Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Champions League – Group Stage Round-Up: Part One

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 9, 2009
Louis Van Gaal

Can Louis van Gaal win the Champions League again?

This week sees the conclusion of the group stages in the UEFA Champions League. “Stoppage Time” takes a look back at how each group has shaped up, starting with groups A-D today, followed by groups E-H tomorrow:

GROUP A (BORDEAUX, BAYERN MUNICH, JUVENTUS, MACCABI HAIFA)

Bordeaux surprised the pundits with a near faultless performance in group A. “Les Girondins” only dropped two points away at Juventus on Matchday 1 leaving the traditional big boys “Juve” and FC Bayern to fight it out for second place. During the campaign it seemed as if Bayern’s domestic troubles were going to destroy their European ambitions and, with two matchdays to go, Juve seemed to be going through. However the four time European champions from Bavaria still had a chance on Matchday 6, all they had to do was beat Juventus away in Turin. What seemed a tough task proved, ultimately, to be a stroll in the park for Louis van Gaal’s men as they won 4-1 including a penalty goal from Bayern keeper Hans-Jörg Butt. Juventus are now confined to the Europa League whilst Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa couldn’t even score a goal in the whole group stage and, unsurprisingly, remained pointless after six games.

GROUP B (MANCHESTER UNITED, CSKA MOSCOW, VfL WOLFSBURG, BESIKTAS)

As expected Manchester United topped the group in comfortable fashion. CSKA Moscow claimed the second place after a 2-1 success away in Istanbul against Besiktas on Matchday 6. The celebrations were dampened somewhat by the news that two of their players, Alexei Berezutsky and Sergei Ignashevich, were tested positive for banned substances. However UEFA has decided to punish the players rather than the club for what officals of CSKA Moscow called “a clerical error”.  German champions VfL Wolfsburg had a good maiden campaign in Europe’s elite class with Edin Džeko attracting the notice of some of Europe’s biggest clubs with some good performances, most notably against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Besiktas were struggling from the start but a consolation win over Manchester United in Matchday 5 proved to be their only highlight. With players such as Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen showing glimpses of their best “ManU” finished with 13 points at the top of the group with CSKA three points behind. Wolfsburg’s European campaign will continue in the Europa League whilst Besiktas have to revert back to the travails of domestic football.

GROUP C (REAL MADRID, AC MILAN, OLYMPIQUE MARSEILLE, FC ZÜRICH)

Before a ball was kicked in this group virtually everybody had tipped Real Madrid and AC Milan, two clubs with sixteen European Cups before them, to qualify for the Round of 16 and so it was proved. The only real blip which the Spanish side suffered was their 3-2 home defeat by the Italian giants on Matchday 3. FC Zürich had their moments too, a 1-0 defeat of AC Milan in the San Siro on Matchday 2 had their fans dreaming of further glory. Sadly for the Swiss champions their double header against Marseille proved disappointing and effectively knocked them out of the competition. On Matchday 6 Marseille still had a chance of progressing but they had to defeat Real Madrid, who were already through, at home and hope Milan dropped points in Zürich. The latter scenario happened as Milan could only manage a 1-1 draw but Cristiano Ronaldo was in scintillating form for Real Madrid scoring twice in a 3-1 win at Stade Vélodrome to send Marseille into the Europa League.

GROUP D (CHELSEA FC, FC PORTO, ATLÉTICO DE MADRID, APOEL NICOSIA)

Chelsea and FC Porto were clearly the two best sides in the group easily seeing off a poor Atleti and a weak APOEL team although the Cypriots were far from expected to qualify for the last 16. Chelsea’s two matches against FC Porto determined the top two placings with the London club winning 1-0 home and away. This was the difference between the two teams even allowing for the fact that Chelsea drew 2-2 away at Atleti and at home to APOEL on Matchday 6 when they’d already qualified. Chelsea finsihed on 14 points two ahead of Porto who some people fancy as a good outside bet in the tournament. “Los Rojiblancos” (the red and whites) of Madrid scraped through to the Europa League going through on their head-to-head record against APOEL. With both teams finishing on three points each after six games Atleti’s away goal in the 1-1 draw in Cyprus proved crucial as APOEL were only able to manage a 0-0 draw in Spain.

