Monthly archives: May, 2014

The Greatest Sides Never To Win The World Cup: Portugal 1966

Who cares about the also-rans? Nobody remembers the losers, right? Wrong. They do when they were as talented as… Portugal 1966. Or Hungary 1954.


Why were Portugal great in 1966?

Portugal of 1966 were not so much about a great team, as a great player: Eusébio. Reminiscent of Maradona some 20 years later, Eusébio single-handedly carried his country through the tournament. If Eusébio, the reigning European Player of the Year, had started the tournament with a big reputation, he finished it with something approaching God-like status.

Taking on a Brazil side that included Pelé in the first round, Eusébio nabbed the headlines from under the nose of the famous number 10, with a brilliant brace of goals in a 3-1 win. Portugal outscored its three group opponents 9-2 and qualified for the quarter finals. The best however, was yet to come.

Faced with the tournament’s surprise package North Korea, the Portuguese fell 3-0 down after just 22 minutes of the quarter final. Sensing disaster, Eusebio started to play. Four goals later he had turned the match on its head, with Augusto adding a fifth late-on to complete a 5-3 victory.

So what went wrong?

Portugal’s dream was then destroyed by hosts England. The semi final was to take place at Goodison Park in Liverpool, where Portugal beat North Korea three days before, and stayed over for the semis.

Just 24 hours before kick-off, the World Cup organisation decided to move the game to Wembley, London. Not surprisingly close to the hotel and the training ground of the English national team. Instead of a last training for the game, the Portuguese spent the better part of the day before the crucial semi final in a train.

‘Jogo das Lágrimas’
For ninety minutes during the game, England midfielder Nobby Stiles was given the job of marking the prolific Eusébio. His tough performance resulted in Eusébio being practically nullified for the entire game.

That was as good as it got for Portugal, as even Eusébio couldn’t save them when they came up against England in the semi-finals, a pair of Bobby Charlton goals sending the hosts through.

While home fans rejoiced in a 2-1 victory, many shared Eusébio’s tears, sorry to see ‘The Black Pearl’ on a losing side as the sheer gusto of his play had lit up the tournament. This historical game will always be remembered as ‘Jogo das Lágrimas’ (The Crying Game).

What happened next?

Consolation came by way of a bronze medal after a 2-1 win against the Soviet Union in the 3rd/4th place play-off. Eusébio also won the Golden Boot after netting nine times, and the hearts of all, leading to a waxwork being created of him at Madame Tussauds.

1966 was the first and last time seeing Eusébio playing on a World Cup. He never took part in another finals, as the Portugal sides he later played in bowing out in the qualifying stages in both ‘70 and ‘74.

Other posts in this series:
Hungary 1954
Holland 1974

The Greatest Sides Never To Win The World Cup: Hungary 1954

Who cares about the also-rans? Nobody remembers the losers, right? Wrong. They do when they were as talented as… Hungary 1954.


Why were Hungary great in 1954?

Despite the nation being ravaged by World War II, Hungary’s footballers became the gold standard in Europe. Between 1945 and 1950 they went undefeated, scoring 105 goals in 27 games.

So why did they not win the 1950 World Cup in Brazil? Post-war Hungary was eventually taken over by a Soviet-allied government and became part of the Eastern Bloc, and the Hungarian government did not want to pay for a trip to Brazil. We can only guess what might have happened if they had.

The team was built around the gold-plated left boot of Ferenc Puskás (one of the greatest ever), flanked by Nandor Hidegkuti (an original ‘false nine’) and Sandor Kocsis (a lethal centre-forward), and were famed for a magical brand of gung-ho, attacking football. Hungary’s ‘Magnificent Magyars’ were light years ahead of the rest of the world in terms of talent and tactics.

They did win the 1952 Olympic tournament, and a year later England felt the full Hungarian force. At Wembley, the visitors won by 3-6, with Hidegkuti bagging himself a hat-trick. In the Budapest rematch six month later, a 7-1 win for Hungary left no doubt: this team will win the next World Cup in Switzerland.

Hungary was unbeaten in 27 games going into the tournament. After romping through the group with 17 goals in two matches, including an 8-3 thrashing of a weakened West Germany side, it reached the final with rugged 4-2 wins over Brazil and Uruguay in the quarters and semis. The Magyars managed those two victories without the injured Puskás, who was back for the final, albeit half fit.

So what went wrong?

It remains a mystery how they managed to lose to a West Germany team it had dominated and beaten by five goals just two weeks earlier.

Hungary’s victory seemed written in the stars, especially when it went 2-0 up in the first eight minutes of the final at a rain-lashed Wankdorf Stadium. But this time the West Germans hit back straightaway, and by the 20th minute it was 2-2.

After that, Hungary created chance after chance, but the sodden pitch gave the more physical and athletic West Germans the edge. Hungary began to tire and with six minutes to go, German winger Helmut Rahn scored the winning 3-2. Two minutes from the end of the match, Puskás appeared to score an equalizer, but the goal was disallowed due to an offside call.

