The Heist: Football's greatest escapes, from Liverpool's Miracle in Istanbul to Senegal upsetting France at World Cup

Editor's Note: For a number of years, sports have provided succour to the troubled societies, alleviating them, even if temporarily, of their pain and suffering. As a locked-down world struggles with the 'new normal', it's only natural that we seek inspiration in sports. Where else would one find impossible being redefined and proverbial phoenixes rising in real-time? Firstpost's latest series, The Heist, deals with precisely that sentiment. Over the next few days, we shall bring you stories of grit and giant-killing that have stood the test of time. Here's to hope.

Football, as they say, is one of the most beautiful games on Earth. Last-gasp finishes, nail-biting matches, edge-of-the-seat thrillers. The game has produced some fine entertainment for fans over the years.

Here, we chronicle some of the biggest heists in football over the last few years.

Wrexham vs Arsenal (2-1), FA Cup third round, 1992

When it comes to major upsets in English football, one of the most brutal matches dates back to 1992, when the then-fourth division side Wrexham toppled first division outfit Arsenal 2-1 in an FA Cup third-round game.

Arsenal, then managed by former Scotland International George Graham, were a vastly experienced side with seven England players, the legendary Paul Merson and Kevin Campbell among a few of them. Contrary to the Gunners, Wrexham were made up mostly 20-something upstarts, apart from three Welsh internationals — Gordon Davies, Joey Jones, and Mickey Thomas.

Wrexham’s Gareth Owen nearly scored the opening goal, but the Gunners found the breakthrough in the 43rd minute when Paul Merson rushed towards the penalty area to provide a cross to Alan Smith, who produced a sliding effort to score and give Gunners the lead.

Arsenal held that narrow 1-0 advantage with 10 minutes left in the game, but the tables turned when Wrexham regained momentum via a Michael Thomas free-kick. Thomas took the free-kick from 25 yards, and sent the ball racing past the defenders and into the top-right corner past Arsenal keeper David Seaman. With this 82nd minute goal, the hosts were back in the game.

It then took only two minutes for Wrexham to take the lead, via a goal from Steve Watkin in the 84th minute, courtesy a poor clearance from Arsenal’s Winterburn.

The game was followed by a pitch invasion from the Wrexham supporters, and Arsenal boss George Graham described the loss as his ‘lowest moment in football’.

Senegal vs France, 2002 World Cup

Arguably one of the biggest shocks in international football, Senegal gave France a nightmarish start to their World Cup defence. France came into the match without Zinedine Zidane, who was withdrawn due to an injury.

Senegalese forward El Hadji Diouf kept disturbing the French defenders throughout the game, but the African nation’s biggest moment came when midfielder Pape Bouba Diop scored the game’s only goal in the 30th minute.

Diouf was playing as the lone striker in the team, and he produced a smart move by crossing the ball towards Diop at the centre, who scripted a stunning goal, courtesy a misunderstanding between France’s Emanuel Petit and Fabien Barthez.

As a result, France were knocked out in the group stages after earning just one point from the remaining two matches, finishing last in the group. Senegal reached the quarter-finals, where they lost to Turkey.

Liverpool vs AC Milan, 2004-05 Champions League final

On 25 May 2005, the world witnessed arguably the most dramatic Champions League final — Liverpool vs AC Milan, also dubbed as the Miracle of Istanbul. Coming into the match, Liverpool made a surprise inclusion of Harry Kewell. Milan scored as early as the first minute when Paolo Maldini volleyed in a free-kick from Andrea Pirlo. That goal made Maldini, then 36, the oldest scorer in the tournament’s history.

Right before the end of the first half, goals from Kaka and Crespo extended Milan’s lead to 3-0, making things comfortable for the Italian side.

Liverpool, in the second half, scripted the miraculous comeback, with Steven Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso scoring within six minutes to level scores at the 60-minutes mark.

The match went into extra-time, and further into penalties when scores were still level. Milan’s Serginho missed the golden opportunity to put his team up, after failing to score. For Liverpool, it was Dietmaar Hermann who put the Reds 1-0 up despite suffering a broken toe. Milan suffered a double blow when Dudek made an all-important save to block Andrea Pirlo’s attempt, who was next to take the penalty for Milan. Djibril Cisse stole the opportunity to put the Reds 2-0 up, only for Tomasson and Kaka to level the scores for Milan as John Arne Riise failed to score.

This was followed by Vladimir Smicer’s goal, who gave Liverpool the advantage with scores reading 3-2.

Liverpool’s Miracle of Istanbul was finally complete when Andriy Shevchenko came up for the final kick, but missed it, with the ball going straight down the middle of the goal.

Barcelona vs Paris Saint-Germain, Champions League round of 16, 2016-17 season

In one of the biggest comebacks in Champions League history, FC Barcelona broke hearts of every Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) supporter during the two-legged round of 16 contest in the 2016-17 season.

The first leg was played in France’s Parc Des Princes. Angel Di Maria gave the hosts the lead with a free-kick in the 18th minute, and Julian Draxler ensured that PSG would go to the break with a 2-0 lead courtesy a low shot, assisted by Marco Veratti.

In the 55th minute during the second half, Di Maria scored again from a shot outside the penalty box to make it 3-0. Edinson Cavani then rounded things off in the first half, with the team’s fourth goal in the 72nd minute. Barcelona, throughout the match, managed only one shot on target.