FIFA Club World Cup preview

FIFA Club World Cup

Seven teams will fight it out in the UAE for the trophy

Love it or loathe it the FIFA Club World Cup is going to remain a staple part of the football calendar. To some observers it’s a chance to win a trophy and add more prestige to their club. To some others it’s a competition that turns up in the middle of a long hard season, getting in the way of domestic progress. Either way there will be seven teams in the United Arab Emirates from December 9-19 who will be giving everything to win the cup. Here is Stoppage Time’s guide to the participants:

FC BARCELONA – UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

FC Barcelona became European champions for the third time in May after beating Manchester United 2-0 in Rome. It is surprising that a massive club such as “Barça” has never won the FIFA Club World Cup or its predecessor, the Intercontinental Cup. After twice being crowned European champions in 1992 and 2006 the Catalans have been defeated by Brazilian clubs in their attempts to be crowned the world’s best. In 1992 a São Paulo side inspired by Rai beat Barça 2-1 and then, three years ago, Internacional scored a late goal to deny Barcelona again. This time the ‘Blaugrana’ hope to make it third time lucky in this tournament and add the FIFA Club World Cup to the other five trophies they’ve won under their coach Pep Guardiola.

ESTUDIANTES DE LA PLATA – COPA LIBERTADORES WINNERS 2009

Estudiantes won their fourth Copa Libertadores with a 2-1 victory over two legs against Brazilian side Cruzeiro. The Argentinian side had a mixed record in the Intercontinental Cup during their heyday in the late 1960s and early 70s. Their solo victory came in 1968 after a 2-1 aggregate win over Manchester United (before 1979 the champions of Europe and South America played home and away matches to win the cup). Their next two efforts, however, ended in failure; in 1969 Milan won 4-2 on aggregate and in 1970 Feyenoord Rotterdam claimed their only world title with a 3-2 aggregate win. Can Juan Sebastián Verón emulate his father Juan Ramón’s achievements and become a world champion with his boyhood club?

ATLANTE CF – CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

The Mexican side secured their second CONCACAF Champions League title after an all-Mexican affair with Cruz Azul ended up 2-0 after a two-legged final. Atlante’s other title win was back in 1983 when they defeated Surinam’s Robinhood FC (yes, really!) 6-1 over two legs. Atlante’s Club World Cup campaign will kick-off at the quarter-final stage against either Al Ahli or Auckland City, who meet in the first match of the competition.

POHANG STEELERS – AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

The three time Asian champions have not always dominated the domestic scene in South Korea but tend to thrive in Asian club competition. After previous successes in 1997 and 1998, Pohang Steelers won a third title this year by defeating Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia 2-1 in Tokyo’s National Stadium. Pohang will play against TP Mazembe at the quarter-final stage, the winner of which faces Estudiantes in the semi-finals.

TP MAZEMBE – CAF AFRICAN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

The Congolese side have been African champions on three occasions after their most recent success was decided on away goals against Nigerian team Heartlands FC. After the Nigerians won the first leg 2-1 at home, Mazembe won the second leg 1-0 to secure a passage to the Middle East. A meeting with Estudiantes de la Plata awaits if they can overcome Pohang Steelers in the quarter-final.

AUCKLAND CITY – OFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009

The New Zealanders will be participating in the FIFA Club World Cup for a second time, after their previous appearance in 2006, following their 9-4 win over Soloman Islands’ club Koloale FC in the two-legged OFC Champions League final. In 2006 Auckland City lost in the opening play-off match to Al Ahly of Egypt 2-0. Can they avoid a repeat against a similarly named Al Ahli of UAE in this year’s tournament?

AL AHLI – UAE LEAGUE CHAMPIONS 2009

Representing the host country in this year’s tournament, Al Ahli have never been Asian champions but are the current UAE League champions after winning the title by one point from nearest challengers Al Jazira Club. Last season’s attempt at continental glory came to an end in the group phase of the AFC Champions League competition. Will meet Atlante CF in the quarter-final if they beat Auckland City in the play-off match.

Unlikely heroes end Flamengo’s 17 year title drought

Posted in South America Football by peterbein on December 7, 2009
Dejan Petkovic

Dejan Petkovic celebrates Flamengo's Brasileiro triumph

Brazilian giants Flamengo were, eventually, made to work hard for the Brazilian national championship (Brasileiro) after they toiled to a 2-1 victory over Grêmio at a sell-out Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The “Rubro Negro” (Red and Blacks) have now won six Brazilian national championships, thus equalling the number already achieved by outgoing champions São Paulo.

At the start of the day there were four teams with a mathematical chance of winning the title: Flamengo, Internacional, São Paulo and Palmeiras. The fact that Flamengo were playing at home to Internacional’s arch-rivals from the city of Porto Alegre, Grêmio, meant that many fans and pundits had written this game off as a certain three points for “O Mengão”. What wasn’t in the script though was Grêmio taking the lead, Roberson turning home a corner in the 22nd minute to stun the home supporters. Thankfully for the Red and Black masses they didn’t have too long to wait before parity was restored. Centre-half David shot from distance to level it at 1-1 on the half-hour mark and it was to remain at that score at half-time. Elsewhere Internacional’s 2-0 lead at home to already relegated Santo André meant that if scores stayed the same after 90 minutes then Flamengo would lose the title that they craved more than any other. They simply had to win.

