Hungary-El Salvador 1

Historical Football #12 – El Salvador’s Humiliation

With Brazil having been thrashed and humiliated in front of their own fans by Germany, it seems fitting to return to Historical Football with a look back at the World Cup’s biggest thrashing – poor El Salvador’s 10-1 humiliation at the hands of Hungary at Spain 1982…

If there was ever a way to turn yourself from a national hero to a national villain in ninety short minutes then getting humiliated at a World Cup is a sure fire way to do it. Just ask El Salvador’s 1982 World Cup squad. 90 minutes was all it took for them to become figures of ridicule in their own country, unable to achieve anything without the stigma of their humiliation follow them around. Yet, it all looked so promising in the beginning…

The early 80s was a tough time to be in El Salvador. A brutal Civil War saw a lot of people murdered by both the military government and guerilla forces on a daily basis as they fought for control of the country. Football, though, proved to be an escape for the country and the national side brought everyone together as they managed to progress through qualifying to make it to Spain. However, this would be the high point of their journey as the reality of the finals soon set in very quickly.

Immediately they were given the unenviable task of trying to get anything from a group containing Hungary, beaten European finalists of 1980 Belgium and the defending World champions Argentina (with a certain Diego Maradona). They were not expected to do well and their preparations certainly did not help in any way either. While rivals Honduras arrived in Spain a month before the tournament to acclimatise, El Salvador were playing a friendly against Gremio of Brazil just over a week before their opener. Their journey to Spain took the best part of three days, their accommodation was shoddy and they had to ask the Hungarians for some balls to train with because their allocation from FIFA had been stolen. Add on the fact that the El Salvador FA had incredibly decided to register only a 20 man squad and morale was not at its highest point in the camp. Hopes were high for their debut though.

After watching a tape of the Hungarians, the El Salvadorians were convinced they could attack their more experienced opponents and catch them by surprise. Their plan was solid enough and for long periods of the first half at the Nuevo Estadio in Elche it worked. The problem was that the Hungarians were superior technically and picked off their naive opponents when they poured men forward. It also did not help that Hungary captain Tibor Nyilasi was allowed to run free at a corner and head home after just three minutes. Their greater quality told when a simple pass took out the entire El Salvador midfield on the halfway line and Gabor Poloskei ran through on goal (after easily hurdling the most desperate of all desperate lunges) to fire past poor Luis Mora in the El Salvador goal.

Hungary's Imre Garaba

Another desperate El Salvador lunge is evaded

It was not all El Salvador naivety however as Laszlo Fazekas was allowed time to turn, run and smash a long range effort into the top corner showing the vast difference in quality between the two sides. The only positive for El Salvador was that they were only three down at half time and had threatened when they got the ball to Jorge Gonzalez (more commonly known as Magico Gonzalez) whose ability gave the Hungarian defenders nightmares. They had a few attempts on goal and remained positive that the game was still a contest. The second half would very quickly change that.

Every time El Salvador lost possession, Hungary swept forward and it was this that led to the fourth, and ultimately killer, goal. Full back Jozsef Toth’s low cross was cut out by a defender but Toth reacted to quickest to squeeze it home. It was uncharted waters for the Salvadorians who had never conceded more than three in a game. Diaz Arevalo who missed the game through injury stated in an interview with FourFourTwo that the fourth goal was when, “we really started losing our nerves”.

It became five on 54 minutes when Fazekas was allowed time on the left wing to come inside and fire a low shot past Mora at his near post. Still, El Salvador poured forward trying to get something from the game. And, after 64 minutes, they got their goal. Gonzalez tricked his way into the area and pulled it back to Norberto Huezo who seemed to panic but managed to stab it to Luis Ramirez Zapata who passed it in and in the process became a precursor to Marco Tardelli.

Hungary coach Kalman Meszoly had reportedly told his players at half time to show no mercy as it was the World Cup and after the El Salvador goal they certainly put his words into practice. Laszlo Kiss, a substitute, was left free at a corner and fired in for number six while fellow sub Lazar Szentes tapped in to make it seven. Kiss’ second goal was a lovely chipped effort from just inside the area before he completed a record breaking hat-trick by firing through a crowd of defenders to become the first substitute to score a World Cup hat-trick as well as the quickest hat-trick in the tournament history. Nyilasi rounded the scoring off with seven minutes left with another header and the humiliation was complete.

El Salvador shut up shop for their next two games which were not as heavy defeats to Belgium and Argentina. The negative vibe continued around the camp as they fell out with hotel staff, fought with Argentina on the pitch and played that game without any official documents as the official in charge forgot them. They were eliminated and regarded as embarrassments to El Salvador.

Mauricio Rodriguez, the coach, never managed another side and left football after the tournament while the majority of the squad were treated as pariahs in the country. Magico Gonzalez remained in Spain where he enjoyed success with Cadiz despite becoming notorious for his partying lifestyle. The members of that squad are still viewed with contempt by the Salvadorian public, proof that ninety minutes is all it takes to become a villain for a lifetime.

All the goals are in the video below:

That wraps up another edition of Historical Football. Stay tuned for more from The Long Ball coming soon.

Thanks!

Further Reading

FussballMundial World Cup XI

The Teams of the Group – World Cup 2014

The World Cup group stage finished yesterday after two weeks of breathtaking action. With so many twists and turns, myself and first time contributor @FussballMundial have each picked the best eleven players from the group stages for our “Teams of the Group”…

@FussballMundial

FussballMundial World Cup XI

Honourable Mentions:
  • Serge Aurier
  • Alexis Sanchez
  • Karim Benzema
  • Oscar
  • Vincent Enyeama
  • Jose Juan Vasquez
  • Juan Cuadrado

“I don’t think I’m alone in saying that this has been an outstanding World Cup. Sadly, the group stage has come to an end. A group stage which has truly spoiled us, for the most part, with fantastic games, unpredictable upsets and an abundance of goals. But more important games lie ahead and the excitement is only building.

