1) Who is the CEO/Chairman of the Board of MLS LLC? Bloomberg lists it is as Richard A. Peddie, the former CEO of MLSE (Maple Leaf Sports Entertainment). http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=4312581 I’ve asked Mr. Peddie on twitter but he simply blocked me without saying no. He was asked by several people over a couple of days and he continued to ignore the question. Then, @sisusoccer (an anonymous account, to me) asked and Mr. Peddie did go on record with a quick “no”: https://twitter.com/SisuSoccer/status/575467792796807168 But Mr. Peddie would not respond to any follow up questions about when he left the position or who is the current CEO. Also, former USSF president and lifetime director of the USSF Foundation, Alan Rothenberg is named per this site http://www.corporationwiki.com/New-York/New-York/alan-rothenberg/136277457.aspx as chairman of MLS LLC. Is Mr. Rothenberg Chairman of the Board/CEO or has he ever been? None of Mr. Rothenberg’s or Mr. Peddie’s online profiles disclose any employment for MLS LLC or related companies (other than USSF and MLSE, of course).
2) Who are the majority owners of MLS LLC? I believe it to be The Anschutz Corp, The Kraft Group, and Hunt Sports LLC and maybe a few others: we know the teams are essentially franchises and MLS contracts with all players, parties, and has authority to make all major decisions. The exact structure is discussed fairly well in the first half of the decision from Fraser vs MLS (see end). Though from 2002, I can find no evidence the fake-competition model has changed nor the original majority owners.
3) If the structure outlined in Fraser is accurate, it would mean the new entrants are transferring ownership of their teams (private corps in NASL) to MLS LLC for a right to be in the corporate umbrella. And they are doing this while also paying entrance fees? Since entry fees are relatively high, what promises of future returns are being made to these new entrants? Since the larger TV deals are mostly locked in for some time and since the attendance figures appear over-inflated in cases (easily proved by photo), are they indeed relying on “suckering” new entrants, similar to a ponzi scheme and as discussed by the soccernomics team?
4) What is MLS Partners LLC (active)? http://www.corporationwiki.com/p/2espfd/mls-partners-llc Originally created in Delaware on 2/19/2014 but also recorded in California. I can find no news or explanation about this corporation which appears to be owned, at least in part, by MLS LLC. I have called and emailed people within MLS to ask but they’ve given me no response. I wondered whether it was disclosed to the union during the CBA negotiation so I called and emailed several people within the union, including Bob Foose and John Newman, but received no response. Not even “it’s a non-factor”. Why let me stir a pot at all and why not tell me to buzz off?
5) What is MLS Consulting (inactive)? http://www.corporationwiki.com/New-York/New-York/mls-consulting-inc/73911463.aspx which was owned and/or operated by Alan Rothenberg and Douglas Quinn, former president of SUM and former President of DallasFC There was a third related corporation, also inactive, called “De Operating a Professional Soccer Team.” (I’m not kidding) However, for some reason, I cannot find any of the links I had been previously viewing. What are these sister/shell corps owned and/or operated by MLS or USSF officers or them together? How many are there?
7) Where is the 2010 CBA? If it is never disclosed and no one has a copy of it, how are contracts being negotiated? The player agents or any lawyer for a player must certainly have a copy they could disclose. Otherwise, how can terms be decided in a uniform manner?
8) How much money, exactly, has MLS LLC and its wholly-owned subsidiaries received in public funds? Unlike other sports leagues comprised of multiple individual corporations, MLS LLC is one giant corporation potentially worth about or more than $3B (estimated guess from team values per Forbes). Yet it has received $1.5B in public assistance for its stadiums. https://twitter.com/neildemause/status/580709905390284801 Was almost half the corporation’s value derived via welfare? And this welfare-fattenned beast is actually one of the largest sports corporations around. Americans have surprisingly little control over something for which they’ve paid half.