The second half started quite slowly but Flamengo soon created chances. They were rewarded in the 70th minute when Dejan Petkovic’s left-sided corner was headed home by another unlikely scorer, centre-half Ronaldo Angelim, and the Flamengo fans started to party in the Maracana. Ten minutes from the end the party was very nearly brought to a halt as Adilson wasted a glorious close range effort for Grêmio. After that though both teams just saw the game out and at the final whistle the party really could begin. Adriano, who returned to Brazil after a roller-coaster period at Internazionale in Italy, finished the season as joint top scorer in the Brasileiro (along with Mineiro’s Diego Tardelli on 19 goals) and, more importantly, as a champion.

In the other matches Internacional beat Santo André 4-1 to secure the runners-up spot from São Paulo, whose three year reign as champions ended with a 4-0 win against Sport Recife. Flamengo, Internacional and São Paulo are joined in the 2010 Copa Libertadores by Cruzeiro, who finished fourth after their 2-1 victory against Santos was coupled with a defeat for nearest challengers Palmeiras (2-1 away to Botafogo). Corinthians, home of Ronaldo and recent signing Roberto Carlos, also have a berth in the Libertadores thanks to their Copa Brasil triumph over Internacional in the early months of the season.

Eight teams qualified for next year’s Copa Sudamericana: Palmeiras, Avaí, Atlético Mineiro, Grêmio, Goias, Barueri, Santos and Vitoria. At the bottom of the table a dramatic finish saw Rio giants Fluminense avoid relegation by one point after their 1-1 draw at Coritiba was enough to send their opponents down into Serie B along with Sport Recife, Náutico and Santo André. Those four clubs will be replaced in the 2010 Brasileiro by Vasco da Gama, Guarani, Ceará and Atletico Goianiense.

J-League and K-League champions signal the old and the new

Posted in Asian Football by peterbein on December 7, 2009
Kashima Antlers

Kashima Antlers have secured their third straight J-League title

Two major championships concluded in Asia this weekend, one championship congratulating a team who have turned winning into an art form on the domestic stage, the other congratulating a club who have finally landed their maiden national title.

Kashima Antlers were crowned champions of Japan this weekend securing a third straight title courtesy of a 1-0 win away at Urawa Red Diamonds. Shinko Koroki’s goal in the 66th minute proved enough as the Antlers finished two points clear of Kawasaki Frontale, whose 3-2 victory away to Kashiwa Reysol ultimately proved fruitless. Kashima cement their place as the most successful club in the J-League era as they have won the J-League championship seven times since its formation in 1993. At the bottom of the table JEF United, Oita Trinita and Kashiwa Reysol were relegated and they’ll be replaced in 2010 by Vegalta Sandai, Cerezo Osaka and Shonan Bellmare.

Things were different in South Korea where the K-League saw Jeonbuk Hyandai Motors lift their first ever league championship trophy. Jeonbuk had already clinched the regular league title finishing four points ahead of FIFA Club World Cup participants Pohang Steelers and FC Seoul. Following the regular season a play-off series was contested, Jeonbuk’s prize for finishing first in the regular table was a bye into the final. Five teams entering at various rounds were hoping to contest Jeonbuk in the final and, after three rounds, it was Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, who had finished fourth in the regular season, who were to be the lucky opponents with a shot at title glory. After the first leg of the final had finished in a goalless draw, Jeonbuk took no prisoners in the second match played at their home stadium in Jeonju. Eninho scored the first goal of the game after 21 minutes to set them on their way. After the Brazilian scored his second just before half-time, former South Korean international Lee Dong-Gook confirmed the match with a 72nd minute penalty for Jeonbuk to seal the deal, Seongnam getting a consolation goal through Kim Jin-Yong in the 84th minute.

England’s Premier League – a glorified SPL?

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on December 6, 2009
Manchester United 2008-09

Manchester United win yet another title in 2008-09, their eleventh in seventeen years

“The most exciting league in the world” is a phrase that’s become synonymous with Sky TV’s presentation of the Barclay’s Premier League, such is the TV station’s devotion to hyping up even the most dullest of matches.  Although there are great players and teams in the league, just how true is it to say that the English Premier League is “the most exciting league in the world”?

One couldn’t doubt the quality of the players on show in the Premier League, on the contrary it’s true to say that with players such as Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney and Dider Drogba to name but three that the English Premier League contains some of the finest players in the modern game. However this discussion focuses on the concept that the league is branded as much about ‘entertainment’ as much as it is ‘sport’. When one thinks of last day cliffhangers they are very few and far between in the Premier League. As for the multitude of teams capable of winning the title in any given season then you can usually count them with a couple of fingers on one hand. If this criteria were applied to football then the English Premier League (EPL) would be no better than being a glorified Scottish Premier League (SPL).

