Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Who will win the FIFA World Cup? (Poll)

Posted in International Football by peterbein on May 31, 2010

The 19th FIFA World Cup kicks off in Johannesburg on Friday, June 11th with the host nation South Africa facing up to Mexico and thus will begin a festival of football involving 64 games, 32 teams and, ultimately, one winner of football’s most prestigious tournament. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” invites you to vote in our special FIFA World Cup poll and asks you: who will win the FIFA World Cup in South Africa?

Defending champions Italy may have an ageing squad but one may argue that experience could be the difference for the four times world champions. Tournament favourites and five time winners Brazil are hoping to become the first team to win the competition on every continent whilst South American rivals Argentina and Uruguay would like to finally win a third world title after years of underachievement. England have arguably got their best team since the side which finished third at Italia ’90 and will want not to add another four years of hurt on to their next World Cup song. France are not are strong as they were at the start of the previous decade but still possess plenty of potential match winners while Spain are hoping to finally win that elusive first world title two years after becoming European champions for the second time in their history.

Nobody can write off the Germans who are the classic example of a ‘tournament team’ whilst their neighbours the Netherlands have many stars of their own and will hope to impress in South Africa. Could this be the first time that an African country wins the FIFA World Cup? South Africa may be the host nation but the Ivory Coast are seen as the African continent’s best hope for a maiden win at this level. Asian teams such as Japan and South Korea will hope to emulate their achievements in the 2002 World Cup whilst rank outsiders such as New Zealand and North Korea will be pleased just to be there. Last, but not least are the potential dark horses for a tournament which could prove more open than people think with good teams such as Australia, Serbia and the United States looking to spring a surprise or two.

It has all the ingredients to be a fascinating World Cup and “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” invites you to predict the winner of this wonderful tournament.

FIFA World Cup

Who will win the FIFA World Cup in South Africa?

Brazil: Corinthians leading the way (+video)

Posted in South America Football by peterbein on May 31, 2010

Corinthians are leading the way in the Brasileiro (Brazilian championship) after five games leading by two points from nearest challengers Ceará. The Timão have only dropped two points from their first five games and kept up their near perfect start to the campaign at the weekend with a 4-2 home defeat of São Paulo city rivals Santos FC.

Jorge Henrique gave the home side the lead after just two minutes after tapping home from close range after Santos’ keeper Felipe failed to keep out an earlier effort. Santos restored parity eight minutes into the second half after André shot from just inside the box to guide the ball into the bottom corner but the joy was short-lived as Corinthians went back up the other end almost immediately when Bruno César took advantage of some poor defending to shoot home from short range. From this point on Corinthians began to take charge of the game and extended their lead further after 67 minutes when Ralf created some space for himself to run into and shoot low past Felipe in a well executed individual move. Paulinho made it 4-1 with five minutes to play heading home after a beautifully crafted Corinthians move down the left hand side. Marcel pulled one back for Santos with two minutes to play but the damage was already done and the home side ensured that their unbeaten start to the season remained intact. Watch match highlights HERE:

Little Ceará Sporting Club have started well and trail the league leaders by just two points in the table after their 1-0 home win against Cruzeiro. A solitary strike from Lopes was enough to ensure that the surprise challengers, promoted from Serie B last season, are the only team other than Corinthians to have an unbeaten record after five games having won three and drawn two of their fixtures so far. Rio giants Fluminense have started this campaign well and now lie in third place having disposed of Atlético Mineiro by three goals to one on Sunday. Goals from Gum, Alan and Fred in the final thirty minutes of the game turned it around for the Flu who had trailed from the second minute to a goal from Muriqui. Below Fluminense a whole host of teams were involved in stalemates including fourth place Avaí (0-0 against Vitória), fifth place Botafogo (1-1 v Vasco da Gama), whilst sixth and seventh place clubs Palmeiras and São Paulo were also involved in goalless draws against Grêmio Prudente and Guarani respectively.

At the bottom end of the table poor Atlético Goianiense are the only team in the Brasileiro so far without a win in five games. Things went from bad to worse for them on Sunday when they lost 3-1 at home to local rivals Goiás which gave the away side their first victory of the campaign. A brace from Romerito and a goal on the hour mark from Bernando gave Goiás a come from behind victory after they had trailed to an 11th minute Elias penalty. Watch match highlights HERE:

There are two more rounds to play before the championship takes a break for the FIFA World Cup. The pick of the matches sees league leaders Corinthians face up to Internacional on Matchday 6 and Botafogo on Matchday 7 whilst Ceará will hope to keep up their good run of form against fellow surprise package Avaí FC on Matchday 6. There are a couple of “Clasico” matches to look forward to with Palmeiras facing up to defending Brazilian champions Flamengo, who currently lie a disappointing twelfth in the table, and Cruzeiro playing against Santos FC on Matchday 6. The following round of games sees six-time champions São Paulo play at home to Grêmio Porto Alegre, Santos FC against traditional club and newly promoted Vasco da Gama and Internacional play Palmeiras. The championship will then take a break from June 7th and resume after the FIFA World Cup on July 13th.

Heysel: 25 Years On

Posted in European Football, UK Football by peterbein on May 29, 2010
Heysel Stadium

The Heysel stadium disaster is one of the worst ever in football history

Wednesday May 29th, 1985 is one of the saddest days in footballing history. Only moments before the European Cup final between Liverpool FC and Juventus FC there had been fighting both inside and outside the stadium and the situation was already so bad that the police in Heysel stadium, in the Belgian capital of Brussels, had already lost control. But even worse was to come when a retaining wall collapsed under the pressure of fans trying to escape from a charge by Liverpool supporters and thirty nine people, most of whom were Italian, died in tragic and unnecessary circumstances. Twenty five years on and the pain and angst of the tragedy is still very fresh in many people’s minds and it is fitting that in the cities of Brussels, Turin and Liverpool today, and in the past few days, there have been memorials to those who died on that fatal night.

