Tuesday, May 24, 2016

24 May 1914 - Levski Lives

On 24 May 1915, a group of students in Sofia founded Sport Club Levski. Now known as Levski Sofia, they have won a Bulgarian-record 55 major domestic trophies, including 26 league titles and 25 Bulgarian Cups.

Named after 19th Century Bulgarian revolutionary Vasil Levski, the club got off to an inauspicious start, losing their first official match 0-2 to FC 13 Sofia. But they won their first regional title in 1923, then followed that with two more in 1924 and 1925.

They won their first league title in 1933 and enjoyed tremendous post-war success, winning five more titles between 1946 and 1953. Since them they have won multiple league titles in every decade, up to their most recent one in 2009. Their tally of 26 league titles is second only to local rivals CSKA Sofia, who have 31.

Levski have also starred in European competitions, advancing to the Cup Winners' Cup quarterfinals three times (1970, 1977, 1987) and the UEFA Cup quarterfinals two times (1976, 2006).

Monday, May 23, 2016

23 May 1937 - Glory Comes To The Girondins

On 23 May 1937, Bordeaux won their first national title. They have since gone on to become one of France's most successful clubs, with a silverware collection that includes six top flight titles and four French Cups.

Founded in 1881 as Gironde Omnisports, the club originally included a variety of sports including gymnastics, shooting, swimming, rowing, and boxing. They added football in 1910, but dropped the sport after a year. They picked it back up for good in 1919.

Their first national title came under president Olivier Lhose-Clos, whose tenure began in 1934. In 1937, Bordeaux advanced to the French Amateur Final against FC Scionzier. Played at the Stade de Colombes in Paris as a prelude to an international match between France and Ireland, Bordeaux won 2-1.

They followed that trophy with their first Coupe de France title in 1940, then won the league in 1950. They enjoyed their most successful period in the 1980s, winning three league titles (1984, 1985, 1987) and two more French Cups (1986, 1987). Bordeaux won their most recent trophy in 2013 with their fourth Coupe de France.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

22 May 1963 - Instead Of A Third, We Got A First

On 22 May 1963, AC Milan stopped Benfica from winning their third straight European Cup, beating the Portuguese side 2-1 at Wembley. It was the first of Milan's 7 European Cup/Champions League titles and the first time an Italian team won the tournament.

At the time, Benfica were staking their claim as the best team in the world, coming off back-to-back tournament titles with Final wins over Barcelona (3-2 in 1961) and Real Madrid (5-3 in 1962). They also boasted one of the sport's biggest stars in Eusébio, who late brace provided the winning margin in the previous Final.

Mian, however, had stars of their own, including forward José Altafini, who played for Brazil in the 1958 World Cup then for Italy in the 1962 tournament. The Rossoneri had been in the Final before, taking Real Madrid to extra time in 1958 before falling 3-2.

Playing before a crowd of 45,700, Benfica took the lead with an 18th-minute strike from Eusébio, who sprinted down the middle of the pitch and blasted a right-footed shot past Milan keeper Giorgio Ghezzi. It took Milan 40 minutes to find an equalizer, as Altafini unleashed a right-footed shot of his own from the edge of the box. Just eight minutes later, Altafini found himself in a one-on-one situation with Benfica keeper Costa Pereira. Pereira successfully stopped the initial shot, but Altafini slammed the rebound home to give Milan the 2-1 lead that was the match's final score.

Milan went on to win the tournament a total of seven times, second only to Real Madrid's ten. Benfica returned to the Final five more times and were runners-up each time, most recently in 1990 when they lost again to Milan.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

21 May 2001 - Six Of One, Half Dozen Of The Other

On 21 May 2001, Maltese club Valletta FC completed a incredibly successful season, winning all six of the competitions they entered that year.

Based in the Maltese capital, Valletta had already amassed an impressive collection of silverware including 17 previous league titles. In the 1996-97 season, they participated in five different competitions--the Premier League, the Rothmans Trophy, the Super 5 Cup, the Lowenbrau Cup, and the Super Cup--and won all of them.

