Wednesday, March 31, 2010

31 March 2001 - The End Of Rocky's Road

On 31 March 2001, 33-year old midfielder David "Rocky" Rocastle, who had played for Arsenal, Leeds United, Manchester City, and Chelsea, died from complications related to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Born in 1967, Rocastle started his career with Arsenal's youth squad in 1983, then joined the senior side from 1985 to 1992. He was a star for the Gunners, making 218 League appearances and scoring 24 goals. In that time, Arsenal won one League Cup (1987) and two League titles (1989, 1991). But near the end of his time at Highbury, injuries began to impact his game and he transferred to Leeds United in the summer of 1992 for £2 million, a Leeds record at the time.

His playing time at Elland Road was limited by a combination of factors, including injury and competition from other players, including Gordon Strachan, the man he'd been brought in to replace. In December 1993, Rocastle moved again, this time to Manchester City, but once more failed to make an impact. At the end of the 1992-93 season, he returned to London, this time with Chelsea.

He stuck with Chelsea for four seasons, but never recovered the form or fitness he had during his previous spell in London with Arsenal. He spent 1997 out on loan to Norwich City and Hull City, then returned to Chelsea's reserve team. After leaving Chelsea in 1998, he briefly joined Malaysian side Sabah FA, but injuries forced his retirement in December 1999.

In February 2001, Rocastle announced that he had contracted non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects the immune system. Despite aggressive chemotherapy, he died on 31 March.

Arsenal paid tribute to Rocastle by naming their new youth team indoor training facility after him. They also included him as one of 16 former Arsenal players to have their images painted on the sides of the new Emirates Stadium.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

30 March 1946 - The Marathon Match

On 30 March 1946, Stockport County and Doncaster Rovers met in a Division Three North Cup replay at Stockport's Edgeley Park. The match lasted 3 hours and 23 minutes, setting a world record in the process.

The teams had earlier played to a 2-2 draw at Doncaster, requiring the replay. The hosts struck first with a 5th minute penalty kick from Ken Shaw, but Rovers fought back to take a 2-1 lead into the break. In the second half, Shaw was again the hero for Stockport, scoring the equalizer in the 72d minute. After 90 minutes, the teams were tied at 2-2 and neither side was able to score in 30 minutes of extra time.

Under the rules at the time, the match then went into a golden goal period, so that the first team to score would win the match. But neither team was able to find the back of the net. The match went on for so long that several spectators went home for tea, then returned to find the match still going. Stockport thought they had the winner when Les Crocker put the ball in the goal in the 173rd minute, but the referee called a foul and disallowed the goal. Reportedly, even a few Doncaster players were upset at the call, which meant they had to play on.

Eventually, the match was called off close to 7:00 pm because it was too dark to play (Edgeley Park would not get floodlights for another ten years). The players were so tired that many of them dropped to the pitch at the whistle and removed their shoes instantly. The match lasted 203 minutes, which remains a world record.

When the teams met again in a second replay the following week, they played from the beginning instead of picking up where the previous replay had left off. That time, Doncaster left no room for another marathon match, rolling to a 4-0 win in regulation.

Monday, March 29, 2010

29 March 1884 - The Scots Invade England

On 29 March 1884, Glasgow club Queen's Park FC became the first non-English club to appear in an FA Cup Final, losing 2-1 to Blackburn Rovers (pictured, with the Cup).

Queen's Park, founded in 1867, was Scotland's first football club. In 1870, they joined England's Football Association in order to challenge themselves against tougher competition than was available in Scotland (Scotland did not yet have its own FA at the time).

The Scottish side started the 1883-84 FA Cup in brilliant fashion, traveling to Crewe Alexandra, where they crushed their hosts 0-10 in the First Round. The did even better in the Second Round, beating Manchester FC 15-0, then kept their momentum with wins over Oswestry Town (1-7) and Aston Villa (6-1) in the Third and Fourth Rounds, respectively. Their closest match on the way to the Final was a 0-1 Fifth Round victory over Old Westminsters, but they regained their dominant form in the semifinals, beating Blackburn Olympic 4-0.

While Blackburn's road to the Final was not as dominating (despite a couple of 7-0 wins, the matches were generally closer contests), they proved to be more than a match for the Scots. The two sides maintained an even balance for the first twenty minutes until Blackburn roared ahead with two late first-half goals in quick succession. Queen's Park pulled one back before the half-time whistle, but could not find an equalizer as Blackburn bossed them around the pitch in the second half.

Queen's Park returned to the Final the following season, again losing to Blackburn, this time 2-0. They remained the only non-English side to reach the Final until Welsh club Cardiff City finished as runners-up in 1925. Two years later, Cardiff became the first non-English side to win the Cup, with a famous 1-0 victory over Arsenal at Wembley.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

28 March 1903 - Ireland's Good Old Goodall

On 28 March 1903, center-half Archie Goodall (pictured) scored the opening goal in Ireland's 2-0 victory over Wales in the 1903 British Home Championship. Goodall was 38 years and 283 days old, making him the oldest goalscorer in the history of the Irish national team.

Born in Belfast in 1864, Goodall spent his entire club career in England, starting with Preston North End in 1887. After one season in Deepdale and one with Aston Villa, he settled with Derby County for whom he made 380 league appearances (and scored 48 goals) between 1889 and 1903.

He received his first call up for Ireland in March 1899. Prior to that time, the Irish FA had refused to allow the national team to select footballers who were playing in clubs outside Ireland, making Goodall one of the first players based in England to don a shirt for the Irish national team.

Ireland's match against Wales on 28 March 1903 was their last of the tournament. Goodall's goal - the second and last of his international career - helped the Irish finish level on points with England and Scotland and, because there was no provision in the tournament rules to break a tie, the three sides shared the trophy equally. It was the first top finish for Ireland, who would finish as runners-up the following season, then win the title outright in 1914.

