Monday, December 31, 2012

31 December 1921 - Playing With A Passion Undimmed

On 31 December 1921, Tércio Mariano de Rezende, the Guinness record holder as the world's oldest footballer, was born in Brazil.

A right back, Mariano started playing for his local club, Goiandira Esporte Clube, in 1973 when he was 52 years old. He was still playing there in 2008 when, at the age of 87, the Guinness Book of World Records listed him as the world's oldest footballer.

A farmer who walks 10 kilometers every morning, Mariano rejected suggestions that he was too old to continue, saying "as long as I have legs, I will play." And even though recently sidelined by injuries, including a dislocated shoulder and surgeries to his neck and back, he continued to play as late as October 2012 at the age of 90.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

30 December 1999 - Forgotten No More

On 30 December 1999, the British government finally decorated the "forgotten five" from England's World Cup-winning team, awarding them all MBEs.

Over the years following England's win over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final, most of the players from that match, along with manager Alf Ramsey, received official recognition from the British government, starting in 1967 with Ramsey's knighthood and captain Bobby Moore becoming an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

Bobby Charlton received his OBE in 1969 (then became a Commander of the Order (CBE) in 1974 and received a knighthood in 1994), followed by OBEs for Gordon Banks in 1970 and Jack Charlton in 1974. In 1978, Martin Peters became a Member of the Order (MBE), as did Geoff Hurst in 1979 (Hurst was later knighted in 1998).

By 1999, however, five players from the 1966 final--Nobby Stiles, Alan Ball, Roger Hunt, Ray Wilson, and George Cohen--had not been honored, even though all of them but Ball had appeared in every match of the tournament (Ball missed the last two games in the group stage), and Hunt had scored three goals. But thanks to a push driven in part by the football media, those omissions were corrected at the end of 1999, with all five being made Members of the Order.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

29 December 2001 - Alonso's International Debut

On 29 December 2001, Xabi Alonso made his full international debut. And it wasn't for Spain.

The 20-year old midfielder, then in his second season with Real Sociedad, had played for the Spanish U-18s, making a solitary appearance in 2000. Although he had not taken the pitch for them since then, Alonso, who was born in the Basque city of Tolosa, also qualified to play for the Basque Country national team. And in 2001, manager José Ángel Iribar called Alonso up for a friendly against Ghana.

The teams met at the Estadio San Mamés in Bilbao, where the visitors took an early lead with a goal from midfielder Derek Boateng in the 13th minute. Alonso remained on the bench for the first half, then came on at the start of the second with the Basques still down 0-1.

Alonso's entrance, along with several other subs made at the same time, turned the tide for the home side. They equalized in the 46th minute with a strike from Jon Pérez, then got two goals from Óscar de Paula (60', 67') to lead 3-1. Ghana's Alex Takyi-Mensah pulled one back in the 70th minute, but that was the last of the day's goals and the Basques won 3-2.

Although he has since become a regular starter for Spain, with 106 appearances since 2003, he continues to turn out for the Basque Country on occasion, most recently in December 2011.

Friday, December 28, 2012

28 December 1971 - It's Artime For Nacional

On 28 December 1971, a brace from striker Luis Artime helped Nacional claim their first Intercontinental Cup, beating Panathinaikos 2-1.

Nacional qualified for the competition by winning the 1971 Copa Libertadores and were scheduled to play European Cup holders Ajax. But they Dutch declined, so Panathinaikos, who lost to Ajax in the European Cup final, took their place.

They played the first leg in Greece on 15 December, where a second-half equalizer from Artime (pictured) secured a 1-1 draw. The teams then met thirteen days later in Uruguay for the second leg.

Playing in front of a crowd of about 63,000, Artime continued to find the net for Nacional, putting them up 2-0 with goals in the 34th and 74th minutes. Antonis Antoniadis scored for Panathinaikos in the 89th minute, but it was too late for a rally and the series ended 3-1 to Nacional on aggregate.

It was the first of three Intercontinental Cups for Nacional, who won it again in 1980 and 1988.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

27 December 2009 - Stokes' Record Strike

On 27 December 2009, Hibernian's Anthony Stokes scored the SPL's fastest goal, but it did not help them much.

The well-traveled striker, who had spent time at five different clubs over the previous four years, was in his first season with Hibs after joining them from Sunderland that August. By mid-December, he had helped the club to a 12-game unbeaten streak that saw them take the table's third spot.

They were hoping to extend the run to 13 when they hosted first-place Rangers at Easter Road. And Stokes gave those hopes a boost when he found the back of the net after just 12.4 seconds, setting an SPL record.

But Rangers took command of the game and were leading 1-2 at the break with goals from Kenny Miller (21') and Kris Boyd (37'). They continued to dominate in the second half, with Nacho Novo extending the visitors' lead to 1-3 in the 53rd minute before Miller's second goal of the day (66') completed the rout at 1-4.

Stokes went on to have a fantastic year, scoring 21 goals in 37 league appearances. That attracted the attention of Celtic, who signed him from Hibs in August 2010.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

26 December 1999 - Chelsea Flows Over Southampton

On 26 December 1999, Chelsea became the first British team to field an all-foreign starting XI. And it worked out pretty well for them.

The occasion was a Premier League match against Southampton at the Dell. The line-up decision was not entirely in the hands of manager Gianluca Vialli, as a breakout of the flu deprived him of several regular selections, including striker Chris Sutton and midfielder Dennis Wise, both of whom were English internationals (Wise was the club's player of the year in 1998).

To fill in the gaps, Vialli fielded a starting eleven that consisted of Ed De Goey (Netherlands), Albert Ferrer (Spain), Frank Leboeuf (France), Emerson Thome (Brazil), Dan Petrescu (Romania), Celestine Babyaro (Nigeria), Gus Poyet (Uruguay), Didier Deschamps (France), Roberto Di Matteo (Italy), Gabriele Ambrosetti (Italy), and Tore André Flo (Norway). It was the the first time in the history of British football that a team put out a starting line-up without a single British player.

Chelsea went on to win 1-2, with Flo (pictured) scoring both of their goals (18', 43'), while Southampton's goal was an 80th-minute consolation strike from Kevin Davies.

The all-international eleven ended in the 74th minute, when Vialli brought Englishman Jon Harley on for Ambrosetti (and then Jody Morris, another Englishman, came on for Petrescu in the 87th minute).

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

25 December 1916 - The Balance Of Power Shifts (Temporarily) To The Midwest

On 25 December 1916, Bethlehem Steel met Ben Millers in a match that was supposed to determine the capital of US soccer. It ended in a draw.

At the time, US soccer was split into two major regions, the northeast and the midwest (specifically, St. Louis), each with its own self-contained league. And although the country had a couple of tournaments open to all clubs, the American Cup and the National Challenge Cup, few teams from St. Louis participated, leaving an open question of which area produced the better football.

In 1916, Bethlehem Steel, the Pennsylvania-based reigning champions of both the American and National Challenge Cups and unquestioned leader of the northeast, made the trip across the country to settle the debate. They arrived in Chicago for a match against a local "best XI" and won 1-2 on 23 December, then moved on to play a St. Louis all-star team on 24 December and lost, 3-1. It was their first loss in 19 games.