As somebody who was a little under six years old at the time of the tragedy my personal memories of it are not the freshest as, at the time, I was too young to both understand and take in the pictures that I was watchng on the television that evening. One minute I remember both of the teams lining up on the pitch waiting to play as if nothing had happened. The next minute I remember Michel Platini scoring the penalty kick which gave Juventus FC a maiden European Cup win. But the football was always secondary to those events off the pitch which came to overshadow anything of mere sporting trivia. As a result English clubs were banned from participation in European club football competition for five years, with an additional one year for Liverpool FC, and the authorities all over the continent had to get a grip of the very real problem of hooliganism.

Since then there have been attempts from people at both clubs, whether it be players or supporters, to try and build bridges between them. Of course there will be people from Juventus who will never come to terms with what happened at Heysel and that is human nature. One can only hope that, whilst accepting that relationships between the fans of the two clubs will always be far from perfect, lessons from that fatal evening will be learnt and it seems that Liverpool Football Club are gradually beginning to come to terms with the part played by their supporters that night. With the club having also suffered further tragedy at Hillsbrough stadium in Sheffield four years after Heysel perhaps it was always easier to play the role of victim rather than accept the role of aggressor which the club had never publicly acknowledged too often until recent years. The UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg match played at Anfield stadium on Tuesday, April 5th 2005 between Liverpool FC and Juventus FC did bring the subject back into people’s consciousness as it was the first time since Heysel that the two teams had played against each other in a major football match. The reaction of Juventus fans in the stadium was mixed, some applauding the efforts made by Liverpool Football club to display banners and symbols of reconciliation for what had happened twenty years earlier. However there was also a significant number of supporters who turned their back and gave a one fingered salute and made it clear that they would neither forgive nor forget.

Nonetheless the first signs of public goodwill by the clubs themselves was a helpful first step towards bringing about improved relations between two clubs whose shared history will always be synonymous with this terrible tragedy. Today has seen memorial servies held in Turin, with officials from both clubs and UEFA President Michel Platini present, and Brussels, the city of the tragedy. In Liverpool there was a presentation on Thursday at Anfield stadium of a permanent memorial to those who died at Heysel unveiled by former Liverpool captain Phil Neal and former Juventus player Sergio Brio and today the bells of the city’s town hall rang thirty nine times, once for every person who died, as a mark of respect. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” also wishes to pay its respects to the thirty nine who died at Heysel stadium and lists them all here:

  • Rocco Acerra
  • Bruno Balli
  • Alfons Bos
  • Giancarlo Bruschera
  • Andrea Casula
  • Giovanni Casula
  • Nino Cerullo
  • Willy Chielens
  • Giuseppina Conto
  • Dirk Daenecky
  • Dionisio Fabbro
  • Jacques François
  • Eugenio Gagliano
  • Francesco Galli
  • Giancarlo Gonnelli
  • Alberto Guarini
  • Giovacchino Landini
  • Roberto Lorentini
  • Barbara Lusci
  • Franco Martelli
  • Loris Messore
  • Gianni Mastroiaco
  • Sergio Bastino Mazzino
  • Luciano Rocco Papaluca
  • Luigi Pidone
  • Benito Pistolato
  • Patrick Radcliffe
  • Domenico Ragazzi
  • Antonio Ragnanese
  • Claude Robert
  • Mario Ronchi
  • Domenico Russo
  • Tarcisio Salvi
  • Gianfranco Sarto
  • Amedeo Giuseppe Spolaore
  • Mario Spanu
  • Tarcisio Venturin
  • Jean Michel Walla
  • Claudio Zavaroni

Asia: Three big leagues take a break for World Cup

Posted in Asian Football by peterbein on May 29, 2010
Shimuzu S-Pulse

Shimuzu S-Pulse (in orange) currently lead the way in Japan's "J League"

With the FIFA World Cup only days away the three biggest leagues in Asian football are taking a break ahead of the big kick-off in South Africa on Friday, June 11th. Although China has failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup the Chinese Super League has taken a break until July 14th along with Japan’s J League whilst the South Korean K League returns three days later on July 17th. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” reviews the latest developments and looks ahead to the next matchday in each country:

JAPAN (Shimuzu 12/25; Nagoya Grampus Eight 12/22; Kashima Antlers 11/21)

Shimuzu S-Pulse are making the early running in the Japanese championship after twelve rounds although defending champions Kashima Antlers are still hanging on having been involved in the AFC Champions League until their recent exit in that competition at the hands of Pohang Steelers. Shimuzu S-Pulse, the only club in the current top four who have a Japanese coach, enjoy a three point cushion at the break having only secured a 2-2 draw away at FC Tokyo on Matchday 12.

Kashima Antlers’ chances at the top have significantly increased after their recent 4-1 drubbing of second place Grampus Eight in Nagoya last time out. Takuya Nozawa, Shinko Koroki, Marquinhos and Masashi Motoyama were on target for the champions with the lone reply coming from Australian Joshua Kennedy whose strike in this game took him to the top of the J League’s goalscoring charts with eight goals. But Nagoya, currently coached by former Crvena Zvezda and Olympique de Marseille star Dragan Stojković, have performed well thus far and will hope to get back on track on Matchday 13 against lowly Omiya Ardija. Elsewhere Urawa Red Diamonds and Kawasaki Frontale, both tied on twenty points, lost the chance to put further pressure on the top three having lost points in their most recent matches, a 1-1 at Vegalta Sendai and a 3-1 defeat at Jubilo Iwata respectively.