In Germany the final is still known as ‘Das Wunder von Bern’ (The Miracle of Bern).

What happened next?

Hungary and the whole world were shocked and stunned. The planned triumphal return to Budapest was canceled to avoid angry, questioning mobs of supporters. The best team in the world didn’t win the World Cup, so they flew back to an anonymous provincial town.

In October 1956, a spontaneous nationwide revolt broke out against the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies. Budapest Honvéd FC, home to most of the national side, were playing a European Cup game in Bilbao when the Hungarian revolt broke out. The team remained abroad until the uprising was quashed as Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest. Some of them went back, others, like Puskás, chose to defect.

Puskás emigrated to Spain where he played for Real Madrid. While playing with Real Madrid, Puskás won four Pichichis and scored seven goals in two European Champions Cup finals. In 1962, Puskás took Spanish nationality and subsequently played four times for Spain. Three of these games were at the 1962 World Cup. For once, his goalscoring form deserted him and he failed to score any goals for Spain.

Other posts in this series:
Portugal 1966
Holland 1974

Why We Love Ryan Giggs, A Premier League Legend

Imagine a life without Ryan Giggs. It is impossible. He was just always there, like Coronation Street and the BBC.



Yesterday he announced his retirement from professional football. After 23 years playing for Manchester United and 34 trophies he decided he had enough. But it is not only the number of trophies and the longevity that makes this man special. It is his skill of reinvention.

The old & new Giggs
Just after his debut, the 17-year-old was dubbed as ‘the new George Best’. Giggs was a beguiling mix of ruthlessness and grace. The way he ran, the way he passed, the way he moved was balletic but it was also wholly damaging to opponents. But those inelastic hamstrings panged once too often. No more could he play with the same wild abandon. Top speed wasn’t an option as pragmatism crept in where once was unadulterated joy.

He needed to change his way of play and evolved in the elder statesman we know today. The new Giggs got wise; he went from not being able to cross properly to playing slide-rule passes at will. Travelling with the ball became less belting down the flank and more subtle feigns and shifts of balance. It helped him win everything more times than anyone ever.

Great guy to work with
As a person Giggs never changed. We have a long standing work relationship with him, and he is still the nice guy we met for the first time more than 15 years ago. He embarks upon a new and exciting chapter in his life, as assistant manager of Manchester United. And we, we will always remember his contribution to the game with a fantastic range of authentic autographed Giggs memorabilia.

Why We Love Dramatic Endings To A Football Season

Saturday’s clash between Atlético Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Nou Camp will be only the third ‘winner takes all’ match on the final day of the campaign in history and the first since 1951.

Top 5 most dramatic endings to a football season

But over the past few years football has brought us some other spectacular and dramatic season endings. We have made a list in chronological order of the best five.

#1: English Premier League of 1988/89

Arsenal midfielder Mickey Thomas wrote himself into the history books when he scored the most dramatic of late winners to clinch the 1988/89 First Division title. Arsenal travelled to leaders Liverpool on the final day of the season needing to win by at least two goals to take the title on goal difference from the Anfield club. Leading 1-0 in injury time Thomas surged forward from midfield, ran onto an Alan Smith flick-on and chipped the advancing Bruce Grobbelaar to score Arsenal’s crucial second.

Click here to see the video.

#2: Spanish Primera Division of 1993/94

Picture the scene on the final day of the 1993-94 La Liga season… It’s Deportivo against Valencia at the Riazor on the final day of the season. Deportivo, sitting on top of the league, need to just hold their nerve and win to claim their first ever La Liga title. As the game heads into injury time it’s still 0-0. Title rivals Barcelona are beating Sevilla so Deportivo need to win.

As Deportivo throw everything forward, Nando is fouled in the box: penalty to Deportivo! Regular taker Bebeto bottles it, Donato has been substituted, so up steps Yugoslavian defender Miroslav Djukic. This to win the title. He shoots… And he… misses. His lame attempt, straight at goalie Gonzalez, hands Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona the title on goal difference.

Click here to see the video.

#3: German Bundesliga of 2000/01

Schalke 04 and Bayern Munich reached the penultimate round level on points and it looked like the dreadlock wouldn’t be broken. But in the last minute of their respective games Bayern scored the winner against Kaiserslautern and Stuttgart did the same against Schalke, leaving Bayern with a three-point advantage (albeit with a worse goal difference) over Schalke.

In the last matchday, Schalke amazingly recovered from a two-goal deficit to beat Unterhaching 5-3 but the title would still go to Bayern as long as they could hold the 0-0 score at Hamburg. In the 90th minute, however, Sergej Barbarez scored for Hamburg, sending the Schalke fans into raptures (and onto the pitch) celebrating what would have been their first German title since 1958. ‘Would have been’ had Patrik Andersson not drawn level for Bayern following an indirect free kick in the fourth minute of injury time.