One of the things I enjoy most about the World Cup is casting an eye over somewhat lesser known players and those whom I don’t get to see on a regular basis. Players who ply their trade in Central and South American leagues in particular, fall under this category. Players such as Columbus Crew and Costa Rican centre back Giancarlo Gonzalez and Club Leon midfielder Jose Juan Vasquez representing El Tri, who have been very impressive and with that, have emerged from the unknown shadows they once inhabited. Costa Rica and Mexico have both surprised me with their performances in this World Cup and having lived in the former nation last year, I have pledged my footballing allegiance to Los Ticos.
It’s a great opportunity for such players to impress in front of potential onlooking suitors. The whole footballing world is fixated on Brazil at the moment and the chance of improving their career prospects, as well as achieving success with their country, are huge motives to perform well. 
What else has made this World Cup such a great spectacle is the big name players have stepped up to plate and performed. Well, most of them. Poor performances from Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney aside, the top earners have delivered. Lionel Messi has produced the magic we hoped he would, Neymar has shown exquisite moments of individual skill, and Arjen Robben can be compared to a fine wine, improving with age.
So in making my World Cup group stage XI, I’ve taken the above factors into consideration and combined them.”
The Long Ball
World Cup XI 1
Honourable Mentions:
  • Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)
  • Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
  • Tim Cahill (Australia)
  • Mario Yepes (Colombia)
  • Lionel Messi (Argentina)
  • Thomas Muller (Germany)
  • Arjen Robben (Netherlands)

“Brazil 2014 will without doubt go down in history as one of the great tournaments based purely on the group stage alone. After some of the drab, stale football of four years ago (especially that final) this has been a breath of fresh air. And I am in total agreement with @FussballMundial that some of the real stars of the tournament have been some of the lesser known players. Players like the Gonzalezs and Vazquezs he mentioned have shot to prominence and helped their sides do some great things in this tournament. It’s for that reason that many of the big names have missed out from my team.

Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas was beaten once (from the penalty spot) in a group containing Cavani, Balotelli, Rooney and a number of other great players which speaks volumes about how well he (and the defence in front of him) played in the group stage which is why he is in goals ahead of Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa. In front of him are the Mexican pair of Hector Moreno – who has been solid and looks set to move to a bigger club this summer – and the reinvigorated Rafael Marquez, who is captaining the side at a fourth World Cup and has not once shown his age. Daley Blind of the Netherlands is in at left back after his outstanding performances so far, most notably in that drubbing of the Spanish, while Fabian Johnson of the United States goes in at right back after his tireless running and consistent performances in the so called “group of death”. Hector Herrera (Mexico) and Jermaine Jones (USA) are the two holding midfielders who will have a licence to get forward and help out with their creativity as well as work hard for the team. Brazil’s Neymar will start on the left as he has been the bright spark of a rather flat opening from the hosts while Croatia’s Ivan Perisic gets the nod on the right ahead of Arjen Robben after his tireless performances and excellent, consistent delivery from the wide areas. James Rodriguez of Colombia will start in the number 10/playmaker role as he has been possibly the best player at the tournament so far and he will be looking to provide service for an in form Karim Benzema who has looked like a completely different player during the tournament.”

Those are the teams we have picked. Do you agree with those decisions? What is your team of the group? Tweet us @LongBallFoot or @FussballMundial and let us know.

As always, stay tuned for more content from The Long Ball coming soon.

Thanks!

Well Drilled Mexicans Progress At Croatia’s Expense

CROATIA 1-3 MEXICO (WORLD CUP GROUP A)

Mexico progressed to the second round of the World Cup after a disciplined 3-1 victory over ten man Croatia in Recife.

Croatia manager Niko Kovac made one change from the side that beat Cameroon 4-0 with Sime Vrsaljko returning to the side at left back in place of Sammir with Danijel Pranjic moving into midfield and Luka Modric playing behind striker Mario Mandzukic. Mexico manager Miguel Herrera named the same starting eleven for the third game in a row.

Croatia needed to win to progress from Group A and started the brighter of the two sides but struggled to break down the five man Mexico defence with only a half chance which Ivan Perisic fired way over the most dangerous Croatia were. They may have looked better in the beginning but the Croatians were thanking their luck after 15 minutes.

Oribe Peralta got the ball to Hector Herrera and the Porto midfielder played a nice one-two with Giovani dos Santos. Herrera took a touch before smashing a left footed shot from 25 yards past Stipe Pletikosa in the Croatia goal but wasn’t celebrating as the ball hit the crossbar and bounced clear.

The Mexicans were beginning to get in behind Croatia and just minutes after hitting the bar created another great opportunity. Herrera splayed a lovely through ball down the right side of the box for Peralta but the striker’s effort went the wrong way as he lost his footing when he was trying to shoot. It was a big let off for Croatia.

The Croatians responded well and began to keep the ball better but were struggling to create any clear cut opportunities to score. Pranjic fired over from the edge of the box while Perisic messed up a half volley from a similar position after Mandzukic had knocked down a long ball for the winger. Darijo Srna then fired a free kick over after Mexico captain Rafael Marquez had rather cynically ended a Croatian counter attack. Sadly, those would prove to be the best chances of the first half and both sides headed in deadlocked at the break.

Croatia began the second half with purpose but again struggled with their final ball as Mexico held firm. It was the Mexicans who had the first real chance in anger of the second half though when Peralta headed over from a corner. It was a dull start to the second half but it livened up when Mexico had a penalty claim just after the hour.

Paul Aguilar got forward from right wing back and turned Pranjic – who had moved to left back – inside out and got to the byline. His cross went right through after substitute Javier Hernandez went down under little contact all the way to Andres Guardado at the back post. The midfielder took a touch before seeing his half volley blocked behind by Srna. Every Mexican immediately claimed handball but to no avail despite replays showing that it was a clear penalty. Herrera’s resultant corner almost went straight in but for a goalline clearance by Vedran Corluka before Pletikosa denied Aguilar with his feet. Mexico were beginning to take charge as the Croatians were beginning to falter and they capitalised.

Herrera swung a corner in from the left hand side and captain Marquez leaped highest and sent a header towards goal. It was close to Pletikosa but the goalkeeper made a meal of it and could only get a hand to it and push it into the net. It was a heartbreaking goal for Croatia but one they richly deserved.

