Monday, June 29, 2015

Finland. The championship: http://football-journey.com/


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

After sinking to the bottom of international football, let's continue from there. Which country was at the very bottom in Europe hardly matters – Malta and Luxembourg were pretty much the only countries which seemingly did not move in any direction during the 1970s, Malta perhaps even more stagnated than Luxembourg. The previous season a complicated championship formula was used, but it was back to standard championship in 1979-80. The league was going to be reduced to 8 teams the next season, so 3 teams were relegated and only one promoted.
Zurrieq was the winner of second division, going up. Locally, good for them, but the newcomers were not going to make any impact on the top league. Like many Maltese clubs Zurrieq did not have a stadium of its own and played at the national stadium in Valletta. Thus, home and away games fixtures were such only statistically.
Given the reduction of first division, the fight for survival was to be very important and bitter this season. In theory. In practice, what happened only justified the reduction: Zebbug Rangers, Qormi, and St. George's were clearly much weaker than the other clubs and finished at the bottom: St. George's last with 5 points, Qormi - 9th with 7, and Zebbug Rangers - 8th with 8 points. Marsa, the club which ended 7th, had 13 points – hardly in danger at any time during the championship. To illustrate the pitiful performance of the relegated clubs: their combined record would have been good for 6th place, bellow Hamrun Spartans on worse goal-difference.
At the top of the league the title was not exactly a big contest. Hibernians, Floriana, and Sliema Wanderers fought large for silver and bronze. Hibernians lost the race and finished 4th with 26 points. The other two finished with 28 points each and Sliema Wanderers clinched silver medals on better goal-difference. Floriana ended with best defensive record in the league – they allowed only 6 goals.
The favourites were all the usual suspects and the winner was the most usual of them. Valletta lost only match this season and won 14 out of 18 total matches. They scored much more goals than any other club – 59. The second highest scorers were Sliema Wanderers with 47. At the end Valleta finished 3 points above Sliema Wanderers and Floriana, which seems a small lead, but this is only because the league was small and therefore the number of matches was not big enough to provide for building big lead. It was easy sailing for Valletta and they added one more title.
Nothing new... once again Valletta triumphed.
If there was a disappointment this season, it could be Hamrun Spartans.
They finished 5th with 20 points. 6 points behind Hibernians and 6 points ahead of Birkirkara. But Hamrun Spartans should have been one of the favourites... well, according to tradition.
The Cup did not produce big surprises either: the traditionally stronger clubs dominated. Valletta was unable to reach the final. Hibernians and Sliema Wanderers were the finalists, both determined to win and compensate for the not very successful championship.
th Cup after a long weight: their 3rd was won in 1971.
Hibernians (Paola) won 2-1. The Peacocks won their 4

