Tuesday, January 17, 2017

17 January 2009 - Behind Any Title-Winning Team, There's A Great Goalkeeper

On 17 January 2009, Oman won their first Gulf Cup of Nations, beating Saudi Arabia on penalties.

It was the third consecutive appearance in the final for Oman, who lost to Qatar on penalties in 2004 and to the United Arab Emirates in 2007. Omani keeper Ali Al Habsi starred in both of those tournaments, however, and received two Best Goalkeeper awards to go along with the one he won in 2003 when Oman finished fourth.

Al Habsi continued to shine in 2009 as Oman kept a clean sheet all the way up to the final. There, they met Saudi Arabia, who--playing in front of keeper Waleed Abdullah--had similarly not given up a goal for the entire tournament. Although Oman controlled the run of play for most of the final, the defenses proved too resolute as the teams completed 120 minutes with a scoreless draw to set up the decisive shootout.

After five kicks each, the teams were level at 5-5. Then Saudi Arabian midfielder Taisir Al Jassim sent his shot wide. The miss opened the door for Oman's Mohamad Rabih, who calmly beat Abdullah to claim the cup. For his part in the victorious campaign, Al Habsi won his fourth straight Best Goalkeeper award.

Monday, January 16, 2017

16 January 2002 - Zola's Magical Mystery Goal

On 16 January 2002, Gianfranco Zola scored a remarkable back-heeled goal as Chelsea rolled over Norwich City in the FA Cup, 4-0.

The Third Round match was a replay, with the two sides having drawn 0-0 at Norwich's Carrow Road ground 11 days earlier. Back at Stamford Bridge, the hosts wasted little time, taking the lead in the 11th minute with a header from Mario Stanić. Norwich tried to rally with a strong push around both sides of halftime, but Chelsea weathered the challenge, then extended their lead with a goal from Frank Lampard (56').

Zola's moment of brilliance arrived in the 63rd minute, as he met a corner from teammate Graeme Le Saux. As the ball dropped outside the near post, the 35-year old striker met it in midair with his right foot and back-heeled it behind his body. It skimmed just inside the post past the outstretched arms of Norwich keeper Rob Green. Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri later described the goal as "fantasy" and "magic," while referring to Zola as a "wizard." Zola himself said "Don't ask me how I did it, because I don't know."

Chelsea proceeded to win the match 4-0 with the last goal coming from Mikael Forssell (89') and eventually reached the FA Cup Final where they lost to Arsenal.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

15 January 1958 - Northern Ireland's Italian Take-Out

On 15 January 1958, Northern Ireland qualified for their first World Cup by beating Italy 2-1 in Belfast and eliminating the two-time champions from the tournament.

It was the last match day for the three-team qualification group. Italy started the day at the top of the group on four points, having beaten Northern Ireland in Italy and split their home-and-away series with Portugal. The two other teams were level on three points each, with Portugal having completed all of their matches.

The Italians' visit to Belfast had been scheduled for the previous December, but the referee assigned to the match--Hungarian István Zsolt--failed to arrive on time. With both teams present, they went ahead and played the match as a friendly, resulting in a 2-2 draw.

Zsolt made it to Windsor Park in time for the rematch on 15 January and the hosts jumped to a 2-0 first-half lead with goals from Burnley midfielder Jimmy McIlroy (13') and Leeds United captain Wilbur Cush (28'). Italy got a second-half goal from AS Roma striker Dino da Costa (56') in his only national team appearance, but they couldn't find another and the match ended as a Northern Ireland win. That summer's tournament remains the only World Cup for which Italy failed to qualify.

Northern Ireland did well with the opportunity, advancing to the quarterfinals before falling to eventual third-place finisher France, 4-0.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

14 January 1971 - The Greek Who Manned The Gates

On 14 January 1971, goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidas was born in the Greek city of Arta. He went on to help the national team to glory in Euro 2004 while becoming their top appearances leader at his position.

He began his professional career in 1987 with his local club, Anagennisi Arta, but spent the majority of his career with Panathinaikos (1989-2004) and Olympiacos (2004-2011), winning a combined 11 league titles and nine Greek Cups. But in the summer before he moved to Olympiacos, he manned the posts for Greece during their memorable run at Euro 2004.

