Archive for the ‘Football History’ Category

SO. I have been holding out on all TRF followers and supporters … my last blog post was on July 13th, 2014, the morning of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between my mighty Germans and the persistent Argentinians. What happened that afternoon and evening is now part of global footballing and World Cup history.

 

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22 year-old German young-star Mario Goetze sends the German footballing world into utopian frenzy with his World Cup Final match-winner.

Mario Goetze’s epic strike in the 113th minute earned Die Mannschaft it’s 4th world cup star and provided the icing to the sweetest German Fussball chocolate cake any team could whip up. Why so sweet? On its way to the WC trophy, Germany accomplished notable ‘firsts’ and ‘mosts’ … most goals scored 18; best goal difference +14; most goals scored in a match by one team: Germany 7 v Brazil 1 (in the WC semis!), most passes by a team: 4,157 passes, with a 82% completion rate, and first European team to win a WC in a South American host nation.

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Miro Klose scored 16 goals in 23 world cup matches in four world cups including the record winner versus Brazil in the World Cup semi-finals.

A lot has happened to the German National Team since that magical night at the Maracanã: Match winner Mario Goetze went from national team hero to club (Bayern Muenchen) bench-warmer and sometimes goat; Captain Philip Lahm, defender Per Mertesacker and goal-getter extraordinaire Miro Klose retired from Die Mannschaft; country and Bayen hero Basti Schweinsteiger left for not greener pastures at Manchester United; and overall the team has had a less than impressive showing since Brazil, with 10 wins, 7 losses and 2 ties in various friendlies and Euro 2016 qualifiers. On a positive note: NT regular Mesut Oesil had a sensational season with Arsenal (19 assists, 6 goals) and was voted the team’s MVP; Mario ‘9 Lives’ Gomez resurrected his career once again and won golden boot (26 goals) honors with Turkish side Beşiktaş (he’s back as Germany’s striker); and a new crop of German Young-stars (including Kimmich, Sane, Brandt and Weigl) are all poised to make their Euro 2016 or Rio Olympics NT debuts.

match-schedule-euro-2016-smallLet’s talk Euros. For the first time, the European Championship final tournament (Euro 2016) in France will be contested by 24 teams, having been expanded from the 16-team format used since 1996. The group stage consists of six groups, four teams, followed by a knockout stage (sweet 16, quarter-final and semis) and the final.

The June 10th France v Romania game kicks- off a 51 match, 10 venue celebration of Europe’s finest culminating in the July 10th Euro final at Stade de France located in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis. If all goes well, Die Mannschaft will be competing for a fourth European title , and the last since 1996. Also, according to my match-up math, if all tournament favorites hold serve, Germany will face German-killer Italy (Germany has never beaten Italy in an international tournament including a loss in the 2012 Euro quarters) in the Quarter-Finals on Saturday, July 2nd and Euro host and co-favorite France in the Semis on Thursday, July 7th.

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For those of you who can’t sit tight for the Euros to begin in a mere 12 days, you can exhale and set your sights on the Copa America Centenario. The centennial Copa will be held in the U.S. starting June 3rd and marks the first Copa América hosted outside of South America. It will be held as part of an agreement between CONMEBOL (the South American football confederation) and CONCACAF (the football confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean) as a special edition between the usual four-year cycle, and features an expanded field of 16 teams (an increase from the usual 12), with ten teams from CONMEBOL and six teams from CONCACAF.

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The Chilen National Team celebrate their epic win in the 2015 Copa America vs. Argentinia to claim the title

This is your chance to watch all the South American stars as well as the US and Mexican favorites including 32 matches culminating with the Copa Final at Citi Field in Queens on Sunday, June 26th. The U.S. National Team just completed an impressive 3 match tune-up tour and silenced the critics with victories over Puerto Rico, Ecuador (also in the Copa) and Bolivia (also in the Copa). The U.S. kicks-off the Copa on Friday night (9:30PM Eastern) vs. Columbia. Other countries they’ll face in Group A include Costa Rica and Paraguay.

