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.