Maradona 2 vs. Maradona 3

Like it or not, Diego Armando Maradona is still ‘The God’ for all the Argentineans, despite Lionel Messi is the best in the World right now and considering he’s only 24 years old, with many more football seasons to go, can became the most successful ever. But the fans from the country of tango can’t substitute the cult of Maradona. Not even with Messi. So, most people from Argentina are still talking about Barcelona’s striker like the second Diego.

But this is not the only follower of Maradona! Well, at least not in Naples, the Italian city, in which El Pibe D’Oro made history with the local squad. So, after two decades, another Argentinean, Ezequiel Lavezzi writes pages of history. At Naples are playing men like Cavani, Hamsik and Inler, but the most beloved remains Lavezzi, who said in a recent interview that he could not exit the house to go for a walk in the city without being noticed by hundreds of fans. He joined the club in 2007 and despite being a striker he didn’t manage to score more than eight goals per season, until now. But he helped very much the team to rise higher and higher every season and all culminated to the qualification in the Champions’ quarter finals in 2012.

Messi doesn’t need any presentation, because all now that he will become the best footballer in the history of Barcelona. Still, he remains to also demonstrate at his national side, with which he didn’t won any major trophy excepting the Summer Olympics from 2008. But Lavezzi, at nearly 27 years has a quite poor performance for Argentina, as he played for the first time in 2007 and since then gathered only 16 matches and 2 goals (until 1st of April 2012).

I’m sure that you are wondering what’s the point of this article… Well, let’s say that two of the biggest footballers that Argentina has right now, both considered to be the followers of Maradona, are departed by a great rivalry. Well, maybe they aren’t enemies, but they support different teams, from the same town: Rosario.

Until he came at Barcelona, in 2000, when he was almost 13 years old, Lionel spent his childhood playing at local Newell’s Old Boys for five years (1995-2000), a squad at which Maradona also played a couple of matches at the end of his career. And Leo didn’t forget his period here and said for several times that he feels very happy at Barcelona, so he doesn’t want to play somewhere else in Europe, but that he’s aiming to retire, at the end of his career, to play in his native country, at his favourites, Newell’s Old Boys from Rosario. Once, a year ago he had to suffer a bit because of his preferences, because once when he went to spend some time in his native town, a local fan of Rosario Central tried to hit him! A thing that Maradona never, ever could have experience in Argentina.

So, Messi is a legend at Barcelona, but in his hart on the top spot remains the team from his native town. So, what’s the story of Lavezzi? The striker was born in Villa Gobernador Galves, a suburb of Rosario and he started playing in the youth system for Rosario Central. And despite playing after many more years at big sides such are Boca Juniors or Estudiantes, his mind remained for ever at Rosario Central, yes, the team of which fan tried to hurt Messi. The best proof in this statement is that Lavezzi has more than 20 tattoos all around his body and one of them, located on his back, represents the badge of Rosario Central. Maybe Ezequiel didn’t made public the fact that he wants to retire at his local favourite squad, but he surely wants to play there one day.

That’s why indirectly, Messi and Lavezzi, two very good and loved Argentinean footballers from our days, may be considered great rivals. But in the end such a rivalry is a pretty one, that kind which only means teasing and funny jokes when those two meet at their country’s national football team, before one or more matches.

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Premier League of Zambia

Until now I preferred to present the best leagues in Europe which, are probably also the best in the world. But now, I chose to share a bit of Zambias’ first division as a tribute for the last national team that won, until now, a major world title: the African Nations Cup, in 2012. So, without further comments, you can see above the situation of half a century of football league in Zambia. The competition was founded in 1962 and 11 teams won the big prize. So, enjoy a table and a few words about each team that achieved to be crowned as champions:

Roan United is the first champion, but the team didn’t win a single title until 1962. Still, the squad from Luanshya, a town which has about 117 thousand inhabitants from the north part of the country, brought home four national cups: in 1962, 1977, 1994 and the last one in 1996.