Click here to see the video (in German).

#4: German Bundesliga of 1999/00 and 2001/02

To lose one Bundesliga that was in the bag might be considered unfortunate. To lose two smacked of carelessness. In 2000 Bayer Leverkusen only needed a draw against strugglers Unterhaching but, thanks largely to an own goal by Michael Ballack, contrived to lose 2-0. Bayern Munich don’t blow opportunities like this (apart from the 1999 UEFA Champions League final against Manchester United), and beat Werder Bremen 3-1.

In 2002 it was even worse for Leverkusen. They led by 5 points with 3 games to play, but lost two. Meanwhile Dortmund won their last three fixtures to grab an unlikely title. Leverkusen went on to lose in the finals of both the European and German Cups and have never been the same force since.

Click here to see the video (in German).

#5: English Premier League of 2011/12

Manchester City needed to beat struggling QPR at home to pip rivals Manchester United to the Premiership crown. Losing 2-1 going into injury time all looked lost. But step forward Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero in the 92nd and 93rd minutes to clinch a 3-2 win for the most astonishing ending to any Premier League season.

Click here to see the video.

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Why We Love Andres Iniesta, The World’s Most Beloved Footballer

In 1999, Pep Guardiola stated that he had seen a 15-year-old in a youth team of FC Barcelona who could read the game better than he could himself. Because the boy was a big fan of Guardiola, he signed a poster for him with the text: “To the best player I’ve ever seen.” The boy was delighted.


It were Andrés Iniesta’s first steps to a glorious carreer.

Iniesta is not only one of the world’s best football players. He is also one of the most beloved footballers around the world. Even fans of rivals Real Madrid and Espanyol have to admit they like him as both a player and a person.

We met Andrés Iniesta for the third time during our private signing session last month. He is one of the nicest person in football and so down to earth.

Pep Guardiola once said about Iniesta: “He doesn’t wear earrings and hasn’t got any tattoos. That makes him unattractive to the media but he is the best.” He is an ordinary-looking guy, who not long ago in a Barcelona café was mistaken for a waiter by a woman who gave him her order. Iniesta went to the kitchen and got it for her.

But what makes Iniesta such a beloved player around the world? He thanks his parents for the person he is nowadays.

“I like to return to the small town where I grew up and hang out with my old friends. It is easy for me to be me. I am how my parents educated me. I am what I am thanks to my parents. It’s impossible to lose those values. When I was 12 years old my father saved money for three months to buy me predator boots. I have money now but each time I look at those boots I remember where I come from.”

Vision of life
Something that changed his vision of life was the death of Dani Jarque, his close friend and Espanyol’s captain, who suddenly passed away in 2009 because of a heart attack. “Jarque’s death completely changed my vision of life.”

He wanted to make the world remember Dani Jarque. And he did. Iniesta scored the winner in the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ final which made Spain the world champion for the very first time. When all the world was watching him, he took off his shirt and showed his message, “Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros.”

Dani Jarque will always stay with him. And we will always like Andrés Iniesta.

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Why We Love Brazil’s 1970 FIFA World Cup Squad, The Greatest Team Ever

It is the good old Friday afternoon discussion in the pub: what has been the greatest football team ever? We are giving you 5 reasons what made the 1970 FIFA World Cup™ Brazil team so special.


#1: Revenge for 1966 FIFA World Cup™ 
The 1966 FIFA World Cup™ had been a huge blow for Brazil. Following the victories in ’58 and ’62, a new FIFA World Cup™ trophy was all that matters. But it ended in disaster. No win meant a particularly un-Brazilian first round exit, and the team was in complete disarray. They took the ultimate revenge four years later.

#2: A glorious exhibition of attacking football
“What this team needs are great players, players who are intelligent. Let’s go with that and see where it takes us.” Brazil manager Mario Zagallo realized that his role was one of overall management, not specific tactics. It led to one of the most sensational explosions of style and offense in the prestigious history of the tournament. Brazil had once again proved that force of personality could overwhelm the system.

#3: World Cup’s most thrilling attacking force
Starplayer Pelé was joined by thrilling wingers Jairzinho and Rivelino, playmaker Gerson, the nascent talent of midfielder Clodoaldo and skipper Carlos Alberto, a superb exponent of the art of the attacking full-back. Centre-forward Tostao was there, too, his career saved by an eye operation. Together they formed the World Cup’s most thrilling attacking force.

#4: Most memorable match in FIFA World Cup™ history
The group stage of the 1970 FIFA World Cup™ brought together first and foremost champions England and favourites Brazil. The match between them is regarded as one of the best in FIFA World Cup™ history – certainly among first round matches. Brazil won 1-0 thanks to a Jairzinho goal after a fine attack, but the game is also remembered for the “save of the century” by Gordon Banks from a Pelé header.

#:5 The best team goal in FIFA World Cup™ history


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