Barcelona turned things around in the second leg, with Luis Suarez scoring in the third minute. And by the 50th minute, an own goal from Laywin Kurzawa and a Lionel Messi goal had brought Barcelona back in the game. PSG, though, still held a 4-3 edge on aggregate, and Cavani brought the French club back in the game in the 62nd minute, making it 5-3 for the visitors.

However, a Neymar brace in the final stages of the usual 90-minute mark ensured Barca were back level at 5-5, the first being a free-kick and the second a penalty.

In the 95th minute, Neymar delivered a cross to Sergi Roberto inside the penalty area, who finished things in dramatic fashion to complete a famous comeback. The final aggregate score read 6-5 in favour of Barcelona, who advanced to the quarter-finals.

Manchester United vs Bayern Munich, Champions League 1999 final

For many Manchester United fans, that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer goal would still remain as the greatest moment in the club’s history. Yes, it is the 1999 Champions League final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

United were missing out on the services of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes due to suspensions, and it was Peter Schmeichel's final game at the club.

Six minutes into the game, Bayern’s Mario Basler opened the scoring via a low free-kick around the United defence.

However, United continued to hold possession and create chances as David Beckham had a tough day amid Keane and Scholes’ absence.

The scores were 1-0 in favour of Bayern for most of the game, and United manager Alex Ferguson decided to bring in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with 10 minutes left.

With the match heading to three minutes of injury-time at the 90-minute mark, Teddy Sheringham put United back in the game, who used his right foot to swipe the shot and hit the ball into the net’s bottom corner.

Solskjaer then provided United’s most memorable moment in arguably the club’s history when he scored the late winner in the 93rd minute. With the victory, United completed the treble of winning the FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League, becoming the first English side to achieve the feat.

Argentina vs Cameroon, 1990 World Cup

Another match where the defending champions were shocked by African minnows, Cameroon edged Argentina 1-0 in this World Cup group stage contest.

After a goalless first-half, it was a magical header from Cameroon’s Omam Biyick in the 67th minute that stunned the Argentine fans at the San Siro stadium in Milan.

In the tournament, Argentina went onto reach the final once again, losing to West Germany 0-1. For Cameroon, it was a quarter-final exit at the hands of England in a match that went into extra time with the score having read 3-2.

Manchester United vs Blackburn Rovers, Premier League 2011

Blackburn Rovers, reeling at the bottom of the Premier League table in the 2011-12 season, produced a stunning display to outplay Manchester United 3-2 in this league game at Old Trafford. This was indeed a shocking defeat for United, as the then-manager Alex Ferguson, celebrating his 70th birthday, had left Wayne Rooney on the bench and started Dimitar Berbatov and Javier Hernandez upfront.

Yakubu opened the scoring for Rovers in the 16th minute after winning a penalty and later doubled it with a 51st-minute goal.

Berbatov then pulled the hosts back in the game with a second-half brace, only for Grant Hanley to take advantage in the 80th minute and secure the match-winning third goal for Rovers.

Manchester City vs Queens Park Rangers, Premier League 2011

In one of the most nail-biting final days of the Premier League, Manchester City scripted a dramatic comeback to score two stoppage-time goals and win the league for the first time in 44 years. This was, in fact, the beginning of an era for City with the likes of Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany set to lead from the front.

Pablo Zabaleta opened the scoring for City to give them a 1-0 lead at half-time,  only for Queens Park Rangers to go up via goals from Djibril Cisse and Jamie Mackie in the second half. That was when the drama started to unfold. United, leading at Sunderland in another game, were three points ahead of City in the league table when Mackie scored before which Joey Barton was sent off with a red card.

However, it was an Aguero brace in the injury time which gave Roberto Mancini’s side everything to celebrate as they triumphed in the English top-flight for the first time in more than four decades.

West Germany vs Hungary, 1954 World Cup final

Regarded as one of the memorable World Cup upsets, West Germany toppled the Golden Team of Hungary 3-2 in the final of the 1954 World Cup to win their maiden World Cup trophy.

Legendary Hungarian skipper Ferenc Puskas put his team ahead only after six minutes when Bozsik intercepted a pass from Leibrich and found Kocsis via a through ball. This was followed by a second goal from Czibor just two minutes later, courtesy a major misunderstanding in the German defence.

However, West Germany soon levelled the scores via goals from Max Morlock and Helmut Rahn, and scores were 2-2 by the 20th minute. With six minutes left to play, Rahn ensured that the West Germans would end the Golden Team’s unbeaten run with the third goal of the final. Thus began the German’s run of four World titles over the forthcoming years.

China vs Sweden, FIFA Women’s World Cup 1995

Probably the most stunning upset in women’s football, China held their nerves to see off Sweden in the quarter-finals of the Women’s FIFA World Cup 1995.

Sun Qingmei gave China the lead in the 29th minute, only for Maria Kalte to bring Sweden back into the game in the 93rd minute with an equaliser. With the scores level even after extra time, the match went to penalties.

China went onto win the shootout 4-3 and reach the semi-finals, where they lost to Germany.

Click here to read other articles in this series.

Updated Date: May 22, 2020 11:47:45 IST



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