Saturday, December 16, 2017

16 December 1990 - Guardiola Adds Pep To Barça's Step

On 16 December 1990, 19-year old midfielder Josep "Pep" Guardiola made his Barcelona debut in a 2-0 win over Cádiz.

Having joined the club's youth academy seven years earlier, Guardiola started as a right midfielder before manager Johan Cruyff saw him in a reserve match and moved him to a central position. He quickly adapted to his new responsibilities and was called up to the first team for a friendly against Banyoles in May 1989. 

Then, in December 1990, Cruyff gave Guardiola his competitive debut in a league match at home against Cádiz. A crowd of 75,000 witnessed the occasion, causing the young midfielder to suffer a small bout of nerves while waiting to take the pitch. But once there, he played well with a grit and determination not to make a mistake (he did pick up a yellow card in the 33rd minute for a foul on an opposing player).

Barcelona won the match 2-0 with goals from Txiki Begiristain and José Maria Bakero, then went on to win the league. Guardiola made only four other appearances that season, but established himself as a regular the following year and helped the team to another five league titles, two Copa del Rey trophies, and one European Cup before leaving for Brescia in 2001.

He returned to the club in 2007 as an assistant manager, then took full reins of the team from 2008 to 2012, winning another fourteen trophies including three league titles and two Champions League trophies.

Friday, December 15, 2017

15 December 2001 - Ferdinand Hits The Jackpot

On 15 December 2001, Tottenham striker Les Ferdinand scored the Premier League's 10,000th goal, helping to deliver a win for his team and £10,000 to charity.

The milestone goal came during a match against Fulham at White Hart Lane in the Premier League's tenth season. Ferdinand, who had been a prolific scorer at QPR and Newcastle, was in his fifth year with Spurs, but had failed to recapture his previous form. He scored ten goals for Tottenham across all competitions in the 2000-01 campaign, the first time he had cracked double digits for them.

Against Fulham, however, he got off to a quick start, scoring in the 20th minute to put Spurs up 1-0. Thanks to the Tottenham defense--anchored by goalkeeper Neil Sullivan, who kept a clean sheet--it was the only goal they needed, but they got a trio of insurance goals from Darren Anderton (40', from a Ferdinand assist), Simon Davies (71'), and Sergei Rebrov to set the final margin at 4-0.

To commemorate the landmark goal, the Premier League awarded Ferdinand £10,000 for donation to the charity of his choice. He selected two cancer charities, splitting the money evenly between them.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

14 December 1986 - The Debut Of Dennis Bergkamp

On 14 December 1986, Dennis Bergkamp made his professional debut, coming on as a late substitute for Ajax against Roda JC.

Born in Amsterdam in 1969, Bergkamp joined the club's youth academy in 1981. He was 17 when he made that first professional appearance at home against Roda, as manager Johan Cruff subbed him in for Rob Witschge in the 66th minute. Ajax were already up 2-0 at the time and that turned out to be the final score.

The striker remained with the club for seven seasons, scoring 122 goals in 237 appearances across all competitions. Along the way, he won one Eredivisie title (1990), two KNVB Cups (1987, 1993), one UEFA Cup (1992), and one UEFA Cup Winners' Cup (1987) before moving to Inter for a transfer fee of £7.1 million.

He never settled at Inter and left after two seasons for Arsenal, where he regained his previous form. He went on to become one of the club's most highly regarded players, making 425 appearances and winning multiple league titles (1998, 2002, 2004) and FA Cups (1998, 2002, 2003, 2005) before his retirement in 2006.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

13 December 2006 - The Passing Of An American Pioneer

On 13 December 2006, American soccer pioneer Lamar Hunt passed away in Dallas. He was 74 years old.

Heir to an oil fortune, Hunt was an enthusiastic supporter of both both soccer and American football. In 1959, after being turned down for a National Football League franchise, he helped found the rival American Football League and formed his own team, the Dallas Texans. He later moved the team to Kansas City, renaming them as the Chiefs, and they eventually joined the NFL when the two leagues merged in 1970. 

His interest in soccer was sparked by a 1962 trip to Ireland, where he took in a Shamrock Rovers match. Five years later, he helped establish the North American Soccer League and founded the Dallas Tornado, who went on to win the league title in 1971.

After the demise of the NASL, Hunt continued to promote the sport in the US. He was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Major League Soccer, which debuted in 1996 with two Hunt-owned teams, the Columbus Crew and the Kansas City Wizards. In 2003, he acquired a third team, FC Dallas and owned all three until his death.

