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Thread: Greatest Soccer Matches

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    The Lone Ranger Lieutenant General rishabhd's Avatar
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    Default Greatest Soccer Matches

    Being a sports fan is an intensely personal thing. The sports you choose to follow, the teams you root for -- none of those decisions are based on objective qualifications. The same goes for the sporting moments that stick with you for a lifetime.


    Wo Acha Hay Tou Behtar, Bura Hay Tou Bhi Qabool
    Mizaaj-E-Ishq Mein Aib-O-Hunar Dekhe Nahi Jatay...!!!


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    The Lone Ranger Lieutenant General rishabhd's Avatar
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    FC Den Haag–FC Utrecht, 3-1, The Hague, Netherlands, 1979


    I must have been 9 years old, and my father drove my brother and me in the car. We were a British family living in Holland because my dad had a job there, and one day he decided to reward our nagging and take us to a real professional soccer match.

    Thirty-four years later, I can still see the Jehovah’s Witness who played full-back for Den Haag scoring the opening goal. But what I remember best is the crowd: young thugs of the late 1970s, many of them presumably grandfathers now, running up and down the terraces shouting and gesticulating at the police, as was the custom then. I remember my brother not being able to read the scoreboard. That day set him off on a lifetime in glasses.

    And I remember the sheer unaccustomed thrill of being in the center of the world, in the place where life was happening, instead of sitting at home reading soccer magazines. The highlights of Den Haag-Utrecht were on TV that evening! People around Holland saw them. On the sofa at home we strained to see if the TV cameras had caught perhaps a flash of our coats.

    Looking back on the match, what strikes me is that we could replicate almost exactly the same experience today, if my dad and brother and I all flew to Holland. Everything in life changes -– people die, you move, you change -– but professional soccer changes least of all. Den Haag are now called ADO Den Haag, they’ve moved to a different stadium nearby and there aren’t so many young thugs there anymore, yet the essential ritual of game-day remains intact. That is one of life’s comforts.


    Wo Acha Hay Tou Behtar, Bura Hay Tou Bhi Qabool
    Mizaaj-E-Ishq Mein Aib-O-Hunar Dekhe Nahi Jatay...!!!


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    West Germany–Holland, European Championship final, 1-2 Hamburg, Germany, 1988


    I left Holland forever in 1986, but I still support the national team, and almost every Dutch fan agrees that the most stirring match in national soccer history was this one in Hamburg. Even some foreigners feel it. My Israeli friend Shaul says that whenever he feels blue, he plays the tape of “that game.” “But which game, Shaul?” I like to tease him.

    In that game, all of Dutch soccer history came together. Firstly, we were playing our great rivals, the Germans, just 43 years after liberation. And then, in 1988, we had perhaps our most glorious team. Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, et al. played a joyous Dutch “total soccer” that showed up West Germany. In the 87th minute, Van Basten slid home from an impossible angle, and we had won. The Dutch poet Jules Deelder wrote of that goal, in a poem titled "21-6-1988":

    Those who fell
    Rose cheering from their graves

    In Holland, millions went onto the streets to celebrate. It was reportedly the biggest public gathering since liberation. I was 18 years old then (it was the week I finished high school), and I ran onto our empty London suburban street waving my bottle of Heineken in triumph. Finding nobody else to celebrate with, I went round to our German neighbors.

    “Holland were fantastic!” said our Stig.

    “That Rijkaard is a handsome man,” said his wife, Alice.

    “You deserved it,” said Stig, handing me another beer.

    That Sunday, Holland beat the Soviet Union in Munich to win the European Championship, still the only prize the team has ever won. I was there in the stadium that afternoon, but the TV game against Germany was better.


    Wo Acha Hay Tou Behtar, Bura Hay Tou Bhi Qabool
    Mizaaj-E-Ishq Mein Aib-O-Hunar Dekhe Nahi Jatay...!!!