Goodall left Derby County in 1903 and spent a season with Plymouth Argyle before moving to Glossop North End as player-manager. After one season there, he moved to Wolverhampton in 1905, but made only seven appearances for Wolves before retiring later that year.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

27 March 2002 - He May Have Won The Match, But He Got Screwed On The Shirt Deal

On 27 March 2002, the shirt worn by Pelé in the 1970 World Cup Final sold at an auction for a record £157,750. The bid, placed by an anonymous telephone bidder, smashed the expected sale price, estimated by Christie's auction house at a mere £50,000.

The shirt still had grass stains from the Final, in which Pelé scored the opening goal in Brazil's 4-1 win over Italy. The shirt was auctioned by Italian defender Roberto Rosato, who acquired it by swapping shirts with Pelé at the end of the match.

The sale beat the previous auction record of £91,750, paid for the shirt worn by England's Geoff Hurst in the 1966 World Cup Final.

Friday, March 26, 2010

26 March 2008 - England's Newest Centurion

On 26 March 2008, 32-year old David Beckham reached his 100th cap when he started for England in a friendly against France.

It was milestone that Beckham looked unlikely to reach after England's elimination from the 2006 World Cup. Following their loss to Portugal in quarterfinals, Beckham's 94th international appearance, he resigned as England's captain. Although he expressed a desire to continue with the side in a subservient role, he was dropped altogether by new England boss Steve McClaren. A poor run of form changed McClaren's mind and he recalled Beckham to the national squad in May 2007.

Beckham performed well, but it was not enough to save McClaren's job - he was soon sacked in favor of Beckham's former Real Madrid boss, Fabio Capello. With Beckham sitting on 99 caps, he was not included in Capello's first match in charge, a friendly against Switzerland on 6 February 2008. The decision created speculation that Capello's English side had no place for Beckham, but Beckham was included for Capello's second match in charge - the friendly against France.

The match itself had mixed results for England. France controlled the pace and flow, creating far more scoring chances than the visitors. To their credit, though, the English defense was stout, repeatedly denying the French attack. The match's only goal came from the spot, as Nicolas Anelka drew a foul from his Chelsea teammate John Terry. Franck Ribéry buried the ensuing kick in the 32nd minute.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

25 March 1934 - Somehow, I Doubt Italy Minded Having To Play

On 25 March 1934, Italy played the first - and to date, only - World Cup qualifying match for a host country, beating Greece 4-0 before a crowd of 20,000 at the San Siro in Milan.

The 1934 tournament was only the second World Cup and the first to require qualification at all. FIFA had invited all member countries to compete in the previous tournament, but only 13 accepted the invitation, making qualification unnecessary. By 1934, however, the Cup had become more popular and 32 countries applied to compete. In order to winnow the number down to a manageable 16 for the tournament proper, FIFA split the 32 entrants into twelve groups. Most of the groups had two or three countries, though one had four. The groups were divided geographically, with Italy ending up in Group 3 with Greece.

When Italy and Greece met in Milan on 25 March, the Azzurri dominated the match from start to finish. The Greeks managed to hold the Italians off for the better part of the first half, but created few scoring chances of their own. In the 40th minute, Italy finally cracked the Greek defense with a goal from Brazilian-born Anfilogeno Guarisi. That goal opened the floodgates, as forward Giuseppe Meazza netted a brace (44', 71') around a strike from midfielder Giovanni Ferrari (69').

The Greeks were so disheartened by the beating that they withdrew from the competition despite the fact that they had been scheduled to play a second leg at home. Italy advanced to the First Round where they beat the United States 7-1 on their way to their first World Cup title.

For the 1936 World Cup, FIFA decided that the hosts should qualify automatically. That practice continues to this day, making Italy the only host in history to play a World Cup qualifier.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

24 March 1965 - The Curse Of The Coin Toss

On 24 March 1965, Liverpool and Köln, having already drawn 0-0 over two legs in the European Cup quarterfinals, played a rematch in Rotterdam. As with the 1957 World Cup qualifying rematch between Spain and Turkey, the European Cup tie came down to a coin toss.

In fact, the 1964-65 European Cup competition was rife with outcomes decided by the flip of a coin. Both Anderlecht and Dukla Prague needed one to advance out of the preliminary round after scoreless playoff matches against Bologna and Górnik Zabrze, respectively. In a bit of foreshadowing for Liverpool, both teams were eliminated in the next round - Dukla Prague by Real Madrid and Anderlecht by Liverpool themselves to set up the quarterfinal matchup against Köln.

The first two matches, played in Cologne on 10 February and in Liverpool on 17 March, ended as scoreless draws, requiring a replay at a neutral ground. The teams met in Rotterdam on 24 March and Liverpool jumped out to a 2-0 lead with goals from forwards Ian St. John (20) and Roger Hunt (37). Given the teams' inability to score in the first two legs, the lead was as improbable as it was seemingly insurmountable.

But the Germans were undaunted and wasted little time in pulling themselves level. One minute after Hunt's goal, striker Karl-Heinz Thielen cut Liverpool's lead in half, then, three minutes into the second half, his fellow striker Hannes Löhr netted the equalizer. That would be the last goal of the match, as the teams finished 2-2. To break the deadlock, the rules at the time called for a coin toss, which Liverpool won. Their reward was a semifinal meeting with Cup holders Inter, who eliminated the English side by an aggregate score of 3-4 on their way to their second consecutive European Cup trophy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

23 March 2008 - The Football Equivalent Of The Planets Aligning

On 23 March 2008, each of the English Premier League's "Big 4" clubs - Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester United - played another in two matches. The day was billed by the media as "Super Sunday" for its implications on the race for the league title (and is not to be confused with the Sky Sports program). It was only the fourth time that each Big 4 team played another on a Sunday since the introduction of the Premier League in 1992-93.