Monday, June 22, 2015

The African Nations Cup: http://football-journey.com/


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Monday, June 15, 2015

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The new European champions were different matter – they had established and new stars, very able team, which was also young and not quite at its peak, and most importantly West Germany returned to the right track. The changes after the 1978 fiasco seemingly brought back the Germans to exciting total football and they had a team playing like the fantastic team of the first half of the 1970s. And this team was most certainly to stay on top for many years. There were similarities with the the great team of the early 70s and tradition was seemingly at work. Of course, the coach was credited for that.
Lothar Matthaus, Calle Del'Haye, and Jup Derwall – a picture of optimism.
German tradition was the key to success – Derwall, after years as an assistant to Schon, replaced him in 1978, just like Schon replaced Sepp Heberger in 1964, after working as Herberger's assistant for years. Stability was obviously the key – Derwall was only the 4th manager of the German national team in history. Helmut Schon was assistant coach for 8 years and Derwall was his assistant 8 years too. Like Schon, he experienced success first as an assistant. He knew very well the ins and outs of working with the national team. Continuation of the line was fruitful – if Herberger waited almost 20 years for his success, Schon achieved it in less then 10. Derwall won a title after only 2 years at the helm. It was the first major tournament West Germany played under his guidance – another optimistic sign. Herberger made West Germany world champions, Schon doubled the success if his teacher, winning the European and the world titles – Derwall, like Schon, won the European championship first, and since he was expected to stay as long as those before him, he was expected to outdo them after such a start. Tradition certainly was bringing results. Tradition is conservative, however. Derwall was no innovator, he made no radical change of a team which obviously needed that in 1978 – instead, he lamely continued the approach of Helmut Schon. The picture above is a bit misleading: Derwall had the guts to include young players – Matthaus was only 19 years old – but his exciting new team was also a result of circumstances. In West Germany Derwall was observed critically and rightly so: facing the need to start from scratch, he chose to continue Schon's approach, which obviously reached a dead end. Nigbur, Fischer, Bonhof, and Cullmann were key players for Derwall – the survivors of Schon's team. Three 1974 world champions... but what kind? Only Bonhof was a starter and not right away back in 1974. Cullmann was the eternal back up player. Nigbur hardly ever played for the national team – a total of 6 matches during the 6 years he was included in the national team. Fischer was not a stable first choice either. Bonhof was the prime star and also the youngest of the quartet, but he was also part of the team which lost the 1976 European final and crushed so badly in 1978. There is little doubt that Derwall insisted on these players – injuries of Nigbur and Fischer made him look for other options. Bonhof and Cullmann were in the 1980 squad... Bonhof was out because of late injury, Cullmann was obviously insufficient, yet, Derwall played him as much as possible. The new team happened because Derwall did not have his chosen stars... and he had to give up on Cullmann. Reluctantly at that. Derwall clearly had no guts to get rid of Schon's reserves, of second-rate players, stigmatized by staying in the shadows of great players for many years – he was intending to continue the line of Schon going down. It is no wonder that the big discoveries in 1980 were exactly of players replacing the injured 'stars'. Even the only innovation Derwall made was a copy of Schon's and it was made out of desperation. Doubts about Derwall's qualities can be summed like this: the new German team looked like a copy of the great West Germany of early 1970s, the team was finally shaped at the end of Euro 1980 – a copy of the 1974 World Cup team, and Derwall made it only because he had no other option. On the positive side – he had the guts to select young players, his team returned to the kind of football the Germans abandoned after 1974 – both successful and exciting to watch, and it was team for the future, given the age of the players. After all, the new European champions were the only really balanced team at the finals, with plenty of strong replacements, and the new stars – most of them defining the 1980s – came from it. Thus, unlike Belgium, the whole German team needs closer scrutiny.
Tony Schumacher. 26 years old rival of the other discovery that year – Pfaff. Five years ago he was almost without future, but perseverance and character elevated him to first choice at 1. FC Koln. He won the Bundesliga first and eventually was invited to the national team. Becoming a starter was a bit chancy – if Nigbur was healthy, Schumacher was to warm the bench – but he really jumped on his chance and was one of the big discoveries at the European finals. One big plus was that he was not stigmatized like the unfortunate keepers, who spent most of their careers in the shadow of Sepp Maier – Nigbur, Kleff, Kargus, Franke grew old playing rarely for the national team and always found deficient, for they were compared to Maier. Schumacher came in view after Mayer retired and was much younger than the already mentioned, who were pushing 30. The future was clearly his, he arrived – like Pfaff – at age, when goalkeepers usually start to mature. He filled the gap left by Maier for many years to come – it was easy to envision West Germany with a great goalkeeper for the next 10 years. Problem solved.
Manfred Kaltz. Already a star, considered one of the top full backs in the world. At 27, he was at his peak. A modern full back, reminding a bit of Breitner between 1972 and 1974. Energetic, covering large space, instrumental in attacks, scoring, and not exactly pinned to the right side of field. He was part of rapidly rising Hamburger SV, which was very helpful too, for other HSV players were included in the national team and teammates knew each other in and out. Versatile defender – he was used as a stopper by Schon in 1978. Of course, he was a copy of Breitner – his creativity was limited, he was not great in his essential job – strikers often outwitted him, and he was space-limited – unlike Breitner, roving everywhere, Kaltz largely occupied the right side of the field. He was also more defensive player – unlike Breitner, who rapidly evolved into playmaker.
Uli Stielike. Derwall moved him back to be a libero – a great move, even when commanded by necessity. The skills of Stielike were well known and he was the mover and shaker of Real Madrid. He was also exactly what the prophets of total football preached – versatile player, comfortable at any position: so far, Stielike played at almost every post in attack and midfield. Moving him back as a libero repeated the great move of Beckenbauer years before – space was opened for Stielike to conduct the team's play. Essentially, Derwall did what Schon did years earlier and it was the right move. Stielike was not as ellegant as Beckenbauer, not he was so imaginative, but he was reliable and creative. Perhaps a bit poorer version of Beckenbauer, but only a bit – with Stielike, German defense remained iron strong, increasing the attacking strength in the same time. 25 years old – coming to his peak and having many years ahead of him.
Karl-Heinz Forster. 21 years old, coming from rising VfB Stuttgart. May be he needed some time to build chemistry with Stielike to the point Schwarzenbeck had with Beckenbauer, but Forster seemed better player than Schwarzenbeck already. He was more versatile, capable of playing not only as a sweeper and stopper, but as a left full back too. He also went into attacks more frequently than Schwarzenbeck and, most importantly, he was not just addition to a great and particular libero, but stand on his own. With him, the German team had not to worry for central defender for the next ten years. At least.
Bernard Dietz. The oldest and most experienced player in the squad. At 32, he was not yet showing decline. Spirited and modest left full back and captain of the team. A modest player, never considered a big star and playing for modest MSV Duisburg for years, Dietz was something between his predecessors Hottges and Vogts: very stable and spirited full back. He was less given to attack than Vogts, but more than Hottges. Disciplined player, willing to follow coach's demands, but more conservative than both Hottges and Vogts, who on occasion played at different side of the pitch, and Vogts even in midfield. The age was the only problem – he was not going to last for long and seemingly there was no other strong enough left full back in West Germany, but either one of the Forster brothers or Briegel were capable of playing at the left side of defense, so the problem was not big.

