The UEFA Europa League, like its counterpart Champions League, has reached the last eight of the competition and “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” previews the matches ahead:
SL BENFICA (Portugal) v LIVERPOOL FC (England)
Although they are seen as favourites to win this game Liverpool FC had better beware the very real challenge from the Portuguese giants of SL Benfica. After all, the last time these two European heavyweights met on the continental stage saw the Eagles of Lisbon turn over the then defending holders 3-0 in the Round of 16 of the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League. In the last round Liverpool FC came back from a 1-0 first leg deficit to dispose of French outift Lille OSC 3-1 on aggregate. Benfica had it tougher against another French side, 2003-04 UEFA Cup finalists Olympique de Marseille, who they beat 3-2 on aggregate thanks to a last-minute winner from Alan Kardec in the intimidating Stade Vélodrome. Since qualification Benfica have savoured domestic cup success defeating arch-rivals FC Porto in the Portuguese League Cup final and then consolidating their lead in the Liga Sagres by beating nearest challengers Sporting Braga. Liverpool, on the other hand, suffered defeat at the hands of their arch-rivals Manchester United before seeing off the challenge of a weak Sunderland AFC team in their latest outing at Anfield.
VALENCIA CF (Spain) v ATLÉTICO de MADRID (Spain)
All fans of Madrid’s “other” team Atlético are rejoicing in the fact they are the only side from Spain’s capital city who have a real chance of winning two trophies this season whilst their local neighbours Real Madrid CF ‘only’ have to contend with fighting it out with FC Barcelona for the La Liga title. However Valencia CF have a good recent record in European competition including the famous triumph over Olympique de Marseille in the 2003-04 UEFA Cup final and are seven places higher than Atleti in La Liga. Valencia are in third position in the Spanish League but have no chance of winning it as they are a distant 21 points behind the top two and are hoping for the only remaining silverware available to them. Both of these teams won their Round of 16 matches on away goals, Valencia CF were involved in arguably the tie of the round having drawn 4-4 away to German giants Werder Bremen after the first leg in Valencia had ended 1-1. Atlético were perhaps a tad lucky to emerge from the first leg with a 0-0 draw after Sporting Lisbon had the better chances. There was no arguing with Atleti’s second leg performance though as they took the lead twice before holding out for a 2-2 away draw in Portugal. Since qualification both teams have mixed records of a win and a defeat in La Liga.
HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v STANDARD LIEGE (Belgium)
German football legend Uwe Seeler, known affectionately by the Hamburg locals as “Uns Uwe” (Our Uwe), may have had some luck on his side when he picked the balls out of the draw for the UEFA Europa League in Nyon. Many people feel that HSV have a real chance of reaching the final in their home Volksparkstadion stadium but this would be to underestimate the potential of defending Belgian champions Standard Liège who now only have the Europa League to play for after failing to qualify for the Belgian Jupiler League championship play-offs recently. The fact that Standard have, like HSV, saved some of their better performances for European games doesn’t seem to have registered on many fans’ minds yet and Les Rouches (The Reds) seem more than capable of upsetting the odds on their day. In the Round of 16 they comfortably defeated a Panathinaikos side who had shocked Europe by knocking out Italian heavyweights AS Roma in the previous round. Hamburger SV have also had it tough against Belgian opposition in this tournament scraping through the last round against Belgian Jupiler League leaders RSC Anderlecht by the odd goal in eleven. Since qualification both teams domestic fortunes have not been too good. HSV have lost their last two games against Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach whilst Standard’s Belgian League odyssey now rests with participation in the play-offs for a 2010-11 UEFA Europa League place which is available to those teams that finished from 7th-14th after the regular season.
FULHAM FC (England) v VfL WOLFSBURG (Germany)
Perhaps the biggest surprise in UEFA Europa League this season was Fulham FC’s magnificent fightback in the Round of 16, 2nd leg against Italian giants Juventus FC where they came back from a 4-1 aggregate deficit early in the second leg to defeat the three-time winners of this tournament 5-4 with Clint Dempsey writing himself into Fulham FC folklore with a beautifully chipped goal in the dying minutes of the game. Since then Fulham’s form on the domestic stage has been dreadful having lost back-to-back league games against Manchester City and Hull City as well as suffering FA Cup misery away at Tottenham Hotspur. Defending German champions VfL Wolfsburg have endured a roller coaster ride throughout the season with many an up-and-down feeling as the season has progressed. Die Wölfe (The Wolves) needed extra-time to get past the Russian champions Rubin Kazan in the last round with Christian Gentner scoring a dramatic last-minute winner but this had an immediate effect on their domestic form going down 5-1 at home to Hertha BSC Berlin who have been in last place practically all season. Wolfsburg did recover to win their most recent league match against 1.FSV Mainz by two goals to nil.