He received several honors and awards over the course of his life, including induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1992 and the placement of his statute outside the Columbus Crew Stadium. In 1999, the U.S. Soccer Federation renamed the U.S. Open Cup in his honor. Now known as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, it is the country's longest-running soccer competition.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

9 December 2009 - Using Your Head Isn't Always The Best Decision

On 9 December 2009, Queens Park Rangers suspended manager Jim Magilton for allegedly head-butting one of his own players.

The incident occurred in the tunnel after QPR's away loss to Watford two days earlier. It was their third loss in four games, dropping the team into tenth place and putting pressure on Magilton (pictured), who was in his first season as QPR boss. According to reports, the manager got into an altercation with Rangers midfielder Ákos Buzsáky, then head-butted him. (Coincidentally, he was the second manager in England to be accused of head-butting a player, with the other being Stoke's Tony Pulis).

The club announced the suspension on 9 December with immediate effect and promised an internal investigation. Magilton admitted to having a disagreement with Buzsáky, but denied head-butting him, saying that the reports were incorrect and that he looked forward to reinstatement upon the completion of the club's investigation.

One week later, on 16 December, Magilton left his post as QPR manager. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

8 December 1985 - Juventus Complete Their Collection

On 8 December 1985, Juventus won the Intercontinental Cup on penalties over Argentinos Juniors, becoming the first--and so far only--team to win all of their possible major trophies.

Playing before a crowd of 62,000 at the National Stadium in Tokyo, Argentinos forward Carlos Ereros opened the scoring by chipping Juventus goalkeeper Stefano Tacconi in the 55th minute. The sides then traded a pair of disallowed goals before Michel Platini brought Juventus level with a 63rd-minute penalty kick. Soon afterward, Platini found the back of the net with a brilliant move, lifting the ball over a defender with his right foot, then firing home with his left, but the referee disallowed it because another Juventus player was offside.

Instead, Argentinos took the lead in the 75th minute when José Antonio Castro scored from a tight angle into the far side of the net. Not to be outdone, Juventus forward Michael Laudrup scored from a equally narrow degree seven minutes later.

Locked at 2-2, the match went into a penalty shootout. After a miss from Laudrup and two from Argentinos, Platini converted the final kick to give Juventus the trophy. It marked a complete silverware collection for the team from Turin, who had already won all of the domestic and European competitions available to them.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

7 December 2011 - Lyon Beats The Odds

On 7 December 2011, Lyon advanced in the Champions League despite starting the day from what seemed to be an impossible position.

It was the last day of the group stage and Lyon were in third, behind leaders Real Madrid and second-place Ajax. Lyon were three points behind the Dutch and needed both an Ajax loss and a win of their own over Dinamo Zagreb in order to draw level on points. But the challenge did not stop there. They also needed to make up a 7-goal gap in differential, which was a tough ask given that Lyon had scored only twice in their other five group stage matches (both against Zagreb).

Playing at Dinamo's Stadion Maksimir, the hill grew even steeper after Zagreb took the lead with a 40th-minute goal from midfielder Mateo Kovačić (despite losing midfielder Jerko Leko to a 28th-minute red card). But Bafétimbi Gomis equalized for Lyon just before the break.

The second half belonged to Lyon. By the 70th minute, they were up 1-6 with a goal from Maxime Gonalons (47'), one from Lisandro López (64'), and three more from Gomis (48', 52', 70'). At the same time, Real Madrid were on top of Ajax 0-2, bringing Lyon level with the Dutch on goal differential. Then Jimmy Briand pushed Lyon ahead with a final goal against Zagreb in the 75th minute and Real Madrid added another against Ajax in stoppage time to put Ajax's differential at zero and Lyon's at +2.

Lyon's reward for the improbable result was a trip to the Round of 16, where they were eliminated on penalties by APOEL.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

6 December 1993 - Sawa Starts To Soar

On 6 December 1993, Homare Sawa earned her first cap for Japan. 

She was only 15 years old at the time, but had been playing professionally for three years with L. League team Yomiura Beleza, where her performances led to her being named to the league's Best XI for 1993 and a national team call-up the same year.

That first match was against the Philippines in the 1993 AFC Women's Championship. After missing Japan's opener, a 6-1 win over Chinese Taipei, Sawa delivered against the Philippines, scoring four goals in the 15-0 victory. They then went on to win their next match over Hong Kong, but were eliminated by China in the semifinals.