Consider TRF open for business once again and stay tuned for periodic updates and features on all things Euro 2016 and Copa America. And oh yeah, the Rio Olympics including a world-class soccer competition start August 5th.

The one and only 1. FC Kaiserslautern Soccer Club It is a question we are often asked in life, usually as it relates to that first kiss, the first sexual encounter or our first real love interest. As you know, The Real Futbol is a soccer blog so our ‘first time’ memories are squarely focused on the beautiful game and what first got us dreaming of bicycle kicks and last second match winners.

In this post, our ‘first time’ will take you to Kaiserslautern, the quaint town’s footballing pride and joy, Germany’s Traditionsverein 1. FC Kaiserslautern, and the crown jewel of it all, Fritz Walter Stadium (auf dem Betzenberg).

Kaiserslautern is a University town known for a strong US military presence and the FCK soccer team.

Kaiserslautern is a University town known for a strong US military presence and the FCK soccer team

My first trip to “K-Town” to see the ‘Roten Teufel vom Betzenberg’ was some 26 years ago. I was not particularly pumped up to see FCK play but definitely curious since this would be my first professional soccer game. I had zero expectations going in and was more excited about sampling the Stadion eats and treats then I was about having a front row seat to some of the most fanatical Fussball ‘Fandom’ in all of Germany. The roughly 50 mile drive from Roemerberg was one to remember as the last 20 miles of our route was bumper-to-bumper traffic chock-full of FCK fans commuting to this Friday evening match from all over the region.

The FCK Westkurve ist one of the wildest and craziest fan sections in German soccer

The FCK Westkurve is one of the wildest and craziest fan sections in German soccer

Cars were decorated with FCK scarves, flags, decals and any number of fan items you can imagine, passengers wore their FCK jerseys and jackets and took every opportunity to ‘serenade’ the home team with a Hupkonzert (car honking concert) and popular FCK fan songs.

By the time we parked at Kaiserslautern’s Messeplatz and took the bus up ‘Zum Betze’ (the ‘mountain’ where the stadium sits), I had forgotten about Bratwurst  and Cola and was part of the mob singing “Hoeher Hoeher FCK” at the top of my lungs and quivering with excitement about what I would experience next.

The Betzenberg in Kaiserslautern (also known as Fritz Walter Stadion) is the home of the FCK red devils

Back then, all German Fussball stadiums had legitimate terraces (standing room only supporter sections) so nobody except a few pampered VIPs would dare sit during the game.

The Red Devil is FCK's lucky mascot, devil horns and all

The Red Devil is FCK’s lucky mascot, devil horns and all

Standing during a 90 minute soccer match may not be everyone’s idea of a great time, but I can’t think of a better way to intimately experience the pulse of the game, every bad shot, every hair-raising foul and of course every sweet goal.  I remember we played Bayer Leverkusen and the legendary South Korean striker Cha Boom known not only for his awesome name but thunderous ball striking ability. The biggest highlight by far was admiring the vast sea of red, made up of 20,000+ FCK supporters crammed into the West-end fan section (the legendary FCK Westkurve)

The rest of the evening was a blur but I remember coming home and discovered I had left my voice in Kaiserslautern. What a night! What a team! What awesome fans! I was hooked for good.

Fritz Walter Tribute Choreography

FCK fans honor hometown hero and Germany World Cup winner Fritz Walter with a choreographed pre-game celebration to remember

This is my long overdue post on the German first division of football, ‘Die Bundesliga’, and why its Rodney Dangerfield “I get no respect” mantra of years past has been replaced by stiff competition, great players, a rabid fan following and media attention around the world.

Modern Bundesliga football makes the heart sing

What was my personal wake up call? The turning point that made me think, woah, the Bundesliga is much more than a bunch of local ‘Provinzkicker’ and a few strong regional teams with a faithful fan base within their Bundesland (German state) and maybe a few expat stragglers. Here are some musings …

Who the hell is Wolfsburg? Founded in 1938, the football club grew out of a multi-sports club for Volkswagen workers in the city of Wolfsburg and is a wholly owned subsidiary of VW Group. Aside a 2nd place finish in the 1995 DFB Pokal (German Cup), the team was anything but impressive and spent decades trading places in the German 3rd and 2nd division before staying put in the 1. Liga after the 1997 season … And then there was the 2008/9 Bundesliga season.

