In the latest issue of The Classical, there’s some pretty words written about losing. In particular, the NBA has stories from the 2000′s about teams that couldn’t win a ring but earned critical acclaim. I speak, of course, of the Chris Webber Sacramento Kings and the Steve Nash Phoenix Suns. These teams both were fun to watch – the Suns tried to score in six seconds each possession, and relied on the delicious pick-and-rolls of Nash and Amare Stoudemire. The Kings, meanwhile, enjoyed solid guard play from first Jason Williams and then Mike Bibby, while Chris Webber’s soft hands freely spread the ball around.
Neither team won a title, but both won fans hearts. Are there any soccer teams in the same vein? Yes. Here they are:
Manuel Pellegrini’s Villareal. The use of the last enganche to excel in Europe. The tragic loss to Arsenal in the semifinals of the Champions League. The emergence of Diego Forlan. The tireless running of Marcos Senna. What wasn’t to love? Just to totally fuck your work day, here’s 20 minute (twen-ty) video of Roman highlights from the submarino amarillo.
In terms of international teams, you can’t forget Turkey from 2002. They lit Japan/Korea aflame and finished 3rd place. Twice, they narrowly lost to champions Brazil. They played with style, flair, panache, and really just kinda tossed bodies forwards into the attack. Here are their goals from that tournament:
Oddly, though, that may not have been my favorite ever run by a Turkey side. Why? Because of Euro 2008, that’s why. What did they do? Well, in the last group game, they scored three goals in the last half hour to beat the Czech Republic 3-2. They also only won their second game vs. Switzerland in extra time. Thus, they were dramatists to the extreme. They leaked early goals but never gave up.
In the quarters vs. Croatia, the game ended goalless. At the 119 minute mark, Croatia scored a goal. What did Turkey do? Give up? Nope. They scored the equaliser in injury time at the end of the second 15 minute half and then won on penalties. They barely lost 3-2 to Germany in the semis. In sum, they were the plucky underdog you had to root for. Here are some highlights:
Of course, at that same tournament, another team caught the eye: Russia, the soccer equivalent of the Phoenix Suns. At its heart, Russia was a counter-attacking team that didn’t defend well. Normally, this is suicide. But their star player, Andrei Arshavin, was fit and in form, and they tore defenses to shreds. Yes, they got crushed by Spain twice, but, hey, Spain was kinda sorta decent.
Here are highlights from their 3-1 win over Holland.
So, I’ve largely focused on national teams and quasi-Cinderella runs where the clock struck midnight just before any glass slippers could be tried on. But other clubs that come to mind are Aston Villa under Martin O’Neill, any club outside of Portugal coached by Andre Vilas-Boas, and Napoli pre-Benitez. If sports are entertainment, then these teams arguably did more than any cruelly efficient winner. Give me rampaging Russians over tiki-taka any day of the week.