NEXT FIXTURES (14/07/10)

Kashima Antlers v Shonan Bellmare

Kawasaki Frontale v Omiya Ardija

(17/07/10)

Omiya Ardija v Nagoya Grampus Eight

Shimiuzu S-Pulse v Jubilo Iwata

Kashima Antlers v Kawasaki Frontale

(18/07/10)

Gamba Osaka v Urawa Red Diamonds

Sanfreece Hiroshima v Yokohama Marinos

CHINA (Shanghai 10 games/20 points; Shandong 9/16; Liaoning 10/15)

Defending champions Beijing Guo’an have found it tough going so far in the current campaign, perhaps aided by their AFC Champions League exploits, and currently lie in mid-table eight points behind league leaders Shanghai Shenhua. Having lost their most recent game 2-0 to Hangzhou Lucheng perhaps Guo’an can step up their title challenge upon the resumption of the league, especially now that South Korean side Suwon Samsung Bluewings have knocked them out of the Asian Champions League at the Round of 16 stage.

Shanghai Shenhua have a four point lead going into the break after their narrow 1-0 home win against Shenzhen Ruby and have accumulated twenty points from the first ten games thanks mainly to the goals of the league’s top scorer, Colombian striker Duvier Riascos. Their nearest challengers at the moment are Shandong Luneng who, sadly for them, lost their most recent fixture 1-0 to Shannxi Chanba but they still have a game in hand on the leaders so can close the gap in their next outing against Qingdao Jondon. The big surprise so far is newly promoted Liaoning Hunyong who lie third after ten games following their recent 1-0 win against Chongqing Lifan but Henan Jianye hang on to their coat tails despite dropping two points at home to Qingdao Jondon on Matchday 10 of the league.

Next Fixtures (14/07/10)

Shannxi Chanba v Shanghai Shenhua

Beijing Guo’an v Chongqing Lifan

Henan Jianye v Changsha Ginde

Qingdao Jondon v Shandong Luneng

Nanchang Bayi v Liaoning Hunyong

Changchun Yatai v Hangzhou Lucheng

Waldemar Lemos

Waldemar Lemos has just recently been sacked by Pohang Steelers after a string of poor results

SOUTH KOREA (Ulsan Hyundai 12/24; Jeju United 12/22; Seongnam Ilhwa 12/21)

It’s been a strange season in South Korea up to now especially regarding the clubs involved in AFC Champions League (AFC CL) action this season. Pohang Steelers, the defending champions of Asian football’s elite competition, have just fired their Brazilian coach Waldemar Lemos after the Steelers’ form at domestic level was in total contrast with that at international level. In the K League Pohang have lost four out of their last five matches with their most recent defeat, 5-2 at home to Jeju United, being the final straw for the Steelers’ board. Pohang currently lie in twelfth place but this is still better than their fellow AFC CL participants Suwon Samsung Bluewings who are rooted to rock bottom of the K League table after eleven matches played and their most recent match saw them lose 2-0 at home to table toppers Ulsan Hyundai.

Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma are the best performing out of the AFC CL participants and currently lie in fourth place with a game in hand on Ulsan after easily overcoming Chunnam Dragons in their last outing by four goals to nil. Ulsan Hyundai finished fourth last season and will have ambitions to remain in this area especially as they find themselves top of the table going into the pre-World Cup break. Until recently FC Seoul led the way but a 1-0 reverse to sixth place Incheon United saw the capital side lose some valuable ground whilst fifth place Gyeongnam FC also lost their last league game by the same scoreline, their opponents being Busan I’Park.

NEXT FIXTURES (17/07/10)

FC Seoul v Chunnam Dragons

Ulsan Hyundai v Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma

Jeju United v Gangwon FC

Daegu FC v Suwon Smasung Bluewings

Busan I’Park v Pohang Steelers

Gyongnam FC v Gwangju Sangmu

Eastern Europe: Season Review (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 27, 2010

It has been another eventful season in eastern European football with some established powers such as Crvena Zvezda and Dinamo Zagreb adding to their list of historical successes along with some of the game’s new powers such as MŠK Žilina and CFR Cluj continuing to upset the old guard in their respective countries. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” reviews the end of season in many of eastern Europe’s most prestigious league and cup competitions:

ROMANIA (CFR Cluj 34 games/69 points; Unirea Urziceni 34/66; FC Vaslui 34/62)

CFR Cluj won their second ever Romanian Liga I title by scraping over the line from 2008-09 champions Unirea Urziceni with a final day 4-2 victory over already relegated Ceahlaul Piatra Niamt. For the Transylvanian club it was their second title in three years – their maiden title came in the 2007-08 season – and they followed it up on Wednesday evening with their first ever Romanian league and cup double but only after surviving the lottery of a penalty shoot-out over cup final opponents FC Vaslui after the game remained goalless after extra-time. CFR Cluj enter the group stage of next season’s UEFA Champions League whilst Unirea must undergo a play-off to qualify for the group stage. FC Vaslui enter the UEFA Europa League along with Steaua Bucharest, FC Timişoara and Dinamo Bucharest.

POLAND (Lech Poznań 30/65; Wisła Kraków 30/62; Ruch Chorzów 30/53)

Lech Poznań won their first league title since 1993 having pipped defending champions Wisła Kraków to the post by three points. Lech defeated Zagłębie Lubin by two goals to nil on the final day to make sure of their sixth Ekstraklasa title but their nearest challengers could only draw 1-1 at home to Odra Wodzisław Śląski so the trophy would’ve gone to Poznań in any case. In the Polish Cup final Ruch Chorzów’s chances of winning a trophy to add to their third place league finish were dashed by outsiders Jagiellonia Białystok – a club featured in Stoppage Time’s Away Days section earlier this season – who won 1-0 thanks to an Adrius Skrela goal in the 49th minute gifting Jagiellonia their first major honour in Polish football.

