Friday, January 1, 2010
ESPNsoccernet: January 4, 4:03 PM UK
It's been a decade of excitement and intrigue and a lot has changed over the past ten years. Here, ESPN Soccernet's columnists relive their best memories from the world of football.
• Soccernet staff says...
• Derek Rae: As a commentator, you're often at the mercy of the action served up in front of you. In 2005, ESPN took the decision to send me and the production team to the Champions League final in Istanbul. Imagine the mood in the commentary box at half-time with AC Milan 3-0 ahead and Liverpool on their knees. We thought it was all over as a contest. Little did we know we were about to witness the greatest and most dramatic comeback in the history of the competition. It's hard to envisage anything topping the miracle at the Ataturk. What a privilege it was to be there.
• Richard Jolly: Among umpteen memories of the Premier League sides, of Manchester United's elegant demolition of Roma and seminal semi-final against AC Milan, of Liverpool's embarrassment of Real Madrid and elimination of Chelsea in another Champions League encounter and of some simply sublime football from Arsenal - most recently on the opening day of the season against Everton - other incidents stand out simply because of their sheer unlikelihood. The 39-year-old Dean Windass sending Hull into the top flight for the first time in their history is one such for me, along with Robbie Blake's majestic volley to give Burnley a first Premier League goal and, in the process, condemn Manchester United to defeat. Such moments seemed strange at the time: in years to come, they may appear still more surreal.
• Eduardo Alvarez: Euro 2008, June 22. Ernst Happel Stadium, Vienna, Austria. Francesc Fábregas, Cesc, grabs the ball and carefully puts it on the middle of the penalty spot. If he manages to score, it's over. Not only the quarter-final match against Italy, but also Spain's "Italian Curse" (Spain have not beaten Italy in an official match since 1920), their "Quarter-final Curse" (having not made the semi-finals of an international tournament since 1984) and the "June 22 Curse" (eliminated from three major tournaments on that date), would be terminated with just one penalty kick.
Cesc avoids looking at Gianluigi Buffon, who appears an intimidating figure. My seat is right behind the goal where the penalty kicks are being taken. The previous afternoon, I patiently watched the Spanish players training shots from the penalty spot for almost two hours, and I am absolutely positive Cesc will choose right-hand. Cesquito starts jogging. Buffon stands still. Cesc gets closer to the ball while Buffon starts slowly moving to Cesc's right. Buffon has guessed it correctly.
At the very last second, Cesc changes his shot, half hitting the ball towards the middle of the goal, while Buffon dives to Cesc's right and helplessly watches the ball slowly go in. It's over. Thank God it's over. Three almost eternal curses are now history, but more importantly, our ceiling has been officially removed. Nothing will be tougher than beating Italy from the penalty spot. Spain are now a winning team and they proved it later in the tournament.
• Ernst Bouwes: For me it has to be my team NEC Nijmegen in 2008. We started in 17th position and suffered a shameful exit from the cup against lower-league opponents at home. Then, after putting together 31 games without defeat, before we knew it we were watching UEFA Cup football and not relegation play-offs, going into Europe after beating NAC 6-0. Obviously our best players left in the summer, but we still kicked Dinamo Bucharest out to get into the group stage. Having started with two defeats, going to Moscow seemed a waste of time, but we beat Spartak at home! We then needed Spurs to keep Spartak to a draw and beat Udinese ourselves to go to the third round. The Russians were 2-0 up at half-time. Then came a Spurs goal, and when their equaliser arrived on our scoreboards, only two seconds later we scored our first to beat the Italians. We lost to Hamburg in the last 32, but it was the most successful year in the club's history. A year later we are back in our customary 17th place.
• Brett Taylor: The past decade has been easily the most influential in Australian football's history, in fact it would be difficult to imagine any other region having experienced such significant milestones and tectonic shifts in the 'noughties' as we did here. The game has been completely transformed in a tiny amount of time, since the sometimes shambolic Soccer Australia organisation was replaced by the billionaire-businessman Frank Lowy-led Football Federation Australia mid-decade. The A-League was launched, Australia joined the Asian Confederation and the Socceroos secured qualification for the 2006 and then 2010 World Cups. The night of November 16, 2005, when Australia beat Uruguay to qualify for Germany 2006, was probably the best moment of my life! All indications are that this golden era is no flash in the pan. This decade will be remembered as the time the sleeping giant of Australian sport finally awakened.