Mufulira Wanderers won their first after exactly a decade from their birth date, in 1953. Established in the same part of the country, the second ever champion, the team was founded in a town with 125 thousand people. The difference between them and Roan is that after the championship won in 1963, Wanderers achieved another eight so far and also ten Cups (1965, 1966, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1988 and 1995). Unfortunately for their fans, the club struggles now in the second tier.

Formed back in 1937, FC City of Lusaka is the oldest club in the capital city and the third champion of Zambia. After, even though they are still playing in the top flight, they didn’t win another trophy.

Kabwe is a town located in the central part of Zambia and has more than 200 thousand people. Also, the team from here, Warriors , gathered an impressive number of 10 titles, 5 each championships and Cups. Despite all this, the last two were achieved back in 1987. So, 15 seasons without any major title, but with a few Challenge Cups and one Coca Cola Cup, in 2006.

Zambia Army, now called Green Buffaloes FC, is another club from the capital of Lusaka, which plays its matches on the Independence Stadium that can hold an impressive number of at least 30.000 people. Under the initial name they won two league titles (1973 and 1974) and since their called the Green Buffalos, achieved two more such distinction, but the sad part is that the last one was obtain more than three decades ago, in 1981. The only consolation for the fans in the Zambian Cup brought by their favourites at home in 2005. That is their only from their history.

Nchanga Rangers is a squad formed in 1960 in Chingola, a city with nearly 160 thousand inhabitants. They don’t have a great history, because their most trophies consist of some Zambian Challenge Cups, an Independence Cup and Two Charity Shields. Still, Rangers won two national titles: The first in 1980 and the second, and last, more recently, in 1998.

Nkana FC is the most successful team from the history of Zambia, as they won so far no less than 11 league titles. Contrary as you may expect the team to have its origins in Lusaka, the city capital, Nkana Red Devils represents Kitwe, a big town with a population of almost 550.000 people and they are also the oldest football club in Zambia, being founded in 1935 under the name of Rhokana United. Despite being the most successful in the history of the country, Nkana didn’t win a major distinction for 11 years now. They effectively dominated Zambian football for two decades, between 1982 and 2001, period in which they won 11 league titles, 6 national Cups and played an African Champions League final, in 1990. In fact they are the only team from this country to reach this continental performance. Unfortunately, they lost at penalties against the Algerians from JS Kabylie.

Another team from Kitwe is Power Dynamos, which was born in 1971 and obtained quickly the nickname of ‘a baby born with teeth’, because of their force on the home front, where few can make problems. In fact, most of their distinctions came thanks to the home results. So, Dynamos won six championships, with the first in 1984 and the last in 2011, which makes them one of the most powerful Zambian squads from this period. And to not forget, last say that Power Dynamos also succeed seven times in the Zambian Cup.

Zanaco also represents Lusaka and is one of the major Zambian squads from the last decade, as they won five league titles in the last ten years (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2009). Their performance is quite extraordinary if we consider that Zanaco was founded in 1985. Since then, they also triumph once in the national Cup, in 2002.

A quite new and surprisingly squad is Red Arrows, also from Lusaka, which won only two distinctions, but because both came in recent years (the title in 2004 and the Cup in 2007), when can say without any doubt that this lads form one of the most dangerous sides from modern Zambian football. And these words are well sustained by the fact that Red Arrows was the vice-champion of the country in 2011.

Three from the last five Zambian leagues were won by ZESCO United, a team from Ndola (775 thousand inhabitants), which was established in 1974. They also won a Cup in 2006, but despite being one of the richest clubs in the country, they don’t have such a big number of supporters like Nkana or Muflira Wanderers.

So, this was the short stories of all eleven Zambian league winners so far. It all started exactly a half a decade ago, in 1962, but during years many things chanced, as traditional squads like Muflira or Nkana struggle right now, meanwhile ZESCO or Zanaco live their moments of glory, thanks to their sponsors which make them the wealthier football teams from the country.

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The famous unknown team

You may think that FC Queen’s Park is that Premier League side from England which beat Liverpool a few weeks ago. But no, that is Queen’s Park Rangers a total different team. This is a Scottish side, now in the fourth level of league football system of this country. So, normally, you will ask why I want so badly to say something about them… And I will give you a fist argument: the club is the oldest club in the World, excepting England! Yes, they were founded in 1867 and even though had played mostly in the lower leagues since then FC Queens’ Park has a fascinating history.

