While the new season is closer right now than the season that has just passed, I thought it would be nice to take a look back at some of the biggest surprises that were thrown up by the footballing gods last season. Everyone likes a shock once in a while, that is after all what makes the sport an interesting spectacle rather than a pure statistical amusement.
5. Barcelona v Rubin Kazan (1-2)
First up a clash in the Champions League group stages. Rubin Kazan had qualified for the competition as champions of Russia, based in Russia’s 8th largest city deep in the Russian vastness it may have been less surprising had the result come at home. However the Russian’s went to the Nou Camp on the 20th October and came away with all three points.
Rubin’s manager, Kurban Berdyev, revealed his master plan after the match. Having seen Barcelona’s 0-0 draw with Valencia he noted that there was space to shoot from distance because of the Catalan midfielder’s reluctance to drop into the penalty area to screen the defence. Rubin’s players were told to shoot on sigh, in truth they were rather fortunate to score an absolute screamer of a goal and were lucky not to concede late in the second half when Barca forced an oustanding save and Yaya Toure headed against the post. Rubin pulled off a smaller shock at home two weeks later, taking a 0-0 draw in freezing temperatures.
4. Allianza Lima v Estudiantes de la Plata (4-1)
When Tim Vickery asked is the Copa Libertadores more entertaining (better) than the UEFA Champions league, he was served up the perfect example by Peruvian side Allianza Lima. They faced the holders Estudiantes one round after the Argentinians had demolished Juan Aurich, another Peruvian team, 5-1 at home. Estudiantes had also come within a mere minute of being declared club champions of the world when they faced Barcelona at the 2009 Club World Cup.
The game looked as though it would be another rout for the visiting side when Jose Sosa put the holders ahead after just 4 minutes. Wilmer Aguirre, the Allianza striker, was having none of it and scored a neat hat trick before Jose Fernandez put the icing on a 4-1 defeat.The altitude would certainly have been a factor in the defeat, Lima is approximately 5,000 ft (1,500m) higher than La Plata, but the first two goals came in the first half which suggests that fatigue was not purely to blame. You can see the highlights on Youtube here.
3. Spain v Switzerland (0-1)
In the build up to the 2010 World Cup Spain hit Poland for six, pardon the pun. They had held an incredible record over the past 4 years having lost just twice in 45 matches, the curse had been lifted at Euro 2008 and it appeared that they were absolutely unstoppable. Nothing would stand in their way, except for Switzerland’s determined dogged, determined and tenacious defending. Spain were stifled by their own lack of width and they were even showing signs of panic, they appeared to run out of ideas against a Swiss side harking back to the days of the ‘Verrou‘ or Catenaccio. Although Switzerland should’ve had 2 goals, it is safe to say that Spain were well and truly mugged.
We are all aware that they went on to take the trophy, so perhaps it gave them the wake up call required to really knuckle down and grind out the performances. They only won one of their 7 games by over a goal margin (against Honduras), they may not have been playing in the same manner as their pre-tournament friendly win but the Swiss lesson taught them to get the job done.
2. Manchester United v Leeds United (0-1)
The FA cup has a great reputation for delivering upsets to the fans. When these two sides met for their 3rd round tie there was not a vast chasm in leagues between them, just two divisions effectively separated the sides. The writing was on the wall however from the previous round. Leeds were held to a 1-1 draw against Kettering, both home and away, needing to go to extra time before they were able to despatch the conference side. After the initial draw at Kettering’s home ground the 3rd round draw was made and Manchester United together with Leeds United/Kettering Town were drawn as the final tie. Almost as though it had been scripted.
Leeds were by far the hungrier side on the day, after Jermaine Beckford’s scuffed shot trickled under Tomasz Kuszczak and into the United goal the home team appeared somewhat stunned and unable to reply. Leeds were hardly subjected to the kind of pressure cooker style attack that we normally expect to see in these types of game situations.
1. Real Madrid v Alcorcon (1-4 agg.)
Cup competitions are rarely taken as seriously in European countries as they are in England but I still think was the biggest shock of last season. Following the dawn of the new galacticos era Real Madrid spent hundreds of millions of pounds, euros and dollars in an attempt to buy some glory. Real Madrid travelled to Alcorcon with a side consisting of expensive reserves, not a single youth player was included in the side. The side was as follows: -
Dudek; Arbeloa, Albiol, Metzelder, Drenthe; Mahamadou Diarra, Guti (Gago, 46), Van der Vaart; Granero (Marcelo, 63); Raúl (Van Nistelrooy, 72), Benzema.
These millionaires were trounced by the lowly Segunda Division B, Spain’s third tier, side 4-0 in the first leg and were only able to win the home leg 1-0. Dumping Manuel Pellegrini out of the Copa del Rey, defeat was to become a running theme throughout the rest of Real’s season much to Pellegrini’s dismay.
I’d like to hear what your favourite shocks and cupsets have been over the past year or so.