THE RAINDANCERS - FOOTBALL
This is a football team made up of my favourite players. I would, of course, manage the team and bring myself on from time to time to make my customary charging runs up the wing before declaring myself unfit and dragging myself as far away from the action as possible. Anyway, here is the first eleven:
18. Klinsmann (c)
And here is the entire squad of 23:
1. Thomas Ravelli (IFK Gothenburg, Sweden)
Ravelli was the goalkeeper for the Swedish side that came third in the 1994 World Cup. His highlight of the World Cup was his exploits in the quarter-final penalty shoot-out against Romania, but I will always remember him during the third-place play-off against Bulgaria when his antics had the crowd wrapped around his finger and his skill had the goal as safe as a bank.
12. Rene Higuita (Colombia)
Two sides of the one Rene Higuita. 1990 World Cup Colombia v Cameroon: Higuita makes one of his customary runs up the field towards the centre circle when he is dispossessed by Roger Milla who races away to put Colombia out of the World Cup. 1995 Copa America: An opposition player makes a curling chip towards goal that is heading straight for Higuita's chest. His method of handling the shot is to leap forward and flip his legs forward over his head, thus kicking the ball to safety with his heels before landing gracefully on his stomach. Both Higuitas are welcome in my side any day.
23. Jorge Campos (Mexico)
The perfect goalkeeper would have Higuita's flair, Ravelli's sense of humour and Campos' dress sense. At. 5'4" or so, Campos is remarkably short for such a goalkeeper, but if you think that it's only his self-designed multi-coloured abstract-patterned shirts that draw attention to Campos, think again. Campos' agility is possibly unmatched in world football and his throw-outs from goal can reach distances of up to fifty metres. But it's definitely his shirts that win him a place in the Raindancers' side.
15. Lillian Thuram (Parma, France)
Thuram had never scored for France before the 1998 World Cup semi-final against Croatia, and when early in the second half, he played Davor Suker onside to allow him to take the lead for the Croats, Thuram's chances weren't getting any better. By the end of the match, however, Thuram had scored twice, both goals the results of quick raids down the right wing and strong ball control. His celebration following the second goal was to run to the corner of the field and sit in a contemplative pose, as though he might be deciding what to have for dinner.
3. Paolo Maldini (Milan, Italy)
Football is about more than a game; it's about more than sport; it's even about more than politics. It's about the survival of the human race because ultimately, football is about sex! This is where Paolo Maldini comes in. Men come to see him for his effortless style on the ball in attack and his deceptively smooth defensive skills, women come to see him for his piercing blue eyes, then the men hook up with the women, and presto! That takes care of the human race for another couple of generations.
4. Trifon Ivanov (Rapid Vienna, Bulgaria)
Ivanov is the anti-Paolo. He started the 1994 World Cup Finals with a small amount of stubble on his face and no reputation to speak of. By the end of July, he had gained the moniker "The Wolfman" due to his thick beard, semi-mullet haircut and his deep-set haunting eyes. He had also gained the reputation as one of the best defensive organisers and ruthless tacklers in world football. His role in the quarter-final win over Germany keeping Messrs Klinsmann and Riedle quiet spread fear into the hearts of strikers everywhere. Was also Bulgaria's best player during Euro 96.
22. Alexi Lalas (USA)
Lalas would play in the side as a central defender and would play in the band as a bass guitarist. Lalas and Balboa were outstanding at the back for the USA during USA '94, keeping Romario and Bebeto in check for most of their eighth-final clash on Independence Day. Lalas, easily distinctive by his bushy red hair and matching long red goatee, has that very Vilesian ability to look both 'cool' and menacing. I can imagine opposition strikers fearing coming up against a central defence comprising Ivanov and Lalas, how will they cope with all that funky hair!?
2. Jorginho (Brazil)
It shows how much we have come to expect from Brazilian sides when Jorginho was described as ‘workmanlike’ in Brazil’s 1994 World Cup winning team. That he was preferred to Cafú at right back was supposed to be a sign of expedience over flair. Can someone explain to me, then, why every time I saw Jorginho play, he was bringing the ball up the right wing at breakneck speed and playing the ball through to the front of the midfield? Every time I saw him, he was attacking. That’s my kind of defender.
