The African Cup of Nations has come a long way since its inception in 1957 and is now one of the most respected football tournaments in the world. Only three nations participated in the inaugural competition but has steadily risen over the years to become a fully-fledged tournament of 16 teams. In honour of the 27th African Cup of Nations final, which takes place tomorrow between Egypt and Ghana, Stoppage Time takes a look back at previous tournament finals.
It is, perhaps, fitting that the most successful team in the cup’s history were also the first ever champions of the continent. Egypt won the first tournament in 1957 after winning their semi-final against Sudan before going on to easily dispatch of Ethiopia 4-0 in the final with Mohamed Diab el-Attar scoring all four goals. Egypt regained the title as host nation in 1959 beating the same teams as the previous tournament in a mini-league format. Egypt, however, failed to make it three-in-a-row after they lost to hosts Ethiopia in the 1962 final and would not celebrate success in the competition for another two decades.
In 1963 Ghana won their first tournament at home defeating Sudan 3-0 in the final after both teams had topped their groups, each containing three teams. Ghana defended the title two years later after beating host nation Tunisia 3-2 after extra-time but would be the defeated finalists in the next two tournaments against Congo DR in 1968 (1-0) and Sudan in 1970 (3-2). In 1972 Congo, not to be confused with 1968 champions Congo DR, won their only tournament beating Mali 3-2. Zaire, who had won the cup in their previous guise as Congo DR in 1968, reclaimed the title under their new name in 1974 after defeating Zambia 2-0 in the first replayed final in the tournament’s history. In 1976 the format changed whereby the knockout stage was replaced by a final group of four teams after the conclusion of the first round. Morocco won the cup in this year topping the final table from Guinea, Nigeria and Egypt. In the following tournament in 1978 the format reverted back to having a knockout system following the group stage. Ghana celebrated their third triumph after Opoku Afriyie scored both goals in a 2-0 defeat of Uganda.
The 1980 tournament saw Nigeria win their first ever African Cup of Nations after the host nation beat Algeria 3-0. Two years later host country Libya reached the final for the first time but were unfortunate to lose in the first penalty shoot-out to decide an ACN final losing to Ghana 7-6 on spot kicks, a victory which saw the Ghanaians claim their fourth and, hitherto, last title. The 1984 competition saw Cameroon emerge as an African football heavyweight beating Nigeria 3-1. Two years later the Egyptians reached the final for the first time since the group phase finals round of 1976 and emerged triumphant for the third time in their history beating Cameroon on penalty kicks. The next two tournaments saw Nigeria reach the final only to suffer the anguish of defeat on both occasions against Cameroon in 1988 (1-0) and host nation Algeria in 1990 (1-0).
The 1992 tournament saw an expansion of the format from eight teams up to twelve split into four groups of three with an extra knockout round. The Ivory Coast won their first African Cup of Nations title in this tournament beating Ghana 11-10 on penalties after a disappointing final finished 0-0. The 1994 ACN saw Nigeria win the trophy for the second time thanks to a brace from Emmanual Amunike in a 2-1 win over Zambia. The 1996 tournament not only saw a further expansion from twelve to sixteen teams but was also the first tournament in which South Africa were allowed to participate following the country’s re-introduction to the international sporting stage following the end of the Apartheid regime. The Bafana Bafana, as the South African national team are known, exceeded all expectations to win the cup thanks to a 2-0 win over Tunisia, Mark Williams making himself a national hero by scoring both goals. The 1998 tournament was held in Burkina Faso for the first time in the event’s history but saw old favourites Egypt claim their fourth title beating the defending champions South Africa 2-0 in the final.
For the first time in the event’s history the 2000 tournament was held in two countries, Ghana and Nigeria. The latter got to the final, which was held in their home stadium in Lagos, but lost an African Cup of Nations final for the fourth time after losing to Cameroon 4-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw. Cameroon defended the trophy in 2002 after winning on penalty kicks again, this time against Senegal (3-2 after the match had finished 0-0). The following two competitions were won by host nations as Tunisia beat Morocco 2-1 in 2004 and Egypt beat the Ivory Coast on penalties in 2006. Egypt successfully defended their title in the 2008 competition by narrowly defeating Cameroon 1-0 thanks to a late Mohamed Aboutreika goal.
