Monday, March 31, 2014

31 March 2001 - The End Of Rocky's Road

On 31 March 2001, 33-year old midfielder David "Rocky" Rocastle, who had played for Arsenal, Leeds United, Manchester City, and Chelsea, died from complications related to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Born in 1967, Rocastle started his career with Arsenal's youth squad in 1983, then joined the senior side from 1985 to 1992. He was a star for the Gunners, making 218 League appearances and scoring 24 goals. In that time, Arsenal won one League Cup (1987) and two League titles (1989, 1991). But near the end of his time at Highbury, injuries began to impact his game and he transferred to Leeds United in the summer of 1992 for £2 million, a Leeds record at the time.

His playing time at Elland Road was limited by a combination of factors, including injury and competition from other players, including Gordon Strachan, the man he'd been brought in to replace. In December 1993, Rocastle moved again, this time to Manchester City, but once more failed to make an impact. At the end of the 1992-93 season, he returned to London, this time with Chelsea.

He stuck with Chelsea for four seasons, but never recovered the form or fitness he had during his previous spell in London with Arsenal. He spent 1997 out on loan to Norwich City and Hull City, then returned to Chelsea's reserve team. After leaving Chelsea in 1998, he briefly joined Malaysian side Sabah FA, but injuries forced his retirement in December 1999.

In February 2001, Rocastle announced that he had contracted non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects the immune system. Despite aggressive chemotherapy, he died on 31 March.

Arsenal paid tribute to Rocastle by naming their new youth team indoor training facility after him. They also included him as one of 16 former Arsenal players to have their images painted on the sides of the new Emirates Stadium.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

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.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

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.

Friday, March 28, 2014

27 March 2002 - He May Have Won The Match, But He Got Screwed On The Shirt Deal

On 27 March 2002, the shirt worn by Pelé in the 1970 World Cup Final sold at an auction for a record £157,750. The bid, placed by an anonymous telephone bidder, smashed the expected sale price, estimated by Christie's auction house at a mere £50,000.

The shirt still had grass stains from the Final, in which Pelé scored the opening goal in Brazil's 4-1 win over Italy. The shirt was auctioned by Italian defender Roberto Rosato, who acquired it by swapping shirts with Pelé at the end of the match.

The sale beat the previous auction record of £91,750, paid for the shirt worn by England's Geoff Hurst in the 1966 World Cup Final.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

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.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

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 Pelé scored the only goal of the match in the 66th minute. Brazil went on to win the tournament, claiming their first World Cup title.

Monday, March 24, 2014

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.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

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.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

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. 

McGregor first proposed the idea in a letter to the clubs dated 2 March, proposing a meeting at Anderton's Hotel in London for later in the month. That first meeting on 22 March was "informal," with a formal meeting following on 17 April. 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 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.

Friday, March 21, 2014

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.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

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.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

19 March 2009 - The Sweet Sound Of Success

On 19 March 2009, the Seattle Sounders officially returned to the American top flight after an absence of over 25 years. Sort of.

The original Sounders played in the North American Soccer League from 1974 to 1983. A quality side, with a roster that included England World Cup heroes Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst, they made it to two Soccer Bowls (1977 and 1982, losing to the New York Cosmos both times), before folding in 1983.

The name was resurrected in 1994 by a new Seattle club playing in the American Professional Soccer League. While the APSL operated as the top American league between 1990 and 1996, FIFA never officially recognized it as the American top flight, and, with the advent of MLS in 1996, the APSL was a lower-division league, eventually absorbed into the USL. The APSL/USL Sounders were even more successful than the NASL side, winning four league championships (1995, 1996, 2005, 2007).

In November 2007, MLS announced that Seattle would be the league's newest club, starting play in 2009. The owners opened an online poll for fans to select the name for the new team and the supporters overwhelmingly chose "Sounders" as a write-in option.