In 2011, she captained the team to the World Cup title, then followed that by winning that year's Ballon d'Or. By the time she retired in 2015, she set the team records for appearances (205) and goals (83). 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

5 December 1905 - The Gunners Unload

On 5 December 1905, Arsenal beat a Paris XI in a  friendly by the record score of 26-1.

The Gunners, still known at the time as Woolwich Arsenal, were in their second season under manager Phil Kelso, who had guided them to a tenth-place league finish the previous spring. Although he was looking to improve that finish in the new season, his team had gotten off to a poor start, losing eight of their first fifteen matches. They were sitting in sixteenth place when they hosted the friendly at the Manor Ground in Plumstead.

Their opponents were a collection of players based in Paris. Though no official records of the match remain, it is widely believed that the side included many members of the French national team, with one notable exception--the side was short a man, so borrowed the services of an Arsenal reserve believed to be W.J. "Chips" Hodge.

It is known for certain that Arsenal won 26-1, a scoreline that remains a club record. The top scorer of the day was inside forward Bob Watson, who provided seven goals. He never displayed that kind of form in the league, however, scoring only once in ten competitive appearances for the club.

Monday, December 4, 2017

4 December 2011 - Socrates Passes Away

On 4 December 2011, former Brazil captain Socrates passed away from complications related to food poisoning. He was 57.

One of the most inventive and dynamic players of his generation, the towering midfielder started his career with Botafogo in 1974. But spent the majority of it with Corinthians, for whom he made 297 league appearances and scored 172 goals between 1978 and 1984 and won three league titles (1979, 1982, 1984).

He earned his first cap from Brazil in 1979 and went on to make a total of 60 appearances, including a spell as captain for the 1982 World Cup. Unfortunately for him, Brazil were eliminated in the second group stage of that tournament and never won a major title during Socrates' tenure, with their best finish being runners-up in the 1982 Copa America.

Socrates won individual awards, though, and was named the 1983 South American Footballer of the Year over Argentina's Ubaldo Fillol and Brazil's Éder.

After leaving Corinthians in 1984, he spent a season in Italy with Fiorentina, then returned to Brazil to play for Flamengo, Santos, and Botafogo before retiring in 1989. Having earned a medical degree during his playing days, he became a practicing physician upon retiring from football and also wrote prolific columns on sports and politics.

At the beginning of December 2011, he went into the hospital for food poisoning and died from related complications.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

3 December 1972 - Last One In Before The Doors Close

On 3 December 1972, Juventus beat Fiorentina 2-1, conceding for the last time before a club-record run of 903 scoreless minutes.

Defending league champions Juventus hosted the Serie A match, starting the day in fourth place, with Fiorentina a single point behind them. Anchored by goalkeeper Dino Zoff, the Juventus defense had given up only eight goals on the season, but had kept only two clean sheets. So it was not particularly surprising when Fiorentina striker Nello Saltutti  found the back of the net in the 41st minute. Nor was a shock that Saltutti's goal was the visitors' only one of the day, as Juventus went on to win 2-1 with strikes from Helmut Haller (60') and José Altafini (70').

Nobody expected what came later, however, as Juventus went on to keep the opposition scoreless for a club-record 903 minutes covering a span of nine games with seven wins and two draws. The scoreless run ended on 18 February with a 2-2 draw with AC Milan.

For the remainder of the season, those two teams battled for the Scudetto, with Juventus eventually finishing one point clear of Milan to claim their 15th national title.

In March 2016, the club set the current scoreless record of 974 minutes. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

2 December 1997 - Dortmund Cruises Over Cruzeiro

On 2 December 1997, Borussia Dortmund won the Intercontinental Cup, beating Cruzeiro 2-0 in Tokyo.

It was the first appearance in the competition for Dortmund, but the second for Cruzeiro, who lost to Bayern Munich in 1976. That final had been played over two legs, home and away, with the Brazilians losing 2-0 in Germany, then playing to a scoreless draw in Brazil. In 1980, the cup switched to a single-game format, hosted by Japan, and Cruzeiro were hoping for a better result.

But, playing before a crowd of over 51,000 at Tokyo's National Stadium, it was Dortmund who took the lead with a short-range shot from midfielder Michael Zorc in the 34th minute. The ball fell to him just a few feet outside the goal and he beat keeper Dida with a stinging left-footed blast.

Dida had an otherwise strong game, denying several Dortmund chances. But in the 84th minute, he was beaten by another close-range shot, this time from striker Heiko Herrlich, to end the game at 2-0.