UEFA Europa League Quarter-Finals (team on left at home first)
SL Benfica v Liverpool FC
Valencia CF v Atlético de Madrid
Hamburger SV v Standard de Liège
Fulham FC v VfL Wolfsburg
All games to be played on April 1st and April 8th
The Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Club Championship has reached the conclusion of the first stage but the tournament had plenty of difficulties before a ball was even kicked. Two teams, Elite SC and Bath Estate FC, withdrew from the competition while Defence Force had immigration problems which forced them to play in another group within the tournament. Despite the various setbacks there was still plenty of football played and “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” reviews the tournament so far:
Puerto Rico’s River Plate won this group with a 100% record after clocking up wins against Haitian team Racing de Gonaïves and the two Netherlands Antilles teams CSD Barber and Hubentut Fortuna. Once River had defeated the Haitian side 3-1 in the first game then the outcome of the next two games were never in doubt due to River’s superior squad. River Plate went on to beat Hubentut 5-1 and CSD Barber 4-0 to top the group while Racing qualified for the next stage finishing in second place one point above CSD Barber in the standings.
This group was reduced to only two teams after Guyanan representatives Defense Force were forced to transfer into Group D because they were unable to obtain entry into Puerto Rico due to strict immigration regulations. This meant that the two teams remaining in the group already knew that they had qualified for the second round before a ball had been kicked but the two teams still had to play two matches in order to determine rankings and placings for the second stage of the competition. Puerto Ricans Bayamón FC sealed the first spot in the group having won the first match against System 3 FC by four goals to nil in the first game and securing a 2-2 draw in the return game.
Two-time winners of the CFU Club Championship Joe Public FC from Trinidad & Tobago easily topped the group with a 100% record in Group C after wins over Avenues United (St. Vincent & The Grenadines), Leo Victor (Surinam) and Devonshire Cougars (Bermuda). There was a fight for second when Avenues United defeated Leo Victor 3-1 in the final game of the group but it turned out that the losing Leo Victor side had the best record out of those teams that finished third in their group and, thus, also qualified for the second stage.
Bath Estate FC from Dominica withdrew from the competition before the start and were replaced by Guyana’s Defence Force FC. However the Guyanans didn’t have a happy time of it in this group losing to both Walking Boys from Surinam and table toppers Alpha United FC in their group games. With the top two teams drawing 1-1 in the group’s second match it was down to overall goal difference to decide who finished where and it was Alpha United who emerged triumphant with a goal difference of +2 in comparison to Walking Boys’ +1.
The second stage will see three new teams enter the tournament as they had a bye from the first stage. Puerto Rico Islanders are last year’s CFU Club Championship runners-up and they are joined by current Haitian champions Tempête FC and San Juan Jabloteh, whose best finish in this tournament was in 2003 where they finished in third place. The second stage, which is to be played from April 13-17, will consist of four groups of three with the winner of each group going into the third and final group stage:
GROUP E: Puerto Rico Islanders (Puerto Rico), Racing de Gonaïves (Haiti), Alpha United (Guyana)
GROUP F: Tempête FC (Haiti), Avenues United (St.Vincent & The Grenadines), Bayamón FC (Puerto Rico)
GROUP G: San Juan Jabloteh (Trinidad & Tobago), River Plate (Puerto Rico), Leo Victor FC (Surinam)
GROUP H: Joe Public FC (Trinidad & Tobago), Systems 3 (St.Vincent & The Grenadines), Walking Boys (Surinam)
The CONCACAF Champions League, North and Central America’s footballing showpiece, has reached the last four stage and it’s an all-Mexican affair with the country’s domination of football in the region guaranteed to continue. The first legs of each tie are played on March 30-31 with the second legs being played one week later. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” highlights each pairing’s current form:
TOLUCA v PACHUCA
Both of these teams had tough ties to qualify from in the last round. Toluca defeated Guatemalans C.S.D. Comunicaciones by the odd goal in five over two legs whilst Toluca were further challenged by 2008 Major League Soccer champions Columbus Crew, finally edging past the Americans 5-4 on aggregate. Perhaps the hectic schedule has provided a major distraction for these teams as they are far from sure of a place in the play-offs of the current Mexican League. Toluca, who are at home in the first leg of the semi-finals, are third in Group 1 and find themselves eleven points behind leaders Guadalajara but their recent form is good having won the last two Mexican League games since defeating Comunicaciones; a 3-2 win over Real San Luis followed by a 1-0 triumph over Tigres. Pachuca are also finding it difficult to qualify for the Mexican League play-offs as they find themselves ten points behind group leaders Monterrey in fourth place in Group 2. At least their recent league form is decent having secured four points out of the last six against Club América (2:2) and C.A. Monarcas Morelia (1:0).
