Tuesday, December 15, 2009
ESPNsoccernet: December 16, 4:55 PM UK
The greatest games of the decade
It may have been the decade in which Jose Mourinho coined the phrase "parking the bus", but the past ten years have provided no shortage of brilliant attacking football, high drama and real controversy. These are the ten games that, more than any others, contained all the elements that make up an unforgettable match.
Spain 4-3 Yugoslavia, 2000
In what was a memorable first major tournament of the new millennium, one game in particular stood out as Spain, needing a win to reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2000, somehow scored twice in injury time to settle a group-stage tie that enthralled from start to finish. Savo Milosevic, playing his football in Spain with Real Zaragoza, headed his side into the lead after 30 minutes as Yugoslavia took advantage of their early dominance. Alfonso and Raul led the fightback though and the former equalised eight minutes later.
Still Spain could not wrestle control and when Dejan Govedarica scored a sublime effort on 50 minutes, Pedro Munitis was forced to reply inside 60 seconds with another goal of real beauty. Despite the loss of Slavisa Jokanovic to a red card, Yugoslavia took the lead for a third time on 75 minutes when Slobodan Komljenovic scored and as the clock ticked into injury time, it looked to be the end for Jose Antonio Camacho's side. But a game filled with attacking endeavour and high drama was to provide the most electric of denouements as Gaizka Mendieta scored from the spot and then, incredibly, Alfonso fired home some seven minutes into added time to put his side through. Cue chaotic celebrations.
Liverpool 5-4 (AET) Alaves, 2001
Before Istanbul, there was Dortmund - a highly-charged, dramatic UEFA Cup final that ended with Liverpool winning their third cup of the season and first European trophy since 1984. When Markus Babbel and Steven Gerrard put Liverpool 2-0 in front after 16 minutes it looked like being a routine win over the unfancied Spanish side and although Ivan Alonso replied after 27 minutes, a penalty from Gary McAllister restored Gerard Houllier's side's two-goal advantage going into the break. Alaves emerged like a side possessed though, and found a talisman in striker Javi Moreno who scored twice within six minutes of the restart.
Substitute Robbie Fowler put Liverpool in front again on 73 minutes with a well-executed goal but again Alaves demonstrated a refusal to be beaten and former Manchester United midfielder Jordi Cruyff snatched a goal with just a minute remaining in normal time to make it 4-4. Alaves struggled in extra-time as they were reduced to nine men following the dismissals of Antonio Karmona and Magno, and their resistance was finally ended when defender Delfi Geli headed into his own net to settle a thrilling tie on the golden goal rule.
South Korea 2-1 Italy (AET), 2002
A game that still provokes howls of fury from Italy fans, the Azzurri's shock defeat to hosts South Korea in the second round of the World Cup is one of the more controversial and dramatic matches in the competition's history. Ahn Jung-hwan had a penalty saved by Gianluigi Buffon in the opening minutes and while Christian Vieri scored with a header, Italy retreated into their shell, relying on the legacy of catenaccio as they sought to frustrate their opponents.
They could not keep the Koreans down though and Seol Ki-hyeon forced extra time when bundling the ball home with two minutes remaining, with Vieri missing a wonderful chance just moments later. In a thrilling conclusion, Ahn made amends for his penalty miss when rising above the Italy defence to score a golden goal after 117 minutes and put South Korea into the last eight. Italy, though, were infuriated by the performance of Ecuadorian referee Byron Moreno who sent off Francesco Totti, his second yellow card harshly awarded for simulation, and denied a perfectly good golden goal for Damiano Tommasi who was wrongly ruled offside. Stung by the sense of injustice, Serie A side Perugia then sacked Ahn for good measure.
Manchester United 4-3 Real Madrid (5-6 on aggregate), 2003
Having been on the receiving end of an attacking masterclass from the expensively-assembled galacticos when losing 3-1 in Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final, Manchester United were eliminated when Brazilian striker Ronaldo produced a performance of unmitigated brilliance.
But in the face of his hat-trick - with goals coming after 12, 50 and 59 minutes - United did not sit paralysed by awe and responded three times through Ruud van Nistelrooy (43), an Ivan Helguera own goal (52) and David Beckham (71). Needing to score three more times to reach the semi-finals, substitute Beckham provoked a thunderous roar from those in attendance at Old Trafford when adding his second on 84 minutes but it was not to be as a frantic United side were repelled by Iker Casillas. The abiding image from a classic contest of attacking football was the home support recognising Ronaldo's brilliance by affording the World Player of the Year a standing ovation.
Tottenham 3-4 Manchester City, 2004
Spurs had form in throwing away three-goal, half-time leads to teams from Manchester having famously surrendered such an advantage to Manchester United when losing 5-3 in 2001, but no-one expected another embarrassing capitulation in this FA Cup fourth round fixture. Not only had goals from Ledley King (2), Robbie Keane (19) and Christian Ziege (43) given David Pleat's side a comfortable advantage at White Hart Lane, but City had also found themselves down to ten men when Joey Barton was shown a second yellow card just after the half-time whistle.
