Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Italy bury the shoot-out ghost - Finally

What a great leveller sport is? Ask David Trezeguet. It seems just yesterday when it was another Italy Vs France Finale in Euro 2000 and Trezeguet fired in a 'golden goal' to sink many an Italian heart by stealing the European Championship from right under their nose in a classic final. Six years gone by and Trezeguet again turned out to be the decisive factor in another cup final contested between these two nations - this time even bigger, the world cup final. As a commentator remarked when Trezeguet's penalty kick hit the cross-bar and just fell an inch ahead of the goal line "That will be the longest inch in French football". That was the inch that stood between France and a second world title. Yet in sport there can be only one winner who takes it all - and this time it was Italy who after 24 years and countless penalty shoot-out heartbreaks finally conquered the top step of the podium.
With the Zidane incident making all the headlines, there is hardly anyone talking about Trezeguet's heart-breaking miss. To the French and their countless supporters, the cup was over and lost a good 20 mins before that fatal Trezeguet shot when the greatest of them all decided to use his head on the wrong object - an opponents chest. The head which, 5 minutes back had almost given France the winning goal only to be denied by a stunning save (should I say a world cup winning save) from Buffon.
There is no use talking about it again and again. Every news channel, every website and every mail that I receive talks about the same thing. But let us not hold Zizou responsible for France losing the cup. Maybe he would have been instrumental in getting that winning goal - 12 minutes is a long time in football. But for 109 minutes it did not happen. Trezeguet would have anyways taken one of the kicks. That was destiny.
Whatever said and done what Zizou did was out of instinct. Most geniuses are hot headed - McEnroe, Maradona, Senna were some of them. The sport needs people like this. If the sport is filled with only perfectionists like Federer and Alonso then where will the fun element come from? It is this flow of adrenaline which makes a sport like football the egde-of-the-seat-stuff that it is. France has forgiven Zizou and so have I as a fan of the last great creative play-maker. I am sure this incident will just appear as a footnote when we remember this great player who has given so much to the sport.

I would not like to say anything else on Zizou as enough has been spoken already but I would like to share the thoughts of my friend Santanu Sen Gupta who had to say this:
"All news channels are saying the same thing. Whatever Zidane has done in the last match of his career is a red card offense. And there is no doubt the referee has done a proper job after taking expected care in handling the situation. Doesn't matter whether being informed by the 4th referee or video footage. It is also a sad incidence that Football's last emperor (read magician) has had to conclude his last international match with such a sad note. Being his ardent supporters half of the world is also feeling sad.

But we should be proud of Zidane for his act. At least I am feeling proud for my hero that he kept his head high despite of a known punishment for this act. Zidane can not be blamed for France loosing out in the Final. He made his side World Champion in 1998 (comparable only with Diego Maradona). He made his country European Champions in 2000. He was selected World's Footballer of the year for three times. He bought back the golden era of Real Madrid. He pulled France from garbage bin during the pre world cup qualifiers this time and it is for Zidane the French had come to play the finals as group champions. He inspired France to reach the Final. And of course it is a fact that the most talked about (read hyped) "World Footballers of the Years" have been seriously fallen short of his caliber twice in the "World's most coveted venue", the World cup (1998 and 2006). France would have any way lost in this final. A team which could not score from 5 clear chances in the World Cup final just because of positioning of the players should not win. This shows lack of motivation and judgment in the team. And David Trezeguet would have any way missed the penalty even if Zidane went on taking the second shot. This was destiny.

It has also been reported by a lot of news channels that along with Materazzi, Buffon also was abusing Zidane whenever possible. This was very loud and clear especially after he saved Zidane's header. Tactics of sledging has been predominant in Cricket because it is a game of politeness in disguise. Such act of sledging was never heard in Football since verbal abuse is not required when there are enough opportunities of physical abuse (like De Rossi's great elbow) since being a body contact game. Few Italians did adapted a very nasty technique to block Zidane which is a hateful act. And the more I am reading about the incidence on Sunday evening I am loosing my respect for those who were involved in such mean act and their coach who, instead of showing them the right direction, rather encouraged it. This behaviour of Italians and their roughness were demonstrated during US and Australian matches. Italians saved these two matches only by hitting the players without ball and by act of sledging. Luca Tony is another champion of this act while he does this with the opponent's goal keeper and backs.

