2014 World Cup – End Of Group Stage

So that’s your round of 16 lineups and it starts off tonight. The group stage matches concluded last night and we have the final 16 teams of the tournament. A couple of surprises here and there. Let’s take a look at the line ups:

Brazil vs Chile : Despite a roadblock in the form of Mexico Brazil finished strongly with an impressive 4-1 win over Cameroon to finish top of their group with 7 points. Chile progress with 6 points and second in their group after losing 0-2 to the Dutch.

Uruguay vs Columbia : Uruguay beat Italy 1-0 to finish second in their group and thereby eliminating the Italians from the World Cup. But they must progress without star striker Luis Suarez who is suspended for 9 matches after he bit Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder. Columbia topped their group with a 4-1 win over Japan and will have their hopes up to reach the quaterfinals and more.

Netherlands vs Mexico : The strong Dutch team finished with maximum points in their group after they beat Chile 2-0. They look like strong favourites along with Brazil if only they maintain discipline and avoid rash challenges. Mexico’s party continues after they finished second behind Brazil with a 3-1 win over Croatia in their 3rd game and eliminated the Croats from the competition.

Costa Rica vs Greece : The surprise side of the world cup so far are the positive & exciting Costa Ricans who have topped their group with a 0-0 draw against England which eliminated the English. At times the English didn’t even look like they were trying and they need to really think about changes to the squad. Greece is another surprise as the finished second to Columbia after they defeated Ivory Coast 2-1 in their final group stage match.

France vs Nigeria : France looked a bit listless in their final game of the group stage and drew 0-0 against Ecuador to finish on top of their group with 7 points. But they better shape up as their opponents Nigeria seem to have improved as the tournament went on and they finished runners-up in their group to Argentina with a 2-3 loss to them. However as Bosnia & Herzogovina defeated Iran 3-1 that eliminated the Iranians from progressing to the knock out stages.

Germany vs Algeria : Germany seem to have slipped up a bit from the heady performance of their opening match against Portugal and just about managed to defeat the USA with a solitary goal from Thomas Muller. They need to shore up their defense and also create more chances up front. Algeria is the other surprise although they came from a weaker group but did show strong play throughout to impress me and finished second to Belgium by drawing the final game with the Russians. Look for them to bring their A game against the Germans.

Argentina vs Switzerland : Argentina looked shaky against the ever improving Nigerians but managed to win 3-1 with a strong brace from Leo Messi. Will they peak at the right time and go far in this tournament now that Sergio Aguero is out injured? Switzerland peaked just in time to win 3-0 against Honduras and finish second in the group to France thanks to a hattrick from Xherdhan Shaqiri. Can they break the Argentinians?

Belgium vs USA : And finally Belgium looked like a strong dark horse quietly winning all 3 of their group stage matches with a solitary goal win over Korea. They now face the improving USA who lost their final game to Germany 1-0 but finish second with 4 points over the Portuguese as they have a better goal difference. This could go either way.

So there you have it. Let the round of 16 begin!

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Arsenal Player Transfer Rumours

As we reach the end of the group stage of the 2014 World Cup, I’ve also been trying to keep up with the latest transfer rumours concerning my favourite club Arsenal and here are the top ones:

  • AC Milan may lower their £27m asking price for Mario Balotelli if Arsenal are willing to send Costa Rica’s Joel Campbell in the opposite direction.
  • Arsene Wenger will move for Bayern Munich’s Mario Mandzukic if the deal to sign Balotelli falls through.
  • Arsenal have joined Liverpool, Manchester United and Juventus in the race for Barcelona’s Alexis Sanchez.
  • Yann M’Vila is set to deal a transfer blow to Arsenal and Liverpool by rejecting the Premier League pair in favour of a switch to Inter Milan.
  • Mexico star Guillermo Ochoa claims he is open to a Premier League switch as Arsenal and Liverpool prepare offers after watching him star at World Cup.
  • Arsenal fans have threatened to riot if Wenger signs Tom Cleverley.

I wonder if any of these will take fruit. Balotelli looks like the most likely but then the Julian Daxler thing which seemed like a done deal seems to have hit a road block when the player stated that he wants to stay back in Germany (as per a report I read). Also Karim Benzema is rumoured to be on Arsenal’s sights as Wenger is a big admirer of him. Also Germany & Borrussia Dortmund midfielder Lars Bender, Javi Martinez of Bayern Munich & James Milner of Manchester City also look like likely targets. But I want Wenger to sign 20 year old Dutch winger Memphis Depay who has shined in his two appearances as a sub in the Netherland’s last two matches. Sign him Wenger!

Meanwhile Arsenal can confirm that 11 players will be leaving the club when their contracts officially expire on June 30. Nicklas Bendtner and Ju Young Park come to the end of their contracts, while Kim Kallstrom and Emiliano Viviano’s loan spells are set to conclude. As already communicated, Bacary Sagna, Lukasz Fabianski and Zak Ansah have completed permanent moves to Manchester City, Swansea City and Charlton Athletic respectively. Academy players Chuks Aneke, Daniel Boateng, Zach Fagan and Leander Siemann also depart having reached the end of their current agreements.