Considering that they never out pass their condition as amateurs, it is quite remarkable that they did won 10 Scottish Cups and also lost two finals of the English FA Cup, the oldest official competition from the history. What is most surprisingly is that Queens are the team from their country with most such trophies after the two super powers: Celtic Glasgow (35 pieces) and Glasgow Rangers (33 pieces)! OK, so Scottish football it only means Celtic and Rangers, but still some other sides like Aberdeen, Hearts or Dundee are much better than Queens, but couldn’t even threaten their number of cups.

All the trophies came in a period of only two decades, but the last one was achieved in… 1893!!! As you see, more than a century ago! In fact, let me write down the years in which Queens wrote their golden history pages: 1874, 1875, 1876, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1884, 1886, 1890 and 1893. Also, they narrowly set another enormous record for Scotland, because they could have been the first and only team from this country to won an English FA Cup. Queens played two finals in 1884 and 1885, but lost in both occasions. Ironically, against the same opponent: Blackburn Rovers. First with 2-1 and after, 2-0. And the story is even more sad, as the lads might have played even the first ever FA Cup final in 1872, but after a home draw against London Wanderers in the semifinal, they should have replayed the match in the capital of England, but the Scottish players just didn’t have the necessary amount of money to travel in London and so they abandoned the competition which was won by Wanderers, with 1-0 in a final against Royal Engineers.

And if you think that this was the end of story for those who are called ‘The Spiders’, you are wrong, because you must know that in their long history some big names spent a part of their playing career here. First, was Andrew Watson, which is recognized to be the world’s first black association footballer to play at international level. Despite playing only three times for Scotland, he make his debut on 12nd of March 1881 in a memorable 6-1 win over England, match in which he even captained his team.

The most successful player of all time is known to be Charles Campbell, who won with the team eight Scottish Cups (no player from other clubs than Celtic and Rangers managed to do so) and captained the side in both FA Cup finals from 1884 and 1885. Born in 1854, he passed away in 1927, on the territory of Northern Ireland. Maybe Ross Caven isn’t so successful as Campbell was, because he played for the team between 1982 and 2002, time in which Queens hadn’t any achievement, but he surely as popular as his predecessor, as he spent his entire career at this club, playing 532 games and scoring 96 goals in all competitions.

Sir Alex Ferguson is well known in all the World, but few know that the legend which is on the bench of Manchester United for more than a quarter of century now, started his playing career at Queens Park. Ferguson represented ‘The Spiders’ between 1957 and 1960 (between 16 and 19 years) when he appeared in 31 games and put in 15 goals. Also, Andy Roxburgh, the former Scotland’s coach between 1986 and 1993, played here for two years, between 1961 and 1963. As a coincidence, Queens was also his first senior team at which he played.

Another legend to start his career here was Ronnie Simpson, the legendary goalkeeper which won in 1967 the Champions Cup with Celtic Glasgow. He was 37 by then, but gathered hundred of matches for a powerful English side: Newcastle United. He represented the club four years, from 1946 to 1950, when he reached 20, in 78 games, but another goalkeeper made history before Simpson. His name, Mustafa Mansour may not say a lot of things right now, but he became the first non-British or Irish player to appear in the Scottish leagues. The Egyptian played at the World Cup from Italy, in 1934, appearing in the only match that his side played at the tournament: 2-4 against Hungary, the eventual finalist of the competition. Mansour played here for two seasons, from 1937 to 1939.

John Lambie is also a product of this club and even though 89 years passed from his death he still holds the record of Scotland’s youngest capped player, youngest team captain and youngest goal scorer. All those mentioned above happened in the same game, on 20th of March 1886, when the player had only 17 years and three months, when Scotland trashed Ireland with a convincing 7-2. And we shouldn’t forget Aiden McGeady, a quite famous forward from our days, which played 47 games for his native Ireland, but scored only 2 (!!!) goals. Still, before joining Celtic in 2001, the Irish spent a junior season (2000-2001) at Queens. Now, the 26 old footballer, plays at Spartak Moscow, with which he signed in 2010.