Top Bundesliga goal-getters and champions VFL Wolfsburg's Edin Dzeko and Grafite

Not only did ‘Die Woelfe’ (the wolves) win the Bundesliga title, they did so in dramatic fashion with a must-win victory the last game of the season. Beyond that, they tied the Bundesliga record for consecutive wins and were the only team to boast two 20+ goal strikers with Brazilian Grafite and Bosnian Edin Dzeko scoring 28 and 26 respectively. While Grafite is past his prime and now plays club football in Dubai, UAE, Dzeko is a reliable striker and steady goal scorer for English Premier League side Manchester City. The other big sensation that year was 1899 Hoffenheim, a freshly promoted team that shocked the league winning the Herbstmeisterschaft (autumn title) at the season’s halfway mark. While devastating injuries and bad luck spoiled their championship run, it was refreshing to have the newbies along with VFL Wolfsburg dominate the footballing headlines. These epic performances and the entire roller coaster 2008/9 Bundesliga season made me realize how fun the Liga is and how extremely competitive many teams are, all with the desire and ability to give Bayern a run for their Euros.

Why would Raúl play in Germany? Raúl is a Spanish footballing legend who spent most of his career with Spanish club Real Madrid. He’s s the club’s all-time top goalscorer, a three-time winner of the UEFA Champions League and its all-time leading scorer. When he left Spain in 2010 and headed for Bundesliga club Schalke 04 most figured he’d have one more year of quality football left in his now 34-year-old body.  But why Germany? Why learn a new language at such a ‘ripe’ age? And why subject yourself to inevitable disappointment after decades of top flight football accolades and accomplishments. To sum it up in Raúl’s words: “I really enjoy playing in the Bundesliga. No matter where we play, the stadiums are full and the atmosphere is incredible”. Enough said. Judging by the caliber of the league’s players and the number of foreign stars making the move to Germany, the league’s reputation has gotten a major boost. And yes, Raúl is still ‘Auf Schalke’, still playing is aging butt off.

Let’s dig a bit deeper and compare Bundesliga facts and figures with the other ‘big’ leagues — the English Premier League (EPL), Spain’s La Liga and Italy’s Serie A.

Bavarian translation: "We are who we are" and " We are Champions"

Competition: This is what it’s all about … teams clawing and scratching to gain an advantage in the league table and hopefully finish in a favorable position that will bring the club major revenue via a Europa League or Champions League spot, or perhaps even a league championship. Let’s look at titles — according to a recent Kicker Sportmagazin statistic, the last 7 Bundesliga championships have been won by 4 different teams (Bayern, Wolfsburg, Stuttgart and Dortmund). Compare that to England, Italy and Spain, where 2 teams have dominated the league during that same time frame. Let’s look at table positions among the top 4. As of late January, 1 point separated Bayern at the top from 4th placed Borussia Moenchengladbach; 6 points separated Italy’s 1st place Juventus Turin from Inter Milan’s 4th position, while the point difference between one and four was 13 in England and 18 in Spain. Lastly, when looking at ‘first vs. worst’ matches dating back to 2000, German Bundesliga underdogs have a 26.3% chance of beating their top ranked rivals compared to only 17.6 % in England and a shocking 0% in Italy. Yes, within the last 11+ years, not one Italian last placed team has beaten a first placed rival.

Diversity: Thanks to an awesome German football statistics site called Transfermarkt (with English, Italian and Spanish versions among others), we know that 49% of all 519 players in the 1. Bundesliga are foreigners compared to 38% in La Liga, 48% in Italy and a whopping 63% in the English Premier League. The foreign player statistics are useful because they help silence naysayers that claim the Bundesliga is isolated and insular to top foreign player investment. In terms of attracting top international talent to Germany, the ‘homegrown’ approach has worked really well, and within the last 3 years in particular, German-born stars such as Mueller, Goetze, Reus, Kroos, and Schuerrle have single-handedly taken Bundesliga competition to the next level. The tables are slowly turning with Spanish and Italian teams recruiting the likes of Oezil, Khedira and Klose away from the homeland.