The Croatians were shell shocked and began throwing men forward but almost immediately paid for it. Mexico won the ball back on the halfway line and broke forward. Hernandez slipped the to Peralta on the right side and continued his run into the area. Peralta’s low cross was behind Hernandez but perfect for the onrushing Guardado who smashed it first time past Pletikosa. It was a fatal blow to Croatian hopes with 15 minutes to go but they did not give up.

Substitute Ante Rebic got the ball on the left wing and glided past three Mexican challenges on a mazy run into the area. He slotted his shot past Guillermo Ochoa but before he could celebrate, Hector Moreno slid in and cleared the ball away from goal. It was excellent defending from Moreno and really unlucky for Rebic who was denied one of the goals of the tournament. It proved to be crucial as well.

Guardado sent a corner over from the right to the near post which Marquez flicked on. It was perfect for Hernandez at the back post who was completely unmarked and headed in from a yard out. It was richly deserved for an excellent Mexican performance and really well worked.

The Croatians continued to battle and managed to get a goal back late on. Perisic got the ball on the left and played into Rakitic on the edge of the area. The Barcelona bound midfielder held it up before releasing Perisic with a backheel. The winger composed himself and slotted the ball across Ochoa and into the back of the net. It was nothing more than a consolation but a fitting end to a great tournament for Perisic.

However the game quickly went sour again for Croatia when they were reduced to ten men. Rebic went on another mazy run to the edge of the area where he overran the ball and Mexico sub Carlos Pena cleared. Rebic however challenged Pena with his foot high and caught him late and was deservedly shown a straight red.

Croatia kept trying to get back into the game with Ochoa denying Perisic in stoppage time but in all honesty it was all over for the Croatians who were eliminated by a side that were simply better drilled tactically and that were excellent throughout. Mexico finished second in Group A and will meet the Netherlands in the second round where they will give the Dutch real problems while Croatia head home despite impressing in defeat against Brazil and during that thumping victory over Cameroon.

Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna (c), Lovren, Corluka, Vrsaljko (Kovacic 58), Pranjic (Jelavic 74), Rakitic, Perisic, Modric, Olic (Rebic 69), Mandzukic

Subs: Vukojevic, Zelenika, Schildenfeld, Brozovic, Badelj, Sammir, Vida, Eduardo, Subasic

Goal: Perisic

Yellow: Rakitic

Red: Rebic

Mexico: Ochoa, Aguilar, Rodriguez, Marquez (c), Moreno, Layun, Vazquez, Herrera, Guardado (Fabian 84), dos Santos (Hernandez 62), Peralta (Pena 79)

Subs: Corona, Salcido, Reyes, Jimenez, Pulido, Talavera, Ponce, Brizuela, Aquino

Goal: Marquez, Guardado

Yellow: Marquez, Vazquez

MAN OF THE MATCH: ANDRES GUARDADO (MEXICO)

Croatia Eliminate Ten Man Cameroon Easily

CAMEROON 0-4 CROATIA (WORLD CUP GROUP A)

Croatia kept alive their hopes of progressing from Group A with a comfortable 4-0 win over ten man Cameroon in Manaus which eliminated the African side from the World Cup with a game still to play.

Croatia manager Niko Kovac made three changes to the side which lost 3-1 to hosts Brazil in the World Cup opener with Mario Mandzukic back from suspension, Danijel Pranjic back from a knock and Sammir brought in for tactical reasons. Nikica Jelavic, Sime Vrsaljko and Mateo Kovacic were the players to drop out of the starting line up. Cameroon manager Volker Finke made a two changes to his eleven after their disappointing showing in their 1-0 defeat against Mexico. Star man and captain Samuel Eto’o was dropped along with Cedric Djeugoue and they were replaced by Vincent Aboubakar and Joel Matip with Nicolas N’Koulou taking the armband.

The game started at a bright tempo with both sides needing to win to stay in the competition and they showed attacking intent. The Cameroonians looked more enthusiastic with Aboubakar up front but they could not fashion a chance for the young striker while Croatia were sloppy in the final third. It was the Croatians who struck first after 11 minutes.

The ball was worked to the right wing for captain Darijo Srna whose cross was aimed at Mandzukic in the penalty box. N’Koulou got there before the Bayern Munich striker but his intervention landed at the feet of Ivan Perisic just inside the area. Perisic calmly played the ball across the box to an onrushing Ivica Olic who tapped home from six yards to give Croatia the lead. It was a well worked goal from Croatia but one that came completely out of the blue.

The Croatians were now really up for it and continued to press the Cameroon defence as their heads dropped for the next five minutes and they almost got a second five minutes later. Pranjic’s corner from the left was knocked on by Mandzukic using his mid-drift. Perisic was completely unmarked six yards out but his first time effort was blocked by Charles Itandje in the Cameroon goal and Eyong Enoh completed the defensive clearance. It was a big chance for Croatia indeed.

The game then settled into an entertaining pattern but neither side was able to really create much in the way of chances. Perisic headed over a Rakitic corner while both Rakitic and Sammir hit tame efforts from range at Itandje. Cameroon got into a number of promising positions but poor decisions and final ball (especially from Stephane Mbia) saw their chances fizzle out. The game was very even though right up until the game changing moment five minutes before half time.

Mbia and Benjamin Moukandjo got in each other’s way in a promising position on the right and Perisic broke away up the wing. He was entering Cameroon territory when he was pulled back by the referee for an off the ball incident for which he showed a red card to Alex Song. The Cameroon midfielder had been tracking back but had his path crossed by Mandzukic. He then stupidly struck the Croatian in the back in the referee’s line of sight and was deservedly shown a straight red. It was a moment of sheer stupidity and one that hindered his team.

To Cameroon’s credit though, they did end the first half on a positive note with more possession that broke down in the final third. Aboubakar had a couple of half chances near the end of the half but he was crowded out in one and fired way over from the edge of the area to end the first half.