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Miracles do happen in football!

This year, CD Mirandes, became the second team in the 109 years history of Copa del Rey, which reaches the semifinals of the competition, despite being a third tier side. The first was UE Figueres, in 2002, a team which represents a town from Catalonia which has about 43.000 inhabitants. Now, after ten years, Mirandes make it also to the semis, but their performance is surely bigger than Figueres. You may ask why and of course I will give you the answer. Well, let’s say that the team represents a smaller village, Miranda de Ebro, from the province of Burgos, that has less population, about 39.000 people. Plus, Mirandes put out of the competition three first division sides until they played Athletic Bilbao in the semis. Alright, Figueres eliminated at that time Barcelona, but the team from those years had few in common with the squad from our days.

And is still to mention that Figueres played seven consecutive seasons, between 1986 and 1993, in the second Spanish League, performance which Mirandes never reach. In fact, Mirandes never played higher than the third tier in their entire history, even though the team was founded on 3rd of May 1927! So, regarding the things this way, we realize that this year performance increases more. That’s why, I want to make a short remember of the Cup season of Mirandes, but first, I would introduce a few things about their all time history. And a few are indeed, because the squad from Burgos played his first major match 50 years after its birth, on 28th of December 1977, against Valencia at which Mario Kempes was the main star. Predictably, the ‘Bats’ won, but not by far, only 4-2. Another important fact regarding the history of Mirandes is the presence on the bench of Juan Manuel Lillo, between 1988 and 1991. The coach was only 23 years old when he reached promotion to the third level of Spanish football in 1989 and it is known that Jose Guardiola considers the man to be one of his most influent mentors.

Now, will focus on the present, yet on the most successful era in their history: the Copa del Rey semifinals, in an Era in which Spanish and even World football is dominated by two giants: Barcelona and Real Madrid. It all started on 31st of August and ended five months later, on 7th of February with a 2-6 crush defeat at San Mames, against giants Bilbao. But until this phase, Mirandes eliminated three top division teams: Villareal, Santander and Espanyol, after they eventually defeated also Amorebiesta, Linense and Logrones in lower stages. And the disputes against those last three, even four, if we also consider Athletic in the semifinals, were much though because the matches were played in double stages.

31.08.2011 Amorebieta – Mirandes 0-1 (Ivan Augustin ‘54)
07.09.2011 Mirandes – Linense 3-1 (Lambari ‘1, Asier Barahona ’28, Pablo ‘89)
12.10.2011 Mirandes – Logrones 3-1 (Albistegui ’17 – o.g.) Arroyo ’25, Ivan Augustin ‘52)
13/21.12.2011 Mirandes – Villareal 1-1 (Arroyo ‘26), 2-0 (Pablo ’60, ‘88)
03/10.01.2012 Mirandes – Santander 2-0 ( Pablo ’34, Martins ‘45+2), 1-1 (Pablo ’72 – p.)
17/24.01.2012 Espanyol – Mirandes 3-2 (Arroyo ’28, Pablo ‘78), 1-2 (Pablo ’58, Caneda ‘90+2)
31.01/07.02.2012 Mirandes – Bilbao 1-2 (Lambarri ‘90+1), 2-6 (Blanco ’57, ‘86)

But we shall also say, that the key figures of this team, have very interesting stories which in most cases are true proves of how football can beat everything, or almost everything, because Pablo Infante, the top scorer of the competition, didn’t want to turn professionally, because he has a local business in Quincoces de Yuso, 60 kilometers away from Miranda de Ebro. Here he owns a small bank, which he has to open every morning at 8 a.m. This is the reason why, after the historical victory over Espanyol, in the quarters, he couldn’t remain to celebrate the success along with his team mates! He plays at Mirandes since 2005 and he gathered around of 250 matches, 120 goals and he is, of course the all time top scorer! In fact, Pablo spent his entire career in the province of Burgos, refusing offers from teams which were playing in higher divisions, just because his priority was his bank. Now, he’s 32 years old and surely everybody will remember that the 1.68 meters winger for the third tier of Spain became the top scorer of the 2011-2012 Copa del Rey.

