Comeback kids and a continental conquest
© AFP

Returning is the prevalent theme in FIFA.com’s latest stats review, which features Jordi Alba going back to Barcelona, the Netherlands reappointing Louis van Gaal and Steve Zakuani making an emotional comeback from injury. Also in the spotlight are South America’s latest champions and a seemingly unstoppable African giant.

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league matches without defeat is the streak currently being protected by Sudan’s Al Hilal. The Omdurman outfit, already their country’s record champions with 26 national titles, haven’t tasted defeat in the Sudani Premier League since Al Ahly Shendi beat them 1-0 on 28 April 2011, over 14 months ago. The consequence of their subsequent run is that Al Hilal, with 13 wins and a draw from 14 matches in their 2012 campaign, are already four points clear of last year’s champions Al Merreikh and edging ever closer to an eighth championship in ten seasons.

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months after suffering a career-threatening injury, Steve Zakuani returned to action for Seattle Sounders on Saturday. The comeback would have been laden with emotion in any circumstances, but it became all the more memorable for a heart-warming show of sportsmanship from the Congo DR forward following his six-minute cameo. At full-time, Zakuani made a point of hugging and swapping shirts with Colorado Rapids’ Brian Mullan, the same player roundly vilified - and banned for ten matches - for the tackle that inflicted the Sounders’ star’s horrific double leg-break. Elsewhere in Major League Soccer, 15 was also the number of minutes required by Alvaro Saborio to single-handedly sew up a 3-0 win for Real Salt Lake against Portland Timbers with the fastest hat-trick of the week.

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matches, zero defeats and one trophy: that was the sum total of Corinthians’ extraordinary efforts in this season’s Copa Libertadores. The Sao Paulo outfit became the first team in 34 years to survive the entire tournament unbeaten, with defeated finalists Boca Juniors ironically the last side to have held that distinction. O Timão also became the ninth different Brazilian club to win South America’s premier club competition, strengthening their nation’s grip on that particular record. Furthermore, their success ensured that the Libertadores trophy returned to Brazil for a third year in succession, the first such run since Cruzeiro, Vasco da Gama and Palmeiras strung together an identical streak between 1997 and 1999. Nonetheless, Argentinian clubs still hold the greatest overall number of South American crowns, with 22 to the their old rivals’ 16. Juan Roman Riquelme has won the tournament three times with Boca, but last Wednesday represented a sad swansong for the midfield maestro, who retired 16 years on from his Xeneizes debut.

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years and five months after his first stint as Netherlands coach ended in disappointment, Louis van Gaal regained control of the national team on Friday. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager has been charged with leading the Oranje to the FIFA World Cup™, a tournament they missed out on during his previous spell - despite Van Gaal winning 12 of his 14 games in charge. The Dutch have a well-established habit of reappointing former coaches, with Van Gaal following in the footsteps of Karel Kaufman, Friedrich Donenfeld, Leo Beenhakker and Dick Advocaat, all of whom spent more than one spell in charge, not to mention the legendary Rinus Michels, who led the team on four separate occasions.

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years after he was released by Barcelona at the age of 16, Jordi Alba returned to Barcelona last Thursday at a cost of €14 million. Prior to his rejection, Alba spent nearly seven years at Barça’s famed La Masia academy before resurrecting his career with another Catalan club, Cornella, who sold him to Valencia for the rather less impressive figure of €6,000. The left-back returns to the Camp Nou on a high, having played all 570 minutes of Spain’s triumphant UEFA EURO 2012 campaign, earning rave reviews in the process. Yet while he is Tito Vilanova’s first signing as coach, he cannot claim to be the most expensive full-back on the Barça staff, an honour still reserved for the world record-holder in this respect, €32.5 million man Dani Alves.