Friday, 18 July 2014

Argentina and Atletico: legendary status missed forever.

Don't Real Madrid and Germany always win? Seems like it - but it could've been so different.

2014 was the year winning finals could've rewritten history - a chance to cast different light on previous events for good.

Chance missed.

When West Germany beat Hungary in the '54 World Cup Final, little did the Germans know they were creating a football dynasty while consigning another to history. It doesn't look it today, but that 3-2 win for Die Mannschaft over the Marvellous Magyars was a big shock.

And had Argentina had won in the Maracana, they'd have won the World Cup for keeps. For all of Brazil's five World Cups, they'd have lost it to their nearest and fiercest rivals in their own backyard - for good.

It was a date with destiny that Atletico Madrid, in a similar situation didn't take either. Had they beaten city rivals Real Madrid in the Champions League Finals, they'd have won their only European championship forever, consigning a huge blot on Real Madrid's trophy laden history.

"We've won 9 European Cups!", Real fans would've boasted.

"Yeah, but we beat you!", little brother Atletico would've said.

They didn't take that one money shot.

Final score: Real 10 Atleti Never.

Summer 2014 was the moment for the generation's greatest player to step up to the plate and confirm his place in history.

Lionel Messi already netted a hattrick for Argentina against Brazil. He needed to add the World Cup to his stellar achievements with Barcelona.

Argentina could have taken their own World Cup count to 3, but this one was the immortal one – victory across the border. Brazil, the greatest of all nations in football? Trumped by Germany in the semis and then the ultimate slap in the face had Argentina had won it at their Wembley?

Argentina won't be back in four or eight years time. Not with that team. Messi didn't take it.

Great players do it when called for. Zizou in 1998, Maradona in 86, Pele in 58 & 62.

Like Atletico, it was Messi's time.

Instead normal service resumed. Real Madrid and Germany - again.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Why Argentina are destined to beat Germany in tonight's World Cup Final

It's Lionel's date with destiny. Step up to the plate, world's greatest. This is your time... 

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Despite Messi, Zidane's still modern football's greatest

Wonder strike: Hampden Park
Lionel Messi helped ease Argentina to the World Cup Final without pushing up trees.

Although by his exceptionally lofty standards, the last fifteen months were quelled by injury and a Barcelona in transition. Still, he's widely regarded as the greatest player in the world.

He was the first to score 5 in a single Champions League game and let's not forget, he breached the Brazil defence for a hat-trick - in Brazil, broke Gerd Muller's 40-year record scoring 91 in a single calendar year and claimed a fourth FIFA ballon d'or in the process.

That Cristiano Ronaldo's the current holder underscores his showing in the last year or so. But he's on his
way back.

I've had the good fortune of watching him play live. He scored in both games; from the spot in a routine home league win over Almeria and that mesmerising strike thumped into Manchester United's net at Wembley in the Champions League Final.

Show me the medals. Zizou's got the lot.
Messi's magnificent, with speed, strength, intelligence, quick feet, pace and power - but still I remember Zinedine Zidane as the greatest player I've ever seen.

Because for all Messi's brilliance and I grant you, he still has most of his career ahead of him, he's got a way to go to match the majesty and drama of football's most decorated Frenchman.

I saw Zidane play five games: twice for Real Madrid and three times for his country. In three of those games and without any recourse to superlatives or exaggeration, Zizou produced iconic moments to be remembered for decades as the fans in the stadia held their collective breaths.
Not even Giggs could stop it.
Take Lisbon's Stadium of Light for starters; England's opening game of EURO 2004. Boosted by 75% of the crowd in the best atmosphere I've yet experienced, England were in control as Lampard's first half header should've sufficed for victory.

The crowd had bayed Thierry Henry out of contention and Boy Wonder Rooney was up for it. Then he got subbed and the energy changed in the cauldron.

Step upto the plate, Zinedine Zidane who's superficial calm masked a volcanic temperament. He flashed the ball into the net from a brilliant free-kick, then struck a penalty to turn the game on its head in injury time. I watched the silvery ball's trajectory flash into the net - trouble was, so did hapless David James.

Then there's That Hampden Strike. Roberto Carlos hooked the ball high into the sky in a final attempt to keep possession amid a high challenge from a Bayer defender. Watching it speed downwards like a squash player ready with his racket, Zizou struck it left footed with expert precision, curling, speeding into the top corner. Keeper no chance. It'll never be forgotten.

Then there's the World Cup Final in Berlin. What he did as the curtain fell on his brilliant career is viewed as such a stain. But there was more to his performance in that 90 minutes than that.

His nonchalant penalty with almost demob happy laissez-faire, struck the crossbar and over the line to give France the lead. Let's not forget, he joined Sir Geoff Hurst in scoring three goals in the World Cup Final.

Messi's ecstatic celebration at Wembley
No one could predict what happened later - and when it did, most in the Olympic Stadium wouldn't see it.

Startling. Off the ball. An exchange of words. In cricket, sledging. The headbutt into the chest of Marco Materazzi. I admit the first I saw of it was when Italy keeper Gigi Buffon remonstrated with the French strikers near to him seconds later.

As he traipsed off, round shouldered down into the dressing rooms sweeping past the Trophy, with it France's edge in the impending penalty shootout was lost too.

Shameful end; but not altogether incongruous with his whole career. And still, it makes not a jot to how I perceive him. In fact, it adds dimension and context to his greatest moments. And while Messi's brilliance lights up a match in milliseconds, Zidane's range of personalities makes him modern football's greatest. My best since Maradona.

Messi is a product of a generation of team players. The best of the bunch for sure.

So would I change my view? Not now. Messi couldn't produce a World Cup like Maradona's blistering one-man show in 1986 (and to a lesser extent in 1990), couldn't marry it with his stratospheric club career. He's not surpassed Zidane or Maradona.

But Zidane the loner, Zidane the volcano, Zidane, decorated from top to bottom for both club and country trumps the Argentine for greatness - so far.

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Monday, 16 June 2014

The World Cup is amazing so far - enjoy it and don't worry too much about England

If you like your team to compete but ultimately lose "Eddie Edwards-style", England will fit you like a Cup Final suit.

We've never quite shaken off that "it's the taking part that counts" hint of amateurism that enabled us to export our Beautiful Game to the world.

"We have Barkley, Sturridge, Sterling, Henderson and the Ox for the future", they say. Fearless, talented and if not millionaires already, the Premier League will take care of that within months.

England's future looked bright with Gazza too as we watched the semifinal defeat to Germany at Italia 90. Remember that? It was the last time Daft-As-A-Brush shone on the world stage. 

As for the Liverpool players, let's see how good they are competing in the Champions League. 

They're our England backbone because Fergie retired and Manchester United's youngsters lost their father figure at the same time as Rodgers created his. 

I'm too long in the tooth to worry about England's inevitable defeats. We've sacrificed our national team in favour of the Premier League for two decades, so enjoy your club, whatever its division.

And support England with the same approach English football treats it - as a bit of summer fun.

For all the attention foisted on Roy's boys, club football is the focus in England for the foreseeable future.