On the following day, 25 December, Bethlehem took the pitch again, this time against St. Louis team Ben Millers, the title holders of the St. Louis Soccer League. Playing in front of a crowd of 6,000, the visitors went up 0-1 with a goal from forward Harry Ratican (pictured) (Ratican, coincidentally, had been born in St. Louis and played for Ben Millers from 1911 to 1916). But after a penalty for Ben Millers and a pair of second-half goals, the match ended as a 2-2 draw.

The result did not stop the local press from claiming the soccer title for St. Louis, based on the two-game series (and claiming some credit Ratican's performance).

Bethlehem continued to dominate, however, winning five American and National Challenge Cups over the next three years, while Ben Millers went on to win the National Challenge Cup in 1920.

Monday, December 24, 2012

24 December 2010 - Leonardo Crosses Milan's Version Of The Rubicon

On 24 December 2010, Inter announced their new manager, taking former Milan hero Leonardo away from their rival club.

A World-Cup winning Brazilian international, Leonardo made 119 appearances for Milan from 1997 to 2001, then another five in the 2002-03 before calling an end to his playing career. While there, he won the 1999 Scudetto and the 2003 Coppa Italia.

In 2008, he returned to the club in the position of technical director, then took over as manager in June 2009 after the departure of boss Carlo Ancelotti to Chelsea. But he failed to lift the Rossoneri's fortunes and rumors of an early departure swirled throughout the season. Finally, in April 2010, the club confirmed that Leonardo would depart at the end of the season.

At the time of his departure from Milan, Inter had made a change of their own, replacing departing manager José Mourinho with former Liverpool boss Rafa Benítez. But that hire lasted only six months, as a split between Benítez and the Inter board, fueled in part by the new manager's inability to live up to the standard set by Mourinho, led to his dismissal in December 2010.

Inter then brought Leonardo in to fill the vacant position, making him the fifth manager to switch from Milan to their derby rivals. His time at Inter lasted even less than at AC Milan, however, ending with his resignation in June 2011. One month later, he joined Paris Saint-Germain as their director of football, where he remains at present.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

23 December 2002 - Sometimes, Past Performance Is Indicative Of Future Success

On 23 December 2002, having already beaten the Philippines by 12 goals to set a national team record, Indonesia did it again.

Indonesia had dominated the series since the teams' first meeting in 1958, including a crushing 12-0 victory in in 1972 that set the record for their biggest winning margin. Then, in 2002, they met in the group stage of the Tiger Cup. It was the last match of Group A, with the Philippines already eliminated and Indonesia needing a win to claim the last semifinal spot.

Playing at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta, the hosts went ahead in just the first minute with a goal from striker Bambang Pamungkas (pictured). By halftime, both he and fellow striker Zaenal Arif had hat-tricks and Indonesia were up 7-0 (the other goal was scored by Budi Sudarsono).

The goals continued to pile up in the second half, with Bambang and Zaenal both extending their totals to four each, while Sugiantoro and Imran Nahumarury scored as well. The Philippines finally got a goal from striker Ali Go in the 78th minute, but gave one back with an own goal from Solomon Licuanan ten minutes later to set the final scoreline at 13-1.

Indonesia advanced and eventually reached the final where they lost to Thailand on penalties.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

22 December 2010 - If You Think It Was A Minor Change, You Don't Know Brazilian Football

On 22 December 2010, the Brazilian Football Confederation shook up the Brazilian top flight by officially recognizing the winners of past tournaments as national champions.

Although Brazilian football dates back to the 1890s, a formal national league system did not exist until 1971. Prior to that, teams competed in regional and local leagues, as well as a couple of national tournaments, the Taça Brasil (not to be confused with the Copa do Brasil), played from 1959 to 1968, and the Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa, also known as the Taça de Prata, played from 1967 to 1970.

In 1971, the Taça de Prata became the Campeonato Brasileiro, the current league system, of which Série A is the top flight. Initially, the CFB recognized only the Série A winners as national champions, which meant that, as of 2010, São Paulo's six league titles were the most of any team, followed by Flamengo's five (Flamengo claims a disputed sixth title from 1987, though the CFB does not recognize it).

But in 2010, a handful of clubs, including Palmeiras and Santos, petitioned the CFB to recognize the winners of the earlier competitions as national champions. Not coincidentally, when the confederation announced its decision, both Palmeiras and Santos each had a shared-record eight combined titles, ahead of Sáo Paulo, who were still stuck at six.

The 2012 season recently ended and those three teams remain the top three with an unchanged tally.

Friday, December 21, 2012

21 December 1996 - Saudi Arabia Penalizes The UAE

On 21 December 1996, Saudi Arabia won their record-settting third AFC Asian Cup, beating the UAE on penalties.

It was the first final for the UAE, but the fourth for the Saudis, who won the tournament in 1984 and 1988, then finished as runners-up in 1992. The final was part of a double-header at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, where Iran won the earlier third-place match in a penalty shootout against Kuwait (although Iran missed their first attempt Kuwait missed the last three of their five kicks to lose 1-1 (3-2)).

The crowd of 60,000 stayed for the final and watched the two teams play to a scoreless draw before going into another shootout--the third consecutive one of the tournament, as Saudi Arabia beat Iran on penalties in the last semifinal. The experience may have provided an edge, as Saudi Arabia--anchored by goalkeeper Mohamed Al-Deayea (pictured)--went on to win the shootout in the final, 2-4.

At the time, Saudi Arabia's three titles matched the record set by Iran in 1976. Since then, however, Japan has taken sole possession of the record with four championships between 1992 and 2011.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

20 December 2004 - Prinz Gets Another Crown

On 20 December 2004, German striker Birgit Prinz repeated as FIFA World Player of the Year despite having what, for her, was a down year.

She had claimed her first World Player of the Year award in 2003, after leading Germany to victory in that year's World Cup and winning a German league and cup double with Frankfurt. But in the 2003-04 season, despite a strong performance from Prinz, Frankfurt finished as runners-up in the Bundesliga and the UEFA Women's Cup. She continued to shine for the national team, scoring 14 goals in 14 matches that year, but ended 2004 without a single team trophy.

Nevertheless, she was a clear favorite for the FIFA World Player of the Year award, finishing with 376 votes, well ahead of second-place finisher Mia Hamm (286).

Prinz won the award for a third time in 2005 after taking another league title with Frankfurt and the European Championship with Germany.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

19 December 2004 - Santos Returns To The Top

On 19 December 2004, Santos won a record-tying eighth Brazilian league title, beating Vasco da Gama on the season's last day.

Santos had been the most dominant Brazilian team of the 1960s, winning six league titles between 1961 and 1968. But the four following decades were relatively barren in terms of major trophies (though they did win the 1998 Copa CONMEBOL). They started a resurgence in the early 2000s, winning a seventh title in 2002, then finishing as runners-up in 2003.

In 2004, led by their top scorers Deivid de Souza (22 goals) and Robinho (21), they started the season's last day in the top spot, one point ahead of Atlético Paranaense. Atlético were at home against relegation-threatened Botafogo, while Santos were at home against Vasco, who were stuck firmly in mid-table.

