When one goal makes a World (Cup) of difference; Remembering France’s last qualifier disaster

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The one and only World Cup played on U.S. soil came and went without France – a team that would go on to win the whole shebang just four years later.

How that came to pass is emblematic of how one goal – one shot, one missed tackle, one missed positional adjustment in defense, one fortunate bounce, etc. – can mean so much to an entire country’s sporting fate.

In 1993, France and Bulgaria met at Paris’ Parc des Princes. A side of Les Bleus under the direction of Gerard Houllier needed just a draw, a seemingly manageable result at home, even if the Hristo Stoichkov-led Bulgarians had talent and a style that worked for the team.

France was talented, too – but appeared to crack infamously under the weight of it all. (France had lost at home to Israel, shockingly so, in its previous contest. In fact, all Les Bleus needed from its final two qualifiers, both at home, was a single point.) Here’s how FIFA.com wrote about the classic contest, now ensconced in World Cup lore:

There are some football matches that will never be forgotten, memorable clashes that awaken feelings of joy or pain in the hearts of players and spectators alike whenever they come up in conversation. And one encounter that most definitely belongs in this category is France’s fateful FIFA World Cup™ qualifier against Bulgaria on 17 November 1993.

“With a packed Parc des Princes cheering them on, Les Bleus were confident of clinching their place at the biggest football show on earth for the first time since 1986. But on a chilly winter evening in the French capital, the visiting Bulgarians proved they had not come to Paris for the sightseeing.”  

So what happened? A 90th minute goal from Miroslav Kostadinov became the heart-break and history maker, the game-winner in a stunning 2-1 result. Bulgaria was in … France was out. Just like that.

(MORE: Updated list of World Cup 2014 qualifiers)

It’s all relevant 20 years later, very nearly to the day, because fashionable France meets Ukraine on Tuesday in the second leg of the teams’ home-and-away set. Ukraine lead in the aggregate goals battle, 2-0.

Here’s the full account of the historic night in Paris from FIFA.com.

And here is the goal that so significantly altered the 1994 World Cup field. And even though Bulgaria did quite well that summer, events of Paris in November of 1993 certainly made World Cup USA organizers – concerned about ticket sales and perception – just a little more nervous, removing one fashionable side from the field, replaced by the far, far less sexy Eastern European side.

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Rapinoe, Ellis win FIFA honors; Five USWNT players in Best XI

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Zero surprise here.

Megan Rapinoe has been named the Best women’s player Jill Ellis has been named the top manager in women’s soccer at FIFA’s The Best awards ceremony in Milan on Monday.

[ MORE: Messi win’s men’s honor, City shut out ]

Ellis led the USWNT to its second-straight Women’s World Cup this summer, the first boss to manage the feat (Germany won two-straight World Cups, but had Tina Theune and Silvia Neid at the helm).

Rapinoe made waves on and off the field during the USWNT’s spell-binding run to a second-successive title, its fourth in history.

The Women’s Best XI sees four of her teammates join her: Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara, Julie Ertz, and Rose Lavelle.

Three members of Women’s Champions League winners Lyon also make the list, as does top goalkeeper winner Sari van Veenendaal.

  • Sari van Veenendaal (NED) – Arsenal / Atletico Madrid
  • Lucy Bronze (ENG) – Olympique Lyonnais
  • Wendie Renard (FRA) – Olympique Lyonnais
  • Nilla Fischer (SWE) – VfL Wolfsburg / Linkopings
  • Kelley O’Hara (USA) – Utah Royals
  • Amandine Henry (FRA) – Olympique Lyonnais
  • Julie Ertz (USA) – Chicago Red Stars
  • Rose Lavelle (USA) – Washington Spirit
  • Megan Rapinoe (USA) – Reign FC
  • Marta (BRA) – Orlando Pride
  • Alex Morgan (USA) – Orlando Pride

Messi named FIFA’s Best men’s player; Best XI controversial

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Lionel Messi is the winner of FIFA’s The Best men’s player, awarded Monday in Milan.

The prolific megastar beat out Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk and Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo for the honor.

