July 7, 2021
Football: The unexpected game
“Football is unpredictable”

-Ricardo Kaka

There are multiple factors that make football what is is, when you combine these factors you have the greatest sport in the world watched by nearly half the population of the earth. Manuel Neuer once said how you can plan for games beforehand and sort a viable strategy but you can never predict the conditions and outcome on the field. It is true because the simple explanation is that  there is a lot going on with 22 men fighting for the ball, going into challenges willing to put their body on the line, ready to cover that extra 10 meters, covering every blade of grass, taking a shot out of 40 yard that is swiftly dipping towards the top corner with the thousands of people watching on television, unsure whether as to will it hit the post? Be saved by the keeper? Or will cross the line and result in a goal? The fair conclusion is that the game is full of emotion and enthusiasm and these two aspects alone are powerful enough to determine the fate of anything, let alone a 90 minute game.

Football is brilliant, it is beautiful. It is why centuries have passed and we haven’t grown bored of it. As decades past by there is specialization in different areas of the game. Let us take technology as an example and how in 2011 goal line technology was found and made the game became simpler with more accurate decisions. Talk about the GPS system to track the fitness of the player ensuring physical maximization. Fast forward to 2018 and we had VAR (Video Assistant Referee) which revolutionized refereeing. Now in 2021 the first live tracking of both ball and player is a reality. Not only technology but tactics have been growing since the dawn of football. From a traditional target man to the introduction of a false 9 by Matthias Sindelar we all saw development. Even in formations we experienced how the popular 4-4-2 slowly faded out of the game, replaced by the 4-2-3-1, the 4-3-3, the 4-5-1 and the 4-3-2-1 etc. Everything changes and adapts, except for one thing which is the essence of football which lies in components such as passion, love for the game and unpredictability. So what makes a football unpredictable? We shall discover.

The 12th man, the fans

The fans play a very crucial role in shaping a football game and its unexpected nature. The reason why the title here says the “12th“ man is because in the Bundesliga some clubs like Bayern Munich and Werder Bremen have retired the 12th number jersey due to the belief that the 12th number or the 12th player are the respectable fans. The importance of fans cannot be understated at all as they will scream over the top of their lungs for 90 minutes if it meant motivating the players to do good for team. When 60,000 people chant together it raises the spirits of the players inspiring them to push their limits. An example of how fans can influence the game can be seen through Liverpool. Since the Covid outbreak the fans have been forced to stay indoors with football being played without an audience that has massively impacted the performance of clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool, especially the latter considering that Liverpool were unbeaten for 68 straight games in the league at Anfield which is their home ground. In their remarkable comeback against Barcelona in the Champions League it was reported that Jurgen Klopp told his players to only get one goal, he added that “Anfield will do the rest” which highlights the importance and roles fan play in over shaping a football game.

The Never give up attitude

One can’t specialize in football without working hard. These professional players work their entire lives on their fitness, technical ability, game IQ and try obtaining experience to make it pro. The same footballing players get used to the element of hustle and develop a “never give up” attitude. This attitude prompts them to give it all for 90 minutes and in cases where unexpected results barge out, these games are usually decided in the final minutes in the 80s and 90s. There is also a concept in football known as “Mentality Monsters” where certain teams establish a reputation for scoring goals in the last minutes or coming back from trailing a 2 or 3 goal margin. The prime example of this would be Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United in his 27 year tenure where Manutd had created a reputation for scoring goals in what was famously regarded as “Fergie time” where the 11 players will somehow find a way to score a goal in the ending minutes of the game.

The uncertain nature of the game

Yes fans and mentality are two great concepts that shape shift on field display and add that unexpectedness in football but it is not the only factors that vary the way the game is played. The truth is the dynamics of football make the game unpredictable and changeable. The best example of this Steven Gerrard’s slip against Chelsea where Demba Ba capitalized and gave Chelsea the lead when Liverpool could have won the title. Although it is regarded just a slip but when we go into detailed analysis we realize that it was a mixture of vision, balance and technique. Steven Gerrard in truth miscontrolled the ball and in order to make a last ditch effort to prevent the chase he lost his balance and went slipping. A simple head clearance can also cause a final minute controversy. Throw ins into tight spaces with the ball bouncing here and there, who knows where the ball will end?