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2014 World Cup – Second Round Of Matches

The results of the second round of matches in the group stage:

Group A : Brazil 0 Mexico 0; Croatia 4 Cameroon 0

Brazil were restricted to a goalless draw by a resilient Mexican side spurred on by the heroic saves of their goalie Guillerimo Oacha who played himself into the hearts of Mexican and neutral fans hearts. The star performer has also been noticed by several clubs looking to get a goalkeeper. Croatia meanwhile hammered Cameroon with 4 unanswered goals as Mario Mandzukic scored twice and Ivica Olic and Ivan Perisic once each. Cameroon were eliminated as a result.

Group B : Netherlands 3 Australia 2; Chile 2 Spain 0

In an exciting match Australia took the game to the much fancied Dutch side who were perhaps guilty of taking their opponents a little too lightly prior to the second half. In a space of slightly more than 1 minute the score was 1-1 after Arjen Robben set the stadium of fire with his individual goal which was replied by a screamer from Tim Cahill. The Aussies took the lead in the second half and looked to win it before Robin Van Persie equalized and later substitute Memphis Depay scored the winner. Holders Spain became the 5th holders to crash out in the opening round as they lost to Chile 2-0 and ended the golden age of Spanish football. The end of an era was not pretty and it looked like a huge overhaul is needed to get them back to winning ways.

Group C : Columbia 2 Cote ‘Ivore 1; Japan 0 Greece 0

Colombia scored twice in six minutes in a lively second half to beat Ivory Coast 2-1 at the World Cup on Thursday and move to the brink of the knockout stage. Japan and Greece played out a draw that left them both with a lot to do if they wanted to get through to the knock out stages.

Group D : Uruguay 2 England 1; Costa Rica 1 Italy 0

England were knocked out of the competition as still unfit yet good enough to score Luiz Suarez scored a brace to give Uruguay a 2-1 win over them. Wayne Rooney had finally scored in a world cup to equalize but it wasn’t enough to get the English to avoid defeat. Also shocking was veteran Steve Gerrard who was outplayed and even made mistakes in the match. His time with the national side looks to come to an end. However England were beaten by the better team in both their matches so far and should hold their heads high and go out with a good game versus Costa Rica. Speaking of whom, the wonder boys took the game to a lacklustre and disinterested looking Italian side and defeated them by a solitary goal. Italy should be ashamed of themselves for playing they way they did.

Group E : France 5 Switzerland 2; Ecuador 2 Honduras 1

France seem to a candidate to win the cup as they ran away with a 4 – 0 lead against a sorry looking Swiss side. Scoring 2 goals within 2 minutes, the French side had 5 different scorers, including Giroud & Benzema (who also missed a penalty) and almost overwhelmed their opponents.  Blerim Dzemaili and Granit Xhaka gave the Swiss consolation goals in the final 10 minutes of the match. Ecuador come back from a goal down to beat Honduras, with two goals from Enner Valencia moving them to second place in Group E. They fell behind to a goal from Carlo Costly but Valencia, who has three goals in the tournament, ensured Ecuador only need a draw in their final game against France to progress.

Group F : Argentina 1 Iran 0; Nigeria 1 Bosnia & Herzegovina 0

For most of the match it looked like Iran would hold the Argentines goalless as they barricade their goal and protected their goalie by placing 9 players in their own half and keeping just their lone striker up front. Argentina were getting frustrated and getting booed by the Brazilians in the crowd. Until Leo Messi scored a beauty of a goal in the dying minutes of the match to shut the doors on Iran; rightly so! We don’t need such negative play. Nigeria ran out with a similar lone goal victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Group G : Germany 2 Ghana 2; USA 2 Portugal 2

In what was perhaps the best second half I have seen in a long time, Ghana took the match to much fancied Germany and gave us an exciting finish. After Germany had gone ahead by a Gotze headed, the Ghanians went ahead with goals by André Ayew & Asamoah Gyan. They looked good enough to win it as well and had a clear opportunity to goal 3-1 ahead. But veteran Miroslave Klose came on as a substitute and scored a typical poachers goal for his 15th goal across four World Cups, tying the record for most career goals at the tournament, held by former Brazil star Ronaldo. That’s the way the game ended at 2-2. The USA & Portugal match also ended in a 2-2 draw; Nani put Portugal ahead early in the first half, before a Jermaine Jones wonder strike levelled the game. Clint Dempsey thought he had won the game for his team when he restored the USA’s lead late on, but a moment of Cristiano Ronaldo brilliance allowed Varela to head in a last-minute equaliser.

