Friday, March 31, 2017

31 March 1929 - Juventus Takes Twelve

On 31 March 1929, Juventus won their twelfth consecutive league match, setting a club record that lasted until 2015.

It was the last season in Italy under the old regional structure, which would give way to a new national league the following year. Juventus, winners of the title in 1905 and 1926, had finished second in their regional group the previous season (out of eleven teams), and needed only to finished eighth out of an expanded group of sixteen teams in order to qualify for the new top flight, Serie A.

They got off to a strong start in the fall, going undefeated in their first eight matches (which included a pair of 11-0 wins over Fiorentina and Fiumana) before losing to Brescia on 9 December. They quickly rebounded in their next game, a 3-4 win over Pro Vercelli on 16 December, to start their record streak. More victories followed, capped by a twelfth consecutive win, 1-3 over Fiumana, on 31 March.

Bologna ended the streak by holding Juventus to a 1-1 draw on 14 April. With eight games remaining, Juventus limped to the finish line with four losses and four draws, but it was enough to earn them second place in the table and a guaranteed spot in Serie A.

The record held until 2015, when they won a streak of 13 straight league matches that started toward the end of the previous season. They further extended the streak to 15 in the 2015-16 season.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

30 March 1986 - Ramos Arrives

On 30 March 1986, Real Madrid back and La Liga Best Defender Sergio Ramos was born in Sevilla.

He started his professional career with Sevilla's B team in 2003 and joined the first team the following year, making 39 appearances. His strong performance that season led to him being named the 2005 La Liga Breakthrough Player of the Year and attracted the interest of Real Madrid, who signed the then-19-year old center back that summer for €27M (funded in part by the €20M sale of forward Michael Owen to Newcastle).

Despite joining a team full of Galácticos, Ramos jumped right into the starting line-up, with more than thirty league appearances in each full season since moving to Madrid. There, he won back-to-back La Liga titles in 2007 and 2008. He added another league title in 2012, as also won the Copa del Rey in 2011 and 2014. Ramos has also earned several individual accolades, including four straight La Liga Defender of the Year awards from 2012 to 2015.

In 2015, he became the team captain after the departure of Iker Casillas. He is currently in his twelfth season with Real Madrid with over 500 appearances.

He has also enjoyed success with Spain, winning two European Championships around the 2010 World Cup in which he started every match.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

29 March 2009 - The Sun Rises On WPS

On 29 March 2009, the Los Angeles Sol hosted the first WPS match, beating the Washington Freedom 2-0. L.A. went on to finish as regular season champions.

The new league brought professional women's soccer back to the United States for the first time since the collapse of the Women's United Soccer Association in 2003. It started with seven teams, including Saint Louis Athletica, Sky Blue FC, Boston Breakers, Chicago Red Stars, and FC Gold Pride in addition to L.A. and D.C.

For the league's first match, Washington traveled to the Home Depot Center in Carson, California to face Los Angeles. There, playing in front of a crowd of 14,832, Sol defender Allison Falk scored the league's first goal in the sixth minute from a header off a free kick. Freedom goalkeeper Brianna Scurry protested the goal, claiming she had been fouled, but the referee allowed it to stand.

Despite the presence of star forward Abby Wambach, DC failed to create much of a challenge. Their best chance came in the 64th minute, when Lori Lindsey hit the left post. L.A. then extended their lead with an 87th-minute strike from midfielder Camile Abily.

Los Angeles went on to top the table at the end of the season. That earned them a direct pass into the playoff final, where they lost to Sky Blue.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

28 March 2001 - The Magnificent Manchester Seven

On 28 March 2001, England beat Albania in a World Cup qualifier with almost half their team coming from one club--Manchester United.

It was only the fourth qualifier for the two teams, who were both off to a difficult start. England had four points with a win, loss, and draw, while Albania were one point back after two losses and a win. They met at the Qemal Stafa Stadium in the Albanian capital of Tirana where England fielded their Manchester-based squad.

Five members of the starting eleven--Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Andy Cole--were from Manchester United, the defending Premier League champions. Additionally, Red Devils Wes Brown and Teddy Sheringham entered as second-half substitutes, taking the club's total to seven. That matched the previous record for any one club, set by Arsenal in a November 1934 friendly against Italy (though all seven Gunners started that match).