• Uli Hesse: When I think of football and the past decade, what should come to my mind is the World Cup in Germany; for instance seeing Argentina's 25-pass move that resulted in Esteban Cambiasso's goal against Serbia & Montenegro unfold right before my eyes. But instead I see myself driving through the streets of Rotterdam a few minutes after midnight in May of 2002. I'm driving way too fast, especially when you take into account I am steering the car with my knees. I have to do this because I am holding both a cigarette and a can of beer in my left hand while trying to make a phone call with the mobile in my right hand. Oh, and I also have no idea whether or not I am heading in the right direction. But I couldn't care less. All I want to do is get out of Rotterdam as quickly as possible. I'm beginning to fear the worst when the mobile rings and rings and rings, but at long last my friend Bernd answers the phone. "We're already on the motorway and we're okay," he says to my relief, referring to himself and about fifty other Borussia Dortmund fans. Then he adds: "Everybody on this coach is glad we lost the game. Otherwise we wouldn't have gotten out of that place alive." The game in question was nothing less than a UEFA Cup final, yet I knew how the people on the coach felt. Based on that day's experience, I can assure you that whatever you've heard about Feyenoord fans is true. And no, I don't have any idea either why UEFA didn't move the match to a neutral venue when Feyenoord reached the final. What I know is that if I never return to Rotterdam, it'll still be too early.
• Paul Marshall: If I'd looked straight ahead instead of following the ball, I would have seen it in real time. When play at the other end of the pitch was stopped, I - like everyone else in the Olympiastadion - focused on Marco Materazzi prone on the turf. Confusion was the overwhelming emotion, which was only exacerbated by the sight of the red card. The cacophony of boos from the crowd - with neutrals siding with the balding No.10 - was impressive, but they weren't privy to the replay on the TVs in the press section. I thought my own gob-smacked reaction to the bravado Zidane had shown in chipping in his early penalty could not be outdone, but the scene that played out on the screen in front of me topped even that for incredulity. Immediately, my eyes returned to Zidane departing the pitch. The flawed maestro exited stage left, passing within touching distance of the trophy that had seemed destined to be the final brushstroke in his masterpiece of a career.
• Ernesto Garrido: The 2000s were a fantastic decade for Brazilian football. During these ten years our players won the Player of the Year Award four times (twice Ronaldinho Gaúcho, once Ronaldo Fenômeno and Kaká), two of our teams won the Club World Cup (Internacional, beating Barcelona, and São Paulo, beating Liverpool) and, of course, our national team conquered our fifth World Cup in 2002. As a Brazilian, the 2002 World Cup victory has to be my choice. The memory of this past decade, at least for me, will always be Cafú raising the Cup while saying the words "Regina, eu te amo" (Regina, I love you) to his wife. In Cafú's t-shirt you could read the name of his childhood neighbourhood, Jardim Irene, a place where our former skipper today manages an amazing project to educate kids from low-income families through football. When Cafú raised that Cup, the previous month passed through our minds: the six goals scored by Ronaldo Fenômeno after his amazing comeback from career threatening injuries, Rivaldo's almost perfect tournament, Ronaldinho's incredible goal against England, Denilson taking five Turks to the corner flag. Every time any Brazilian sees that footage, all that comes back to us. It will take another World Cup victory to occupy Cafú's place in our memories. Hopefully this summer.
• Sam Kelly: My fondest memory comes not from my normal 'home' territory of Argentina, but from the Copa Libertadores campaign of 2007. Having won promotion to the Colombian top flight in 2005, and followed it immediately with a championship win, Cúcuta Deportivo went into the year on flying form. No-one gave them much of a chance at first, but during the tournament they played beat - in fact, they absolutely thrashed - a number of continental giants, scoring the kind of goals more often seen on computer games set to 'easy' mode.
They reached the semi-final, where they were meant to come unstuck, but after falling behind they rallied to beat Boca 3-1 at home. For the second leg, though, their Panamanian star striker Blas Pérez (who's now playing in Mexico) was called up by his country for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, and in fog so thick the TV cameras couldn't make out the centre circle, Boca won 3-0 in La Bombonera. Given the hosts' status in South America, there were dark mutterings about whether the match would've been played that night had Cúcuta been hosting and Boca hanging on to the lead. In the final they beat Brazil's Grêmio - whom Cúcuta had beaten on 'aggregate' in the group stage.
A few months later, touring Madrid's Bernabéu, I bumped into a guy in a Cúcuta shirt. We've stayed in touch ever since.
• Steve Davis: David Beckham signs with MLS: Did it work? Was it worth the money? Will history see it as a watershed moment that nudged soccer past a sticking point in cultural acceptance, or will it just be seen as a stunt that simply made the L.A. Galaxy some money in the short term? We'll have to wait and see, but who could deny the dust-storm of conversation the Beckham Experiment has kicked up? It all began on a remarkable day in January of 2007 at the shocking announcement that soccer's most illustrious, most iconic figure would be joining little ol' MLS.
Soccernet staff says...