While those four teams are known as the Big 4 due to their usual occupation of the league's top four spots, that domination is relatively recent. They first filled the top four positions at the end of the 1997-98 season, but did not repeat the feat until the 2003-04 season. After skipping the 2004-05 season, however, they have finished as the top four ever since.

23 March was the fourth Sunday on which the League had aligned the teams to play each other and the second such time that season. They had earlier met up on 16 December 2007, with Manchester United winning 0-1 and Liverpool and Arsenal winning at home against Chelsea, 1-0. In the next Super Sunday round, United again topped Liverpool, but by a larger margin, winning 3-0 at Old Trafford. Chelsea, meanwhile, repaid Arsenal for the previous result, this time beating the Gunners 2-0 at Stamford Bridge.

The six points earned by United on the Super Sundays proved decisive, as they held on to repeat as League champions, beating second-place finishers Chelsea by two points. Arsenal finished two points behind Chelsea in third, while Liverpool came in a distant fourth.

While the matchups were generally well-received, not everyone was happy with the schedule. Before the matches on 23 March, England manager Fabio Capello complained that the matches were preventing several key players from participating in England's friendly against France the following Wednesday. The FA assured Capello they they would not schedule another Super Sunday before a competitive international and, to date, there have been no more Super Sundays.

Monday, March 22, 2010

22 March 1992 - When Politics Invade The Pitch

On 22 March 1992, the reigning European Cup holders and Yugoslavia First League champions Red Star Belgrade faced off against bitter derby rivals Partizan in a league match at Red Star's home ground, nicknamed the "Marakana" after the famous Brazilian stadium.

The rivalry between Red Star and Partizan is heated and often marked by violence. Before the match on 22 March, it appeared that the latest installment would be no exception, with several fights breaking out as the teams' supporters made their way into the stadium. Once the match started, the masses of rival supporters' group taunted each other with name calling and threats of continued violence after the match.

Shortly into the match, however, the crowd quieted as a group of about 20 Serbian Tigers - paramilitary soldiers - in full unform, stood in the North Stand and raised a road sign reading "20 miles to Vukovar" - Vukovar being a Croatian town in the path of the Serbian army. As the match progressed, the soldiers raised additional signs - "10 miles to Vukovar," then "Welcome to Vukovar." After Vukovar, signs with other names were raised as more Croatian cities and towns fell to the Serbs.

The crowd, united in nationalistic fervor, roared with approval as each sign was raised, building to a dramatic crescendo when Tiger leader Željko Ražnatović (pictured), better known as "Arkan," rose to accept the crowd's applause. The match ended as a scoreless draw, but few of the supporters seemed to care. The match remains a sobering reminder that the generally postive connection between nationalism and football also has a darker side.

Red Star went on to win the league that year - their 19th title - in what was to be the last season of the Yugoslavian First League. With the collapse of Yugoslavia, Red Star and Partizan both play in the Serbian Superliga. Partizan are the current title holders, having won the league the past two seasons.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

21 March 1980 - So, "Little Ronaldinho" Would Be "Ronaldinhodinho"

On 21 March 1980, two-time FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldo de Assis Moreira was born in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Better known as Ronaldinho Gaucho--or more simply, Ronaldinho (for "little Ronaldo")--he would go on to win league titles and the UEFA Champions League with Barcelona as well as a World Cup with Brazil.

Ronaldinho started his professional career with his hometown club, Grêmio, joining his older brother, Roberto, there in 1998. An attacking midfielder, Ronaldinho scored 21 league goals for Grêmio between 1998 and 2001 before moving to Paris-St. Germain in a transfer deal worth €5.1 million. He stayed with PSG for two relatively successful seasons, but his time there was marked by a rift with managerLuis Fernández, who criticized him of focusing more on his social life than his football.

During his time in Paris, Ronaldinho was part of the Brazil squad that won the 2002 World Cup - his first time on football's biggest stage. He provided the match-winner in Brazil's 2-1 win over England in the quarterfinals. He was sent off eight minutes later and missed the semifinal, but returned to start for Brazil in their 2-0 win over Germany in the Final.

In the summer of 2003, he transferred to Barcelona for €32,250,000. He would have his greatest success to date with the Catalan club, winning the 2004-05 and 2005-06 La Liga titles as well as the 2006 UEFA Champions League Final. He collected a number of individual accolades during that period, including the 2004 and 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year Awards.

He left Barcelona in July 2008 for AC Milan, where he currently plays. Although he wore the number 10 for Barcelona, that number was already taken at Milan, so he now wears the number 80 to represent the year he was born.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

20 March 1994 - It's Also An Anagram For "A Gal Cup Rev"

On 20 March 1994, Norway and the United States, who had met in the 1991 Women's World Cup Final, met again in the Final of the first Algarve Cup. This time, Norway--who had lost that World Cup to the US--took their revenge with a 1-0 win.

The Algarve Cup, played in Algarve, Portugal, is an international invitational women's tournament played every year, joining the World Cup and the Olympics as the top three international women's competitions. Six teams participated in the first Cup: the two finalists, plus Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and hosts Portugal.

The teams were separated into two groups of three and played a round robin. The group winners advanced directly to the final, while the runners-up played each other for third place and the two bottom teams met in the fifth-place match. Both Norway and the United States topped their groups with two wins each. Norway rolled through their group with stunning ease, beating Finland 6-0 and Denmark 6-0, while the US dispatched Portugal 5-0, then narrowly beat Sweden 1-0.

Like the previous World Cup Final, which the US won 2-1, the first Algarve Cup Final was a closely-contested match. The two sides battled to a scoreless stalemate through the first half and most of the second before Norway's Ann Kristin ("Anka") Aarønes (pictured) scored the late match-winner, beating US keeper Brianna Scurry in the 84th minute.