Group H : Belgium 1 Russia 0; Korean Republic 2 Algeria 4

Finally group H and the most boring game I have watched so far with even the expert panel & commentators groaning in agony. Russia played out a defensive dull game with Belgium and deservedly the more exciting team finally win in the final minutes of the game with a lone goal. Algeria, a strong surprising side for this World Cup, defeated the Koreans by 4 goals to 2. The Algerian men ran riot in the opening 45 minutes as the South Korea defence was found wanting time and again. I do hope they qualify for the second round along with Belgium.

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2014 World Cup – First Round Of Matches

Please note that it’s first round of matches and not after the group stage. First round of matches as in, every nation participating in the world cup finals has played one match. So here are the results:

Group A : Brazil 3 Croatia 1 & Mexico 1 Cameroon 0

After a nice opening ceremony hosts Brazil opened the finals by facing off against Croatia and scored an own goal via defender Marcelo. That aside it was the Neymar show and he dazzled with a brace. But Croatia were no pushover and announced their intentions to try and finish 2nd in the group and qualify for the round of 16. Mexico were unlucky in that the referee wrongly denied them 2 goals which would have devastated Cameroon but in the end a solitary goal by Oribe was more than enough to see the Mexicans win.

Group B : Netherlands 5 Spain 1; Chile 3 Australia 1

The result of the tournament so far is the Dutch dancing around the Spanish defense and dominating the defending champions so much in the second half. Robin van Persie & Arjen Robben were on fire and the talk is that Spain might not even make it to the next round and that their era of success has come to an end . Chile meanwhile looked impressive enough in the win over unfancied Australia who still claim that they have a chance.

Group C : Columbia 3 Greece 0; C’ote deIvorie 2 Japan 1

No surprises over here although I thought Greece would put up a bit more of a fight. I remember their Euro theatrics and was hoping for more. Japan is one nation I support a lot and I had hopes for them. They could still qualify but will find it tough.

Group D : Costa Rica 3 Uruguay 1; Italy 2 England 1

Surprise here again with upstarts Costa Rica, who do have some good players on display here, getting the better of Uruguay. The South Americans have a much more fancied team on paper and should have done better. Italy vs England was a delight to watch late at night and the cool as cucumber Italians didn’t panic when England equalized and went on to win. On a positive note, England look good enough to get through despite the loss.

Group E : Switzerland 2 Ecuador 1; France 3 Honduras 0

Didn’t watch either match but I would like to look at France as a possible quaterfinalist or maybe more. With Karim Benzema scoring a brace they look strong but have a weak group to qualify from and shouldn’t have any issues. I’d pick them to win all 3 games and go with 9 points.

Group F : Argentina 2 Bosnia & Herzegovina 1; Iran 0 Nigeria 0

Ah Argentina, a perennial favorite team of mine. They started well alright but should have shone better; however Messi was the star. Will they progress far? I dunno but this side shouldn’t trouble them much. Who will join them in the round of 16? I think Nigeria should pick up their game and get a few goals in.

Group G : Germany 4 Portugal 0;  USA 2 Ghana 1

Germany put on a clinic and beat fancied Portugal 4-0, aided ofcourse by that stupid sending off by Pepe who had a moronic reaction to Meuller making the most of a fall. But even by then Germany looked to be the much stronger team and will be one to watch. The Americans went all gaga over their win over Ghana, a team that beat them twice before in previous World cups. But will they make it to the next round? It could depend on the Portugese performance.

Group H : Belgium 2 Algeria 1; Russia 1 Korea Republic 1

Least exciting group to watch; for me anyway. I expect Belgium and Russia to make it and based on their performances so far, it might hold true. But Algeria played very well last night and took the game to Belgium and opened the scoring and looked good to win it for a large part of the game before the Belgians switched gears and picked up their intensity.

And that’s how it finished. Onto the second round of games! Ole!

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2006 World Cup In Germany

And now the 2006 World cup held in Germany. The 18th World Cup was the least I had seen of a World Cup tournament since I was old enough to star watching the matches live, ie. from 1990 onwards. The reason is simple enough, work stood in the way and especially when I had a mix of day and night shifts. Still I did manage to watch quite a  few games.

Eight nations qualified for the finals for the first time: Angola, Côte d’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Ghana, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Ukraine, and Serbia and Montenegro. Czech Republic and Ukraine were making their first appearance as independent nations, but had previously been represented as part of Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union respectively; Serbia and Montenegro had competed as Yugoslavia in 1998, as well as making up part of Yugoslav teams from 1930 to 1990.  Hosts Germany started well winning all 3 of their group stage matches and Ecuador joined them in the knock out stages. England & Sweden scrapped their way through in their group, while old rivals the Netherlands & Argentina had 7 points each in their group. Portugal were a strong team and got 9 points while Italy & Ghana came out of group E. Group F saw a strong Brazilian finish with 9 points joined by the Aussies in the round of 16. The Swiss finished above France while Spain and Ukraine qualified from the final group.