It was the last trip to the competition for either club, though Dida went on to win its successor tournament, the FIFA Club World Cup, in 2007 with AC Milan.

Friday, December 1, 2017

1 December 1994 - Experience Isn't Always Enough

On 1 December 1994, Vélez Sársfield won the Intercontinental Cup, beating three-time champions AC Milan 2-0.

It was the first appearance in the competition for Vélez, who had just won the Copa Libertadores that summer. Their opponents were the defending European Cup champions, AC Milan, who had been in the Intercontinental Cup five times, winning it three times. Their most recent appearance was in 1993, when they lost to São Paulo. So they were looking for redemption the following year against Vélez.

But the Argentinians were prepared for the challenge. Playing before a crowd of almost 48,000 at the National Stadium in Tokyo, they kept them game locked in a scoreless draw at the break. Then, in the second half, they got a pair of goals in an 8-minute span to secure the trophy.

The first goal came through a penalty, converted by defender Roberto Trotta in the 50th minute. In the 57th minute, forward Omar Asad scored an incredible second goal, racing into the box to intercept a poor Milan pass back to the keeper, then turning and firing into the net from a tight angle. The effort led to him being named Man of the Match and took the final score to 2-0.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

30 November 2010 - The Hammers Pound Manchester United

On 30 November 2010, league-leaders Manchester United were dumped out of the League Cup by last-place West Ham, 4-0.

The Red Devils were the cup holders, having won the competition in 2009 and 2010. In fact, they had not lost a League Cup match since September 2007. In 2010, they beat Scunthorpe and Wolverhampton to set up a fifth-round meeting with West Ham, whom they had already beaten in the league back in August en route to their climb to the top of the table.

West Ham, meanwhile, had advanced in the tournament over fellow Premier League teams Sunderland and Stoke City while sinking to the bottom of the league table--they had been in last place since the start of October.

But when they met at Upton Park on 30 November, West Ham were the dominant side, taking a 2-0 lead into the break after a pair of goals from Jonathan Spector (22', 37'). They continued to shine in the second half as Carlton Cole got a brace of his own (56', 66') to stretch the final margin to 4-0.

The win put the Hammers into the semifinals, where they fell to eventual winners Birmingham City. In the league, both Manchester United and West Ham finished in the same respective spots, with the former winning the league and the latter sitting on the bottom.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

29 November 1986 - A Trophy Three Decades In The Making

On 29 November 1986, River Plate finally won their first Copa Libertadores in their third appearance in the final.

They reached the final in 1966 and 1976 before losing to Peñarol and Cruzeiro, respectively, though they forced a replay in both cases. After another ten-year break, they found themselves in the final again, this time against América de Cali, who finished as runners-up in 1985, their only previous appearance in the final.

The two teams met in Colombia for the first leg on 22 November and River Plate won 1-2 with goals from Juan Gilberto Funes (22') and Norberto Alonso (25'). At the time, the tournament was decided on points, so the Argentinians needed only a draw at home in the second leg to lift the trophy.

River Plate hosted America at the Estadio Monumental one week later, where a crowd of 74,300 turned out to watch. After a scoreless first half, Funes (pictured) found the back of the net in the 69th minute. It proved to be the only goal of the match, securing the trophy for River Plate.

Keeping to their ten-year pattern, they returned to the final in 1996 and won it for a second time, again beating América de Cali over two legs. They then won it a third time in 2015.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

28 November 2000 - Boca's Five-Minute Flurry

On 28 November 2000, Boca Juniors won their second Intercontinental Cup, upsetting Real Madrid 2-1.

Madrid, winners of the previous season's Champions League, had lifted the Intercontinental Cup in 1960 and 1998 and were looking for their third trophy. Led by the attacking trio of Raúl, Guti, and Luís Figo, they were heavily favored over Copa Libertadores champions Boca Juniors, who had themselves won the Intercontinental Cup in 1977.

But playing before a crowd of over 52,000 at the National Stadium in Tokyo, the Spaniards were stunned to  find themselves down 2-0 after only five minutes, with both goals delivered by forward Martín Palermo. For the first, in the third minute, he received a cross at the edge of the 6-yard box and fired home past keeper Iker Casillas. Two minutes later, he ran onto a long lobbed ball and held off pressure from a Madrid defender before firing it past the hands of the diving Casillas.

Real Madrid back Roberto Carlos pulled one back in the 11th minute. But even though they enjoyed the lion's share of possession, they could not crack the Boca defense again.