The line-up worked against Albania, with both Scholes (86') and Cole (95') scoring in England's 1-3 win (their other goal came from Liverpool's Michael Owen in the 74th minute, while Altin Rraklli scored for Albania in the 93rd minute).

Monday, March 27, 2017

27 March 2012 - The Game Doesn't Always Stop After The Final Whistle

On 27 March 2012, five players received post-match red cards after Crawley's 1-2 win over Bradford City, matching a Football League record.

Played at Bradford's Valley Parade ground, the League Two match paired two teams headed in opposite directions. Crawley, freshly promoted from the Football Conference, had won their previous three games to climb to fourth in the table. The hosts, meanwhile, had lost three and drawn one of their last four, falling to nineteenth.

Holding to form, Crawley went up 0-1 in the 54th minute with a header from Leon Clarke. Bradford's Chris Dagnall equalized in the 72nd minute, but Gary Alexander scored two minutes later with another header to restore Crawley's lead. Despite seven minutes of added time, Bradford were unable to find the net again.

After the final whistle, Bradford defender Andrew Davies lashed out at Crawley captain Pablo Mills, prompting players from both sides to engage in a full-on brawl. Both Davies and Mills received red cards, as John McLaughlin and Luke Oliver from Bradford and Crawley's Claude Davis.

The five reds matched a Football League record for a single game, set in a February 1997 contest between Plymouth Argyle and Chesterfield and matched by Bristol Rovers and Wigan Athletic in December of that year.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

26 March 2008 - The Mighty Minnows Of Malta

On 26 March 2008, Malta secured their record win, beating Liechtenstein 7-1 with 5 goals from Michael Mifsud.

Ever since their first match, a 2-3 loss to Austria in 1957, Malta struggled to find wins, failing to qualify for a single World Cup or European Championship. Losses were easy to come by, however, including crushing defeats to Spain (12-1 in 1983), Austria (9-0 in 1977), the Netherlands (8-0 in 1990), and Germany (7-0) in 2004).

They had met Liechtenstein only once before, playing to a 1-1 home draw in 1981. So, even though their matches starting getting more competitive in the 2000s, their dominating performance in the 2008 friendly came as a surprise.

Playing at the Ta' Qali national Stadium in the center of Malta, Mifsud (pictured)--a striker who played his club ball for Coventry City--scored the opening goal in the second minute with a penalty. He completed a hat-trick within the first 21 minutes, with his third goal also coming from the spot--the foul prompting the second penalty kick led to a red card for Liechtenstein's Fabio d'Elia for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity. Helped by the man advantage, Malta were up 4-0 by the break.

Franz Burgmeier closed the gap to 4-1 in the 51st minute, but Mifsud scored twice more (60', 69') to extend the lead. It was the first time any Maltese player scored five times in an international. A final Malta goal four minutes from time ended the day at 7-1.

Monday, March 6, 2017

6 March 1979 - Tim Howard's Happy Birthday

On 6 March 1979, United States and Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

He started his career in 1997 with the North Jersey Imperials in the United States Independent Soccer Leagues, but moved to Major League Soccer in 1998 with the MetroStars. After making limited appearances in his first few seasons there, he claimed the starting job in 2001. Later that year, he became the  youngest player to receive the league's Goalkeeper of the Year award.

In 2003, Manchester United signed him for $4 million to take over from Fabien Barthez as the club's first-choice keeper. But despite a strong start, winning the Community Shield with a penalty save against Arsenal, he struggled in his next two seasons, leading to his departure to Everton on loan in 2006.

He shined at Everton, making his move permanent in a 2007 deal worth a reported £3 million. He went on to make 414 appearances for them, including a run of 212 consecutive Premier League appearances. He even got a goal, as a long clearance was pushed along by the wind into the opposing net, making him only the fourth keeper in Premier League history to score.

In 2016, he left Everton for the Colorado Rapids, his current club.

In addition to his club duties, Howard has been a regular starter for the United States since the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup and has, to date, earned 111 caps.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

4 March 2012 - Sundowns Cut The Powerlines

On 4 March 2012, Mamelodi Sundowns recorded the biggest win in South African history, beating Powerlines 24-0.

The match came in the Round of 32 in South Africa's major domestic cup competition, the Nedbank Cup, where top flight Sundowns, winner of the cup in 1998 (when it was known as the Bob Save Super Bowl) and 2008, faced off against amateur side Powerlines.