When people in England talk about the SPL they will patronisingly refer to it as a ‘pub league’ and lament the fact that only two teams, Rangers and Celtic (the Old Firm), have any chance of winning the title. But it’s usually the case that only two teams have any chance of winning the EPL too, Manchester United and A.N. Other. The main challenger to United may change from time to time but it’s hardly any more exciting to see the Red Devils win title after title than it is to see two supposed ‘pub teams’ in Rangers and Celtic win title after title north of the border.

The only thing that maintains a sense of quality in England is the notion of the ‘Big Four’ (i.e. Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) and their regular appearances in the UEFA Champions League, European football’s showpiece tournament, helping to preserve English football’s position in the UEFA Co-Efficient table (a place in the top three of this table guarantees a nation four places in the Champions League). It seems increasingly the case, however, that some teams are happy just to finish in a top four spot – ‘fourth is the new first’ if you want – and secure the riches that the Champions League provides. In the case of the Old Firm at least they have been punching above their weight in European competition. Regular Champions League appearances coupled with two UEFA Cup finals, Celtic in 2004 and Rangers in 2008, has seen the SPL maintain a respectable standing despite its lack of wealth and international exposure. There have been examples in recent years of  English teams qualifying for the Europa League (ex-UEFA Cup) then trying as hard to get knocked out of a competition that they’ve tried even harder to qualify for. When some English club managers talk about finishing in the top four rather than winning a trophy then it seems to strengthen the view that most clubs in the EPL have very limited ambitions.

Another thing which adds to the lack of real excitement in the overall picture of the English Premier League is the absence of any final day cliffhangers at the top of the table. There may be some exciting finishes at the bottom of the table but the lack of any meaningful matches in respect of the championship means that the EPL is not always so worthy of its hype. You would think this would worry the people at Sky TV seeing as they talk about “the most exciting league in the world” as if its an unquestionable truth. Despite the dominance of the Old Firm in Scotland at least there have been exciting climaxes on the final day in three of the last five seasons including the last two in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Since the English Premier League’s formation in 1992-93 there have been only two final day pieces of drama to witness: the 1994-95 season when Blackburn Rovers beat Manchester United to the title despite losing their final game against Liverpool and the 1998-99 season where Manchester United saw off a spirited Tottenham Hotspur performance at Old Trafford to beat nearest challengers Arsenal to the title by one point. All of the other Premier League titles have been decided on or before the penultimate matchday.

One may argue that it’s too early to write off the English Premier League as a contest but then there are teams such as Liverpool and Arsenal whose title challenges have been written off as early as December after some bad results therefore leaving Manchester United and Chelsea as the only realistic challengers. The irony is that the EPL doesn’t look as entertaining from a competition point of view as its northern neighbour at the moment where the Old Firm have a challenge from Hibernian and Dundee United. For those of you who enjoy a regular two-horse race then “the most exciting league in the world” may just be your best bet for the season.

FIFA World Cup draw – The Verdict

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 5, 2009
Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron hosted the World Cup draw in South Africa

The draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup took place in Cape Town, South Africa, yesterday. Presented by Charlize Theron (pictured) and including a host of figures from the football world including FIFA president Sepp Blatter and perhaps  the most recognisable sporting icon in the world David Beckham, the draw did throw up some intriguing individual ties and some interesting groups. “Stoppage Time” assesses the groups and the matches that should shape the fortunes at the beginning of the tournament:

GROUP A: SOUTH AFRICA, MEXICO, URUGUAY, FRANCE

The host nation should find it very tough in a group which looks like it will be very close. The French will be favourites to go through but their clash against Mexico could decide who wins the group. However the South Africans may harbour hopes of surprising Mexico in the opening game of the tournament. Uruguay, with their deadly strike force of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, will certainly fancy their chances of finishing in the top two. Their final group game against Mexico could be amongst the most intense of the championship.

GROUP B: ARGENTINA, NIGERIA, SOUTH KOREA, GREECE

Almost an exact copy of Group D in the 1994 FIFA World Cup (Argentina, Nigeria and Greece played in a group that contained Bulgaria instead of South Korea). Despite qualifying the tough way Argentina should top this group quite comfortably, the opening match against Nigeria will probably be their toughest assignment. However the Greeks may wish to spring a surprise in much the same way that they did in EURO 2004 when they became European Champions. South Korea can only expect to finish bottom.