The knockout stages went like this Germany beat Sweden and faced Argentina in the quarters and won on penalties to reach the semis. Italy beat the Aussies and then took care of Ukraine, while Portugal beat the Dutch and then England. France beat Spain and then Brazil to make it to the semis. A showdown was set but Germany fell 2-0 to Italy while France beat Portugal by a solitary goal to setup a clash of big teams in the final. At the end of the regulation 90 minutes, the score was still level at 1–1, and the match was forced into extra time. Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon made a potentially game-saving save in extra time when he tipped a Zidane header over the crossbar. Controversy ensued near the end of extra time, when Zidane head-butted Materazzi in the chest in an off-the-ball incident in which the Italian abused the Frenchman’s family and was sent off. Extra time produced no further goals and a penalty shootout followed, which Italy won 5–3. Germany beat Portugal 3-1 for 3rd place to cap off a successful World cup. Miroslav Klose with 5 goals won the golden boot.

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Netherlands 5 Spain 1

Oh man! I told myself that I would only do weekly updates or an update every 2-3 days of the world cup matches but this is easily broken because of what happened last night.Ok, first I watched the second half of Mexico vs Cameroon in which the Mexicans came out deserved winners 1-0. And then waited for what I though the pick of the first round matches will be. Netherlands lost to Spain in the 2010 World Cup finals in what was a animosity filled affair. Coming so close for the 3rd time in World Cup history and losing the final yet again was a bitter pill to swallow for them. They were eagerly waiting to get a chance at revenge and last night…

They got it! It was supposed to be one of the best matches of the 2014 World Cup group stage, but the Netherlands had other ideas as they picked apart Spain’s defense and hammered the defending champions, 5-1. Robin Van Persie scored twice, and Arjen Robben added two goals of his own as the Oranje absolutely crushed Spain. Diego Costa, who was a controversial choice for Spain having been Brazil born and raised and yet chose to get Spanish citizenship so he could play for Spain, was constantly booed throughout the night. He faked a foul in the penalty box which the referee fell for and awarded a spot kick which Xabi Alonso converted. The Dutch struck when Robin Van Persie executed a sensational volley header off a long curling pass from Danny Blind that left Casillas frozen as the ball sailed over his head and into the goal. Early in the second half, Robben put the Dutch ahead 2-1 thanks to some wonderful footwork in the Spanish box. He showed a tremendous touch, bringing down the looping cross from Blind, and managing to immediately control the ball and cut back as Gerard Piqué’s momentum carried him past. Robben fired his shot to the right of the sliding Casillas, and the Netherlands were ahead.

Sneijder sent a free kick from the left wing across the face of goal, and Casillas failed to deal with it properly as Van Persie collided with the goalkeeper. In the confusion, Stefan De Vrij was able to sneak it at the far post and apparently head the ball down off his own foot, and over the line, giving the Netherlands a 3-1 lead. In the 73rd minute, Casillas made a horrible mistake with his first touch, allowing the ball to bounce right to Van Persie at the top of the box. The goalkeeper’s desperate sliding tackle was too late, as RVP held his balance long enough to toe-poke the ball into the empty net: 4-1, Netherlands. Spain’s comical defending continued in the 81st minute when they simply couldn’t stop Robben as he danced around inside the box, before firing the ball into the once again empty net to make it 5-1. The rout was complete.

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2014 World Cup Commences

So, the greatest show on planet earth, watched by more humans (and some animals too) than any other event, started last night (for Indians) with a grand opening ceremony. Said opening ceremony lost a lot of glitter as it took place during the day time and would have looked a lot more spectacular had it been held in the later hours of the day. Nevertheless even as the anti-tournament protested continued their demonstrations the event took place in front of an appreciative stadium crowd as well as a huge global audience. And ofcourse that stupid, simplistic & corny song sung (and I use that term loosely) by Pitbull & 2 Stray Street dogs was performed with JLo looking like she was about to bare her chest to the entire world. I have no idea who the Brazilian bimbo with them was.

A while later the opening match took place with hosts Brazil taking on Croatia. A brace by Neymar cancelled an own goal by defender Marcelo as a resilient Croatian side attacked on the counter and troubled the Samba boys for a while. However it would still be Brazil’s day although the Japanese referee had dubious officiating that seemed to favour the host side. Oscar finished things up by poking home a third at the death.

So here’s hoping for a great tournament and some exciting matches.Ole!

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2002 World Cup In South Korea & Japan

I remember quite a few things about the 2002 World Cup, the first to be held on Asian soil. And fittingly Japan was one of the nations that co-hosted the tournament along with South Korea. Shock of the tournament was defending champions France losing in the opening match to Senegal. Yes….to Senegal! Even more shocking they were eliminated at the group stage itself as they drew their next game against Uruguay and then lost to Denmark with the dubious dishonour of being chucked out of the world cup without even scoring a single goal!