See Lech clinch the title HERE:

CROATIA (Dinamo Zagreb 30/62; Hajduk Split 30/58; Cibalia 30/57)

The league table looks a lot closer than the championship race actually was with Dinamo Zagrab winning their fifth consecutive Prva HNL title with four games to spare. On Matchday 26 of the campaign Dinamo drew with local neighbours NK Zagreb 1-1 and the point took Dinamo twelve points clear of Hadjuk Split and a goal difference over thirty goals better off. Hajduk did gain some consolation in the Croatian Cup after a convincing 4-1 aggregate win over NHK Šibenik in the two-legged final. Dinamo must take part in the third qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League next season whilst Hajduk, Cibalia and NHK Šibenik enter the UEFA Europa League.

SERBIA (Partizan 30/78; Crvena Zvezda 30/71; OFK Beograd 30/50)

Serbia’s very own Old Firm continue to fight it out between them in the SuperLiga with the black and white of Partizan continuing to maintain domestic dominance after securing their third consecutive title with a game to spare. The important match came in Matchday 28 when Partizan beat their old rivals Crvena Zvezda 1-0 thanks to a Radosav Petrović strike late in the game to give the home side a four point cushion with two games left. That victory gave Partizan the psychological edge and they secured the championship with a 3-0 win over third place OFK Beograd on Matchday 29. Crvena Zvezda did, however, manage to claim the Serbian Cup with a convincing 3-0 win over Vojvodina Novi Sad thanks to goals from Aleksandar Jevtić, Kadu and Miloš Trifunović. See highlights of the Serbian Cup final HERE:

CZECH REPUBLIC (Sparta Prague 30/62; Jablonec 30/61; Banik Ostrava 30/60)

The Czech Gambrinus Liga came to an exciting climax this season with just a point separating the top three teams going into the final matchday of the season. Sparta were the favourites going into the final game as their goal difference was five better than Banik Ostrava’s so Sparta had to match their result in order to claim the title. Jablonec were waiting in the wings in the event that both of the others slipped up but, in the end, Sparta did a professional job in beating fourth place FK Teplice 1-0. In the event Banik could only draw away to 1.FK Příbram whilst Jablonec stole second spot with a 2-0 home win over Dynamo České Budějovice. Sparta enter the UEFA Champions League at the second qualifying round next season. FK Jablonec had the chance of some silverware in the Czech Cup but were made to pay by a determined FC Viktoria Plzeň side who were the better side on the day to claim the cup thanks to a 2-1 win and claim the final UEFA Europa League place.

BULGARIA (Litex Lovech 30/70; CSKA Sofia 30/58; Levski Sofia 30/57)

The big two of Bulgarian football could only watch as Litex Lovech strolled to their third A PFG title with a twelve point cushion from nearest challengers CSKA at the end of the season. Matchday 28 saw Litex clinch the league championship thanks to a 3-0 win against Lokomotive Plovdiv and a place in the second qualfying round of the UEFA Champions League awaits the Lovech based side. CSKA and Levski have struggled by their usual high standards with neither gaining any consolation in the domestic cup which was won for the first time by PFC Beroe Stara Zagora in a 1-0 win over surprise finalists Chernomorets Pomorie from the second tier of Bulgarian football.

HUNGARY (Debreceni VSC 30/62; Videoton FC 30/61; Győri ETO 30/57)

Debreceni VSC continue to be the dominant force in Hungarian football although this title wasn’t as comfortable as any of their previous four championship wins. DVSC were separated from nearest challengers Videoton FC by a solitary point going into the final set of league matches. But, in an unbelieveable climax to the season, Debreceni sensationally lost 1-0 away to mid-table Kecskeméti TE to leave their title defence hanging in the balance. Fortunately for DVSC third place Győri ETO did their bit to help the champions by beating Videoton FC 1-0 to provide the championship with a grandstand finish. Perhaps buoyed by the excitement Debreceni VSC claimed a double triumph by defeating Zalaegerszegi TE 3-2 in an exciting cup final. Watch Debreceni’s final day defeat and subsequent title celebrations here:

SLOVAKIA (MŠK Žilina 33/73; Slovan Bratislava 33/70; Dukla Banská Bystrica 33/56)

MŠK Žilina secured their fifth Corgoň Liga title on the penultimate matchday of the season when defeating DAC Dunajská Streda 4-0 at home whilst Slovan Bratislava, five points behind going into the same round of matches, were also winning at home, in their case 2-0 against third placed Dukla Banská Bystrica. The gap going into the final set of matches was too big for Slovan to bridge and gave the eastern Slovakian side the championship. Slovan, arguably the biggest and most famous club in Slovakia, did gain some consolation with an impressive 6-0 thumping of hapless opponents Spartak Trnava in the Slovakian Cup final.

SLOVENIA (Koper 36/73; Maribor 36/62; Gorica 36/55)

FC Koper were this season’s dominant force in Slovenian football claiming their maiden championship in fine style. FC Koper secured the league championship trophy with four matches left to play when gaining an unassailable lead after their Matchday 32 win over Rudar Velenje. This result, coupled with a draw for NK Maribor at home to NK Domžale, provided a fifteen point cushion with four games left and the side from south west Slovenia, close to the Italian border, will experience their first taste of UEFA Champions League football next season. NK Maribor did gain some success in the domestic cup final though after beating NK Domžale in a closely fought encounter by three goals to two. David Bunderla scored the winning goal in the last minute of extra-time to give NK Maribor their sixth success in the Pokal Hervis.