The second half began at much the same tempo as the first and both sides created half chances withing the first minute of the second half. Sammir could only put it into the side netting after Cameroon fell asleep from a Srna throw while Eric Choupo-Moting fires a tame effort right at Stipe Pletikosa from range. It was the Croatians who did eventually double their lead two minutes after half time.

Itandje had time to clear up field but his kick was very poor and was intercepted by Perisic on the Croatia left. The Wolfsburg winger sped down the wing away from half time substitute Dany Nounkeu (who started a couple of yards behind Perisic) before firing past Itandje from the left side of the box. The goalkeeper didn’t cover himself in glory either, going down early and letting Perisic slot it past him at his near post. It was a massive blow for Cameroon and it could have been a lot worse a couple of minutes later.

Sammir broke forward from midfield and slipped through Mandzukic. The big striker was clean through but took his time and allowed N’Koulou to catch up. He had the time however to get into the box and all he needed to do was slip the ball past Itnadje from 15 yards but instead he decided to try and loft it over the keeper while under pressure and could only loft it past Itandje’s hands and wide of the post. It was a great chance and should have been 3-0.

Cameroon were struggling at the back but almost fashioned a goal out of nothing. Moukandjo moved the ball left to Benoit Assou-Ekotto who sent a deep cross to the back post. Half time substitute Dany Nounkeu (who had replaced the awful Aurelien Chedjou) came storming forward from right back and fired a volley just over the bar. It was a warning sign for Croatia but, in all honesty, the Croats were dominant.

They began to mount more pressure on Cameroon and were forcing a series of corners as Cameroon struggled. Olic found himself unmarked from a Srna corner but his volley was blocked while the Croatia captain fired over from a free kick on the edge of the Cameroon area. They were soon even further ahead however.

A series of corners ended with Pranjic taking one from the left. The full back swung it in and Mandzukic was unmarked to head past Itandje from 8 yards. It was a really simple goal for Croatia and one which showed the lack of defensive ability displayed by Cameroon at the tournament. The goal did seem to inspire Cameroon a little afterwards though.

Aboubakar became more involved and he got a great opportunity from a Mbia break. His effort from the edge of the area was wild and way over the bar before Mbia fired just over from long range. The Croatians, though, were comfortable and extended their lead with 18 minutes remaining.

Mateo Kovacic – just on for Sammir – got the ball on the right and lost two defenders before playing the ball to fellow substitute Eduardo just inside the area. The ex-Arsenal man set himself on his left foot before trying to place in the bottom corner. Itandje got down well to save but he tipped it right into the path of Mandzukic who gleefully tapped it in for his second of the game.

Croatia continued to carve open Cameroon but they made poor decisions in the final third and great opportunities fizzled out quickly while Cameroon tried but struggled with ten men. They did carve open an opportunity when subsitute Edgar Salli dribbled past two Croatians before teeing up Moukandjo just inside the area but the winger could only fire wide of the far post. Croatian subsitute Ante Rebic then broke clear on the left before seeing his curling effort saved by Itandje.

There were even better chances in the final minutes as Eduardo cleared the ball down the right and Rebic broke. The Fiorentina striker cut back and played in Rakitic who dinked the ball over the onrushing Itandje but he couldn’t reach the ball and went wide of the post. Then, Assou-Ekotto sent in an excellent cross from the left and sub Pierre Webo headed his effort into the ground and saw it bounce off the bar before being unable to get to the follow up. The game ended with Assou-Ekotto attempting a headbutt on team mate Moukandjo as Cameroon were eliminated in shambles. The only positive for Cameroon is that the referee didn’t send the full back off.

It was a comfortable victory for Croatia who now have set up a do or die final game against Mexico to try and progress from Group A. They have looked good so far (even in defeat) and the game against Mexico looks to be a potentially great game. However, for Cameroon, it is another appalling showing in a major tournament and the egos in that dressing room have again been their own downfall as has some shocking defending and poor performances from big names.

Cameroon: Itandje, Mbia, N’Koulou (c), Chedjou (Nounkeu 45), Assou-Ekotto, Matip, Song, Enoh, Moukandjo, Aboubakar (Webo 70), Choupo-Moting (Salli 75)

Subs: Feudjou, Djeugoue, N’Guemo, Eto’o, Makoun, Bedimo, Olinga, Nyom, Ndjock

Red: Song

Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna (c), Corluka, Lovren, Pranjic, Modric, Rakitic, Perisic (Rebic 78), Sammir (Kovacic 72), Olic (Eduardo 69) , Mandzukic

Subs: Vrsaljko, Vukojevic, Jelavic, Zelenika, Schildenfeld, Brozovic, Badelj, Vida, Subasic

Goal: Olic, Perisic, Mandzukic

Yellow: Eduardo

MAN OF THE MATCH: IVAN PERISIC (CROATIA)

St. Mirren won the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1980. Could it be brought back?

The Less League, More Cup Strategy

Rory Smith is sick of the current Scottish league structure and watching the same games three or four times a season and has come up with a radical strategy aimed at changing that…

I hate league football. It is boring and repetitive. You get stuck playing the same teams every year, not doing anything while some other teams win the league. I would say the same as an Aberdeen fan if we were in a British league as we would find our level and get stuck playing British teams of the same level. The same teams playing over and over again, with teams battling it out to avoid failure or mid table mediocrity. I say the same about the Scottish and English Premier League. I would like to radically cut the number of league games in the Scottish league and replace them with cross border cups, where home group games are counted as part of the home season ticket attendances.

Here is my radical idea:

Step One

  • Increase the Premier to 16 teams, with teams playing home and away.
  • 30 games a year for the league title.

This means a cut in the number of games each team in the Premier League play by 8 games while also freeing up 8 weeks for new cup competitions.

