Hits and misses as stars strut stuff in beautiful game

James Whelan recalls the footballing year that was and comes up with some glorious and gory memories.

Greatest upset:

Greece’s victory in Euro 2004 when they beat hosts Portugal, twice, defending champions France and favourites Czech Republic to become European champions after starting the tournament as 80-1 outsiders.

Most surprising international result:

Besides Greece’s wins in Euro 2004, Andorra’s first competitive victory; a 1-0 win over Macedonia in a World Cup qualifier in October was totally unexpected. Palestine’s 8-0 victory over Taiwan in a World Cup qualifier in February couldn’t have been predicted either.

Least surprising international result:

Thierry Henry of France and Arsenal finishing second (again) in FIFA’s World Player of the Year poll. The award went to Ronaldinho of Barcelona and Brazil. Perhaps the fact Ronaldinho broke a window in the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela while performing a scissors-kick during the recording of an advert, tipped the vote his way.

Best goal:

Czech Patrick Berger’s strike for Portsmouth against Charlton Athletic in the Premier League in August when he collected the ball with his back to the goal, turned and volleyed home from 20-metres out, took some beating. Another contender came, almost inevitably, from Ronaldinho, scoring for Barcelona against Brondby in last season’s UEFA Cup third round. He hit the bar with a free-kick from the edge of the area then outraced every defender on the other side of the penalty box to pick up the rebound - which he volleyed straight into the net.

Worst miss:

Two contenders - both equally awful. Dario Silva of Uruguay probably deserves this non-accolade as his occurred in an international against Brazil in the Copa America semi-final when, unmarked, two metres from goal, he shot against the bar.

Nwankwo Kanu runs close. The Nigerian could have sealed a win for West Bromwich Albion against Middlesbrough in the Premier League in November, when, one metre from goal and totally unmarked, he sent the ball over the bar.

Best free-kick:

Arnulfo Valentierra’s 30-metre rocket which gave Once Caldas a 1-0 win over Santos in their Libertadores Cup quarter-final second leg.

Maddest piece of goalkeeping:

Rene Higuita, playing for Aucas in the Ecuadorean championship, went on a mazy dribble, taking him out of his penalty area all the way to where the halfway line meets the left-hand touchline. He then passed the ball straight to El Nacional’s Erik de Jesus, who floated the ball into the unprotected goal from 45 metres. The former Colombia keeper, now 38, was banned for six months shortly afterwards after testing positive for cocaine

Best brawl:

America (Mexico) v Sao Caetano (Brazil), at the end of their Libertadores Cup second round, second leg tie. America striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco, sent off during injury time, came back onto the pitch and almost single-handedly instigated a brawl involving almost everyone on the field, plus officials. Dozens of fans invaded the pitch, others hurled missiles on to the field.

Strangest substitution:

17-year-old defender Jonas came on in the 59th minute of Sao Caetano’s Brazilian championship match against Sao Paulo to replace Serginho, who collapsed and later died. Serginho collapsed in his own penalty area during the game on October 27 from a cardio-respiratory arrest and died in hospital less than two hours later.

The match was suspended with the score 0-0. The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) controversially ruled that the match should be concluded on November 3, starting at exactly the point where it stopped.

The 21 other players took the pitch and Sao Caetano officials, raised the substitution board with the number five worn by Serginho. Play restarted with the goal-kick Sao Caetano keeper Silvio Luiz had been preparing to take one week earlier.

Biggest flops:

Real Madrid’s Galacticos. They lost the final of the King’s Cup to Real Zaragoza, went out against Monaco (inspired by former player Fernando Morientes) in the quarter-finals of the Champions League and then lost six of their last seven league matches to finish in fourth place in the Primera Liga. On December 30 former Brazil coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo was named as their fourth coach of the year.

Weirdest behaviour:

Atletico goalkeeper German (Mono) Burgos made what he called a “joke phone call” to Racing Santander forward Mario Regueiro asking him to throw a game against Celta Vigo because he had friends at the club. The game ended in a 4-4 draw. The Spanish FA didn’t see the funny side of things and fined Burgos €2000 for his little prank.

Most desperate act:

The Valencia fans who tried to sue a referee after he awarded a last-minute penalty against them that allowed Real Madrid to scramble a 1-1 draw against them at the Bernabeu.

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