10 Hardest Feats to Accomplish in World Football
Here we name 10 of the hardest feats to achieve in football, focusing on accomplishments that, while very rare, are still feasible.
Most of the feats on this list have only been managed by very special teams or players, and they serve as historical markers to denote greatness.
While looking at some of these wonderful deeds in the past, it is impossible not to ponder who will be the next to pull them off in the future.
Winning a World Cup on Another Continent
There have been 19 World Cups held thus far, and (counting the Americas as a continental bloc) only on three occasions has a team won the trophy on a continent that is not their own.
Two of those wins came in the last three World Cups as the tournament expanded to new locales.
Brazil took the honours in Japan-South Korea in 2002, while Spain won in South Africa in 2010.
Before that, when the tournament was always held in Europe or the Americas, it was almost impossible for a team from outside those continents to emerge as champions.
Only once did that occur, when the magnificent Garrincha-led Brazil side of 1958 were able to defeat hosts Sweden 5-2 in the World Cup final.
Can a team from Europe or elsewhere buck the trend and win the tournament this year in Brazil?
The challenge is an immense one.
Completing an Undefeated League Season
Any side that manages to go through an entire domestic league season undefeated instantly earns legendary status.
In Italy, only three sides have managed it in a regular league season: Perugia in 1978-79, Milan in 1991-92 and Juventus in 2011-12. The latter two were hugely dominant in Serie A, while Perugia was remarkable in that they didn't actually win the league that season. Rather Milan took the title after registering three losses, but seven more wins than the Grifoni.
Galatasaray are the only side to accomplish the feat in Turkey, in 1985-86, while Panathinaikos did it in Greece in 1963-64 and Internacional in Brazil in 1979.
Arsenal's "Invincibles" famously went through the 2003-04 Premier League season without losing a game.
No team in Spain has completed an undefeated season of more than 20 games.
Claiming Back-to-Back Champions Leagues
In the Champions League era, no side has managed to win back-to-back titles.
Even the great Barcelona side of recent years, considered by many to be one of the finest football teams of all time, could not win Europe's top club competition twice in a row.
In the competition's previous guise, the European Cup, consecutive wins were more common.
Milan was the last team to win two in a row, in 1988-89 and 1989-90. Before that, Nottingham Forrest, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Internazionale, Benfica and Real Madrid had all won in consecutive years, with Los Blancos famously claiming the first five cups.
Since 1992-93, nobody has had such consistent success.
Bayern Munich are in with a great chance this season, however, having progressed to the semi-finals in dominating fashion. Can they be the ones who break the hoodoo?
Achieving the Treble
Only seven clubs have won their domestic league, domestic cup and the European Cup/Champions league in the same season.
Scottish side Celtic were the first team to do it in 1967, and Bayern Munich of Germany became the latest to pull it off last season.
The five other teams on this exclusive list are Ajax (1972), PSV Eindhoven (1988), Manchester United (1999), Barcelona (2009) and Inter (2010).
Winning the Ballon D'Or If You Don't Play for a Giant Club
It is almost impossible for a footballer to win the Ballon D'Or unless he plays for one of the giants of European football.
Barcelona and Real Madrid players, in particular, have dominated the award in recent times, having won it 10 times in the last 15 years.
Milan, Juventus and Liverpool were the only other sides to contribute winners over that period.
Depending on whether you consider Borussia Dortmund to be a major club, Matthias Sammer's Ballon D'Or win in 1996 could be considered the last time someone from a slightly smaller team took the honours.
Before him, you have to go back to Jean Pierre-Papin of Marseilles, in 1991.
It is understandable that the world's best footballers gravitate to the best (and richest) sides, but it is somewhat surprising that there is rarely anybody who emerges from relative obscurity to impress the experts who vote for the award.
Winning the Ballon D'Or If You're a Defender
Italy's talismanic captain Fabio Cannavaro is the only out-and-out defender to have won the Ballon D'Or in the last two decades, with Matthias Sammer largely playing as an advancing libero when he claimed the gong in 1996.