Step Two

  • Introduce a “Celtic Cup” of 24 teams

The “Celtic Cup” would be made up of the 16 Scottish Premier League sides, 2 Welsh sides, one team each from Cornwall and the Isle of Man and the 4 Irish regions (Munster, Connacht, Ulster and Leinster). The Irish regions have proved popular with rugby fans and would put forward regional representative sides made up of players from the League of Ireland and Irish League. If this is not possible then 2 Irish league and 2 League of Ireland sides would take part instead. There would then be 24 teams in 6 groups with the top sides from each group qualifying for the quarter finals. The 4 best runner ups qualify for a qualifying round for the quarter final with the winners qualifying for the quarter finals too. Scottish teams would be forced to play their first team or face 3 points deducted in the Premier league. Also to ensure less chance of sectarian issues, Rangers could not be drawn to play a Irish Republic team in the group stages and Celtic would not be drawn against Northern Irish sides in the group stage. I would also include home group stage games as part of the season tickets for fans. Also, the Scottish teams would subsidise travel costs for the poorer clubs.

Step Three

  • Return of an Anglo-Scottish Cup

The Scottish Premier League sides that did not qualify for Europe and teams from the English League One play in a group stage cross border cup. Then in the knockout stages the Scottish teams that qualified for Europe and the winners of the group stage play in a straight knockout trophy. With an annual final played at Wembley Stadium. Imagine how great it would be for Scottish sides to play a final at the famous Wembley stadium every year. Scottish clubs that reached the final would talk of the great time they played at Wembley in the same way Aberdeen fans talk of Gothenburg and Celtic fans talk of Lisbon.

St. Mirren won the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1980. Could it be brought back?

St. Mirren won the Anglo-Scottish Cup in 1980. Could it be brought back?

Every year we hear people suggesting that the Scottish and English leagues merge. If that happened then most Scottish Premier League sides of the likes of Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St. Johnstone would be lucky to reach the level of the Conference based on the attendances they get. So my idea would be a best of both worlds scenario where they get to keep playing in the Scottish Premier League while having a chance of winning national cups and getting to play high standard English League One sides. A merge would also render more than 100 years of Scottish football meaningless plus Aberdeen would do nothing in a British league (we could go 200 years without winning a national cup!).

Some will say there is no point in playing Irish and Welsh sides but I totally disagree. We have a firm connection with the Celtic nations and this would increase our audiences in the Celtic nations. I have contacted Welsh and Irish clubs and they would love a Celtic Cup. The attendances for Scottish/Irish games are big. And Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and the Isle of Man are beautiful places that away fans would enjoy visiting. The fans would get something different to see and Scotland could expand its TV market to other countries that know about Scotland. Some will argue that this will not satisfy the Old Firm but an annual final at Wembley would satisfy their desire to achieve something in England without giving up their competitive chances of winning the league and qualifying for the Champions or Europa League.

Some will say travel is too tough but that is a weak argument. I have traveled to Wales, Scotland and Ireland and it is not that far. Also, if Bala Town can travel to Latvia for a Europa league games then surely Inverness can travel to Cornwall which is on the same island for goodness sake. The fans in Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia have far bigger travelling issues. How weak are we when we cannot even travel in our own little islands. It is not too expensive to travel around the British and Irish Isles. Look at how many English fans are going to Brazil. If fans can got to Brazil surely it is not too much to ask for fans to travel to the Isle of Man?

I would love my team Aberdeen to get to play English League One sides every year and have a realistic chance of playing in a cup final every year.
Some will say that 30 games is not enough league games, but that is rubbish, in Portugal they have a 30 game league season. In the first years of the Scottish league they played as few as 22 league games a season but no one would argue that those league titles are meaningless.

I would be willing for any cross border cup. Maybe a Scottish Premier/English League/Isle of Man/Cornwall/Ireland/Wales cup (as mentioned previously) with Belgian, Dutch and Danish teams added for extra competition. Just anything to change the boredom of only playing Scottish sides. How is Scottish football going to expand its audience if it is just the same matches all the time?

What this is about is giving:

  1. Something different to the fans
  2. Scottish clubs the chance to win a cross border trophy
  3. helping the other Celtic countries (a generous thing from Scottish football)
  4. There is more potential in the other Celtic nations for growth in football than there is in Scotland which is at saturation level.

Of course it would be a gamble to have a Celtic Cup. It might only bring in crowds of a few hundred for the home games but there is potential for the Irish and Welsh to get more interested in Scottish football. That could increase the TV revenue for the Scottish league and increase the chances of big clubs developing in Wales and Ireland that would be fun to play. The Irish sides are sleeping giants and the Isle of Man could be a smaller version of Monaco. Imagine the fun for travelling fans to travel to other beautiful Celtic nations. Imagine the fun of a Scottish club winning a cross border trophy for the first time since Aberdeen did in 1983.

I think there is no ‘Scotland only’ solution to the problems of Scottish football. We need to work together with other leagues, to play big teams from other countries and to market the Scottish league to new territories. We have to keep the bread and butter of Scottish league football but we just need to have slightly less of it.

A big thank you to Rory for his contribution and idea. As always, if you do have an idea you wish to contribute get in touch (details can be found here) and leave your thoughts about this idea in the comments or on social media (links close by). Stay tuned for more content on The Long Ball coming soon.

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Sloppy Brazil Still Manage To Win World Cup Opener

BRAZIL 3-1 CROATIA (WORLD CUP GROUP A)

World Cup hosts Brazil got their campaign off to the perfect start with a 3-1 victory over Croatia in Sao Paulo but their performance certainly left a lot to be desired.

Brazil boss Luis Felipe Scolari chose to go with Paulinho over Fernandinho and Ramires in midfield while Croatia boss Niko Kovac fielded a midfield trio of Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic which made many on Twitter a little too excited. Sime Vrsaljko was pressed into duty at left back instead of Danijel Pranjic while Nikica Jelavic replaced the suspended Mario Mandzukic up front.

Kovac had said in his pre-game press conference that his side would not sit back and they certainly began with a purpose. An early throw in gained in an advanced position fell to Kovacic in a bit of space 25 yards out. His half volley went harmlessly wide but it was a big statement of intent from the Croatians and they continued in that vein.

While Brazil kept possession in the middle third with real ease, they struggled to get any further and were looking very susceptible on the break and from one of those breaks, Ivica Olic had a great opportunity to score. The ball was played out to the right hand side for Ivan Perisic and the Wolfsburg man did well to get it onto his left foot and swing in a lovely cross to the back post. Olic was completely unmarked as Dani Alves went to sleep but the other Wolfsburg man in the Croatian team could only head the ball wide. It was a massive warning for the hosts and one they didn’t heed which they paid for after 11 minutes.

