Saturday, May 23, 2015

23 May 2007 - Milan's Lucky Number 7

On 23 May 2007, AC Milan won their seventh European Cup/Champions League trophy, beating Liverpool 2-1 at the Olympic Stadium in Athens in a rematch of the 2005 Final.

It was a dramatic finish for Milan, who had earlier been barred from competing in the tournament as a result of their involvement in the Serie A match-fixing scandal of 2005-06. But on appeal, the Italian football association allowed Milan to enter the competition in the third qualifying round, rather than directly into the group stage.

Both Liverpool and Milan won their groups, but faced difficult roads to the Final. Milan beat Celtic (1-0 agg.), Bayern Munich (4-2 agg.), and Manchester United (5-3 agg.) on their way to the Olympic Stadium, while Liverpool advanced over Barcelona (2-2 agg. - Liverpool won on away goals), PSV (4-0 agg.), and Chelsea (on penalties, 1-1 (4-1)).

Despite having two of the tournament's top scorers - Milan's Kaká had a tournament-high 10 goals going into the Final, while Liverpool's Peter Crouch was tied for third with 6 goals - the defenses held strong through most of the first half (Crouch didn't come on until the second half). Milan striker Filippo "Pippo" Inzaghi broke the deadlock with a controversial 45th-minute goal that appeared to deflect off of his arm past keeper Pepe Reina.

Liverpool pressed for an equalizer in the second half, but were unable to beat Milan's goalkeeper, Dida. Inzaghi then scored a second goal in the 82nd minute. The match appeared to be won, but Liverpool's Dirk Kuyt made sure the last few minutes were exciting when he found the net in 89th minute. Liverpool could not muster a second, however, and the match ended as a 2-1 Milan win.

Friday, May 22, 2015

22 May 1999 - The World's Greatest International Goalscorer

On 22 May 1999, forward Mia Hamm scored her 108th goal for the US women's team, making her the all-time leading scorer in international history.

The record-setting goal came a the end of the first half in a friendly against Brazil, played at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida. The score was tied at 0-0 when teammate Cindy Parlow sent the ball into the path of Hamm in the Brazilians' penalty area. Hamm cut to the right, fought off a defender, then shot the ball through the legs of Brazilian keeper Dida to put the US ahead 1-0.

Brazil applied intense pressure in the second half, forcing a handful of acrobatic saves from US keeper Brianna Scurry, but were unable to find the back of the net. The hosts then extended their lead to 2-0 when forward Kristine Lilly received a 72nd-minute corner kick and kneed it home. The US scored the final goal in the 87th minute as Brandi Chastain took a quick throw that caught the Brazilians off guard. The throw went in the box to Lilly, who headed it down to Tiffany Milbrett for a strong volley into the goal.

The match was a warm-up for the 1999 World Cup, which opened the next month. The US went on to win their second World Cup trophy beating China in the Final. Brazil finished in third.

It was Hamm's 172d match for the US. Before her retirement in 2004, she made a total of 275 US appearances and extended her scoring record to 158. That remained the world record until 2013, when Abby Wambach scored her 159th goal (Wambach's current total is 182).

Thursday, May 21, 2015

21 May 2003 - Mourinho's Stepping Stone

On 21 May 2003, Porto won the UEFA Cup, beating Celtic 3-2 in extra time at Seville's Estadio Olímpico. It was the first European honor for Porto manager José Mourinho, who built on the success by winning the Champions League the next season.

Under normal circumstances, Celtic would have been heavy favorites. But, at the time of the match, Porto had already secured the Portuguese Liga title with two matches to spare and were completely focused on the Final. Celtic, meanwhile, were tied on points with SPL leader Rangers, but behind on goal differential with one match left. In addition, the day's hot weather forced the teams to play at a slower pace, which also favored Porto.

Porto's midfield general Deco orchestrated a first-half attack that put his side ahead in the 45th minute as midfielder Dmitri Alenichev's shot was parried by Celtic keep Robert Douglas into the path of Porto's Brazilin forward, Derlei, who drove it home. The lead did not last long, however, as Henrik Larsson - that year's top SPL scorer - equalized with a 47th-minute header. It was his tenth goal of the tournament and his 200th goal for Celtic.

Two more quick goals followed, with Alenichev putting Porto ahead once more in the 54th minute, then Larsson finding another equalizer in the 57th minute. The teams were stalemated at 2-2 through the end of regulation, forcing the match into extra time and triggering the silver goal rule. The Final was the first match played under the silver goal rule, which meant that a lead for either side after the first half of extra time would end the match. As it turned out, though, neither team scored in the first period, so they played the full allotment of time. In the 115th minute, Derlei again pounced on a Douglas block to score the goal and seal the win.

It was Porto's first European trophy in 16 years, but they would not have to wait as long for the next one, as they beat AS Monaco in the next season's Champions League Final. Celtic, meanwhile, went on to lose the SPL title race to Rangers despite winning their last match 4-0, as Rangers won theirs 6-1.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

20 May 1993 - An Affair To Remember

On 20 May 1993, Marseille beat Valenciennes 1-0 to secure their fifth consecutive Ligue 1 title with one match left to play. Later, however, French authorities learned that Marseille had bribed three Valenciennes players and stripped the title from the club. The press labeled the ensuing scandal "L'affaire VA-OM."