Argentina too failed to move past the group stage while Irish legend Roy Keane was sent home well before the tournament started after he had a public quarrel with manager Mick McCarthy. Germany thrashed Saudi Arabia 8-0 while Spain & Brazil impressed early on by winning all their 3 games in the group stages. The two co-hosts would qualify to the next stage bringing pride & joy to their respective fans. Senegal would be a big surprise of the tournament beating Sweden in the round of 16 to make it to the quarter-finals. Turkey was another, beating Japan in the round of 16 and then ending fellow surprise package Senagal’s run in the quaters. South Korea were the biggest surprise beating Italy 2-1 in sudden death extra time! They would go on to beat Spain but their impressive Cinderella run came to a halt when they were beaten 0-1 by Germany in the semi-finals. The Koreans finished 4th as the lost the 3rd place match to Turkey.

The final saw Brazil win 2-0 over Germany – a match I watched in Trivandrum with a cousin who had traveled with me while we were staying at another cousin’s house along with some of the latter’s friends. We had whiskey, porottas and lamb curry with goat brains and fried eggs! But what I most remember of this particular World cup was the going to Calicut early in the morning with another cousin and our uncle to attend yet another uncle’s housewarming. On the way we pass through Malappuram as well and the entire district had football & world cup decorations, hoardings & posters all over the streets as well as effigies of famous players! Flags of Brazil, Argentina, Italy and Spain were all over the place as well. The same thing could be seen in the city of Calicut as well. After lunch at my uncle’s house a huge gathering of older folks – men & women in their 60s & 70s watched the Brazil vs England quarterfinal match and they were very knowledgeable about the game & players as well. That was a huge & pleasant surprise for me and my cousin as we don’t get to see that in the rest of the state.

Also that same world cup, I was watching a lot of games at my uncle’s house – just 2 houses next to where I lived back then – and my grandmother would join us in the afternoon and evenings to sit with us as we watched some of the matches. She was on medication (as well as being unwell she had also just lost a son less than a year ago) and liked sitting with us. It was fun and we would joke with her just to keep  her in high spirits. That is a cherished memory that I am unlikely to ever forget.

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1998 World Cup In France

The 1998 world cup was another really memorable and enjoyable one for me. Perhaps no other world cup was an enjoyable and as exciting for me personally. I was 21, not yet 22, studying at NIIT and despite most of the matches ending late at night, like 1am-2am, I would watch all of them and get up at 5 am 4 days in a week to get to the 7 am class at NIIT. Me and the other guys would be in class, eyes red as hell and guzzling down loads of hot black coffee to stay awake while the ladies looked at us as if we were insane. Once the classroom and lab sessions were over (usually at around 11 am) we would spend the next 2 & a 1/2 hours discussing the matches that we had seen the previous night. At 1:30 pm we would leave for lunch and head back home.

I would sleep for awhile and in the late evenings read all the match reports and analysis of the matches played and rest up for that night’s matches. This was a fun time. I never discussed so much football in one place ever. There were so many good squads. Norway & Denmark represented Scandinavia with Sweden having failed to qualify and both teams entertained, especially Denmark with the final time that we would see the Laudrup brothers playing on a big stage together. Chile & Italy gave us a good match but Nigeria were the big surprises in the group stage, qualifying at the top of their group which included Paraguay – who also qualified – along with Spain & Bulgaria who didn’t! The Netherlands started slowly drawing 2 games and thrashing South Korea. By the way, this was also the first time that I saw my favourite utility player of all time Philip Cocu play. He was an unheralded hero playing defender, wing back, midfielder, winger & striker in different matches throughout the tournament.

Romania also showed some early flair finishing top of their group that also included England & Columbia, while Argentina looked the strongest during the group stage winning all 3 of their group stage matches in style. The big game in the round of 16 was ofcourse England vs Argentina and drama ensued. David Beckham was red carded for kicking at Diego Simone after being fouled by the Argentine in a fit of rage. Argentina went on to win the game via penalty shootout. In the quaterfinals Brazil vs Denmark and Argentina vs Netherlands were two exciting affairs and it was a shame that both Denmark & Argentina had to lose at that stage. Brazil would face off against the Netherlands in the semis and won via penalties. The other quarterfinals were between France & Italy with France winning in the shootout while a big surprise was up with the Cindrella team of the tournament with Croatia beating Germany 3-0. France would then beat Croatia and go onto beat Brazil 3-0 under the brilliance of Zinedine Zidane, give the French their first ever World Cup. Davor Suker won the golden boot with 6 goals and led Croatia to the 3rd place, beating Netherlands 2-1.