This year’s final takes place tomorrow in the Angolan capital of Luanda with record champions Egypt looking for a history making third consecutive title and a record increasing seventh title overall but in their way will be a Ghana side who despite not scoring many goals haven’t conceded many goals either and will be a tough nut to crack. The Egyptians are on a high after a 4-0 semi-final victory over eternal rivals Algeria in the usual bad-tempered clash on Thursday whilst Ghana also celebrated success against a rival beating neighbours Nigeria 1-0 thanks to a goal from Asamoah Gyan. Due to their recent record in the tournament Egypt go into the match as favourites but Ghana cannot be underestimated especially as they are a four-times African champion themselves. A truly intriging African Cup of Nations final awaits….
With all of Europe’s top leagues back in full swing after the winter break “Stoppage Time” previews this weekend’s top matches:
ENGLAND (Chelsea 22 games/51 points; Man. United 23/50; Arsenal FC 23/49)
For the first time in many years it looks as though more than two teams can challenge for the English Premier League title. However two of the contenders are to meet on Sunday as second place Manchester United, fresh from their League Cup semi-final win over local rivals Manchester City, travel to the Emirates Stadium with hopes of doing the ‘double’ over Arsenal FC after their 2-1 win at Old Trafford earlier this season. Chelsea will hope to put some more distance between themselves and their rivals in the Saturday evening fixture where they meet struggling Burnley FC. In other games in-form Birmingham City meet Champions League contenders Tottenham Hotspur whilst Liverpool FC, not for the first time in this tough season, hope to get back to winning ways at home to Bolton Wanderers.
SCOTLAND (Glasgow Rangers 22 games/51 points; Glasgow Celtic 21/41; Hibernian FC 21/39)
Sadly it seems that the much anticipated four-way challenge for the SPL has now hit the rocks after Rangers’ good form has coincided with all of their potentials rivals dropping points. While the league leaders and current champions Rangers were strolling to a 2-0 win at St.Mirren on Wednesday Old Firm rivals Celtic lost 2-1 at home to Hibernian FC, who now have ambitions of claiming the second Champions League spot for next season. This weekend sees Rangers at home to bottom side Falkirk FC, Celtic play away at Hamilton Academicals and Hibernian face-off against mid-table St.Mirren.
GERMANY (Bayer 04 Leverkusen 19 games/41 points; FC Bayern München 19/39; FC Schalke 19/38)
In recent years the Bundesliga, arguably more than any top European league, has concluded with final-day drama and tension and this season has the potential to emulate some of the drama from the past. The top five teams in the league are separated by only seven points and with none of them playing against each other on Matchday 20 then this weekend may tell us more about each team’s title hopes. Leaders Leverkusen, still unbeaten after 19 games, play against SC Freiburg on Sunday evening knowing if they need to win to reclaim top spot. In the meantime either FC Bayern (at home to 1. FSV Mainz) or Schalke 04 (at home to Hoffenheim) can take over the leadership of the league, if only for a matter of hours. Other top games include Hamburger SV against champions-in-crisis VfL Wolfsburg, Borussia Dortmund’s trip to VfB Stuttgart and Eintracht Frankfurt host 1.FC Köln.
FRANCE (Girondins de Bordeaux 21 games/47 points; Montpellier 21/39; Lille OSC 21/37)
Laurent Blanc’s Bordeaux have ambitions to usurp Olympique Lyonnais as the top team in France and have a handy eight point lead over nearest challengers Montpellier. Many expect them to stroll to another three points in their latest match at home to second bottom team Boulogne. After reaching the Coupe de la Ligue semi-finals this week, Olympique Marseille will play against surprise title contenders Montpellier in a southern derby. A win for l’OM will allow them to overtake Montpellier in the table. Lille OSC, who were knocked out of the Coupe de la Ligue on Wednesday, will hope to put cup disappointment behind them with a win against Racing Lens. In the Côte d’Azur derby AS Monaco play against OGC Nice, a win for the former will improve their European credentials whilst for the latter will help les Niçoise pull further away from the relegation zone.
SPAIN (FC Barcelona 19 games/49 points; Real Madrid CF 19/44; Valencia CF 19/39)
La Liga has looked like a potential two-horse race ever since Matchday 1 and not much has changed now that we have reached the halfway stage of the campaign. FC Barcelona became only the seventh team to end the first half of the league season unbeaten and will hope to consolidate their position with a win away at Sporting, which is traditionally a tough place for any side to go due to the hostile reception their fans provide their opponents. Cristiano Ronaldo endured mixed emotions in his last outing for Real Madrid, his two goals in a 2-0 win over Malaga were overshadowed by his red card in the second half. El Real must play without their record signing this Saturday away at Deportivo de La Coruña where, surprisingly, Madrid haven’t won since 1992. Third-place Valencia play against the team who occupied that position for most of the season Sevilla, who recently embarked on a torrid spell of one win in the last five games.
