Category Archives: Football’s greatest moments

Blitzkrieg Klopp

It was the stuff of dreams. For the neutral, it was utterly thrilling. For the Liverpool supporters, it was sheer ecstacy. Liverpool’s Europa Cup quarter final second-leg tie against Borussia Dortmund was one of those nights that had everything. It was like Istanbul of the Klopp era.

Initially 2-0 down after nine minutes, then it was 2-1. But when the great Marco Reus put Dortmund into a 3-1 lead on the night, which left Liverpool needing three goals to progress, there was a silence over Anfield, and the keyboard warriors of Twitter and Facebook descended into a verbal crusade against the Reds. It was a mountain to climb.

But somehow Klopp’s men pulled it back against his former side. A goal from Phillippe Coutinho on 66 minutes, followed by another from defender Mamadou Sakho twelve minutes later brought the two sides even on the night, before leaving it to the very last minute when defender Dejan Lovren won the game with towering header.

“We might have got a little bit lucky,” said Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp after the match. “But we never stopped trying”. And that, dear readers, is what makes football great. The Klopp effect is in full swing.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

The best XI of 2014/15 (excluding Messi & Ronaldo)

Ok, before we begin, Messi and Ronaldo are absurdly good and miles ahead of anyone. I don’t even think this is my opinion anymore. It’s fact now, right?

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Anyway here is my best XI of the season.

GK: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)
The best goalkeeper in the world. By far. Simple as that.

DF: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid)
A solid no-nonsense defender. Has been immense to watch for Madrid.

DF: Gerard Pique (FC Barcelona)
Puyol’s heir to the throne has enjoyed a superb season. And he’s not shy of scoring, too.

DF: Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)
One of the best defenders in Europe, Chiellini helped Juve to another Scudetto. His presence is huge.

MF: Paul Pogba (Juventus)
Often cited as one of the most promising players in world football, the Frenchman was huge in Juve’s massive season.

MF: Andrés Iniesta (FC Barcelona)
One of the best in the world. So much skill. Not his best season, but still better than most others.

RM: Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich)
One of the most consistent players in the game. Played a massive part in Bayern’s Bundesliga title.

LM: Eden Hazard (Chelsea)
The best player in the Premier League last season by a country mile. The reason Chelsea were so powerful in their title victory.

CAM: Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich)
Bayern have been ruthless this season, and Muller, as one of the most versatile players in European football, played an enormous part in that.

FW: Luis Suarez (FC Barcelona)
Put it this way, his form was so good, he forced Luis Enrique to make Messi to play out wide while he was centre forward. A genius.

FW: Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
A goal machine. Precise, ruthless and a born winner. He is, after all, the son-in-law of one Diego Maradona.

Honourable mentions:

David de Gea, Branislav Ivanovic, Jerome Boateng, David Alaba, Ivan Rakitic, Cesc Fabregas, Carlos Tevez, Neymar, Robert Lewandowski, Jackson Martinez.

 

What’s your opinion? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

The top 20 players of 2014 (part 1)

It’s that time of the year where we look back at the previous twelve months of football and pick the best players of 2014. This is part one, and a countdown from number 20 to 11. Nevermind the Ballon d’Or…here’s the Football el Mundo Bloggies.

 20. Toni Kroos (Bayern Munich/Real Madrid & Germany)
When Kroos scored in Bayern’s 3-1 victory over Hertha last March, it confirmed that the Bavarian outfit had secured the Bundesliga title…in record time. Fast forward some dazzling displays at the Allianz Arena before a World Cup win in the summer, he made a €30 million move to Real Madrid in the summer, where he aims to continue his form which has, in the past few months alone, earned him praise from the world’s media.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUZ9mXLjTq0

19. Yaya Touré (Manchester City & Ivory Coast)
Touré has long been regarded, even going back to his Barcelona days, as an incredibly intelligent  and versatile midfielder. His physical presence and vision made him perfect for the Premier League when he left the Camp Nou in 2010. This year, however, the Ivory Coast international played out of his skin and was incredibly influential in guiding Man City to the 2013-14 Premier League trophy. So much that the club even awarded him the 2014 Player of the Year.