GROUP C: ENGLAND, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ALGERIA, SLOVENIA

Almost after the draw had finished the English media were in overdrive, hyping up their country’s chances of winning the 2010 World Cup. It’s true that they should expect to top this group with relative ease. The only match of real interest is England’s opening clash with the USA, a game that throws back terrible memories for the “Home of Football”. If the Americans can repeat their 1-0 victory in the 1950 World Cup (so unbelieveable a result in those days that the English media initially reported a 10-0 victory for England!) then it would leave the group wide open. The match will have a personal edge involving the LA Galaxy footballers David Beckham and US Captain Landon Donovan, a war of words between the two earlier in the season may add a bit of extra spice to this match. Algeria and Slovenia will be fighting to avoid the wooden spoon.

GROUP D: GERMANY, AUSTRALIA, SERBIA, GHANA

Not as easy for Germany as it may appear on paper. The Australians were very unlucky to lose to the Italians in the 2006 World Cup (a dubious penalty tucked away by Francesco Totti five minutes into stoppage time) and they will hope to put up a challenge for the top spot in this group. Serbia are competing in their first finals as an independent nation and have a leader in Manchester United player Nemanda Vidic. Ghana could be a team that plays open, attacking football but their defence will concede plenty of goals. Germany are quietly optimistic that they can go far in this tournament. The matches between themselves, Australia and Serbia should determine the outcome of the group.

GROUP E: NETHERLANDS, DENMARK, CAMEROON, JAPAN

This group looks to be a fairly comfortable one for the Dutch. As I reported in my blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part Three” the Dutch had a very easy group in qualifying and they will look to take that form into this group. Cameroon will be a strong contender for second place and with players like Samuel Eto’o and Geremi can give the Danes a tough challenge when they meet in their second group match. Japan have improved as a nation in the last decade but won’t be expected to trouble the other three too much.

GROUP F: ITALY, PARAGUAY, NEW ZEALAND, SLOVAKIA

The current world champions Italy won’t have too much trouble getting through this group. The opening group game between themselves and Paraguay should be among one of the better ones in the group stages. Slovakia are a tough team on their day and won’t go down without a fight. However they may be just a little too inexperienced at this level and will find it tough to get to the Round of 16. New Zealand will be ecstatic to be in South Africa but their squad is very limited, therefore expect defensive tactics from a nation that will want to avoid embarrassment in this tournament.

GROUP G: BRAZIL, NORTH KOREA, IVORY COAST, PORTUGAL

There’s a 1966 World Cup feel to this group; it was Portugal who, literally, kicked Pele and his great Brazilian team off the park (Goodison Park to be precise) and it was Portugal who had to come back from 3-0 down to defeat the surprise package of the tournament North Korea 5-3. This time, though, matches in this group involving North Korea should be more clear-cut as they’re the outsiders of this tournament. The Ivory Coast, involved in a tough group including Argentina and Holland in the 2006 World Cup, will be expecting as tough a time in 2010 but some will feel that they can beat Portugal, whose qualification for the World Cup was only confirmed via a play-off. If the Ivorians can get three points against Portugal in the opening group match then they should reach the second round.

GROUP H: SPAIN, SWITZERLAND, HONDURAS, CHILE

The current European champions Spain are currently the favourites to win the FIFA World Cup and they will be encouraged further having seen the draw. They should easily overcome the challenges of their group rivals leaving the rest to fight it out for second place. Honduras qualified thanks to events elsewhere (see blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part One) but aren’t expected to get through this group, therefore the match between Switzerland and Chile (both teams’ second group match) should prove to be amongst the more important.

LDU Quito in a Liga of their own

Posted in South America Football by peterbein on December 3, 2009
Copa Sudamericana Logo

The Copa Sudamericana is South America's version of the UEFA Europa League

Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito, better known as LDU Quito, have won the 2009 Copa Nissan Sudamericana after what became an angst-ridden 5-4 aggregate victory in a two-legged final against Brazilian giants Fluminense. This is the third continental success for the Ecuadorians after winning the 2008 Copa Libertadores (South American Champions League), again beating Fluminense, and the 2009 Recopa (a South American version of the European Super Cup) in which they defeated another Brazilian team Internacional of Porto Alegre 4-0 over two legs. It has been a meteoric rise for the club who have steadily built a good footballing side and have become the dominant force in Ecuador. Their appearance in the 2008 FIFA Club World Cup final against Manchester United made the football world take notice despite their narrow defeat to a lone Wayne Rooney strike.

It hasn’t all been plain sailing for LDU this year. In the 2009 Copa Libertadores they came crashing back down to earth after the previous year’s joy of success. LDU finished bottom of their group behind Sport Recife, Palmeiras (both from Brazil) and Chilean representatives Colo Colo. Thankfully for LDU they finished second in the first stage of the Ecuador Serie A championship, thus qualifying for the Sudamericana, and from there they rediscovered their form in continental competition. After a first round 2-1 aggregate win against Libertad of Paraguay LDU then went on to beat Argentinians Lanus 5-1 (agg.) and Velez Sarsfield 3-2 (agg.) to set up a semi-final tie with Uruguay’s River Plate. A 7-0 drubbing of their opponents in the first leg meant that LDU could afford to take their foot off the gas in the second leg, which they lost 2-1. This set up a second major final with Fluminense who had overcome Paraguayans Cerro Porteno 3-1 (agg.) in their semi-final.