The entire Cricket world feels proud of our Sunny Gavaskar who raised an active protest against Australian sledging by calling of his team from the field. In Cricket sledging is a highly punishable act if proven and this may cause the players involved a long term ban from the game. But Football does not have such rules since being principally the game of poors and lower class people, whereas cricket is considered as a game of rich and elite class people (while this is not the fact).

If we feel proud for Sunny Gavaskar for his protest, we should be proud of Zidane also who protested such nasty act appropriately".
That was a passionate write-up by Santa and as I sign-off, I would like to congratulate the Italian team for winning the world cup and bringing so much happiness to a soccer-crazy nation. They thoroughly deserved this cup inspired by brilliant performances by Cannavaro and Buffon.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

GROSSO Magic!!!! German Heartbreak!!! The Game Wins

As the world cup progressed into the knock-out stages I just prayed that it is not a repeat of 2002 where Senagal and South Korea spoilt everything and denied us the pleasure to watch classics displayed by the super-powers in the climax to the once-in-four-years show. My prayers were answered and we had a dream QF line-up which ensured dream semis and a finale. And yet as I sat watching the tense, hard-fought Italy-Germany battle, I just realized that we had watched 339 minutes of soccer (injury time excluded) with teams like England, Portugal, Brazil, France Italy and Germany fielding the biggest names in the game and yet we had only one Thierry Henry goal to really write home about. This was when all these teams mentioned were going all out to win.
Just when yet another 90 minutes of play ended at 0-0 last night, I somehow hoped that we get an extra time much like that great semi-final in 1970 contested by these 2 teams. My hopes were suddenly illuminated as Italy twice hit the cross-bar in the first 2 minutes and then Buffon pulled off a stunning save to thwart a Podolski thunderbolt. But still the goal would not come. I was slowly beginning to lose faith in the game. How can we have a stalemate all the time? Why cant the game produce a winner? I thought all the time. As the clock ticked by I was more and more sure that the Germans would reach the final on penalties.
Reaching a world cup final without winning either the Quarter Final or the Semis against some top contenders - that is not what the game wanted.
But 2 minutes was all that was left and one final corner for Italy. Almost all of previous Italy's previous corners resulted in catching practice for Jans Lehmann and I most certainly thought this one would be too. But my faith in the game was to be restored. The game finally won and Grosso (the man who broke the Aussie heart) performed magic which ensured that we will have a winner. Italy deserved it. Such a hard-fought game where neither side ever stopped attacking deserved it. And of course, the fans deserved it too. The Gilardino-Del Piero 1-2 on the counter immediately was just the icing on the cake. To be fair to the brave Germans who fought every inch, I must say even if they had scored the winner and won they would havebeen worthy winners as well inspite of the fact that Italy was marginally a better side on the day.
So, now we can be proud that we watched a semi-final to cherish where Italian magic prevailed at the end against a partisan German crowd and a very resilient and fighting German team who can hold their heads high.
Now, the situation again reminds us of a bit of history though not related to the world cup. Italy in the final beating the hosts, France Vs Portugal in the 2nd semi-final. The situation is a carbon-copy of Euro2000 - one of the best tournaments in recent times.
As for my comment earlier with respect to the dearth of goals, I would say when you have defenders like Cannavaro and goal-keepers like Buffon and Lehmann, this will be the lasting trend. I guess these people will not even let a tennis ball go through them.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Magnificent France turn the clock back as Spain choke yet again