18. Bastian Schweinsteiger (Bayern Munich & Germany)
The last 12 months for Schweinsteiger have been phenomenal. Like Kroos, he played a massive role in helping Bayern secure the 2013-14 Bundesliga title in record time, but his presence was utterly instrumental in Germany’s World Cup triumph. Now aged 30, and recently appointed the captain of Germany, he shows absolutely no sign of stopping.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSRUy66AgYs

17. Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona & Spain)
Both club and country may have not hit the familiar top spots like in recent years, but the sheer brilliance of Iniesta’s skills and ability hasn’t gone unnoticed. It’s often said that “if we didn’t live in an era with both Ronaldo and Messi, then Iniesta would be the best in world”, and I agree with that. A disappointing season with Barcelona last year by their standards (they finished 2nd in La Liga and were quarter-finalists in the Champions League) didn’t stop the 30-year-old putting on some stunning displays and winning the Golden Foot award.

16. Diego Costa (Atlético Madrid/Chelsea & Spain)
Before last season Diego Costa was forced to take a back seat to Falcao when playing for Atlético and never really had the opportunity to shine. Cue Falcao’s exit and the Brazilian-born Spanish international will be forever remembered for helping Atlético win the 2013-14 La Liga title with his 27 league goals. A €32 million move to Chelsea in the summer under José Mourinho, and Costa is one of the best strikers in England. By far.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQ6OO6XCfB8

15. Phillipp Lahm (Bayern Munich & Germany)
When a manager like Pep Guardiola says that you are “perhaps the most intelligent player I have ever trained in my career”, you can take it as an enormous compliment and that you are pretty good at football. Lahm, Germany’s captain of their 2014 World Cup triumph, enjoyed a fantastic record-breaking year with Bayern. Now retired from the national team, the versatile defensive player is totally focused at even more achievements for his club, who recently renewed his contract until 2018.

14. Alexis Sánchez (Barcelona/Arsenal & Chile)
Having previously blogged about Sánchez while he was at Udinese, the Chilean international has gone from strength to strength. The past twelve months witnessed him become one of Barça’s most influential players, with goals, assists, and stats to put any manager in awe, to a surprise move to the Premier League for Arsenal, where he has excelled beyond expectations. The best player at both club and country in my opinion.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqW25y0TxvE

13. James Rodríguez (AS Monaco/Real Madrid & Colombia)
When I previously blogged about James just prior to the World Cup, putting his name in the same sentence as both Messi and Ronaldo, you thought I was crazy, right? Commonly ranked among the greatest young footballers today, it was at the World Cup that he grabbed everyone’s attention. And I do mean everyone, including giants Real Madrid who, following the competition in Brazil, paid a whopping reported €80 million for the 23-year-old – making him the 3rd biggest transfer in Real Madrid history.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQv6xi7ah1o

12. Karim Benzema (Real Madrid & France)
He may be surrounded by Galacticos at all times at club level, but Karim Benzema is a sheer world-class goalscorer. His three goals in the World Cup could only help France reach the quarter finals (where they were narrowly beaten by eventual winners Germany), but his club form and work-rate has been excellent. He scored 17 La Liga goals last season which doesn’t sound like a lot, but bear in mind he was competing for goals with a certain Portugese genius.

11. Angel Di María (Real Madrid/Man United & Argentina)
Like Alexis Sánchez, here is another massive player who left La Liga for the Premier League. Genius winger Angel Di María was a big money signing for Louis van Gaal’s Man United side. Hugely influential in Real Madrid’s Champions League glory (earning the Man of the Match honour in the final), the World Cup runner-up is continuing to improve time and time again.

Come back later in the week for the top 10.

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

The good, bad and the ugly of the 2014 World Cup

I was gutted for Lionel Messi. I really was. I wanted the little genius to become a world champion, like the player he is so often compared to, Diego Maradona. But it wasn’t to be. The right team won and pretty much everyone agrees on that.

