Tuesday, March 31, 2009

31 March 2002 - Bohemian Rhapsody

On 31 March 2002, Bohemian F.C. of Dublin beat Shelbourne F.C. 4-0 on the last day of the Irish Premier League season, starting a run of 23 matches in which they scored at least one goal. Despite the loss, Shelbourne finished at the top of the Irish Premier League table, with Bohemians in fourth position.

Bohemians' streak carried them through the first 22 matches of the 2002-2003 season, with 14 wins and 7 draws. Their only loss during that run was a 1-2 home defeat to Shelbourne. The biggest wins were the first one over Shelbourne to start the streak and a similar 4-0 home victory over Bray Wanderers, which was also the Bohs' biggest win that season. The streak ended on 27 December 2002 when Bohemians failed to score away to St. Patrick's Athletic, losing 2-0.

Bohemians lost only three matches that season and captured the Irish Premier League title (their ninth) just five points ahead of second-place Shelbourne.

Bohemians and Shelbourne have a long history, being the only two clubs that have been members of the League of Ireland, Irish football's governing body, since its inception in 1921 (it was replaced by the FAI League of Ireland in 2007).

Monday, March 30, 2009

30 March 1973 - That's 6'7" For You Non-Metric Types

On 30 March 1973, striker Jan Koller was born in the town of Smetanova Lhota, in what was then Czechoslovakia (and is now the Czech Republic). Koller is the all-time leading goalscorer for the Czech national team with 55 goals in 90 appearances. He retired from international football in 2008.

During his time with the national team, the Czechs made only one World Cup appearance, in 2006. Koller scored the first-ever World Cup goal for the Czech side when he netted in the 5th minute of their opening match against the United States, leading the way to a 3-0 victory. Those were the Czech side's only goals of the tournament, however, and they were eliminated in the group stage after losses to Ghana (0-2) and Italy (0-2).

Koller has a well-traveled career, having played club football in the Czech Republic (with Sparta Prague), Belgium (with Lokeren and Anderlecht), Germany (with Borussia Dortmund and Nuremberg), France (with Monaco), and Russia, where he currently plays for Krylia Sovetov Samara.

His longest club tenure to date was with Borussia Dortmund, where he played from 2001 to 2006, making 137 appearances and scoring 59 goals. He helped them claim the Bundesliga title in the 2001-2002 season.

An imposing physical presence at 2.02 meters, Koller has earned a number of honors throughout his career, including Belgian League top scorer in 1999 and Belgian League Player of the Year in 2000.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

29 March 1884 - They Played Like Warrior-Poets

On 29 March 1884, the Scottish national team beat Wales at Caithkin Park in Glasgow by the score of 4-1 to claim the inaugural British Home Championship. John Kay scored two goals for the Scottish side, while Joseph Lindsay and Francis Shaw added one more each.

The British Home Championship was contested annually between the four national teams within the United Kingdom - England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland (Northern Ireland after the Irish partition in 1922). The Championship used a standard table format where each of the four teams played the other three teams once, earning two points for a win, one point for a draw, and no points for a loss. The title went to the team with the highest number of points at the conclusion.

Scotland finished the 1883-84 Championship at the top of the table with maximum points. They beat Ireland away 5-0 in the first ever BHC match on 26 January 1884, then beat England 1-0 in Glasgow, before completing their title with the victory over Wales.

The British Home Championship was canceled between 1914-19 due to World War I and again during 1939-46 due to World War II. It was also canceled in 1980-81 due to the civil unrest in Northern Ireland that year. It was last played in 1984, when it was won by Northern Ireland.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

28 March 1984 - And Luxembourg Is Right Next To France

On 28 March 1984, France beat Austria in Bordeaux, by the score of 1-0. It was the second match in France's streak of twelve consecutive wins over a period of thirteen months. Midfielder Michel Platini was the French captain during the run, which started with a 2-0 win over England on 29 February 1984. The French followed up their victory over Austria with wins against West Germany (1-0) and Scotland (2-0).

France's success carried into the summer, when it hosted the 1984 UEFA European Championship. The French swept their group, beating Denmark (1-0), Belgium (5-0), and Yugoslavia (3-2) and advanced to the semifinals against Portgual, setting up a match that became one of the most exciting contests in the history of the Euros. After the teams went into extra time tied at 1-1, striker Rui Jordao put Portugal ahead in the 98th minute. Les Bleus staged a stunning comeback with a goal from Jean-Francois Domergue in the 114th minute to bring them level before Platini scored the winning goal in the 119th minute. France then defeated Spain in the final, 2-0, to claim their first major international title.

The French continued their incredible run with victories in World Cup qualifiers against Luxembourg (4-0), Bulgaria (1-0), and East Germany (2-0). After more than a year since the streak began, it finally ended on 3 April 1985 when France drew 0-0 with Yugoslavia in their final qualifying match. Despite the draw, France finished at the top of its qualifying group and progressed to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. There, Les Bleus advanced to the semifinals where they lost to West Germany 2-0, then beat Belgium 4-2 in the third place match.

