Missing Medals: Just Fontaine in the 1958 World Cup

A World Cup has never seen the same explosive firepower from one man since Just Fontaine went to Sweden in 1958. The France striker had one of the greatest tournaments any individual has ever had at the international tournament. Fontaine rattled the net a record 13 times in the only six games he ever played at a World Cup, but ultimately this wasn’t enough to bring the Jules Rimet trophy back to Paris, as Fontaine and his side were knocked out at the semifinal stage by eventual winners Brazil. This meant that one of the greatest ever World Cup performances, Just Fontaine in 1958, went without the medal he perhaps deserved.

As odd as it may seem looking back at history, this performance may not have ever happened, as Fontaine made only five international appearances before the tournament in Sweden and scored only one goal for his national team in four years prior to it. One may think that scoring a hat trick on your international debut would put you in the spotlight, but Fontaine achieved this in a dead rubber 1954 World Cup qualifier against the lowly Luxembourg, where France ran out 8-0 winners.

Nonetheless, Fontaine was in spectacular form for his club. 39 goals for Stade de Reims helped the French club win a league and cup double. In Sweden, he formed a great partnership with Raymond Kopa, one of the best creative midfielders of the time and was an integral part of three of Real Madrid’s five consecutive European Cup victories.

France’s campaign got off to a shaky start. Paraguay took a 3-2 lead against them early in the second half of their Group 2 opener, but France recovered well and made a statement to the rest of their competitors by storming to a 7-3 victory with Fontaine scoring three. The French were then narrowly defeated by Yugoslavia in their next match, but Fontaine still put himself on the scoresheet twice, including an 85th minute equaliser to make it 2-2 before France were sucker-punched with a winning goal from Veselinovic three minutes later. Fontaine assured his team of progression to the knockout stages with his crucial headed goal against Scotland in a game that finished 2-1.

France played Northern Ireland in the quarter final, and they were probably the easiest opponents the French could have drawn, as the Irish had to win an extra group round play-off match with Czechoslovakia which went to extra time to qualify. Although they were exhausted from playing three games in five days, Northern Ireland did boast a talented squad that, under normal circumstances, may not have fallen to the 4-0 defeat to Fontaine’s side that they did. Nevertheless, Fontaine scored another two goals that took France to a semifinal date with Brazil, including one following a fabulous turn that Johan Cruyff would be proud of, leaving the defence for dead.

The Brazilians impressed massively in Sweden, with Didi, Vavá, Garrincha, and a 17-year-old Pelé in their ranks. Aside from their attacking threat, Brazil had a resilient defence which hadn’t been breached before their game with France. After making a brilliant run behind the defence that only the best finishers in the game could make, Fontaine collected a sublime through pass from Kopa, as though he knew the pass was coming before Kopa had even turned away from the first defender he fooled.

In the end, the Brazilian skill proved too much for Fontaine’s team, storming to a 5-2 victory, putting France into the third place playoff with West Germany. Four years earlier, Sandor Kocsis scored 11 goals in Hungary’s runner-up campaign, setting the record for most goals scored in a single World Cup. For Fontaine to achieve the record he needed to score three against the winners of the 1954 edition of the tournament. Fontaine did this and more, scoring four in a 6-3 win that guaranteed France their third place finish, and Just Fontaine’s place in history.

Since then, Gerd Muller came close in 1970 with only 10 goals, and Ronaldo scored 8 in Japan/Korea 2002, but it will take an incredible solo performance to better the record set by Just Fontaine.


From German clichés to world champions

Germany are the champions of the world after defeating Argentina 1-0 thanks to Mario Gotze’s sweet strike in extra time. The game was even throughout with two opposing styles of play clashing for football’s biggest prize making for a fascinating contest.

Argentina came at Germany with a forward line that managers can only dream of; Gonzalo Higuaín, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Leo Messi. They were fast, precise, and finding space. Germany on the other hand were resilient and builded their play in the middle of the park with everyone so comfortable on the ball.

Germany won it with almost every German cliché you can imagine – they were industrious, energetic, efficient, a real team. Anybody could have scored the goal for them; Muller, Klose, Ozil, even any of the defenders. Mario Gotze was the finisher of the only goal of the game so he grabs the headlines and the glory, but in truth it was the entire team that won it for them. Germany were spectacular in every department, setting an example of how all teams should play.