1st Leg: Toluca v Pachuca (30/03/10)
2nd Leg: Pachuca v Toluca (07/04/10)
PUMAS UNAM v CRUZ AZUL
Cruz Azul are the record champions in the tournament’s previous guise of the CONCACAF Champions Cup having won it five times. However the last of these triumphs came in 1997 and they are desperate to bring home the trophy after thirteen long years. Los Cementeros secured their semi-final place with a 4-0 aggregate win over Panama’s Arabe Unido and will hope to emulate the result achieved against Pumas UNAM in last season’s CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals which Cruz Azul won 2-0 over two legs. The Pumas are in the final four thanks to their 6-3 win over Hondurans C.D. Marathón and will hope to be the better of Cruz Azul this time around. In their last two Mexican League games since ensuring Champions League semi-final qualification Pumas have beaten Jaguares (2:0) and drawn with Real San Luis (0:0) whilst Cruz Azul have beaten Tigres (4:0) but lost to Estudiantes Tecos (1:2) in their most recent league game. In Group 3 of the Mexican championship the Pumas are in second spot three points behind Santos Laguna and one ahead of Cruz Azul so perhaps that’s a slight psychological advantage for Pumas going into this continental joust.
1st Leg: Pumas UNAM v Cruz Azul (31/03/10)
2nd Leg: Cruz Azul v Pumas UNAM (06/04/10)
The UEFA Champions League is now at the quarter-final stage and there are four mouth-watering clashes that whet the appetite for the feast of football which lies ahead in the next fortnight. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” looks at the current form guide of each pairing of teams involved in the last eight of the competition:
FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN (Germany) v MANCHESTER UNITED (England)
This game brings back memories of United’s famous last-gasp triumph in the 1998-99 UEFA Champions League final where the Red Devils came from behind in second half stoppage time to win a thrilling contest 2-1. FC Bayern have gained revenge since then having knocked United out of this competition at the quarter-final stage in 2000-01, going on to lift the trophy against Valencia CF in that same season. At the moment both teams are, as expected, fighting for their respective national championships with Manchester United topping the English Premier League and FC Bayern just two points behind current leaders FC Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga. However the form of the two teams makes interesting reading as United have won all three of their games (against Fulham FC, Liverpool FC and Bolton Wanderers) since knocking AC Milan out of the Champions League in the Round of 16. In contrast FC Bayern have won only one of their last three league games, losing the last two matches to Eintracht Frankfurt and VfB Stuttgart, although they did reach the DFB Pokal final thanks to a “Traumtor” (dream goal) from Arjen Robben. Two potential classic matches await in this fixture.
OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS (France) v FC GIRONDINS de BORDEAUX (France)
During the UEFA Champions League draw in Nyon the reaction of Olympique Lyonnais chairman Jean-Michel Aulas said it all when his team were paired with fellow compatriots Girondins de Bordeaux in the last eight of this competition. After he had laughed off the events of the draw ceremony the serious business of preparing for France’s biggest football contest for many years began. This is a match that will grip the French nation as it will be a fascinating duel between the two teams who have won the last eight championships with Girondins having brought OL‘s fantastic run of seven successive championships to an end last season. Domestically Girondins are hanging on to the lead in Ligue 1 by a thread with no fewer than five teams capable of mounting a realistic challenge to their crown and their European opponents will want to remind Laurent Blanc’s men that there will be psychological points to be scored in this match. Olympique Lyonnais lie two points behind the leaders (albeit having played two games more) and will wish to make a statement in this game in order to sew a few seeds of doubt in the heads of the league leaders. Since the Round of 16 stage FC Girondins have only played two matches, winning one in the league against Lille OSC but losing the first domestic silverware of the season last Saturday in the Coupe de la Ligue final against Olympique Marseille. Olympique Lyonnais have a mixed record since they sensationally knocked-out Real Madrid in the last round, taking four points from their last three games.