Mario Götze’s 113th minute goal proved to be too much for an Argentina side that just couldn’t match them. Earlier in the game, Gonzalo Higuain’s goal on the half hour mark was correctly ruled offside, but Argentina never looked as threatening after that. Even Messi made a few rare mistakes. More than a few in fact. But Germany – deserved winners.

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Let’s have a look back at some of the competition’s highlights.

The good:
The best match of the tournament for me was Germany’s 1-7 thrashing of Brazil. I am not sure if Brazil were simply poor without Thiago Silva and Neymar, or whether Germany were just too damn good. Perhaps a bit of both.

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James Rodríguez’s goal was simply stunning and I nearly fell out of my chair in awe. The last time that happened was also from a goal that was scored in a World Cup and also scored by a person named Rodriguez. Tim Cahill’s goal must be mentioned also – wow!

The competition also made some players stand out and some of the big clubs will be very interested in players such as Guillermo Ochoa, Daley Blind or Mats Hummels.

The bad:
Aside from being a brilliant tournament, there was definitely one or two games that were slightly dull. The Netherlands v Argentina was one that stuck out. All those amazing players on display yet it was 0-0 after 90 minutes.

The third-place play-off is possibly the most meaningless game in the history of the sport. Can we scrap that for the 2018 tournament? It depressing watching all 22 men looking tired and unhappy after a match at this level in such a prestigious competition.

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Spain. What happened? Tiki-taka, thrilling football, superstar players? The former world champions died a very public death in the competition. Sad to see.

There was something unnerving about watching thousands of people climb the staircase into the Maracana stadium in Rio. Mainly because it shaking so much I am surprised it didn’t collapse.

The ugly:
Luis Suarez’s bite on Giorgio Chiellini. Not his first time and again very pointless. But I’ll be talking about the Uruguayan in depth in an upcoming blog post.

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My World Cup XI:

(4-2-3-1)
G.Ochoa

Lahm, Hummels, Vlaar, Blind

Schweinsteiger, Mascherano

Robben, J.Rodriguez, Neymar

Müller

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Late bloomers: from brick-laying to the World Cup

Southampton striker Rickie Lambert made his Premier League debut at the age of 30 against Man City at the beginning of the 2012/13 season. At the age of 31, he made his England debut and scored a goal with his first touch in the game.

Rickie Lambert celebrates scoring for England

Now, at the age of 32, and with season upon season of working tirelessly in the lower leagues of English football, Lambert looks likely to make his way into England’s world cup squad this summer.

But he’s not the only late bloomer to make a name for himself.

Luca Toni was considered a journeyman of Italy’s lower leagues for many seasons, having turned out for teams such as Empoli, Fiorenzuola, and Lodigiani. A move to a then-ambition Serie B side Palermo at the age of 26, Toni impressed the Italian media and indeed Italian fans with a total of 50 goals in 80 games plus promotion to Serie A.

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His unorthodox yet highly effective style of play earned him a call-up to the Italian national team, as well as big money moves to Fiorentina and Bayern Munich. A World Cup winner in 2006, he still plays top flight football in Italy today, aged 36, with Hellas Verona.

Toni’s former-Bayern Munich team-mate Miroslav Klose didn’t start off with the Bavarian giants. While playing at FC 08 Homburg in 1999 (in the 5th tier of German football), then in his twenties, Klose worked in the building trade to help pay the bills.

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In just three short years, and now a prominent FC Kaiserslautern player in the Bundesliga, Klose was in the German national team for the 2002 World Cup where he scored five goals (including one against Ireland). He is now the joint-second all time goalscorer in the World Cup alongside Gerd Müller and just behind Brazilian genius Ronaldo. Not bad for a one-time brick-layer.

John Aldridge played a significant part of his career in England’s lower leagues. He was called up to Jack Charlton’s Ireland squad in 1986 while still at Oxford United. He was in his third season Manor Ground then. Before joining Oxford, he spent five seasons at Newport County. But, by 1987, and at the age of 29, Aldridge was brought to Liverpool as a replacement for the Juventus-bound Ian Rush.

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Two successful seasons, a move to La Liga, before heading back to Merseyside to sign for Tranmere Rovers, Aldo has found his feet. He remained in Birkenhead for the rest of his career – a career that, in 889 appearances, he scored a record an astonishing 476 goals. The majority of them coming from England’s lower leagues.