John Brewin: My arrival at Soccernet came the week before the start of Euro 2000 so it was a severe case of being thrown in at the deep end. And what a tournament it was, climaxing in David Trezeguet's 'Golden Goal' winner for France, denying an Italy team who had previously turned defence into a thrilling art form. My esteemed former colleague Chris Borg correctly labelled it "a tournament of innumerable highlights"as Zinedine Zidane proved himself as by far the best player of the era. So good you could set him to music, as I remember the BBC doing when running a 'Zizou' highlights reel over Barry White's 'Playing Your Game'.
Jon Carter: For many, the memories of university are ones that stay with you a lifetime. On October 6, 2001, I had been in my first year for just a few months, making friends and learning about life away from home. The foot of David Beckham made this easier as his last-gasp free-kick against Greece at Old Trafford saved a 2-2 draw and sent England into the 2002 World Cup. The scenes of celebration while at least 50 students cramped around the tiny TV in my room will stay in my mind forever. Sadly, as England fell to Brazil in the semi-finals the following summer, the tears of one of my heroes, David Seaman - after he had let Ronaldinho's free-kick sail over his head - fell as I watched the game from the lonely vantage point of my parents' sofa.
Dale Johnson: Supporting a joke of a team for the past ten years tends to have you scrabbling around for highlights. In seven out of ten seasons, Sheffield Wednesday have languished in the bottom six, so watching your team win promotion (from the third division), with 40,000+ other Wednesdayites in the Millennium Stadium, was a little surreal. Well, it certainly seems surreal now. Glorious sunshine, a dramatic extra-time victory and celebrating through the streets of Cardiff. Then there's sitting around the play-off trophy, in the team hotel bar at Watford a few months later, with all the coaching staff. More than a few beers were sunk that night. Back to reality.
Tom Adams: The last day of the 2005-06 season saw Arsenal fans awaking with an unfamiliar feeling. Tottenham were in pole position to take the last Champions League spot and needed only to beat West Ham to finish above the Gunners for the first time since 1995. Full of nervous anticipation, this reporter switched on the TV to learn that food poisoning had laid low ten Tottenham players. Reports, counter-reports and intrigue made for a fascinating and nerve-shredding day that ended with Spurs succumbing to a 2-1 defeat and Arsenal beating Wigan to take fourth. It meant all the more given that it was the final game played at Highbury and Thierry Henry, perhaps the finest player to grace the old stadium, signed off with a hat-trick and bent down to kiss the turf. Never had a lasagne played such a crucial role in the conclusion of a domestic season.
Dom Raynor: Looking back at the decade, England's collapse against Croatia on the evening on November 21, 2007, and subsequent failure to qualify for Euro 2008 remains seared in my memory; as much for the gallows humour that permeated the crowd at a rain-soaked Wembley as the iconic image of the Steve 'The Wally with the Brolly' McClaren. Scott Carson's goalkeeping howler and a strike from Ivica Olic gave the visitors a 2-0 lead after just 14 minutes. England needed to draw to go through. After the break goals from Frank Lampard and Peter Crouch made the home fans believe but, England being England, they stumbled at the final hurdle as Mladen Petric's 77th-minute winner sent Croatia through. That result ushered in a new era for the national team as Fabio Capello arrived.
Mark Lomas: After watching despairingly as Arsenal's 'Invincibles' and then Mourinho's Chelsea juggernaut (twice) claimed the Premier League title, Manchester United's championship win in 2006-07 taught me a valuable lesson - write off Sir Alex at your peril. The previous season I had watched a 1-0 defeat to Lille in which United's midfield trio was Kieran Richardson, Alan Smith and John O'Shea and I began to question Fergie's sanity. Lesson learned. In 2006-07, Evra and Vidic finally bedded in and Ronaldo transformed himself from hot prospect to match-winner. Three games stand out in my memory as the campaign's defining moments - back-to-back last gasp victories away to Fulham and Liverpool (thanks to the mighty boot of O'Shea) were achieved in classic United style, and the 4-2 victory away to Everton, coming back from 2-0 down, was the result that edged the title back towards Old Trafford. I'll never forget the gangly legs of Chris Eagles wobbling away as he ran through to score the fourth at Goodison.
Robin Hackett: Being a Forest fan in the 'noughties' has been fairly depressing. Ushering in the new decade under David Platt, Paul Hart gave brief hope of a revival but, after a play-off semi-final defeat to Sheffield United in 2002-03, he was fired the following year and we had to suffer Joe Kinnear, Gary Megson and League One. Having become resigned to staying in the third tier forever with an average side, the 2007-08 season ended with a relative miracle: we won six out of our final seven games and, as results went our way on the final day, secured automatic promotion back to the Championship under Colin Calderwood. We sacked him six months later as things went wonky again but, thank Clough, we exit the decade under Billy Davies with the ship finally steadied.