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Tournament’s giant-killing minnows keep the magic alive

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Even for the most committed of armchair fans, fatigue and apathy can set in when the World Cup’s “feast of football” sometimes fails to deliver the anticipated excitement levels. Making all those drab 0-0 draws and tedious mismatches worthwhile, however, are the giant-killing upsets that inevitably brighten up each tournament.

There’s nothing quite as pleasing as watching a team of swaggering superstars holding their heads in their hands as a motley crew of plucky journeymen rampage around the pitch in wild celebration — unless, of course, your country happens to be on the receiving end.

Such scenes were repeated this week in Qatar when Saudi Arabia stunned Lionel Messi’s Argentina before Japan humbled four-time champion Germany — adding to the tournament’s rich tradition of mega shocks.

Italy features prominently on that list, having lost to not one but both Koreas. The Azzurri were embarrassed 2-1 by co-host the Republic of Korea in 2002, but it was a truly seismic shock when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea beat the Italians 1-0 in England in 1966. That result was no fluke — the DPRK gave Eusebio’s Portugal an almighty scare in the quarterfinals, racing into a 3-0 lead before bowing out 5-3.

There was more ignominy for Italy at the 1994 World Cup in the United States, when the Republic of Ireland stunned a star-studded team that included the likes of Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Roberto Baggio. The Irish had officially been allocated 3,325 tickets for each group match, but when the cameras panned over Giants Stadium, the stands were bathed in a sea of green. An estimated 50,000 Irish fans erupted in celebration when Ray Houghton’s 11th-minute winner soared into the net to kick off a Guinness-drenched party in New Jersey — and back home in Ireland for the next week.

Northern Ireland produced an arguably bigger shock in 1982 against host Spain. That was the first tournament with 24 rather than 16 teams and there were concerns that smaller nations would struggle. However, an early second-half goal by Watford striker Gerry Armstrong earned a 1-0 win, which was all the more remarkable considering NI had defender Mal Donaghy sent off with 30 minutes left on the clock.

Nothing, however, compares to 1950, when the US beat England 1-0 in Brazil. Legend has it that when the result was relayed to London, in the days before reliable communications, some newspapers believed it was a typo and that the correct result was 10-0 to England. Context is vital. England was the 3-1 favorite to lift the World Cup, while the US was rated 500-1 and entirely composed of amateurs. They included a postman, a paint-stripper, a dishwasher and a hearse driver. Back in the States, the result was barely noticed. The New York Times gave the famous victory just two paragraphs.

These are just a handful of the jaw-dropping results the tournament has produced through the decades, with other honorable mentions going to Scotland’s 3-2 win over the Netherlands’ famed ‘Total Football’ side in 1978, Cameroon’s 1-0 win over Diego Maradona’s Argentina in 1990, and Senegal’s 1-0 victory over world and European champion France in 2002.

Here’s hoping the achievements of Saudi Arabia and Japan inspire more giant-slaying heroics in Qatar.

Contact the writer at jamesboylan@chinadaily.com.cn

Source(s): China Daily.

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Dortmund stuns Atletico in dramatic Champions League quarters

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BERLIN, April 16 (Xinhua) — Borussia Dortmund turned around a 2-1 first-leg defeat by clinching a hard-earned 4-2 victory over resilient Atletico Madrid in the second leg on home soil on Tuesday.

Dortmund advanced 5-4 on aggregate into the Champions League semifinals.

The BVB immediately went in search of the goal and came close with just three minutes gone when Marcel Sabitzer’s shot from inside the box was blocked by defender Cesar Azpilicueta in the last nick of time.

Two minutes later, Atletico had the golden chance to extend the aggregate lead, but Alvaro Morata pulled wide with only Dortmund goalkeeper Gregor Kobel to beat.

Dortmund controlled possession though and got rewarded for their efforts at the half-hour mark when Mats Hummel’s defence-splitting through the ball allowed Julian Brandt to fire past Madrid custodian Jan Oblak from a tight angle.

The hosts gained momentum and doubled the lead in the 39th minute as Sabizter teed up for Ian Maatsen, who slotted home from a sharp angle into the far post bottom corner.

After the restart, Los Colchoneros came out with their guns blazing and restored parity on aggregate with the great assistance of Dortmund veteran Mats Hummels, who accidentally cleared Mario Hermoso’s dangerous header into the wrong goal.

Things went from bad to worse for Dortmund as Atletico increased the pressure before retaking the aggregate lead with 69 minutes gone as Dortmund’s defense couldn’t clear the ball from the area, allowing Angel Correa to hammer the ball into the roof of the net, making it 2-2 on the scoreboards.