So good luck to Rickie Lambert and his quest for a World Cup appearance. I hope it happens for him this summer and in truth it may just happen. At 32, he will be quite a late-bloomer at a time when top-level football in Blighty is importing the best young players that money can buy – which in my view definitely affects the quality of top homegrown players coming through their clubs’ ranks – but that’s a debate for another day.

Perhaps my own Ireland career isn’t dead just yet.

The greatest stadia that you’ve never heard of (part 2)

Part 1 of this blog post appeared almost a year ago. A year you say, Rob? Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about part 2. In that edition I featured some beautiful grounds from Lima to Tashkent. Let’s have a look at some other gorgeous stadia that you may not be familiar with.

Stade des Martyrs, Kinshasa, Congo DR.
The home ground of the National Team of the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as local sides AS Vita Club and DC Motema Pembe, this ground has an official capacity of 80,000 spectators. Though it has been known that up to 100,000 people get inside the ground on certain matchdays. This leads me to believe that health and safety isn’t a massive issue. It’s still a fine stadium and indeed one of the finest in the entire continent of Africa.

Hásteinsvöllur, Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland
Some of the greatest stadia aren’t always the biggest. This one is quite the opposite. The 950 capacity ground is based on a small island just off Iceland’s south coast. The weather dictates games, not necessarily on the pitch, but on the ferry which brings players and some fans to the ground. David James, of all people, currently plies his trade there with club IBV. Miss the ferry and you could be stuck on the island for days. But you must admit – it is one of the most naturally scenic grounds in the world.

Nou Sardenya, Barcelona, Spain
While everyone in the world knows the Camp Nou, the Olympic Stadium, or Espanyol’s Estadi Cornella, there is another stadium in the fine city of Barcelona. One located in the city itself CE Europa can boast the 7,000-capacity Nou Sardenya. Complete with its own impressive grandstand (and the fanbase to fill it), the stadium is a hidden gem. If you have ever done the touristy thing and visited Park Güell in Barcelona, you could have easily walked past it.

Parque do Sabiá, Uberlândia, Brazil
While this 53,000-capacity stadium is the home ground of Uberlândia Esporte Clube and Clube Atlético Portal, it is a classic South American ground fit for any team. It’s just a shame a stadium this beautiful hasn’t entertained any of Brazil’s top teams for a number of seasons and, located about a thousand kilometres from the Marcana in Rio, the national team don’t use it much at all. Though they did in 1982 for the ground’s inaugral game. Against the Republic of Ireland. And they won 7-0. Seven. Ugh.

 

Let Rob Smith know of your stadium gems that he may not know of on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

It's "adios Chelsea" from Benitez, and "farewell football" from Beckham

A significant amount of Chelsea fans stood against the appointment of Rafa Benítez as interim manager last November. The Spaniard, who managed Liverpool from 2004 until 2010, once criticised the club under José Mourinho some years before while managing the reds. Many Chelsea fans let everyone know – Rafa especially – that they did not want his sort around Stamford Bridge.

The banners unveiled at Chelsea’s games – often colourful in language – let Benítez know that, despite being in a temporary position, he shouldn’t be in that position. But he kept his head down and his dignity, focussing on the job ahead. As the months passed, he turned many of the boos into cheers and fast-forward to last Wednesday’s Europa League final, and he provided Chelsea with their 11th major trophy in ten years under the ownership of Roman Abramovich.

Benítez, who won the Manager of the Month award last month, leaves Stamford Bridge with a Europa League winner’s medal and his head held up high. The fact that he has succeeded in the face of such acrimony and hostility has earned him a lot of respect – including from a large portion of the “Rafa out” brigade.

As Benítez says his goodbyes to the Blues, one David Beckham will say his goodbyes to the game itself. The former England captain will step down at the age of 38, after the season with current club, PSG, has come to a close. His final game will be for newly crowned Ligue 1 champions PSG against Lorient (not Leyton Orient as remarkably many had thought) on May 26th.