Cannavaro was named the winner after leading Italy to the World Cup in 2006, but it is extremely uncommon for a defender to receive such individual honours.
Michael Cox explains the tendency for attacking players to claim the majority of the votes on EspnFC.com:
Naturally, voters want to choose an attacking player.
The best individuals are generally attackers, simply because of the nature of football -- attackers are the players who literally make the difference, providing the most decisive moments and the most eye-catching pieces of invention, trickery and skill.
That's not to say that defending isn't important or shouldn't be celebrated, however, though defending is fundamentally more of a collective task.
Superb defending isn't about outstanding individual contributions; it's about teamwork, organisation and positional discipline.
Beating a Jose Mourinho-Coached Side at Their Home Ground
Sides coached by Jose Mourinho do occasionally lose at home, but it doesn't happen very often.
Currently in his second stint at Chelsea, the Portuguese manager is yet to lose a game at Stamford Bridge. The 4-0 hammering of Tottenham in March marked the 75th game at the ground under Mourinho's guidance in which the Blues had avoided defeat.
The 51-year-old once went nine years without tasting a home defeat in the league.
Sid Lowe, writing in The Guardian, describes the sense of occasion when that incredible record finally came to an end in April, 2011, when Real Madrid lost to Manolo Preciado's Sporting Gijon:
In total, 107 coaches couldn't do it. Manolo Preciado, on the other hand, could.
He was the first man to do it since António Sousa and only the second ever.
Nine years, one month and 10 days later, José Mourinho's mind-blowing record came to an end. Porto, Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid had not lost in 150 games under him.
He'd not been defeated in a home league game since 23 February 2002, when nine-man Porto lost 3-2 to Beira-Mar. 150 matches, 125 wins and 25 draws, 342 goals scored, 87 conceded.
And then his record ends – even if Marca's José Vicente Hernaez overlooked the presence of Ricardo Carvalho, Sami Khedira, Angel di María, Mesut Ozil, Emmanuel Adebayor and Sergio Canales to claim "this should go down as Pellegrini's loss really; it was his team, not Mourinho's".
And then he goes and loses 1-0 at the Santiago Bernabéu to Sporting Gijon.
Beating an Ibrahimovic Side to the League Title
Swedish extrovert Zlatan Ibrahimovic normally wins whatever league he is playing in, regardless of which club colours he wears.
From 2003 to 2012, he won an astonishing eight straight domestic league titles, for five different teams in three different leagues.
The sequence, which started with Ajax winning the Eredivisie and ended when Juventus prevented Milan from defending their Serie A crown in 2012, also included title wins with Juventus (though both were later revoked due to the Calciopoli scandal), Inter and Barcelona.
Missing out with Milan appears to have been a mere blip for Zlatan, as he is now on the verge of his second straight French league win with Paris Saint-Germain.
Taking Out Both the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores
Considering that South America's finest footballers inevitably end up spending a large part of their careers in European football, it is rare for players to finish with both Champions League and Copa Libertadores medals.
There are, in fact, only eight players who have accomplished this prestigious double in the history of football.
They are Cafu (Sao Paulo/Milan), Juan Pablo Sorin (River Plate/Juventus), Dida (Cruzeiro/Milan), Roque Junior (Palmeiras/Milan), Carlos Tevez (Boca Juniors/Manchester United), Walter Samuel (Boca Juniors/Inter) and Ronaldinho (Atletico Mineiro/Barcelona).
Scoring More Than 30 Goals in a Serie A Campaign
The 30-goal mark has been surpassed in the last five straight La Liga seasons. In England, meanwhile, though not exactly commonplace, it has happened seven times in the Premier League era.
In the notoriously defensive Serie A, however, very few players have accumulated more than 30 goals in a single season since the early decades of the 20th century.
Edinson Cavani (29) and Antonio Di Natale (29) have come close in recent years, but Luca Toni was the last man to break the 30-goal barrier, while playing for Fiorentina in 2005-06.
Before him, you have to go way back to Inter's Antonio Valentin Angelillo, who scored 33 in 1958-59 to find a Capocannoniere with more than 30 goals.