Another unforgettable match at FCK's Betzenberg

Fan base: The Bundesliga continues to boom. Average per match attendance in the first 17 games of the 2011/12 season was 44,791, the best in the league’s history, and 48% higher than Serie A figures, 32% more than La Liga and 23% higher than England’s top flight. A total of 6.78 Million fans saw 153 games in the first half of the season, a 7% increase from 2010/11 when a total of 12.88 Million filled German stadiums to see Bundesliga action.

Media exposure & global curb appeal: Ironically, the German Soccer League (Deutsche Fussball Liga (DFL)), has done a much better job of promoting and more importantly providing match access abroad than at home. That’s good for us in the states, yet crappy for my family and buddies in Deutschland. While the German pay-per-view option (Sky TV) has a few million Bundesliga package subscribers, the other 80 million Germans have to wait for Saturday nights and the Sportschau (celebrating 50 years in 2012) to get their Bundesliga fix. The local channels ARD and ZDF do broadcast occasional Bundesliga clashes as well as Champions League action but our options stateside are much better! On any given weekend (starting with the solo Friday night game), I can tune into 3-4 Bundesliga matches on GolTV, the Spanish language ESPN Deportes, or ESPN Now’s internet stream, which is also available via my XBOX 360. In addition, GolTV offers two Bundesliga-specific programs, a 30 minute weekly match preview called Bundesliga Magazine and a 30 minute match review with Hallo! Bundesliga.

So to sum it up, I strongly believe old Ben Franklin’s enduring saying “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” most accurately applies to the Bundesliga in 2012.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving in the U.S. and commemorate the celebrations that originated in Plymouth in 1621, I figured it would be an ideal time to give thanks to something near and dear to my heart … ‘Die Mannschaft’, the German Men’s National Soccer Team. The popularity and on-the-pitch success of Joachim Loew’s men is at an unprecedented high and if current form is an indicator of future performance than the country’s #3 world FIFA ranking is probably on the low side.

Here is Germany’s ‘tale of the tape’ for 2011:

  • 13 national team international matches-6 Euro 2012 Qualifiers, 7 Friendlies
  • 9 wins, 3 ties, 1 loss
  • Perfect Euro 2012 qualifying campaign: 10 games, 10 wins, 30 points, 34 goals scored, 7 conceded (21 goals scored in 2011)
  • Five starters scored 5 or more goals including Mario Gomez (6), Miroslav Klose (5), Thomas Mueller (5), Mesut Oezil (5) and Andre Schuerrle (5)
  • Youngest Germany team in modern history
  • Miroslav Klose, 2nd on international goal list to Gerd Mueller, celebrates 100th cap with 2 goals in Kaiserslautern (March 26)
  • Friendly victories over Brazil (3:2), The Netherlands (3:0) and Uruguay (2:1)

Beyond the outstanding on-the-field results,what made Die Mannschaft particularly lethal in 2011 and heading into Poland And Ukraine (Euro 2012) next June is the roster depth at each position and overall youth. There’s a running joke routinely thrown in the face of new job applicants (especially in Germany where the average age of out of school employees is 25+) that calls for a 20-year-old job candidate with 10 years of work experience. This reminds of the German youth movement, players like Goetze (19), Schuerrle (21), Toni Kroos (21), Thomas Mueller (21), Mats Hummels (22) and Oezil (23) are babies but have all played for many years and gathered more than their share of high-profile, international match experience.

Speaking of the young guns as well as the ‘tribe elders’, here are some individual accolades I deemed appropriate for 2011:

Schuerrle celebrates his first goal for Die Mannschaft vs. Uruguay

Newcomer of the year: Andre Schuerrle. Last year he played at Mainz, this year’s he’s secured a lucrative deal with Leverkusen, and with 5 goals (all in 2011) in 11 national team appearances he’s one of the young guns shooting for Euro 2012 glory.

