France, Germany, and one of the ugliest incidents in World Cup history

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As Germany closed out its Round of 16 win over Algeria, we heard Jon Champion allude to 1982, only this time, the ESPN broadcaster wasn’t talking up the collusion-angle that’d been reprised ahead of Monday’s game. Instead, Champion was alluding to one of the more notorious incidents in World Cup history, one that will come to the attention of a new generation of soccer fans ahead of Germany’s meeting with France on Friday in Brazil 2014’s quarterfinals.

It was the first two straight semifinals where West Germany would face Michel Platini’s France, eventually eliminating them on penalty kicks after the 3-3 draw. In the second half, however, the match was marred when German goalkeeper Harald Schumacher collided with France’s Patrick Battiston, sending the defender to the ground as he pursued a ball at the edge of the German penalty box.

Battiston would eventually be stretchered from the field and require oxygen after a hit that knocked out two teeth, cracked three ribs, and left the French player with a damaged vertebrae. Battiston didn’t regain consciousness for 30 minutes and eventually slipped into a coma.

No foul was called on the play. From YouTube:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VPTOnClKCJc]

Perhaps Champion describing this as a near-decapitation was an exaggeration, but he’s not the only one to put the incident in such graphic terms. The play is commonly referenced among the worst challenges in the sport’s history, making it even more inexplicable Schumacher was allowed to continue.

From The Observer’s Tim Pears, published six years ago:

[…] As the German journalist Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger puts it: ‘Just prior to crashing into Battiston he [Schumacher] did a little jump and turned his upper body in order to ease the impact. Ease it for himself, that is, as the helpless Battiston was hit in the face by Schumacher’s hipbone with full force, immediately going down unconscious.’

[…] By grim chance the Seville police had, for some unknown reason, barred Red Cross officials from the sidelines. It took three minutes for a stretcher to appear, lifted up from some basement store beneath the stands. Eventually uniformed men with Red Cross armbands trotted on […]

[French captain Michel] Platini later said that he thought his team-mate was dead. ‘He had no pulse. He looked so pale.’ Finally Battiston was carried off, accompanied on one side by a medic, on the other by Platini, who walked along bent towards Battiston’s ashen face. The unconscious player’s right arm flopped over the side of the stretcher, and Platini took Battiston’s hand. He spoke softly to him as he walked. As they neared the edge of the pitch, Platini raised Battiston’s hand and kissed it.

The whole report, posted on The Guardian’s website, is worth a read (that’s a big selection, but it’s only a small piece).

Battiston eventually forgave Schumacher, but reliving the incident remains difficult. From Goal.com:

“I have forgiven [him],” he told RTL. “But I don’t want to speak about it in these circumstances.”

Schumacher recently apologised once again for his actions but Battiston revealed that he has no interest in burying the hatchet with the German face to face.

“I do not particularly want to meet him,” the former Bordeaux man confessed. “Over time, I realise that people have forever marked him with this. But now it’s finished.

“It was [an incident] on the field of play; we’ll never know if it was deliberate or not.”

Thirty-two years ago, soccer was truly a different game. Had that foul occurred today, Schumacher likely gets dismissed, leaving his team without their starting goalkeeper for the impending penalty kick shootout (West Germany eventually lost to Italy in the final). Even back in 1982, there was outrage about how the incident was handled.

Thankfully, the sport’s changed. In addition to increased scrutiny on the field, the culture around the game is less forgiving when a player shows such blatant disregard.

Still, we’re likely to hear a more about this incident in the lead up to Friday’s quarterfinal. Though unfortunate, the play serves as a small, extreme reminder of how far the game’s hopefully come.

Foul or flop? Player “headbutts” referee, is sent off

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Well, there must be something in the water down in Brasilia, because things got a little weird this evening.

Flamengo drew with Vasco da Gama 2-2, but that was just the start.

In the 54th minute, with Vasco da Gama leading 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mané Garrincha, 36-year-old Luis Fabiano was sent off for “headbutting” the referee. Headbutting is in quotes because looking at the video, it certainly appears there was little to no contact, and the referee flops.