Their first match on 19 March 2009 continued the tradition of success associated with the Sounders name with a 3-0 win over the Red Bulls in front of a sold-out crowd at Seattle's Qwest Field. Two of the goals were provided by the team's young Colombian forward, Fredy Montero, who also provided an assist for the third goal - a performance that earned him MLS Player of the Week honors.

The team went on to outperform all expectations, claiming silverware in their first season by winning the 2009 US Open Cup, then repeating as champions in 2010 and 2011. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

18 March 1900 - Ajax The Great

On 18 March 1900, AFC Ajax were founded in Amsterdam. They have since become one of the world's most successful clubs, pioneering total football and collecting a haul of silverware that includes 32 Dutch league titles, 18 KNVB Cups, and four European Cups/Champions League trophies.

Named after the Greek hero from the Iliad, the club's early days gave little sign of the greatness to follow as their first 10 seasons were spent in the Dutch second division. They won their first major trophy, the KNVB Cup, in 1917 and followed it with back-to-back league titles in 1918 and 1919. They enjoyed tremendous success through the 1930s and 1950s, but rose to even greater heights in the 1960s due to the combination of manager Rinus Michels and star midfielder Johan Cruyff.

Michels refined Ajax's style of play known as "total football" in which players shifted responsibilities based on the flow of the match. With Cruyff at its core, Ajax rose to European heights, winning three consecutive European Cups (1971, 1972, and 1973).

Ajax continued their success through the '80s, '90s, and 2000s and are currently on a streak of three straight league titles, having won the Erdivisie in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Monday, March 17, 2014

17 March 1954 - Spain Gets Tossed Out Of The World Cup

On 17 March 1954, Spain and Turkey met in Rome for a World Cup qualifying play-off, having split their two previous matches with one win apiece. With a World Cup trip at stake, the teams battled to a 2-2 draw through extra time, so the winner was decided by a coin toss.

There were 13 qualifying groups for the 1954 World Cup, with four of them -- including Spain's and Turkey's Group 6 -- having only two teams. In those groups, the teams played each other twice, once home and once away, earning two points for a win and one point for a draw. The group winners qualified for the Cup, while the runners-up went home.

The two sides first met in Madrid on 6 January 1954, with the hosts cruising to an easy 4-1 victory. In the second match, played in Istanbul on 14 March, the Turkish defense performed better, holding the Spanish scoreless in Turkey's 1-0 win. Unfortunately for Spain, the rules at the time did not consider goal differential, so a replay was required to decide the outcome.

FIFA scheduled the replay for 17 March, choosing Rome as a neutral ground. Spain took the lead with an 18th-minute goal from forward José Luis Arteche, but Turkey got a 32nd-minute equalizer from forward Burhan Sargin (pictured), who had scored the crucial goal in Istanbul. Sargin's fellow forward Suat Mamat then scored in the 65th minute to give the Turks a late lead. There was still time for Spain to rally, however, and forward Adrián Escudero brought his side level in the 79th minute. They played to a stalemate for the rest of regulation, then through extra time.

With no penalty-kick provision in place at the time, the winner was decided by chance. Some reports say that the winner was chosen by drawing lots, but FIFA says "their fate was decided by the toss of a coin, with the Turks calling correctly." In any event, the result was the same: the Spanish, despite outscoring their opponents 6-4 over the course of three matches, were sent home and Turkey advanced to the World Cup, where they were eliminated in the group stage.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

16 March 1909 - Amateur Players, Professional Butt-Kickers

On 16 March 1909, England's amateur side played a friendly against Germany in Oxford, delivering a 9-0 beating that remains Germany's worst-ever defeat. While few details of the match remain, it was the second straight win over Germany for the English amateurs, who had beaten the Germans 1-5 in Berlin the previous year.

Due to the growth of the English league in the early 1900s, the England amateur side was established in 1906 in order to provide a team for players who were good, but not good enough to crack the senior side. The wins over Germany were no flukes, however. Those two matches were part of a greater run for England's amateurs, who were on a ten-game winning streak prior to the match in Oxford. After that win, they rattled off seven more for a total of 17 straight wins before drawing 2-2 with Belgium in Brussels later that month. They won two more matches for a total unbeaten run of 20 before finally losing 2-1 to Denmark in May 1910.