AFC: Asian competitions start to heat up

Posted in Asian Football by peterbein on May 26, 2010
Pohang Steelers

Pohang Steelers are the defending AFC Champions League holders

The quarter-final draws for Asian club competition were made in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Tuesday and there are some intriging ties. The Asian Champions League is dominated by South Korean clubs who made up half of the eight teams remaining at this stage of the tournament. Therefore there was no country protection for those teams but there was protection for the two Saudi Arabia clubs who are still involved. Defending Asian champions Pohang Steelers will meet Iranians Zob Ahan, who recently finished their domestic league season as runners up. The one all-Korean tie of the round sees Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, Asian champions in 1995-96, face off against Suwon Samsung Bluewings who won the competition in back-to-back years (2001 and 2002). The final Korean team Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors plays against Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab whilst, in the only tie not involving Korean teams, Qatari champions Al Gharafa play against another team from Saudi Arabia, namely Al Hilal.

In the AFC Cup there was also country protection, a rule barring teams from the same country from meeting each other, for the clubs from Kuwait, Syria and Thailand all of whom had two teams each left standing. Last season’s losing finalists Al Karamah will hope to go one better this time and the Syrian side meet up with Thailand’s Muangthong United. Thai Port have a last eight meeting with Al Qadsia of Kuwaiti while the latter’s compatriots Kazma FC will meet Syrians Al-Ittihad who recently finished fourth in the 2009-10 Syrian League. The final tie sees current Vietnamese league leaders SHB Da Nang play against nine-time champions of Bahrain Al Riffa.

AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTER-FINAL DRAW (First leg home teams on left)

1. Al Hilal (Saudi Arabia) v Al Gharafa (Qatar)

2. Zob Ahan (Iran) v Pohang Steelers (South Korea)

3. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (South Korea) v Al Shabab (Saudi Arabia)

4. Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (South Korea) v Suwon Samsung Bluewings (South Korea)

1st Leg: 15/09/10 2nd Leg: 22/09/10

AFC CUP QUARTER-FINAL DRAW (First leg home teams on left)

1. Al-Riffa (Bahrain) v SHB Da Nang (Vietnam)

2. Al Karamah (Syria) v Muangthong United (Thailand)

3. Thai Port (Thailand) v Al Qadsia (Kuwait)

4. Al-Ittihad (Syria) v Kazma FC (Kuwait)

1st Leg: 14/09/10 2nd Leg: 21/09/10

Triobet Baltic League: Semi-Final Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 25, 2010
Flora Tallinn

Flora Tallinn are the first Estonian club to reach the semi-finals of the Triobet Baltic League

The Triobet Baltic League resumes on Wednesday night with the semi-final first leg matches and, if results go to form, there is still the possibility of a repeat of the first ever final between FK Ventspils and Liepājas Metalurgs which was played in 2007. Many neutrals though will be hoping that either FK Sūduva from Lithuania or Flora Tallinn, a first-time semi-final representative for Estonia, can upset the apple cart and reach the final. With the semi-final second legs not due to be played until June 8-9 all teams involved will be hoping to take an advantage into the return fixtures next month.

Flora Tallinn are perhaps the biggest surprise out of the remaining quartet especially as they came from behind to win their quarter-final second leg against Lithuanian league leaders FK Ekranas. With the first leg finishing scoreless the writing seemed to be on the wall for Flora when Vīts Rimkus opened the scoring for FK Ekranas after 51 minutes but the five time A Lyga (Lithuanian league) champions hadn’t reckoned on Flora’s team spirit. Alo Dupikov equalized for the Estonians on 62 minutes and the game was sealed with Valeri Minkenen dispatching a 77th minute penalty to send the Flora players and fans wild. Flora, who are currently joint top of the Estonian Meistriliiga with arch-rivals Levadia, face tough opposition in the form of FK Ventspils who were losing finalists in the inaugural edition of this competition in 2007. After a couple of recent slip-ups in the Latvian Virslīga and knocked out of the Latvian Cup at the quarter-final stage, FK Ventspils are determined to get their hands on this trophy and coach Nunzio Zavettieri’s troops have home advantage in the first leg on Wednesday and will hope to make the most of it.

FK Ventspils - Liepajas Metalurgs

Will FK Ventspils and Liepājas Metalurgs face each other again in the Triobet Baltic League final?

Liepājas Metalurgs were the inaugural champions of this tournament back in 2007 but were surprisingly knocked out  by compatriots FK Rīga in the following year’s competition. German coach Rüdiger Abramczik will be quietly confident that his team can get a result in the first leg in the southern Lithuanian town of Marijampolė as his team are well rested having last played ten days ago. However FK Sūduva’s most recent domestic match saw them hit FK Klaipėda for six and they lie in third place in the A Lyga with just four points separating them from joint leaders Žalgiris Vilnius and FK Ekranas. In the quarter-final stage of the Baltic League both teams had tough hurdles in front of them but managed to get over them in the end. In an all-Latvian quarter-final Liepājas Metalurgs secured a pair of narrow 1-0 victories against a Skonto Riga side who, under new coach Alexsandrs Starkovs, wanted to go one better in this competition than in 2008 when they were losing finalists. However Oskars Kļava and Vitalijs Kavaliauskas scored in the first and second legs respectively to give Metalurgs a meeting with FK Sūduva who scraped past Estonian champions Levadia Tallinn with a solitary Povilas Lukšys strike being the difference between the two sides over two legs.