The teams have met several more times in the Cup, including a dramatic third-place match in the 1995 Algarve Cup, with Norway winning on penalty kicks.

Friday, March 19, 2010

19 March 2009 - The Sound Of Success

On 19 March 2009, the Seattle Sounders officially returned to the American top flight after an absence of over 25 years. Sort of.

The original Sounders played in the North American Soccer League from 1974 to 1983. A quality side, with a roster that included England World Cup heroes Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst, they made it to two Soccer Bowls (1977 and 1982, losing to the New York Cosmos both times), before folding in 1983.

The name was resurrected in 1994 by a new Seattle club playing in the American Professional Soccer League. While the APSL operated as the top American league between 1990 and 1996, FIFA never officially recognized it as the American top flight, and, with the advent of MLS in 1996, the APSL was a lower-division league, eventually absorbed into the USL. The APSL/USL Sounders were even more successful than the NASL side, winning four league championships (1995, 1996, 2005, 2007).

In November 2007, MLS announced that Seattle would be the league's newest club, starting play in 2009. The owners opened an online poll for fans to select the name for the new team and the supporters overwhelmingly chose "Sounders" as a write-in option.

Their first match on 19 March 2009 continued the tradition of success associated with the Sounders name with a 3-0 win over the Red Bulls in front of a sold-out crowd at Seattle's Qwest Field. Two of the goals were provided by the team's young Colombian forward, Fredy Montero, who also provided an assist for the third goal - a performance that earned him MLS Player of the Week honors.

The team went on to outperform all expectations, claiming silverware in their first season by winning the 2009 US Open Cup.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

18 March 1998 - Bayer Gets A Real Headache

On 18 March 1998, Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen played the second leg of their Champions League Quarterfinal match-up. Although the Germans had managed a 1-1 draw in the first leg, played in Germany on 4 March, the Spanish giants proved too strong at home, sweeping Bayer aside 3-0 on their way to the club's seventh European Cup/Champions League title.

Real dominated the match from the start, but were kept out of the goal in the first half by Bayer keeper Dirk Heinen (pictured). He made a handful of brilliant saves to keep the match scoreless, including one from a long-range shot taken from just inside the midfield stripe with Heinen just managing to tip the ball over the bar.

Early in the second half Real's pressure paid off with two goals in rapid succession, both coming from set pieces (50', Karembeu and 57', Morientes). With advancement secure, Real capped their victory with a 90th-minute penalty kick to end the match 3-0 for the home side. The scoreline was an accurate reflection of Real's dominance - only Heinen's outstanding play prevented the margin from being substantially larger.

Real went on to claim the trophy with a 1-0 win over Juventus in the Final. Real and Bayer met again in the 2002 Final, played in Glasgow's Hampden Park, with Real once more finishing on top, 2-1.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

17 March 1954 - Spain Gets Tossed Out Of The World Cup

On 17 March 1954, Spain and Turkey met in Rome for a World Cup qualifying play-off, having split their two previous matches with one win apiece. With a World Cup trip at stake, the teams battled to a 2-2 draw through extra time, so the winner was decided by a coin toss.

There were 13 qualifying groups for the 1954 World Cup, with four of them -- including Spain's and Turkey's Group 6 -- having only two teams. In those groups, the teams played each other twice, once home and once away, earning two points for a win and one point for a draw. The group winners qualified for the Cup, while the runners-up went home.

The two sides first met in Madrid on 6 January 1954, with the hosts cruising to an easy 4-1 victory. In the second match, played in Istanbul on 14 March, the Turkish defense performed better, holding the Spanish scoreless in Turkey's 1-0 win. Unfortunately for Spain, the rules at the time did not consider goal differential, so a replay was required to decide the outcome.

FIFA scheduled the replay for 17 March, choosing Rome as a neutral ground. Spain took the lead with an 18th-minute goal from forward José Luis Arteche, but Turkey got a 32nd-minute equalizer from forward Burhan Sargin (pictured), who had scored the crucial goal in Istanbul. Sargin's fellow forward Suat Mamat then scored in the 65th minute to give the Turks a late lead. There was still time for Spain to rally, however, and forward Adrián Escudero brought his side level in the 79th minute. They played to a stalemate for the rest of regulation, then through extra time.

With no penalty-kick provision in place at the time, the winner was decided by chance. Some reports say that the winner was chosen by drawing lots, but FIFA says "their fate was decided by the toss of a coin, with the Turks calling correctly." In any event, the result was the same: the Spanish, despite outscoring their opponents 6-4 over the course of three matches, were sent home and Turkey advanced to the World Cup, where they were eliminated in the group stage.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

16 March 1909 - Amateur Players, Professional Butt-Kickers

On 16 March 1909, England's amateur side played a friendly against Germany in Oxford, delivering a 9-0 beating that remains Germany's worst-ever defeat. While few details of the match remain, it was the second straight win over Germany for the English amateurs, who had beaten the Germans 1-5 in Berlin the previous year.

Due to the growth of the English league in the early 1900s, the England amateur side was established in 1906 in order to provide a team for players who were good, but not good enough to crack the senior side. The wins over Germany were no flukes, however. Those two matches were part of a greater run for England's amateurs, who were on a ten-game winning streak prior to the match in Oxford. After that win, they rattled off seven more for a total of 17 straight wins before drawing 2-2 with Belgium in Brussels later that month. They won two more matches for a total unbeaten run of 20 before finally losing 2-1 to Denmark in May 1910.

In 1974, the amateur side was disbanded as the FA stopped distinguishing between amateur and professional players. By that time, the amateurs had inflicted record defeats on the Netherlands (12-2 in 1907), Sweden (12-1 in 1908), Belgium (11-2 in 1909), and Hungary (7-0 in 1912, tied with two other matches).