An at least such interesting story is also the one of defender Cesar Caneda, the man which qualified Mirandes in the historical semifinal, after scoring the winner against Espanyol in the stoppage time. Born on 10th of May 1978, in Vitoria, the city of Deportivo Alaves, the 1.77 meter player begun with a promising career at Athletic Bilbao youth level in 1994 and two years later he was a key player in the Spain U18 national football team, were he appeared in 9 occasions. But this was it with international football. Still, his career looked like it was just beginning, because he made the step to Athletic Bilbao’s first squad in 1998 and stayed here until 2005, when he was sold. During the seven years spent here, he only played 29 league matches, for the only squad, alongside Barcelona and Real Madrid, which never relegated from Spain’s first division. Unfortunately he never imposed in the first line-up, especially in his first three years at Bilbao when he was most of the time loaned to other squads like Salamanca, Sevilla and Santander. Well known names, but who were playing in those years in the second level. He won promotion with the last two, but return to Athletic each time. In 2005, he was finally sold at Eibar, where he scored his first senior goals and after he went on playing for Cadiz and Alaves, which were also in the inferior leagues. Quite surprisingly for a lad that even caught the UEFA Champions’ League 1998-1999 along with Bilbao, he end up playing in lower tiers and so he arrived at Mirandes in 2010. Now, at nearly 34 years he became one of the heroes of the town, as he qualified the squad into the semis of the Copa del Rey, with a late winner, against Espanyol. A such unexpected performance that made even Iker Casillas gelous. Yes, that guy who lifted the UEFA Champions’ League trophy twice and also the European and the World Cups…

A fantastic story is also the one of Nauzet Perez, the starting 1.90 meters goalkeeper. In the first place, he’s only 27 years old, as he was born on 1st of March 1985, a quite young age both for a goalkeeper and if we also consider that most of his team mates passed 30. Second, he is born in Las Palmas, part of the Canary Islands, but he never imposed as a starter in the local team. Although he was in the yard of Malaga and Mallorca he never made it to play higher than the second team. So, what makes this goalkeeper, who played only in lower Spanish divisions, so special? Well, he is special, because before he joined Mirandes, in 2011, Nauzet wore the shirt of Halmstad, one of the most popular teams from Sweden! Unfortunately, there he only appeared in eight occasions, was sent off once and Halmstad only managed to obtain three draws, the rest being defeats. So, not a single victory in Sweden and 10 goals conceded.

Luckily for these guys, they had the appropriate man behind them. Carlos Pouso, the coach, was the man for the job, even though he worked most of his life in an industrial warehouse. He encouraged them after Espanyol turn the score in the first leg of the quarter finals, in only a few minutes, from 2-0. There were the last minutes and the referee also made some mistakes, but Pouso said: ‘How can I be mad of my lads. Football is a joy for us and our town and this performance is the best thing that ever happened to our team’. And that work. But it didn’t work when he tried to motivate them with videos that showed a boar attacking a lion, the animal which is the nickname of Athletic Bilbao. In the end, the gap between the two teams value and, most important, physical preparation, showed off.

And maybe you are also asking how their performance was repaid? Their small stadium, Municipal de Anduva, holds only maximum 6.000 spectators and those don’t fill every time the tribunes. But at most matches from Copa del Rey they did, and with the occasion of the dispute against Bilbao, they brought in to the budget of the club, 300 thousand euro!! A big sum, which represents nearly a quarter of the amount that the club uses yearly, but half of it, according to an agreement with the players, entered in their own pockets, as well as it happened after every previous game on home soil in the 2011-2012 competition.

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The gunner from Bacău

I know that Cătălin Cursaru is born and now lives in Ploieşti, but as a footballer, all his success was tied close to only one club: FCM Bacău. I remember that day, 31th of March 2001, when I went for the first time at a football match. Bacău was playing against Gaz Metan Mediaş and eventually won that encounter by 2-1, with the winner scored by Cursaru. It didn’t count that his decisive header was following an attacking foul, after the striker put his arms, to help him jump better, on the shoulders of the opposite defender… It was my first game and I got lucky enough to see Cătălin scoring. I also saw his debut, in Ghencea, against Steaua, when he put in two, despite the team lost 3-4, but unfortunately, I didn’t caught his second game, in fact his first on the home soil of FCM, and I regret that, because he scored a hat-trick, in a 4-2 win over Otelul Galati.