In 2001, Malta added the Centenary Cup to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Maltese Football Association. Valletta won that trophy in December 2000, beating their rivals, Floriana, after having already won the Lowenbrau Cup in August. The Super 5 Cup followed later that month, then the league title in April, and the Rothmans Trophy on 17 May. Four days later, Valletta won their sixth trophy of the season, beating Sliema Wanderers 2-1 (Sliema had also finished as runners-up in the league, the Lowenbrau Cup, and the Super 5 Cup).

Although an impressive accomplishment, Valletta's season was not the best ever. In 1921-22, Northern Irish side Linfield FC won all seven competitions they entered that season. Forty years later, they came close to another sweep, winning seven of eight competitions.

Friday, May 20, 2016

20 May 1992 - The Iceman Koeman

On 20 May 1992, Barcelona won their first European Cup, beating Sampdoria with an extra-time free kick from center back Ronald Koeman.

Koeman had won the Cup before with his previous club, PSV, beating Benfica on penalties in 1988 after holding them scoreless through extra time. Koeman himself had converted PSV's opening kick in the shootout. (And Barcelona's road to the 1992 Final included a draw and a win against Benfica in the third-round group stage.)

In the Final, Barcelona met Sampdoria who were looking to salvage a disappointing season. After winning Serie A in 1991, they had slumped to sixth place in 1992 and would not be returning to European competition the next season. Barcelona, meanwhile, were in the process of claiming their second consecutive league title under manager Johan Cruyff, who himself had won three European Cups as a player with Ajax.

Playing before a crowd of 70,827 at Wembley, the match was closer than anyone expected. Scoreless deep into extra time, Koeman's opportunity came in the 111th minute as Sampdoria substitute Giovanni Invernizzi fouled Barcelona winger Eusebio Sacristán just outside the box. Koeman converted the ensuing kick, blasting the ball past the keeper. Although he had contributed 16 league goals that season, the one in the Final was his first in 11 appearances in the tournament.

Sampdoria have never returned to the final, while Barcelona were runners-up in 1994 and won the tournament  in 2006, 2009, 2011, and 2015.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

19 May 1965 - Sealey Seals The Win

On 19 May 1965, West Ham became the second British team to claim a European trophy, defeating 1860 Munich in the Cup Winners' Cup Final.

Played before a crowd of 98,000 at Wembley, the match was widely regarded at the time as one of the greatest European cup finals in history. With both teams adopting a fast-paced attacking style, only brilliant play from the two goalkeepers--West Ham's Jim Standen and 1860 Munich's Petar Radenković--kept the two sides scoreless in the first half.

Hammers midfielder Ron Boyce sparked the opening goal in the 70th minute when he intercepted a German pass on the edge of the center circle, dribbled up the pitch and played a through ball to midfielder Alan Sealey. Sealey beat Radenković at the near post by slamming the ball over his head into the top of the net. Two minutes later, Sealey scored again as Radenković failed to collect a cross from Bobby Moore, allowing Sealey to knock it over the line.

The match ended as a 2-0 win for West Ham, two years after Tottenham won the same competition. They returned to the Final in 1978, but lost to Anderlecht.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

18 May 1981 - You May Not Love Him, But His Mahmadou

On 18 May 1981, former Lyon, Real Madrid, and Monaco star Mahamadou Diarra was born in Bamako, Mali.

A defensive midfielder, Diarra started his professional career in 1998 with OFI Crete. After one season there, then three in the Netherlands with Vitesse, he moved to Lyon where he rose to international prominence. With Diarra anchoring the midfield, Lyon won the league in each of his four seasons (the second through fifth of their seven consecutive Ligue 1 titles).

Diarra's success at Lyon prompted a €26 million move to Real Madrid in the summer of 2006. In his first season there, he helped Madrid win their first league title in four years, then continued his run of silverware with another championship in his second season--a personal streak of six straight league titles. Internationally, he represented Mali from 2001 to 2014, making 64 appearances and serving as team captain.

A series of knee injuries and the 2009 arrival of Xavi Alonso pushed Diarra out of his starting role in Madrid and, in January 2011, he moved to Monaco. A move to Fulham followed a year later, where Diarra remained until his retirement in 2014.