“It’s a good way to go out. It’s every athlete’s dream, every footballer’s dream – to go out on the top. On top form, or winning a trophy,” the former Real Madrid, Man United and LA Galaxy star said. “It doesn’t happen that often. I’ve been lucky.”

Beckham’s 21-year career also witnessed him win numerous trophies such as six Premier League titles, two FA Cups, the Champions League, one La Liga and Supercopa de España winner’s medals alongside the Galacticos, as well as two MLS cups. A complete success both on and off the pitch, I wish him well with his future. He may not be the last Beckham to go all the way in football.

 

What do you think of Rafa Benítez’s tenure at Chelsea, and what is your fondest memory of David Beckham? Let Rob Smith know on Twitter (@robsmithireland) and be sure to check us out on Facebook (/FootballElMundo). Have a nice weekend, folks.

The top 15 players of 2012

Along with the Euros, the second half of last season and the first half of the current football season, made 2012 to be quite an exceptional footballing year. But who have the best players been? Well, here’s my top 15.

15. Robert Lewandowski. Borussia Dortmund and Poland.
Lewandowski would be the first to admit that his stint with his national side in the Euros were a little underwhelming. No doubt this is probably due to the huge expectations from the 24-year old prior to the competition. But in the Bundesliga, he absolutely tears defences apart – and one Sir Alex Ferguson is keen to bring him to Old Trafford for big money.

14. Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Shakhtar Donetsk and Armenia.
Mkhitaryan is probably the biggest footballing product to ever come out Armenia – and he’s still only 23. At club level, he is one of – if not the – biggest talents in Ukraine. He was voted Shakhtar’s Player of the Season at the close of the 2011-12 season and continues to play some incredible football. He’s enjoyed a phenomenal 2012 – watch out for him in 2013.

13. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. AC Milan/Paris St-Germain and Sweden.
Serial-title winner Ibrahimovic broke tradition this year when he didn’t win a league winners medal with AC Milan who narrowly missed out on the Scudetto to Juventus. Aside from that, the Swede enjoyed a brilliant Euro 2012, scored the best goal of 2012, and now plies his trade with the noveau riche Paris St Germain, who have their eye on the Ligue 1 title. This Malmo native causes concern for every opposing defender he faces.

12. Robin van Persie. Arsenal/Manchester United and Holland.
Following his controversial £22 million move from Arsenal to Man United, van Persie arrived with huge expectation given his reputation with the Gunners over the previous number of seasons – and he delivered. Totalling 20 goals for his new club so far, van Persie & co finish 2012 in the Premier League’s pole position.

11. Gareth Bale. Tottenham Hotspur and Wales.
Bale’s performances for Spurs throughout 2012 have been stunning. His sheer pace, agility, and that brilliant left foot of his make him one of the most fearsome players any player in the Premier League can face.

10. Mesut Ozil. Real Madrid and Germany.
Madrid’s playmaker and Cristiano Ronaldo’s right hand man may not have played as well as he’d hoped at the end of last season. But he was certainly one of Euro 2012’s better performers and is now considered a crucial element for José Mourinho’s  current Madrid side.

9. Neymar. Santos and Brazil.
The Brazilian wonderkid is constantly being linked with a move to Europe – and very often with both Barcelona and Real Madrid. His 31 goals and 15 assists this year, coupled with his sheer ability and dazzling displays makes him easily the best player in his country’s domestic league. He enjoyed a fantastic spell during the Olympics in London, picking up a silver medal in the process.

8. Sergio Ramos. Real Madrid and Spain.
Ramos’ natural ability to change from his preferred position on the right side of the pitch to partnering Barcelona’s Gerard Pique during Euro 2012 is a testament to his footballing brain. Not only did he end up winning Euro 2012, but he played out of his skin. And I haven’t even mentioned how powerful he has been for Real Madrid during 2012 yet.

7. Andrea Pirlo. Juventus and Italy.
He may have won the Champions League twice with previous club AC Milan, but the 33-year old midfielder has just enjoyed possibly his finest 12 months in football with new club Juventus. Maybe it’s the new beard? Nicknamed “The Architect”, Pirlo was hailed by pundits, along with Andrés Iniesta, to be one of Euro 2012’s best performers.