But how did such a brilliant striker arrived so unexpected at Bacău? Well, legends say that he was hided from Astra, the team from his native city, Ploieşti, by warning the local journalists not to put his name on paper, even though he was scoring in every friendly game. That way, Astra couldn’t see him and call him back. Still, the squad from Prahova remained with 30 percent of a future transfer, thing that forbid him to move at Hertha Berlin in 2002. But these stories were too often told to insist on them, so I will speak only about Cursaru’s phenomenal career. On second thought, his career wasn’t quite phenomenal, but his qualities still were. So, his strength, at a 1.83 meter height and 75 kilogram weight, was well doubled by fulminating speed and sprint. Plus, he got a great dribbling and the accuracy to shot very precise from difficult positions. That explains his bicycle kick against Dinamo, from late April 2002, when he became ‘Play of the day’ at CNN. Also, he is a great fan of Marco Van Basten and maybe his executions inspired him to score a fantastic goal in 2004, against Steaua, in a 2-2 draw, also at Bacău, like the Dutch did in the final of EURO 1988 in front of URSS.

OK, so the FCM’s officials saw these qualities from the beginning and assured that Cursaru will play for the Moldavian club. He was legitimated within a few weeks before the 2000-2001 season started and that was a great deal. In the first two matches he netted five times and at the end of the season, a total of 15 goals were in the account of Cursaru, in 26 games played. Officially, the team relegated, after a play-off against Farul, but the local authorities bought the place of FC Baia Mare and so FCM remained in the top flight. A great thing for the attacker as he helped his team to win a six place at the end of the 2001-2002 season which didn’t mean a qualification in the European Cups, but a top scorer title for him. In fact he did scored 17 goals in 29 matches.
All right, he had luck when Pancu, the leading goal scorer, was injured at the beginning of the second half of the season and didn’t play until the end, but his performance remains a big one. I talked about that 27th of April 2002 night against Dinamo, everybody talks, but few remember other details. One is that two weeks before that game, Cursaru scored the only goal of the 1-0 home victory over Rapid, after Florentin Rădulescu, the opposite goalkeeper, shot the ball in his leg! An identical episode also happened on 30th of March against Braşov, when FCM won 2-0! The same period in which the Moldavians got seven victories out of eight games!!!! Unfortunately, they couldn’t keep it until the end of the season and ended on the sixth spot.

Nothing counted for Cursaru, because he was the king of Romania. Born on 29th of March 1978, he was only 24 and a brilliant perspective. He said that a transfer to Steaua, Dinamo or Rapid won’t interest him, because he may also win the league title with Bacău. He refused the teams from Bucharest, but a transfer in Germany was all that he wanted. Hertha and Bacău didn’t settle their terms and so the collapse was inevitable. Cursaru denied such problems, but they started to show up with the beginning of the new season. After 32 goals in his first 55 first league games, nothing was the same. The first step of the problems happened on 21th of September 2002. FCM was playing against Ceahlaul Piatra Neamt and the opposite defenders gave away two penalties. Both, executed by Cursaru and both saved by goalkeeper Gabriel Lefter. It was a shocker: the striker missed two spot kicks and the game ended in a 0-0 draw.