A Brazilian attack broke down on the right in the Croatian half and Rakitic brought the ball forward. He knocked it past the committed Paulinho in the centre of the field for Olic on the left who burst past Thiago Silva. Olic sent in a low cross for Jelavic who had managed to get in front of David Luiz at the near post. The Hull striker couldn’t get a solid contact on the ball but he did enough to put off Marcelo who couldn’t sort his feet out and could only watch as the ball rolled into his own net. It was a horrible start for the hosts and the Sao Paulo crowd was stunned.

The Brazilian response was a good one once they got over the shock of conceding. Oscar – playing on the right wing – sent a ball into Paulinho who burst into the area and stung the palms of Stipe Pletikosa in the Croatian goal. Minutes later, Neymar got past Rakitic on the right byline but his low cross was cleared from the danger area. However, it fell perfectly for Oscar on the edge of the area but his first time left footed effort was beaten away by Pletikosa. Brazil were knocking on the door and were soon level despite nearly getting caught out again.

Rakitic played a ball into Perisic in the area who was allowed to work a crossing situation for himself on the left. He hung it up at the back post for Jelavic who got above Marcelo and headed it at Julio Cesar with Olic well placed in the middle. It proved costly as Cesar distributed it quickly to Luiz Gustavo who gave it to Oscar. He got into some trouble in the middle of the park but some weak Croatian tackles and battling from the Chelsea man saw Neymar come away with the ball. He had space to run into and wasn’t closed down so hit a left foot shot from 25 yards. It wasn’t the cleanest hit in the world but it was just out of Pletikosa’s reach and found its way into the back of the net via the post. It was a massive relief for the hosts and a desperately needed one at that.

The rest of the first half was an even affair with both sides seeing plenty of the ball but neither able to find that killer final ball. Still, it was an entertaining game and at half time, many had hope that it would continue. The second half began in much the same vein but with Brazil starting to pen the Croatians back a little more. Niko Kovac’s men were solid in defence and easily dealt with any and all Brazilian attacks but almost shot themselves in the foot midway through the second half.

Vedran Corluka had possession just inside his own half and with Neymar closing him down, he played a panicked and poor ball inside to Rakitic. Neymar pounced on it before Rakitic could react but instead of making good on the space afforded him, the Barcelona striker was chopped down 30 yards from goal by Corluka. The Croatian defender got a yellow for his tough tackle but that was his only punishment as Alves’ free kick was about half a yard over. The Brazilians were pushing and they finally got in front with 20 minutes to go thanks to some generous refereeing.

Brazil managed to work a low cross into the box for Fred – who had been anonymous until that point – with his back to goal. The striker went down in the area under pressure from Dejan Lovren and the referee gave the penalty, incensing the Croatians who surrounded him. The replays showed that Lovren gave Fred’s arm a light pull but the striker had gone down very, very easily indeed and should have been cautioned for diving. Still, the Brazilians had the chance to get in front and Neymar stepped up. The Barcelona man hit his penalty poorly but, despite Pletikosa getting both hands on it, it squeezed home. It was an undeserved lead for the hosts but one they celebrated anyway.

The Croatians instantly pushed forward with renewed effort after the injustice and just seconds after the restart, Perisic’s low cross was turned over his own bar by Luiz. It was the PSG bound defender who had the chance to kill the game not long after that though. A short corner on the left was worked out to Oscar on the right, who got past Olic before delivering an outstanding cross. Luiz threw himself at it but couldn’t guide it in from five yards on the stretch and actually took it away from Neymar at the back post who was better placed to score. They almost paid for that miss minutes later.

Croatia worked the ball forward and, while Rakitic went down on the edge of the area, Sime Vrsaljko never gave up down the left. The full back got to the ball and sent over a hanging cross first time which was a tough one for Cesar to judge. The keeper looked to have it before Olic bundled into him and headed it back for substitute Ante Rebic whose shot was blocked into the path of Perisic who scored from ten yards. The whistle had already gone however for a foul by Olic on the keeper which, despite Croatia protestations, was the correct call.

The Croatians kept pushing forward and were now testing Cesar in the Brazil goal. Modric forced a save from the QPR keeper with a low shot from distance before Corluka headed wide from a good position. Perisic then had a shot from distance that troubled Cesar into a poor save which Luiz had to bail him out of with a good block on Rebic’s follow up. The Croatians were pushing but were eventually caught out on the break.

Modric dallied on the ball in the centre of the park for too long and he was robbed by Brazilian sub Ramires. His tackle got the ball for Oscar who drove at the heart of the Croatian defence. The Chelsea man then toe poked an effort from the edge of the box which found its way past Pletikosa and into the bottom corner. It was another undeserved goal but one that secured all three points for the hosts.

Marcelo Brozovic’s wild effort from 30 yards summed up the disappointment for Croatia late on and they fell to a very harsh defeat in this game. Brazil certainly looked weak defensively and, with the exception of Neymar, lacking creativity and attacking threat. The Croatians look set for a good showing in Brazil if they continue to perform like this and that has to be encouraging for Niko Kovac moving forward.