9) What are the real attendance figures or a legitimate estimate? I recently saw a photo of a Houston-Dallas game at BBVA Compass Stadium. https://twitter.com/EmptySeatsPics/status/594328707516506112 The stadium was clearly less than half full – indisputable. I estimate 40% full. The announced attendance was 19,975 (20K) but the stadium capacity is 22K. Total bullshit. The attendance figures are undoubtedly used to persuade entrants and sponsors. Is this more evidence of ponzi-scheme-like behavior or just number fudging?
10) As a former USSF president (Rothenberg), lifetime director of the USSF Foundation and CONCACAF VP (and if he is/was the CEO of MLS LLC), is this not a conflict of interest prevented by USSF or FIFA rules? With Garber as well, who is a current board member of USSF. Is Mr. Garber permitted to vote on all matters pertaining to division one? Including which corporations/entities should be allowed access?
11) USSF is sanctioned by FIFA. Regardless of the directorships, what are the FIFA rules regarding favorable FA treatment of individual teams/corporations? Are MLS and USSF allowed to collude so openly with no administrative recourse to other entities? IMO, the need for the NY Cosmos or top NASL teams to be allowed a shot at D1 competition is incontestable.
My odyssey with MLS started just a few months ago so I am trying to catch up to everyone on a lot of things. I give great thanks to all the free-market/open system advocates out there for all the guidance, data, info, history and news they provide. They actually care about the future of American soccer. Thank you.
In my opinion as well, an objective analysis shows this company is harmful to American soccer. It’s a centrally controlled, anti free investment, anti management freedom, dictatorial communist system which only ensures the development of American soccer will always lag behind the superior systems of the world. I suspect it is designed in this manner not to sustain growth but to ensure that any value or wealth generated by the sport of soccer within North America is captured by a select few individuals. And to achieve this monopoly on the future of soccer, it does so with disregard of the negative effects such a closed, imprisoned system has on the potential development of the players or overall sport within America.
Though I have been amassing data and info, MLS Media members are for the most part ignoring me completely. I think they view me as an irrelevant nuisance. Admittedly, those I did speak to were incredibly polite (ty!) but none would answer any questions. I will add more to this list as I go along and continue seeking answers.
If you are able to assist with any of these, a lot of people would be greatly appreciative. Also, I personally think it would make a good story for any intrepid sports journalists out there tired of reporting scores and injuries.
EDIT: I have been advised that the photos cited in No. 9 were taken early and that the game did fill up further. If anyone has good photos of game crowds at their height, please share them with @TheMehdiMan. I am also familiar that “tickets sold” often exceed attendance. However, for this to be plausible in an example like the HOU/DAL game, there would have to be approximately 9000 empty seats which were purchased. These numbers seem inflated and deserve questioning. Also, unlike other leagues and teams whom most likely also inflate attendance figures, MLS uses these numbers to lure new entrants into the league, who are paying large entry fees and, ostensibly, assigning ownership of their teams to MLS LLC.
MLS’ franchise, faux-competition structure, as discussed by the Court in Fraser vs. Major League Soccer:
Soccer United Marketing…I have not yet even started with you.
In continuation of our series about international soccer, we present our top 5 most memorable moments in African World Cup history.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter has often reasserted his belief that Africa should be given more qualifying spots at the World Cup. However, there was a time when FIFA and the World Cup was not so inclusive or welcoming for members of the world’s three largest continents. In fact, Asian, African, and North American teams were afforded only fractional qualification requiring inter-continental playoffs prior to 1970. Considering UEFA always had at least eight dedicated qualifying spots, critics rightfully complained of a continental bias within FIFA’s “World” Cup.
As a result of this dispute, African teams boycotted the 1966 World Cup when only one place was afforded for Asia and Africa combined, demanding each continent be afforded at least a direct qualifying spot. When FIFA acquiesced in 1970, Morocco was Africa’s first participant.
However, after two defeats and dead rubber draw against Bulgaria, some argued FIFA should revert to fractional qualification for Africa and Asia (AFC member Israel managed two draws and a defeat). The debate continued throughout the qualification period for the 1974 World Cup, pitting the members of CAF, AFC, and CONCACAF against UEFA and CONEMBOL for qualifying spots at the big event.
And so begins our list.