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1994 World Cup In The USA

1994 was a bad year for me personally and I was literally in tears lying on a bed in the bedroom downstairs at my old home while watching the games every day during the USA World Cup. Held in 9 cities over the country, the World Cup was a huge blur for me, even though I watch almost all the matches, uptill the semifinals when I finally cheered up. Greece, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia qualified for the world cup finals for the first time. The qualification campaigns of both Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia were affected by political events. The nation of Czechoslovakia dissolved in 1992, and the team completed its qualifying group under the name Representation of Czechs and Slovaks (RCS), but failed to qualify the finals. Maradona ended his illustrious career in shame – in his 4th world cup Maradona was expelled from the tournament after he failed a drug test which uncovered ephedrine, a weight loss drug, in his blood.

But the biggest & saddest shock of this world cup – and I think it is the saddest ever – was the death of Columbian defender Andres Escobar. In the group stage match against the United States, he scored an own goal that eliminated his team. Escobar was shot to death outside a bar in a Medellín suburb only ten days later, apparently in retaliation for the own goal. As the insane idiot shot at him, he yelled “goal”,”goal” with every bullet shot! Such a tragic story. On the field Bulgaria proved to be a big surprise of the tournament; having never won a match at the world cup before, they reached the semifinals and finished 4th. Brazil won the tournament having beaten the Netherlands in the quaterfinals, Sweden in the semis and Italy in the final. In a tense final both Brazil & Italy faced off and failed to score a goal. After 120 minutes the game went to penalty shootouts and Roberto Baggio – till then Italy’s star – missed by shooting it over the crossbar, and Brazil were crowned champions for the fourth time, surpassing Italy’s 3 reigns. Sweden with mercurial star Tomas Brolin finished 3rd after beating Bulgaria 4-0.

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1990 World Cup In Italy

My first World Cup once back home in India was Italia 1990. I had just started my 9th standard (grade) in school and 2 weeks in the World Cup started. We even had to write an essay about the World Cup in English class! At age 14 I was able to get permission from my parents to stay up late and watch the late night matches even on school nights. And yes this was the first world cup that I watched most of till then.

My favourites were ofcourse Argentina and I was supporting and cheering for them until the very end. Italy was a strong favourite of many with Roberto Baggio in form. It was the most watched world cup till then but it was also one of the most defensive ones as well. Following the 1990 World Cup, the back-pass rule was introduced in 1992 to discourage time-wasting and overly defensive play, and wins were awarded three points in the group stage of the 1994 World Cup to encourage more attack-minded tactics and discourage the strategy of playing for a draw. Cameroon won a lot of hearts around the globe and Roger Milla, a 38-year-old forward who came out of international retirement to join the national squad at the last moment after a personal request from Cameroonian President Paul Biya, became an international star. Milla’s four goals and flamboyant goal celebrations made him one of the tournament’s biggest stars as well as taking Cameroon to the last eight. A strong English had Paul Gascoigne or Gazza as fans lovingly nicknamed him and finished 4th, losing to West Germany in the semis. Gazza won hearts for famously being reduced to tears in the semis as a yellow card meant he would miss the final if England made it through.

The West Germany–Netherlands clash was held in Milan, and both sides featured several notable players from the two Milanese clubs (interestingly, three from each side, both in clubs and in national teams: Germans Andreas Brehme, Lothar Matthäus and Jürgen Klinsmann for Inter, Dutchmen Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard for AC Milan). After 22 minutes Rudi Völler and Frank Rijkaard were both dismissed after a goalmouth incident. As the players walked off the pitch together, Rijkaard spat at Völler. Argentina, who started badly, losing to Cameroon in the opening match, went to finish as losing finalists. With Maradona in the squad, the Argentines would also see two stars shine – goalie Sergio Goycochea who made many outstanding saves especially in the penalty shootout wins against Yugoslavia & Italy and Claudio Cannigia who dazzled with his dribbling skills. A totally impetuous & unnecessary handling of the ball earned Cannigia a second yellow card in the tournament which meant he would miss the finals. And that was probably the deciding factor in the final, which turned out to be the most cynical & lowest quality final ever.

Two Argentinians were sent out for fouls and a solitary penalty kick goal was the winner in a short tempered affair. With its third title (and three second-place finishes) West Germany – in its final tournament before national reunification – became the most successful World Cup nation, until Brazil won their fourth title in 1994. West German manager Franz Beckenbauer became the only man to both captain (in 1974) and manage a World Cup winning team, and only the second man (after Mário Zagallo of Brazil) to win the World Cup as a player and as team manager. Also of note was Salvatore Schillaci of Italy, who rose to fame by becoming the top scorer of the world cup with 6 goals. However it often looked like he himself was surprised when he scored and sank to obscurity in a couple of years. I remember watching the final with a cousin of mine, just a little while after the 1990 Wimbledon men’s final.

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1986 FIFA World Cup In Mexico

Ah Mexico 1986. For many football fans this was the most memorable World Cup ever, even for me. I was about to turn 10 when the tournament started and didn’t watch many live games. However us kids would watch some highlights and results every evening and discuss games and goals in school and later in the day with friends as we gathered in our building. The world went crazy for Argentina and a midfield maestro named Diego Armando Maradona, who was all over the news, newspapers and tv – I remember that Toyota in particular had ads with him as a brand ambassador that was shown so often on Kuwaiti tv.