TRIOBET BALTIC LEAGUE SEMI-FINALS

1st Leg – May 26th, 2010

FK Ventspils (Latvia) v Flora Tallinn (Estonia)

Liepājas Metalurgs (Latvia) v FK Sūduva (Lithuania)

2nd Leg – June 8th, 2010

Flora Tallinn v FK Ventspils

2nd Leg – June 9th, 2010

FK Sūduva v Liepājas Metalurgs

UEFA: Now José really is the Real Deal

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 23, 2010
Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho is almost certainly leaving Treble winners Internazionale for the challenge of Real Madrid

Like him or loathe him there is no denying that José Mourinho is one of the finest and most astute football coaches in history after the self-styled “Special One” led Italian double winners Internazionale FC to their third European Cup against German Double winners FC  Bayern München in an emotional night for the Milanese club in Madrid on Saturday becoming only the third coach after Ernst Happel and Ottmar Hitzfeld to win the competition with two different clubs. After the final his team flew home to Milan returning to a heroes’ reception at their legendary San Siro stadium but José himself stayed in Madrid to reveal football’s worst kept secret – that he would almost certainly be joining Spanish giants Real Madrid CF for the 2010-11 season.

José Mourinho is very much a man who has courted controversy throughout his maverick coaching career. Having started life within football as an interpreter for Sir Bobby Robson whilst the former England coach plied his trade for Sporting Clube do Portugal, FC Porto and FC Barcelona Mourinho would then work with Robson’s successor Louis Van Gaal before fate dealt him his first proper coaching  job at Portuguese giants SL Benfica. Sadly for Mourinho he lasted only nine games there before he took a modest provincial club União de Leiria to their best ever finish of fifth place in the 2001-02 season. After moving to FC Porto the beginning of the Mourinho legend was really starting to take off after he guided Os Dragões to two league titles, one Portuguese Cup, a UEFA Cup and UEFA Champions League glory. The manner of his departure from Porto upset some of the club’s supporters who thought that his cold and unemotional demeanour after the 2003-04 UEFA Champions League win over AS Monaco had soured his legacy somewhat. Nonetheless Mourinho then went to Stamford Bridge to guide a Chelsea FC side to their first league championship in fifty years before going on to win another five trophies with the Blues before club politics with billionaire chairman Roman Abramovich saw him discarded and move on in 2008-09 to Italian giants Internazionale FC with whom he has prospered immeasurably.

The Internazionale side that he inherited was already a successful one having won the previous three Serie A titles prior to his arrival albeit the first of these titles was won in the courts after a match-fixing scandal and the second won in a championship minus giants Juventus FC, who’d been forcibly relegated to Serie B, and an AC Milan team who were deducted eight points in the 2006-07 season. In Mourinho’s first season at the San Siro Internazionale won the Serie A title by a ten point margin from both AC Milan and Juventus FC but were denied the Double having surprisingly lost to Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia semi-finals. In 2009-10 the Nerazzurri had to tough it out against AS Roma in the battle for lo Scudetto as Claudio Ranieri’s men recovered from a poor early-season start to take Inter all the way in the championship fight. However Mourinho was able to take his Inter team ahead in the title race with three matches to go and the club stayed there and won the league by just two points. The 18th league title for Internazionale ensured that they overtook Milan’s number of 17 Scudetti and also secured the Double, the first half of which had been secured a couple of weeks earlier when Inter defeated old adversaries AS Roma again in the Coppa Italia final.

Now it was only Louis Van Gaal’s Treble-chasing FC Bayern team that stood in the way of Mourinho and history and the Special One had certainly done his homework on the opposition stifling the creativity of danger man Arjen Robben whilst playing the sort of combative, compact football which have become Mourinho’s hallmark. Diego Milito, a player who Mourinho had brought to the club from Genoa at the beginning of the 2009-10 season, was to play as fundamental a role for Inter as Pedro had for FC Barcelona in their Treble winning 2008-09 season. Milito scored the winner in the Coppa Italia final, the only goal of the game in Inter’s final Serie A game of the season against Siena to secure the league title and the two goals to win the UEFA Champions League for Inter, their first triumph in this tournament since 1964-65 in the old European Cup. The credit for the triumph has to go to Mourinho who has guided Inter into an elite group of clubs who have completed the Treble – domestic league and cup plus European Cup or UEFA Champions League – and has maintained a personal record of having not lost a home league game since February 23rd, 2002 (where his FC Porto team lost to Beira Mar) chalking up 136 games undefeated on home soil which is a truly remarkable record by anyone’s standards.

Now it seems that José Mourinho will take over at Real Madrid CF with whom it has been reported he could start negotiations to take over Manuel Pellegrini as recently as Monday. Should he take over los Blancos one can only imagine just how much more unpopular he will become in Barcelona but that will be the sort of thing that the Special One will thrive on. Always up for a challenge Mourinho will want to become the man who takes Real Madrid to their tenth European Cup/UEFA Champions League victory and only from Monday will we be nearer knowing that the Real Deal will soon be signed and sealed for Mourinho.

UEFA Champions League – Final Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 21, 2010

The UEFA Champions League final will be played on a Saturday night for the first time in the competition’s history this year when Internazionale FC and FC Bayern München fight it out not just for continental glory but to complete the third and final leg of a Treble winning season. Italian champions Inter have won both league and cup honours domestically ahead of the tough challenge of AS Roma whilst FC Bayern managed to stave off the threat of FC Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga and thrashed Werder Bremen 4-0 in the cup final last weekend in Berlin. The game will also have another edge to it as the teams are fighting it out to allow their country the right to have four places in the UEFA Champions League from the 2011-12 season. Italy currently has that right but a win for FC Bayern would mean that Germany takes Italy’s place in the top three of UEFA’s Co-Efficient table which determines European placings. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” looks back at how both teams reached the final:

Internazionale FC logoINTERNAZIONALE FC (Italy)

Group Stage (FC Barcelona 6 games/11 points; Internazionale 6/9; Rubin Kazan 6/6; Dynamo Kyiv 6/5)

Internazionale’s group stage campaign got off to a quiet start when Jose Mourinho’s troops were involved in a Matchday 1 goalless stalemate against defending European champions FC Barcelona. Matchday 2 saw another game fail to be decided as Dejan Stanković cancelled out Alejandro Domínguez’s 11th minute opener to ensure a draw for the Nerazzurri against Russian champions Rubin Kazan. A third consecutive draw followed against Ukrainian champions Dynamo Kyiv as Inter came from behind twice to earn a 2-2 draw. Finally the first win came on Matchday 4 in dramatic fashion as Andriy Shevchenko’s goal for Dynamo was overturned in the final four minutes of the game with goals in quick succession from Diego Milito and Wesley Sneijder. A trip to the Camp Nou cauldron awaited on Matchday 5 and the Italians were disappointing in their 2-0 defeat to the Catalans which meant that progression to the Round of 16 was hanging by a thread going into their final group game at home to Rubin. However goals from Samuel Eto’o and Mario Balotelli gave Inter the three points which meant second place in the group and a tough encounter with Mourinho’s old club Chelsea FC.