6. Andreas Brehme (Inter Milan, Germany)
Ja, vee are German, vat is your prablem? Brehme is your quintessential German efficiency machine, not that he's boring to watch, mind you. His goal to eliminate Holland in Italia '90 where he switched to his right foot to evade a defender and then calmly curled the ball into the far side netting past Hans van Breukelen was an exquisite piece of football. One of the standouts in that great West German side.
20. Marcelo Balboa (USA)
Balboa was the other half of the brilliant American central defence during their run at the 1994 World Cup. He was a little slower than Lalas and even less flamboyant, but he was a towering, menacing presence at the back with his slick black half-ponytail and goatee, looking like he just stepped out of a Latin American percussion troupe.
5. Colin Hendry (Blackburn Rovers, Scotland)
I’m not normally a fan of Scottish players as they have a tendency to value hard work and only hard work. Hendry doesn’t exactly break this mould either, but he does always look as though he is enjoying his work. Hendry is never short of a smile or a laugh which is not a bad effort when you are playing in the centre of defence. His efforts in keeping Ronaldo and Bebeto out in the opening match of the 1998 World Cup stand out in the memory.
11. Tomas Brolin (Parma, Sweden)
The smiling Swede scored one of my favourite goals during Euro '92 in which he pierced the English defence on a startling solo run before finishing with a deadly shot. Also scored from a brilliantly manoeuvred free-kick against Romania in the '94 World Cup quarter-final when instead of his team-mate going for the direct shot, he passed it forward to Brolin who was on the burst on the right-hand side. Brolin simply bolted past the wall and shot the ball into the net. That's why Brolin is in this side; he is probably the most creative goal scorer I've seen in my lifetime.
9. Yordan Lechkov (Marseille, Bulgaria)
Bulgaria were, with Romania, the best counter-attacking side in the world during the 1994 World Cup, and the prematurely bald (not that that's a bad thing) Yordan Lechkov was so often the catalyst for these counter-attacks, setting up the ball for Hristo Stoichkov. However, in the '94 World Cup quarter-final against Germany, it was Lechkov who was the hero, heading home a cross from Stoichkov on the right to give Bulgarian football it's greatest ever moment.
8. Craig Johnston (Liverpool, Australia)
Possibly my favourite footballer, despite the fact that he made his fortune for the cross-town rivals of my favourite team. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa and raised in Newcastle, New South Wales (the city of my birth), Johnston was a creative man both on and off the field. He showed delicate touch in midfield, driving the Liverpool team forward for nearly a decade, and off the field, he wrote sections of both "Anfield Rap" and New Order's "World in Motion" as well as designing a TV game show ("The Main Event"). Was part of an April Fools' Day joke in 1988 when Wide World of Sports ran a story on him trialling for the Parramatta Eels rugby league team. The story included footage of him nailing a goalkicking drill in which he had five league balls set up for place kicks 22m out and 15m in from the left hand touchline. Daryl Halligan, eat your heart out!
7. Alain Sutter (Freiburg, Switzerland)
Once again, groovy hair wins a place in the Raindancers' squad, in this case, long flowing blond hair with the top part tied back in a neat ponytail. He was also the lynchpin of the Swiss side during the 1994 World Cup, who promptly exited when he was sidelined through injury. His quick runs down the left wing and incisive crosses to the strikers were dazzling to watch. Even more so when you consider the hair!
13. Steve McManaman (Liverpool, Real Madrid, Manchester City, England)
You probably have a head-start in getting a Raindancers jersey if you are Melanie Chisholm’s (aka Sporty Spice aka Talented Spice) favourite player. McManaman supported Everton as a boy and then went and played for Liverpool, which is a capital offence in my book, but his runs down the right wing were sublime. I enjoyed his play even more when Kevin Keegan used him at Man City as a link-man between the midfielders and strikers. He’s certainly got the necessary flair for this side.
14. Kim Vilfort (Brondby, Denmark)
One week before the 1992 European Championships in Sweden began, Yugoslavia was told to withdraw from the tournament due to the war in the Balkans. Denmark was invited to take their place. Kim Vilfort had been planning to stay in hospital with his ill son during the summer, but took his place in the Danish side, although he did miss one match to return to Denmark upon hearing of a worsening of his son's condition. When his son saw Vilfort at the hospital, he immediately told him to get back to Sweden so he could watch his Dad play football! Vilfort did return to Sweden, and in the final against Germany, he scored with 12 minutes to go, giving Denmark a 2-0 lead and the European Championship.