Madrid did eventually win a third Intercontinental Cup in 2002, followed by Boca's third in 2003.

Monday, November 27, 2017

27 November 1941 - France's Friend In Need

On 27 November 1941, World Cup-winning French manager Aimé Jacquet was born in the commune of Sail-sous-Couzan.

He enjoyed a long a successful playing career as a defensive midfielder, spending thirteen seasons at Saint-Étienne from 1960 to 1973. While there, he won five league titles and lifted the Coupe de France three times (and in 1968, he made his only two appearances for France). He moved to Lyon for his last two seasons before retiring in 1976, then took charge of the club as manager that year.

After four seasons in charge of Lyon, he switched to Bordeaux and guided the Girondins to the league title in 1984 and 1985, the Coupe de France in 1986, and a league and cup double in 1987. Despite that success, he fell out with the club president and left in 1989. Brief spells with Montpellier (1989-90) and Nancy (1990-91) followed before he took the reins of the national team in 1993.

When he took over, France had just failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup and shortly afterward suffered the loss of captain Eric Cantona to a year-long suspension. But he rebuilt the team around midfielder Zinedine Zidane and led them to the quarterfinals of Euro '96.

He adopted a 4-2-1-3 formation and frequently experimented with his line-up, which drew heavy criticism from French commentators. But his work led France to victory in the 1998 World Cup with a 3-0 victory over Brazil in the Stade de France.

Jacquet stepped down as manager immediately after the tournament, but served as technical director for the national team until his retirement 2006.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

26 November 1977 - Run For The Forest

On 26 November 1977, Nottingham Forest drew 0-0 with West Brom to start a club-record streak of 42 unbeaten league matches.

Forest were in the third full season under the managerial duo of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, who took charge of the club in January 1975. They were in Division Two at the time, but won promotion to the top flight for the 1977-78 season.

They started off well in the First Division, winning ten and drawing two of their first thirteen matches and claiming the table's top spot in week nine. They remained there for the duration of the season, even after losing two of their first three games in November. Those two losses, to Chelsea and Leeds, joined an earlier one to Arsenal as their only losses on the season.

Their next match was the home draw against West Brom, followed by another 25 undefeated matches in the league to lift them seven points clear of runners-up Liverpool in the final table (Forest had also beaten Liverpool in that season's League Cup final).

The next season started with another 16 straight undefeated matches to take the total to 42 before Forest finally lost to Liverpool on 9 December 1978. They finished the season as runners-up to Liverpool in the league, but took some consolation by winning the first of two consecutive European Cups that year.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

25 November 1964 - Liverpool's Study In Scarlet

On 25 November 1964, Liverpool played for the first time in the all-red kit that has since become the club's trademark.

Founded in 1892, Liverpool initially adopted blue and white as their colors. But four years later, they exchanged those colors for a combination of red shirts and white shorts (usually paired with red socks). That scheme remained their home kit until 1964, when manager Bill Shankly proposed the idea of a more intimidating all-red uniform.

According to club legend, Ron Yeats was the first player to model the new colors for Shankly, who reportedly responded by saying "Jesus Christ, son. You look bloody massive. You'll scare them to death."

Liverpool first wore the new home colors in a second-round European Cup match against Anderlecht. And while it's not clear whether they played a psychological effect on the Belgians, Liverpool ran out 3-0 winners on the day with goals from Ian St. John (10'), Roger Hunt (43'), and Yeats (50'). They went on to win the second leg as well and eventually reached the semifinals before falling to Inter Milan.

The club switched to all-red for the start of the 1965-66 season and has worn those colors ever since.

Friday, November 24, 2017

24 November 1979 - Best Comes Back To Britain

On 24 November 1979, George Best returned to the UK from his American exile to play briefly for Hibernian and scored on his debut.

He became one of the most famous footballers in the world while playing for Manchester United, winning, among other things, the 1968 Ballon d'Or. But his inability to resist women and alcohol caused problems for him at Old Trafford, resulting in a series of retirements from the club, the last of which came in January 1974.

Afterward, he turned out for a handful of clubs, including Stockport County (1975) and Cork Celtic (1975-76), before splitting time between the Los Angeles Aztecs and Fulham from 1976 to 1978. When he left Fulham in 1978, he remained in the US, playing for LA and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

But in the fall of 1979, Hibernian manager Tom Hart lured Best back to Britain. At the time, Hibs were at the bottom of the Scottish First Division table and were lucky to draw 5,000 people to a match. Hart figured correctly that Best, despite having lost much of his ability, was still a big enough name to bring in the crowds and agreed to pay him £2,500 per match at a time when most of the team's other players were making less than a tenth of that amount.