Monday, March 15, 2010

15 March 1892 - Their Mascot Should Have Been A Phoenix

On 15 March 1892, former Everton FC chairman John Houlding, who had left the Toffees over issues related to his ownership of their Anfield Road ground, founded a new club to use the ground. Originally named Everton Athletic, the club soon took a new name - Liverpool FC.

A brewer by trade, Houlton negotiated the lease of the Anfield Road ground for Everton in 1884, after they had been asked to leave their previous ground by the ground's owner, who was unhappy with the crowd noise on matchdays. A year later, Houlton bought Anfield outright, placing the club in the awkward position of having to pay rent to their president.

Nevertheless, the move was successful for Everton, who became one of the Football League's founding clubs in 1888 and won their first League title in 1891. But tensions between the club and Houlding continued, due largely to Houlding's decision to raise the rent on Anfield by 150% in 1890. The club grew increasingly convinced that Houlding was placing his personal financial interest over the interests of the club and, on 18 April 1892, Everton played their last match at Anfield.

By that point, Anfield was an international-class ground, accommodating over 20,000 people. In order to create some leverage against Everton, as well as provide an additional tenant for his ground, Houlding, on 15 March 1892, created Everton Athletic. His original intention was to replace the existing Everton with his newly-created Everton Athletic, taking over his old club's fixtures and League position, but the Football League rejected his attempt and forced him to rename the club. He eventually settled on Liverpool FC.

Since then, Liverpool has become one of the most successful clubs in English football, winning a record 18 League titles (a record shared with Manchester United). They have also won the European Cup/Champions League title five times, the most of any English club.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

14 March 2004 - Livingston Lives The High Life

On 14 March 2004, Livingston FC tallied their third win of the season over Hibernian. Unlike the previous two, which were Scottish Premier League fixtures, this one came in a cup competition - the Scottish League Cup Final -- and gave Livingston their first major trophy.

It was an anticlimactic result for Hibernian, who had cleared the way to the trophy by beating perennial favorites Celtic (2-1 in the quarterfinals) and Rangers (4-3 on penalties in the semifinals, after drawing 1-1 through the end of extra time), who, between them, had won the previous seven Scottish Cups.

For their part, Livingston took a long and improbable road to the Final, playing all of their matches away from home. They entered the competition in the Second Round, where they easily handled Queen's Park FC (1-3), then advanced over Dundee United (0-1) thanks to a 19th-minute own goal from the hosts. In the quarterfinals, they required extra time to beat Aberdeen at Pittodrie, 2-3, before eliminating Dundee FC (0-1) in the semifinals with a 90th-minute penalty kick.

The Final was played at Glasgow's Hampden Park before a crowd of 45,500. Although Hibs created a number of chances by lobbing balls over the Livingston defense, they were repeatedly denied by keeper Roddy McKenzie and once by center back Marvin Andrews, who cleared a Garry O'Connor strike off the line. In the second half, Livingston took the lead with a 50th-minute goal from forward Derek Lilly, who struck from 12 yards out. With Hibs reeling, Livingston left back Jamie McAllister delivered the death blow two minutes later, curling his shot past Hibs keeper Daniel Andersson.

The trophy was Livingston's first piece of major silverware, and only their second ever trophy (the other being the 1974 Scottish Qualifying Cup when the club were known as Ferranti Thistle). Adding to the shock of their win was the fact that they accomplished it after having been placed in financial administration the previous month. Unfortunately, the win did not herald better times for the club, who were relegated in 2006. In the Summer of 2009, the club once again went into administration and were relegated to the Scottish fourth tier for the 2009-10 season.

Hibs and Livingston played two more times in the league that season, with Hibs winning at Livingston on 3 April, then Livingston winning 4-1 at Easter Road on the last day of the season.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

13 March 1955 - Four Teams, Three Medals (Sorry, Venezuela)

On 13 March 1955, the opening matches of the Pan American Games' football tournament were played in Mexico City. Although 22 nations participated in the Games, only four sent teams for football: Venezuela, the Netherlands Antilles, hosts Mexico, and defending champions Argentina.

The tournament used a table format, with two points for a win and one for a draw. Each team played the other three two times, for a total of six matches each, with the top team at the finish taking the gold medal.

The two opening-day matches were both close, as Mexico played Venezuela to a 1-1 draw, while Argentina beat the Netherlands Antilles 2-1. In the latter match, the Netherlands Antilles took a shock lead in the 9th minute, but the defending champions scored two goals in under three minutes (20', 22') to take the lead and the win. The Netherlands Antilles were hampered by the loss of a player to injury in the 70th minute and finished the match with 10 men.

Argentina repeated as champions with 5 wins and a draw, while Mexico took the silver and the Netherlands Antilles went home with the bronze. Venezuela finished out of medal position at the bottom of the table with only one win to go with two draws and three losses.

The US, which chose not to send a football team to Mexico despite participating in the rest of the Games, nevertheless had an impact on the pitch, as the referees for both opening matches were Americans.

Friday, March 12, 2010

12 March 2009 - The Ukraine Is Not Weak!

On 12 March 2009, Dynamo Kyiv and Metalist Kharkiv became the first Ukranian sides to meet in a UEFA competition. Their historic meeting came in the Round of 16 of that season's UEFA Cup.

One of the most successful clubs in Ukraine, Kyiv entered the competition with an established European pedigree, having previously participated in numerous Champions League/European Cup and UEFA Cup matches, as well as winning the 1975 and 1986 UEFA Cup Winners' Cups and the 1975 UEFA Super Cup. They had qualified for the 2008-09 Champions League, but their third-place finish in that competition's group stage sent them into the UEFA Cup Round of 32. There, they advanced over Valencia on away goals to set up the meeting with Metalist in the Round of 16.