In the first leg of the final in Quito it was the Brazilians that struck early, Marquinho giving the visitors the lead after sixty seconds. After that though LDU dominated with Edison Mendez scoring a hat-trick before the hour mark and two late goals from Franklin Salas and Ulises de la Cruz securing a 5-1 lead to take to Rio de Janeiro. In the second leg the Ecudorians were on the defensive from early on as Dieguinho and Fred gave “Flu” a 2-0 lead at half-time. Any ideas that LDU may have had before the game of cruising this second leg were dashed even further eighteen minutes from the end when Gum made it 3-0 on the night to the Rio side. However despite the best efforts of Fluminense they couldn’t get the fourth goal necessary to take the match into extra-time (away goals not counting in this tournament) and the party could start once again in the Ecuadorian capital after LDU held out to win the final 5-4 on aggregate. LDU are now the envy of Ecuador having shown that they are in a league of their own for handling the big occasion. As a reward for this victory LDU will play Estudiantes de la Plata, the team that replaced them as Copa Libertadores champions in 2009, in the 2010 Recopa final.

FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part Three

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 3, 2009
Italy 2006 World Cup

Fabio Cannavaro lifts the World Cup for Italy in 2006

In the final part of our build up to tomorrow’s FIFA World Cup finals draw “Stoppage Time” looks at those teams that qualified from Europe:

DENMARK – Winners of Europe Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 26*

The Danes qualified from a tough group including Portugal, Hungary and arch-rivals and neighbours Sweden. Although not expected to win the competition Morten Olsen’s men will prove tough opponents and history has proven that anybody that takes the Danes lightly does so at their peril.

PORTUGAL – 2nd in Europe Group One (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 5

Portugal were in danger of not even getting a play-off place after a dreadful start to the campaign. A strong finish saw them placed second, one point ahead of Sweden and Hungary. In the play-off they then beat Bosnia-Herzogovina 1-0 in each leg; Bruno Alves deciding the first game in their favour, Raul Meireles scoring the only goal in the second leg.

SWITZERLAND – Winners of Europe Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 18

The Swiss qualified fairly comfortably in a group where Greece were the only real rivals for the first place position. Solid if not spectacular, Switzerland will see anything beyond the second round as a successful World Cup.

GREECE – 2nd in Europe Group Two (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 12

Otto Rehhagel steered the Greeks to the World Cup after a two-legged play-off against the Ukraine. The 2004 European champions drew the first leg at home 0-0 but managed to win the away leg 1-0 thanks to a strike from Dimitrios Salpingidis. Like the Swiss not many pundits expect the Greeks to go beyond the second round.

SLOVAKIA – Winners of Europe Group Three; FIFA World Ranking = 34

Slovakia qualified from what was an open group containing neighbours Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland and Slovenia. A 1-0 away win in Poland on the final matchday of the qualifiers secured their place and succumbed Slovenia to a play-off.

SLOVENIA – 2nd in Europe Group Three (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 33

Slovenia surprised everybody by finishing second in the group above heavyweight eastern Europe neighbours Czech Republic and Poland. They surprised everybody again by beating the mighty Russians in the play-offs on away goals. After a narrow 2-1 defeat in Moscow, the Slovenians scored on the edge of half-time in the return fixture in Maribor thanks to Zlatko Dedic and the away goal proved to be the crucial difference between the two teams.

GERMANY – Winners of Europe Group Four; FIFA World Ranking = 6

The Germans remained unbeaten in a relatively easy group although impressive home and away victories against Russia proved to be crucial as they won their group by four points. Joachim Loew will be quietly optimistic about his side’s chances in South Africa. If experienced campaigners such as Michael Ballack and Miroslav Klose can gel with the upcoming talent such as Mesut Ozil, Marko Marin and, if chosen, Stefan Kiessling then the “Nationalmannschaft” could be a real threat in the championship.

SPAIN – Winners of Europe Group Five; FIFA World Ranking = 1

It’s been a vintage couple of years for the Spanish national team, known to all as “La Seleccion”; European champions in 2008, a 100% record in World Cup qualifying and number one in the FIFA world rankings, can they confirm their status as the world’s best team by going all the way in South Africa? Having been written off as chokers in previous tournaments the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa and Xabi Alonso will be determined to do it for Spain when it really matters.

