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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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Busy close to transfer window in Premier League

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LONDON, Feb. 1 (Xinhua) — There was plenty of activity on the last day of the transfer window in the Premier League, with Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham all making important signings.

Chelsea set a new English transfer record with the signing of Argentinean midfielder Enzo Fernandez from Benfica, paying his release clause of around 120 million euros.

The fee is around 10 times more than Benfica paid River Plate to buy the player, who was awarded the FIFA Young Player for the World Cup in Qatar, one year ago, although the Argentinean side will receive 25 percent of the sell-on fee.

The move completes a hectic January for Chelsea, who have spent over 300 million euros in an attempt to strengthen their squad.

Fernandez’s deal opened the door for Arsenal to move in for Chelsea’s Italian international midfielder Jorginho, who has signed a contract until the end of June 2024 for a fee thought to be in the region of 12 million pounds.

Jorginho will add experience to the Arsenal midfield, as Mikel Arteta’s young side looks to maintain their lead in the league’s title race.

Tottenham were also active, signing Spanish wing back Pedro Porro from Sporting Lisbon on loan, with an idea of turning the deal into a permanent transfer in the summer.

Matt Doherty and Djed Spence have both moved on to make space for Porro, with Doherty bound for Atletico Madrid and Spence signing with Rennes.

Manchester United moved quickly after the news that Christian Eriksen has suffered an injury that will keep him out until May, and snapped up Bayern Munich midfielder Marcel Sabitzer on loan.

Kamaldeen Sulemana has joined Southampton for a club record fee from Rennes. The Ghana winger will cost an initial 25 million euros plus a potential five million euros in future bonuses.

Newcastle United have landed young defender Harrison Ashby from West Ham United for a fee of around three million pounds, while striker Ayoze Perez left Leicester City to return to Spain with a loan deal to Betis.

Leicester strengthened their defense by signing Harry Souttar from Stoke City for 15 million pounds. The Australian central defender gets his move to the Premier League after impressing in the World Cup.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Barca to face Real Madrid in Copa del Rey semis

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MADRID, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) — The draw for the semifinals of the Copa del Rey in Spain has paired La Liga leaders FC Barcelona with their eternal rivals Real Madrid and ensures that this season will see three more ‘Clasicos’ in the space of a month.

Real Madrid will entertain Barcelona in the two-leg semifinals this week, with the return leg in the Camp Nou between April 4-6.

The most recent meeting between the two sides was in the Spanish Supercup held in Saudi Arabia on January 15th. Barcelona dominated that game and claimed a 3-1 win with goals from Gavi, Robert Lewandowski and Pedri, with Karim Benzema netting a late consolation goal for Real Madrid.

Real Madrid beat Barca 3-1 in La Liga in the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in their first meeting this season, back in October.

Luck has decreed that the two teams will have their second league meeting of the campaign in the Camp Nou on March 19th, meaning they will face each other three times in a month.

The second semifinal is a northern-derby between Osasuna and Athletic Club Bilbao, with the first game played in Osasuna’s El Sadar Stadium and the return in Athletic’s San Mames.

Osasuna are looking to reach the final for the second time in their history (after losing to Betis in 2005), while Athletic are looking to make the final for the third time in four years.

The two sides met in Bilbao at the start of January, with a series of saves from Osasuna keeper Aitor Fernandez keeping Athletic at bay in a 0-0 draw.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Analysis: Four things we learned in Spain’s Matchday 19

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MADRID, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) — La Liga has reached the midway point of the season with leader FC Barcelona five points clear of Real Madrid and a tight battle at the bottom of the table. Here are the four things we learned this weekend in Spain.

BARCA STILL NEED LEWANDOWSKI BACK

FC Barcelona won 1-0 away to Girona on Saturday and extended their lead to five points over Real Madrid at the top of the table, but it was another disappointing display from Xavi Hernandez’s side.

The win comes after they scraped past Real Sociedad 1-0 in the Copa del Rey and only beat Getafe 1-0 in La Liga. Although Robert Lewandowski played in the cup game, he missed the league match against Getafe and a 1-0 win against Atletico Madrid earlier this month.

With Lewandowski suspended, Ousmane Dembele has carried the weight of Barcelona’s attacking football, but the muscle injury he suffered in Girona will sideline the Frenchman for around a month. It’s good that Lewandowski will return next week for a difficult game against Betis.

REAL SOCIEDAD MAKE THEIR CASE IN MADRID

Although Alex Remiro was the busier of the two keepers on Sunday night, Real Sociedad’s 0-0 draw away to Real Madrid is another reason to see the side from San Sebastian as title outsiders.

They played for over 45 minutes in the Copa del Rey with 10 men against Barca in midweek and still pushed Barca all the way, while Sunday saw them contribute to a vastly entertaining match.

While Barca and Madrid still have a packed calendar, Real Sociedad have slightly more recovery time and Mikel Merino and David Silva will soon return from injury, so they have to be seen as candidates.

NO INAKI, NO PARTY FOR BILBAO

Athletic Club Bilbao sit eighth in the table after slipping to a 1-0 defeat away to Celta Vigo on Sunday, following a poor display in which they created few chances (especially in the second half).

The Basque side was without striker Inaki Williams, who was suffering from a knee injury, with coach Ernesto Valverde preferring not to take any risks with his player.

That decision ended a run of 251 consecutive league appearances for Williams – a record that stretches back over six years without either injury or suspension, which unlikely to be bettered any time soon, if ever.

Williams has been criticized for his erratic finishing, but sometimes you don’t appreciate a player until they don’t play, and that was certainly the case on Sunday.

DE PAUL FINALLY IMPRESSES

Atletico Madrid midfielder Rodrigo de Paul was one of the pillars of Argentina’s success in the World Cup in Qatar, but the 28-year-old’s season and a half with Atletico have so far been underwhelming, to such an extent that he has been booed on occasion by fans in Atletico’s Metropolitano Stadium.

Sunday’s 1-0 win away to Osasuna showed what De Paul is capable of, as he produced an intense display in midfield and gave the pass that allowed Saul Niguez (another player who could be on their way out) to score the winning goal.

In theory, De Paul should be an ideal player for Diego Simeone’s style of play, but the question is: can he do it on a regular basis?

Source(s); Xinhua

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