Throughout its run of victories, France enjoyed a significant home advantage, as all but one of the twelve matches in the streak were played in France. The other one was the 4-0 win away to Luxembourg.

Friday, March 27, 2009

27 March 1994 - You Never Forget Your First Time

On 27 March 1994, media tycoon and AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party won the national general election for Italy's Chamber of Deputies, leading to Berlusconi's first appointment as Prime Minister.

He purchased AC Milan in 1986, during a lean period in the club's history. He invested in a new manager - Arrigo Sacchi - and new players, including the Dutch trio of Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, and Ruud Gullit, as well as Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, two of the greatest defenders in Italian football. By 1988, Milan won the Serie A title, which it followed with European Cup trophies in 1989 and 1990.

Berlusconi relied heavily on the club's regained popularity to generate support among Italian voters. Launched in December 1993, only three months prior to the general election, Forza Italia was a center-right coalition that used Italy's ultra football supporter groups as a model. Even the name "Forza Italia" comes from the chant used by supporters of the Italian national team during matches (translated into English as "Forward, Italy").

Berlusconi's term in office lasted only two years, but he served a second term from 2001-2006, and started a third term in 2008, which is still running. He is now the second-longest serving Prime Minister in Italian history, despite often being the subject of controversy.


Image copyrighted 2008 by Presidenza della Repubblica and used with permission.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

26 March 2005 - But It Was The Beer Vendors Who Really Suffered

On 26 March 2005, Costa Rica and Panama set the record for the lowest attendance at a World Cup qualifier with a head count of zero. The match was played at Costa Rica's Estadio Ricardo Saprissa Ayma in San Jose (above), where Costa Rica had recently lost to Mexico on 9 February 2005. According to reports filed after the loss to Mexico, the home fans threw various objects at the officials and the Mexican players, including bottles, coins, batteries, and fruit. As a punishment, FIFA ruled that Costa Rica's match against Panama had to be played behind closed doors. Despite the empty stadium, however, Costa Rica beat Panama 2-1 in a match the Costa Rican press called "miraculous," as Roy Myrie scored the go-ahead goal in the 90th minute.

Costa Rica advanced to the 2006 World Cup and immediately set another record by opening the tournament with a 4-2 loss to host nation Germany - the highest scoring opening match in World Cup history. Costa Rica lost its next two matches to the other members of its group, Ecuador (by the score of 0-3) and Poland (1-2), thus failing to advance beyond the group stage.

Saprissa Stadium received a similar attendance ban from CONCACAF in 2006, following a CONCACAF Champions Cup match on 29 March. Hometown club Saprissa beat Mexican club Toluca 3-2, but Toluca advanced on aggregate after winning the first leg 2-0. Angry Saprissa supporters threw trash and other objects onto the pitch and threatened the match officials, causing CONCACAF to issue the ban.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

25 March 1876 - Scottish Footballers Give Bad Birthday Presents

On 25 March 1876, Wales played its first competitive football match, against Scotland in Glasgow. Scotland won the match 4-0, with goals from John Ferguson, James Lang, Billy MacKinnon, and Henry McNeil.

With that match, the Welsh team, nicknamed the Dragons, became the third oldest international football team, after England and Scotland. Though it is part of the United Kingdom, Wales has continued to field its own independent football team for all competitions except the Olympics, which recognizes only a unified UK team.

Wales has qualified for the World Cup only once, in 1958, when it finished second in its qualifying group among Hungary, Mexico, and host nation Sweden. Wales was eliminated in the first knockout round by Brazil, when Pele scored the only goal of the match in the 66th minute. Brazil went on to win the tournament, claiming their first World Cup title.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

24 March 1913 - What's Red And White On The Bottom And Oranje On Top?

On 24 March 1913, the Netherlands national team recorded its first victory over England. The friendly was played in the Hague between amateur sides, and the Netherlands won by the score of 2-1. Both Dutch goals were scored by Huug de Groot.

The Oranje were managed by Edgar Chadwick (right), who had played for over twenty years in England and had seven appearances (3 goals) for the English national team between 1891 and 1897. He was hired to manage the Dutch national side in 1908 after ending his playing career with non-League Darwen F.C. earlier that year. He coached the Netherlands for a total of 24 matches, winning 14. He led the Dutch to the bronze medal in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, defeating Sweden, Austria, and Finland, but losing to Denmark.

Despite the Olympics medal, the victory over England is widely considered to be Chadwick's greatest success. He coached the Netherlands only once more, a 1-2 loss to England in November 1913. He went on to coach Dutch club Sparta Rotterdam, winning the Netherlands championship in 1915.

Monday, March 23, 2009

23 March 1895 - Other Than That, Lincoln City, How Was The Match?

On 23 March 1895, Manchester City FC set its record League victory, beating Lincoln City FC by a score of 11-3 (also a record loss for Lincoln City).