5. Zaire 1974 – Some memories are so bad they can never be forgotten.
It was under this context Zaire qualified for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. CAF members were hoping for a good performance to bolster their arguments about qualification spots. Instead, Zaire delivered one of the all-time worst performances by any team in World Cup history. Prior or since. It was a cruel joke against CAF.
After a respectable 2-0 defeat to Scotland, Zairian players learned they would not be paid as agreed by their FA. Dejected by this reality and in semi-protest, they were humiliated 9-0 in their second game by a mediocre Yugoslavia team. It was 6-0 at halftime with the victors seemingly scoring without trying. No one who watched this game felt the Africans deserved to be on the pitch.
In their third game, Zaire faced perennial power Brazil. While Zaire managed to improve their play, Brazil still cruised to a 2-0 lead when, late in the game, Brazil was awarded a free kick outside just outside the Zairian box. As Brazil lined up for the kick, this happened…..
One of the most baffling things ever seen in a soccer match. Was he confused? Does he know the rules? Why is this team playing in the World Cup? ‘Silly Africans’ is what the footballing world thought as Zaire was ridiculed.
However, the truth is much more depressing. Unfortunately, Zairian defender Muepu Ilunga knew exactly what he was doing and made what he felt was the most logical choice in a desperate situation. As you may or may not know, Zaire’s president was a wonderful man named Joseph Mobutu. And by wonderful, I mean a murderous, unhinged, thieving, totalitarian dictator with a penchant for atrocities. After the debacle against Yugoslavia, Mobutu advised his team there would be dire consequences if they lost more than 3-0 to Brazil. And when Mobutu said dire consequences, the players did not need further clarification.
Losing 2-0 in the 78th minutes, Ilunga booted the ball solely to delay the game as much as possible. He and his team were desperate to not run afoul of Mobutu. While Brazil did score on the ensuing free-kick, the game ended 3-0 and Ilunga lived to tell his story. However, Mobutu stopped funding the national side and banned most players from leaving the country to play elsewhere. Many of the Zairian players from this team lived out the rest of the lives forgotten and in poverty, although a few managed to emigrate elsewhere. So yeah, this memory was not so good.
4. Algeria 1982 – Who’s laughing now!…..oh wait, it’s still not us.
While Tunisia managed to snag Africa’s first World Cup group stage win in 1978 with a 3-1 win over a weak Mexican side, African soccer was nevertheless still regarded as weak and inferior. When Algeria qualified for the 1982 World Cup in Spain, the Fennecs were not given much a chance by prognosticators. Their first game would be against reigning European Champions and tournament favorites West Germany. This West German team included legends Paul Breitner and Heinz Rummenigge and was expected to cruise through a group which also included Austria and Chile.
From the comments and predictions before the game, we know the West German players had full confidence they would embarrass their Algerian opponents. West German players openly predicted a 10-0 victory. One was quoted as saying “We will dedicate our seventh goal to our wives, and the eighth to our dogs,” with another boasting he would play the match with a cigar in his mouth. Even the German coach, Jupp Derwall, could not help but join in the orgy of arrogance, stating his team would hop the first train back to Munich if they lost.
Then they played the match. Bolstered by reigning African Footballer of the Year Lakhdar Belloumi and a young future Porto legend named Rabah Madjer, Algeria held off the West German attack and struck first via a Madjer volley in the 54th minute, stunning the Germans and the crowd. West Germany responded with intense pressure, allowing Rumminigge to equalize in the 67th minute. At this point, most rational observers fully expected the German onslaught to continue and the plucky Algerians would eventually cede more goals and lose to the mighty European champions. However, after the kickoff, the next time a West German player touched the ball was when he picked it out of his own net.
Algeria’s response to the West German equalizer proved enough to secure the biggest upset in World Cup history at the time and Africa’s first over a European squad. The footballing world was absolutely dumbfounded. The West Germans were in disbelief and Derwall was made to look a fool when reminded of the local train times.