Marseille were motivated by their upcoming Champions League Final against AC Milan, scheduled for 26 May. While they heavily favored to beat Valenciennes anyway, they wanted to guard against injuries and still clinch the win so that they could rest their players in their final league match against title-chasers Paris Saint-Germain. It apparently worked, as Marseille beat Milan 1-0.

The investigation revealed that, the night before the match, Marseille player Jean-Jacques Eydelie had offered money to three Valenciennes players in exchange for their agreement that they would not try to hard against Marseille. Eydelie claimed that he was acting under the instruction of the club's general secretary, who in turn claimed that he had been instructed by club president Bernard Tapie (pictured). In turn, Tapie claimed that it was not a bribe, but that instead he had loaned 250,000 francs to one of the Valenciennes players in order to help him start a restaurant. 

The FFF stripped Marseille of the 1992-93 title and it remains unassigned, as second-place finishers PSG refused to accept it. Tapie served five months in jail, while Eyedelie served seventeen days. The Valenciennes players received six-month suspended sentences and a two-year league ban. Both Marseille and Valenciennes were relegated to Ligue 2.

UEFA allowed Marseille to keep their Champions League trophy, but barred them from appearing in the next season's competition.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

19 May 1957 - Scots In Swiss Clothing

On 19 May 1957, Scotland defeated Switzerland 1-2 in a World Cup qualifier in Basel, but they had to do it in shirts borrowed from the Swiss.

Ordinarily, the blue shirts of the Scottish national team would have been fine, as the Swiss shirts were red. But, according to Tommy Docherty, who started in the midfield for the Scots that day, the match was televised across Europe in black and white. Without color, officials were concerned that viewers would have difficulty distinguishing between the sides. The Scots, however, had not brought a change kit, so they had to borrow Switzerland's, which used white shirts trimmed in red.

That matter settled, the Swiss took an early lead, going up 1-0 in the 13th minute with a goal from forward Roger Vonlanthen. Scotland, though, battled back against the Swiss and the progressively deteriorating weather to level the match with a 33rd-minute goal from forward Jackie Mudie (pictured). Level at the break, the Scots continued to press in the second half and were rewarded by a 71st-minute match-winner from midfielder Bobby Collins - his first international goal.

The win put Scotland at the top of their qualification group. After two more matches (a loss to Spain and another win over the Swiss) they advanced to the World Cup, where they were eliminated in the group stage.

Monday, May 18, 2015

18 May 1994 - Capello Schools Cruyff In Athens

On 18 May 1994, AC Milan dismantled Barcelona 4-0 in the UEFA Champions League Final at the Olympic Stadium in Athens. It was Milan's fifth European Cup/Champions League title.

The teams looked evenly matched on paper, as both had won their domestic leagues that season and both had advanced from the earlier rounds with ease, winning their groups before cruising through the semifinals. Both also had recent experience in the FinalsMilan finished as runners-up the previous season, while Barcelona won the Final the season before that. If either side had an edge, most considered it to be Barcelona, as Milan were missing key players to injury (Marco van Basten and Gianluigi Lentini) or suspension (captain Franco Baresi).

The Italians, under manager Fabio Capello, rose above the circumstances to dominate the match from the beginning. They were led by forward Daniele Massaro, who recorded a brace before half-time (22', 45'). Shortly after the break, forward Dejan Savićevićwho had provided the assist for Milan's first goalchipped the Barça keeper to extend the lead to 3-0 in the 47th minute.

Barcelona, managed by Johan Cruyff, failed to mount any serious challenge and Milan defender Marcel Desaillywho had played for Marseille in the previous Final and beat Milanadded a fourth goal in the 59th minute to conclude the day's scoring.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

17 May 2006 - Clash Of The Titans

On 17 May 2006, Barcelona defeated Arsenal 2-1 in the Champions League Final, played at the Stade de France in Paris. It was the second European Cup/Champions League trophy for the Catalonians, who added a third in 2009, a fourth in 2011, and hope to make it five next month.

The match was hyped as featuring two of the sport's greatest players at the time - Barcelona's Ronaldinho and Arsenal's Thierry Henry. But the match's first goal was scored by Arsenal defender Sol Campbell, who headed in a 35th-minute free-kick to give the Gunners a surprising lead - surprising because the English side were down to ten men after keeper Jens Lehmann had been sent off in the 7th minute for fouling Barça's Samuel Eto'o outside the box.

Despite being a man down, the Gunners held on to their advantage through the remainder of the first half and deep into the second, while still attacking the Barcelona goal. The next goal, however, was Barcelona's, as midfielder Andrés Iniesta played a long pass to Eto'o, who scored a 76th-minute equalizer. Four minutes later, a Barcelona cross found second-half substitute Juliano Belletti, who fired the ball through Almunia's legs for the lead and the win.

Leading up to the match, several rumors circulated about Barcelona's interest in signing Henry. He eventually signed with them in 2007 and went on to win the Champions League with them in 2009.