They opened the tournament with a 2-1 win over hosts Portugal, then slumped to a 1-1 draw with Spain and a 2-1 loss to Russia. Still, it was enough to finish second in the group and advance to the knockout round, where Greece captured the trophy with three straight shutouts over France (1-0), the Czech Republic (1-0, aet), and--in the final--Portugal (1-0). For his performance, Nikopolidis was named to the UEFA Team of the Tournament.

Nikopolidis went on to captain the national team and amassed a total of 90 caps before his retirement from international football in 2008, enough to rank him sixth on their all-time appearances list and first among goalkeepers.

Friday, January 13, 2017

13 January 1988 - Statistically, It Proved To Be A Little Misleading

On 13 January 1988, the United States beat Guatemala with a goal from left back Jeff Agoos, making only his second national team appearance.

The teams met in Guatemala City, where the United States had lost all four of their previous matches. The most recent loss had come just three days earlier when the hosts won 1-0. That match marked the international debut for Agoos (pictured), a star in the making at the University of Virginia. His performance on that day was unremarkable, however, and he was substituted for fellow dubutant John Diffley.

US manager Lothar Osiander included both Agoos and Diffley in the starting line-up for the rematch on 13 January, with Agoos providing the day's only goal to give the US a narrow victory in the friendly. And it turned out to be a very rare occurrence. Agoos went on to earn a total of 134 caps for the US--enough to place him third on their all-time appearances list--but he scored only three more times for them.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

12 January 1980 - The Ayresome Park Collapse

On 12 January 1980, a portion of Middlesbrough's Ayresome Park collapsed, killing two people. It was the start of a terrible trend in football for the coming decade.

Boro season-ticket holders Irene and Norman Roxby were exiting the ground (pictured) by the South East corner after a 1-1 draw with Manchester United when a brick pillar crumbled, bringing two gates down with it. The Roxbys were crushed by the debris. Some witnesses to the event blamed it on a group of visiting Manchester United supporters, saying they rushed the gates after the match, triggering the collapse. In their defense, however, the United supporters claimed that the rush was sparked by efforts to get away from an over-excited police horse.

Subsequent reports revealed that Middlesborough's safety certificates for the stadium had not been kept up-to-date, though the club claimed that any violation was merely technical and that all safety requirements were either met or exceeded at the time of the incident.

The deaths of the Roxbys were soon dwarfed by larger football-related disasters, including massive losses of life at Moscow's Lenin Stadium in 1982, Bradford City's Valley Parade ground in 1985, Belgium's Heysel Stadium in 1985, and Hillsborough in 1989. The Taylor Report followed the latter in August 1989, recommending the elimination of standing areas in favor of all-seater grounds. That requirement ultimately doomed Ayresome Park, which made way in 1995 for Middlesbrough's new Riverside Stadium.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

11 January 2009 - It Was A Mexican Standoff

On 11 January 2009, Guadalajara and Pachuca secured their spots in the Copa Libertadores after two own goals and a combined 36 penalty attempts in two shootouts.

They were two of the four semifinalists in Mexico's InterLiga competition, with Guadalajara matched up against Morelia and Pachuca paired with Atlas. The winners of the two matches then joined 2008 Apertura winners San Luis in the qualification stage of the Copa Libertadores.

Guadalajara fell behind to Morelia after conceding an own goal from striker Carlos Ochoa in the 57th minute, but midfielder Marco Fabián drew them level eight minutes later. Morelia then went down to 10 men after a second yellow for defender Fernando Salazar, but Guadalajara could not take advantage before time expired. They won the shootout 4-2, though, as Morelia's first attempt went wide and Guadalajara keeper Luis Ernesto Michel saved their last attempt.

In the day's other match, Pachuca raced to a 3-0 lead in the first half, but found themselves level after conceding three--including one own goal--in the second half. Atlas striker Jorge Achucarro scored the 88th-minute equalizer, but he did not fare as well in the ensuing shootout, as his first attempt was saved by Pachuca keeper Miguel Calero (pictured). With the shootout level at 7-7 after ten kicks each, the shooters started to cycle through again. And, again, Calero saved Achucarro's shot to win the match.