Five Famous 0-0 Draws

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CASTELLO DE LA PLANA, SPAIN - APRIL 25: Jens Lehman of Arsenal saves a penalty kick from Riquelme of Villarreal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final second leg match between Villarreal and Arsenal at the El Madrigal Stadium on April 25, 2006 in Castello de la Plana, Spain. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Famous Five: This series looks at a match or event from the world of football which is making the news and draws comparisons with similar players, matches or events from football history. This week, after France astonishingly failed to beat Luxembourg in a World Cup qualifier (or even score against them), looks back at five other famous 0-0 draws.

Not all 0-0 draws are bore draws. In fact, some of the most famous and indeed most important games in football history have ended goalless. And after France’s 0-0 draw with Luxembourg in Paris this week got the world talking, here are five other famous scoreless draws.

Arsenal in the Champions League

Older Arsenal fans lament the loss of the old Arsenal; the type of team which could be relied upon to grind out 1-0 wins against almost any opponent. In his early years at Arsenal, Arsène Wenger may have created far more attack-minded and indeed entertaining sides than any of his predecessors, but increasingly it seems that that was at the expense of the rock-like defensive qualities on which all successful Arsenal sides have been built. And yet, for a brief period more than a decade ago, Wenger’s Arsenal side attempted to put past European failures behind them with some stunning defensive performances.

That unlikely period of defensive solidity under Wenger was not achieved with the legendary back fours he had had at his disposal in the past. Instead, it was achieved with a back four which could best be described as being makeshift, encompassing, as it did, the likes of Kolo Touré, Philippe Senderos, and Mathieu Flamini. The latter was not even a defender at all, pressed into service at full-back in the absence through injury of Ashley Cole and Gael Clichy.

For a glorious few months in 2006, the Gunners achieved three memorable 0-0 draws as they reached their first (and so far only) Champions League final. First, having beaten Real Madrid at the Bernabeu with a typically wondrous goal from Thierry Henry, they somehow survived one of the most exciting 0-0 matches ever played, as Real’s Galacticos laid siege in the second leg. Then, having beaten Juventus 2-0 at home in the first leg of the quarterfinal, they showed superb defensive strength to see out the second leg in Turin without conceding. Then, finally, they survived a nervous semi-final second leg against Villareal, in which Juan Riquelme missed a last-minute penalty to draw the tie level after Arsenal had won the first leg 1-0, to reach the final in Paris.

In the final, of course, Arsenal ultimately could not resist Barcelona, who eventually won 2-1, but not before they had again displayed the kind of stunning defensivive quality that now seems completely inconceivable in the present-day team.

Italy vs England, 1998 World Cup Qualifier

There have been many false dawns for England fans since England’s one and only international tournament win in 1966, but the falsest of them came in the 1990s. First, a Paul Gascoigne-inspired England reached the World Cup semi-final in 1990; then, six years later they nearly reached the final of the Euro 96 tournament that they were hosting; and, finally, in the autumn of 1997 a Glenn Hoddle-managed England reached the 1998 World Cup by out-Italianing, as it were, Italy, the supposed masters of defensive football.

Some six months earlier at Wembley, Italy had shown all their trademark defensive genius and ability to pounce on the break by beating England in their home stadium, with Gianfranco Zola scoring the winner. Subsequently, however, Italy had slipped up in other qualifiers against lower-ranked teams than England. So, when England visited Rome for the final group game they knew that a draw, even a 0-0 draw, would be enough to see them reach France 98. Few observers, however truly believed that an England team could hold out against an Italy side playing on home soil.

And yet that is exactly what happened. With Tony Adams and Sol Campbell imperious at the back, and midfielder and captain Paul Ince displaying all the defensive qualities that he had acquired while playing for Internazionale for the previous two seasons, England held out relatively comfortably for perhaps the most famous 0-0 in their history, sending them to the World Cup and sending Italy into the play-offs, where they would eventually defeat Russia to claim the last European qualifying place.

It could all have been so different. The match was almost lost right at the death, when Christian Vieri headed the one good Italian chance against the bar. But if England were lucky in that instance, Hoddle’s tactical boldness and his team’s sheer refusal to lose more than merited such luck.