In 1974, the amateur side was disbanded as the FA stopped distinguishing between amateur and professional players. By that time, the amateurs had inflicted record defeats on the Netherlands (12-2 in 1907), Sweden (12-1 in 1908), Belgium (11-2 in 1909), and Hungary (7-0 in 1912, tied with two other matches).

Saturday, March 15, 2014

15 March 1892 - Their Mascot Should Have Been A Phoenix

On 15 March 1892, former Everton FC chairman John Houlding, who had left the Toffees over issues related to his ownership of their Anfield Road ground, founded a new club to use the ground. Originally named Everton Athletic, the club soon took a new name - Liverpool FC.

A brewer by trade, Houlton negotiated the lease of the Anfield Road ground for Everton in 1884, after they had been asked to leave their previous ground by the ground's owner, who was unhappy with the crowd noise on matchdays. A year later, Houlton bought Anfield outright, placing the club in the awkward position of having to pay rent to their president.

Nevertheless, the move was successful for Everton, who became one of the Football League's founding clubs in 1888 and won their first League title in 1891. But tensions between the club and Houlding continued, due largely to Houlding's decision to raise the rent on Anfield by 150% in 1890. The club grew increasingly convinced that Houlding was placing his personal financial interest over the interests of the club and, on 18 April 1892, Everton played their last match at Anfield.

By that point, Anfield was an international-class ground, accommodating over 20,000 people. In order to create some leverage against Everton, as well as provide an additional tenant for his ground, Houlding, on 15 March 1892, created Everton Athletic. His original intention was to replace the existing Everton with his newly-created Everton Athletic, taking over his old club's fixtures and League position, but the Football League rejected his attempt and forced him to rename the club. He eventually settled on Liverpool FC.

Since then, Liverpool has become one of the most successful clubs in English football, winning 18 League titles. They have also won the European Cup/Champions League title five times, the most of any English club.

Friday, March 14, 2014

14 March 2004 - Livingston Lives The High Life

On 14 March 2004, Livingston FC tallied their third win of the season over Hibernian. Unlike the previous two, which were Scottish Premier League fixtures, this one came in a cup competition - the Scottish League Cup Final -- and gave Livingston their first major trophy.

It was an anticlimactic result for Hibernian, who had cleared the way to the trophy by beating perennial favorites Celtic (2-1 in the quarterfinals) and Rangers (4-3 on penalties in the semifinals, after drawing 1-1 through the end of extra time), who, between them, had won the previous seven Scottish Cups.

For their part, Livingston took a long and improbable road to the Final, playing all of their matches away from home. They entered the competition in the Second Round, where they easily handled Queen's Park FC (1-3), then advanced over Dundee United (0-1) thanks to a 19th-minute own goal from the hosts. In the quarterfinals, they required extra time to beat Aberdeen at Pittodrie, 2-3, before eliminating Dundee FC (0-1) in the semifinals with a 90th-minute penalty kick.

The Final was played at Glasgow's Hampden Park before a crowd of 45,500. Although Hibs created a number of chances by lobbing balls over the Livingston defense, they were repeatedly denied by keeper Roddy McKenzie and once by center back Marvin Andrews, who cleared a Garry O'Connor strike off the line. In the second half, Livingston took the lead with a 50th-minute goal from forward Derek Lilly, who struck from 12 yards out. With Hibs reeling, Livingston left back Jamie McAllister delivered the death blow two minutes later, curling his shot past Hibs keeper Daniel Andersson.

The trophy was Livingston's first piece of major silverware, and only their second ever trophy (the other being the 1974 Scottish Qualifying Cup when the club were known as Ferranti Thistle). Adding to the shock of their win was the fact that they accomplished it after having been placed in financial administration the previous month. Unfortunately, the win did not herald better times for the club, who were relegated in 2006. In the Summer of 2009, the club once again went into administration and were relegated to the Scottish fourth tier for the 2009-10 season.