Just when I was about to lose faith in the world cup and start wondering whether the greatest show on earth is really so, my faith is restored by a side which had forgotten to win, forgotten to score and as termed by mosy represented an "old age" home. Spain vs France was all what we want in a world cup match and was without doubt the best match of round 2. After four successive matches ending with 1-0, 1-0, 1-0 and a forgettable 0-0, Monday provided the much needed boost.
It started off with Ronaldo's record breaking 15th goal which was a typical Brazil-special and continued with countless Ghana attacks, a busy day for Dida, smart moves from Brazil, controversial goals, no off-side call when there should have been and hold on.... Just ONE red card.
If Brazil and Ghana set the tempo for the day, Spain and France raised it to the highest levels. This was undoubtedly billed as the match of round 2 along with the Portugal-Holland match but unlike the latter this was a proper hard-fought football match (and not a boxing match or a card game). As the game kicked off, it was youth Vs experiece at its best. The young Spanish legs were fast, held possession for most of the time, attacked non-stop but never looked like finding the back of the net. The French used all the experience, played to their strength and tactically out-smarted their opponents. The Ribery-equalizer was ample proof of that. At 1-1 it was absolutely even-stevens in teh 2nd half but only one side looked likely to score. With all their talent and pace, the inexperinced Spanish could not match up to their experienced rivals. The battle-hardened French could find just that extra bit in a big match like this. As for the Spanish, their inability to lift their game in a big match once again showed and the under-achiever tag remains for another 2 years till Euro2008.
Now, with the French resurgence, we have a QF line-up which has loads of history attached. Brazil Vs France - Could you ask for anything better? Two legends, being great pals at Real Madrid, facing off against each other for one last time. One trying to leave on a high and the other trying to bury that ghost of the 1998 final forever. The stage is again set, actors are the same, just that 8 years have passed by.
And, if there is any team in the world Brazil in jinxed with, its none other than France. In the last 20 years France has managed to knock Brazil out of the world cup twice (1986 - refer to my previous artciel and 1998). I dont think any team has managed to do that ever.
As for the other QF, right now Germany Vs Argentina is the match to watch - undoubtedly two most impresive teams of the competition. Fond memories of that great 1986 final come back again and again.
And lastly, England Vs Portugal brings Skolari and Eriksson against each other for the third time in a row in a Quarter Final - Skolari leading 2-0.
Last time (and only) time England met Portugal in a World Cup KO phase, was when they won the tournament way back in 1966 - with a brace from Bobby Charlton against the brilliance of Eusebio.

So hold your breath. History will have no significance as far as the outcome of these matches is concerned but it will surely make it more special especially with old scores to settle.

Friday, June 23, 2006

At last its Samba Time!!! - The REAL thing starts

As the group phase is about to conclude (with the last 2 groups being decided today) here are some pieces of trivea and comments from the group phase:
  • Remember the famous 1998 final - What was so significant about it? Well, it was the last time Brazil lost a world cup match and the last time France won a world cup match (Hope this trivea holds good only till the time France meet Togo tonight)
  • Coach Luis Fellipe Scolari has now won 10 consecutive world cup final matches - 7 for Brazil in 2002 and 3 for Portugal in 2006. Hope he extends his run but by just one more match. Portugal beat Holland in a nail-biter and then lose to England in another would be just what I want.
  • Ronaldo finally moved and got boot (and head) to ball as he scored twice and created history. He is now at par with Gerd Muller with the most no. of goals in world cup finals (14). Will the magic 15th come against Ghana?
  • Brazil finally displayed the 'beautiful game' that they are known for and what the fans expect. Was it the result of being 0-1 down? I guess so. As a soccer fan thus, I pray that Ghana take a 1-0 lead withing the first 10 minutes. I am sure we will then get the best 80 mins of the world cup. Who can forget Brazil's display when they were 0-1 down the last time after Michael Owen scored in the 2002 QF? Like last night, that day too the equalizer came in 1st half injury time - an amazing Ronaldinho-Rivaldo combo.
  • Australia held Croatia in a tough, hard-fought match full of drama and is bound to give the Azzuri a hard time in their 2nd round clash. Dont be surprised if its a 1-1 and then penalties. And we all know how good the Azurris are when it comes to penalties.
  • Italy put the final nail into the Czech coffin making it a sad exit for Nedved and co. A journey which showed so much promise after the convincing 3-0 win against the US came to a abrupt end. Al least one upset is due in any world cup final - this time it fell on the Czechs. It was all too emotional to watch Buffon hugging Nedved at the end of the match. This is what makes the beautiful game even more beautiful.
  • As of now, Portugal V Holland looks to be the match of Round II in a re-match of their semi-final clash in Euro 2004. Portugal won convincingly then but its going to be far from easy this time around. France V Spain is another possibility unless the French cross all limits and fail to beat Togo. Fireworks can be expected in Germany's and Argentina's matches too against Sweden and Mexico.
  • All in all if things go right, we are in for some mouth watering Quarter Finals, the most awaited ones being Germany V Argentina and Brazil V Spain.