Manchester City was founded in 1880 as St. Marks (West Gorton), but moved to Hyde Road, Ardwick in 1887 and accordingly changed its name to Ardwick A.F.C. Ardwick joined the Football League as a founding Second Division member in 1892, along with 11 other teams, including Lincoln City. During the 1893-94 season, Ardwick underwent a reorganization and reformed as Manchester City FC.

Despite its stunning victory over Lincoln City in the 1894-95 season, Manchester City finished that year in 9th position out of 16 Second Division teams, with a record of 14 wins, 3 draws, and 13 losses. Four years later, however, Manchester City won the Second Division, earning promotion to the First Division. In fact, Manchester City holds the record for most second-tier titles with 7.

Throughout its history, Manchester City has moved between the top two levels of English football, except for the 1988-99 season, where it played in the third level (known as Division Two after the establishment of the Premier League). Manchester City currently plays in the Premier League, where it has been since the 2002-03 season.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

22 March 1888 - Thank You, Mr. McGregor

On 22 March 1888, the Football League was founded by Scotsman William McGregor, then director of Aston Villa. The original twelve members were Accrington, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Burnley, Derby County, Everton, Notts County, Preston North End, Stoke, West Bromwich Albion, and Wolverhampton Wanderers. The league's first season began a few months later on 8 September 1888.

Prior to the formation of the Football League, the individual clubs in England scheduled their own fixtures. With the League, however, each club played the other clubs two times - once home and once away - earning two points for a win and one point for a draw. Preston North End claimed the first league title.

Today, the Football League oversees levels two through four in the English pyramid - the Coca-Cola Championship, League One, and League Two. Teams promoted from the Championship enter the Premier League, while teams relegated from League Two compete in the Football Conference.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

21 March 1987 - Milan Gets A Ruud Awakening

On 21 March 1987, Dutch club PSV Eindhoven sold defender/midfielder Ruud Gullit to AC Milan for the then-record fee of £6 million. Gullit had already established himself as a world class player, helping PSV to the Eredivisie title in 1986 and 1987. He was named Dutch Footballer of the Year in both years. Gullit was unhappy at PSV, however, and requested the transfer to Milan.

At Milan, Gullit cemented his status as one of the world's greatest footballers. For his work with PSV and then Milan, he won the Ballon D'Or in 1987. Along with fellow Dutch internationals Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, he helped Milan claim the Serie A title in 1987-88 after a club drought of nine years. Gullit's Milan went on to win two more Scudettos in 1992 and 1993. Internationally, Milan won back-to-back European Cup championships in 1989 and 1990, as well as the World Club Championship in 1990, though injuries limited Gullit's time on the pitch and forced him into a more peripheral role.

He left Milan in 1993 to play for Milan's Serie A rivals Sampdoria, where he rediscovered his pre-injury form. He led Sampdoria to the 1994 Italian Cup and a third-place finish in the league. Along the way, Gullit scored the game-winning goal in Sampdoria's 3-2 win over Milan. His performance that season was so impressive that Milan re-signed him in 1994, but he again struggled to find his form and returned to Sampdoria to finish the 1994-95 season. He finished his playing career at Chelsea, where he played from 1995-98. He went on to manage several clubs, including Chelsea, Newcastle United, Feyenoord Rotterdam, and the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Friday, March 20, 2009

20 March 2004 - Chelsea Goes Streaking

On 20 March 2004, Chelsea beat Fulham 2-1 in an English Premier League match at Stamford Bridge, starting a home unbeaten streak that would last a total of 86 matches - an English record. The last match in that run was a 2-0 league win over Aston Villa on 5 October 2008. Liverpool finally ended Chelsea's home dominance with a 0-1 league win on 26 October 2008, when Liverpool's Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso scored in the 10th minute off a deflection from Chelsea defender Jose Bosingwa. Just two months later, Chelsea suffered another home defeat in the league, this time a 1-2 loss to London rivals Arsenal.

Arsenal, incidentally, were the last team to beat Chelsea at the Bridge before the start of the streak, with a 1-2 win on 21 February 2004.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

19 March 1909 - An Argentalian Is Born

On 19 March 1909, Atilio Jose Demaria was born in Buenos Aires. A striker, Demaria played for a number of clubs in Argentina and Italy, including Gimnasia de la Plata (1930-31), Inter (1932-37), Club Atletico Independiente (1938-43), Novara (1944), Legnano (1945-46), and Cosenza (1946-48).

Demaria was a dual internationalist, playing for Argentina from 1930-31 (13 appearances, 3 goals), including the first World Cup in 1930, where Argentina finished as runner-up to Uruguay.

He played for Italy from 1932-40 (3 appearances, no goals), including the 1934 World Cup, which Italy won to claim their first World Cup title.

He died on 11 November 1990 at the age of 71 in Haedo, Argentina.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

18 March 1899 - Arsenal Drains Blackpool

18 March 1899 - Woolwich Arsenal beat Blackpool, 6-0. Arsenal were still in the Second Division at the time, having been elected to the League as a Second Division team in 1893.