6. Wayne Rooney. Manchester United and England.
A key player for club and country, Wazza is easily one of the biggest natural talents in British football for the past decade. Depsite being banned for England’s opening two games in Euro 2012, he still scored 4 goals in 5 games during the calendar year all the while playing phenomenal for the Red Devils.

5. Xavi. Barcelona and Spain.
Xavi is, by many people’s opinion, the greatest Spanish player of all time. I agree. His remarkable vision, ability, precision and consistency makes him easily one of the world’s best. The midfield maestro also set a record for pass completions during the summer. I can’t even remember the last time I witnessed Xavi give the ball away. Has it ever happened?

4. Ramadel Falcao. Atlético Madrid and Colombia.
A sheer goalscoring machine, Falcao is one of 2012’s biggest sensations. Recently the Colombian star became the first player for a decade to score five goals in a single La Liga game. His nasty habit of finding the back of the net in almost every fixture is causing him to be the focus of all the big-spending clubs.

3. Andrés Iniesta. Barcelona and Spain.
Many fellow professionals, pundits, managers and fans believe Iniesta to be the finest midfielder in the world. He’s regularly the only player outside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi who is even mentioned about for the Ballon d’Or. Dazzling displays for both club and country, Iniesta is on every manager’s dream-list.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo. Real Madrid and Portugal.
CR7 has been hugely influential in Real Madrid’s quest to claim the La Liga title off rivals Barça. He enjoyed a superb Euro 2012 and at club level, aside from his impressive performances, he is currently sitting nicely on 20 goals in 24 games this season alone. The last twelve months has been kind to the Portugese winger. But what could be considered a poor season for Cristiano is still better than most.

1. Lionel Messi. Barcelona and Argentina.
It was never in doubt was it? Leo Messi is, and has been for some time, the world’s greatest player. His ability is beyond phenomenal. Sometimes there are no words to describe exactly what I had just witnessed when watching Messi play. His 91 goals in the calendar year is a record – one that may take some time to break it too I should add. One he may even break himself in 2013 if he carries on. The scariest part? He’s still only 25. Diego Maradona once famously said back in 2006, “I have seen the player who will inherit my place in Argentine football and his name is Messi”. El Diego was not wrong.

Honorary mentions must go to Mario Gomez for his eye for goal for Germany during Euro 2012 as well as tearing defences to shreds for Bayern Munich. Yaya Touré and his forceful, direct style constantly causes many an opposing manager headaches. Mats Hummels has been the full package for both Borussia Dortmund and Germany, giving strikers serious problems. Likewise with Sergio Aguero who has been fantastic for both Man City and Argentina – and forever a legend in east Manchestester following that goal at the end of last season. Juan Mata’s consistency has been remarkable for Chelsea and he picked up a winners medal at Euro 2012. Edinson Cavani has been wonderful for Napoli with his insane 19 goals in 17 starts for the Serie A club.

Who do you think have been the best players of 2012? Hit Rob Smith up on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

The greatest stadia that you've never heard of (part 1)

The Camp Nou, Old Trafford, San Siro, the Bernebéu, Celtic Park, Allianz Arena, Wembley. We’ve all seen these stadiums countless times and half of us have probably visited all of these immensly popular stadia. But there are some cracking cathedrals of football elsewhere that rival some of the best in terms of design, atmosphere and size.

The Estadio Banco Pichincha, Guayaquil, Ecuador.
This enormous ground is home to Guayaquil’s Barcelona S.C. – a club founded in the early 20th century by a Spanish student who named the club in honour of his hometown. The stadium holds just over 60,000 people and, like most grounds in South America, can go absolutely loco when the home teams wins against fierce city rivals Emelec.

Bunyodkor Stadium, Tashkent, Uzbekistan.
FC Bunyodkor made headlines in recent years by acquiring Brazilian footballing royalty such as Rivaldo and Denilson (as players) and Zico and Luis “Big Phil” Scolari (as managers) and paying them mad money in the process. All the while, the Uzbek outfit were plying their trade in a worn out 16,000 capacity stadium that was quite literally falling apart. The Brazilians have all left the club and now they own a 34,000 state of the art stadium – and fill it each week.