Needing a win to ensure their title, Santos got off to a quick start with a goal from Ricardinho in the 5th minute. Elano then doubled the lead in the 30th minute. Marco Brito pulled one back for the visitors in the 61st minute, but it was their only goal and the match finished as a 2-1 Santos win.

It was their eighth league title, matching the record set by Palmeiras in 1994. And it remains the current record, as neither team has since added to their total.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

18 December 2005 - Mineiro Gets His

On 18 December 2005, São Paulo won the FIFA Club World Cup, beating Liverpool 1-0 with a goal from Mineiro.

FIFA first held the competition--initially called the Club World Championship--in 2000, but did not establish it as a regular tournament until 2005, when it merged with the Intercontinental Cup. Unlike the Intercontinental Cup, though, which matched the Copa Libertadores champions against the European Cup/Champions League winners, the 2005 Club World Cup expanded the competition to a six-team mini-tournament that included the winners from similar CONCACAF, Oceania, CAF, and AFC competitions.

While the rest of the teams entered in the quarterfinals, São Paulo and Liverpool received byes into the semis, where they defeated Al-Ittihad and Saprissa, respectively, to set up their meeting in the final, played before a crowd of 66,821 at the International Stadium in Yokohama.

Although Liverpool had just set a club record eight days earlier with their tenth consecutive clean sheet, they were undone in the 27th minute when midfielder Mineiro (pictured) slipped behind the Liverpool defense to reach a lobbed pass, then beat goalkeeper Pepe Reina from just inside the penalty spot.

Liverpool pressed for an equalizer and found the back of the net three times, only for the referee to disallow all three goals. The lone strike from Mineiro proved to be the difference and São Paulo lifted the cup.

Monday, December 17, 2012

17 December 1953 - A Sign Of Things To Come For France

On 17 December 1953, striker Just Fontaine scored a hat-trick on his debut for France, but still didn't get another cap for three years.

Twenty years old at the time, Fontaine was mid-way through his first season with Nice after spending the first three years of his career with Casablanca, where he scored 62 goals in 48 appearances. He got off to an equally strong start at Nice, leading to his call-up for a World Cup qualifier against Luxembourg.

The match was inconsequential, as Les Bleus had already qualified for the tournament ahead of Luxembourg and the group's other member, Ireland, leading the French selection committee to field a team composed entirely of players making their first national team appearance. But playing before a crowd of 20,146 at the Parc des Princes in Paris, they were motivated to make a strong showing and close out their campaign with a perfect record.

Jean Desgranges got the scoring started in the second minute, followed by a quick brace from Jean Vincent (6', 10'). Fontaine scored in the 21st minute and France took the 4-0 lead into the break. In the second half, Jacques Foix scored in the 57th minute before Fontaine completed his hat-trick with goals in the 75th and 80th minutes. Desgranges added another in the 88th minute to set the final margin at 8-0 for France.

Despite the strong performance, Fontaine waited until 1956 to get his second cap and 1957 for his third. 1958 turned out to be his breakout year, though, as he led all scorers in that year's World Cup with thirteen goals as France claimed third place.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

16 December 1990 - Guardiola Adds Pep To Barça's Step

On 16 December 1990, 19-year old midfielder Josep "Pep" Guardiola made his Barcelona debut in a 2-0 win over Cádiz.

Having joined the club's youth academy seven years earlier, Guardiola started as a right midfielder before manager Johan Cruyff saw him in a reserve match and moved him to a central position. He quickly adapted to his new responsibilities and was called up to the first team for a friendly against Banyoles in May 1989.

Then, in December 1990, Cruyff gave Guardiola his competitive debut in a league match at home against Cádiz. A crowd of 75,000 witnessed the occasion, causing the young midfielder to suffer a small bout of nerves while waiting to take the pitch. But once there, he played well with a grit and determination not to make a mistake (he did pick up a yellow card in the 33rd minute for a foul on an opposing player).

Barcelona won the match 2-0 with goals from Txiki Begiristain and José Maria Bakero, then went on to win the league. Guardiola made only four other appearances that season, but established himself as a regular the following year and helped the team to another five league titles, two Copa del Rey trophies, and one European Cup before leaving for Brescia in 2001.

He returned to the club in 2007 as an assistant manager, then took full reins of the team from 2008 to 2012, winning another fourteen trophies including three league titles and two Champions League trophies.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

15 December 2001 - Ferdinand Hits The Jackpot

On 15 December 2001, Tottenham striker Les Ferdinand scored the Premier League's 10,000th goal, helping to deliver a win for his team and £10,000 to charity.

The milestone goal came during a match against Fulham at White Hart Lane in the Premier League's tenth season. Ferdinand, who had been a prolific scorer at QPR and Newcastle, was in his fifth year with Spurs, but had failed to recapture his previous form. He scored ten goals for Tottenham across all competitions in the 2000-01 campaign, the first time he had cracked double digits for them.

Against Fulham, however, he got off to a quick start, scoring in the 20th minute to put Spurs up 1-0. Thanks to the Tottenham defense--anchored by goalkeeper Neil Sullivan, who kept a clean sheet--it was the only goal they needed, but they got a trio of insurance goals from Darren Anderton (40', from a Ferdinand assist), Simon Davies (71'), and Sergei Rebrov to set the final margin at 4-0.

To commemorate the landmark goal, the Premier League awarded Ferdinand £10,000 for donation to the charity of his choice. He selected two cancer charities, splitting the money evenly between them.

Friday, December 14, 2012

14 December 1986 - The Debut Of Dennis Bergkamp

On 14 December 1986, Dennis Bergkamp made his professional debut, coming on as a late substitute for Ajax against Roda JC.

Born in Amsterdam in 1969, Bergkamp joined the club's youth academy in 1981. He was 17 when he made that first professional appearance at home against Roda, as manager Johan Cruff subbed him in for Rob Witschge in the 66th minute. Ajax were already up 2-0 at the time and that turned out to be the final score.

The striker remained with the club for seven seasons, scoring 122 goals in 237 appearances across all competitions. Along the way, he won one Eredivisie title (1990), two KNVB Cups (1987, 1993), one UEFA Cup (1992), and one UEFA Cup Winners' Cup (1987) before moving to Inter for a transfer fee of £7.1 million.

He never settled at Inter and left after two seasons for Arsenal, where he regained his previous form. He went on to become one of the club's most highly regarded players, making 425 appearances and winning multiple league titles (1998, 2002, 2004) and FA Cups (1998, 2002, 2003, 2005) before his retirement in 2006.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

13 December 2006 - The Passing Of An American Pioneer

On 13 December 2006, American soccer pioneer Lamar Hunt passed away in Dallas. He was 74 years old.

Heir to an oil fortune, Hunt was an enthusiastic supporter of both both soccer and American football. In 1959, after being turned down for a National Football League franchise, he helped found the rival American Football League and formed his own team, the Dallas Texans. He later moved the team to Kansas City, renaming them as the Chiefs, and they eventually joined the NFL when the two leagues merged in 1970.