But the joy quickly turned to anger. Algeria finished the campaign with a loss to Austria and a victory over Chile, looking poised to be the first African team to reach the second round. However, the last match between West Germany and Austria was not scheduled until a day after Algeria’s final match against Chile. Realizing a 1-0 West German victory would send both the West Germans and Austrians through at Algeria’s expense, this is exactly what occurred. After a quick goal by West Germany, the two teams spent the next 80 minutes passing back and forth in one of the most shameful matches ever played in a World Cup. Both FIFA and Algeria were outraged. Fans whistled and waved money in the air to signify their belief the final match was rigged to produce the only result which would benefit Germany and Austria. One disgusted German fan burned his nation’s flag during the second half. Even the German television commentator quipped
“What’s happening here is disgraceful and has nothing to do with football. You can say what you want, but not every end justifies the means.”
Alas, not much could be done and the results stood. The Algerians who surprised the world were eliminated and West Germany eventually went to the final, losing to Italy 3-1. It was not all for naught as FIFA adjusted the tournament starting in 1986 so that the final group stage games were always played simultaneously, preventing another 1982-like debacle from occurring again.
While little solace for the Algerians, there always remains the memory of making the West Germans eat their words and, for a moment, captivating the sporting world.
3. Senegal 2002 – Henri Camara strikes again…
It is hard to properly credit Senegal’s accomplishments at the 2002 FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan, the only time West Africans have ever qualified for the event. You have to know where it began to understand just how far they went. It is not that Senegal barely qualified for the World Cup, it is that they barely qualified for the last round of African qualifying, which included twenty teams seeking five spots.
To even get to the final round, they barely beat Benin 2-1 on aggregate in a home and away. Many people have never heard of Benin and trust me if you have not, they are not exactly a soccer power. If Benin played the USA in a friendly, USA would probably win 5-0 playing with an experimental squad. Benin would never play a team like Brazil or Argentina because this would be cruel.
Once Senegal managed to squeak past the mighty Beninese, they were placed in a group with reigning AFCON winners Egypt, continental powers Morocco and Algeria, and were picked to finish last with Namibia. After three draws found them about where everyone expected, Senegal went on an unexplainable tear. They won four of their final five, scoring 14 goals in those victories, and edged out Morocco on goal differential on the final match day with a 5-0 drubbing of Namibia.
At the World Cup, the debutants were drawn against France, Denmark, and Uruguay, and were definitely not expected to survive this group. Most assumed they would just be happy to be there. They were wrong.
The first game saw them play their former colonial occupiers in France in the Cup’s opening match. While Zidane was out due to injury, this was a French team with Henri, Trezeguet, Vieira, and essentially all the same players who won the 1998 FIFA World Cup as well as the 2000 UEFA Championship. Again, little respect was given to the African side. French commenters referred to Senegal as the French “B” team since they argued any Senegalese players of worth would be playing with France. Indeed, almost the entirety of the Senegalese team played in Ligue 1 and many carried French citizenship.
However, when the game was played, the French attack was unable to produce a goal despite rattling the woodwork twice. And the French defense found it could not handle the pace and strength of El Hadji Diouf, Henri Camara, and the Lions of Teranga’s attack. A midfield turnover by Djorkaeff provided Senegal the opportunity it needed and Diouf’s ensuing cross was driven home by Papa Bouba Diop, stunning France.
Just like that, the World Cup kicked off with an African debutant beating one of the world’s best teams…again. As remarkable as it was, Senegal was not done. After two draws against Denmark and Uruguay, Senegal qualified for the round 16 where they met Sweden.
Sweden was led by in-form Celtic superstar Henrik Larsson and a young Zlatan Ibrahimavic. After 11 minutes, Larsson headed in a corner to give the favorites the early lead. However, a Henri Camara strike on 37 minutes saw the Senegalese equalize and while both teams created chances going forward, the game went into golden goal extra-time. Near the end a first extra period, a nifty heel pass found Henri Camara streaking through the Swedish defense. Flat-footed, Sweden’s keeper could do nothing but watch the ball ding off the post and into the net to give Senegal its golden goal and golden moment in the land of the rising sun.
As fate would be, it was another golden goal versus Turkey that beat Senegal in the quarterfinals, ending the dream run of the West African first-timers. Although their lackluster play in their final game cost them a chance to be the first African team to reach the semis, Senegal’s run from barely beating minnows like Benin to world’s final eight remains one of Africa’s greatest international soccer memories.