All three, of course, were on the Best XI, though it was not without controversy.

[ MORE: Rapinoe, Ellis headline women’s winners ]

Premier League champions Manchester City had no representation on FIFA’s The Best XI, which comically included three Real Madrid players.

Champions League winners Liverpool followed up the Best Goalkeeper honor given to Alisson Becker and Best Manager nod to Jurgen Klopp with spots for Van Dijk and obviously  Alisson on the XI.

Real Madrid, La Liga’s third place side, put Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, and Luka Modric on the team, as well as Eden Hazard who spent most of the awards season with Chelsea.

Juve’s Ronaldo is joined by Matthijs de Ligt, who led Ajax’s long UCL run before leaving for Turin.

Kylian Mbappe helps shut the attacks of Man City and Liverpool out of the team. Not one player from Germany or the Bundesliga was named to the team.

  • Alisson Becker (BRA) – Liverpool
  • Matthijs de Ligt (NED) – Ajax / Juventus
  • Sergio Ramos (ESP) – Real Madrid
  • Virgil van Dijk (NED) – Liverpool
  • Marcelo (BRA) – Real Madrid
  • Luka Modric (CRO) – Real Madrid
  • Frenkie de Jong (NED) – Ajax/Barcelona
  • Eden Hazard (BEL) – Chelsea/ Real Madrid
  • Cristiano Ronaldo (POR) – Juventus
  • Kylian Mbappe (FRA) – Paris Saint-Germain
  • Lionel Messi (ARG) – Barcelona

Leeds, Bielsa win Fair Play honor at FIFA’s The Best awards

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Well this is peak FIFA.

Football’s governing body has just awarded Leeds United and much-admired manager Marcelo Bielsa its FIFA Fair Play award at its 2019 The Best awards ceremony in Milan.

[ MORE: Klopp wins manager award ]

The reason the Whites won the award is understandable, if you just ignore the fact that they were publicly caught cheating months earlier… and that the “fair play” moment came after an extremely questionable play which led to a brawl.

The win comes for Bielsa’s decision in late April, when his player Mateusz Klich scored a goal despite Aston Villa’s Jonathan Kodija being injured on the pitch.

Bielsa instructed his players to allow Villa to tie the match after a post-goal fight saw a red card to Anwar El Ghazi.

Fair play? Sure, and Leeds kissed goodbye its slim hopes of finishing in automatic promotion place in the Championship.

However, Leeds was also caught monitoring Derby County training sessions, leading to Bielsa to admit in January that he had spied “all the rivals” that season.

I mean, who were the other nominees? Jose Callejon and the Turkish player who fouled players with a sharp object during play?

Bielsa admitted this during an extraordinary Powerpoint session for media members in England which showed the maniacal depths of his preparation, which curried a lot of favor with the media and fans.

Yes, even though he admitted Leeds cheated the whole season.

He also said, “I thought I wasn’t violating the norm,” which is ridiculous.

Now of course we should be too pious, either; A whole lot of teams cheat in this way and football is a cutthroat game. Bielsa is a managerial legend and loved by Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, and Jorge Sampaoli.

Jurgen Klopp wins FIFA’s The Best men’s manager

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Jurgen Klopp has been named the top manager in the world for the past season at FIFA’s The Best awards ceremony on Monday in Milan, Italy.

The UEFA Champions League-winning manager beat out Premier League winner Pep Guardiola of Manchester City and UCL finalist Mauricio Pochettino of Spurs.

[ WATCH: FIFA’s The Best awards ceremony ]

Klopp, of course, was magnanimous in victory.

 “It is great, nobody expected this 20, 10, five, four years ago that I would be standing here,” Klopp said. “We know what an incredible job Mauricio Pochettino did and what Pep did.”

He thanked the owners and players of his club.

“To the owners thank you, they gave me an incredible team. I have to thank my team – as a coach you can only be as good as your team is. I’m really proud of being manager of such an incredible bunch of players. This is an individual prize, I don’t 100% understand individual prizes, I’m here for a lot of people.”

Good for Klopp.