ITALY (Internazionale 21 games/49 points; AC Milan 20/40; AS Roma 21/38)
After last weekend’s Milan derby many people have already suggested that the Nerazzurri should be given their fifth consecutive lo Scudetto already having built up a nine-point lead over their eternal and nearest rivals. However Inter coach Jose Mourinho would not want to take their next opponents Parma lightly as they are a team capable of beating anybody on their day. In other games AC Milan are at home to Livorno, who are struggling against relegation lying fifth from bottom, AS Roma hope that they can continue their recent good form at home to bottom side Siena whilst Juventus, with talk of crisis in the air, will have their work cut out at home to SS Lazio.
NETHERLANDS (PSV Eindhoven 19 games/51 points; FC Twente 19/49; Ajax Amsterdam 19/42)
The Netherlands is expecting the mother of all battles on Sunday afternoon as De Klassieker between Feyenoord Rotterdam and Ajax Amsterdam resumes again. Feyenoord are at home this weekend and will hope to avenge the 5-1 mauling they suffered at the home of their bitter rivals earlier in the season. Ajax will hope that a win for themselves can bring them closer to the main title challengers above them. FC Twente, who had led the table for most of the season, have been overtaken by PSV since the resumption of the Eredivisie after the winter break but Steve McClaren’s men will be hoping to get back to winning ways at home to Roda JC Kerkrade whilst PSV are away at mid-table Vitesse Arnhem.
PORTUGAL (Sporting Braga 16 games/39 points; SL Benfica 16/39; FC Porto 16/33)
Little Sporting Braga have captured many people’s hearts in Portugal as their title challenge continues. They lead the table despite having a much inferior goal difference to Benfica due to their head-to-head record (Braga won the first meeting 2-0 in October) but the ‘Eagles’ of Lisbon have been stronger since that game winning five and drawing two of their last seven games. Braga play against Benfica’s local rivals Sporting Lisbon on Friday whilst Benfica plays at home to Vitoria Guimarães. Only six points behind both teams are FC Porto who have a tough away tie against Nacional Madeira on Saturday.
The Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club competition, begins again this week as twelve teams fight it out in the first round in order to qualify for the group stage which begins next month. “Stoppage Time” previews the impending match-ups which are played over two legs during the next couple of weeks:
JUNIOR (Colombia) v RACING (Uruguay)
Junior qualified for the Copa Libertadores as the best placed non-champion team in Colombia’s Copa Mustang competition in 2009 whilst Racing fought it through a tough pre-Libertadores ‘Liguilla’ (mini league) competition in Uruguay and qualified as runners-up. Whereas Racing will be making their maiden appearance in the Libertadores Barranquilla based side Junior have a little more experience in what will be their tenth tournament, their best finish coming in 1994 when they reached the semi-finals. The team who qualifies for the group stage will find themselves against Corinthians (Brazil), Cerro Porteño (Paraguay) and Independiente Medellín (Colombia) in Group 1.
JUAN AURICH (Peru) v ESTUDIANTES TECOS (Mexico)
Both sides are little known outside their borders and should prove to be a tough encounter seeing as they are making their third and first appearances in the Libertadores respectively. Juan Aurich qualified as the best placed team that didn’t win any of the two groups during the ‘Descentralizado’ whilst Tecos had to play in a post-season “InterLiga” for those teams that didn’t directly qualify for the Libertadores for fill up the two final berths. Despite beating Puebla in their last match they finished runners-up behind Monterrey who qualified directly. South American champions Estudiantes de La Plata (Argentina), Bolivar (Bolivia) and Alianza Lima (Peru) await the winners in Group 3.
DEPORTIVO TÁCHIRA (Venezuela) v LIBERTAD (Paraguay)
Deportivo Táchira compete in their thirteenth Libertadores having qualified for the tournament as the best placed non-champion with the best aggregate points total at the end of the Opening and Closing tournaments whilst Libertad got through in a similar fashion having accumulated the most points in the Paraguayan championship. Libertad have plenty of experience in the Libertadores, their best performance coming as recently as 2006 where they were knocked out in the semi-finals by eventual champions SC Internacional. Deportivo also have some history in the tournment having reached the quarter-finals in 2004. The winners from this tie will play in one of the weaker groups of the tournament against Lanús (Argentina), Blooming (Bolivia) and Universitario (Peru) in Group 4.