3 times the underdog won the game

The unpredictable game has given us multiple surprises over the last 50 years with thrilling comebacks and victories by the underdogs. In the 2014/15 season of the Premier League Leicester City finished 14th in the league table with 41 points. To the world’s surprise the next season they won the league title with their famous team of Ngolo Kante, Riyadh Mahrez and Jamie Vardy etc. A team that escaped the scraps of relegation a season before somehow managed their way to 81 points which describes football as a game, magical. We will now explore the times an underdog managed their way to victory.

Bayern Munich 1 - 2 Manchester United 1999 Champions League final

The 1998-1999 season will never be forgotten as it is the only time an English team secured the glorious treble and this record exists to date. Several has dared to achieve the same feat but repetition has never been possible may it be Jose Mourinho’s 2005 Chelsea, the Arsenal Invincibles or the City Centurions. The only English team to ever win the domestic league title, the domestic cup and Champions League all in one season in Sir Alex Ferguon’s great Manchester United of the 98-99 consisting of most young players who grew from the club’s academy.

26th May, 1999 - Camp Nou. Two of the best teams in the world and winners of their respective leagues, the competition between Bayern Munich and Manchester United was always going to breathtaking and fantastic. Bayern had the likes of Matthaus, Zickler and Tarnat while United’s team sheet flexed the likes of Jaap Stam, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. Their captain Roy Keane had been suspended for the final due to his yellow card in the 2nd leg of the Semi-Final after his challenge on Zidane. However as it turned out, Manchester United did not need him, or did they? Let’s find out.

Manchester United started the game very well with Dwight Yorke finding his way into the opposition box which was crowded by the defenders. As it turns out Bayern Munich scored 120 seconds later at minute 6’ through a Basler free-kick which the wall and Peter Schmeichel misjudged. This was an early blow for United as conceding early in a Champions League final was concerning.Since then the men in Red pushed a few attacks but Bayern did not hold back. Left back Denis Irwin and Centre back Jaap Stam had to be very aware and keen for attacks from the opposition and they dealt with them well. Andy Cole had a great chance to equalize near minute 15’ but was tackled clean. United push on for the entire half with Giggs and Beckham as the main service providers while Bayern tried utilizing a few counter attacks.

Came halftime and the United’s pursuit for an equalizer continued for sometime long whereas on the other hand Bayern wanted to put the game to bed through a one final stab. Ryan Giggs’ and David Beckham’s deliveries were causing Munich some problems and rightfully. By the 60th minute United were thrashing on offensive with speed so it became hard for the opposition to cope up. Teddy Sheringham came on for Blomqvist at the 67th minute.

Attack after Attack, corner after corner the men in red never seemed to slow own but Bayern were not there to watch a final slip through their fingers. Near minute 70th Bayern hit the post! Effenberg took a shot from 30 yard and Schmeichel was lucky the bar saved him.

Comes the moment at the 81st minute where the baby faced assassin comes on, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. 9 minutes left on the clock minus added time and a comeback for the underdogs was looking unlikely until came minute 90.

”SHERINGHAMMMM”

United score off a Beckham corner with a deflection from Giggs and 1-1, game on now! Who would have thought that they would get the equalizer at the last minute of the game? Bayern Munich’s hopes were crushed and they were devastated. The Reds still had business at Camp Nou with 2 minutes to go. Score a goal in the dying minutes and make history by winning the glorious Treble as Manchester United looked keen over succeeding this feat after trailing for 84 minutes. Was it possible? Was their enough time?

Beckham gets another corner at minute 93’ and……..

”AND SOLSKJAER HAS WON IT”

The greatest moment in the football club’s history. What started as game where they were under severe pressure, after all they were used to it. From Steve Bruce’s 96th minute winner to Ole’s 93rd. Manchester United achieved the impossible feat that no English club had ever done before, they were indeed the underdogs who won that night.