Ofcourse Maradona went on to win hearts and plaudits for his magical dribbling and his talents but I will always remember him for the cheat of a goal he scored against England. England goalkeeper Peter Shilton came out of his goal to punch the ball clear. However, Maradona, despite being 8 inches (20 cm) shorter than the 6-foot-1 (1.85 m) Shilton, reached it first with his outside left hand. The ball went into the net and stood as a goal as the refree did not see it, much to anger of  the English players & management. Appropriately called the ‘Hand of god’ goal, for what is god & religion if not man cheating, hoaxing & screwing his fellow man! Ofcourse, Maradona then went on to score “the goal of the century”, so called as it claimed to be the best individual goal of all time – and from a neutral point of view, all is forgiven. Argentina won that game and went on to bet West Germany in the finals and lift the trophy for the second time.

Gary Linekar of England would win the Golden Boot as the leading scorer of the World Cup with six goals. A talented Danish side with a young Michael Laudrup won their group, finishing above West Germany, but were thrashed by Spain in the round of 16. A surprise was Morocco who finished above England at the top of their group an made it to the round of 16 and another was Belgium who made it to the semis losing to Argentina. Michel Platini and France finished 3rd beating out Belgium. Documented in a popular film, I and my cousins relived Mexico 86 for a couple of summers afterwards. One last thing, back in Kuwait in 1986 a chewing gum company (can’t remember which one) had a project for football fans. You could buy a book from them in which all the competing nations were entered and empty slots kept for each squad member. For each pack of the chewing gum you bought, you would get a small pack of 5 stickers on which you’d have the profile photo of a player in the Wold Cup. So one pack of gum gave you 5 player stickers and you had to fill the entire book with all the players – for which the company would give you a large prize. I managed to finish a little over half by the end of the tournament but still have the book for a long time.

Great memories of a great world cup.

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1982 FIFA World Cup In Spain

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup due to start in Brazil in a little over 2 weeks time, I felt it was the right moment to take a look back at the world cups over the years that I have watched. This is not a review of the games & the tournament as a whole but just a personal view point from me especially because I wasn’t blogging from 1982-2002.

1982 – there’s not much that I remember about those years because I was a very lad of not yet 6 when that world cup was played. I don’t think I watched more than the final between Italy & West Germany and do not remember anything of it. I do remember my sister saying that after Kuwait’s (which is where I was born and where my family & I were living at the time) national side qualified for the World Cup in Spain (their first and only appearance in a wold cup tournament) there was a huge celebration all over the streets of the tiny nation. I remember her telling me that there were people all over the streets throwing confetti and shouting happy slogans and that the cars found it hard to get through traffic because of the crowds. Image if they have won!

And that’s about it from me on the 1982 finals. I was too young to watch and remember much of it because I was only 5 and besides at that age I don’t think I watched much football on tv either. Living in a small apartment building, my friends & I – although all football crazy fans – looked forward to getting a chance to play the game, not so much watch it. It was only by 1990 that I would watch a full world cup tournament. So for me, the big thing about the 1982 Espana World Cup is the fact that the nation where I was born & lived in for 11 years qualified, played 3 games (lost 2 and drew 1) and also had a controversial moment!

In the game between Kuwait and France, with France leading 3–1, France midfielder Alain Giresse scored a goal vehemently contested by the Kuwait team, who had stopped play after hearing a piercing whistle from the stands, which they thought had come from Soviet referee Miroslav Stupar. Play had not yet resumed when Sheikh Fahid Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, brother of the Kuwaiti Emir and president of the Kuwaiti Football Association, rushed onto the pitch to remonstrate with the referee. Stupar countermanded his initial decision and disallowed the goal to the fury of the French. Maxime Bossis scored another valid goal a few minutes later and France won 4–1. Stupar lost his international refereeing credentials as a result of this incident, and Al-Sabah received a $10,000 fine.

And that wraps up 1982!

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Arsenal Win The 2013-14 FA Cup

Finally the 9 year drought is over. Aaron Ramsey’s extra-time winner ensured Arsenal ended their nine-year wait for a trophy as they came from two goals behind to beat Hull City in a dramatic FA Cup final at Wembley. The Gunners started as firm favourites but were stunned as goals from James Chester and Curtis Davies gave Hull a flying start inside the first eight minutes. At that point I almost switched off the game as I had given up hope for us and was moaning & cussing. The way those two goals were scored by Hull were reminiscent of the bad loses that Arsenal had this season away at Chelsea, Manchester City & Liverpool. Count Everton in as well. Was this the humiliating end to a season that saw Arsenal hold a lot of promise?

