattuso fouled Gerrard in the box.
Xabi Alonso stepped up and scored the penalty, putting Liverpool back in the game at 3-3, and, far more remarkably, making AC Milan's certain Champions League win completely crumble in the space of just six minutes.
A penalty shoot-out followed and the comeback was complete with Šmicer, Dietmar Hamann and Djibril Cissé converting for the Reds to win them a fifth European title in one of the greatest comebacks ever seen in the sport.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Greatest Club Dynasties in European History

Every once in a while a special football team comes along which stands out from the rest. Currently, in the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) one could argue it’s Bayern Munich of the Bundesliga. In the past, others have included: The 1991-1992 AC Milan side that went 58 matches unbeaten in Serie A, The ‘Invincibles’ of Arsenal who went 49 games unbeaten and won the 2003-2004 Premier League, the treble winning Manchester United team of 1999 and the treble winning Barcelona team from 2009. These were all great teams and great seasons, but by themselves do not constitute a sports dynasty.

Judging the ‘greatness’ of a club can be a very subjective issue. In the case of the clubs listed here, European success is the primary measurement of a team’s dominance. That said, domestic success, consecutive titles and the duration of the ‘dynasty’ also factor into how a club is ranked and can help break any ties between teams.

Here are a list of some of the greatest football club dynasties to have existed in Europe over the last sixty years:

Bayern Munich 1974-1976

While the current Bayern Munich side look like they are on their way to building a new dynasty, it was the team of the mid-1970s that made the headlines. Coached by Udo Lattek and Dettmar Cramer, Bayern picked up where the great Ajax team of the early 1970s had left off. The squad contained many German International players, notably sweeper Franz Beckenbauer, defender Paul Breitner, strikers Gerd Müller and Uli Hoeness and goalkeeper Sepp Maier. Unlike the other teams on this list, domestically, Bayern Munich were not overly successful during their dynasty period, winning only a single League title. What more than makes up for this are the three consecutive European Cups the club won from 1974 to 1976, beating Atlético Madrid, Leeds United and Saint-Étienne respectively in the Finals. A fifth trophy was added when they won the Intercontinental Cup in 1976. That 1970's generation instilled the winning mentality subsequent squads have aspired to, more often than not with success, and which is once again a trademark of the Bayern squad of the last few years.

  Gerd Müller and Paul Breitner celebrating in 1974

Barcelona 2006-2011

The most current dynasty on this list, Barcelona have become synonymous with European success. The Catalan side enjoyed a period of domestic and European dominance from 2006 to 2011. Coached by Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola, Barcelona claimed four league titles, five domestic cups, five European titles – including three Champions league titles, beating Arsenal and Manchester United twice in the finals – and two FIFA World Club Cups. Both Rijkaard and Guardiola encouraged a free-flowing, attack oriented strategy and the players helping Barca rise to prominence in this period included the likes of Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Samuel Eto’o, Victor Valdes, Gerard Pique, Danni Alves and Carles Puyol.

AC Milan 1988-1994

This Milan dynasty is well known for two reasons; excellent defense and the influence of a Dutch trio of players. Milan’s manager, Arrigo Sacchi, introduced the pressing game to soccer. This defensive method required a team to always attack the ball carrier, challenging the opposition and leaving little room for the opposition player to dribble or pass. This tactic could make it difficult to move the ball upfield and often led to turnovers which were exploited by Sacchi’s team. The team contained the most impressive defence probably ever assembled, a hard-working midfield and flair players up front. The first team was raised to greatness by the trio of Dutchmen namely Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten that had won the 1988 European Championships. By 1994 the team had changed in part, with other high profile signings replacing the original star players but with largely the same defensive foundation. They surpised critics by beating a brilliant Barcelona team 4-0 in the 1994 Champions League Final. Some of the other players to grace the Milan team of this era included: Paulo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Carlo Ancelotti, Alessandro Costacurta, Zvonimir Boban, Dejan Savićević, Demetrio Albertini and Marcel Desailly. With such weaponry at its disposal, this Milan dynasty claimed four league titles, four domestic cups, three European Cups/Champions League titles and two Intercontinental Cups.