His interest in soccer was sparked by a 1962 trip to Ireland, where he took in a Shamrock Rovers match. Five years later, he helped establish the North American Soccer League and founded the Dallas Tornado, who went on to win the league title in 1971.

After the demise of the NASL, Hunt continued to promote the sport in the US. He was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Major League Soccer, which debuted in 1996 with two Hunt-owned teams, the Columbus Crew and the Kansas City Wizards. In 2003, he acquired a third team, FC Dallas and owned all three until his death.

He received several honors and awards over the course of his life, including induction into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1992 and the placement of his statute outside the Columbus Crew Stadium. In 1999, the U.S. Soccer Federation renamed the U.S. Open Cup in his honor. Now known as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, it is the country's longest-running soccer competition.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12 December 1973 - Atilio, The Scourge Of Uruguay's Goalkeepers

On 12 December 1973, Nacional legend Atilio García, the top scorer in the history of Uruguayan football, passed away at the age of 59.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1914, Garcia started his career with local club Platense (1936) and Boca Juniors (1937) before moving to Uruguay in 1938 to play for Nacional. He was the league's top scorer in his first season there with 20 goals and also won his first piece of silverware, the 1938 Torneo de Honor.

He repeated as top scorer for the next six seasons (1939-1944), then again in 1946 and won eight league titles before leaving the club in 1951. Overall, the club credits him with a Uruguayan record 486 goals across all competitions (though his Primera División tally of 208 goals in 210 games was later beaten by Peńarol's Fernando Morena, who scored 230 goals in 244 games between 1969 and 1985).

After leaving Nacional, García spent a season each with Racing Club de Montevideo and Miramar Misiones before retiring in 1953. He remained in Uruguay and was living in Montevideo at the time of his death. In his honor, Nacional named a stand after him in the Estadio Gran Parque Central.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

11 December 2006 - The Least Exciting Promotion and Relegation Battles Ever

On 11 December 2006, the League of Ireland announced the teams that would compete in the next Premier League and First Division seasons, with a couple of surprises.

The announcement was the result of a league reorganization orchestrated by FAI chief John Delaney. Intended to strengthen the league, the FAI commissioned an independent assessment group to evaluate teams according to a wide range of criteria that included past performance, infrastructure, financial health, sustainability, and attendance. By weighting those factors, the commission recommended teams to fill the top two divisions of Irish football.

They announced their decision on 11 December. To the shock of many, Dundalk, who thought they had earned promotion to the Premier League the previous season, remained in the First Division, while Galway, who had finished behind them, were placed in the top flight. Dundalk's fans protested the decision, but the league explained that Galway's performance over the past four seasons justified their placement.

The other shock was the complete omission of Limerick. Despite finishing fifth in the 2006 First Division table, they were excluded entirely from the top two divisions because the club had failed to qualify for the requisite UEFA license. (They eventually participated in the First Division as a new club called Limerick 37).

The biggest shake-up, however, was not revealed until later, when defending Premier League champions Shelbourne were demoted to the First Division prior to the start of the season for financial irregularities.

Monday, December 10, 2012

10 December 2003 - For Lokomotive, The Train Kept A-Rollin'

On 10 December 2003, former German champions Leipzig reformed following the dissolution of their previous incarnation.

Tracing their origins back to 1893, the original club, known as VfB Leipzig, helped form the German Football Association in 1900 and won the inaugural national championship in 1903. Two more titles followed in 1906 and 1913, along with the 1936 German Cup.

Dissolved by the Allies after World War II, Leipzig reformed behind the Iron Curtain in 1946 and went on to lift the East German Cup five times between 1957 and 1987. They played as Lokomotiv Leipzig from 1965 until the early 1990s, when they reclaimed the name VfB Leipzig as part of the new unified German league.

The transition into the new league proved difficult for the club, who went from the top flight in 1994 to fourth division in 2001. By the end of 2003, the club's poor performances and mounting debt led to bankruptcy and dissolution.

But a devoted group of followers worked to re-form the club in December 2003, reclaiming the name Lokomotive Leipzip. They rejoined the German pyramid at the eleventh tier and have since slowly climbed their way to fifth tier for the 2012-13 season.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

9 December 2009 - Using Your Head Isn't Always The Best Decision

On 9 December 2009, Queens Park Rangers suspended manager Jim Magilton for allegedly head-butting one of his own players.

The incident occurred in the tunnel after QPR's away loss to Watford two days earlier. It was their third loss in four games, dropping the team into tenth place and putting pressure on Magilton (pictured), who was in his first season as QPR boss. According to reports, the manager got into an altercation with Rangers midfielder Ákos Buzsáky, then head-butted him. (Coincidentally, he was the second manager in England to be accused of head-butting a player, with the other being Stoke's Tony Pulis).

The club announced the suspension on 9 December with immediate effect and promised an internal investigation. Magilton admitted to having a disagreement with Buzsáky, but denied head-butting him, saying that the reports were incorrect and that he looked forward to reinstatement upon the completion of the club's investigation.

One week later, on 16 December, Magilton left his post as QPR manager. While he continued to deny any wrong-doing, he and the club mutually agreed to part ways. Magilton moved on to serve as an assistant manager for Shamrock Rovers in 2011, then took charge of the Melbourne Victory in 2012.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

8 December 1985 - Juventus Complete Their Collection

On 8 December 1985, Juventus won the Intercontinental Cup on penalties over Argentinos Juniors, becoming the first--and so far only--team to win all of their possible major trophies.

Playing before a crowd of 62,000 at the National Stadium in Tokyo, Argentinos forward Carlos Ereros opened the scoring by chipping Juventus goalkeeper Stefano Tacconi in the 55th minute. The sides then traded a pair of disallowed goals before Michel Platini brought Juventus level with a 63rd-minute penalty kick. Soon afterward, Platini found the back of the net with a brilliant move, lifting the ball over a defender with his right foot, then firing home with his left, but the referee disallowed it because another Juventus player was offside.

Instead, Argentinos took the lead in the 75th minute when José Antonio Castro scored from a tight angle into the far side of the net. Not to be outdone, Juventus forward Michael Laudrup scored from a equally narrow degree seven minutes later.

Locked at 2-2, the match went into a penalty shootout. After a miss from Laudrup and two from Argentinos, Platini converted the final kick to give Juventus the trophy. It marked a complete silverware collection for the team from Turin, who had already won all of the domestic and European competitions available to them.

Friday, December 7, 2012

7 December 2011 - Lyon Beats The Odds

On 7 December 2011, Lyon advanced in the Champions League despite starting the day from what seemed to be an impossible position.

It was the last day of the group stage and Lyon were in third, behind leaders Real Madrid and second-place Ajax. Lyon were three points behind the Dutch and needed both an Ajax loss and a win of their own over Dinamo Zagreb in order to draw level on points. But the challenge did not stop there. They also needed to make up a 7-goal gap in differential, which was a tough ask given that Lyon had scored only twice in their other five group stage matches (both against Zagreb).

Playing at Dinamo's Stadion Maksimir, the hill grew even steeper after Zagreb took the lead with a 40th-minute goal from midfielder Mateo Kovačić (despite losing midfielder Jerko Leko to a 28th-minute red card). But Bafétimbi Gomis equalized for Lyon just before the break.