2. Cameroon 1990 – Roger Milla teaches us a new dance
If any African team ever had a chance to hoist the Jules Rimet Trophy, it was Cameroon in 1990. While not expected to go past the first round, the Indomitable Lions would electrify the world.
They were given no favors by the draw, pitted against reigning 1986 World Cup champions Argentina (eventual 1990 runners up), Romania and the Soviet Union. Yet they wasted no time making their presence known, upsetting Maradona and the reigning champions 1-0 in their fist match. Cameroon’s defense proved to be a tough nut to crack for the Argentines and Omam-Biyik soaring header squibbed past Pumpido to give Cameroon the win.
The second game was against co-group leaders Romania and Galatasaray star Gheorghe Hagi, who was supposed to be the star of the match. However by day’s end, the world would become familiar with another name: Roger Milla, an aging Cameroon substitute brought on in the 58th minute. Twenty minutes after coming on, Milla won a loose ball near the Romanian goal, slotted it into the goal and raced to the corner flag to do his now-famous dance. Ten minutes later, a superb Milla strike iced the game and Cameroon qualified for the second round with a game to play.
But Milla was not done. In the second round, Cameroon would face talented Colombia, led by the wonderful and creative passing of Carlos Valderrama. As the game began, Colombia had the run of play before Cameroon settled down. Milla was brought on just after half time and Cameroon began to take control of the match. However, neither team could score in regulation and the first period of the added time also passed without a goal.
As penalties loomed, Roger Milla had seen enough. After receiving a pass, his quick pivot and burst toward goal split the Colombian defense, allowing him to drive the ball over the keeper. Milla’s second goal was less about skill than it was about the poor judgements of Colombia’s gambling keeper Rene Higuita. Known for dribbling and taking risks (such as gratuitous scorpion kicks off the goal line),
Higuita was dispossessed by Milla 40 yards from goal. Milla outran the bumbling Higuita to an easy goal and Cameroon would be the first African team to make the quarterfinals. More importantly, it was clear to the casual observer Cameroon had the talent to challenge anyone.
The quarterfinal match between the Indomitable Lions and England’s Three Lions is a classic which could have been won by either team. After England led 1-0 at halftime, Milla was inserted and Cameroon began to press forward more successfully. In the 61st minute, Milla sprinted into the box and was fouled, earning a penalty which was converted by Cameroon. Less than 5 minutes later, Milla was at it again. A soft touch pass from Milla found Eugene Ekeke streaking past the British defense and his chip gave Cameroon a deserved 2-1 lead.
But England would not wilt. This was one of the best England teams of the last 40 years. With stars like 1986 golden boot winner Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne, England were a tournament favorite, having only been ousted from the prior World Cup because of Maradona’s ‘hand of god’ goal and Maradona’s “greatest goal ever scored.” (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are not a soccer fan!)
After continuous pressure from England, Gary Lineker earned a penalty and drove it home to equalize. In extra-time, Gazza slotted an exquisite pass through the defense to give Lineker a break away on goal. As Lineker juked the keeper, he was knocked down by a defender and awarded another penalty. Lineker blasted the penalty in the back of the net to give England the hard-fought lead.
Sadly, Cameroon and Milla were out of magic and had no response to Gazza and Lineker’s brilliance. England would go on to win 3-2 after extra time before losing to West Germany on penalties in the semifinal.
As impressive as Cameroon’s accomplishments were, it was Milla’s achievements which are most memorable. The veteran substitute was 38 years old at the start of the tournament, making him one of the oldest participants ever. Always a fixture off the bench for Cameroon, the flashy forward with perfect finishing scored 4 goals and 2 assists during Cameroon’s run and changed the dynamic of every game he entered. In the process, he became a world star and African legend. So much so that when Milla was left off the squad for the 1994 FIFA World Cup (which was expected and reasonable since he was 42 years old), Cameroon’s embattled president forced the coach to include Milla, hoping to obtain some domestic support and distract from other problems the nation faced. Cameroon disappointed in USA 1994 but Milla did score one goal, becoming the oldest goal scorer, and participant, in World Cup history. Largely based on his efforts on Italia 1990, Roger Milla was named by CAF as the best African footballer of the last century and deservedly so.