                                    Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit in 1989

Ajax 1970-1973

Much of today’s football would not be what it is without the great Ajax side of the early seventies. Coached by the legendary Rinus Michels, the Dutch team introduced the world to the concept of ‘Total Football.’ This revolutionary method of football saw players interchange positions and move around the field in a fluid and seamless manner. Michels left to coach the Dutch national team, where he used the same system and the same core players. His work at Ajax was carried on in 1971 by new manager Ștefan Kovács. Helping implement ‘Total Football’ on the field were players like defender Ruud Krol, midfielders Johan Neeskens and Arnold Mühren and legendary midfielder-forward Johan Cruyff. In the span of just a few years, this team and its philosophy dominated Holland and Europe by winning three league titles, three domestic cups, three consecutive European Cups, beating Panathinaikos, Inter Milan and Juventus in the finals, and one Intercontinental Cup. Success proved Ajax’s downfall as Cruyff and Kovács were lured away by Barcelona and the French National team, respectively, ending the dynasty in 1973. Ajax’s approach to football notably influenced teams like Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Barcelona. 

                                            Cruyff, 1972 European Cup Final in Rotterdam

Liverpool 1977-1985

It is difficult not to put Liverpool in top spot and they only missed out by a narrow margin. From the late seventies to the mid-eighties, Liverpool were a domestic and European powerhouse. Bob Paisley managed the club until 1983 when his assistant Joe Fagan took over. Under their leadership, Liverpool secured four European Cups in 1977, 1978, 1981 and 1984, six League titles and nine domestic cups and trophies. Of course, management alone can not take all the credit, as Liverpool also benefited from the skills of players like Ray Clemence, Alan Hansen, Phil Neal, Emlyn Hughes, Phil Thompson, Graeme Souness, Terry McDermott, Steve Heighway, Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan and Ian Rush. Unfortunately, Liverpool’s dynasty came to a premature end with the Heysel Stadium disaster on 29th May, 1985. Following the death of 39 Juventus fans before the cup final, Liverpool supporters were blamed and UEFA banned all English clubs from European football indefinitely. In the 1991–92 season, Arsenal were the first team to represent England in the European Cup after English teams were allowed back in.

Real Madrid 1955-1960

The first true dynasty of the UEFA era, the Real Madrid team of the late 1950's was one of the best sides to ever take to the pitch. Although the club had a few managers during this period, the two most successful were José Villalonga, who remains to date the youngest coach to win the European Cup in 1956 aged just 36 and Miguel Muñoz, who won three European Cups as a Madrid player, captaining the side on two occasions, before managing them to European glory in 1960. Madrid's 1960 European Cup Final demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt was watched by a crowd of 127,621 at Hampden Park, and their 7-3 victory was considered by many to be one of the finest exhibitions of attacking football ever seen in Britain up to that point. The team of that era was blessed with an array of talent which included the likes of forwards Alfredo di Stéfano and Héctor Rial, midfielders Ferenc Puskás and Raymond Kopa, left-winger Francesco Gento, defenders Marcos Imaz and José Santamaría and goalkeeper Juan Alonso. Such talent has led many to believe that this was the first true Galáctico era in club history. Domestically, Madrid ‘only’ claimed three league titles during this dynasty. On the European stage, however, Los Blancos stood head and shoulders above everyone, winning five consecutive European Cups from 1956 to 1960. After 1960, Madrid’s European dominance faded. By the time another European Cup was won, in 1966, much of the side which had dominated in the late 1950's had been dismantled.

                            Real Madrid celebrate winning the 1956 European Cup Final in Paris

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Babe of the Month - Surf Bunny Alana Blanchard

Alana Rene Blanchard was born 5th March 1990 in Kauai, Hawaii, United States of America and is an American professional surfer and occasional bikini model. Alana, 5ft 8ins surfs on the ASP World Tour and her career earnings to date are $153,825.
Alana is sponsered by Rip Curl, GoPro, Reef, Spy, Channel Islands, Futures, Rockstar and is involved in designing Rip Curl bikinis. She is best friends with fellow surfer Bethany Hamilton, and was present when Hamilton suffered the shark attack that cost her an arm in October 2003.
Alana was played by actress Lorraine Nicholson, daughter of actor Jack Nicholson in the 2011 film Soul Surfer.
Alana currently has her own show, 'Surfer Girl' by Network A, which follows her life in Kauai as a professional surfer and model.

You can follow Alana on: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tunblr