ENGLAND – Winners of Europe Group Six; FIFA World Ranking = 9

Fabio Capello’s men easily saw off the likes of Ukraine and Croatia in their group and qualified with two matches to spare. Hopes are high that the so-called “golden generation” including David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney et al will perform in South Africa but will there be the usual disappointment to follow all the hype? Fabio Capello thinks not and one can say that England are real candidates for the title mainly because of the Italian’s stewardship.

SERBIA – Winners of Europe Group Seven; FIFA World Ranking = 20

Although Serbia could only get one point out of six against group favourites France other results in the group went in their favour and, therefore, they went through by one point against their more illustrious opponents. Will be tough to beat but not expected to go too far in their first World Cup since independence.

FRANCE – 2nd in Europe Group Seven (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 7

“Les Bleus” started the qualifying campaign in terrible fashion only collecting one point in their first three games. In the next seven games they took 17 from 21 points and, though never convincing, did what they had to do to secure a play-off place. France then played Republic of Ireland in the two-leg play-off and despite the controversy that surrounded Thierry Henry’s part in the goal that secured France’s passage to South Africa the French will be considered one of the favourites to provide a strong challenge in South Africa.

ITALY – Winners of Europe Group Eight; FIFA World Ranking = 4

The current world champions (see picture above) were taken all the way by the Republic of Ireland in their group but a late goal in Dublin secured the point that the Italians needed to top the group. If Marcello Lippi can steer his charges to further World Cup glory in South Africa then they will join Brazil as record champions of the competition with five wins each.

NETHERLANDS – Winners of Europe Group Nine; FIFA World Ranking = 3

It’s difficult to judge just how tough an opponent the Dutch will be in South Africa. They qualified with a 100% record from arguably the weakest group in qualifying including Norway, Scotland, Macedonia, and Iceland. Usually the Dutch flatter to deceive in the big tournaments, will they do the same again despite their world ranking?

* FIFA world rankings correct on December 1st, 2009.

FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part Two

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 2, 2009

Cafu lifts the FIFA World Cup in 2002 for Brazil

In the second part of Stoppage Time’s build-up to the FIFA World Cup draw, we profile the ten teams who have qualified from South America, Asia, and Oceania:

BRAZIL – Winners of South America Group; FIFA World Ranking = 2*

The most successful country in FIFA World Cup history kept up their amazing record of having qualified for every single World Cup tournament, the only nation to have achieved this feat. Dunga’s side were a model of consistency losing only twice in the eighteen match campaign and won the group by a point from nearest challengers Chile and Paraguay. Strongly fancied to add to their tally of five World Cup wins, the last of whch saw Cafu lift the trophy in Japan/South Korea in 2002 (picture).

CHILE – 2nd in South America Group; FIFA World Ranking = 17

The Chileans have impressed under the stewardship of Argentinian coach  Marcelo Bielsa and are seen as an outside chance to go far in South Africa due to their exciting brand of football.

PARAGUAY – 3rd in South America Group; FIFA World Ranking = 30

Paraguay surprised a few people with their final position finishing third only on goal difference behind Chile. Had they not been defeated by Colombia at home on the final matchday of qualifying they would’ve finished top of the ten nation group. Nonetheless Paraguay could spring a surprise or two in South Africa if they get a decent draw.

ARGENTINA – 4th in South America Group; FIFA World Ranking = 8

Diego Maradona’s side qualified the hard way. After a fantastic start to the campaign Diego Maradona took over the reins of the national team from Alfio Basile a little more than halfway through qualifying. With two matches to go there was a possibility that the Argentinians had thrown away their chances of automatic qualification but a last gasp 2-1 win over Peru was followed by a 1-0 win away at eternal rivals Uruguay. Despite having players such as Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Gonzalo Higuain the jury is out on whether “El Diego” can lead his country to a third World Cup triumph.

URUGUAY – 5th in South America Group (followed by play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 8

Uruguay had to play against Costa Rica (4th in CONCACAF group) in a two-leg play-off after failing to secure an automatic berth during the main qualification stages. Uruguay won the first leg 1-0 away from home and things looked comfortable when they doubled their lead with a goal from Sebastian Abreu in the second leg. However the Costa Ricans equalised on the night to make it 2-1 on aggregate and Uruguay were made to sweat for their place in South Africa.

AUSTRALIA – 1st in Asia Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 21

Australia breezed through their group finishing five points clear of fellow qualifiers Japan. After losing to a harsh penalty against Italy in the 2006 World Cup the “Socceroos” will be hoping to spring a surprise in South Africa especially with proven experience players such as Tim Cahill and Harry Kewell.

