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Apr 27, 2011

Foreign legions and perennial losers

Norman Hubbard is ESPNsoccernet's resident anorak. If you have any questions on football facts, statistics or trivia, please send them to asknorman@hotmail.com and he'll try to answer as many as possible.

I'm an Arsenal fan and it's no secret that the majority of players at the club come from outside of England. A few years ago Arsenal fielded 11 non-British players and five non-British subs. I was wondering if any other club has achieved this? And which club in Britain has the most amount of nationalities in its squad? Nick van Xanten from the Netherlands asked.

Arsenal weren't the first side to field a non-English starting 11 - that distinction fell to Chelsea in 1999 and it was something that even Manchester United have done - but they are unique in choosing an entire squad without English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish players.

By my reckoning, the most cosmopolitan squad now is not Arsenal's, but West Bromwich Albion's. If we exclude youth-team players who are yet to debut for the senior side, Albion can still count 20 different nationalities who have appeared for the first team this season: English (several players), Swedish (Jonas Olsson), Slovakian (Marek Cech), Cameroonian (Somen Tchoyi), Spanish (Pablo Ibanez), Scottish (James Morrison & Graham Dorrans), Czech (Roman Bednar), Northern Irish (Chris Brunt), Irish (Steven Reid), Welsh (Boaz Myhill), Congolese (Youssuf Mulumbu), Dutch (Gianni Zuiverloon), Ivorian (Abdoulaye Meite), Nigerian (Peter Odemwingie), French (Marc-Antoine Fortune), Romanian (Gabriel Tamas), Austrian (Paul Scharner), Chilean (Gonzalo Jara), Mexican (Carlos Vela, albeit on loan from Arsenal) and a New Zealander (Chris Wood). To further complicate matters, former manager Roberto di Matteo was born in Switzerland and played for Italy and current head coach Roy Hodgson has managed the national teams of Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and Finland. Albion, incidentally, played in January's game against Blackburn where 22 different nationalities were involved, though not all at the same time.

Michael Ballack has been rather unlucky when it comes to the Champions League. He finished as runner-up with both Bayer Leverkusen and Chelsea, and while players for Juventus (96-97, 98-99) and Valencia (99-2000, 2000-01) can claim to have lost the final with the same club. Has any other player lost the final with multiple clubs? What about finals in other European competitions? Saurav from Nepal asked.

You are actually quite close to the answer. Other multiple runners-up include some of Ballack's former team-mates. Dimitar Berbatov was used as both a substitute for Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 final and again for Manchester United seven years later. Ashley Cole, meanwhile, was a Chelsea colleague of Ballack's in 2008 and a beaten finalist with Arsenal two years earlier. In addition, there are Jean-Pierre Papin (Marseille and AC Milan), Edgar Davids (Ajax and Juventus), Edwin van der Sar (Ajax and Manchester United) and Patrice Evra (Monaco and Manchester United).

Louis van Gaal, with Ajax in 1996 and Bayern Munich last year, is the only manager to be a runner-up with different clubs, though Marcello Lippi came second in different spells in charge of Juventus.

The ultimate nearly man across European finals may well be Arsene Wenger, who has lost a Champions League final (2006), a UEFA Cup final (2000) and a Cup Winners' Cup final (1992), without winning any. The Cup Winners' Cup final, incidentally, was in his time as Monaco manager.

To return to Ballack, however, he is a player with an unfortunate habit of coming second. Besides his two Champions League near-misses, he has also been a runner-up in the World Cup (missing the 2002 final through suspension) and the European Championship (2008), the Bundesliga and the German Cup (both 2002), the Premier League (2007 and 2008) and the League Cup (2008). In both 2002 and 2008, he finished second in three different club competitions. In addition, he has been stuck on 98 caps for Germany. If it is of interest to readers, I can take a look at other nearly men in a future column.

When watching Liverpool's recent draw with Arsenal I was astounded by the extraordinary three minutes of extra time on top of the eight minutes signalled. I was wondering what is the record for the longest regulation 90-minute game? I would love an answer, as I think that 11 minutes must surely be close! Julian from Australia asked.

You would think so, and a 102nd-minute penalty, as Dirk Kuyt scored, is a rarity, but it is not a record. Indeed, it is not even the most this month. A total of 14 minutes and 32 seconds of added time were played at the Emirates Stadium, 12 minutes and 26 in the second half. But when Birmingham visited Blackburn on April 9 there were 16 minutes and 17 seconds of injury time, with lengthy stoppages in each half (eight minutes and 32 seconds in the first, seven minutes 45 seconds in the second).

But the most injury time I am aware of is a game between Bristol City and Brentford in 2000 when the first half, according to various versions of events, lasted for either 67 or 68 minutes. The 22 or 23 minutes of stoppage time was as a result of three players being stretchered off and both sides scored in what was officially the 45th minute.

All of the teams in this year's semi-finals of the Champions League won both of their legs within the quarter finals. Has this happened before, and if so, how many times? Max Anderson from Sylvania, Ohio asked.

Yes, Real Madrid beat Tottenham 4-0 and 1-0, Barcelona saw off Shakhtar Donetsk 5-1 and 1-0, Manchester United overcame Chelsea 1-0 and 2-1 and Schalke defeated Inter Milan 5-2 and 2-1, so it is indeed the first time that all four semi-finalists have won both legs of their quarter-finals in their history of the Champions League and European Cup. It is the 56th season of the competition and the 53rd to feature quarter-finals (for three years between 1991 and 1994, it had a different format), but this year has been a one-off.

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