Metalist, on the other hand, was a relative novice. The 2008-09 UEFA Cup was only their second time in European competition, with the first being the previous season's UEFA Cup (where they were eliminated in the first round by Everton). They got off to a much stronger start in 2009-10, opening their campaign with a 4-2 aggregate win over Besitkas to advance to the group stage. There, they finished at the top of their group, over more experienced European sides Galatasaray, Olympiacos, Hertha Berlin, and Benfica, then rolled over Sampdoria 3-0 in the Round of 32.

The Round of 16 match-up was held in Kiev, where the home side staked their claim with a 1-0 win thanks to a 54th-minute header from midfielder Ognjen Vukojevic (pictured). Metalist battled back to win the second leg 3-2, but Kyiv again advanced thanks to their two away goals.

Kyiv advanced all the way to the semifinals where they ran into yet another Ukrainian side, Shakhtar Donetsk who beat Kyiv 3-2 on aggregate and went on to win the title with a 2-1 win over Werder Bremen.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

11 March 1951 - Home Cooking With Curry

On 11 March 1951, hosts India won the gold medal in football at the first Asian Games in New Delhi, beating Iran 1-0 in the Final. It was the national team's first piece of major silverware and part of an overall strong performance at the Games by India, who finished with 51 medals, including 15 golds.

In total, eleven countries participated in the Games, but only six took part in the football tournament. One of those was Japan, who had been barred from the 1948 Summer Olympics due to being under Allied occupation at the time. (Japan made the most of the opportunity by collecting a total of 60 total medals, 24 of which were golds, the most of any country in either category. India were second in both.)

India cruised through their first two matches with ease, beating Indonesia then Afghanistan by the same score: 3-0. Iran similarly started well with a 2-0 victory over Burma in the quarterfinals, but fought two closely-contested matches against Japan in the semifinals, first drawing 0-0, then edging Japan 3-2 in the replay. Japan still medalled, beating Afghanistan 2-0 in the third-place game, while India took the gold with their victory over Iran.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

10 March 1981 - The Pride Of The Indomitable Lions

On 10 March 1981, Barcelona star and Cameroon international Samuel Eto'o was born in Nkon, Cameroon. He currently holds the record for most appearances in La Liga by an African player.

Although most closely associated with Barcelona, Eto'o got his professional start for Barça's fierce rivals Real Madrid, signing for them in 1997. But he failed to make an impact in the Spanish capital and spent most of his time on loan with Leganés, Espanyol, and Mallorca between 1997 and 2000. In 2000, he signed a permanent deal with Mallorca and spent an additional four successful seasons there, along the way winning the 2003 Copa del Rey. He did so well at Mallorca that Real wanted to re-sign him in 2004, but he left instead for Barcelona.

His time at Barcelona was very successful, with three league titles (2005, 2006, 2009) and two Champions League trophies (2006, 2009). On 4 May 2008, he made his 242nd La Liga appearance, breaking the record for most league appearances by an African player. By the time he left Barcelona in the summer of 2009, he had raised that number to 3o9.

Eto'o has also been successful for Cameroon, helping them win the 2000 and 2002 African Cup of Nations, as well as the 2008 Olympic gold medal. He is the all-time top scorer for the Indomitable Lions, notching 44 goals in 94 appearances.

He currently plays for Inter, having moved to the Milanese club in 2009 as part of a deal that sent Inter's Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovich to Barcelona.

[2012 Update: Eto'o left Inter in 2011 for Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala, who gave him a salary of approximately €20M per season, making him the world's highest-paid footballer.]

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

9 March 1908 - Enter Inter

On 9 March 1908, a group of players from the Milan Cricket and Football Club (now known as AC Milan), unhappy with the club's restrictions on foreign players, formed their own club which they named Football Club Internazionale Milano. Inter has since become one of Italy's most decorated clubs, with 26 national trophies, including 18 Serie A titles.

Known as the Nerazzurri for their black and blue striped home shirts, Inter won their first Scudetto in 1910, followed by a second in 1920. By 1922, Inter's fortunes had turned and they finished last in Serie A with a meager 11 points on the season. They avoided relegation, however, by winning a playoff against the next-to-last team, thus preserving their current status as the only team in Italy to remain in Serie A for their entire existence.

Mussolini's Fascist government disapproved of Inter's policy of recruiting foreign players and, in 1928, forced the club to play under the name "Ambrosiana." Nevertheless, Inter did well during the Fascist years, winning their first Coppa Italia (1939) and a fifth league title (1940).

Inter's greatest period came in the 1960s under manager Helenio Herrera. Nicknamed "La Grande Inter" for their successes, the club won three league titles (1963, 1965, 1966) and two European Cups (1964, 1965). They made it back to the European Cup Final in 1967, where they famously lost to Celtic's "Lisbon Lions."

After going through the entire 1990s without winning the league, Inter has since recovered their domestic form, winning five consecutive Scudettos from 2006 to 2010 (though the first, in 2005-06, was awarded to Inter after initial title-winner Juventus was found guilty of match-fixing). They also won the 2010 Champions League.

[Updated on 9 March 2012]

Monday, March 8, 2010

8 March 2009 - Ronaldo Returns To Form

On 8 March 2009, Brazilian three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldo scored an injury-time equalizer for Corinthians in their match against Palmeiras. It was his first goal after recovering from a potentially career-ending knee injury suffered over a year earlier while playing for AC Milan.

The striker had a history of knee problems, with two separate injuries to his right knee while playing for Inter (1997-2002). He battled back both times and recovered in time to help Brazil win the 2002 World Cup and claim his third FIFA World Player of the Year award. In January 2007, he joined Milan after five seasons with Real Madrid. On 13 February 2008, he injured his left knee while leaping for a cross in a 1-1 draw with Livorno. The injury ended his season and there was speculation that it would end his career as well.

Ronaldo, however, was determined to return. He returned to Brazil and started training with Flamengo to rehabilitate his knee. The Rio club indicated their willingness to sign him once he was able to play, but, in December 2009, he controversially signed instead with their league rivals Corinthians.