Hibs and Livingston played two more times in the league that season, with Hibs winning at Livingston on 3 April, then Livingston winning 4-1 at Easter Road on the last day of the season.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

13 March 1955 - Four Teams, Three Medals (Sorry, Venezuela)

On 13 March 1955, the opening matches of the Pan American Games' football tournament were played in Mexico City. Although 22 nations participated in the Games, only four sent teams for football: Venezuela, the Netherlands Antilles, hosts Mexico, and defending champions Argentina.

The tournament used a table format, with two points for a win and one for a draw. Each team played the other three two times, for a total of six matches each, with the top team at the finish taking the gold medal.

The two opening-day matches were both close, as Mexico played Venezuela to a 1-1 draw, while Argentina beat the Netherlands Antilles 2-1. In the latter match, the Netherlands Antilles took a shock lead in the 9th minute, but the defending champions scored two goals in under three minutes (20', 22') to take the lead and the win. The Netherlands Antilles were hampered by the loss of a player to injury in the 70th minute and finished the match with 10 men.

Argentina repeated as champions with 5 wins and a draw, while Mexico took the silver and the Netherlands Antilles went home with the bronze. Venezuela finished out of medal position at the bottom of the table with only one win to go with two draws and three losses.

The US, which chose not to send a football team to Mexico despite participating in the rest of the Games, nevertheless had an impact on the pitch, as the referees for both opening matches were Americans.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

12 March 2009 - The Ukraine Is Not Weak!

On 12 March 2009, Dynamo Kyiv and Metalist Kharkiv became the first Ukranian sides to meet in a UEFA competition. Their historic meeting came in the Round of 16 of that season's UEFA Cup.

One of the most successful clubs in Ukraine, Kyiv entered the competition with an established European pedigree, having previously participated in numerous Champions League/European Cup and UEFA Cup matches, as well as winning the 1975 and 1986 UEFA Cup Winners' Cups and the 1975 UEFA Super Cup. They had qualified for the 2008-09 Champions League, but their third-place finish in that competition's group stage sent them into the UEFA Cup Round of 32. There, they advanced over Valencia on away goals to set up the meeting with Metalist in the Round of 16.

Metalist, on the other hand, was a relative novice. The 2008-09 UEFA Cup was only their second time in European competition, with the first being the previous season's UEFA Cup (where they were eliminated in the first round by Everton). They got off to a much stronger start in 2009-10, opening their campaign with a 4-2 aggregate win over Besitkas to advance to the group stage. There, they finished at the top of their group, over more experienced European sides Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Hertha Berlin, and Benfica, then rolled over Sampdoria 3-0 in the Round of 32.

The Round of 16 match-up was held in Kiev, where the home side staked their claim with a 1-0 win thanks to a 54th-minute header from midfielder Ognjen Vukojevic (pictured). Metalist battled back to win the second leg 3-2, but Kyiv again advanced thanks to their two away goals.

Kyiv advanced all the way to the semifinals where they ran into yet another Ukrainian side, Shakhtar Donetsk who beat Kyiv 3-2 on aggregate and went on to win the title with a 2-1 win over Werder Bremen.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

11 March 1951 - Home Cooking With Curry

On 11 March 1951, hosts India won the gold medal in football at the first Asian Games in New Delhi, beating Iran 1-0 in the Final. It was the national team's first piece of major silverware and part of an overall strong performance at the Games by India, who finished with 51 medals, including 15 golds.

In total, eleven countries participated in the Games, but only six took part in the football tournament. One of those was Japan, who had been barred from the 1948 Summer Olympics due to being under Allied occupation at the time. (Japan made the most of the opportunity by collecting a total of 60 total medals, 24 of which were golds, the most of any country in either category. India were second in both.)