16. Georghe Hagi (Galatasaray, Romania)
Yet another star of the 1994 World Cup in this team, Hagi's genius can probably be best illustrated in his greatest goal. In the opening group game against tournament dark horses Colombia, Hagi finished a swerving run through the midfield by crossing to the right of goal from 25 metres out. At least, everyone thought it was a cross, that's where Hagi was looking, wasn't it? But as the ball sailed over Oscar Cordoba's head into the back of the net and all eyes turned back towards Hagi (who had already started his celebration), it became all too clear that that ball had not gone anywhere except where Hagi had decided it would go.
19. Kennet Andersson (Bologna, Sweden)
Yes, I couldn't possibly have a Raindancers side without he of the "Aussie-Rules goal signal" goal celebration. I'm not entirely sure where he picked that up from, (Australia perhaps), but it made him one of the real personalities of the 1994 World Cup. That is, however, not to ignore his clinical finishing qualities, which gave him the opportunity to indulge in a few goal celebrations in the first place.
18. Jürgen Klinsmann (Bayern Munich, Tottenham, Germany)
Has there been a greater German footballer than this man? Oh sure, Beckenbauer was a better player, but he was far too.... well, German! Klinsmann was at long odds to win over the Tottenham faithful when he transferred to London for the 1994-95 season. His theatrical diving for penalties had had severe consequences for England at the 1990 World Cup and also for a few English sides in European competition. However, when he left in June 1995, Spurs fans were in tears. His showmanship and self-deprecating sense of humour had made him one of the most popular footballers in Britain. His triumph as German captain at Euro 96 was a fitting reward for this clinical finisher, inspiring leader and gentleman. And yes, in this squad, he is allowed to wear his favourite number 18 shirt.
10. Martin Dahlin (Blackburn, Sweden)
The first black man to play for Sweden and arguably its finest striker. First surfaced at Euro 92 and enhanced his reputation as a strong finisher and jolly good sport at USA 94. I wish that Sweden had taken Brazil on in their semi-final and unleashed their forwards at the Brazilian defence. They had drawn the group game with Brazil 1-all using those tactics, and that was without Dahlin! Dahlin had the physical strength and the finishing skill to take on Dunga, Marcio Santos and co. and maybe Sweden would have been World Champions if they hadn't been so conservative. At any rate, Dahlin would never be kept under wraps under MY management!
21. Christian Vieri (Italy)
Vieri is not the prettiest player on a football field, but it is wrong to say that he is without style. His first touch is usually described more as effective (it usually goes into the net!) than stylish, but there is definitely something in Vieri’s play that is very watchable. His goal celebrations are usually notable for their understatement (sitting cross-legged in contemplation, for example). It doesn’t hurt that he spent a fair bit of his youth in Australia. There has to be at least one cricket fan in the squad.
17. Brian Laudrup (Rangers, Denmark)
Brian Laudrup stepped out of the shadow of his older, more celebrated brother Michael during Euro 92 when Michael wouldn't play under coach Richard Moller Nielsen. Brian, 23 at the time, seized the chance to be a star and was one of Denmark's best in their European Championship success. At France '98, he was at it again, leading the Danes to the quarter-finals where they gave Brazil a fright before bowing out. His goal celebration after scoring in that game in which he lay on the ground in a swimsuit model pose proves that he has the necessary flair to be a Raindancer.
Other players who were considered for the squad are as follows:
Goalkeepers: Dave Beasant, Bernard Lama, Michel Preud’homme, Neville Southall
Sweepers: Franz Beckenbauer, Hong Myung-bo
Right Backs: Ferdinand Coly, Joseph Yobo
Left Backs: Roberto Carlos, Taribo West, Marc Wingell
Centre Backs: Slaven Bilic
Right Midfielders: David Beckham, Harald Cerny, Figo, Thomas Häßler, Erik Mykland, Trevor Sinclair, Gaston Taument
Left Midfielders: Denilson, Ryan Giggs, Jahn Ivar Jakobsen, Cobi Jones, Leonardo
Central Midfielders: Zvonimir Boban, Dietmar Kühbauer, Attilio Lombardo, Hakan Mild, Augustine ‘Jay-Jay’ Okocha, Emmanuel Petit, Michel Platini, Vasily Rats, Zinedine Zidane
Strikers: Daniel Amokachi, Johan Cruyff, Frank Farina, Tor Andre Flo, Thierry Henry, Nandor Hidegkuti, Socrates, Luis Alves “Zague”
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