The Istanbul Miracle

One of the most craziest night in the European football where the underdogs fought all odds and came out successful, the Istanbul Miracle is regarded the best footballing comeback of all time and for rightful reasons. It defines the art of unpredictability and unexpectedness where a team trailing with a massive margin can rise up from the dead and shock the world. The difference between both sides in quality was rather clear as A.C. Milan were one of the best sides in Europe at that times with the likes of Maldini, Kaka, Crespo, Pirlo, Gattuso and Shevchenko. They had finished 2nd in the Serie A that season with 79 points, only 6 behind the winners Juventus. Liverpool boasted a good squad as well with the likes of Gerrard, Xabi Alonso, Luis Garcia and Carragher but A.C. Milan were the way superior side being already widely feared in Europe.

The game kicks off and as expected, Milan start with a bang. Turns out that the papers and predictions were correct as Paulo Maldini scored in the very 1nd minute off a volley from 12 yards. Liverpool’s dreams took a shattering in the very first moment of the game but the humiliation just kicked off as near minute 38 Hernan Crespo doubled the Italian giants’ lead with his cracking poaching ability. Liverpool’s worst nightmare had turned into reality when Milan lay the final fatal blow after just 5 minutes with Crespo doubling his tally and taking his team’s lead to 3 with some satisfying ball control combined with an exquisite finish.

Liverpool’s first half performance was horrendous without a doubt and Milan had an extremely comfortable lead with 3 goals. The game was over to everyone but there was a sense of belief among the Reds and stepped up their captain, Steven Gerrard! A header off six yards got one back for Liverpool and this was a Hollywood start to the second half. To the world’s surprise just two minutes after Gerrard’s sublime header Liverpool scored another one, unbelievable! Smicer scored, maybe with a stroke of luck but what mattered the most was the outcome and Liverpool were trailing off just one. The nightmare started reverting gradually and the Reds had already damaged the emotions of the men in white that night but then arrived the final blow

”PENALTYYY TO LIVERPOOL”

The Spaniard , Xabi Alonso steps up and the penalty is saved by the Milan keeper Dida but Alonso was awake enough to score it quickly off the rebound, Liverpool were equal in the game and no one could believe what was happening. The game continued at a similar pace then with both teams looking for the winner but came Extra Time soon and the scores remained level. The fate of this game relied on penalties where Liverpool proved to be glorious and why wouldn’t they? They had thrashed Milan mentally over-matching a 3 goal lead, Shevchenko had the last penalty of the game and his miss earned Liverpool their 5th European title which was the most in England. It is indeed a miraculous night where the underdogs ended up glorious.

La Remotanda

Regarded as the craziest night in football history and the best comeback ever witnessed, La Remotanda was arguably the most poetic night in football. For those who watched the game lived a magical night filled with entertainment and those who slept early woke up in shock after scrolling past social media. In the first leg of the Round of 16 tie PSG had established a 4-0 lead over Barcelona with the hosts wrecking their guests who had only a single shot on target. However came Camp Nou and 90,000 people with it. Luis Suarez opened the scoring for Barcelona in the very 3rd minute of the game. The early goal in such ties is what inspires the comeback and Suarez had played his part although the game turned dry till the 40th minute where Kurzawa scored an own goal and PSG were just leading with 2 goals over the combined tie.

The second half started with a bang when Thomas Meunier fouled Neymar in the box and Messi scored the penalty. Barcelona were just 1 goal off equalizing PSG but their hopes suffered a late blow when Cavani scored that crucial away goal for PSG in the 62nd minute as the well worked comeback began looking unlikely. Barcelona kept pushing for another goal but all attempts failed as PSG held them off cleanly but one could not underestimate the quality of the trio “MSN” Messi, Neymar and Suarez. Then came the moment where Neymar pulled another one for the Spanish giants in the 88th minute. Was it possible? Was it not? Seconds later Suarez fell down in the box which somewhat looked like a dive but a penalty was given. Neymar took the penalty calmly and Barcelona were in it, their hopes and beliefs ignited in the dying minutes of the game with only a single goal separating them from what would be the greatest night in football. 96th minute and Neymar lobbed the ball into the crowded box

”Can you believe this”

The Remotanda was complete! Sergio Roberto had given Barcelona the final desired goal for qualification in the next round as they knocked PSG out through a stunning comeback being the underdogs.

After all it is football and the magic within it that keeps us going!

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