It was effectively over by halftime, with Sundowns up 10-0, but they continued to pack in the goals in the second half. Their leading scorer was Hlompho Kekana with seven (7, 15, 31, 50, 61, 78, 80), followed by Nyasha Mushekwi with six (24, 41, 43, 45+1, 45+2, 52). Richard Henyekane added five (12, 20, 56, 72, 74), while they got a brace each from Samuel Julies (54, 76), Elias Pelembe (65, 70), and Lebohang Mokoena (71, 90+1).

The scoreline crushed the previous South African record of 16-0, reached twice in the cup by AmaZulu in 1976 and 1986. But still fell far short over the world record of 149-0, set by Madagascar's AS Adema over Stade Olympique Emyrne in 2002.

Sundowns eventually reached the 2012 final, where they lost to Supersport United 2-0.

Friday, March 3, 2017

3 March 2011 - Pellegrini's Unwelcome Return

On 3 March 2011, Real Madrid welcomed their former manager back to the Bernabeu by crushing his new team 7-0.

The manager in question was Manuel Pellegrini, who had taken charge of Real Madrid in June 2009 for their second Galacticos period that saw them acquire Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, and Karim Benzema for an approximate total of £200M in transfer fees. But after only one season--in which they finished as league runners-up to Barcelona--the club sacked Pellegrini in order to hire José Mourinho.

In November 2010, Pellegrini signed a three-year deal to manage Málaga. They had already lost to Real Madrid in the league the previous month, so the game in March was his first time facing his former employers.

It was a rout. Two of Pellegrini's signings scored a total of five goals (three from Ronaldo and two from Benzema), while Ángel di María and and Marcelo added goals of their own to stretch the margin to 7-0. When the final whistle blew, Málaga were down to nine men, with one ejected and one injured after Pellegrini had made all three substitutions.

Although the loss sent them down to 19th place, things did get better for the club. They finished the season in eleventh, followed by a fourth-place finish the following season.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

2 March 1980 - A Win Of Olympic Proportions

On 2 March 1980, Paraguayan side Olimpia won the Intercontinental Cup over Malmö with an aggregate score of 3-1 over two legs.

The Swedes weren't originally supposed to be there, as the competition was designed to pit the Copa Libertadores champions against the European Cup holders. But when Nottingham Forest, winners of the 1979 European Cup, declined to participate, Malmö were called in as runners-up.

In the first leg, played in Sweden on 18 November, Olimpia escaped with narrow win, beating the hosts 0-1 with a goal from forward Evaristo Isasi in the 41st minute. Then, in Asunción for the second leg, defender Alicio Solalinde (pictured) scored in the 39th minute to extend their aggregate lead to 2-0. Malmö midfielder Ingemar Erlandsson pulled one back shortly after the break, but it was the only time they got the ball past goalkeeper Hugo Almeida. Olimpia added another of their own for good measure to set the final margin at 3-1.

It was the last two-legged version of the Intercontinental Cup as the competition switched to a single-match format later that year. Olimpia returned in 1990 and again in 2002, but lost to AC Milan and Real Madrid, respectively.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

1 March 2008 - At Least Lille Got To Share In The Record

On 1 March 2008, a record crowd turned out to watch Lyon continue the march to their seventh straight Ligue 1 title with a 1-0 victory over Lille.

The result was easy to predict, as Lyon had been at the top of the table since the end of September, while Lille were twenty points back in fourteenth place despite having just completed eight straight matches unbeaten. But in order to celebrate the tenth anniversary of France's victory in the 1998 World Cup final, the match was moved from Lyon's Stade Gerland (with a capacity of 40,500) to the stadium where Les Bleus lifted the trophy, the Stade de France. The move allowed an all-time league record crowd of 77,840 to attend, dwarfing the previous league record of 57,609 set at Marseille's Stade Velodrome in 2005.

To their credit, Lille--who had held Lyon to a 1-1 draw earlier in the season--put up a fight, but eventually conceded a goal in the 32nd minute when Lyon's Brazilian striker Fred (pictured) connected with a cross and drove the ball into the back of the net. It turned out to be the only goal of the day, though Lille came close to an equalizer in the 60th minute when Pierre-Alain Frau hit the bar.

Lyon remained at the top to take their seventh straight Ligue 1 title, while Lille lost only once more to climb to seventh in the final table.