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    Japan-Turkey, World Cup 2002, 0-1, Miyagi, Japan


    Even before this game, I’d fallen for Japanese World Cup fandom. Two weeks previously during Japan-Belgium, hardly a classic, the smiling young Japanese crowd had sung with happiness for 90 minutes straight. The Japanese players had given everything and had held mighty Belgium. I’d never seen a crowd and a team have so much fun before. After the game many Japanese players were crying on the field, and up in the press stand, I cried a bit, too. This embarrassed me until I ran into a British colleague who told me he had also cried. So in Miyagi, I was supporting the Japanese. Defeat there ended their run. When the final whistle went, the crowd suddenly fell silent. The silence lasted about four seconds; then they began clapping. They clapped the Turks as they bowed to each stand in turn, and when the Japanese players ran a lap of the field, the people in their rain plastics gave them an ovation. Here were all the good bits of fandom -- the passion, the loyalty, the free expression -- with the nasty ones left out. It was a glimpse of soccer the way I wish it were over here.


    Wo Acha Hay Tou Behtar, Bura Hay Tou Bhi Qabool
    Mizaaj-E-Ishq Mein Aib-O-Hunar Dekhe Nahi Jatay...!!!


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    Holland-Spain, World Cup final 2010, 0-1, Johannesburg


    My parents were born in Johannesburg. They both left apartheid South Africa at around 20 and never moved back again, but I still have many relatives in Johannesburg. On the morning of the final, I visited my grandmother for the last time. She was 91 and tired of life. We had always been very fond of each other, but this morning it was difficult to know what to say. I was flying home straight after the match and had no plans ever to return to South Africa. When I kissed her goodbye, I tried to sidestep the emotions by saying, “Maybe I’ll see you again.”

    “You won’t,” she said.

    She was right: four months later she was dead.

    From her flat, I went to Soccer City. It’s a strange feeling going to a game knowing that you might be about to see your team win the World Cup. The Dutch weren’t favorites, but I was half-worried they would win. What would there be left for me afterward? Sitting in the stands at the bottom of the world when your team wins its first World Cup is the unmatchable pinnacle of a fan’s career. If Holland won, I might as well retire as a fan.

    Every match a team plays, all the ghosts of its past play, too. When Holland took the field that evening, it was as if the players of 1974 and 1988 were walking out with them. Holland is glorious attacking total soccer. We owe that to our tradition. But that night in Johannesburg, the Dutch just kicked Spaniards. Like countless Dutch soccer fans watching at home or in cafés, I felt ashamed.

    If I had to reach the pinnacle of my supporter’s career this way, I didn’t want it. Gradually, as the game went on, I stopped supporting Holland. Still, when Arjen Robben broke through on an hour and advanced on Spain’s keeper Iker Casillas, I saw my 30-plus years of supporting the Dutch flash before me. Robben shot, and only Casillas’ studs prevented a goal


    Wo Acha Hay Tou Behtar, Bura Hay Tou Bhi Qabool
    Mizaaj-E-Ishq Mein Aib-O-Hunar Dekhe Nahi Jatay...!!!


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    Barcelona-Manchester United, Champions League final 2011, 3-1, Wembley


    The older I get, the less I like watching soccer. Now that I’m in what sociologists call “the rush hour of life” -- busiest time in my career, three small children -- I have almost no free time. When I get some, I rarely spend it slumped on the sofa in front of a game. The dirty secret of soccer, I’ve discovered in this era of constant live matches, is that most games are dull. The occasional mouse scurrying through our living-room doesn’t enhance my peace of mind either.

    But Barcelona-Manchester United justified everything. Sometimes I feel that the correct way to spend one’s life in these years is to watch every single game that Lionel Messi plays. There was a moment when he picked up the ball on the halfway line, flitted through United’s defense again (and, remember, United was the second-best team on earth), set David Villa free on the right wing and then came about one centimeter short to toe Villa’s cross into the net. It was a run worthy of Pele or Maradona, and yet hardly anyone at Wembley was surprised. Messi was doing something like it every few minutes.

    Barcelona played a fairly perfect game of soccer. There was only one team in the game, but one or two refereeing decisions went against United, and I was worried that Alex Ferguson would break the mood afterward by ranting that the ref had cost his club the trophy.

    But when Ferguson led his team up the Wembley steps to accept their losers’ medals, I saw his face: He was laughing. Like everyone else at Wembley that evening, he felt uplifted by what he’d seen. Later he called Barça the best team he’d ever faced. That match reminded me why I’d bothered to fall for this sport in the first place.


    Wo Acha Hay Tou Behtar, Bura Hay Tou Bhi Qabool
    Mizaaj-E-Ishq Mein Aib-O-Hunar Dekhe Nahi Jatay...!!!


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