1. Ghana 2010 – Luis Suarez is the Grinch that stole an entire continent’s Christmas
The 2010 FIFA World Cup was a big deal not just for South Africans but for all Africans. Never before had the continent hosted an Olympics or FIFA World Cup. The anticipation was palpable through the qualification campaign as every nation desperately wanted to qualify for a tournament which would be played so close to home. Heck, Egypt and Algeria almost broke off diplomatic relations over a qualification spot. As highly anticipated as the tournament was for the world, the hopes for African entrants was even higher.
Unfortunately, 5 of 6 African teams disappointed and failed to qualify for the second round, leaving only Ghana to carry the continent’s banner. And Ghana was well suited to carry those hopes. Playing in their third consecutive World Cup, Ghana had proven themselves worthy competitors on the global stage and consistently among the best in Africa. While they are nicknamed the “Black Stars”, the moniker “Brazil D’Afrique” has also arisen in the last few years as a compliment to their talents and consistency.
After a second place finish in the group stage behind Germany, Ghana faced familiar foes USA in the second round. While USA had just come off a thrilling victory over Algeria and played with great passion, the Ghanians proved to be too strong in the end. Asamoah Gyan muscled off an American defender and struck home a powerful volley in extra time to make Ghana the third African team to take its chances in the quarterfinals.
You may have noticed the quarterfinals have been kind of a glass ceiling for African squads. While Asian teams have managed to reach the semifinal, no African squad has ever done so. Cameroon in 1990 may have been the best African team to go the World Cup, but Ghana 2010 had the best chance to shatter this ceiling.
In the quarterfinals, Ghana met resurgent Uruguay. While Uruguay had not achieved much World Cup success over the previous decades, their performance in South Africa 2010 is worthy of its own article. Diego Forlan, Luis Suarez, and Edison Cavani were the most efficient attack at the tournament and made Uruguay a threat to beat any team.
After ending 1-1 at full time, the game proceeded to extra-time. Towards the end of the second period, Ghana began applying more and more pressure on the Uruguayan goal. Seconds away from penalties, Ghana was awarded a free kick in the Uruguayan zone. Now if you have spent the time to read this article, you probably know what happened. If you do not, here is the recap.
As tense as you can imagine….the ball bounces around, gets smashed at goal, gets saved by a defender off the goal line, bounces around again, get smashed at goal again and is saved by Luis Suarez pretending he is the goalie. (and if you noticed, the other Uruguayan defender also tries to save it with his hands but he was not as effective as Suarez). Suarez was deservedly red-carded and Ghana awarded a penalty. But instead converting the penalty and creating a continent-wide party, Gyan smashed his penalty off the cross bar and game proceeded to a penalty round. Almost as if all of this was a scripted tragedy, Ghana would lose in remarkable fashion.
Devastating. The roller coaster of emotions which is African football can be best portrayed in those zany few minutes at the end of this game. Ghana played a great game and performed excellently at the World Cup. They had their opponent on their heels and victory seemed inevitable, both when the scramble was occurring and before the penalty. It seemed certain African soccer would finally break through to the semifinals and would get to do it on home soil.
And be certain, this was poised to be a great victory for all of Africa, not just Ghana. Politically and economically, the vague and amorphous concept called African unity has not faired so well. But when it comes to sport, I have never met an African who does not root for all African teams against any others. It is a beautiful thing on the sporting level. A sense of us against the rest. And Ghana was our “us”.
Luis Suarez was vilified wrongly as a cheater or a disgrace by many in the sports media and will forever be remembered as the single man who shattered the dreams of so many. This is understandable considering the emotion and magnitude of the moment but is nevertheless misplaced.
As time has passed, more have come to understand the brilliance of Suarez’ quick decision and the grudge will eventually fade. He was placed with only two choices and a nanosecond to decide: 1) let the ball go in and be eliminated; or 2) stop the ball at all costs, be red carded, concede a penalty, but give your team a tiny chance. Any rational thinker would do what Suarez did if they were quick enough to do so.
