Wednesday, November 26, 2014

26 November 2003 - Milan's Maldini Makes His Mark

On 26 November 2003, Milan defeated Ajax 1-0 in a Champions League group stage match before a crowd of 50,000 at Ajax's Amsterdam ArenA. The match was the 100th European Cup/Champions League appearance for Milan defender Paolo Maldini and the fourth time the two teams had met in the Champions League in 2003.

Maldini signed with Milan as a youth player in 1978, then as a professional in 1984. He made his first European Cup appearance in the 1988-89 campaign, which saw Milan claim its third title in the competition. By November 2003, Milan and Maldini had claimed three more European Cup/Champions League trophies (1990, 1994, 2003).

Ajax and Milan had a long history together in the competition, dating back to the 1969 Final in which Milan beat the Dutch club 4-1. Ajax returned the favor in the 1995 Final with a 1-0 win over the Italians. The clubs met in the quarterfinals of the 2002-03 Champions League, with Milan emerging victorious by the aggregate score of 3-2.

Maldini's century match was the second leg of the 2003-04 group stage, with Milan having won the previous leg 1-0 at home. In Amsterdam, Ajax battled to 0-0 draw at the break, despite having had to withdraw their star forward Zlatan Ibrahimović in the 40th minute due to injury. In the 51st minute, Milan striker Andriy Shevchenko chested a Cafu pass in front of the goal and calmly put the ball into the net. Milan then held on for the 1-0 win.

Both Ajax and Milan lost their last group stage matches, Ajax to Brugge and Milan to Celta Vigo. Ajax's loss to Brugge dropped the Dutch club to the bottom of the table and out of the competition. Milan finished at the top of the table to advance to the knockout rounds where they successfully defended their title.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

25 November 2005 - Best In Peace

On 25 November 2005, former Northern Ireland international and Manchester United superstar George Best died in London. His death was caused by complications related to a liver transplant required after years of alcohol abuse.

Best was born and raised in Belfast where, at the age of 15, he was discovered by a Manchester United scout. He joined United's youth academy, then signed a professional contract with them in 1963. He soon became a crowd favorite, with his flashy playing style and long-haired good looks earning him the nickname "the Fifth Beatle" and making him one of football's first international superstars. He helped United to several honors, including the European Cup in 1968, the same year he was named European Footballer of the Year.

Unfortunately, Best's playing career began to suffer as he battled with his alcoholism. He left United in 1974 and started a journey that saw him play for a number of different clubs, including the Los Angeles Aztecs (1976, 1977-78), Fulham (1976-77), Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (1978-79), Hibernian (1979-80), and the San Jose Earthquakes (1980-81). He last played for Tobermore United in the Northern Irish league, for whom he made a single appearance in 1984.

He also earned 37 caps for Northern Ireland between 1964 and 1977, but the side did not qualify for the World Cup during that time.

Monday, November 24, 2014

24 November 1874 - Brazil's Prometheus Unbound

On 24 November 1874, Charles William Miller, the man who introduced football to Brazil, was born in São Paulo, Brazil to a Scottish father and a Brazilian mother.

In 1884, like many children in Brazil's British community, Miller was sent by his parents to England for his education. He enrolled in a public school on the outskirts of Southampton, England, where he was introduced to football. While overseas, he played for Corinthian FC in London and St. Mary's, the forerunner of Southampton FC.

He returned to Brazil in 1894 with a football and a set of rules and set about organizing matches among the British expatriates. He was one of the founding members of São Paulo AC and also helped organize Brazil's first football league. With Miller at striker, São Paulo won the first three league championships (1902, 1903, 1904).

A few short years after Miller's return from England, football had become Brazil's most popular sport.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

23 November 1996 - A Lesson In The Value Of Having Caller ID

On 23 November 1996, Senegalese striker Ali Dia made his Premier League debut, coming on as a first-half substitute for Southampton in a 2-0 away loss to Leeds.

Dia had just recently been signed by Saints manager Graeme Souness, who had learned of the striker during a phone conversation with someone claiming to be Liberian legend George Weah, the 1995 FIFA World Player of the Year. The caller recommended Dia to Souness, saying that he had played for Weah's former club Paris St. Germain, as well as making 13 international appearances. On the strength of that recommendation, Souness signed Dia to a one-month contract, sight unseen.

Although Dia was unimpressive during training, Souness included him on the bench for the match against Leeds and subbed him on in the 33rd minute for midfielder Matt LeTissier. It became readily apparent, however, that Dia was not the talent Souness had been led to believe and the manager pulled him after 20 minutes. Leeds went on to win the match with two late goals from Gary Kelly (82') and Lee Sharpe (89').

Shortly afterward, it was revealed that the call to Souness had not been from George Weah, but was actually from Dia's agent and that none of the purported facts stated during the call were accurate. Although Dia himself denied any knowledge regarding the call, the Saints released him from his contract after two weeks.