Short answer – NO! Santi Cazorla’s superb free-kick put Arsenal back in contention before half-time and Laurent Koscielny scrambled in the equaliser after 71 minutes. And as Arsenal looked the stronger, superior team in extra time, Ramsey, whose absence through injury hit them so hard in the latter part of the season, completed the comeback with an instinctive strike with 11 minutes of the extra period left. Arsenal survived anxious moments as Hull pressed forward in desperation – but referee Lee Probert’s final whistle signalled the end of the agonising 3,283-day wait for manager Arsene Wenger to taste success after they won the FA Cup against Manchester United on penalties in Cardiff in 2005.

For Wenger, this triumph will be received with a mixture of celebration and relief as he won the FA Cup for the fifth time in his career – and demonstrated that he can still bring silverware to a club that has gone through a long, barren spell after so much glory early in his reign. Even after securing a place in the Champions League for the 17th successive season, serious questions would have been asked of Wenger and his players had they failed to see off the challenge of underdogs Hull. Now, with the burden lifted from his shoulders, Wenger will believe this can be a new start for Arsenal after the fright of those opening minutes when it looked like a trophy might escape them again.

But this is the right time Wenger for you to retire. Great you won a trophy for us but you are also the reason why Arsenal have remained trophy-less in all this time. Your staunch refusal to buy star quality and build from within & buy cheaper but promising players have seen Manchester United (well, until this season), Manchester City, Chelsea and it looks like even Liverpool gallop past us in terms of pedigree and talent and we look like also-rans. Is that what we have in store if he continues on? Drastic changes are needed at the club to make the squad be capable enough to win the league & the Champions league. If Wenger stays I’m afraid that will not happen. I hope he doesn’t stay, bow out in style with a trophy. Let someone else take over.

But for now Arsenal fans will spend all summer watching the World Cup and content in the fact that the club are FA Cup winners again!

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Arsenal 2 Norwich City 0

Norwich City’s relegation from the Premier League was confirmed as a stunning Aaron Ramsey strike spurred fourth-placed Arsenal to victory. The Canaries were all but down before kick-off, and Ramsey’s volley on the angle and Carl Jenkinson’s opportunistic strike sealed their fate. Earlier, Norwich keeper John Ruddy had to be alert to keep out Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. Gunners keeper Lukasz Fabianski denied Jamar Loza and Robert Snodgrass. It was a sombre finish to a disastrous season for Norwich, who could only have survived if they had won and West Brom had lost to Stoke, coupled with a highly improbable 17-goal swing. There was good news for England fans the day before Roy Hodgson names his World Cup squad as Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere returned after a foot injury for the final 30 minutes, while knee injury victim Abou Diaby also came on for the Gunners in his first game in 14 months.

But it was Ramsey, also returning from injury, who shone for the visitors, rifling in a superb volley from Giroud’s delicate chip to the back post. It was the Welshman’s 17th goal of an injury-disrupted season, and fans will wonder if Arsenal’s title challenge, which looked promising until February, would have flourished had he not missed so much football. Arsenal went into the game with a Champions League spot already secured and with the prospect of a first trophy for nine years still to come in next week’s FA Cup final, and a strong Gunners side rarely had to rise above second gear at Carrow Road. After Ramsey’s opener, Jenkinson grabbed his first Arsenal goal, pouncing on Podolski’s deflected shot from Kieran Gibbs’s cross.

Now it’s onto the FA Cup final and hopefully our first trophy in a decade.

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Arsenal 1 West Bromwich Albion 0

24 hours before this game, Arsenal were guaranteed 4th place in the Barclay’s Premier League and a place in the Champions League for next season as Everton lost 2-3 to Manchester City. With the pressure off, the Gunners took to the field and welcomed West Brom with a 1-0 victory with Olivier Giroud scoring the lone goal. After Everton’s defeat by Manchester City on Saturday made the Gunners’ top-four spot secure, the France striker grabbed the only goal of the game, rising in front of marker Craig Dawson to convert Santi Cazorla’s corner. Relegation threatened West Brom rarely threatened but were confirmed safe after Norwich drew at Chelsea.

At Emirates Stadium, the visitors played like a side who seemed certain of safety, barely making Arsenal’s defence sweat on a warm day in north London. Arsenal were slightly more spritely. They were in relaxed mood after Saturday’s result ensured manager Arsene Wenger has led his team to a top-four finish in every season since he joined in 1996. Giroud’s early opening goal provided one of the few rousing moments during a sedate match. The France international has a brilliant knack of losing his marker when the ball is played from the wings, and on this occasion he beat Dawson to score his 22nd of the season. Arsenal went close once more, after the break, when German Lukas Podolski mis-hit a half-volley from 10 yards that bounced off the post and into the arms of Foster.

The Gunners, who deserved their victory, finish their league campaign at Norwich before an FA Cup final against Hull, as they aim to end a run of nine years without a trophy. Arsenal have 76 points with a goal difference of 25.

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