The second half belonged to Lyon. By the 70th minute, they were up 1-6 with a goal from Maxime Gonalons (47'), one from Lisandro López (64'), and three more from Gomis (48', 52', 70'). At the same time, Real Madrid were on top of Ajax 0-2, bringing Lyon level with the Dutch on goal differential. Then Jimmy Briand pushed Lyon ahead with a final goal against Zagreb in the 75th minute and Real Madrid added another against Ajax in stoppage time to put Ajax's differential at zero and Lyon's at +2.

Lyon's reward for the improbable result was a trip to the Round of 16, where they were eliminated on penalties by APOEL.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

6 December 1993 - Sawa Starts To Soar

On 6 December 1993, Homare Sawa earned her first cap for Japan. She has since become the team's all-time appearances leader.

She was only 15 years old at the time, but had been playing professionally for three years with L. League team Yomiura Beleza, where her performances led to her being named to the league's Best XI for 1993 and to a national team call-up the same year.

That first match was against the Philippines in the 1993 AFC Women's Championship. After missing Japan's opener, a 6-1 win over Chinese Taipei, Sawa delivered against the Philippines, scoring four goals in the 15-0 victory. They then went on to win their next match over Hong Kong, but were eliminated by China in the semifinals.

Since then, Sawa has amassed a team-record total of 186 caps and is also their top goalscorer with 81. In 2011, she captained the team to the World Cup title, then followed that by winning that year's Ballon d'Or.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

5 December 1905 - The Gunners Unload

On 5 December 1905, Arsenal beat a Paris XI in a  friendly by the record score of 26-1.

The Gunners, still known at the time as Woolwich Arsenal, were in their second season under manager Phil Kelso, who had guided them to a tenth-place league finish the previous spring. Although he was looking to improve that finish in the new season, his team had gotten off to a poor start, losing eight of their first fifteen matches. They were sitting in sixteenth place when they hosted the friendly at the Manor Ground in Plumstead.

Their opponents were a collection of players based in Paris. Though no official records of the match remain, it is widely believed that the side included many members of the French national team, with one notable exception--the side was short a man, so borrowed the services of an Arsenal reserve believed to be W.J. "Chips" Hodge.

It is known for certain that Arsenal won 26-1, a scoreline that remains a club record. The top scorer of the day was inside forward Bob Watson, who provided seven goals. He never displayed that kind of form in the league, however, scoring only once in ten competitive appearances for the club.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

4 December 2011 - Socrates Passes Away

On 4 December 2011, former Brazil captain Socrates passed away from complications related to food poisoning. He was 57.

One of the most inventive and dynamic players of his generation, the towering midfielder started his career with Botafogo in 1974. But spent the majority of it with Corinthians, for whom he made 297 league appearances and scored 172 goals between 1978 and 1984 and won three league titles (1979, 1982, 1984).

He earned his first cap from Brazil in 1979 and went on to make a total of 60 appearances, including a spell as captain for the 1982 World Cup. Unfortunately for him, Brazil were eliminated in the second group stage of that tournament and never won a major title during Socrates' tenure, with their best finish being runners-up in the 1982 Copa America.

Socrates won individual awards, though, and was named the 1983 South American Footballer of the Year over Argentina's Ubaldo Fillol and Brazil's Éder.

After leaving Corinthians in 1984, he spent a season in Italy with Fiorentina, then returned to Brazil to play for Flamengo, Santos, and Botafogo before retiring in 1989. Having earned a medical degree during his playing days, he became a practicing physician upon retiring from football and also wrote prolific columns on sports and politics.

At the beginning of December 2011, he went into the hospital for food poisoning and died from related complications.

Monday, December 3, 2012

3 December 1972 - Last One In Before The Doors Close

On 3 December 1972, Juventus beat Fiorentina 2-1, conceding for the last time before a club-record run of 903 scoreless minutes.

Defending league champions Juventus hosted the Serie A match, starting the day in fourth place, with Fiorentina a single point behind them. Anchored by goalkeeper Dino Zoff, the Juventus defense had given up only eight goals on the season, but had kept only two clean sheets. So it was not particularly surprising when Fiorentina striker Nello Saltutti  found the back of the net in the 41st minute. Nor was a shock that Saltutti's goal was the visitors' only one of the day, as Juventus went on to win 2-1 with strikes from Helmut Haller (60') and José Altafini (70').

Nobody expected what came later, however, as Juventus went on to keep the opposition scoreless for a club-record 903 minutes covering a span of nine games with seven wins and two draws. The scoreless run ended on 18 February with a 2-2 draw with AC Milan.

For the remainder of the season, those two teams battled for the Scudetto, with Juventus eventually finishing one point clear of Milan to claim their 15th national title.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

2 December 1997 - Dortmund Cruises Over Cruzeiro

On 2 December 1997, Borussia Dortmund won the Intercontinental Cup, beating Cruzeiro 2-0 in Tokyo.

It was the first appearance in the competition for Dortmund, but the second for Cruzeiro, who lost to Bayern Munich in 1976. That final had been played over two legs, home and away, with the Brazilians losing 2-0 in Germany, then playing to a scoreless draw in Brazil. In 1980, the cup switched to a single-game format, hosted by Japan, and Cruzeiro were hoping for a better result.

But, playing before a crowd of over 51,000 at Tokyo's National Stadium, it was Dortmund who took the lead with a short-range shot from midfielder Michael Zorc in the 34th minute. The ball fell to him just a few feet outside the goal and he beat keeper Dida with a stinging left-footed blast.

Dida had an otherwise strong game, denying several Dortmund chances. But in the 84th minute, he was beaten by another close-range shot, this time from striker Heiko Herrlich, to end the game at 2-0.

It was the last trip to the competition for either club, though Dida went on to win its successor tournament, the FIFA Club World Cup, in 2007 with AC Milan.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

1 December 1994 - Experience Isn't Always Enough

On 1 December 1994, Vélez Sársfield won the Intercontinental Cup, beating three-time champions AC Milan 2-0.

It was the first appearance in the competition for Vélez, who had just won the Copa Libertadores that summer. Their opponents were the defending European Cup champions, AC Milan, who had been in the Intercontinental Cup five times, winning it three times. Their most recent appearance was in 1993, when they lost to São Paulo. So they were looking for redemption the following year against Vélez.

But the Argentinians were prepared for the challenge. Playing before a crowd of almost 48,000 at the National Stadium in Tokyo, they kept them game locked in a scoreless draw at the break. Then, in the second half, they got a pair of goals in an 8-minute span to secure the trophy.

The first goal came through a penalty, converted by defender Roberto Trotta in the 50th minute. In the 57th minute, forward Omar Asad scored an incredible second goal, racing into the box to intercept a poor Milan pass back to the keeper, then turning and firing into the net from a tight angle. The effort led to him being named Man of the Match and took the final score to 2-0.

Friday, November 30, 2012

30 November 2010 - The Hammers Pound United

On 30 November 2010, league-leaders Manchester United were dumped out of the League Cup by last-place West Ham, 4-0.