India cruised through their first two matches with ease, beating Indonesia then Afghanistan by the same score: 3-0. Iran similarly started well with a 2-0 victory over Burma in the quarterfinals, but fought two closely-contested matches against Japan in the semifinals, first drawing 0-0, then edging Japan 3-2 in the replay. Japan still medalled, beating Afghanistan 2-0 in the third-place game, while India took the gold with their victory over Iran.

Monday, March 10, 2014

10 March 1981 - The Pride Of The Indomitable Lions

On 10 March 1981, Chelsea star and Cameroon international Samuel Eto'o was born in Nkon, Cameroon. He currently holds the record for most appearances in La Liga by an African player.

Although he rose to fame with Barcelona, Eto'o got his professional start for Barça rivals Real Madrid, signing for them in 1997. But he failed to make an impact in the Spanish capital and spent most of his time on loan with Leganés, Espanyol, and Mallorca between 1997 and 2000. In 2000, he signed a permanent deal with Mallorca and spent an additional four successful seasons there, along the way winning the 2003 Copa del Rey. He did so well at Mallorca that Real wanted to re-sign him in 2004, but he left instead for Barcelona.

His time at Barcelona was very successful, with three league titles (2005, 2006, 2009) and two Champions League trophies (2006, 2009). On 4 May 2008, he made his 242nd La Liga appearance, breaking the record for most league appearances by an African player. By the time he left Barcelona in the summer of 2009, he had raised that number to 309.

Eto'o has also been successful for Cameroon, helping them win the 2000 and 2002 African Cup of Nations, as well as the 2008 Olympic gold medal. He is the all-time top scorer for the Indomitable Lions, notching 55 goals in 112 appearances.

He moved to Inter in 2009 as part of a deal that sent Inter's Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovich to Barcelona, then left in 2011 for Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala, who gave him a salary of approximately €20M per season, making him the world's highest-paid footballer.

He currently plays for Chelsea, having joined them in August 2013.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

9 March 1908 - Enter Inter

On 9 March 1908, a group of players from the Milan Cricket and Football Club (now known as AC Milan), unhappy with the club's restrictions on foreign players, formed their own club which they named Football Club Internazionale Milano. Inter has since become one of Italy's most decorated clubs, with 26 national trophies, including 18 Serie A titles.

Known as the Nerazzurri for their black and blue striped home shirts, Inter won their first Scudetto in 1910, followed by a second in 1920. By 1922, Inter's fortunes had turned and they finished last in Serie A with a meager 11 points on the season. They avoided relegation, however, by winning a playoff against the next-to-last team, thus preserving their current status as the only team in Italy to remain in Serie A for their entire existence.

Mussolini's Fascist government disapproved of Inter's policy of recruiting foreign players and, in 1928, forced the club to play under the name "Ambrosiana." Nevertheless, Inter did well during the Fascist years, winning their first Coppa Italia (1939) and a fifth league title (1940).

Inter's greatest period came in the 1960s under manager Helenio Herrera. Nicknamed "La Grande Inter" for their successes, the club won three league titles (1963, 1965, 1966) and two European Cups (1964, 1965). They made it back to the European Cup Final in 1967, where they famously lost to Celtic's "Lisbon Lions."

After going through the entire 1990s without winning the league, Inter has since recovered their domestic form, winning five consecutive Scudettos from 2006 to 2010 (though the first, in 2005-06, was awarded to Inter after initial title-winner Juventus was found guilty of match-fixing). They also won the 2010 Champions League.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

8 March 2009 - Ronaldo's Return To Form

On 8 March 2009, Brazilian three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldo scored an injury-time equalizer for Corinthians in their match against Palmeiras. It was his first goal after recovering from a potentially career-ending knee injury suffered over a year earlier while playing for AC Milan.

The striker had a history of knee problems, with two separate injuries to his right knee while playing for Inter (1997-2002). He battled back both times and recovered in time to help Brazil win the 2002 World Cup and claim his third FIFA World Player of the Year award. In January 2007, he joined Milan after five seasons with Real Madrid. On 13 February 2008, he injured his left knee while leaping for a cross in a 1-1 draw with Livorno. The injury ended his season and there was speculation that it would end his career as well.