On 4 March 2009, he made his first appearance for Corinthians, coming on as a substitute in Copa do Brasil match against Itumbiara. In the match against Palmeiras on 8 March, he again entered as a substitute, coming on in the 63rd minute with his side down 1-0. He quickly made his presence felt, sending a booming strike off the crossbar in the 78th minute, before heading in the equalizing goal in the 93rd minute. He ran behind the goal to celebrate with the Corinthians supporters, causing a mild pitch invasion.

Ronaldo finished the season with 10 goals in 14 matches and recently signed an extension to remain at Corinthians through 2011.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

7 March 1965 - The Closing Bookend On A Very Long Shelf

On 7 March 1965, Atlético Madrid walked off the pitch with a rare 0-1 victory over Real Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Before that match, Atlético's Madrid rivals had rattled off a record-shattering string of 121 unbeaten league matches at home - a streak that stretched back over eight years to the 1956-57 season. Coincidentally, Real's run started after a 0-2 home loss to Atlético on 3 February 1957, making Atlético the bookend for both ends of the streak.

The first match of the 121 was a 1-0 victory over Deportivo on 17 February 1957, followed by wins over Barcelona (1-0), Valencia (2-0), and Celta (4-1) to close with season with Real at the top of the table for their fifth league title. They went unbeaten at home for the next seven full seasons, again winning the league in five of them, with their biggest margins of victory coming against Las Palmas (10-1 on 4 January 1959) and Elche (11-2 on 7 February 1960).

Real's dominance was so complete that, of the 121 unbeaten matches, all but nine were wins, with those nine draws coming against eight different teams. Sevilla was the only one to avoid defeat twice, with a 1-1 draws on 2 October 1960 and 12 April 1964.

Atlético's win was not enough to keep Real from winning the title for a fifth consecutive time - their 11th league title overall - but they did not finish the season empty-handed, either, beating Real Zaragoza 1-0 to claim the 1965 Copa del Rey.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

6 March 1902 - Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing

On 6 March 1902, Real Madrid was founded as Sociedad Madrid FC. It has grown to become one of the world's most successful clubs, with a trophy case that includes thirty-one league titles and nine European Cups, both of which are record numbers.

Though the current version of the club dates to 1902, Real traces its origin back to 1897, when students and faculty of Madrid's Institución Libre de Enseñanza founded Football Club Sky. In 1900, FC Sky split, with one half forming Club Español de Madrid, which itself split two years later when club president Julian Palácios left to create Sociedad Madrid FC. Madrid won its first silverware three years later, defeating Athletic Bilbao in the 1905 Spanish Cup Final.

In 1929, King Alfonso XIII conferred royal favor on the club, changing its name to Real Madrid. They also altered their crest to place the royal crown over their interlocking "MCF." Royal patronage identified Real as the "establishment" club in subsequent years, which in part fueled the rivalry with Barcelona, identified as leftist. The distinctions were especially pronounced during the regime of Francisco Franco, who supported Real while persecuting Barça and its Catalan supporters.

Real is Spain's most successful team, with 58 domestic trophies. Although they have won titles in every decade but one since their founding (they missed out in the 1940s, which, incidentally, was when Barcelona rose to prominence), their most successful period was during the 1960s, when they won the league in eight seasons out of ten. They have had tremendous international success as well, winning nine European Cup/UEFA Champions League titles, including five straight from 1956 to 1960. Their most recent piece of silverware was the 2007-08 La Liga title.

Friday, March 5, 2010

5 March 2004 - Yes, It's Redundant To Say "The" La Manga Cup

On 5 March 2004, the MetroStars became the first MLS side to win silverware outside the US, defeating Norwegian club Viking 1-0 in the Manga Cup Final.

Held at La Manga Club resort in Murcia, Spain, the Manga Cup started in 1999 as a winter tournament for clubs in summer leagues, primarily from the Scandanavian countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland. Teams from Austria, Russia, and the Ukraine were included in subsequent years. US clubs first participated in 2003, when the San Jose Earthquakes and the Los Angeles Galaxy took part, with the Galaxy earning third-place honors. The Earthquakes returned for the 2004 tournament, along with the Dallas Burn and the MetroStars.

The MetroStars started their tournament run with a 1-0 loss to Viking, but beat remaining group member FK Bødo/Glimt to advance to the semifinals. There, they defeated Dynamo Kyiv 3-2, while Viking ensured a rematch in the Final by beating San Jose on penalties, 1-1 (5-3).

In the Final, the MetroStars took the lead in the 27th minute with a goal from rookie defender Jeff Parke (shown above right, in a match against FC Dallas). The US side had earned a corner kick that was delivered by midfielder Amado Guevara and Parke rose at the far post to head it home past Viking keeper Frode Olsen. The MetroStars continued to apply pressure to the Norwegian side, narrowly missing with a strike in the 33rd minute, and held the Viking attack in check to claim the win.

In recent years, the Manga Cup has helped propel clubs onto greater glory. Rubin Kazan won the Cup in 2005 and 2006 before claiming their first Russian Premier League titles in 2008 and 2009, while 2007 Cup-winners Shaktar Donetsk went on to win their first UEFA Cup trophy in 2009.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

4 March 1982 - The United States' Sunshine Superman

On 4 March 1982, United States captain and record goalscorer Landon Donovan was born in Ontario, California. In addition to being the national team's all-time scoring leader, he also leads the team in assists and has made the most international appearances of any active US player.

In 1997, at the age of 15, the striker/midfielder joined the United States Youth Development Program, subsequently moving to the IMG Soccer Academy in 1999. Later that year, he signed a youth contract with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. He eventually signed a senior contract with the German club lasting from 2001 to 2005, but never settled in, leading to criticism that Donovan was too soft for European competition. He spent the majority of his contract years on loan in the US, first to the San Jose Earthquakes (2001-04), then to the Los Angeles Galaxy (2005-current).