Round of 16 (v Chelsea FC 3-1 on aggregate)

Inter had failed in each of the previous two campaigns to progress from this stage of the tournament against English opposition and weren’t going to make it three in a row. In the first leg, played at San Siro, a tough contest was ultimately decided by an Esteban Cambiasso strike to give Inter a slender one goal advantage to take to London as the Italian champions won 2-1. For the second leg all the attention turned to coach Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge but it was Samuel Eto’o who would grab all the headlines as he scored the only goal of the second leg late on to allow Inter to advance to the quarter-finals with a 3-1 aggregate victory.

Quarter-Final (v CSKA Moscow 2-0 on aggregate)

CSKA Moscow had done well to reach the quarter-finals having qualified in second place from Manchester United’s group as well as defeating Sevilla in the Round of 16. Sadly for the Russian side their adventure would end in the last eight as a pair of 1-0 victories were enough for Inter to go through. The first leg was decided by Diego Milito whilst Wesley Sneijder was the goal hero in the return leg. The 2-0 aggregate victory gave Inter a dream semi-final and, more importantly for Mourinho, the chance to get one over FC Barcelona.

Semi-Final (v FC Barcelona 3-2 on aggregate)

Jose Mourinho once again took the plaudits as he learnt the lessons of defeat during the group stage and knocked-out tournament favourites FC Barcelona. Mourinho’s claim that the Catalans, where he once famously worked as Sir Bobby Robson’s interpreter, were “obsessed with [winning in] Madrid” was used as a psychological ploy to get at his opponents. The first leg saw Inter come from behind to claim a 3-1 first leg adavantage. The return leg saw an early setback when Thiago Motta was sent-off for raising his arm on Sergio Busquets who clearly went down too easily. Despite Gerard Piqué’s cool finish in the 84th minute Inter were able to survive any further Barça attacks to go through to their first European final since winning the UEFA Cup in 1998 and will hope to bury 45 years of hurt by winning a third European Cup.

FC Bayern logoFC BAYERN MÜNCHEN (Germany)

Group Stage (FC Girondins 6 games/16 points; FC Bayern 6/10; Juventus FC 6/8; Maccabi Haifa 6/0)

FC Bayern eventually squeezed through this group but it started off comfortably enough with an easy 3-0 win over Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa on Matchday 1 with Daniel Van Buyten and a double strike from Thomas Müller proving the difference. A goalless draw at home to Juventus FC was not what the Bayern fans expected after the opening game but that was what they got and it got worse for the Bavarians as they suffered back-to-back defeats at the hands of French champions FC Girondins de Bordeaux. The pressure was on coach Louis Van Gaal to get the team into the Round of 16 and, in order to do that, he had to win both remaining group games. Matchday 5 settled Bayern nerves even if they were far from convincing in beating group whipping boys Maccabi Haifa by an Ivica Olić goal to nil. Matchday 6, however, was when Van Gaal’s men showed their mettle by going to Turin and coming from behind to defeat Juventus 4-1 thanks to goals from (goalkeeper) Hans-Jörg Butt, Ivica Olić, Mario Gómez and Anatoliy Tymoschuk.

Round of 16 (v AC Fiorentina 4-4 on aggregate – FC Bayern win on away goals)

There were two exciting ties in the Round of 16 clash between FC Bayern and their Italian opponents with Arjen Robben proving a crucial influence in both legs. He scored the goal to give Bayern the lead in the first leg but Fiorentina equalized early in the second half thanks to Per Krøldrup. A controversial Miroslav Klose winner in the last minute allowed the German Rekordmeister to take a 2-1 advantage to Florence but they were soon playing catch-up in the return leg. The Viola were two goals up early in the second half before the aggregate score was level through Mark Van Bommel in the 60th minute. Stevan Jovetić scored again on the 64th minute to restore Fiorentina’s lead but Italian hearts were broken by Arjen Robben whose beautifully curled strike sixty seconds later gave FC Bayern the away goals advantage from which they would qualify to meet Manchester United.

Quarter-Finals (v Manchester United 4-4 on aggregate – FC Bayern win on away goals)

In what was a pulsating contest FC Bayern qualified for the semi-finals in the same manner from which they got through the Round of 16. In the first leg at Allianz Arena Wayne Rooney’s second minute opener for United was cancelled out by Franck Ribéry in the 77th minute. Just as it looked like United would go to the return leg the most satisfied Ivica Olić capitalized on a very late defensive lapse from the English champions to secure a 2-1 win to take to Manchester. The second leg proved every bit, if not more, dramatic as United were cruising after 40 minutes having taken a 3-0 lead on the night. Ivica Olić’s goal late in the first half gave FC Bayern hope of staying in the game and their chances were helped when United’s Rafael was sent-off. With fourteen minutes to go a corner found its way on to Arjen Robben’s left foot and he struck with great aplomb into the bottom corner to secure yet another away goals victory and a semi-final date with seven times French champions Olympique Lyonnais.