Hans-Peter Briegel. 24 years old player of 1. FC Kaiserslautern, listed as defender. He played as full-back and at the end of the tournament he was voted in the top eleven as a left full-back, but his proper place was more like defensive midfielder. Difficult to pin down to particular post really. Briegel was especially strong even for a German and players of this kind tend to be brutes on pitch, but he was not. Of course, he intimidated the opposition, too powerfully build to push down, too fit to outrun him, too determined to brake him down emotionally, but he was good player, not just a tower of muscle without skills. Briegel solved the problem with defensive midfielder – a long lasting one, which always called for improvisation (Wimmer, Bonhof, Flohe, Cullmann – none of them played at this position in his club, or, if he did, eventually moved to another role). Briegel was particularly important discovery because he would cover either full-back, if needed – as he did, when Dietz was injured.
Bernd Schuster. Only 20 years old talent, playing for 1. FC Koln. Some specialists knew him already, but Ron Greenwood was lone and even eccentric voice when he named him one of the best before the finals started – Schuster was not a starter: he seemed to be back-up of Bonhof. That is, essentially defensive midfielder with play-making abilities, who, like Bonhof, would conduct the game from deeper back, and may be even restricted to more traditional role in the presence of Stielike. But the team had to be reshaped during the finals and Schuster not only became a starter, but was moved to a central paly-making role. Thus, the big problem existing since Overath and Netzer retired was finally solved – West Germany found at last great playmaker. Skillful, imaginative, with great leadership qualities. With Schuster the Germans seized to be boring marathon runners – the team suddenly had a flair. His age brought great confidence – this guy was almost a teenager yet. His best days were still in the future, he was surely to be the key player of the team for the next 10 years.
Hansi Muller. 22 years old and already a star – a young star, but a star. With Forster brothers, part of the rising VfB Stuttgart. An attacking midfielder with strong play-making inclination, he took the place of Uli Hoeness from the great old West Germany. However, Muller was heavily criticized and never fully accepted by German media: he was too technical for a German and tended to keep the ball too long. Like Hoeness before, Muller was a bit moody and unpredictable – often he underperformed or at least media thought so. The last negative side, also copying the situation of the early 1970s, was the rivalry with Felix Magath. Helmut Schon had a problem with Overath and Netzer – there was no way to play them both. Same was with Muller and Magath – which lead to tensions immediately: Magath was left on the bench and he complained to the media. Although Derwall did not give up on Muller, he was leaning towards plainer, but more reliable Magath – just like Schon preferred Overath over Netzer. Yet, for the moment the midfield was completed and given the age of the regulars – it was fantastic middle line not just for the moment, but for a long, long time.
Compared to the other lines, attack was shaky and unfinished – a promising, but momentary solution. The positive outweighted the negative, though: the line needed improvement, but it worked and given a little time will improve and settle.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. At 24 already an European star, one of the very best continental strikers at the moment. And for the future too. Starting professional football at the time when great Gerd Muller was still the king, relegated Rummenigge to the right wing – to a point, it was unfortunate and may be crippled a bit his development, but on the other hand, this development solved problems of the national team – back in 1974 Grabowski was placed as right winger as an emergency measure. In 1980 there was no great right winger in West Germany and Rummenigge was covering the gap. So far, so good – because of the nature of the center-forwards at the time. The question was how long such arrangement would work, because a player of Rummenigge's caliber would hardly keep supportive or secondary role for long. Partly, the answer to the question depended on the construction of the whole team and on available strikers. Partly, it depended on personal ego and willingness to sacrifice stardom for team success. Partly, it depended on the authority of the coach. In real terms, the question was simplified to decision to base a team on Hamburger SV or Bayern. Eventually Rummenigge won – and West Germany lost – but in 1980 things looked fine. And there were options for variety precisely because Rummenigge was not a typical winger, but a center-forward capable of playing at the wing too.
Horst Hrubesch. The picture is symbolic one – Keegan needed a ladder to get above Hrubesch. The top European player was a pale shadow of himself and England – a mediocrity at the European finals, when his ugly teammate became a star and won the title. A Cindarella story really – Hrubesch was included in the national team lately and reluctantly. He was not originally a starter. If Fischer was healthy, Hrubesch may not have been even in the squad. He was 29, he spent years playing second division football, and although he scored a lot, he was not a star, but rather one among similar big centers at the time, lacking great skills and even individuality – a tank. Of course, the problem was the shadow of Gerd Muller... since nobody could be Gerd Muller, his replacements were always found insufficient. Dieter Muller was the best promise, but he faded quickly. A string of heavy 'tanks' were used – Seel, Fischer... They were good, but on club level – in the national team they scored little and were blocked quite easily, for their game was predictable for modern defenders. The search continued. In itself, Hrubesch was not the solution – he was not better or different than Fischer. The solution was in the shaping of the new team – more creative wingers and midfielders. Defenses were busy preventing attacks form Hansi Muller, Rummenigge, Stielike, and were not able to read the creative directions of Schuster. Thus, attention was not focused on Hrubesch all the time, he had more freedom, and also he was not expected to be the sole finisher of attacks. The other great thing was that Kaltz – and eventually Magath – were accustomed to play with Hrubesch in front and to create opportunities for him. Better utilization. Hrubesch scored both German goals at the final and instantly became a hero – he delivered when it was most important. His rapport with the wingers was good, particularly with Rummenigge – the big forward served as a cover for sneaking from the back Rummenigge, keeping defenders busy with himself. At the moment, Hrubesch was the needed center-forward and since Hamburger SV was reaching its peak, it looked like he was a solution for the national team too – at least for the near future. Like the other new stars, he was not stigmatized player – Fischer was, for he was second or even third fiddle during the days of Gerd Muller.