ARSENAL FC (England) v FC BARCELONA (Spain)
There may be more history in the FC Bayern – Manchester United match but this is the match that all football purists everywhere will be looking forward to. Defending European champions FC Barcelona will hope to put Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal FC side to the sword in a repeat of the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League final and a game which brings Gunners legend Thierry Henry back to his old club. He has publicly stated before this game that he will “always be an Arsenal fan” despite him now sporting the famous Blaugrana shirt of the Catalans. There is a reunion of sorts for Arsenal captain Cesc Fàbregas who will return to his boyhood heroes in the second leg fixture at Camp Nou. With both teams playing arguably the most exciting brand of football anywhere in Europe it should be the most technical and skillful of the four quarter-final match-ups. Both teams are in good form domestically since qualifying from the Round of 16 with Barça winning all three of their games against Real Zaragoza, Osasuna and Real Mallorca to keep in touch with eternal rivals Real Madrid CF at the top of La Liga. Arsenal are currently four points behind Premier League leaders Manchester United having dropped two points in their most recent game against Birmingham City following wins against Hull City and West Ham United.
INTERNAZIONALE FC (Italy) v CSKA MOSCOW (Russia)
Both of these teams pulled out amazing victories in the Round of 16 with Jose Mourinho’s Inter disposing of his former club Chelsea FC and Russian side CSKA Moscow knocking out Sevilla FC who were fancied as outside favourites by many people prior to their elimination in this tournament. Both of these teams played each other in the UEFA Champions League as recently as the 2007-08 season with the Italians having the better of their two games in the group stage beating the Army Men 2-1 in Russia and 4-2 in Italy. Internazionale FC are currently top of Italy’s Serie A but only by one point having dropped five out of the last available nine points in the league. Since knocking out Chelsea the Nerazzurri struggled to a draw against Palermo, beat relegation-threatened Livorno and lost the crucial top-of-the-table clash at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday to AS Roma who now lie in second place. The Russian Premier League season is only three games old and the Muscovites have started the season well having taken seven out of nine points to share the lead with three other teams. An opening day win over Amkar Perm and a Matchday 3 victory win over Anzhi Makhachkala sandwiched a goalless draw in the big local derby against Dinamo Moscow.
UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUARTER-FINALS (team on left is home first)
1st Leg 30/03/10; 2nd Leg 07/04/10
FC Bayern München v Manchester United
Olympique Lyonnais v FC Girondins de Bordeaux
1st Leg 31/03/10; 2nd Leg 06/04/10
Arsenal FC v FC Barcelona
Internazionale FC v CSKA Moscow
This weekend could prove to be one of the most crucial in the season in many of Europe’s top leagues. In Italy defending champions Internazionale have been showing the pressure in the last two months and a famous 2-1 win for AS Roma over the Scudetto holders means that the Giallorossi are just one point behind Inter. Elsewhere FC Bayern suffered a shock 2-1 home reverse at the hands of improving VfB Stuttgart whilst in Portugal a crucial 1-0 win has given SL Benfica a six-point cushion over nearest challengers Sporting Braga. The English Premier League saw Manchester United and Chelsea thrash their opponents whilst Arsenal FC conceded a last-minute equalizer to drop two points further behind in the race for the title. There were also crucial matches in Greece and Turkey whilst the championship was decided in Andorra.
Serie A has practically been a one-horse race for the last three seasons and it looked like that scenario would continue earlier in the season when Internazionale FC enjoyed an eight point lead after the Milan derby in January. However the Nerazzurri have wobbled a bit since then and their lead is now just a single point from AS Roma after the capital side enjoyed a 2-1 win at the Stadio Olimpico thanks to goals from Daniele de Rossi and Luca Toni, the latter enjoying a personal renaissance since his return to his homeland from FC Bayern. AC Milan, meanwhile, could only manage a home draw against SS Lazio and are three points behind Inter as a result. Marco Borriello gave the Rossoneri the lead from the penalty spot after 18 minutes but it didn’t take long for Lazio to get back on equal terms as Stephan Lichtsteiner restored parity in the 32nd minute to leave Milan frustrated.