Uruguay turned Suarez’ tiny chance into a historic victory and at the same time, provided Africa with its most heart-breaking, yet also most memorable, moment in World Cup history.
Since we love international soccer so much we have decided to begin a series on our favorite World Cup memories. Which like everything on this site will be updated infrequently, without notice and whenever we desire.
So here goes:
Bulgaria 1994 – The Wizards of Ov
Sometimes in sports, a minnow kills sharks. Such was the case with Bulgaria and their dream run through USA1994. Led by Hristo “The Dagger” Stoichkov and Emil Kostadinov, this unheralded band of –ovs reminded us why the game is played and delivered perhaps the most stunning upset in history.
As shocking as their World Cup triumphs were, their qualification was equally as implausible. To get to USA 1994, Bulgaria needed to secure a top two finish in a qualifying group which included heavily favored France and Sweden along with Austria, Finland, and Israel. With two games left, Bulgaria found itself 5 points behind France and 3 behind Sweden without control of their destiny.
After Sweden took care of Finland securing a spot, Bulgaria’s chances were looking worse as France would be hosting last place Israel needing one point. And this was a bad Israeli team. The French were confident Les Blues would qualify without even needing a result in their last match against Bulgaria in Paris.
While Bulgaria took care of business versus Austria to keep hope alive, France took a 2-1 lead against Israel into the 83rd minute. Fireworks and champagne were being prepared on the Champs Elysee and rightfully so. Going into the match, winless Israel had only scored 6 goals in eight games and carried a goal differential of negative sixteen. No one expected anything worse than a draw at this point. It would have been ludicrous to think Israel could score twice in the final minutes. No way, right? Skip to to the 3:50 mark and find out for yourself.
Just like that, fireworks were undone, wine restocked, and the final game against Bulgaria took on a lot of meaning. France would qualify with a win or draw. Bulgaria with a win. Despite the collapse against Israel, rational minds could not expect France to lose two in a row at home. Eric Cantona’s temper would not allow it.
As the final game began, France had the run of play early. Someone released a rooster (France’s symbol is Le Coque) and everyone had a nice laugh. Shortly thereafter, Cantona rifled home a smooth volley worthy of winning such a match.
But those pesky Bulgarians were resistant and Kostadinov headed home from the near post on a corner only six minutes after Cantona’s opener. Tensely, the game wore on with Bulgaria chasing a winner which seemingly would not come. With ninety minutes gone, France was awarded a free kick near the Bulgarian corner. An ideal situation, all which needed to be done was sit on the ball or pass back to expire the last minute or so of extra time.
Yet instead of safely passing back, substitute David Ginola decided it would be the perfect time to attempt a cross to Cantona. Why? I do not know. Perhaps, he is an idiot. Perhaps he thought Cantona would smash home another volley to cap off the qualifying campaign in style. Whatever his reasons were for the fateful cross, the result was disaster.
Wow! Even if you don’t speak French, you can tell what the commentators thought of the situation. While the focus was on Ginola in the media, they should have credited France’s elimination to the superb lob to Kostadinov and his spectacular finish.
Do not tell that to French coach Gerard Houllier though. Houllier resigned and immediately laid all blame for France’s failures at the feet of Ginola, beginning a thus far lifelong public feud between the two. Twenty years later, Ginola filed a slander and defamation suit against Houllier for the continued criticisms by his former coach. Ah France, I hope they never change. No one does petulant collapse quite like them.
L’idiot de la France!
As a by product of this collapse, most pundits viewed Bulgaria’s qualification to be the result of France’s failures rather than Bulgaria’s talent. No one was expecting too much out of Coach Penev’s team in USA 1994. Drawn in an open group with Nigeria, Greece, and Argentina, Bulgaria needed to secure a top two finish or be one of the best third place teams to advance to knockout rounds.
Hoping for a good start, Bulgaria was trounced 3-0 by Nigeria in the opening match. However, they were able to bounce back with a 4-0 drubbing of a very disappointing Greece team, keeping hope of advancement alive.