Best's first appearance, though, was in an away match against St. Mirren, where a crowd of 13,798 watched him score the visitors' only goal in a 2-1 result. In his home debut the following week, more than 20,000 filled the stands. He didn't score, but helped Hibs claim their first win since August. It was only a brief respite, as they were relegated at the end of the season.

He played only 17 games for Hibernian across two seasons, scoring a total of three goals, before returning to the US to play for the San Jose Earthquakes. He continued to move around over the next few years before his final retirement in 1984, but never played professionally in the UK again.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

23 November 1960 - It Was A Terrific Run While It Lasted

On 23 November 1960, Real Madrid were eliminated from the European Cup for the first time in history. By rivals Barcelona.

Real Madrid had won all five previous tournaments starting with the 1954-55 edition. Barcelona, meanwhile, had, to that point, participated only once, getting eliminated by Real Madrid in the semi-finals the previous season. They did earn a measure of revenge over Madrid by winning La Liga that spring (Madrid finished as runners-up), but were still eager to knock Madrid off their European perch.

They met in the first round, with Real Madrid hosting the first leg on 9 November. There, a penalty from Luis Suárez in the 88th minute earned Barcelona a 2-2 draw with the 5-time defending champions.

Two weeks later, the teams met at Camp Nou for the second leg where Barcelona took a two-goal lead deep into the second half after getting goals from Martí Vergés (33') and Evaristo de Marcedo (81'). Madrid forward Canário scored in the 87th minute to set up a tense finish, but it was the visitors' only goal of the day and they fell 4-3 on aggregate.

Barcelona eventually reached the final, but lost there to Benfica, 3-2. They finally won it in 1992 and have since lifted the trophy three more times. Real Madrid, meanwhile, won it again in 1966 and have since extended their collection of European Cups/Champions League trophies to nine.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

22 November 1967 - Make Your Own "Irish Famine" Joke

On 22 November 1967, Ireland beat Czechoslovakia in a European qualifier. It was their last win for almost five years.

Played in Prague, the match was the last one in the qualifying group, with only the top finisher advancing to the quarterfinals. Ireland were already eliminated but were hoping to play the role of spoiler for the hosts, who started the day one point behind group leader Spain (the Spanish had already completed all of their matches).

The Czechs took the lead in the 57th minute courtesy of an own goal from Irish center back John Dempsey, but Ray Treacy pulled the visitors level in the 65th minute. Then, with four minutes of normal time remaining, striker Turlough O'Connor scored the match winner. The win lifted Ireland off the bottom of their group table into third and kept Czechoslovakia in second behind Spain.

It turned out to be Ireland's last taste of victory for quite a while. They went winless in their next twenty games, including their qualification campaigns for the 1970 World Cup and Euro '72, before finally beating Iran 2-1 in a friendly on 18 June 1972. They did not win another competitive match until they defeated France 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier on 15 November 1972.

Monday, November 20, 2017

20 November 1957 - Ajax Goes European

On 20 November 1957, Ajax made their first European Cup appearance, beating East Germany's SC Wismut in the Round of 16. They later went on to win the competition four times, including three straight titles from 1971 to 1973.

Ajax failed to qualify for the first two European Cups, but made it into the 1957-58 tournament by winning the Eredivisie the previous season. They were one of seven teams, including defending champions Real Madrid, to receive a bye in the first round, placing them directly into the Round of 16.

There, they faced East German champions SC Wismut, who had advanced out of the preliminary round with a coin toss after their playoff match against Gwardia Warsaw was halted after 100 minutes when the floodlights failed.

Wismut hosted the first leg and promptly fell behind to the visitors after a goal from winger Piet van der Kuil in the fifth minute. Wim Bleijenberg doubled the lead eleven minutes later, then van der Kuil struck again in the 64th minute. Wismut got a consolation goal in the 86th minute to set the final margin at 1-3 for Ajax.

Ajax won the second leg 1-0 one week later to advance to the quarterfinals where they fell to Hungarian side Vasas 2-6 on aggregate. Afterward, they became one of the most successful teams in European competition, winning the European Cup in 1971, 1972, and 1973, then again in 1995 (after it had been renamed the Champions League). They also finished as runners-up in 1969 and 1996.

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.