NEWELL’S OLD BOYS (Argentina) v EMELEC (Ecuador)
The side from Argentina’s second city of Rosario have come close on two occasions to winning the Libertadores but were defeated in the 1988 and 1992 competitions. They begin in this year’s tournament having qualified with the third best average points total among non-champion clubs. They face an Emelec side who finished third in Ecuador’s ‘Serie A’ after beating 2008 Libertadores champions LDU Quito in a two-legged play-off. Whoever comes through the two matches will be in the same group as SC Internacional (Brazil), Cerro (Uruguay) and Deportivo Quito (Ecuador) in Group 5.
REAL POTOSI (Bolivia) v CRUZEIRO (Brazil)
Bolivia’s Real Potosi are making their fifth appearance in the competition having won an end of season play-off whilst Cruzeiro guaranteed their berth by finishing fourth in the Campeonato Brasileiro on the final day of the 2009 season. The Brazilian side have a distinguished history in the Libertadores having been crowned champions on two occasions in 1976 and 1997 whilst the Bolivians are making only their fifth ever appearance amongst South America’s elite. Velez Sarsfield (Argentina), Colo Colo (Chile) and Deportivo Italia (Venezuela) await the winners in Group 7.
COLÓN SANTA FE (Argentina) v UNIVERSIDAD CATÓLICA (Chile)
Colón qualified for the Libertadores thanks to having the second best average among non-champions in Argentina whilst Universidad Católica were the best placed non-champion in the 2009 Torneo Clausura. The Chileans came close to winning the competition in 1993 but succumbed to the superiority of their opponents São Paulo whilst Colón have only ever made one appearance in 1998 where they reached the quarter-finals before being knocked out by compatriots River Plate. The winners of this tie will meet up against Flamengo (Brazil), Universidad de Chile (Chile) and FC Caracas (Venezuela) in Group 8.
In the second of an irregular series, “Away Days” looks at my trip last weekend to follow the ‘Adler’ (Eagles) of Eintracht Frankfurt on Matchday 19 of the German Bundesliga against 1.FC Nürnberg:
I arrived on Friday afternoon in Frankfurt am Main, a city which is gradually becoming a second home to me, and after being welcomed into the home of my good friend Christian we went to the “Elfer”, a pub whose mix of people watching football on the TV and of those more interested in playing the table version of the game very much gives the impression that the sport is quite important in this favoured watering-hole. I was here to meet four members of the “EFC 11-er Freunde” – the pub’s own Eintracht Frankfurt supporters’ club – with whom I would embark on an away trip to the Franconian city of Nuremberg the following morning. Following many introductory beers we met up on the Saturday morning with perhaps yours truly being the only person suffering from the previous night’s alcoholic excesses. Thankfully, though, the bus turned up in the famously rowdy Sachsenhausen area at 9:30am which signalled the time when I could sample a “Katerfrühstück” (lit. ‘hangover breakfast’) in the form of a bottle of Beck’s and that was to signal the beginning of the four hour trip to our destination.
The bus comprised members of various other Eintracht fan clubs whose numbers seemed to be larger than our own small but no less passionate quintet of travellers. Fan club chairman Martin, his brother Robert and fellow ‘Adler’ Daniel were all as keen as everybody else who I spoke to that day as to why someone from Liverpool has chosen to follow their beloved Eintracht. For the record I saw my first game in Waldstadion in 2006 (Eintracht 1:1 VfL Wolfsburg) and since then I’ve tried to get back whenever possible. Perhaps the main highlight before this weekend was at my first Eintracht away day in February 2008 in Berlin, a match notable by Martin Fenin’s hat-trick, only the fourth such “Dreierpack” by a player making his debut in the Bundesliga since the league began in 1963. We were hoping that something just as exciting would happen in Nuremberg and, more importantly, that the unbeaten record I had when watching Eintracht live in the stadium would continue. After a booze-fuelled, classic sing-a-long, away trip we arrived at the Easy-Credit-Stadion (perhaps the worst name for a stadium I’ve ever encountered) with all Eintracht fans in good voice as we proudly announced to the world that “die Frankfodder sind da” before proceeding to the odd-shaped concrete stadium we were about to enter.