Yes, the referee flopped. Take a look:

To be fair, Fabiano was already on a yellow, so getting in the referee’s face even without the headbutt/pelvic thrust would likely still have seen him sent to an early shower.

So the former Porto and Sevilla man was sent off, and Vasco da Gama was down to 10 men. Immediately after the red card, Flamengo took advantage, powering in a pair of goals via Willian Arao and Orlando Berrio to take the lead 2-1. But Vasco wouldn’t quit, and they earned a penalty five minutes into stoppage time, which Nene buried for the 2-2 draw.

To top things off, a player named Yago Pikachu scored the opener for Vasco da Gama, which was followed by a delay in the game seven minutes later after a power surge in the stadium. Go figure.

Lletget diagnosed with foot sprain, escaping further damage

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Word has arrived from the LA Galaxy camp that will see USMNT fans feel relieved as Sebastian Lletget has escaped the news many feared.

The young attacker was impressive in the first 18 minutes of the United States’ 6-0 win over Honduras, but was injured minutes after scoring the opening goal and could not continue. Replays showed that Lletget got his foot caught underneath a defender in the process of a hard challenge on the right wing.

There was concern that Lletget would be out for a significant amount of time, but the Galaxy announced that after testing over the weekend, Lletget did not suffer any structural damage and was diagnosed with a left foot sprain.

[ MORE: USMNT adds Paul Arreola to roster, drops Lletget, Brooks, Morris ]

Lletget will visit a specialist on Monday to determine a plan for recovery, and it’s possible that he will still have to miss some time in the near future. The Galaxy visit Vancouver on Saturday, and his status for that match has to be considered up in the air. They then host Montreal on April 7.

While Lletget obviously misses out on the next USMNT game at Panama on Tuesday having already been dumped from the roster, he will most definitely be available for the June games against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico, and will likely be an option for Bruce Arena given the manager’s history with Lletget at Los Angeles.

The United States have been struck with a collection of injuries that all occurred just before the international break, hampering the squad significantly. Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris, and Fabian Johnson all went down in the days before reporting for international duty, and the team lost Lletget and John Brooks in the Honduras win. Lletget’s departure could see Alejandro Bedoya into the starting lineup on Tuesday, with the Union midfielder having replaced Lletget in the Honduras match. Also in contention is Jermaine Jones, who could come in after his suspension and push Darlington Nagbe onto the wing.

Southgate can see Defoe in England squad long-term

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Gareth Southgate praised Jermain Defoe after his contributions to England’s 2-0 win over Lithuania on Sunday, but accidentally put a condition on his position in the squad.

The 34-year-old scored the opening goal and contributed heavily to the buildup of Jamie Vardy‘s score, and Southgate was happy that his decision to play an in-form striker paid off.

“If he scores like he is in the Premier League, there’s no reason why he wouldn’t be,” Southgate said. “We’re never able to pick a full cohort, so it’s important we can call upon the likes of Jermain and he can have the impact like he did today.

“I think we’ve got to look every time we get together as to who is in form. I don’t know if we can have a distinct pecking order because players who are playing well deserve the opportunity. If we are going to be successful, we have to have that competition for places. The reality is we will always lose players to injury.”

[ MORE: Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery before England game ]

A reporter asked him to clarify why he specified that Defoe should be scoring in the Premier League, and with his club Sunderland under heavy threat of relegation, Southgate admitted he let one slip.

“I walked into that,” Southgate said. “I guess the ideal world for all our players is they are playing regularly at a high level. The flip-side is we don’t have a huge pool of players to pick from.  We have to balance off a few different things. I can’t constrain myself on selection entirely, but I know ideally what I’d like to have. His performances and his goalscoring form this season have counted for him.”

Defoe has 14 goals in 28 Premier League appearances for Sunderland this season, but he’s proved the Black Cats’ only threat as they sit bottom of the league table with 20 points. Defoe has become the center of opposition game plans, and as a result he’s slowed down, with just two goals in his last seven games, and the club has little else to pick up the slack.

Still, at 34 years old, many wonder how much longer Defoe can contribute, and if he’ll be a viable option for next year’s World Cup.

Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.