The 1991 European Cup Final

There are great 0-0 draws, such as many of the games mentioned above, and then there are awful 0-0 draws. Perhaps the boringest, snoringest 0-0 draw of them all was the 1991 European Cup final between Red Star Belgrade and Olympique Marseilles.

It should not have been such an awful game, as both sides boasted incredible attacking players. Red Star had such luminous talents as midfield general Robert Prosinečki and lethal striker Darko Pančev, while the Marseilles front line included both Chris Waddle, the brilliant English winger, and Jean-Pierre Papin. Yet right from the start it was obvious that Red Star had abandoned the breathtaking attacking play that had taken them past Bayern Munich in the semi-final and were instead content to try to win on penalties. Ultimately they succeeded, but only after Marseilles had tried (and failed, rather pathetically) to win the game.

This was one of the last “European Cup finals”, as the European Cup was replaced at the end of the following season by the “Champions League”. It is hard not to suspect that that dreadful game, which was supposedly the “showpiece” of the European club game, was the final nail in the coffin for the old European Cup format. In the future, there would be far fewer eastern European teams like Red Star, who eventually lost almost all their players to larger and wealthier western European clubs. To this day, Red Star remain the last eastern European club to win Europe’s premier club trophy.

The 1994 World Cup Final

The history of the World Cup, certainly since 1970, is almost the history of the great matches between Brazil and Italy. First, there was the unforgettable 1970 final between the two, when the great Brazilian side defeated Italy 4-1; in 1982, the two giants of global football produced another World Cup classic, with Italy winning 3-2 in Spain. Unfortunately, the third instalment of Brazil-Italy at the World Cup could not come close to matching its two predecessors.

The world, including America, which was staging the World Cup for the first time, had hoped for a fitting sequel to the great games of 1970 and 1982, but instead the match was a damp squib, with both teams seemingly so scared of losing that they barely risked attacking.

Brazil, of course, were so intent on ending their long wait for a fourth World Cup that they sacrificed much of the attacking flair that had won them their first three World Cups. What little brilliance there was on display at the 1994 World Cup was provided not by a Brazilian at all but by an Italian, Roberto Baggio.

Baggio’s goals took Italy to the final, but unfortunately he missed the decisive penalty kick, firing it high over the bar to give Brazil the title. It must have been a hard pill for Il Divin Codino to swallow, but doubtless his devout Buddhism helped him to overcome his footballing disappointment, as might have the highlights of this particular 0-0 helped him get to sleep at night.

The 1986 European Cup Final

The 1986 European Cup final between Barcelona and Steaua Bucharest may not be the most famous 0-0 draw in the history of football, but it is arguably the most important, because the fallout from it ultimately led to perhaps the most important coaching appointment in the history of the game.

1986 was the final that Barcelona had seemed destined to win. Having languished for so long in the giant shadow of their great rival, Real Madrid, they were desperate to win their first ever European Cup. They had reached the European Cup final once before, a quarter of a century earlier, but having finally broken Real’s stranglehold on the European Cup by beating them in the first round of the 1960-61 tournament, they finished runners-up to Benfica.

When they finally reached the final again, 25 years later, all the omens appeared to be in their favour. First, they had a fine team, created by Terry Venables, who had sold Diego Maradona and installed a fearsome team ethic, complemented by two stars in German midfielder Bernd Schuster and Scottish striker Steve Archibald. Secondly, the final was in Seville, which meant that it was virtually a home game for Barcelona. Their fans invaded the southern Spanish city, while only a handful of Steaua fans were allowed or able to make the journey from Communist eastern Europe.

Instead, they were completely unable to pierce the Steaua defence and lost on penalties. Incidentally, it was one of the worst penalty shootouts ever seen, as the first two players from each side missed their spot-kicks and the Barcelona players, obviously overcome by the enormity of the occasion, missed all four of theirs.

If Venables had succeeded in winning Barcelona their first ever European Cup, his stock in Catalonia would have been so high that he might have remained the Barca manager for many years after. Fate had it, however, that Johan Cruyff would win Barcelona their first European Cup, in 1992, and create the tactical blueprint that nearly 20 years later made Barcelona multiple European Cup winners and Spain multiple winners of the European Championship and World Cup.

For all the attacking glory of those great Barcelona and Spain sides, they might never have won anything if Barca had not failed to score even a single goal (or even a single penalty) against Steaua in Seville more than two decades earlier.

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