Dortmund was flabbergasted but bounced back with two goals in quick succession. First, Niclas Fullkrug made it 3-2 on the scoreboards in the 71st minute after heading home Sabitzer’s pinpoint cross before the Austrian international got his name on the scoreboards as well after unleashing a hammer past Oblak two minutes later.

Atletico opened up and pressed frenetically for a goal, but Dortmund’s defense stood firm to claim the team’s first semi-final since 2013. The BVB will encounter Paris Saint-Germain in the next round.

“I am really happy and proud of the boys. We were the better and more active team today. That is why we deserved to advance into the next round,” said Dortmund coach Edin Terzic.

“We had the chance to draw the game and go ahead in the tie but, when you don’t take advantage of your chances, this happens, even more so in the Champions League,” commented Atletico captain Koke.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Macron says Plan B, Plan C possible for Paris Olympics opening ceremony

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French President Macron revealed contingency plans for the Paris Olympic Games opening ceremony on the River Seine due to potential security risks, including the possibility of relocating to the Stade de France.

PARIS, April 15 (Xinhua) — The organizers have prepared alternatives to staging the highly-anticipated Paris Olympic Games opening ceremony on the River Seine if there are excessive security risks, French president Emmanuel Macron admitted on Monday.

As the countdown to the Olympics reaches the critical 100-day mark, Macron spoke to French broadcasters RMC and BFM TV inside the Grand Palais. While he reiterated his confidence in successfully hosting the ceremony on the Seine, he also acknowledged that alternative plans were under consideration due to potential security challenges.

“If we think there are security risks we’ll have Plan Bs, and even Plan Cs,” he said. “We are preparing them in parallel. We will do an analysis in real time. We have a ceremony which would be limited to the Trocadero and which would therefore not cover the entire Seine.”

Macron also mentioned the possibility of relocating the ceremony to the Stade de France.

“This is what is traditionally done,” he added.

Hosting the opening ceremony in the open urban space was a highly imaginative move by the Paris organizing committee and the local government.

According to the current plan, about 10,500 athletes are expected to travel approximately six kilometers from east to west along the Seine, disembarking near the Eiffel Tower at Trocadero Square for the celebration. An estimated 300,000 spectators are anticipated to watch the event live from both sides of the river.

However, security has been a significant concern from the outset of planning. The increasing risk of potential terrorist attacks is a critical consideration for both the organizing committee and the French government.

The Olympic flame for the Paris Games will be lit on April 16 in ancient Olympia, Greece. April 17 will mark the 100-day countdown to the opening of the Paris Olympics.

The Paris Olympics will take place between July 26 and August 11, followed by the Paris Paralympics from August 28 to September 8.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Xavi’s magic substitutions lead Barcelona to victory in thrilling encounter with PSG

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PARIS, April 10 (Xinhua) — Barcelona’s manager, Xavi Hernandez, showcased his tactical genius by making two substitutions that led directly to goals, propelling his team to a thrilling 3-2 victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals on Wednesday.

The game was an emotional rollercoaster, with Barcelona initially taking the lead, only to fall behind, and then executing a stunning comeback.

Brazilian forward Raphinha scored twice, including the opener in the first half, taking advantage of a mistake by PSG’s goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to net his first Champions League goal at the 37-minute mark.

PSG quickly turned the tables after halftime, with Ousmane Dembele and Vitinha scoring to give the Parisians a 2-1 advantage.

It was at this juncture that Xavi made a tactical masterstroke. In the 61st minute, he brought on Rodri and Joao Felix for Lamine Yamal and Sergi Roberto, a change that quickly paid off.

Pedri, just two minutes after coming on, lofted a perfect pass to Raphinha, who calmly finished past Donnarumma, drawing the teams level.

In the 76th minute, Xavi’s strategic acumen was on display again when he substituted Andreas Christensen and Ferran Torres for Frenkie de Jong and the key player Raphinha. Christensen scored with a header from a corner just a minute later, sealing a dramatic comeback for Barcelona.

“Pedri came on and helped us a lot. I’m very proud of the team. Christensen also came on and helped,” Xavi said. “Tactically we did really well.”

Since Xavi announced his departure from the team at the end of the season following a January defeat to Villarreal, Barcelona has been unbeaten in 12 matches across all competitions, a stark contrast to PSG’s previous unbeaten streak of 27 matches, which ended with this loss.

“We made things a bit difficult for ourselves. We managed to turn things around in the second half and could have had a third (goal),” PSG coach Luis Enrique said. “Everything’s still open for us and we will go there with ambition.”

The return leg is set for April 16th at Barcelona’s home ground.

Source(s): Xinhua

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