Six goals in the 2002-2003 season were very low for his potential, especially if we considered that he played in 25 games. It looked like Cursaru wasn’t the same. Or he was? The first two week matches from 2003-2004 stage were also horrible, as FCM scored zero goals, but after another four games, the situation was changed by 180 degrees. Cursaru scored again and not once, but seven (!!!) times, goals that helped the squad to achieve seven points. The initial three of them were obtained on 24th of August 2003, against Farul Constanta. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. The opponents were leading, 2-0, and a friend of mine, which was with me in the crowed wanted to leave. I tried to stop him, but it seemed no use… The lad said he will remain until half time, because only a change of result might convince him to remain until the end. And the turn over came in about ten minutes! Exactly before the break, FCM got three goals and got up in front with 3-2! The achievement was as remarkable as the final result brought all the points, as our favorites won 4-3! Obviously, Cursaru scored again. That last ‘bullet’ attracted the attention of Brann Bergen. The team from Norway tried to transfer him in 2005, but, once again, all was in vain. It looked like that was all that Cursaru can stand for. Luckly, he managed to recover his confidence. But just for a while.

After, the attacker put in a hat-trick against Dinamo, but that didn’t help his team which lost 3-7 in Bucharest. But he was Romanias’ top scorer again, with seven goals after six matches! But that didn’t last, as he scored zero until the end of that season, despite playing a total of 27 matches. His adventure looked like closing to an end, but one more season expected him at Bacău. For this one he spared only four goals, his last for FCM. The master piece was the one against Steaua, in 7th of November 2004, in a 2-2 draw. It was a Van Basten stile kick, which put Bacău in front, 2-1. His journey at Bacău was near to an end and so, in the summer of 2005, he left. After five years, 140 matches, counting also the 10 from the Romanian Cup, and 52 goals, from which 49 only in the first division, Cursaru left Bacău. Initially he went at Vaslui, after Progresul Bucharest. His only performance here was that he netted two more goals that helped him pass over 50 in the national league. Even though he was only 29 years old, his career was gone and this affirmation is firmly held by the names of the teams he used to play after: Aerostar Bacău (III tier), Tricolorul Breaza (II tier), Prahova Tomsani (IV tier) and now Filipestii de Padure….

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One-club man

Saint Etienne may be the most successful club in the history of France but in the last decades the squad didn’t achieved very important results. So, the fourth place in the actual edition may be a new start and a really big chance for the ‘greens’ to reach the Champions’ League, former European Champions’ Cup, a competition in which they played a final in 1976. But what do people do know about this team? OK, you might know about their 10 league titles, about their legendary Michel Platini or about the great rivalry that separates them from Olympique Lyon, the most popular club from France in the last decades. I mean they won seven titles in a row, right?

But what few observed during the years is the presence of Jeremie Janot, a goalkeeper, now 34 years old, that plays for Saint Etienne since 1996, when the team was in the second tier. In fact he is a rare kind of one-man club who dedicated all his career to one single club. For Romanians his name may sound familiar and that’s surely not because he is Banel Nicolita’s team mate right now. No, because after a long period Janot is only the reserve of new signed, last summer, Ruffier, from relegated AS Monaco. But this is another story. The main idea is that, you’ve guessed, Jeremie appeared in both games between Saint Etienne and CFR Cluj, which were played in the summer of 2005, in the UEFA Intertoto Cup. After a 1-1 in Transilvania, a 2-2 on French ground assured Dorinel Munteanu’s squad qualification. So, from there you know the mentioned goalkeeper.

All though he has only 1.76 meters, Janot was first option between the posts for ten seasons out of a total of 16! And he is also holding a record that marks the most minutes without conceding a goal on Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, the home ground of ‘The Saints’: 1534 !!! It all started on 9th of November 2004 in a 2-1 victory over Nancy, when Agali scored in the 29th minute and ended after almost a year, on 21st of September 2005, in a 0-2 loss with Nice, while Lecluse put the first in after 34 minutes. Totally, Janot maintained a clean sheet in 17 matches, a record that no other goalkeeper managed to reach until now.

Born in Valenciennes on 11th of October 1977 he felt in love with Saint Etienne from his first years of life. And how can be such a love exposed if not by showing an unlimited hate for the biggest rival, Olympique Lyon? Especially when you have to witness a period in which Saint Etienne doesn’t win a single distinction mean while the enemy puts in seven titles in a row! A weak consolation is that Saint Etienne has won 10, even though not consecutives, and has played a European Cup final. A similar thing might happen also with Lyon, but the French side was put out of the Champions’ League quarterfinals by AC Milan, in 2006. Nothing interesting until now, but few know that the next match of the Lyonaise, after they lost 1-3 in Italy was against… Saint Etienne. And fewer know that Jeremie Janot tried to appear between the posts of his team in a… Milan’s kit! Unfortunately or luckily, take it as you want, he wasn’t allowed to do so. But for him it shouldn’t be that a problem, if we consider that Janot played in 2005, against Istres in a… Spiderman kit! And it was a costume that also included a mask, which he eventually took off, but only after he took his place in the goal.

