A propensity to romanticize is inherent in any football fan.  To look back on the legends of days gone by and to shower them with nostalgic adulation.  Joyfully reminiscing about Panenka’s penalty against West Germany, or Cruyff’s turn against Sweden, or just about any other memory, is all part of the extraordinary power of football to lend itself to nostalgic romanticism, all from just a single moment of brilliance.  Whether it be Maradona’s Goal of the Century, or tiny Castel di Sangro’s penalty shootout victory which confirmed their promotion to Serie B, it is these romantic moments that are forever embedded into the collective consciousness of the football fan.  This section of Café Futebol is dedicated to exploring these moments of romanticism, both big and small, and telling the stories behind them.

The Anschluss Match and the Martyrdom of Matthias Sindelar

In footballing circles, the term Anschluss Match generally refers to one of the most shameful moments in the history of the World Cup. Algeria, debutantes at the 1982 World Cup, shocked the world with a 2-1 victory over West Germany in their opening match.  Only a West Germany victory over Austria by a one or two goal margin would see Algeria eliminated in the final match of the group.  And that’s exactly what happened.  After Horst Hrubesch gave the Germans a 1-0 lead early on at the El Molinón Stadium in Gijón, both teams effectively stopped playing, content with the result.  The West German commentator lamented “What is happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football.”  The match ended 1-0, and Algeria were out. Spanish newspapers denounced the match as “El Anschluss,” a reference to the unification of Germany and Austria in 1938.   In Algeria it is still known as by this name.  But forty four years prior to the Anschluss match in Gijón, the actual Anschluss occurred. [Read More]

 Glorious Failures: Hungary’s Golden Team

As a rule, success in football is measured by trophies.  Setting aside all ideological arguments over the merits of beauty over efficiency aside, the teams that have gone down in history are those that have won when it counts: World Cups, European Championships, European Cups, League Titles, etc.  Greatness requires victory.

And yet, there are exceptions.  A select few international sides have been able to transcend their failures on the pitch to take their place among the pantheon of greatness.  The 1954 Hungary, 1974 Holland, and 1982 Brazil sides are emblematic of this ‘glorious failure’ phenomenon.  Over the next several weeks Café Futebol will examine these three legendary sides and attempt to understand the reasons for why their reputations arguably outweigh their accomplishments.  This will not be a general history of these sides; more than enough has been written on that front.  Instead, this series will focus on why history has been so kind to these glorious losers, when so many others have been cast aside and forgotten.  We start with the Magical Magyars. [Continue Reading]

Cabeza Mágica – The King of Ecuador

When one talks about the rich history of Latin American football, it can quite safely be assumed than one is normally speaking of the disproportionate amount of influence a country as small as Uruguay has had, the speed with which the beautiful game took off in the early part of the 20th century in Argentina or of course the way Brazilian football has mesmerised us in the later part.  In the northern part of the continent, particularly in Venezuela and Ecuador, the game has never really taken off to the same extent. Indeed as Ecuador’s debut World Cup appearance came as recently as the first competition of the 21st century in Japan and South Korea, and their record at the Copa America is largely dismal, one could be forgiven for taking 2002 as a kind of year X for the quintessential banana republic.  [Continue Reading]

Cubillas and Peru’s Golden Generation of the 70s

The 1970s were a cataclysmic decade for South American football. World Cup triumphs for Brazil and Argentina went some way to masking the huge stylistic changes that were enforced upon the continent’s national teams by tactical development in Europe.  Brazil’s seminal class of ‘70 are often eulogised as the best side to ever step onto a football field whilst Menotti’s high-tempo version of the traditional Argentine passing game saw the host nation (literally) brought up to speed with developments in the European game. [Continue Reading]

Bochini y La Furia Roja de Avellaneda

Each year from 1963 to 1980 at least one Argentine team contested the final of the Copa Libertadores. At no time was the Argentine stranglehold on the competition more evident than the golden years of Independiente from 1972 to 1975. In the same way, arguably, no one player has made as profound an impact on the competition (before or after) as El Bocha, Ricardo Bochini. Outside Independiente’s newly renovated home Estadio de los Libertadores de America a street carries the name of the great man. As we speak they are working on the Bochini Stand at the stadium, in between worrying about the ignominy of life outside the top flight for the first time in their history. [Continue Reading]

A Sardinian Summer: the Forgotten Story of the Chicago Mustangs

Cagliari Calcio are an altogether unremarkable football club.  For much of their existence they have been a yo-yo team, alternating between promotion and relegation and oftentimes languishing in the rustic depths of  the Serie C, the third tier of Italian football.  In their 93 years of existence they have conquered just once piece of silverware, a lone Scudetto won in 1970.  In those brief glory years they were led by the inspirational Gigi Riva, the all time leading goalscorer of the Italian National team. Since their latest promotion to the top flight in 2004 they have managed to stave off relegation but have been in a perpetual state of purgatory; too far off the top to the table to harbor realistic European ambitions, yet too far from the bottom to risk a return to Serie B.  Their record is, for the most part, unexceptional.  Yet in a curious episode long forgotten in the annals of football history, for a brief period of time they were known as the Chicago Mustangs.  For one fleeting summer, Cagliari Calcio, the team from the picturesque Mediterranean island of Sardinia, used Comiskey Park on the South Side of Chicago as their home ground.  This is their story. [Continue Reading]

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