Lets hope and pray that the big guns dont disappoint. The REAL world cup starts now.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

24 passes - 1 GOAL!!!..... and Ghana's 'Czech'mate

Well the title sums up the second phase of group matches in Germany 2006. Ghana's upset and US's subsequent holiding of Italy may have thrown group E wide open but phase II of the group matches was all about Argentina V Serbia-Montenegro. As the 'expert' in ESPN clearly put it - "That goal will send shivers down anybody's spine". It was not Cambiaso's goal. That goal belonged to Argentina. That goal summed up soccer and the great team game that it is. And what was most important is that it did not come against minnows (well in the finals of the world cup, no one is one). It came against a defense which conceded next to nothing in the qualifiers and just one against the dutch boys in their opener (a team having Robben and Nistelrooy). Argentina's performance has already made this world cup a special one irrespective of whatever happens from now on. Most fans will be unanimous in their verdict as to who would win if Argentina were to play Brazil in the final tomorrow. Yes, the stakes have shifted a bit.

Here are some of they other key points from the 2nd phase of group matches

  • France finally scored and Henry proved he can score for France too. But scoring only once, dominating the match and missing umpteen chances did not help as they still haven't won in the world cup since the 1998 final. And worse still, Zizou picked a 2nd yellow card and is out of the do-or-die match against Togo. The end is near - for France and it could well be the end already for the once great Zizou
  • Spain was awesome but its too early to talk about them. They start every world cup like this and then bite the dust in the quarters. We'll pass any judgement on them only after the quarters.
  • Brazil and England both came through with 2-0 wins but were scrappy. Nothing to worry as of now but they need to lift their game by a notch as the knock-out phase starts. Ronaldo needs a break and Rooney needs a break-through.
  • Holland battled off a fighting Ivory Coast - a very exciting team which deserved better but what could you do if you are pooled in with Argentina and Holland. Ghana might have caused the upset but I would still say that the Ivorians are the best from Africa.
  • Italy again failed to finish off even after having a one-man advantage (dunno whether it was the referree or the one extra player in the team).
  • Ukraine redeemed itself and with France hopelessly out of sorts could face an easy opponent in the 2nd round and sneak in to the quarters.

Today is the day when we get to know the first of the 2nd round face-offs and there is (yes there is) a huge possibilty that we'll get England V Germany as early in Round II. I just pray its not (By the time this article is published the result will be well and truly known).

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

And the show begins....

First and foremost what a start!!!! Bang! Bang! Bang! 17 minutes and its three goals in. If you were late in coming home with your packet of Lays and Coke, you would have been too late. Old-timers in the world cup who are so used a 1-0 scoreline in the opening match were in for a German treat as one spectacular goal was followed by another. Breathtaking long-rangers
from Lahm and Frings and brilliant positioning/poaching from Klose gave us a feast, not to forget the hollow defence which allowed Costa Rica to get a couple back. A young attacking German side, a 4-2 scoreline - just the start required. So did a shift in tradition do the trick for FIFA? Traditionally, the defending champions kicked off the tournament but from this year onwards the hosts did so. The opening match proved to be a curse for most champions. Ask Argentina (1990) and France (2002) who bit the dust in the hands of Cameroon and Senegal respectively. Some of the champions scraped through with 1-0 and 2-1 scorelines while others managed a few 1-1s. The Germans had no excess baggage like the "favorites" tag and went for the kill right from the beginning.
Now as we round up the first leg of group matches and having seen all the big guns in action, here are my views:

  • No major upsets which shows that the big guns did not suffer from the any 'first match blues' (I dont care much about the Swedish)
  • England and Portugal were disappointing in their 1-0 wins. It was most ridiculous to hear Sven Goran Erikkson blaming the heat for the disappointing show. Mr Erikkson, this is not Mexico City. Wonder what would the English do if the world cup were to be held in Mexico (Most infamous for 12 noon kick-offs). Portugal made a brilliant start but ended up being booed by their own supporters
  • Most big guns are firing right from the word go and taking a 1-0 lead asap. Some like England and Portugal preferred to sit on it. They could afford to as their opposition were not dangerous. The Dutch tried hard but could not get more. The Czechs demolished the opposition after a 4 min lead.
  • Italy was the major surprise. I was prepared for the same defensive game being satisfied with a 1-0. But it turned out to be cracker. Non-stop back and forth and a very worthy 2-0 scoreline.
  • The Argentina - Ivory Coast match was the most fought. One more Drogba and Ivorians could have well snatched a point. The Argentines did not give an inch, did the simple things right and were home. Most importantly Crespo and Saviola were at the right place at the right time.
  • The 'socceroos' from down under showed their true Aussie spirit and gave the indication that it wont be long that they reach the top in this game too. Watch out Croatia!! (Too early to say watch out Brazil!!!). Has it got to do with the man with the 'midas' touch? Yes, I am talking about coach Guus Hiddink.
  • Brazil were good but the chinks in the defense was obvious. Had the Croat strikers shot the ball a yard or two on either side of Dida, the strory could have well been different. Instead each time they shot straight to Dida's hands.
  • The long-rangers that are being fired time and again - Frings, Lahm, Rosicky, Kaka it would be good idea to send some strikers back home. At least it applies to two of the best - Ronaldo and Henry. Only in the 2nd half did I realize that Ronaldo was playing in the game.
  • The best from Africa: Ivory Coast
  • The best goal: Frings (Germany V Costa Rica)
  • Most entaining of the big-guns: Germany
  • And lastly, the most disappointing big gun award undoubtedly goes to the French. Henry once again realized France was no Arsenal. One of the shots he took at the goal almost looked like a back-pass to his own goalie. Such was the lack of power is the foot of the French. Now France has gone 4 world cup matches without scoring a single goal, ever since Emmanuel Petit scored that 3rd goal in the 1998 final. Looking at the forward line, this goal-less streak is likely to continue.

So after the first set of matches, what I am looking forward to most is Group E, the key to which belongs the Italy-Czech republic showdown on the 22nd. Firstly, because of the great show by both these teams and secondly and most importantly, whoever loses this match or are runners-up in Group E faces Brazil in round 2. I cant wait for that mouth watering encounter.
Something just tells me its going to be Italy. And the memories of '82 come back.

P.S. This article was posted before Spain has kicked off their World Cup campaign.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Just three more days to go.....

Its already Tuesday now and like most people I am waiting for the moment the 'greatest show on earth' kicks off. So, I look at this as a last chance for me to feel a bit nostalgic and recall some truly memorable moments from the tournament's great history.

This was a cup most fondly remembered for the exploits of one single man named Diego Maradona but most soccer lovers will never forget the day when the game's two other greats Zico and Platini went head-to-head, when the European champions and the Latin American giants met on a hot afternoon at Guadalajara. The Brazil-France quarter-final had it all. Both sides attacked and fought tooth and nail. Both goal-keepers were kept busy, the cross-bar was hit on more than one occassion and at the breather it was 1-1 but Brazil clearly looking more dangerous. The defining moment of the match came in the 2nd half when French goal-keeper Joel Bats brought down Brazillian Branco inside the box and the ref. gave the penalty. I was watching the match as an 8 year old and I still remember the sight of Branco being brought down and Zico immediately rushing to hug him while he was getting up. The war seemed to have been won . But it was a day when things would be different. Yes, one of the great dead-ball experts of the game Zico missed the most crucial penalty and Joel Bats became an instant hero. The game went into penalties and it was now the turn of the other great dead-ball expert and Zico's opposite number Platini to mess up a penalty. Thankfully, it was to be the day of Joel Bats and France. He saves twice and Platini's miss did not prove costly. France had won the day and an epic battle.
Maradona's exploits need no narration. The famous hand-of-god goal followed by the dream 2nd goal against England and then another dream goal against Belgium were all hair-raising stuff. But the most unforgettable and significant 'Maradona' moment came in that great final. A typical West German fightback made the score 2-2 and all of a sudden their resurgent opponents threatened to take the cup away from Argerntina. With Lothar Matheus breathing down his neck like a shadow all Maradona had time to do was a "one touch" pass. He exacltly did that and that one-touch put Buruchaaga through. The sight of the ball passing through Schumacher (in a bright yellow jersey) into the net is an all time great "kodak" moment in World Cup history.