Estadio Olímpico, Caracas, Venezuela. 
Tenants of the stadium, Caracas FC, are known as “los rojos del Avila” – or the reds from Avila. Fans turn the 20,000 capacity stadium red, with a combination of red confetti, red flares and – most dangerously – making aerosol flamethrowers. But it create quite the atmosphere.


Azadi Stadium, Tehran, Iran.

This is one that former League of Ireland star Eamon Zayed won’t forget. The Azadi Stadium is home to Persepolis and their bitter rivals Esteghal. Dublin-born Zayed scored a match-winning hat-trick last March for Persepolis, and the 100,000 fans inside the stadium went nuts – yes – a hundred thousand! Beats a rainy Tuesday night in Oriel Park, that’s for sure.

Estadio Monumental, Lima, Peru.
Peru, like most of Latin America, is obsessed with football. Take Brazil’s Santos FC – a hugely supported club that play week-in week-out in a 15,000-capacity ground. Lima’s Club Universitario, on the other hand, reckon that an 80,000 cauldron of noise would only suffice their home games.  The result is what supporting football is about – noise, atmosphere, and a breathtaking stadium with a view.
 Stay tuned for part 2.

Where are the best or most interesting stadia you’ve ever seen? Hit Rob Smith up on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

 

Remembering "Old big 'ead"

Today, legendary manager Brian Clough would have been 77 years of age. Football El Mundo is remembering Cloughie today. If ever there was a character in the beautiful game – he certainly was one. His incredible interviews, his famous spats with Don Revie, and exactly what he achieved in the game are why he will never be forgotten.

Of course, not to mention that we’ll remember him for some of his quotes such as:

  • “Beckham? His wife can’t sing and his barber can’t cut hair.”
  • “They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I wasn’t on that particular job”
  • “That Seaman is a handsome young man but he spends too much time looking in his mirror rather than at the ball. You can’t keep goal with hair like that. “
  • “I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one”
  • “I only ever hit Roy (Keane) the once. But he got up so I couldn’t have hit him very hard”

Like I said, somewhat legendary. Check out the (partly fictional) biopic The Damned United if you haven’t seen it before – Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Cloughie is brilliant to say the least.
People say Madrid manager José Mourinho is an impressive character in the beautiful game. Well, he’s certainly no Brian Clough and never will be – Old big ‘ead truly was one in a million.

Eamon Zayed: Roy of the Rovers in Tehran

Imagine being two-nil down with ten men. In the country’s biggest derby in front of 80,000. With a further 20 million watching on TV. And then scoring a very late hat-trick to win the game. That is exactly how Dublin-born Eamon Zayed introduced himself to fans of his new club Perepolis in the Sorkhabi derby against Esteghal – only the second time he turned out for the Tehran club.

The goals were decent too (especially the first one) – check out the video below. “It was Roy of the Rovers stuff,” Zayed said after the game, “fairytale stuff really and everything since has been mad, surreal but great at the same time”.

[jwplayer mediaid=”1646″]

I’ve always been a fan of Irish-based players plying their trade in more exotic lands (as previously blogged), but given exactly how passionate Iranians are for the beautiful game, you can rest assured Eamon Zayed is a household name this weekend. Not bad for the former Bray, Drogheda and Derry City striker. Good on him, I say!

The best (and worst) of 2010/2011

Well, the football season is coming to a close. Unless you follow the MLS or the Airtricity League, of course. Let’s look at some of the best and worst of the past nine months.

1. The return of the King: OK, Roy Hodgson was never the right choice for the Liverpool job, in my opinion. Liverpool had won only one league game between the start of the season and the end of October. They were within eye-shot of the relegation places. Oh dear. Goodbye Hodgson. Hello…who? Mourinho? Rijkaard? Hiddink? No no…a club legend that hasn’t managed a club since 2000: Kenny Dalglish. The result? Great football, great league results and a respectable league finish in the higher half of the table. Long live the King.