Inside the ground me and the Elfer lads were joined by around 3,000 travelling ‘Adler’, some of whom at the front provided the colour as the teams walked out on to the field with the smoke of flares drifting in the air. Following this the singing began and was not exactly going to stop with two megaphone-carrying fanatics making sure that the Eintracht faithful kept their lungs busy with songs of gusto. Less than a minute into the game we nearly had an early goal to cheer but, alas, Patrick Ochs shot over the bar with the first chance of the game. After that though the game turned into a laboured midfield battle for both teams as they struggled to break each other down so I guess it was no surprise that the deadlock was broken thanks to a set-piece. After a foul on Charisteas in the Eintracht half a free-kick from Pascal Bieler flew towards a crowd of players in the penalty box and it was Christian Eigler who rose highest to put the hosts in front on 27 minutes, much to the annoyance of our end who thought it was an undeserving way to take the lead. It was to prove the only time we would ever hear the 1.FC Nürnberg supporters all afternoon but one can only guess that Eintracht’s equalizing goal five minutes before half-time had taken the wind out of their sails. A cross from the ever reliable Patrick Ochs on the right-hand side was headed at the far post by Benjamin Köhler before an oncoming Dennis Diekmeier could do anything about it. Our end went berserk and the hoardes of Eintracht fans were happy that the score was level at the half-time break.
Sadly the second half carried on in much the same vein as the first 45 minutes with limited scoring chances and, as a spectacle, was far from a classic. Indeed the rest of the lads from the Elfer fan group were more pre-occupied by the apparent lack of safety being shown by the upper tier above our heads which seemed to move more and more menacingly as the fans above bounced up and down. However this worried us little as the game drew to a close with both sides having at least one good chance each to seal the deal with Illay Gündoğan and Alex Meier missing late chances towards the end for 1.FCN and Eintracht respectively. Nonetheless a 1-1 draw was, on reflection, a fair result and it meant that my unbeaten record when watching Eintracht live was preserved. Both teams were satisfied with the point, Eintracht because it took them to the same number of points as Werder Bremen in sixth place whilst 1.FC Nürnberg ended a run of five consecutive defeats. At the end of the game the Eintracht players saluted the loyal ‘Adler’ with Christoph Preuß leading the singing on one of the megaphones provided by the fanatics. After the match we were back on the road to Frankfurt enjoying the same ritual of songs and beer until we arrived back around 22:00 ready to enjoy the rest of the night in “Klapper 33”, a well-known hangout for Eintracht supporters in the Sachsenhausen district.
The following day I signed a form provided to me by Martin to become an official member of the “EFC 11-er Freunde” (subject to a medical, of course whilst aboard the “Ebbelwoi Express”, a tram which takes in all the sights of the city whilst the passengers indulge in the Frankfurt speciality of Apple Wine. It was a fitting way to conclude the weekend as it signified on paper as well as in spirit that I am well and truly “Eintracht für immer” (always Eintracht). Therefore I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everybody involved for a fantastic trip. Freundschaft!
The group stage of the African Cup of Nations is over and now there are four mouth watering quarter-finals to look forward to. With traditional heavyweights such as Egypt, Ivory Coast and Ghana involved along with hosts Angola the tournament is now about to enter the business end. Stoppage Time looks back at each of the groups:
GROUP A (ANGOLA, ALGERIA, MALI, MALAWI)
The group and the tournament started off with an epic 4-4 draw between hosts Angola and Mali, a game revered for its dramatic comeback as Mali were 4-0 behind with eleven minutes to go. Malawi won their first game against Algeria but, alas, they were the only points they were to collect in the tournament whilst the other three nations fought it out for the top two places. Algeria’s narrow 1-0 win over Mali would have significant consequences at the group’s conclusion as Algeria went into their final group match knowing that a draw would secure a quarter-final place regardless of what happened in the Mali-Malawi encounter. Algeria got the point they needed thanks to a 0-0 draw against Angola who topped the group but the Malians were upset with the way both teams went about the game and lodged an official complaint with the African Football Confederation (CAF). Algeria went through by virtue of their head-to-head record over Mali but when one looks at the statistics it would seem that Mali were more worthy of a place: a positive goal difference of plus two compared to Algeria’s minus one whilst Mali scored seven goals in the tournament compared to Algeria’s one.
GROUP B (IVORY COAST, GHANA, BURKINA FASO – TOGO disqualified)
Togo were disqualified from the African Cup of Nations after they didn’t take part in their first scheduled game against Ghana following the tragic shooting in Cabinda. Despite the Togolese delegation requesting that they be allowed back into the tournament after a period of grief the CAF continued with the tournament and, therefore, the three remaining nations played just two matches in the group stage. Ivory Coast had a difficult start only managing to draw 0-0 against Burkina Faso but turned on the style in their second game defeating Ghana 3-1 to top the group. In the final game Ghana beat Burkina Faso 1-0 to seal their place in the last eight.
GROUP C (EGYPT, NIGERIA, BENIN, MOZAMBIQUE)
The six time winners and defending champions Egypt, who some people had written off before the competition started, easily topped the group with a 100% record, the only country to do so in the group stage. They beat Nigeria (3-1), Benin (2-0) and Mozambique (2-0) to finish three points ahead of nearest challengers Nigeria who secured second thanks to easy victories over Mozambique (2-0) and Benin (3-0) which gave them a five point cushion over the groups’ whipping boys who, in their head-to-head, shared the points after a 2-2 draw.