The Red Devils were the cup holders, having won the competition in 2009 and 2010. In fact, they had not lost a League Cup match since September 2007. In 2010, they beat Scunthorpe and Wolverhampton to set up a fifth-round meeting with West Ham, whom they had already beaten in the league back in August en route to their climb to the top of the table.

West Ham, meanwhile, had advanced in the tournament over fellow Premier League teams Sunderland and Stoke City while sinking to the bottom of the league table--they had been in last place since the start of October.

But when they met at Upton Park on 30 November, West Ham were the dominant side, taking a 2-0 lead into the break after a pair of goals from Jonathan Spector (22', 37'). They continued to shine in the second half as Carlton Cole got a brace of his own (56', 66') to stretch the final margin to 4-0.

The win put the Hammers into the semifinals, where they fell to eventual winners Birmingham City. In the league, both Manchester United and West Ham finished in the same respective spots, with the former winning the league and the latter sitting on the bottom.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

29 November 1986 - A Trophy Three Decades In The Making

On 29 November 1986, River Plate finally won their first Copa Libertadores in their third appearance in the final.

They reached the final in 1966 and 1976 before losing to Peñarol and Cruzeiro, respectively, though they forced a replay in both cases. After another ten-year break, they found themselves in the final again, this time against América de Cali, who finished as runners-up in 1985, their only previous appearance in the final.

The two teams met in Colombia for the first leg on 22 November and River Plate won 1-2 with goals from Juan Gilberto Funes (22') and Norberto Alonso (25'). At the time, the tournament was decided on points, so the Argentinians needed only a draw at home in the second leg to lift the trophy.

River Plate hosted America at the Estadio Monumental one week later, where a crowd of 74,300 turned out to watch. After a scoreless first half, Funes (pictured) found the back of the net in the 69th minute. It proved to be the only goal of the match, securing the trophy for River Plate.

Keeping to their ten-year pattern, they returned to the final in 1996 and won it for a second time, again beating América de Cali over two legs.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

28 November 2000 - Boca's Five-Minute Flurry

On 28 November 2000, Boca Juniors won their second Intercontinental Cup, upsetting Real Madrid 2-1.

Madrid, winners of the previous season's Champions League, had lifted the Intercontinental Cup in 1960 and 1998 and were looking for their third trophy. Led by the attacking trio of Raúl, Guti, and Luís Figo, they were heavily favored over Copa Libertadores champions Boca Juniors, who had themselves won the Intercontinental Cup in 1977.

But playing before a crowd of over 52,000 at the National Stadium in Tokyo, the Spaniards were stunned to  find themselves down 2-0 after only five minutes, with both goals delivered by forward Martín Palermo. For the first, in the third minute, he received a cross at the edge of the 6-yard box and fired home past keeper Iker Casillas. Two minutes later, he ran onto a long lobbed ball and held off pressure from a Madrid defender before firing it past the hands of the diving Casillas.

Real Madrid back Roberto Carlos pulled one back in the 11th minute. But even though they enjoyed the lion's share of possession, they could not crack the Boca defense again.

Madrid did eventually win a third Intercontinental Cup in 2002, followed by Boca's third in 2003.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

27 November 1941 - France's Friend In Need

On 27 November 1941, World Cup-winning French manager Aimé Jacquet was born in the commune of Sail-sous-Couzan.

He enjoyed a long a successful playing career as a defensive midfielder, spending thirteen seasons at Saint-Étienne from 1960 to 1973. While there, he won five league titles and lifted the Coupe de France three times (and in 1968, he made his only two appearances for France). He moved to Lyon for his last two seasons before retiring in 1976, then took charge of the club as manager that year.

After four seasons in charge of Lyon, he switched to Bordeaux and guided the Girondins to the league title in 1984 and 1985, the Coupe de France in 1986, and a league and cup double in 1987. Despite that success, he fell out with the club president and left in 1989. Brief spells with Montpellier (1989-90) and Nancy (1990-91) followed before he took the reins of the national team in 1993.

When he took over, France had just failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup and shortly afterward suffered the loss of captain Eric Cantona to a year-long suspension. But he rebuilt the team around midfielder Zinedine Zidane and led them to the quarterfinals of Euro '96.

He adopted a 4-2-1-3 formation and frequently experimented with his line-up, which drew heavy criticism from French commentators. But his work led France to victory in the 1998 World Cup with a 3-0 victory over Brazil in the Stade de France.

Jacquet stepped down as manager immediately after the tournament, but served as technical director for the national team until his retirement 2006.

Monday, November 26, 2012

26 November 1977 - Run For The Forest

On 26 November 1977, Nottingham Forest drew 0-0 with West Brom to start a club-record streak of 42 unbeaten league matches.

Forest were in the third full season under the managerial duo of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, who took charge of the club in January 1975. They were in Division Two at the time, but won promotion to the top flight for the 1977-78 season.

They started off well in the First Division, winning ten and drawing two of their first thirteen matches and claiming the table's top spot in week nine. They remained there for the duration of the season, even after losing two of their first three games in November. Those two losses, to Chelsea and Leeds, joined an earlier one to Arsenal as their only losses on the season.

Their next match was the home draw against West Brom, followed by another 25 undefeated matches in the league to lift them seven points clear of runners-up Liverpool in the final table (Forest had also beaten Liverpool in that season's League Cup final).

The next season started with another 16 straight undefeated matches to take the total to 42 before Forest finally lost to Liverpool on 9 December 1978. They finished the season as runners-up to Liverpool in the league, but took some consolation by winning the first of two consecutive European Cups that year.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

25 November 1964 - Liverpool's Study In Scarlet

On 25 November 1964, Liverpool played for the first time in the all-red kit that has since become the club's trademark.

Founded in 1892, Liverpool initially adopted blue and white as their colors. But four years later, they exchanged those colors for a combination of red shirts and white shorts (usually paired with red socks). That scheme remained their home kit until 1964, when manager Bill Shankly proposed the idea of a more intimidating all-red uniform.

According to club legend, Ron Yeats was the first player to model the new colors for Shankly, who reportedly responded by saying "Jesus Christ, son. You look bloody massive. You'll scare them to death."

Liverpool first wore the new home colors in a second-round European Cup match against Anderlecht. And while it's not clear whether they played a psychological effect on the Belgians, Liverpool ran out 3-0 winners on the day with goals from Ian St. John (10'), Roger Hunt (43'), and Yeats (50'). They went on to win the second leg as well and eventually reached the semifinals before falling to Inter Milan.

The club switched to all-red for the start of the 1965-66 season and has worn those colors ever since.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

24 November 1979 - Best Comes Back To Britain

On 24 November 1979, George Best returned to the UK from his American exile to play briefly for Hibernian and scored on his debut.

He became one of the most famous footballers in the world while playing for Manchester United, winning, among other things, the 1968 Ballon d'Or. But his inability to resist women and alcohol caused problems for him at Old Trafford, resulting in a series of retirements from the club, the last of which came in January 1974.

Afterward, he turned out for a handful of clubs, including Stockport County (1975) and Cork Celtic (1975-76), before splitting time between the Los Angeles Aztecs and Fulham from 1976 to 1978. When he left Fulham in 1978, he remained in the US, playing for LA and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.