2. Pep’s Barça kills José’s Real: Last November as blogged, I missed the opportunity to watch Cast play a reformation gig in Liverpool’s o2 Academy in order to watch el clásico in a bar across the street. The result was a match that will go down in history for a long time. Barcelona beat Real Madrid 5-0 at the Camp Nou. To Madridistas this was unthinkable given they have The Special One as coach.  To culés (Barça fans) this was a result that will be talked about for decades to come. I love Cast, but I’m glad I missed them to witness this.

3. Ibra’s kung-fu celebration: When most players win Serie A, they celebrate…sing, cheer, dance. Not Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He’s tried to roundhouse kick team-mate Antonio Cassano.
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4. A city united with trophies: For years at Old Trafford, Manchester United fans flew a flag showing the amount of years Man City had gone without winning a trophy, updating it every year. Not any more. The same day United had won the Premier League was the same day City won the FA Cup. I’d say the bars around central Manchester had a busy one.

5. Bibotelli: Speaking of City, who can forget this moment of genius from Mario Balotelli? At least Edin Dzeko seen the funny side of it.

6. The return of Dortmund: Bayern Munich have long been the dominating team in the Bundesliga. This season they were ten whole points behind winners Borussia Dortmund. Jurgen Klopp’s men have had a remarkable season winning every game except for their five losses and six draws. And they won it well playing fantastic football. So much so that Dortmund had the 2nd highest average attendance in world football this season, just behind Barcelona.

7. The good, the bad & the ugly: The season seen some memorable finishes. Like this: a good goal. Or this: a spectacular own goal. And I don’t know how this wasn’t a goal.

Peñarol's gigantic flag and Ramos' butter-fingers

Two things that have caught my eye on You Tube this morning.

Firstly, at the recent Ireland v Uruguay friendly at the Aviva, I was sitting amongst a lot of Uruguay fans. Loud and passionate about their football, I noticed that most of them were wearing yellow and black jerseys. I asked one of them in my limited Spanish who the team were? “Peñarol!” came the reply “we love them as much as Uruguay”. I was impressed with that level of support for the Montevideo club. But I didn’t realise that Uruguayans love the club so much that they bring a flag the size of Montevideo itself to games. See the video below – you don’t see that in Tallaght Stadium, that’s for sure.
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Secondly, The Special One and Real Madrid woke up this morning feeling somewhat victorious in their Copa del Rey win against Barcelona. What they didn’t wake up with was the cup itself. Or at least in the same condition it was handed to them last night. Defender Sergio Ramos accidentally dropped the trophy amid celebrations on an open-top bus at Madrid’s famous Cibeles fountain and unfortunately the bus drove over it. Ooops. Spanish paper El Mundo reported today that it had been smashed in ten pieces while Ramos himself said on his Twitter page that it is fine. Either way, it’s lucky Ramos isn’t Madrid’s ‘keeper. Otherwise there probably would have been a goal-fest at the Mestalla last night.
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The greatest hat-trick ever

As previously blogged, Rivaldo recently made a move back to Brazilian side Mogi Mirim (although he’s now on loan to giants Sao Paulo) and he continues to cause a frenzy wherever he goes. Ten years ago he was responsible for the greatest hat-trick of all time in a deeply important game for Barcelona.

Valencia came the Camp Nou on the final day of the season in the 2000-01 season. Barcelona were in need of a win to qualify for the Champions League. Failure to qualify was almost unthinkable and the club were already in financial trouble at that time. No Champions League football would mean a big cash loss for the Catalan club.
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The great Brazilian put Barça ahead twice (with two fantastic strikes) yet twice Los Che equalised from Ruben Baraja. Then with 90 seconds to go, Frank De Boer sent a chipped pass to Rivaldo on the edge of the area and then with an absolutely stunning overhead kick he scored not only one of his finest goals in his career, but also one of the most important goals in Barça history. An absolutely classic match with every emotion for both sets of fans.

This to me is the greatest hat-trick of all time. See for yourself in the video above. It’s 9 minutes long but worth watching every second of it. Think you got one better? Leave a comment and let me know.