GROUP D (ZAMBIA, CAMEROON, GABON, TUNISIA)
This group went right to the death as various tie-breaking criteria decided who finished where in the group. After three matchdays three nations had four points each, Zambia, Cameroon and Gabon whilst Tunisia finished in last place with three points from successive draws to leave them out of the equation. The other three countries all had a record of having won one, drawn one and lost one of their games and all three had equal goal difference so the crucial tie-breaker proved to be the number of goals scored. Both Zambia and Cameroon scored five goals each whilst Gabon only scored two so it was they who had to step aside for the others in a heartbreaking way to depart from any tournament.
QUARTER-FINAL DRAW (Games to be played on January 24/25)
ANGOLA – GHANA
IVORY COAST – ALGERIA
EGYPT – CAMEROON
ZAMBIA – NIGERIA
At 20:45 local time on Sunday the second “Derby della Madonnina” will begin between Milanese giants Internazionale (46 points from 20 games) and AC Milan (40 pts, 19 games). Six points separate the sides and this has turned what is normally a grudge match anyway into something even more significant as both sides have separated from the rest of the league as the only likely challengers for lo Scudetto.
On Matchday 2 of the 2009-10 Serie A campaign the two sides met with experienced campaigner José Mourinho leading his Inter team to an emphatic 4-0 victory over a Milan side whose new coach Leonardo found the going tough in the opening weeks of the new season. Goals from Thiago Motta, Diego Milito and Maicon had already put the game beyond the Rossoneri by half-time before Dejan Stanković sealed the deal for the Nerazzurri with a long range strike midway through the second half. However one can only guess that, on current form, Inter won’t be finding their neighbours such an enticing proposition as Milan, and especially their charismatic talisman Ronaldinho, are in great form having only dropped three points in their last nine league games whilst Inter have stuttered in recent weeks scoring eleven points from eighteen available.
This particular fixture usually brings about the best in either one team or the other as there hasn’t been a drawn derby game in Serie A since October 2004. In the last nine derbies Inter have been victorious on six occasions including a ‘double’ in 2006-07, a result which, if repeated this Sunday, will extend Inter’s lead at the top to nine points albeit having played a game more. However if Milan can keep up their great recent form with a win against the champions they’ll close the gap to a mere three points which they can then equal with a win in their game in hand. Out of all permutations for Sunday’s game it is the latter option which is most important if the title race is to become a nailbiter. After being ‘given’ the Scudetto in 2005-06 due to the “Calciopoli” scandal, Inter have almost strolled their way to another three more titles by margins of 22pts, 3pts and 10pts in the last three championships. If Inter are to be denied being only the second team to win five Scudetti in a row (after the great Torino side of 1943-49) then it is imperative for the Rossoneri’s big guns to show on Sunday.
News from Milan’s camp has not been positive on the injury front. Players such as Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf are doubts whilst Pato will definitely sit the game out with a thigh problem. Inter have some problems of their own as two of the scorers from the 4-0 win this season, Motta and Stanković, are doubts and Sulley Muntari pulled up with a thigh strain in training earlier this week. Despite these problems both clubs have any number of players who can make a difference but one feels Milan have the advantage as they have Ronaldinho playing his best football since he left FC Barcelona, David Beckham looking like he hasn’t been away from the San Siro and Marco Borriello whose confidence has shone through in recent games, especially the 5-2 win over his old club Genoa. Inter will miss their top scorer Samuel Eto’o due to his participation in the African Cup of Nations but they still have potential matchwinners in Mario Balotelli, Goran Pandev and Diego Milito. Either way it makes for an exciting derby match which, hopefully, will set the scene for the rest of the season.
Stoppage Time is looking forward to a trip to Germany this weekend so I have decided to write a short blog today in order to share a video from a German Second League game that was played last Sunday afternoon between MSV Duisburg and FSV Frankfurt. With nine minutes to play and the score already 4:0 to MSV Duisburg this goal didn’t have too much significance on the final outcome but a ‘goal’ such as this one only increases the case for video technology to be used in similar situations. That debate, I’m sure, we shall have on another occasion but, for now, just enjoy the comedy that is Christian Tiffert’s “Phantomtor”. The commentary is in German but the pictures are very self-explanatory:
Finally there are positive things to say about Club Atlético de Madrid, a club whose consistency comes from their inconsistency both on and off the pitch. Whether it be sacking coaches only weeks after assuring them of their future in the job or beating big teams following defeats from smaller teams, Atlético have always made life difficult for themselves and this season has been no exception. However Quique Sánchez Flores, the latest man at the helm at the Estadio Vicente Calderón following Abel Resino’s dismissal in late October, has gone about his job in understated fashion and has seen his charges finally start to deliver results since the beginning of the new year, winning four out of five league and cup games.