Brazil: Cesar, Alves, Silva (c), Luiz, Marcelo, Gustavo, Paulinho (Hernanes 63), Oscar, Neymar (Ramires 88), Hulk (Bernard 68), Fred

Subs: Jefferson, Fernandinho, Dante, Maxwell, Henrique, Willian, Jo, Victor, Maicon

Goal: Neymar, Oscar

Yellow: Neymar, Gustavo

Croatia: Pletikosa, Srna (c), Lovren, Corluka, Vrsaljko, Modric, Rakitic, Perisic, Kovacic (Brozovic 61), Olic, Jelavic (Rebic 78)

Subs: Pranjic, Vukojevic, Zelenika, Schildenfeld, Badelj, Sammir, Vida, Eduardo, Subasic

Goal: Own Goal

Yellow: Corluka, Lovren

MAN OF THE MATCH: NEYMAR (BRAZIL)

Arsenal

Worst XIs #7 – Arsenal

Amanda White returns with another Worst XI and this time she’s looking towards the Gunners…

Goalkeeper

Richard Wright – 22 appearances

Wright

Sometimes a flop signing cuts both ways – not only does the player end up in snarky lists like this and costing the club money and points, but it also ends up changing an entire career. Step forward Richard Wright, signed from Ipswich in 2001 for a wildly variable fee (anywhere between 1 and 6 million) where he had been a key member of an upwardly mobile side. Already an England international, Wrights signing was seen as an obvious long term replacement for an aging, struggling for form David Seaman. However Wright lost all sense of form and confidence himself, scored a horrendous own goal against Charlton, and ultimately wound up behind Stuart Taylor in the pecking order before departing for Everton – where injuries falling out of his loft and tripping over a Stamford Bridge sign while warming up in the penalty area that said “don’t warm up in the penalty area” made him a sort of Tony Hancock figure and continued a new career of being a highly paid back up keeper unable to force his way into starting line-ups. And yes, he is still on the books of Manchester City as of right now…

Centre Back

Gus Caesar – 51 appearances

Caesar

Is it possible to be objective about Gus? I mean after THAT mis-kick against Luton, he was clearly fouled by Mark Stein just before Danny Wilsons goal that condemned him to infamy? And he was injured during the game…and he did make an impressive debut against Manchester United…of course, Caesar simply has to be here, having been turned by Nick Hornby into a cautionary tale and punchline as long ago as the early 90s. Caesars decline began against Luton in the 1988 Littlewoods Cup Final where his errors turned a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 defeat in the blink of an eye, including the aforementioned mis-kick. Soon after that his reputation was shredded with a series of nervous performances, almost incomprehensible blunders and derision from the boo boys, and Caesar wound up on a career decline that lead to him sitting on the bench at Airdrie unable to displace Jimmy Sandison and Walter “Zico” Kidd. And of course he got his own paragraph in Fever Pitch about how sometimes you get found out at the highest level or something. And there was also a failed trial at Partick Thistle, which might tell you a lot as well if you are so inclined.

Centre Back

Igor Stepanovs – 31 appearances, 1 goal

The beginning of the end for Stepanovs (r)

The beginning of the end for Stepanovs (r)

Sometimes as with Ian Andrews or William Prunier, it’s really not your fault, and history recalls your contribution to a terrible loss as being worse than it actually was. And sometimes, as with Igor Stepanovs, it really is your fault. Bought for a million pounds from Skonto Riga to replace an injured Tony Adams, Stepanovs (stop me if you’ve heard this before) played well on his debut, scoring against Ipswich in the League Cup. Then came Old Trafford, and a lunch time showdown with Manchester United where Stepanovs was pressed into service in a makeshift centre back pairing with Gilles Grimandi that went about as well it sounds. 5-1 down at half time and ripped to shreds by Dwight Yorke, his performance was described in an online Telegraph match report as “a newly born reindeer running on ice“, and Arsenal fan forum as the “Rodney Trotter in Arsenals history“. Stepanovs was the victim of one of Wengers all time worst ever dressing room tirades, and never trusted again, he was shipped off to “strategic partner” Beveren as soon as it was humanly possible.

Centre Back

Pascal Cygan – 98 appearances, 3 goals

Cygan

It’s sometimes hard to come up with new ways to write about bad footballers, particularly when they don’t have any amusing anecdotes. There’s only so many ways you can say someone like Pascal Cygan simply at a particular stage in his career lacked pace, was frequently left for dead by opposition defenders, and that he conceded one of the single worst individual goals I’ve seen in watching football – a goal against Middlesbrough where he headed the ball 10 yards into the middle of the pitch, stood and watched it as a Boro player picked it up, and then while still in his day dream played Maccarone onside when the Italian ran in and scored. A 2 million pound signing from Lille, there’s not much more I can say about Cygan that could sum it up anymore than his usual chant – “He’s bald, he’s shit, he plays when no-ones fit…Cygan…Cygan...”

Right Midfield

Jimmy Carter – 29 appearances, 2 goals

Carter

Carters stint at Liverpool was a lot more infamous, particularly as Graeme Souness substituted after he had come on himself as a sub for the act of being physically afraid of Andy Townsend, but his stint at Arsenal was equally awful. Perhaps the two most striking recollections of Carters stint at Arsenal were that he would very often chase an opponent and get near them, only to physically freeze at the thought of tackling (one Liverpool forum says rather than tackle, he jiggled and mimed a tackle when he needed to) and of course, standing near the corner flag retreating from the ball in the hope no one would ask him to do anything. After 29 performances that only had two modes (disastrous and anonymous) Carter ended his career at Portsmouth, and now weirdly bobs up in a variety of places and football “legends” games where an ex Arsenal player is required.

Centre Midfield

Alberto Mendez – 11 appearances, 2 goals

Mendez

There was a time many moons ago when Arsene Wenger could – seemingly – do no wrong. In this exotic time people would whisper in hushed tones about the Frenchman doing crazy things like getting players to train harder, stop drinking and eat healthy foods, and his ability to find transfer gems everywhere, even in the German fifth division. Signed on the cheap from SC Feucht, the strange thing about Alberto was that with Wenger scouting him (among a crowd of 50 other people) he played terribly. He still turned up at Arsenal, and perhaps not surprisingly for a German fifth division footballer, he was horrendously out of his depth, playing just 11 games for the Gunners. He did score in the Champions League against Panathinaikos, before footballs strangest fairytale run petered out and he wound his career up with stints at Racing Ferrol, Terrassa and SV Sandhausen.

Centre Midfield

Junichi Inamoto – 4 appearances

Inamoto

It’s fair to say that some signings bring out the old cynic in people – the signing of Inamoto from Gamba Osaka for 3.5 million pounds just before Japan hosted the World Cup brought out many cynics who claimed Inamoto was only signed to sell shirts to Japanese fans, much like how teams in Serie A would always sign Nakata and never play him. Inamoto went the same way, being unable to break into the Double winning side, save for strange cameos like a League Cup tie against Grimsby where touts were able to charge Japanese tourists 60 quid to get in and see him. Ultimately at that stage of his career he wasn’t physical enough or good enough to get into the side, and he came and went with only a pile of cash from sold shirts to remember him by.