Souness resigned at the end of the 1996-97 season, citing differences with club chairman Rupert Lowe.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

22 November 1877 - Barça's Founding Father

On 22 November 1877, Barcelona founder, player and president Hans-Max Gamper was born in Winterthur, Switzerland.

An avid sportsman, Gamper grew up in Zürich, where he helped found and played for both FC Excelsior and FC Zürich. He also played for FC Basel.

In 1899, he moved to Barcelona and, on 22 October, placed an ad inLos Deportes calling for people interested in forming a club. Several people responded and, on 29 November, they founded FC Barcelona. Gamper reportedly chose the club colors of red and blue, based on Basel's colors. He made 48 appearances for Barça between 1899 and 1903 and helped them claim their first silverware, the 1902 Copa Macaya. 

By 1908, the club's fortunes had begun to fade. With membership declining, it appeared that Barça was on the verge of shutting down. Gamper volunteered to serve as president. He rejuvenated the membership and guided the club to an undefeated season and the 1909-09 Catalan Championship.

He stepped down as president after that season, but later served four more terms when called upon (1910-13, 1917-19, 1921-23, and 1924-25). His last term ended on 17 December 1925 when the Spanish government, in a crackdown on Catalan independence, deposed the entire board and closed the club's doors for six months.

Gamper, who by then went by "Joan," the Catalan version of his name, returned to Switzerland. He subsequently became depressed over personal and financial problems and committed suicide on 30 July 1930.

In 1966, Barça established the Joan Gamper Trophy, an annual preseason friendly, in his honor.

Friday, November 21, 2014

21 November 2007 - Croatia Rains On England's Parade

On 21 November 2007, the final day of qualification for Euro 2008, Croatia defeated England, 2-3, before a rain-soaked crowd of 88,000 in London's Wembley Stadium. The loss eliminated England from the tournament and sealed the fate of England manager Steve McClaren.

England started the day in second place in Group E on 23 points. They were three points behind leaders Croatia, who had already booked their place in the tournament, and two points ahead of third-place Russia, who were facing last-place Andorra.

England had lost to Croatia 2-0 in Zagreb, but were hoping for a better result at home, despite missing several key players, including forward Wayne Rooney and all four players from their preferred back line. The available personnel forced McLaren to change the formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-1-4-1, with Peter Crouch playing as the lone striker.

England's hopes took a blow in the 8th minute, as Croatian midfielder Niko Kranjčar found the back of the net with a 25-yard shot that was helped past keeper Scott Carson by a tricky bounce off the wet pitch. Ivica Olić doubled the visitors' lead in the 14th minute as a precision pass by forward Eduardo da Silva beat the English defense and allowed Olić to walk the ball into an open goal.

England entered the second half to a chorus of boos and jeers from the home fans, but soon gave them something to cheer when Jermain Defoe won a penalty which Frank Lampard converted in the 56th minute. Peter Crouch equalized nine minutes later with a goal from a David Beckham pass.

As it turned out, a draw would have been enough to see England through on goal differential, but it did not last. Croatian substitute forward Mladen Petrić (pictured), who had replaced Eduardo in the 69th minute, beat Carson with a 25-yard stunner in the 77th minute. England were unable to find another equalizer and conceded all three points to Croatia.

Russia, as expected, beat Andorra and moved into second place in the group, dropping England into third and out of the tournament. The FA terminated McClaren's contract the next day after only 18 matches in 16 months, making his time in charge of the national team the shortest of any England manager.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

20 November 1971 - A Hat-Trick Of Hat-Tricks

On 20 November 1971, Third Division side Bournemouth thoroughly thrashed the Southern League's Margate by the score of 11-0 in the First Round of the 1971-72 FA Cup. Bournemouth's hero that day was 24-year old Scottish forward Ted "SuperMac" MacDougall (pictured), who scored nine of the Cherries' eleven goals.

MacDougall had joined Bournemouth in the summer of 1969 (when the club was still known as "Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic") after being acquired from York City for £10,000. He scored 21 league goals for the Cherries that season, but they were nonetheless relegated to Division Four. Under new manager John Bond, they were promoted at the first opportunity and were enjoying their return to the Third Division when they met Margate in the FA Cup.

MacDougall scored five goals in the first half, prompting the Margate manager to ask Bond jokingly to substitute the forward in the second half. MacDougall went on to score four more after the break.

The Cherries advanced to the Third Round where they were eliminated 1-0 by Walsall. MacDougall moved to Manchester United in September 1972 for a transfer fee of £200,000, but never settled. He played for a number of other clubs, including a second stint at Bournemouth, before retiring in 1980.

His 9 goals still hold the FA Cup record for the most scored by a player in a single game.