One short of a milestone
Having spent the best part of 18 months virtually untouchable, Juventus’ unbeaten streak in Serie A finally came to an end at the hands of Inter Milan. During that time Antonio Conte and Angelo Alessio had put the Old Lady back to the fore of Italian football and illuminated the club’s name once again.
Their final tally of undefeated matches - 49. While a superb feat, in a sport that lauds milestones and covets records it is agonisingly close to reaching a satisfying half century, having toiled for so long. However, the Italian giants are far from the first to slip at the final hurdle before achieving a notable target.
You only have to go back eight years to find a side that stumbled at exactly the same point i Bianconeri fell at a fortnight ago. Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ already squandered the chance to reach 50 games unbeaten back in 2004, with then-perennial title-rivals Manchester United stopping them in their tracks. Wayne Rooney’s goal on his 19th birthday sealed a 2-0 victory.
This came just over two years after they failed to break one of most enduring records in English football, coming within a goal of registering the most consecutive wins, a feat three teams have failed to topple. A draw with West Ham United meant the bar set by Manchester United in 1905 of 14 victories, and matched by Bristol City and Preston North End, was only equalled.
Another side who had to settle for sharing a national record is CD Lara of Venezuela, who just this year were denied at the last hurdle of shattering the unbeaten run set by Deportivo Portugues 45 years earlier. Carlos Lopez of Deportivo Anzoategui struck in the second-half to leave Lara stranded on 28 games without defeat, however the fans were able to console themselves as their side won the final six games of the season to claim their first ever Primera Division title.
Plenty of players too have narrowly missed out on milestones, one of the most notable being England legend Gary Lineker. With just one strike necessary to draw alongside the Three Lions’ record goal-scorer Sir Bobby Charlton on 49, Lineker elected to try a cheeky Panenka penalty in a friendly against Brazil which he duly missed.
Failing to find the net at the 1992 UEFA European Championships, he had to pass up claiming a bit of history. Thanks to his near-miss a rather pleased Charlton even managed to make a bit of money for a good cause out of it.
“When Gary Lineker was getting closer everyone wanted to interview me about it,” the FIFA World Cup-winner said. “I made quite a bit of money for charity because every time I spoke about Gary, I asked the newspaper or magazine to make a donation. In the end, he missed out by one goal and I suppose a little part of me was secretly pleased my record still stood.”
Inches away in Italy
Another legendary striker came within a whisker of upstaging an achievement that now has stood for 83 years. Gunnar Nordahl was one of the most prolific strikers to grace Serie A, and in his first full season with AC Milan, registered a superb 35 goals in the 1949/50 season, but he was just a single strike off from beating Gino Rosetti’s record set in 1928/29. The nearest he got to that was a year later when he chalked up 34, but no one has come close since.
Gabriel Batistuta is another who flourished in Serie A, but it is for Argentina that he dominates the scoring charts. However on Wednesday he went mighty close to losing one of his achievements with the national team, and he has Saudi Arabia to thank for keeping it intact. Lionel Messi had already drawn level with former Roma and Fiorentina hot-shot’s tally of 12 goals in a single year, but thanks to a resolute Saudi defence, that accolade will stand for at least another 12 months.
He may have only been half-Argentinean, but Delio Onnis was denied rounding off a much bigger scoring target by a single strike. His haul of 299 goals in Ligue 1 between 1971 and 1986 remains the highest ever tally in France, but a final season plagued by injury saw him miss out on his triple century by the narrowest of margins.
He claimed five golden boots and three runners-up spots for his goal-getting qualities while at Stade Reims, Monaco, Tours and Toulon, but Onnis has since said he does not look back on his collection as a missed opportunity. “Not at all, things like this happen, you don't do it on purpose. Anyway, I don't like round numbers, so it's fine with me!”
It’s not just Argentinean strikers with their eyes on goal-scoring honours, they have a centre-back who went so close to reaching a milestone that he actually put the ball into the back of the net, only to have it wrongly disallowed. Current River Plate president and former international captain Daniel Passarella, arguably La Albiceleste’s finest ever defender, was quite the menace in front of goal. After returning to Los Millionarios for a second spell he was agonisingly denied his 100th strike for the Buenos Aires side.
With the scores tied against fierce rivals Boca Juniors in February 1989, Passarella struck a superb free-kick into the back of the net, but referee Juan Bava disallowed it for a foul in the penalty area. The referee has since admitted his decision was incorrect and regrets denying Passarella a derby-day winner. He incredibly then went on to controversially send of the 1978 FIFA World Cup-winner in the next Superclasico. "The red card in Passarella's last game wasn't the worst thing. I disallowed what would have been his 100th goal,” Bava said.
“I made a mistake. He was telling me 'What are you doing? Are you crazy?', but I told him that I couldn't change my mind or else the fans would have killed us! I recognized afterwards that I made a mistake and I said sorry to him. I respect him and I admire him for being El Gran Capitan, he used to fight for his jersey and was a key player in our era.”
There are also those unfortunate few who stalled just shy of making their century of appearances for their country too. Steven Gerrard is the latest international player to see their caps tick over into triple figures, but spare a thought for Henri Camara and Oswaldo Sanchez, who will have to be satisfied with donning the colours of Senegal and Mexico just 99 times.
Carles Puyol is also sitting expectantly on the same number of international outings, but we’ll have to just wait and see whether he becomes part of the century club or has to be content with being part of the 99 trio instead.