JAPAN – 2nd in Asia Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 43

Although they finished five points behind Australia the Japanese team finished the same number of points ahead of Bahrain to take the second automatic qualifying spot from Asia Group One. Despite regular appearances in the FIFA World Cup since 1998 they have yet to get past the second round of any tournament and aren’t expected to trouble too much in South Africa.

SOUTH KOREA – 1st in Asia Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 52

South Korea kept up their good run of qualifying for the World Cup by remaining unbeaten in Asia Group Two, a campaign which pitted them against neighbours North Korea and traditional Asian heavyweights Saudi Arabia, Iran and UAE.

NORTH KOREA – 2nd in Asia Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 84

The North Koreans secured their second ever World Cup finals qualification with a runners-up finish in Asia Group Two. It was a close run thing between themselves and Saudi Arabia who finished on the same number of points. However the North Koreans superior goal difference proved to be crucial in the end. As much as people would love to see a modern day Pak Doo Ik, the hero of the 1966 World Cup, knocking out some of the big boys a repeat of those exploits seem very unlikely.

NEW ZEALAND – 1st in Oceania Group (followed by play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 77

Having easily negotiated their way past New Caledonia, Fiji and Vanuatu in Oceania qualifying, the “All Whites” were made to work hard against a determined Bahrain (3rd in Asia Group One) in a two-leg play-off. A Rory Fallon header just before half time in the second match in Wellington secured both their place in the finals and Fallon’s place as a Kiwi sporting hero. However it is expected that they will struggle in what is to be only their second finals tournament, the first being the 1982 tournament in Spain.

* FIFA World Rankings correct on December 1st, 2009.


FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part One

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 1, 2009

Thirty two teams, one World Cup

The excitement is already building ahead of the draw for the 19th FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa. Ever since the original competition kicked off in Uruguay in 1930 the tournament has gone from strength to strength and there is great anticipation that the next competition will be amongst the best yet. On Friday, December 4th there will be thirty two nations anxious to find out their opponents for the group stage of the tournament that will kick-off on June 11th, 2010. Over the next three days “Stoppage Time” will take a look at how the thirty two nations qualified for the finals. Today we profile the nine nations from Africa and North/Central America:

SOUTH AFRICA – Qualified as hosts; FIFA World Ranking = 86*

It’s been a shaky build-up for South Africa as critics have complained about the organisation, the slow progress of stadium development and poor results from the ‘Bafana Bafana’ which has seen the national team drop down the rankings. Without an African Cup of Nations tournament to prepare for in early 2010 it will be difficult to assess how competitive they could be during the World Cup.

CAMEROON – Winners of Africa Group A; FIFA World Ranking = 11

Cameroon were made to work for their World Cup place having gone toe-to-toe in their group with improving Gabon. Arguably the most fancied team from the African continent to provide a challenge in the finals.

NIGERIA – Winners of Africa Group B; FIFA World Ranking = 22

Nigeria thought they hadn’t done quite enough after their final qualifying game, a 3-2 win over Kenya. Fortunately for the ‘Super Eagles’ news came through that their rivals Tunisia had surprisingly been beaten by Mozambique therefore allowing Nigeria to qualify by a point.

ALGERIA – Winners of Africa Group C (following a play-off against Egypt); FIFA World Ranking = 28

In the final group match Algeria were one minute away from direct qualification for the finals but Egypt’s late second goal meant that a play-off was necessary to separate two teams who had identical records after six matches. Algeria won the play-off 1-0 played in neutral Sudan to go through at the expense of their eternal rivals.

GHANA – Winners of Africa Group D; FIFA World Ranking = 37

Secured qualification with a game to spare in an easy group that contained Mali, Benin and Sudan.

IVORY COAST – Winners of Africa Group E; FIFA World Ranking = 16

Like Ghana, the Ivorians qualified for the finals with a game to spare in a group that contained Burkina Faso, Guinea and Malawi. Didier Drogba’s presence means that the ‘Elephants’ will fancy their chances of getting out of the group stage and challenging some of the stronger nations in the finals.

UNITED STATES – Winners of CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Rankings = 14

The United States topped the six team group in North and Central America to qualify for the finals. Despite football not being among the nation’s top sports the Americans can be proud of securing a place at their sixth consecutive World Cup tournament.

MEXICO – 2nd in CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Ranking = 15

Mexico struggled early on in the campaign and changed their coach in the process. New coach Javier Aguirre has steadied the ship and secured the runners-up spot in the group lying just one point behind their neighbours United States.

HONDURAS – 3rd in CONCACAF Group; FIFA World Ranking = 38

Honduras took the final spot in the group in the most dramatic fashion. Their 1-0 victory away at arch-rivals El Salvador was coupled with the USA’s last minute equalizing goal in the 2-2 draw against Costa Rica, the loss of two crucial points denied the latter a place at the World Cup.

* FIFA World Rankings correct on December 1st, 2009