Semi-Finals (v Olympique Lyonnais 4-0 on aggregate)

Arjen Robben and Ivica Olić again proved the decisive figures for FC Bayern as they eased their way into the final with a healthy 4-0 aggregate win over a disappointing Olympique Lyonnais. Dutch wizard Robben scored the only goal in the first leg when he struck again from distance to give die Roten a slender first leg advantage. The second leg proved much more comfortable with Croatian Olić scoring all three goals to give the Bavarians a safe passage through to their first UEFA Champions League final since their last triumph in the competition in 2000-01.

Away Days: FK Jelgava v FK Jūrmala-VV

Posted in Away Days, European Football by peterbein on May 21, 2010

“Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” reports on the 2009-10 Latvian Cup final between FK Jelgava and FK Jūrmala-VV:

Having been in Glasgow for the Scottish Cup final over the weekend I was very much looking forward to going back to a favourite country of mine to watch another surprise domestic cup final. However it seemed that my Monday afternoon flight to Riga would be cancelled after further disruption caused by the now (in)famous Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull. Thankfully the Gods had decided that I was to be one of the lucky ones to get away and, after arriving as scheduled on Monday evening, it was with great excitement that I went to Wednesday evening’s footballing showpiece in the Latvian capital.

Post-independence Latvian football has been dominated by three teams since the national league began in 1992; Skonto Riga, Liepājas Metalurgs and FK Ventspils. The domestic cup, known locally as Latvijas Kauss, has produced a little unpredictability from time to time. FK Jelgava, situated 45 kilometres away from Riga, had previously tasted success in this competition three times before under their previous guise of RAF Jelgava. FK Jurmala, based in a seaside resort just 25 kilometres away from Riga, had never reached this stage of the national cup before but, despite the history, were still minor favourites to win their first domestic honour. In any case it would be intriging to see who would etch their name into the trophy and follow another surprise winner, FC Daugava from Latvia’s second city of Daugavpils, who won the cup in 2008.

Before the game kicked off I had my traditional pre-match pint in the Calcio Bar which is a part of Skonto stadium. Suddenly a familiar face appeared in the distance and as he walked towards me I said to him “it’s Guntis Indriksons, isn’t it?” to which the bemused man shook his head and said no. I thought for a moment why I had got it wrong but it turned out that I had mistaken the General Secretary of the Latvian Football Federation with the President of the same organization. Some seconds later, having identified the man by his actual name of Jānis Mežeckis, I apologized for my mistake and he was kind enough to take a couple of minutes out from his pre-match schedule to talk to me about Latvian football and pose for a photo (see top). After shaking hands and wishing him well I entered the stadium to see a decent crowd building up for the game. Bearing in mind that the average attendance of the domestic league in 2009 was a mere 448, the crowd for Wednesday’s final was nearly ten times that so it was a good number by Latvian standards especially in a game not involving any of the big three.

2009-10 Latvian Cup Final

The two teams line up ahead of the 2009-10 Latvian Cup final

The two teams came out at approximately 19:35 local time ahead of kick-off with everybody in the crowd rising for the national anthem before the action got under way. In a tight first half FK Jūrmala-VV, playing in a dark blue kit,  just about got the better of the exchanges with a beautifully taken goal from Dmitrijs Paplavskis, turning with his back to goal to guide a right-footed shot home, giving the seasiders a 1-0 lead at the break. It was in the second half that the action really started to get exciting and, just ten minutes after the re-start, Igors Lapkovskis restored parity for FK Jelgava with a well-taken volley from the edge of the penalty area. As the second half went on the quality of the game dipped slightly but this was more than compensated for by the effort and spirit both teams were putting into the game, both believing that their name was on the trophy. With just fifteen minutes to go FK Jūrmala-VV had the advantage once more when Valērijs Čistjakovs scored from close range after the FK Jelgava goalkeeper Marks Bogdanovs could only parry Romāns Bessakovs’ shot into his path. But if there’s one thing you could count on in this year’s Latvian Cup it’s that FK Jelgava wouldn’t give up and, after their heroic comebacks against Liepājas Metalurgs and Skonto Riga in the two previous rounds, they managed to equalize for a second time when Oļegs Malašenoks was brought down in the box with Valērijs Redjko on hand to slot home the resulting spot kick.

With no further scoring in normal or extra-time the game went to a penalty shoot-out. The fans of FK Jelgava, amongst whose supporters I had sat alongside all evening, now firmly believed that their name was on the cup given what had happened in previous rounds. However, after both teams had scored with their first attempts in the penalty shoot-out, FK Jelgava were the first team to miss one when their second attempt was saved by Jūrmala keeper Artūrs Biezais. Further penalties were scored by both sides to make the score 4-3 to FK Jūrmala-VV with one spot kick left each. After FK Jelgava converted their final kick it was up to Romans Nagumānovs to score for Jūrmala. But, instead of celebrating a famous win, he struck his shot against the crossbar sending the penalty shoot-out into sudden death with a 4-4 scoreline after their designated five penalties. After trading a further successful spot kick each it was FK Jelgava who gained the initiative going ahead 6-5 with FK Jūrmala-VV needing to take at least one more kick. Unfortunately for FK Jūrmala-VV it proved to be the final kick of the evening when Gatis Kalniņš’ soft effort down the middle saved by Bogdanovs with his legs to spark scenes of ecstasy in the FK Jelgava section of the stadium where flares were lit to signal a colourful conclusion to the night’s showpiece. All that remained was for LFF General Secretary Mažeckis to hand over the trophy to jubilant FK Jelgava captain Valērijs Redjko who, along with his team-mates, will enter the 2010-11 UEFA Europa League at the second qualifying round.

Watch Match Highlights HERE:

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