While Argentina weren’t exactly bad – Mascherano capped off an excellent tournament with a decent performance in the middle of the park in the final – they just had too few options for this Germany midfield and back line that were fully capable of limiting the best player in the world to minimal opportunities. Their high defensive line allowed space between the defenders and Neuer in goal for Messi to charge into at times, but they were compact between the middle line and the defence, leaving Argentina with difficulty getting the ball into the positions to create very many dangerous chances.

Even poor Christoph Kramer, whose dream came true being included in the starting XI only minutes before kick off before being taken away from him having to come off injured in the first half, had his important role to play, along with every other German player both on the night and through the tournament. Many of these players came to prominence at a very young age at the 2010 World Cup, and their growth together has been showcased beautifully with this World Cup victory.

To talk about the Germany team of 2014 is to talk about clichés, particularly for the way they ended their tournament (i.e. against Brazil and Argentina.) Industrious and efficient, built around a foundation of a great team balance, and in the end, more deserving winners out of anyone else who went to Brazil.


Missing Medals: The 1974 Netherlands Story

Were they footballers or were they artists? Were Cruyff, Rensenbrink, and Rep athletes competing in just another competition, or architects of physical poetry that the world had never before seen? Football was played differently before the Dutch approached the game in a new way. Rinus Michels disregarded all pre-established ways of playing the sport, and invented his own: Total football. This would become the driving force that made the Netherlands side of 1974 one of the best there ever was and one of the most remembered teams forty years later.

The Dutch manager for the World Cup, Rinus Michels, had managed Ajax for six years between the 60s and early 70s. Here, he developed his philosophy and with an incredibly talented and creative group of players that bought into Michels’ style of play completely. The team and manager worked extremely well together, culminating in a 1971 European Cup victory for Michels and Ajax, in what would be Michels’ last season in Amsterdam before the legendary coach would print his stamp on Barcelona. Ajax retained the beautiful approach to the game that Michels gave them and went on to win the next two European Cups as well as back-to-back league titles in ’72 and ’73.

Much of the ’74 Netherlands squad was also built up of Feyenoord players. The Rotterdam club had won the European Cup in 1970, right before Ajax’s three in a row, as well as a UEFA Cup in ‘74 and league successes in ’69, ’71, and ’74. When the national side travelled the short distance to West Germany to compete, they could not have been more confident. They knew they were the group of players who changed the way football was played, and picked up title after title in doing so.

Captain Cruyff was a ‘striker’, but by name only. It wasn’t only common to see him change and play other positions but the nature of the team’s style of play meant that he, along with the other ten outfield players, tactically moved around the pitch at all times and played in whatever position the situation at the time deemed them to play. Cruyff came back into midfield and ignited attacking moves for his team, occasionally he’d push out to the wing to skip past the fullback and whip a cross into the box to the onrushing ‘winger’ looking to poach the goal. Cruyff even often played in defence if that’s where the team movement brought him.

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UNSEEN: Zlatan Ibrahimovic Acts As Bellboy In 2002 TV Skit

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of the best strikers in the world, winning league title after league title for the past fifteen or so years all across Europe. Back in 2002, the 20-year-old wonderkid, then of Ajax, was also a regular for the Swedish national team, who starred in this amusing little skit at the Swedish Football Awards.

The video shows Ibra scoring a headed goal against Hungary, and getting knocked unconscious by the onrushing goalkeeper. Zlatan then wakes up from his dream in his ‘real-world’ life as a bellboy in a fancy hotel convinced he is a football star.

“Are you okay, Zlatan? You fell down the stairs,” the hotel manager asks him.

“I’m a professional footballer. I play for Ajax and the Swedish national team. Look, I’m number 9!” the striker responds, pointing to the team photo on the wall.

“Number 9 is Peppe Eng,” the manager tells him.

“What?!”