After starring for the US national team youth sides, Donovan debuted for the senior side on 25 October 2000 in a friendly against Mexico, scoring the opening goal in the 2-0 win. He displayed impressive form in the Americans' run to the quarterfinals in the 2002 World Cup, being named the tournament's best young player.

Donovan has enjoyed record-setting success with the national team. On 11 April 2006, Donovan notched his 23rd assist in a 1-1 friendly with Jamaica, moving him past Cobi Jones as the US assist leader. And on 19 January 2008, he scored with a penalty kick against Sweden to pass Eric Wynalda as the national team's highest goalscorer on his way to his current tally of 42 goals in 120 appearances, the most caps of any active US international.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

3 March 1953 - A Whiter Shade of Pelé

On 3 March 1950, Brazilian playmaker and 1983 Player of the Year Arthur Antunes Coimbra, better known as "Zico," was born Rio de Janeiro. A supremely talented dribbler and finisher, the midfielder has also been nicknamed "the White Pelé," with Pelé himself saying "throughout the years, the one player that came closest to me was Zico."

He started his playing career with the youth academy of his hometown club, Flamengo, eventually signing for them professionally in 1971. He spent the majority of his career with the club, making a total of 504 appearances in all competitions, including friendlies, between 1971 and 1983. It was a tremendously successful period for the club, who won multiple trophies, including six Rio State titles and three Brazilian Championships. Their most successful year was 1981, which saw Flamengo win both the Copa Liberatadores and the Intercontinental Cup. For his role, Zico earned numerous individual accolades, including being named man of the match in the Intercontinental Cup Final for creating all three goals in Flamengo's 3-0 win over Liverpool in Tokyo's National Stadium .

In 1983, after leading Flamengo to a third Brazilian championship, Zico moved to Italy to play for Udinese. Although he got off to a promising start, notching 24 goals in his first season and being named World Soccer Magazine's 1983 Player of the Year, his scoring touch dropped off in his second season and he returned to Flamengo having failed to win any silverware with the Italian club. He made another 74 appearances for Flamengo between 1985 and 1989, bringing his career total to 731, the most of any Flamengo player. He also led them to yet another Brazilian title in 1987.

Although Zico had a distinguished international career with Brazil, earning 72 caps, he never appeared in a World Cup Final. Brazil's best finish during that time was third in the 1978 tournament.

Zico retired from playing in 1994 after time in Japan with Sumitomo Metals (1991-92) and Kashima Antlers (1992-94). He turned to management in 1999 with Kashima, but has not enjoyed the same success he had as a player. Most recently, he managed Greek club Olympiacos, signing with them 2009, but was sacked after four months.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

2 March 1991 - Giggs' Proverbial First Step In His Record-Long Journey

On 2 March 1991, 17-year old midfielder Ryan Giggs made his first appearance for Manchester United in a 2-0 home league loss to Everton. Although he played in only one other match that season, the young Welsh left winger would later become United's appearances leader on his way to becoming the most decorated player in English football history.

Born in Cardiff, Wales, Giggs moved with his family to Salford, Greater Manchester, in 1980. He started his career as a youth player with Manchester City in 1985 before moving to United's youth program in 1987. He turned professional on his 17th birthday, 29 November 1990. For his first appearance against Everton, Giggs came on as a substitute, replacing fullback Denis Irwin. His other appearance that season was a 1-0 over Manchester City on 4 May, in which Giggs started and scored the matchwinner - his first goal for United.

He became a regular starter in the 1991-92 season, helping lead the club to a second-place League finish and the League Cup title, his first piece of silverware. Since then, he has added 11 League titles, four FA Cup trophies, two more League Cup trophies, seven Community Shields, and two UEFA Champions League trophies to his silverware cabinet, as well as one Super Cup title, one Intercontinental Cup trophy, and one Club World Cup trophy.

In 2008, Giggs memorably broke Bobby Charlton's previous record of 758 Manchester United appearances by coming on as an 87th-minute substitute in the Champions League Final against Chelsea and scoring the winning goal in the penalty shootout. Giggs is still playing for United and has made more than 820 total appearances.

Monday, March 1, 2010

1 March 1980 - Look Away, Dixie

On 1 March 1980, Everton's greatest goalscorer Dixie Dean died of a heart attack at Goodison Park while watching his former club battle to a 2-2 draw with Merseyside rivals Liverpool. He was described by Bill Shankly as "the greatest center forward there will ever be."

Born William Dean in Birkenhead, across the Mersey River from Liverpool, in 1907, Dixie got his professional start in 1923 with Birkenhead club Tranmere Rovers, then in the Third Division. He stayed with Tranmere less than two seasons before moving to the First Division with Everton in 1924. Dominating in the air, he was an instant success for the Toffees, scoring 33 goals in his first full season.

Dean, however, was just warming up. Sidelined briefly in the 1926-27 season due to a skull fracture caused by a motorcycle accident, he still managed to find the back of the net 36 times, including twelve in five appearances for the English national team. In 1927-28, he scored an English record 60 league goals for Everton, including a hat-trick in the final match of the season to push him past the previous record of 59, set by Middlesbrough's George Camsell the previous season. He stayed with Everton until 1937, by which time he had scored a total of 383 goals for Everton in all competitions and helped them to two League titles (1928, 1932) and one FA Cup (1933).

After leaving Everton, Dean played briefly for Notts County (1938-39) and Sligo Rovers (1939). Although injuries had taken their toll on his form, he still managed to net 10 times for Sligo in seven appearances, including five in one match.

In 2001, Everton erected a statue of Dean outside the stadium. His number 9 shirt is regarded with honor by the club, having been worn subsequently by Toffee greats Tommy Lawson and Dave Hickson. It is currently worn by Landon Donovan, on loan from the LA Galaxy.