In their final match they needed three points from Argentina, a team on a tear and captained by legend Diego Maradona. While Argentina already secured a knockout spot with two victories, they were not likely to let off the gas since they wanted to avoid stronger competition in the next round. For any team, much less tiny Bulgaria, this was a giant hill to climb.
As luck would have it for Bulgaria, Diego Maradona had scored an amazing goal in Argentina’s first match against Greece which everyone ignored. Instead, his zombie-eyed celebration caused a big stir and questions were asked.
For any who did not know, we found out Mr. Maradona was not just a legendary soccer player. He was a legendary cokehead. The fallout led to Argentina’s captain being pulled out the tournament before the match against Bulgaria.
With the massive disruptions and distractions within the Argentine team, Bulgaria won 2-0 with another quality performance overlooked by the pundits focusing on the Maradona angle of the game.
The result meant Nigeria won the group and both Argentina and Bulgaria qualified for the round of 16, where Bulgaria would face Mexico. While Mexico was favored, it was a winnable match for both teams.
A back and forth affair, two early goals gave way to extra-time where neither team could find a winner despite several chances. In the penalty round, fate favored Bulgaria as Mexico choked massively missing their first three penalties. Bulgaria on the other hand hit three of their first four happily finding themselves in the quarterfinals. A monumental achievement for a team making only its second world cup appearance since 1974 and which had never gotten past the group stage.
At this point, most people thought the Bulgarians were lucky. Their qualification was miraculous and they were fortunate to play Argentina during a scandal involving their best player. Mexico could not hit a penalty to save their lives. Even the 4-0 victory against Greece was disregarded since Greece turned out to be the worst team of the tournament, finishing 0-3 with a negative ten goal differential.
But this luck, or skill, was about to be tested. Beating Mexico meant a date with Germany.
1994 Germany with Jurgen Klinsman, Lothar Matthaus, and Rudi Voller
To understand how large a favorite Germany was over Bulgaria in 1994, you have to know a bit of German soccer history. Since 1954, Germany had made the final four of the World Cup every time but twice (1962 and 1978). In those ten world cups, Germany played in six finals and won three. What happened when they did not make the final four in 62 and 78? They were eliminated in the round of 8. This is considered an unspeakable tragedy in German soccer.
Coming into USA 1994, Germany was reigning World Cup and European champions having played in three straight World Cup finals dating back to 1982. Even the mothers of Bulgaria’s players knew the Germans would win. After all, as former English Golden Boot winner Gary Lineker said,
Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.
Or at least so we thought before they played the game.
After a slow first half, a shameful Klinsmann dive resulted in a German penalty and lead. But again Bulgaria would not quit. Fifteen minutes from time, they were awarded a free kick 25 yards away from goal. A precious opportunity against the stout German defense. With this chance, Stoichkov delivered a brilliant bender which left the keeper paralyzed and gave Bulgaria a well-deserved equalizer.
Tied at one apiece, Bulgaria kept pressing forward while the Germans were still discombobulated after having conceded. All the sudden you knew this was possible.
While we had become familiar with the exploits of Stoichkov and Kostadinov, it would be another Bulgarian who would put his name in history and become the most famous balding man of 1994.
Germany does not impress him.
Just three minutes after Stoichkov’s equalizer, Yordan Letchkov dove in front of the German defender and used his shiny noggin to deliver a historic goal.
Bulgaria held on and impossible occurred. Letchkov and his forehead hair-island became an international celebrity overnight.
Now I get it. He uses the hair island to target headers. Brilliant!
The Germans were stunned and American fans in the crowd who were new to soccer were treated with a upset grander than any they may ever see again.
Sadly, Bulgaria could not replicate their magic in the semi-final and lost 2-1 to Italy after an early Roberto Baggio brace. Bulgaria never quit and had their chances throughout the game but could not find a coveted equalizer. And while their 4-0 defeat in the Third Place Match to qualification opponents Sweden may have left a bitter taste in their mouths, their qualification to USA 1994 and stunning victory over Germany remain one the greatest memories in World Cup history.