Comeback player of the year: Mario Gomez for finally finding the back of the net as a member of the national team and swaying German public opinion about his value as Germany’s star.

Oezil and his Real teammates celebrate

Bonefide superstar: Mesut Oezil is a stud. Propelled into the international spotlight with a solid world cup performance in South Africa, his Real Madrid debut in 2010 was nothing  short of spectacular. He led Spanish La Liga in goal assists last year and has become Mourinho’s MVP with his ability to satisfy Cristiano Ronaldo’s insatiable appetite for goals.

The 75+ CAPS Club: Piere Mertesacker (79), Lukas Podolski (95), Miro Klose (113), Philip Lahm (85) and Bastian Schweinsteiger (90) are German’s tribe elders and by far the most experienced of the bunch. While Klose might still make it to Brazil in 2014, the others have at least 3 or 4 more major international tournaments in them.

“Seems like he’s been there forever” award: Manuel Neuer has only collect 25 caps as Germany’s #1 in goal but ever since he replaced Rene Adler before South Africa, the humble Bayern keeper has settled in as the calm and collected ‘back-stop’ of Die Mannschaft. Considering many goalies play well into their 30s, Neuer has at least another decade of history making in front of him.

Razzie recipient (award for ‘worst’ performance): Michael Ballack is settling into his supporting role for Bayer Leverkusen, but his exit from the German team was anything but graceful. Hexed with a major pre-worldcup injury, he never recovered to represent Deutschland and feuded loudly and often with DFB (German Soccer Federation) officials about his dismissal.

“Don’t quit your day job’ award: Philip Lahm for authoring a ‘tell all’ book on various managers of the national team forcing a public apology and debate over his worthiness as German captain.

“Clicking on all cylinders” award: German Youth academies for nurturing supreme soccer talent and re-vitalizing and re-juvenating German soccer from the amateur ranks to the national side.

“Would hate to have your job” award: Paul the Octopus, the famous German cephalopod mollusc known world-wide for its ability to predict all victors of the 2010 World Cup. Although Paul is no longer in the prediction business (in fact, he ended up as a tasty fried side dish some time ago), he has inspired a new generation of savvy octopuses that will no doubt be  thrust into the Euro 2012 spotlight when it comes to next summer’s wagers and predictions.

The German Fussball ladies huddle up pre-game

“Show them how it’s done” award: German Women’s National team and their gracious early exit from the 2011 World Cup as well as their overall tasteful and humane handling of the Birgit Prinz saga.

I was recently perusing some blog roles/favorite sites and came across Dave Wasser’s historic soccer videotapes, an online catalog of 1000s of soccer videos including the largest consolidated collection of North American Soccer League (NASL) matches. I am a very small-time collector of soccer videos, mostly world cup footage and Germany matches, but was immediately intrigued, and ended up spending the next few hours scrolling through the video catalog sorted by NASL; World Cup; Women’s Soccer; and ‘other international matches’.

After contacting site owner Dave, I thought it would be well worth posting a ‘Q&A’ about his significant collection, passion for the New York Cosmos (and Atari), and thoughts on the historic NASL vs. modern MLS …

TRF: Dave (DW), I read somewhere that your archive of USA soccer videos is bigger than the combined archives of the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame and the U.S. Soccer Federation. How did your obvious obsession with American soccer and especially the (original) NASL start?

DW: I grew up in New York City, a fan of the NY Cosmos. In the late 1970s the most important things in my life were Atari video games, baseball and the New York Cosmos. I am not so much of a baseball fan these days, and Atari isn’t around any more (is it?) but I still love the Cosmos, even though they went out of business in 1985. Then, 15 years ago, I started collecting videos of the original broadcasts of NASL games. I now have over 350 DVDs of NASL games and actively trade tapes to continually add to it.