Steven Defour Really Hates Playing Standard Liege (Again)

This article was first published on 13th April 2015

Steven Defour was once the darling of Liege, their young talismanic captain who led them to glory – two league titles, one Belgian cup, and two Belgian supercups in a five year spell at the club. A stint at Porto followed this, prior to a move back home – but this time to Liege’s bitter rivals Anderlecht.

Naturally, Standard fans didn’t appreciate this turncoat move. Back in January, Defour went back to Liege for the first time in an Anderlecht jersey. The home fans welcomed him in fantastic fashion, erecting a gigantic tifo of Defour decapitated with a massive sword, with the words “Red or Dead” scribbled across it.

Defour was so rattled by the gesture that at one point during play, he received a pass only to run towards the Liege fans and shoot the ball at them, reacting ferociously to the abuse he was receiving. The Belgian international was sent off and Liege won the match 2-0.

The teams met again this week, and Liege rolled Anderlecht over, eventually storming out to a 3-1 win. Nearing full time, Defour tried to have the last laugh by making a show of his former team, attempting a roulette spin. The move did not work out, and instead Steven Defour came off having another horrible memory to live with against his former team.


REMEMBERED: The Forgotten Legend of Mané Garrincha

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The winner of two World Cups, Mané Garrincha was one of Brazil’s finest ever talents. Brazil never lost a match with him and Pelé on the pitch, such was the influence that he had, and he became known as The Joy of the People.

Garrincha was a trickster first and foremost; teasing defenders up and down the wings, inspiring fans to chant the bullfighting cry of ‘olé’ for the first time. The story of Garrincha is one of the most fascinating in world football, as the little speedster was born with a number of physical defects that would have in theory prevented him from excelling in football.

Manuel Francisco dos Santos, as he was born, had a right leg that bent outwards, and a left leg six centimetres shorter than the other. His spine was also slightly deformed, but nothing could stop Garrincha from dazzling crowds and bamboozling defenders.

He wasn’t given a starting berth in the first two games of the 1958 World Cup but was introduced to the world against the USSR, in Brazil’s third game. The USSR were favourites for the whole tournament, giving the Brazilians a lot of nerves. Brazil attacked from the very beginning of the match, with Garrincha twisting and turning Soviet defenders, before setting Pelé up to just about miss the target, hitting the crossbar.

With Pelé missing the next World Cup through injury, Garrincha stepped up to the plate and provided enough flair and penetration with dismantle any opponent that stood in their way. Brazil and Garrincha lifted the 1962 World Cup, after years of controversy and hardship for the troubled winger.

Garrincha suffered with alcoholism, as his father did. Mané also fathered at least 14 children, between two wives, a number of mistresses, and a Swedish girl while on tour there with the Brazilian national team. Garrincha died of cirrhosis of the liver at the age of only 49, and spent his last years in a poor physical and mental state.

Garrincha was something of a forgotten legend when he passed away, and the memory and joy he gave to the people is something that should be remembered forever. He had so many adversities and obstacles to overcome in his life, but still managed to win the World Cup on two magical occasions. In many ways, Mané Garrincha was truly the Joy of the People.


Football’s Finest Fairytales

This article was first published on 28th April 2015

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Ryan Fraser of Bournemouth after last night’s win over Bolton. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

AFC Bournemouth’s recent financial troubles have been well documented today and yesterday after they all but clinched promotion to the Premier League by beating Bolton Wanderers last night. They began the 2008/09 season on -17 points at the bottom of League Two. On the brink of going under, the Cherries instead regrouped and fought back in the face of adversity and have somehow now found themselves in the promised land.

Stories like Bournemouth’s are why everyone loves football, a true underdog victory. Whether they finish bottom of the table next season or manage to survive again, the fact will remain that they made it to the top tier of English football – for the first time in their history – and became the 47th team to play in the Premier League, something unimaginable when they were five minutes from liquidation in 2008.

Here, we take a look at some of the other best romance stories that football has gifted us.

Blackpool – Promoted to Premier League 2010

Blackpool, under the guidance of eccentric manager Ian Holloway, stunned the football world by their valiant performances in 2009/2010. They played nothing but attacking football, earning praise from across the league, and were promoted to the big time via the playoffs, beating Cardiff City in the final. They were widely tipped for relegation from the Championship the year they went up, but they made up for their shoestring budget by playing with as much heart and guile as they could muster. Their top flight stint was to prove ill-fated, as a collapse in form in the second half of the season saw them relegated on the final day.