But in the fall of 1979, Hibernian manager Tom Hart lured Best back to Britain. At the time, Hibs were at the bottom of the Scottish First Division table and were lucky to draw 5,000 people to a match. Hart figured correctly that Best, despite having lost much of his ability, was still a big enough name to bring in the crowds and agreed to pay him £2,500 per match at a time when most of the team's other players were making less than a tenth of that amount.

Best's first appearance, though, was in an away match against St. Mirren, where a crowd of 13,798 watched him score the visitors' only goal in a 2-1 result. In his home debut the following week, more than 20,000 filled the stands. He didn't score, but helped Hibs claim their first win since August. It was only a brief respite, as they were relegated at the end of the season.

He played only 17 games for Hibernian across two seasons, scoring a total of three goals, before returning to the US to play for the San Jose Earthquakes. He continued to move around over the next few years before his final retirement in 1984, but never played professionally in the UK again.

Friday, November 23, 2012

23 November 1960 - It Was A Terrific Run While It Lasted

On 23 November 1960, Real Madrid were eliminated from the European Cup for the first time in history. By rivals Barcelona.

Real Madrid had won all five previous tournaments starting with the 1954-55 edition. Barcelona, meanwhile, had, to that point, participated only once, getting eliminated by Real Madrid in the semi-finals the previous season. They did earn a measure of revenge over Madrid by winning La Liga that spring (Madrid finished as runners-up), but were still eager to knock Madrid off their European perch.

They met in the first round, with Real Madrid hosting the first leg on 9 November. There, a penalty from Luis Suárez in the 88th minute earned Barcelona a 2-2 draw with the 5-time defending champions.

Two weeks later, the teams met at Camp Nou for the second leg where Barcelona took a two-goal lead deep into the second half after getting goals from Martí Vergés (33') and Evaristo de Marcedo (81'). Madrid forward Canário scored in the 87th minute to set up a tense finish, but it was the visitors' only goal of the day and they fell 4-3 on aggregate.

Barcelona eventually reached the final, but lost there to Benfica, 3-2. They finally won it in 1992 and have since lifted the trophy three more times. Real Madrid, meanwhile, won it again in 1966 and have since extended their collection of European Cups/Champions League trophies to nine.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

22 November 1967 - Make Your Own "Irish Famine" Joke

On 22 November 1967, Ireland beat Czechoslovakia in a European qualifier. It was their last win for almost five years.

Played in Prague, the match was the last one in the qualifying group, with only the top finisher advancing to the quarterfinals. Ireland were already eliminated but were hoping to play the role of spoiler for the hosts, who started the day one point behind group leader Spain (the Spanish had already completed all of their matches).

The Czechs took the lead in the 57th minute courtesy of an own goal from Irish center back John Dempsey, but Ray Treacy pulled the visitors level in the 65th minute. Then, with four minutes of normal time remaining, striker Turlough O'Connor scored the match winner. The win lifted Ireland off the bottom of their group table into third and kept Czechoslovakia in second behind Spain.

It turned out to be Ireland's last taste of victory for quite a while. They went winless in their next twenty games, including their qualification campaigns for the 1970 World Cup and Euro '72, before finally beating Iran 2-1 in a friendly on 18 June 1972. They did not win another competitive match until they defeated France 2-1 in a World Cup qualifier on 15 November 1972.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

21 November 1999 - Ronaldo's Black-And-Blue Period Begins

On 21 November 1999, Inter striker Ronaldo suffered a severe knee injury against Lecce that derailed his career for almost three years.

The 1997 Ballon d'Or winner was in his third season with Inter after moving from Barcelona. He had had an outstanding first season, scoring 39 goals in 56 appearances across all competitions, but his form dropped in the second, with a total of 15 goals.

He appeared to be back to his old self at the start of the 1999-2000 season, scoring five times in his first eleven appearances. The fifth goal came against Lecce in Inter's tenth league match of the season--he scored from the penalty spot in the 49th minute to put Inter up 5-0 en route to a 6-0 victory. But shortly after scoring, he ruptured a tendon in his right knee.

After an intense five-month rehabilitation period, Ronaldo returned to the pitch in April for the Coppa Italia final against Lazio, but re-injured his knee after only seven minutes. He missed the remainder of that season, the entire 2000-01 season and part of the 2001-02 season.

He went through another lengthy rehab period and recovered in time to help Brazil win the 2002 World Cup. The same year, he claimed his second Ballon d'Or.

Unfortunately for Ronaldo, his history of knee injuries was not over. In 2008, while playing for AC Milan, he ruptured a tendon in his left knee, forcing another long layoff, though he again recovered and played for Corinthians between 2009 and 2011 before finally retiring.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

20 November 1957 - Ajax Goes European

On 20 November 1957, Ajax made their first European Cup appearance, beating East Germany's SC Wismut in the Round of 16. They later went on to win the competition four times, including three straight titles from 1971 to 1973.

Ajax failed to qualify for the first two European Cups, but made it into the 1957-58 tournament by winning the Eredivisie the previous season. They were one of seven teams, including defending champions Real Madrid, to receive a bye in the first round, placing them directly into the Round of 16.

There, they faced East German champions SC Wismut, who had advanced out of the preliminary round with a coin toss after their playoff match against Gwardia Warsaw was halted after 100 minutes when the floodlights failed.

Wismut hosted the first leg and promptly fell behind to the visitors after a goal from winger Piet van der Kuil in the fifth minute. Wim Bleijenberg doubled the lead eleven minutes later, then van der Kuil struck again in the 64th minute. Wismut got a consolation goal in the 86th minute to set the final margin at 1-3 for Ajax.

Ajax won the second leg 1-0 one week later to advance to the quarterfinals where they fell to Hungarian side Vasas 2-6 on aggregate. Afterward, they became one of the most successful teams in European competition, winning the European Cup in 1971, 1972, and 1973, then again in 1995 (after it had been renamed the Champions League). They also finished as runners-up in 1969 and 1996.

Monday, November 19, 2012

19 November 1989 - The Yanks Return To The Big Time

On 19 November 1989, a goal from midfielder Paul Caligiuri qualified the United States for their first World Cup in forty years.

The US had a short but interesting tournament history, including a third-place finish in 1930 and a famous upset victory over England in 1950. But they failed to qualify for the next nine competitions from 1954 to 1986.

Then in 1989, they entered their last day of CONCACAF qualification with a match against Trinidad and Tobago, whom they trailed by a single point for the last ticket to Italia '90. The two teams drew 1-1 in their first meeting, then met for the rematch at the National Stadium in the Port of Spain, with the hosts needing only a draw to advance to what would have been their first World Cup appearance.

Unfortunately for them, they conceded a critical goal in the 30th minute, when midfielder Paul Caligiuri received the ball, beat a defender, then launched a high arcing shot that just snuck into the goal past the diving keeper. That proved to be the difference as the US held on for the 0-1 victory and a trip to Italy.