A drab and boring world cup most remembered for the dearth of goals and one penalty shoot-out after other. The most cruel way to exit a tournament for which you wait for four years saw many tragic heroes being born, many of whom will be remembered throughout their lives for that one missed penalty. Ask Roberto Donadoni and Aldo Serena. In the tense semi-final at Naples, as Aldo Serena hit the ball straight to Argentine goal-keeper Goycochea, it triggered a national mourning. Italy crashed out in front of its home crowd. A day later Chris Waddle and Stuart Pierce would go through the same agony as another soccer crazy nation England fell at the semi-finals and that too to arch-rivals West Germany.
Maradona's unceremonious exit, lots of goals scored, a drab final and Roberto Baggio are what you remember most of US '94. I just wish there was at least a goal scored in the final which promised so much. Brazil V Italy, Romario V Baggio. All came down to penalty kicks.
Undoubtedly, the most significant moment and the moment which I cherish the most was Baggio's equalizer against Nigeria. Two minutes more and Baggio would have been dubbed as the biggest flop of the world cup and the most over-rated player in the game. Down 0-1, with 10 men, facing elimination, it was 2 minutes and Roberto Baggio. He beat time and the Nigerian defence and Italy scarped through.
Argentina V England at St Etienne. Owen's wonderful solo goal, Beckham red-carded and once again those dreaded penalties proving a curse for England - Gareth Batty being the tragic hero this time.
Dennis Bergkamp's winning goal against Argentina was a classic and with two wonderfully headed goals in the final Zinedine Zidane took the first step towards greatness.
(Let me not get into the Ronaldo mystery on the day of the final)
Another dull and boring world cup, mostly remembered for South Korea's dream run into the semis and Ronadinho's free-kick sailing over David Seaman's head into the net.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Heartbreak!!! When the greats stumbled

When a rank-outsider German team shocked everyone and reached the finals of the 2002 World cup, everyone asked coach Rudi Voller that how much of a chance does his team have against the best team in the world? Voller paying tribute to the opposition remarked "If the best team always won, then Brazil would have won the world cup 14 times". Well, that in a nut-shell sums up the beauty of the game and of sport itself. How boring the world cup would be if the best team always won? What is a game without a heart-break, without upsets and without fallen heroes? Here we look at instances where some of the greatest teams faltered at the biggest stage of soccer - the world cup.

The 'Magical Magyars' - Hungary 1954

The great Hungarian team of 1954 were the team to beat at that time. They came into the World Cup in Switzerland being undefeated for 4 years, led by the great Ferenc Puskas - a legend of his time. As the cup kicked off, Hungary bulldozed past all opposition that came on its way including an 8-3 thrashing of West Germany, who ironically they were to meet in the final. Alas, it was evident that they peaked a bit early. Puskas wasn't fully fit and things were not as rosy as expected at the start of the final. But all that notwithstanding, within 10 minutes after kick-off they raced on to a 2-0 lead even before the spectators could settle down, with the legend Puskas himself scoring one of the goals. All that pre-match blushes seemed to have settled down and it looked like everything will go to plan. But the biggest obstacle that came on the way was the ever so prevailing West German resilience. The Germans fought back and restored parity at 2-2. And then came the shocking moment when Helmut Rahn's long range shot beat the goal-keeper. The blow was the final nail in the coffin for the great Hungary side and it shut the doors on them for the remaining of the match. Rank-outsiders West Germany won the cup marking it a significant moment for a nation recovering after World War II.