Ronaldo, however, was determined to return. He returned to Brazil and started training with Flamengo to rehabilitate his knee. The Rio club indicated their willingness to sign him once he was able to play, but, in December 2009, he controversially signed instead with their league rivals Corinthians.

On 4 March 2009, he made his first appearance for Corinthians, coming on as a substitute in Copa do Brasil match against Itumbiara. In the match against Palmeiras on 8 March, he again entered as a substitute, coming on in the 63rd minute with his side down 1-0. He quickly made his presence felt, sending a booming strike off the crossbar in the 78th minute, before heading in the equalizing goal in the 93rd minute. He ran behind the goal to celebrate with the Corinthians supporters, causing a mild pitch invasion.

Ronaldo finished the season with 10 goals in 14 matches and recently signed an extension to remain at Corinthians through 2011.

Friday, March 7, 2014

7 March 1965 - The Closing Bookend On A Very Long Shelf

On 7 March 1965, Atlético Madrid walked off the pitch with a rare 0-1 victory over Real Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Before that match, Atlético's Madrid rivals had rattled off a record-shattering string of 121 unbeaten league matches at home - a streak that stretched back over eight years to the 1956-57 season. Coincidentally, Real's run started after a 0-2 home loss to Atlético on 3 February 1957, making Atlético the bookend for both ends of the streak.

The first match of the 121 was a 1-0 victory over Deportivo on 17 February 1957, followed by wins over Barcelona (1-0), Valencia (2-0), and Celta (4-1) to close with season with Real at the top of the table for their fifth league title. They went unbeaten at home for the next seven full seasons, again winning the league in five of them, with their biggest margins of victory coming against Las Palmas (10-1 on 4 January 1959) and Elche (11-2 on 7 February 1960).

Real's dominance was so complete that, of the 121 unbeaten matches, all but nine were wins, with those nine draws coming against eight different teams. Sevilla was the only one to avoid defeat twice, with a 1-1 draws on 2 October 1960 and 12 April 1964.

Atlético's win was not enough to keep Real from winning the title for a fifth consecutive time - their 11th league title overall - but they did not finish the season empty-handed, either, beating Real Zaragoza 1-0 to claim the 1965 Copa del Rey.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

6 March 1902 - Ain't Nothin' Like The Real Thing

On 6 March 1902, Real Madrid was founded as Sociedad Madrid FC. It has grown to become one of the world's most successful clubs, with a trophy case that includes thirty-two league titles and nine European Cups, both of which are record numbers.

Though the current version of the club dates to 1902, Real traces its origin back to 1897, when students and faculty of Madrid's Institución Libre de Enseñanza founded Football Club Sky. In 1900, FC Sky split, with one half forming Club Español de Madrid, which itself split two years later when club president Julian Palácios left to create Sociedad Madrid FC. Madrid won its first silverware three years later, defeating Athletic Bilbao in the 1905 Spanish Cup Final.

In 1929, King Alfonso XIII conferred royal favor on the club, changing its name to Real Madrid. They also altered their crest to place the royal crown over their interlocking "MCF." Royal patronage identified Real as the "establishment" club in subsequent years, which in part fueled the rivalry with Barcelona, identified as leftist. The distinctions were especially pronounced during the regime of Francisco Franco, who supported Real while persecuting Barça and its Catalan supporters.

Real is Spain's most successful team, with 58 domestic trophies. Although they have won titles in every decade but one since their founding (they missed out in the 1940s, which, incidentally, was when Barcelona rose to prominence), their most successful period was during the 1960s, when they won the league in eight seasons out of ten. They have had tremendous international success as well, winning nine European Cup/UEFA Champions League titles, including five straight from 1956 to 1960. Their most recent piece of silverware was the 2011-12 La Liga title.