In the German Bundesliga it looked like service as usual for FC Bayern when Ivica Olić gave the Munich side the lead after 32 minutes but their southern rivals VfB Stuttgart struck goals either side of half-time to leave FC Bayern, who qualified for the German Cup final earlier in the week, visibly stunned. Christian Träsch scored from 24 metres to equalize in the 41st minute and then Ciprian Marica headed home from short range after a beautiful cross to the far post from Cacau to give the Swabians the three points. In the big game at the BayArena home team Bayer 04 Leverkusen lost 2-0 against Schalke 04 to lose further ground behind the top two. Having gone unbeaten in the first 24 matches of the season Leverkusen have now lost three of their last four games. Two goals from Kevin Kuranyi helped to give the side from Gelsenkirchen a two point lead over FC Bayern ahead of the big clash between the top two next Saturday.
It was business as usual for Manchester United in the English Premier League as the champions comfortably won 4-0 away at Bolton Wanderers with two of the goals coming from Bulgarian striker Dimitar Berbatov. A Jlloyd Samuel own goal and a late strike from United substitute Darron Gibson kept the Red Devils on top from Chelsea FC who were impressive in their 7-1 demolition of Champions League hopefuls Aston Villa. Frank Lampard scored four goals, including two from the penalty spot, along with goals for in-form Florent Malouda (2) and Solomon Kalou to rout the team from Birmingham whose heavy schedule in recent weeks may be starting to take its toll on Martin O’Neill’s side. Title hopefuls Arsenal FC were just seconds away from an away win at Birmingham City after an 83rd minute goal from substitute Samir Nasri looked to have given The Gunners all three points. However it was another substitute, Kevin Phillips, who would have the final say as his goal two minutes into stoppage time gave The Blues a share of the points and dented Arsenal’s hopes of title glory. Manchester United lead the way with 72 points after 32 games, one ahead of Chelsea and four ahead of Arsenal.
In other leagues SL Benfica, fresh from winning the Portuguese League Cup last weekend, now have one hand on the Superliga trophy after defeating second place Sporting Braga 1-0 at home thanks to a goal in the 44th minute from Luisão. The win takes The Eagles six points clear with six games to play and now has Benfica fans dreaming of their team winning a possible treble as they still have a chance of continental glory in the UEFA Europa League. The Turkish Süper Lig continues to fascinate with the top four teams separated by five points with seven matches left to play. Leaders Bursaspor lost 2-1 at Istanbul BB on Friday night leaving it up to the big three to try and catch them. Last season’s champions Beşiktaş had to come from two goals down to beat sixth placed Eskişehirspor 3-2 whilst in the big derby match on Sunday Fenerbahçe beat eternal rivals Galatasaray 1-0 to move into second place three points behind Bursaspor. In Greece Panathinaikos have all but sealed the title having won 3-0 away at Atromitos with top scorer Djibril Cissé amongst the goals. Champions Olympiakos could only draw 0-0 at home to Škoda Xanthi whilst PAOK Thessaloniki conceded a stoppage time goal to lose 2-1 away at Larissa and cannot now possibly catch Pana who have a six point lead over second place Olympiakos with two matches still to play.
In Andorra FC Santa Coloma have won the Primero Divisio title for the second time in three years, and fifth title overall, having drawn against local rivals and only challengers UE Santa Coloma 1-1 to win the championship by three points.
The final matches in the OFC Champions League group stage have taken place this weekend and it has been a dramatic finish especially in Group A, where New Zealand rivals Waitakere United and Auckland City fought it out once again to see which of them would be contesting Oceania’s footballing showpiece. In Group B there was a three way chase for the one final place with the fixture list proving kind to Papua New Guinea side Hekari United who led the table going into Matchday 6 and were facing wooden spoonists Marist FC whilst the other two teams Lautoka FC and Tafea FC needed to win and hope that Hekari United dropped points.