To say that Atlético were a laughing stock at the beginning of the season is an understatement. Los Rojiblancos (Red and Whites) failed to win any of their first five matches, which included a 5-2 defeat at the Camp Nou against champions FC Barcelona (some optimists claimed that this was progress after Barça hammered them 6-1 the season before). After their first win of the season against Zaragoza in early October the club embarked on a winless streak for another five games, taking just one point from fifteen. That point came against a Mallorca team reduced to nine men who scored the equaliser in the last minute of the game! Back-to-back wins against RCD Espanyol (4-0) and bottom club Xerez (2-0) was temporary respite before ending 2009 on a low note taking one point from the last two games against Villarreal (1-2) and Tenerife (1-1). The club’s poor league form was magnified upon the European stage, the lowest night of the UEFA Champions League campaign coming at Stamford Bridge where a 4-0 defeat against Chelsea FC saw the end of Resino’s reign. Atlético scraped through to the UEFA Europa League on goal difference by virtue of a better head-to-head record against Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia but the very least that can be said for Atleti at this time was that they secured further European participation after the winter break.
On paper it seemed as though the new year would continue in the same vein as their first game of 2010 pitted them against Champions League hopefuls Sevilla. However it was Atleti who finally got some last minute fortune, Antonio Lopez (pictured) scoring at the death to secure a much needed 2-1 win. However the first leg match in the Copa del Rey 1/16 round saw the expected fall for Atleti as they went down 3-0 to second division side Recreativo de Huelva. Despite this setback Atlético resumed league action and went about their business away to Valladolid in splendid fashion winning 4-0 including a “golazo” from much maligned winger José Antonio Reyes, whose first Spanish league goal in two years was an absolute beauty from long range. Following that was the second leg of their Copa del Rey encounter with Recreativo. Atlético Madrid had cancelled out their three goal deficit from the first leg by half-time. They took a 4-0 lead on the night thanks to star man Sergio “Kun” Agüero but then proceeded to give away their advantage when conceding an away goal with just twenty minutes to go. However Atleti found some inner strength which had been lacking throughout the season after Simão scored his second of the night with a well executed free-kick. An exciting match concluded with Atleti clawing through 5-4 on aggregate.
And so to yesterday’s game where Atleti’s opponents Sporting Gijón were starting the match in ninth position, four points ahead of their hosts in the table so a close game was expected. Diego Forlán gave Atleti the lead on 12 minutes after being put through by Kun Agüero but the visitors restored parity on 34 minutes. Goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo brought down Diego Castro who promptly got up to score from twelve yards out (or eleven metres if you prefer). In the second half Atleti played with purpose and were rewarded with two further strikes from Paulo Assunção (52 minutes) and Ibrahima Baldé (65′), both of whom scoring their first goals for the club. Despite a late scare from Luis Morán, who pulled one back for Sporting in the last minute, the Rojiblancos held out for their third successive league victory.
Having occupied the relegation zone for parts of the season Atlético Madrid have now climbed up to 11th in the championship table and now have ambitions of qualifying for Europe next season lying seven points behind sixth-placed Sevilla, who occupy the second UEFA Europa League spot via the league. With a Copa del Rey quarter-final against Celta de Vigo and a Europa League 1/32 round tie against Turkish giants Galatasaray to look forward to, it seems that Atlético’s season is really just beginning. But, such is life, one really has to take things one game at a time especially at a club as unpredictable as Atleti. All Rojiblancos will be hoping that Atlético have finally turned the corner….
Following on from yesterday’s preview into the Carioca championship taking place in neighbouring Rio de Janeiro, the Paulista championship of 2010 begins this weekend in São Paulo where defending champions Corinthians go in search of their 27th title.
There are hopes among everybody involved in Sport Club Corinthians that 2010 will be a truly memorable year. Having won the 2009 Paulista state championship and the Copa do Brasil, the Timão will be hoping to do better in their centenary year, winning either the Campeonato Brasileiro (national championship) or a maiden Copa Libertadores (South American Champions League). But first they will concentrate on winning the Paulista tournament for a second successive year, starting today away at Monte Azul.