In only 2000/01, Blackpool were playing in the fourth tier of the English football pyramid. They had something of a meteoric rise to the top, capturing the hearts and minds of fans up and down the country. These days however, Blackpool fans are constantly protesting about the failures of the Oystons, who have spearheaded the club’s demise down to the third tier once more.

Eibar – Promoted to La Liga 2014

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Eibar celebrate a win in their promotion campaign last season. Photo: Getty Images

Eibar are still in the middle of their fairytale, after winning promotion in the unlikeliest of circumstances last season. Everything was against them – even the league itself. From a town of less than 30,000 inhabitants, the tiny club bounced between the fourth and second tiers for most of its history. Two seasons ago they weren’t expected to make much of a splash in the third tier, but earned promotion. Last year they were widely expected to go straight back down, but ended up winning the league, and by the half way point of their only top flight campaign to date, they sat in 8th place.

Eibar had to struggle through much more than on-pitch adversaries to reach Spain’s top flight. For some bizarre reason, teams in the second tier in Spain had to have a certain amount of expenditure corresponding to the average of the league. Eibar’s financial policy has always been about not spending more than they have, therefore not getting into any debt. Eibar are one of very few Spanish teams with absolutely no debt for this reason. It was this financial policy that meant they didn’t spend much money, resulting in the league threatening to relegate them to the third tier after they won Segunda just last summer, prompting in fans and romantics across the world pitching in to buy shares in the club, helping them achieve their goal of playing in the top tier – something they had fairly earned by their on-pitch endeavours.

Montpellier – Ligue 1 winners 2012 

Since 2012, PSG have since grown and grown to the point of French and European powerhouses, given the backing they have from their new owners. The summer before the season, they splashed over €100 million on a new playing staff, not to mention bringing in veteran Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti, who was made the highest paid manager in French football history. Montpellier on the other hand, broke their highest transfer fee paid with the signature of Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud for a whopping £1.7 million.

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Montpellier celebrate winning the title in 2012. Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Giroud went on to score 21 goals for Montpellier that season, as they stormed to a hugely unlikely championship title by pipping PSG on the final day of the season. Their first ever title was seen by an average crowd of only 17,492, and led to their first ever campaign in the Champions League. The following season, the dream was over, as the capital club stormed to the title and finished 30 points ahead of Montpellier.

Atletico Madrid – La Liga winners 2014

For such a long time it seemed like the duopoly of Barcelona and Real Madrid may never be broken again in Spain, as the big two looked miles ahead of the chasing pack not only in terms of quality but finances as well, which should in theory maintain the quality gap. Atletico Madrid had finished 9th and 7th before Simeone took over mid way through the 2011/12 season, and once the Argentinian entered the fray, things changed.

Last season, Atleti displayed incredible consistency, beating teams week in week out with magnificent efficiency. Diego Costa took on more responsibility to find the goals once Falcao left, and ended up scoring for fun. Throughout the year, he was asked whether his team could win the title, and throughout the season he answered no, but they were taking things one week at a time. Simeone transformed a group of players – largely the same squad finishing 9th and 7th – and made them champions, finishing ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo’s Real Madrid and Leo Messi’s Barcelona. More than that, they almost capped things off with a Champions League title, but suffered unimaginable heartbreak at the hands of their city rivals in the final after leading until the 93rd minute.

Swansea City – League Two 2005 to Premier League 2011 

The Swans have already achieved the best ever Premier League points tally/finish, and are setting that club record higher with every result they get between now and the end of the season. One of their biggest achievements has to be the fact that they are now Premier League mainstays, rising from humble beginnings to one of the most established teams in the league.

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Swansea players celebrate winning promotion in 2011. Photo: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Eleven years ago, Swansea finished level on points with Boston United, now playing in the Conference North. They even finished below Oxford United in the 2003/04 League Two season. Excellent management of the club has allowed them to grow step by step, were promoted in 2004/05, 2007/08, and to the Premier League in 2010/11, and even featured in the Europa League last season after winning their first ever trophy in English football the season before.