Even without the Premier League, a lot happened this weekend in the soccer world. With the FA Cup, AFCON, La Liga, and other competitions humming along, you might have missed a few interesting bits. Here’s a roundup of some of the cool stories from the past weekend.
1. Lower league English clubs showed why “The Magic of the FA Cup” isn’t just marketing
The romance of the FA Cup is based on the idea of giant killers. Smaller clubs from further down the ladder of English football can get drawn against the best the Premier League has to offer—and sometimes, just sometimes, they do the impossible. This weekend, Premier League clubs were utterly routed by weaker opposition. The biggest upset was likely at Stamford Bridge, with Chelsea, up 2-1 at halftime against League One’s Bradford City, losing 4-2. Other major upsets included Manchester City losing 2-0 at home to Middlesbrough, Spurs losing to Premier League relegation bait Leicester City 2-1, Swansea being overpowered by Blackburn Rovers 3-1, and Southampton going out to Crystal Palace 3-2. Meanwhile, Liverpool and Manchester United were forced into replays by, respectively, Bolton Wanderers and Cambridge United (who were playing non-league football this time last year). Even the defending champions Arsenal had to fend off a late surge from Brighton and Hove Albion. Despite all the money and statisticians and sports scientists that drive the game at the highest level, football is still about 11 human beings playing against 11 other human beings. And as we saw this weekend, anything can happen.
2. Watford redefined the comeback
Watford went into the tunnel at halftime down 2-0 to Blackpool, who are currently bottom of the table in the Championship. Clearly, manager Slaviša Jokanovi?’s team talk filled the squad with the fury of a thousand suns, because they totally went to town on the visitors during the second half. By the time the final whistle blew, Watford put seven goals past Blackpool to secure one of the most incredible comebacks of the season. Holy moley.
3. Defending Asian Cup champions Japan were bounced out of the tournament by United Arab Emirates
UAE earned a shock lead in the 7th minute from a clean finish by Ali Mabkhout and held on to it for most of the game. With Japan desperately bombing forward late, they finally got an 81st-minute equalizer thanks to a thunderous strike by Gaku Shibasaki. Borussia Dortmund’s Shinji Kagawa had a golden opportunity to win in extra time but his close-range shot trailed wide. Kagawa’s pain was compounded in the penalty shootout when he missed a decisive kick to give UAE the advantage and, ultimately, the win. Al-Abyad will face the hosts Australia in the semifinals. If you’re not watching the Asian Cup, you’re missing out on some amazing football.
4. Liga MX: Home Of The Spectacular Own Goal
It’s almost cruel to call this an own goal. None of this was Tijuana goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo’s fault. This was just physics at its most cruel. Nevertheless, Tigres’ Dieter Villalpando made an ambitious 30-yard shot at goal and only got an assist for his troubles, with his strike hitting the post, bouncing off the back of Saucedo’s head, and flying into the net. Don’t feel too bad for Saucedo though—Tijuana went on to win 2-1.
5. Wilfried Bony did THIS at the African Cup of Nations
Silky. Elasticos like that are hard to pull off, and Bony rocked it like it ain't no thang. It ended up being one of Ivory Coast's few bright moments in what was otherwise a frustrating outing against Mali, with the tie ending 1-1. I don't know about you, but I would've loved to see Manuel Pellegrini's face after he saw that move.
6. Cristiano Ronaldo began training for a new career as a pro wrestling heel
The newly crowned Ballon d'Or winner was feeling a bit feisty during Real Madrid's match on Saturday away at Córdoba. In the 80th minute, Ronaldo tried to throw a right-hook at defender Jose Angel Crespo, which the referee didn't catch. Not three minutes later, CR7 kicked out at Edimar Fraga while defending a set piece and then took a swipe at him in the ensuing fracas. This time, the referee saw everything, and reacted swiftly by handing Ronaldo his ninth career red card. While heading to the tunnel, he responded to the jeers of the home supporters by theatrically dusting off his Club World Cup winners badge. Too bad he already has an endorsement deal with Nike—he'd be perfect for Addidas' new #ThereWillBeHaters campaign. (Madrid went on to win 2-1, thanks to a Gareth Bale penalty kick.)
7. Messi and Neymar showed why they're Europe's scariest attacking combo
With all the talk of tiki taka's decline, Messi transfer rumors, and internal political strife at the club, it's easy to forget that Barcelona is still better than pretty much everyone else at soccer. For Barca's fourth and final goal against Elche, Neymar laid the ball off to Messi before darting into the box. Messi flicked the ball over Elche's backline and into Neymar's flight path, with the young Brazilian tapping it into the net. Three touches. That's all it took. Be still my beating heart.
8. 17 year-old Bilal Ould-Chikh did THIS for FC Twente
The young winger, recently promoted to the first team, made quite an impression on both his teammates and the home fans with this late screamer to seal the win against Heracles Almelo. And, just like clockwork, Europe's bigger fish have taken notice, with Tottenham and Inter expressing interest in the young man some have called “the next Arjen Robben.” Which is impressive and all, but did YOU know that when I was 17 I won second place in a high school Shakespearean monologue contest? Yeah. That's right. Be jealous.
9. Brazilian giants Corinthians hosted English nonleague club Corinthian-Casuals in a midseason friendly
Corinthian-Casuals are an amateur club from Tolworth in Southwest London. They currently play in the Isthmian League Division One South, the eighth tier of English football. This weekend, they traveled to Brazil to face SC Corinthians Paulista, one of the most successful clubs in Brazilian football. Amazingly, this isn't the first time they've played each other—they also visited Corinthians in 1988 for a friendly, during which Brazilian legend Sócrates played for both teams (switching sides at halftime). Unlike other English clubs who faced superior opposition this weekend, Corinthian-Casuals could not pull off an upset, with the São Paulo giants winning 3-0.
10. Maccabi Tel Aviv players joined hands during a match in order to defend a set piece
At press time, it is unknown whether they then proceeded to start a love train, love train baby. We will of course update this story as it develops.