The Campeonato Paulista has a different format to the Carioca (indeed, each state championship decides its own format). In the first stage the twenty clubs play each other once only and the top four go through into the two-legged semi-finals followed by a two-legged final with teams playing at each other’s stadiums in contrast to the Carioca, where teams play the final games at the Estadio Maracanã. The first stage of last year’s competition was topped by Palmeiras (44pts from 19 games) followed by São Paulo FC, Corinthians and Santos FC. Out of the top four though only Corinthians managed to maintain an unbeaten record, the others losing at least one game. In the semi-finals Corinthians came from behind in the first leg to beat São Paulo FC 2-1 before seeing off their arch-rivals with a 2-0 return leg victory at the Estadio Morumbi to clinch the tie 4-1 on aggregate. The final proved to be more comfortable for Corinthians as they defeated Santos FC 3-1 away from home in the first leg with newly-returned Brazilian legend Ronaldo scoring twice. In the second leg at home Santos FC scored early on through Kléber Pareira on 28 minutes before an equaliser six minutes later from André Santos restored the overall two goal cushion of the tie and the match petered out into an easy triumph for Corinthians who won 4-2 on aggregate to seal their 26th title, the fifth Paulista championship which they had won with an unbeaten record (they did likewise in 1914, 1916, 1929 and 1938). The trophy presentation that took place after the match proved to be the abiding memory of the championship. Upon receiving the trophy on a raising platform the Corinthians captain William had an almighty scare as the fireworks and streamers going off around him flew on to the trophy which promptly caught fire, forcing him to drop the cup. Thankfully neither he nor any of the presentation party were hurt in what proved to be a comical episode (watch the video clip here).
Not only will Corinthians have Ronaldo on their roster but another Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos comes back to play in his home country having spent many years at Real Madrid and the last two and a half seasons at Fenerbahçe Istanbul. The pair will hope to bring domestic and international success to the club having won many titles together with the Brazilian national team. If the Corinthians team can catch fire in a similar manner to the Paulista trophy then one expects that they will be celebrating again at the end of the competition.
Fresh from winning the Campeonato Brasiliero for the first time in seventeen years in 2009 Clube de Regatas do Flamengo, more popularly known as just ‘Flamengo’, will be hoping to keep up their recent domination of the Rio State Championship (Carioca) which begins this weekend. “O Mengão” won their third consecutive state championship last year which also helped them overtake arch-rivals Fluminense in the list of overall title wins (Flamengo have 31, Fluminense 30). Flamengo hope that they can carry on from where they left off in 2009 and begin another era of success for the club, starting this weekend against little Duque de Caxias on Sunday.
The Carioca championship is divided into two stages, the “Taça Guanabara” and the “Taça Rio”. In the first stage the sixteen clubs are divided into two groups of eight teams and each team plays against the teams in their own group once only. At the end of the group stage the top two from each group will play in the semi-finals (first of each group plays against the second team in the other group) and the winners will go to the one-leg final at Estadio Maracanã. In the Taça Rio the groups remain the same but each team, rather than playing the other teams in their group, will play all of the teams from the other group once only. Similarly the top two in this tournament go into the semi-finals with the final played at the Maracanã. If the same team wins both stages of the tournament then there is no need for a two-legged play-off to decide the overall champion. In 2009 Botafogo came close to becoming overall champion in this manner. However having won the Taça Guanabara with a 3-0 win over surprise package Resende, they couldn’t quite manage to win the Taça Rio, losing to Flamengo 1-0 which forced the championship play-off. Both legs of the 2009 Carioca final finished 2-2 so the title was decided by the dreaded penalty shoot-out. Leandro Guerreiro missed Botafogo’s fourth kick in the shoot-out and this was enough for Flamengo to celebrate their 31st state championship.
The state championships may not be as important as they once were in Brazil but they still retain a place in the calendar as many fans see them as part of national footballing tradition, much the same as English football has a special place for the FA Cup. Flamengo will be optimistic of winning their 32nd tournament in 2010. Brazilian international player Vágner Love, who was being chased by German club Hamburger SV, has now opted to stay on loan in his homeland having been loaned previously to Palmeiras from his club CSKA Moscow. Love will team up with Adriano in the heart of the attack for the Rubro-Negro (Red and blacks) and will hope to add to a personal trophy cabinet that includes two Russian championships, a UEFA Cup and two Copa America titles which he won with the national team in 2004 and 2007.
Now that their national championship drought has been fulfilled can Flamengo create a new team to rival the the great side of Zico from the 1980s by capitalising on recent success? The 2010 Carioca championship will be the first place to find out.