Left Midfield

Glenn Helder – 39 appearances, 1 goal

- Arsenal v Nottingham Forest

Back in the days when every foreign signing was a “star” and a “coup”, and every Dutchman was “cultured” (at least according to Shoot! Magazine) the signing of the cultured star Glenn Helder was indeed considered a coup. Signed for 2.3 million by George Graham a week before the Scotmans departure, Helder made a striking debut on and off the field – sharp suited and long haired at the press conference, and then bewitching Steve Chettle on debut and looking like a bargain. However, that was before another foreign/Shoot trope became apparent – “the enigma”. Helders form and mood veered wildly, he frequently looked dis-interested and sensitive souls Adams and Bould didn’t help by deciding to kick lumps out of him at training to see if he was more than a “a one-trick shuffle pony”. Gambling and personal problems also didn’t help, and within a few years Helder was playing part time football and the bongos in his Dads jazz band to make ends meet. It also says a lot about Helders impact at Arsenal that his poor form and enigmatic personality almost dissuaded Arsenal from signing another alleged Dutch enigma – Dennis Bergkamp.

Striker

Francis Jeffers – 39 appearances, 8 goals

Jeffers

Jeffers celebrating making a third appearance in a Worst XI post.

Fans of historical accuracy might wish to know Thierry Henry, not Arsene Wenger, coined the infamous “fox in the box” terminology that was used to justify the signing of Francis Jeffers for 8 million pounds from Everton in 2001. “Jeffers knows what it takes to go to Southampton and Newcastle and fight” proclaimed Arsene Wenger at his unveiling. As it turned out, there was no fight in Jeffers. Dogged by injuries, a lack of workrate, and if we’re honest, ability, Jeffers was closer to Richard Wright than Ian Wright in hearts of the fans, and was a long way from being any kind of fox in the box. His stint at Arsenal ended with him being shipped off to Everton on loan and then permanently to Charlton and Australia, being last heard of fighting his father in a law with a broomstick in a minor tabloid tale. Of historical note, Jeffers was signed only after a certain Zlatan Ibrahimovic had stormed out of Highbury when a deal was seemingly done. But whatever became of him anyway…

Striker

Ray Hankin – 2 appearances

Hankin

You might have to take my word for it, and yes, I’m sure some poetic licence is involved, but ask any Arsenal fan of a certain age and they’ll swear Ray Hankin was the worst player ever to wear the Arsenal shirt. A 300000 pound capture from Vancouver Whitecaps, Hankins brief Arsenal career began with Terry Neill swearing he was a more than adequate replacement for the Manchester United bound Frank Stapleton. 2 games, both substitute appearances, might suggest flimsy evidence of ineptitude, but Hankin, never known for his subtlety, was vastly overweight (some suggest even 3 stone overweight), visibly unfit and in one of his 2 appearances (this one against Liverpool) made a lung bursting run into the box only to trip over his feet, to the joyous amusement of Kenny Dalglish. A clutch of equally inept displays in friendlies and reserve games simply built up the legend, and Hankin was soon on his way back to Canada via a clause in his contract, taking just 110 minutes to become an Arsenal legend for all the wrong reasons.

Striker

Peter Marinello – 51 appearances, 5 goals

Marinello

If George Best really was the first celebrity footballer, Peter Marinello was the first celebrity who happened to play football for a living – and not particularly well as it turned out. If you judge Marinello’s stint in Arsenal in terms of visibility and endorsements, it was a raging success. There was a milk ad, there were nightclub appearances, there was even a strangely stalkerish appearance hosting Top of the Pops were he fixated on one of the Pans People dancers and her false eyelashes. On the field though, the new George Best was a disaster – unfit, shy, homesick, usually injured and battling drinking and personal problems. There was also the small matter of being a committed hellraiser and a bit of a maverick while playing under Don Howe and Bertie Mee, avowed old school clamp down on everything coaches. Marinello eventually walked out to sign for Portsmouth, and his career fell into oblivion, although he got to meet Vicki Michelle from ‘Allo ‘Allo according to his book. Stop us if you’ve heard this before though, his debut was quite good…

Manager

Don Howe

Howe

I’m assured by the record books and Brian Glanville that the answer should be Billy Wright (“out of his depth and frequently petulant towards criticism” says the bold Brian) but the memory of Don Howe’s long awaited managerial reign at Highbury sticks in the memory a lot more. There were managers with worse records than Don (including his caretaker replacement Steve Burtenshaw) and Don even went on a winning run just before he quit in 1986, but the main reason for his selection is the god awful football he inflicted on Arsenal. After all, according to Don, “a draw is never a defeat“. Celebrity “Gooner” Alan Davies once said “We would roll the ball along our back four, trying to draw the opposition midfield out…but that could take up to half an hour….” – anyone who sat up for a show like “The Big Match” in New Zealand (i.e. – me) who then found out they were watching Don Howe’s Arsenal can still shudder at the memory…

Arsenal

There are also a number of players who were horrible but not quite horrible enough to get into this XI so have to make do with a place on the bench. They are:

  • Rami Shabaan
  • Justin Hoyte
  • Mikael Silvestre
  • Carl Jenkinson
  • Sebastian Squillaci
  • Jason Crowe (red carded 33 seconds into his debut)
  • Kaba Diawara
  • David Hillier
  • David Bentley
  • John Hawley
  • John Kosmina (famed for leaving his team down to 10 men to take a “leak for the ages”, at which point Red Star Belgrade scored to knock Arsenal out of the UEFA Cup)
  • Tomas Danilcevius
  • Park Chu-Young

Big thank you to Amanda for this edition of Worst XI. You can follow her on Twitter at @Jobbergirl1985. Do you agree with the selection? Who would you have in your Arsenal Worst XI? Let us know here or on Twitter (link on left). Stay tuned for more from The Long Ball coming soon.

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