Klaus Allofs. The 23-years old left winger of Fortuna Dusseldorf ended as the top scorer of European finals, but he was also the most criticized striker of the champions. Coming from a club which reached its peak at this time, Allofs was considered very promising, high scoring, somewhat typical winger. To a point, repeating Erwin Kremers of the 1972 team – limited to the left wing, he was practically unmovable to another post. Like Kremers, he was not always up to great performance, so looking for another option had to continue. But he was young and there were big hopes that he will mature in not so distant future. Scoring goals was expected of him and he scored when it mattered – a hat-trick against Holland. But that was all... leaving mixed feelings. In favour of him was the realization that modern football provided few opportunities for strikers – regular scoring was unlikely, but scoring at particular important match was most important. Allofs scored all goals in the difficult match with Holland – Hrubesch was dry until the final, when he scored all German goals. Allofs did not satisfy everybody, but was expected to develop further and as a whole – to stay in the national team for years to come, getting better. His moody play also helped, as strange as it may be – because Allofs was not entirely reliable yet, other tactical options had to be tried: using only 2 strikers, for instance. By default, West Germany had to use different tactical variety.

Exciting European champions – West Germany did not only come back, but had a team promising great future. The decline was over, new stars emerged, and Derwall seemingly had the mind and the skill to shape great team. And it was not a team limited to handful of players either – Bernd Forster, Felix Magath, Karl Del'Haye were eager to get a regular place. Lothar Matthaus, only 19-years old, made his debut. Eike Immel, also 19-years old, was in the team. Not included, but expected to be were other young talents, like Thomas Allofs. The new West Germany did not make revolution, but returned to the abandoned track of total football – and this was very optimistic sign, for already there was the strong feeling that total football was perverted into physical battle before its great possibilities were explored. West Germany killed total football, but now West Germany restored it – there was light again.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Monday, June 1, 2015