TRF: Your site davebrett.com really has a phenomenal collection of soccer match videos that reaches far beyond NASL. How many total soccer recordings do you now have? And, assuming it is not cheap to transfer some of the older footage to DVDs, which match/matches has been the most expensive conversion from old tape to DVD?

DW: I don’t know the exact number of games I have, but it’s in the thousands. Many of the old games were on 3/4 inch U-matic tape, so I bought a used U-matic machine on eBay for $25. I found an elderly man in Illinois who had recorded a ton of games on Beta, so I bought a used Betamax VCR to convert those tapes. Occasionally, I’ll find games on an obsolete video format, then it is a struggle to get them converted. DC Video in California can help with the old formats. Last year I spent $500 to convert a 1968 match between Manchester City and the Atlanta Chiefs. A 9 minute clip courtesy of Dave can be viewed here.

TRF: What is your most requested match tape? The most obscure one in the collection? You’ve shared your ten favorite NASL games, but what about World Cup or Champions League matches?

DW: My most requested DVD is the 1970 World Cup Final, where Brazil beat Italy. That was Pele’s third, and final, world championship. The surprising thing about that match is that it was not even broadcast on American television. (I have the BBC broadcast of it.) I suppose the most obscure game in my collection is the 1973 NASL Final, won by the Philadelphia Atoms. That was only broadcast locally in Philadelphia, but somehow I found someone who had a recording of it. By the way, I love the name of that team. I was disappointed when MLS put a team in Philadelphia and decided not to use the name Atoms…My favorite World Cup match was the USA’s 1994 upset of Colombia. That was the match that showed that American soccer could compete against the best teams in the world (and that losing a match can have fatal consequences)

TRF: Do you follow Major League Soccer? In your opinion, what’s the biggest difference to the original NASL of the 70s? Where will the league be 5 years from now?

DW: Yes, I follow MLS. The big difference between the two leagues is that most MLS teams are playing in new soccer-specific stadiums. The NASL had to play in giant football and baseball stadiums, and that could look terrible. MLS still has a few teams playing in stadiums not designed for soccer. Hopefully in five years there will be new soccer stadiums in Washington and Boston. Another big difference is that the NASL did not have a salary cap, so the rich teams dominated the poor teams. The NASL considered a salary cap, and didn’t implement it. That was a big mistake. I think that European soccer is making the same mistake now letting a few rich teams dominate all the others.

TRF: As a soccer historian, you have followed the evolution of USA soccer. How do you rank the national team’s current competitiveness? And do you think we will ever reach true global dominance?

DW: The United States national team is in about the same place it has been for the past 15 years. We’re a good team, but not a great team. The important thing is that America now has a youth development system in place to produce a number of good players. But America still has not produced a global superstar in the sport. I have to wonder when that will happen.

TRF: You mention the New York Cosmos documentary “Once In A Lifetime” and how it really captured the passion for soccer during that time. Any modern-day, MLS equivalent?

DW: Not really. MLS has a much better business model than the NASL had, but no MLS team has been as popular (or as reviled) as the Cosmos in their time.

TRF: As you may know, TheRealFutbol (TRF) blog in part caters to those new to soccer as well as skeptics who are convinced the real football is the pigskin, American version. And then there are folks who hate soccer because it is much too low scoring. With that said, please recommend a few matches regardless of league or country that are ‘must views’ for those new to the game as well as any nil-nil draws that left you spellbound.

DW: A few years ago, the USA and Argentina played a great scoreless draw in the Meadowlands. The 1999 Women’s World Cup Final between the USA and China was a great game, even though there were no goals scored. But with that said, there are plenty of scoreless draws that are disappointing. MLS has had a huge number of scoreless draws this season. I would prefer to see 0-0 draws result in no points for either team in the standings. Tie games where goals are scored should still result in a point for each team in the standings.

TRF: Finally, we really appreciate you taking time to chat with us. Please let folks know how to best get in touch with you and place a historic soccer video order? Note: I just received my first soccer tape order (1966, 70′ and 74′ World Cup Finals) and am extremely content with value and quality.

DW: People can contact me on my web site www.DaveBrett.com. My email address and phone number are there as well. Thanks!