You think that is strange? Well he is one eccentrically guy, who loves MMA fights and idolatrize Wanderlei ‘Wand’ Silva, a Brazilian fighter. To show once again a love proof he tattooed on the back of his skull a similar tribal symbol that the South American has.

Janot wasn’t selected a single time in the national team of France, but this thing surely doesn’t bother him as he did appeared for Saint Etienne in 345 league games in both first and second French divisions. His first was in 1996, when he had only 19 years, when he appeared between the posts in a second division dispute against Toulon, on away field. After, on 16th of February 2000 he at last played a first division match, but in which he unfortunately let in… four goals! Hopefully, his mates put in one more and assured a 5-4 win over Montpellier. Also, he gathered 12 national Cup appearances, 24 League Cup matches and 10 European clashes, 4 in the 2005 UEFA Intertoto season and 6, in the 2008-2009 UEFA Cup year, even though, in this last edition, he missed the first matches.

In may 2011, he played his number 384 match in all competitions in Saint Etienne’s shirt, becoming the goalkeeper with the most games in the history of the squad, by surpassing Ivan Curkovic. By now, he has 391 encounters in all competitions, from which 255 in the top flight and 90 in the second division. All though people may think he is a rough goalkeeper, actually Janot wasn’t sent off in his career even once and got only 10 yellow cards during years.

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Mutumbula from Lualuabourg

Mutumbula means assassin in a dialect from RD Congo, former Zaire, and this nick name is attributed to Pierre Ndaye Mulamba, who was probably the best striker from the history of the country. Also he was known as ‘Volvo’. Mulamba was born on 4th of November 1948 in Lualuabourg, now Kananga, a city which consists from more than 1.1 million inhabitants, on the territory of actual RD Congo. In 1973 he was a main player for AS Vita Club in the only African Champions Cup that they have won in their history, but the attacker is mostly known for his performances in the national team.

Ndaye appeared at the only World Cup at which Zaire participated, in 1974 and played in the entire opening match against Scotland, lost with 2-0. He also played against Yugoslavia, but he saw a red card when the score was 0-4, a little thing, comparing to the final 0-9! What’s most important from thise experience is that Zaire was the first ever country from Black Africa to qualify at a World Cup. Still, in the same year, before this tournament, Zaire won the second and last title of African champions, mostly thanks to Mulamba, who scored nine goals during the competition, a number that still stands as a record in this competition.

The African Nations’ Cup from 1974 was held in Egypt and the final was the only one that from the history, which was replayed. First, it was 2-2, after extra time, with two goals netted by Ndaye. Also, the striker repeated the same evolution in the next game and sealed a 2-0 win over Zambia, which brought Zaire the trophy. But Mulamba took two in the semis as well, where his country put out, with a 3-2 win, the biggest favorite of the competition: Egypt, the hosts. And this six goals weren’t all his achievements, as the attacker scored also thrice in the group stage, from a total of seven. Those goals assured Zaire two victories and a second place that let them pass through.

Despite being a national hero, in 1994, Mulamba was shot in 1994 in the leg, because robbers, which were actually soldiers (!), taught that he was carrying important sums of money, after he received a distinction in Tunis. And the bullets are still there… Two years later he received the status of refugee in South Africa, after running from his country which was surrounded by a war. Here, he hadn’t a great life at the beginning, because he couldn’t find a job and also he got problems because of drinking heavily. More than that, in 1998, at the African Nations Cup from Burkina Faso, a minute of silence was held, as there was information that Ndaye was killed in an accident from a diamond mine. He did pass through all this troubles and manage to begin a new life, by training local amateur teams by 2010.

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