'Clockwork Orange' - Holland 1974

The year 1974 marked a new era in world football. To start off, it was a brand new trophy introduced by FIFA as Brazil had acquired permanent possesion of the Julet Rimet Trophy by winning a third world cup in 1970. And most significantly it was a new brand of football which took the world by storm. Coach Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff introduced a unique concept of 'Total Football' which made the Dutch look invincible. It was a formation where the attackers could defend and the defenders could attack. The dutch mastered this art and destroyed whatever was thrown at them. The significant 'change of guard' came through when Holland met the defending champions Brazil in what was virtually the semi-final. Brazil, who with their 'samba' style had conquired a million hearts 4 years back in 1970 had no answers to whatever the dutch threw at them and were sunk by a goal each from Neeskens and Cruyff. A new era had begun in world soccer. Or was it? Well, almost. Fittingly, the Dutch met the hosts West Germany led by Franz Beckenbauer in the final at Munich. The final got off to a sensational start with a second minute penalty duly converted by Johan Neeskens giving Holland the lead even before the Germans had touched the ball. The attacks continued one after the other but again the West German defence led by the 'Kaiser' was as resilient and ever. The ineveitable happened. The Germans won a penalty, converted by Breitner and went ahead 3 minutes from half-time through a gem from Gerd Muller. The Dutch were shaken as they went in for the breather. When they came back they threw everything at the Germans but the equaliser would just not come. German resilience and grit had prevailed and like 1954 once again the Davids had humbled the Goliaths.

Brazil and France - 1982

Brazil's team of 1982 was considered amongst its best even leading comparisons to the great 1970 side. With Zico, Socrates, Falcao they had arguably the greatest possible midfield creating oppportunities out of nowhere. All went well as they comfortably won their 3 group matches and were pooled with Italy and Argentina in the second round group phase. They got past defending champions Argentina 3-1 in a hard fought match most remembered for the sending off of Maradona in the 87th minute. All they needed now was a draw against Italy. Now there was no better team in the world to stop Brazil than the Itallian defence. The match turned out to be a classic - one of the best games ever seen. It was European resistance Vs Latin Ameraicn flair. It was a day which marked the redemption of a certain Paolo Rossi. Rossi gave Italy the lead, Socrates equalized and Rossi again struck. After 29 minutes it's 2-1 Italy. All that was needed was just an equalizer. Zoff and the Italian defence thwarted Brazil for 46 minutes after which it became virtually impossible to hold Brazil back. Falcao struck in the 76th minute and the 'samba' were all but assured a place in the semi-final. But 14 minutes is a long time if you have Paulo Rossi in the opposition on that day. A defensive lapse resulted in the ever opportunist Rossi firing in the winner and Italy prevailed 3-2. Zoff spent some heart-stopping moments at the goal but no ways were Italy ready to give this one away.
France in 1982 was the best from Europe. Like Brazil, they too had a dream mid-field of Platini, Tigana, Fernandes and Girresse. French flair had captured the hearts of many in Spain after initial hiccups. The stage was set in Seville for a classic semi-final duel with West Germany which the French have still not forgotten (nor forgiven). With the honours even after the 1st half, the contest began to heat up in the 2nd. It was French flair and German grit giving us a great game of soccer. It was in such a situation when after seeing the good and the bad we saw the ugly in the form of German goalkeeper Harold Schumacher. Platini's through ball let substitute Battiston clear with only Schumacher to beat. Schumacher had other ideas. He ignored the ball and let out a punch which flattened Patrik Battiston. He lay unconscious on the ground while the stretcher was summoned. Platini, the captain holding Battiston's hand while being stretchered off is one of the most poignant sights in World Cup history. Schumacher was not even booked, neither were France given a penalty and the game went on. This meant France had to use both the substitutes and were carrying tired legs into extra-time. For the first few minutes it looked that its not going to be of any significance. Tresor and Girresse fired twice and France were 3-1 ahead. Surely, it was game over. But no. While France had those tired legs, Germans were able to introduce Rummenigge in the 97th minute and he immediately pulled one back. The fresh legs did the trick and the inevitable happened when Fischer's bicycle kick made it 3-3. The French were shell-shocked as the encounter went into the first ever shoot-out in a World Cup game. When its your day, its your day. Harold Schumacher (goalie) did it again for the Germans and France was out - in tears. For the great French mid-field, if any match they would describe as heartbreak, it was this one.