Although they fell out of the tournament in the group stage, losing all three matches, they have qualified for every tournament since and advanced to the quarterfinals in 2002. Trinidad and Tobago eventually reached the World Cup as well, making it to Germany in 2006.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

18 November 2011 - An Apology Is Better Than Nothing (But Not By Much)

On 18 November 2011, Sepp Blatter apologized for remarks he made earlier in the week about racism in football. It was the latest in a series of events over the course of a difficult year for the FIFA president.

No stranger to controversy, Blatter had previously provoked strong reactions for several statements, including his opinion that women's football would be more popular if the players wore tight shorts and his description of Cristiano Ronaldo's contract situation as a form of slavery. During his 2010 campaign for re-election to his FIFA post, he fell under intense scrutiny for allegations of corruption throughout the organization.

Then, in mid-November 2011, he addressed the problem of racism in football by suggesting that the players resolve any on-field incidents with a post-match handshake. The comment immediately drew harsh criticism from a wide variety of sources, most notably from Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, who called the comment "so condescending it's almost laughable." Many people called for Blatter's resignation.

The pressure led to his eventual apology. He did not deliver it in person, however, but instead submitted a written statement that was read by FIFA official Tokyo Sexwale. The statement read: "When you have done something which was not totally correct, I can only say I am sorry for all those people affected by my declarations. It hurts and I am still hurting because I couldn't envisage such a reaction."

Despite continued calls for his resignation, Blatter refused, saying that such a step was "not compatible with [his] fighting spirit."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

17 November 1993 - A Bulgarian Brace Beats Les Bleus

On 17 November 1993, a very late goal helped Bulgaria upset France in a World Cup qualifier in Paris to earn their place in the tournament and eliminate the hosts.

It was the last match of their qualification group. Sweden had already secured the top spot, leaving only one more ticket to the World Cup up for grabs. France started the day in second, one point ahead of third-place Bulgaria, and needed only a draw to advance.

Even though Bulgaria won the first meeting in Sofia, 2-0, Les Bleus looked like the more likely team to get the needed result, especially once they took a 1-0 lead with a 31st-minute goal from Eric Cantona. The visitors quickly answered with a strike from Emil Kostadinov (pictured) six minutes later, but the match remained level at 1-1 until deep in the second half.

Then, in the last few seconds of the 90th minute, Kostadinov struck again, blasting the ball into the roof of the net from close range. The final score of 1-2 switched the two teams in the table, putting Bulgaria in the World Cup and leaving France out.

The Bulgarians went on to make their best-ever World Cup showing, reaching the semifinals before falling to Italy, then finishing fourth after a loss to Sweden in the third-place match.

Friday, November 16, 2012

16 November 1974 - All Hail The Ginger Prince

On 16 November 1974, Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes was born in Salford. Currently in his 20th season at Old Trafford, he has made over 700 appearances for the club.

He joined United as a youth player in 1991, then joined the first team for the 1993-94 season, but did not appear in a competitive match until the following season. By September 1995, he had become a regular fixture in the starting XI, helping them to a league and FA Cup Double.

More honors followed, including a staggering nine additional league titles, two more FA Cups, and two Champions League trophies. Along the way, he built a reputation as one of the best midfielders of his generation, earning plaudits from opposing players and coaches such as Barcelona midfielder Xavi, who has called Scholes the best midfielder he's seen in the past 20 years.

Scholes earned his first cap for England in 1997 and made a total of 66 appearances before his international retirement in 2004.

He retired from United in May 2011 and took up a coaching role with the club, but was later convinced to change his mind at the urging of manager Alex Ferguson and returned to the pitch in January 2012. He recently signed a contract extension that will keep him at Old Trafford until 2013.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

15 November 2009 - In His Defense, He Never Actually Said What "It" Was

On 15 November 2009, FIFA issued a two-month ban to Diego Maradona and fined him £15,000 as the result of a press conference he gave the previous month.

After taking over as manager of the Argentinian national team in 2008, the former star midfielder guided them through a difficult qualification campaign for the 2010 World Cup that included a 6-1 defeat to Bolivia as well as losses to Ecuador, Brazil, and Paraguay. With two matches remaining, Argentina were in fifth place and in danger of missing the World Cup.

But they won those last two matches, over Peru and Uruguay, to claim the last guaranteed CONCACAF spot. After the second one, Maradona held a live televised press conference in which he railed against the Argentinian press for the criticism they had delivered during the campaign. The most memorable part of his rant was when he said the journalists "can suck it and keep on sucking it," which prompted FIFA's action.

The ban expired on 15 January 2010. Maradona led Argentina to the World Cup quarterfinals, then fell out with the Argentina Football Federation, who decided later that summer not to renew his contract.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

14 November 1990 - It Didn't Get Much Better From There

On 14 November 1990, San Marino played their first FIFA-sanctioned international, losing 0-4 to Switzerland in a European qualifier.

San Marino's national team dates back to 1986, but they did not join FIFA until four years later, just in time to participate in qualification for Euro 1992. They hosted their first qualifier at the Stadio Olimpico in Serravale against the Swiss, who had already played twice (a 2-0 win over Bulgaria and a 1-1 loss to Scotland).

That additional preparation undoubtedly helped Switzerland, who were up 0-3 at the end of the first half, then scored once more in the 87th minute to cap the 0-4 victory.

San Marino played another seven qualifiers and lost them all, conceding a total of 32 goals and scoring only once (a penalty). In fact, they lost all of their games until a draw with Turkey in March 1993 and did not win a match until beating Liechtenstein in April 2004.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

13 November 1982 - Being First Isn't Always Best

On 13 November 1982, Real Madrid won the first Supercopa de España match, beating Real Sociedad 1-0. Unfortunately for them, it was only the first of two legs.

The winners of the league and Copa del Rey had met in previous competitions over the years, most notably the Copa Eva Duarte, which had been played from 1947 to 1953. But that was the last time until the establishment of the Supercopa in 1982.

Real Madrid, the previous season's Copa del Rey winners, hosted the first match against Sociedad, the reigning league champions. With a crowd of 45,000 looking on, Madrid defender John Metgod (pictured at bottom left) scored the match's only goal in the 44th minute to give the hosts the win.

The teams didn't meet for the second leg until 28 December, when Sociedad got three extra-time goals to win the match 4-0, taking the cup 4-1 on aggregate.

Monday, November 12, 2012

12 November 1939 - A Fitting Mark For The Occasion

On 12 November 1939, forward Josef Bican commemorated his appearance for a third national team by scoring a hat-trick.

Bican, who was born in Vienna in 1913, made his first national team appearance for Austria in 1933. He went on to play for them a total of nineteen times--and scoring a total of nineteen goals--through 1936. The following year, he left Austria to play for Slavia Prague where he spent the majority of his career, scoring 395 goals in 217 matches between 1937 and 1948.

After moving to Prague, he switched his national team allegiance to Czechoslovakia. But after only three games (and eight goals), Czechoslovakia fell to the Nazis, who disbanded the team. They attempted to persuade Bican to turn out for Germany, but he declined, choosing instead to play for the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia which, while Nazi-controlled, remained ethnically Czech.

In his lone appearance for the Protectorate, Bican provided three goals in what turned out to be a 4-4 draw with Germany.

He rejoined the Czechoslovakian national team when they resumed play in 1946, making another eleven appearances for them until retiring from international football in 1949.