A routine win would surely follow. But Kevin Keegan's men had other ideas and summoned up a performance of gargantuan proportions as Sylvain Distin (48), Paul Bosvelt (69) and Shaun Wright-Phillips (80) dragged them level. With disbelief setting in around North London, up popped John Macken only seconds from time to head in a cross from Michael Tarnat and complete one of the greatest comebacks in FA Cup history. "They'll talk about this game long after we've all gone," said Keegan.
Netherlands 2-3 Czech Republic, 2004
Aveiro was the setting for another remarkable comeback in the group stages of Euro 2004 as Netherlands let slip a 2-0 lead to lose to Czech Republic in an engrossing game that boasted two stylish teams committed to attacking football. With a total of 21 shots hitting the target, goalkeepers Petr Cech and Edwin van der Sar contributed to the spectacle with a succession of impressive saves but the Czech Republic keeper could not prevent Netherlands opening up a two-goal lead through Wilfred Bouma (3) and Ruud van Nistelrooy (19).
Jan Koller replied after 23 minutes when the Czechs capitalised on an error from Giovanni van Bronckhorst and still the chances came thick and fast with Edgar Davids hitting the post. Karel Bruckner's side were level when Milan Baros rifled home a superb volley after 71 minutes and with Holland down to ten men following the dismissal of Johnny Heitinga, Czech Republic completed a remarkable turnaround when Karel Poborsky showed admirable calm to square for Vladimir Smicer to tap home with just two minutes remaining. Both teams would lose in the semi-finals.
Liverpool 3-3 Milan (3-2 on pens), 2005
May 25, 2005 was a night in which all logic was rendered obsolete as Liverpool somehow came from 3-0 down at half-time to defeat AC Milan on penalties and lift the European Cup for a fifth time. New manager Rafa Benitez endured a disastrous first half as Paolo Maldini scored within 60 seconds and Hernan Crespo added a well-taken brace to put the Italians in firm control.
But with their dreams seemingly dashed, Liverpool drew on remarkable reserves of spirit and determination and fought back, with the introduction of Dietmar Hamann for Steve Finnan proving pivotal. In the space of six second-half minutes, Steven Gerrard, the catalyst for the comeback, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso, converting after his penalty was saved, had drawn Liverpool level. Djimi Traore, of all people, cleared off the line from Andriy Shevchenko and the Ukraine striker was denied again in extra-time when Jerzy Dudek pulled off a miraculous double save. Milan's resolve was broken and when Dudek saved from Shevchenko in the shoot-out, the most unexpected and thrilling of comebacks was complete.
Middlesbrough 4-2 Steaua Bucharest (4-3 on aggregate), 2006
For a four-week spell in April 2006, Steve McClaren briefly assumed the air of a football genius as he orchestrated two quite stunning comebacks as Middlesbrough reached the UEFA Cup final. Having already scored the four goals they need to overcome FC Basel in the quarter-finals, Boro were faced with a similar predicament in the last four when goals from Nicolae Dica and Dorin Goian left them 2-0 down at the Riverside and 3-0 down on aggregate.
McClaren wasted little time in bringing on Massimo Maccarone after 26 minutes and he got the ball rolling when netting after 33 minutes. McClaren then threw caution to the wind as Yakubu was introduced as a fourth striker and Steaua were overwhelmed, Mark Viduka (64) and Chris Riggott (73) drawing the home side level on aggregate before Maccarone, yet again, struck with a minute remaining. After a quite remarkable turnaround, normal service was resumed in the final when Sevilla won 4-0.
Germany 3-2 Turkey, 2008
Turkey had already earned a reputation for dramatic finishes at Euro 2008 after beating the Czech Republic with two late strikes in the group stage and scoring two minutes into added time in extra-time to force penalties against Croatia in the quarter-finals, but their luck finally deserted them in Basel in the last four. Much like Netherlands and Czech Republic four years previously, both sides showed ambition and attacking flair from the off and after Turkey snuck in front through Ugur Boral (22), Bastian Schweinsteiger replied just four minutes later.
Miroslav Klose headed home on 79 minutes and looked to have sealed the win for Germany before Semih Senturk added another late goal to his country's collection with a goal with four minutes remaining. But with four players injured and another four suspended prior to the game, an under-strength Turkey's spirited campaign finally ran out of steam as Philipp Lahm exchanged passes with Thomas Hitzlsperger and fired past Rustu. The travesty was that millions across Europe missed large chunks of the second half due to technical problems caused by a storm in Vienna.
Real Madrid 2-6 Barcelona, 2009
A heady night at the Bernabeu in May saw Josep Guardiola's Barca produce their defining performance in a season in which they collected an unprecedented Treble. The rout of their great rivals ended Real's lingering hopes of a title challenge and confirmed the classy Catalans as the best footballing side on the planet.
Real approached the game having won 17 of their past 18 games and took the lead through Gonzalo Higuain (14), but Barca swatted them aside with contempt. Thierry Henry (14) and Carles Puyol (20) struck in quick succession before Andres Iniesta pounced on a moment of indecision from Lassana Diarra and fed Lionel Messi, who rolled the ball lazily past Iker Casillas. Sergio Ramos (56) reduced the deficit but Barca accelerated away from a flagging Real side when Henry (57) and Messi (75) grabbed their seconds. The coup de grace was applied by defender Gerard Pique seven minutes from time. A statement had been made.