However there would be no such problems for Hekari United who scored all of their four goals in a 4-1 win against Marist FC in the first half and never looked back. The home side Marist, from the Solomon Islands, could only stand and admire the attacks from their superior opponents for whom, ironically, two Solomon Islanders would be among the goals. Henry Fa’arodo and Alick Maemae (2) did their bit to ensure that their compatriots would end up rock bottom of the table having accumulated just one point in six games (a surprise 0-0 draw away at Vanuatu champions Tafea FC) whilst Fijian Pita Bolatoga was the other scorer for Hekari who topped Group B with 13 points from six games, just one ahead of Lautoka FC who won their final match away to Tafea 3-1. Goals from Samuela Vula, Jone Vone and Sailesh Samy secured three points for the Fijians in a match which will sadly be noted for an unsavoury pitch invasion minutes from the end forcing the referee to call a premature halt to the game.
On Sunday the latest installment in New Zealand’s equivalent of the ‘Old Firm’ derby took place with Auckland City, the defending O-League champions, needing to win at home to arch-rivals Waitakere United who only needed a draw to ensure qualification to the final. Things couldn’t have started any better for United who went ahead after just three minutes, Benjamin Totori slotting home from a tight angle past Auckland custodian Jacob Spoonley but it wouldn’t be long before the home side restored parity when Daniel Kiprivcic scored from the penalty spot after his team mate Jason Hayne had been brought down inside the box. In the second half Benjamin Totori would score his and Waitakere’s second goal of the game to make things more difficult for Auckland. Just before the hour mark Totori let fly from the edge of the penalty area and scored to give United a 2-1 lead meaning that Auckland needed to score two goals without further reply to reach the final. In the 70th minute Auckland equalized for the second time when Greg Uhlmann’s header made it 2-2 and the home side would have a numerical advantage just three minutes later when Waitakere United’s Jake Butler was sent off for a second bookable offence. But despite this advantage Auckland City’s attempts at finding a third goal would ultimately prove fruitless as Waitakere United held out to secure the point they needed to qualify for the O-League final. In the other Group A game on Matchday 6 New Caledonia’s AS Magenta thrashed French Polynesians AS Manu Ura 8-1 to secure third place in the table.
The two-legged O-League final will be played on April 17th and May 2nd, Waitakere United will play the first leg in their home stadium in Auckland whilst the second leg will be played in Hekari United’s home ground in Port Moresby.
1. Waitakere United 6 games/12 points/+9 goal difference
2. Auckland City 6/12/+8
3. AS Magenta 6/6/+3
4. AS Manu Ura 6/1/-20
1. Hekari United 6/13/+8
2. Lautoka FC 6/12/+6
3. Tafea FC 6/8/-3
4. Marist FC 6/1/-11
China’s Super League (CSL) begins this weekend after a period of recent turmoil which saw two clubs disqualifed from this year’s competition after a matchfixing scandal and many of the game’s highest profile figures having been questioned or charged with corruption. Thankfully focus is starting to turn back to the football especially as four of China’s top clubs have been in action in the AFC Champions League. The Chinese Super League begins its seventh season on Saturday and “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” previews the big kick-off.
Beijing Guo’an won their first Super League title in 2009 just pipping runners-up Changchun Yatai by a single point. The champions are also the only Chinese team in the AFC Champions League who have a winning record at the halfway stage of the competition so confidence is high in the ranks. Australian Joel Griffiths has signed for the club on a permanent basis after he impressed during his loan deal from A-League Newcastle United Jets last season and captain Xu Yunlong still carries on as Beijing’s talisman in his eleventh year at the club.
However there are plenty of pretenders to the Super League throne for Beijing to worry about. Shanghai Shenhua have now merged with the former Shanghai United club keeping the name of the former as they already had a secure fan base and are one of Chinese football’s biggest names. Yu Tao still retains the captaincy whilst the club have signed Brazilian attacking midfielder Vicente on a free transfer from fellow Super League side Shaanxi Chanba. Changchun Yatai, Henan Construction and Shandong Luneng are also prime contenders as they have plenty of match practice due to their participation in the AFC Champions League. Changchun Yatai have a new coach in Shen Xiangfu and will want to repeat their 2007 CSL title triumph (which they achieved in their first season in the top flight) but will rely on the goals of new signing Johnny Woodly Lambert who was top scorer for Chongqing Lifan last season with ten goals. Former Poland striker Emmanuel Olisadebe, who can count Panathinaikos and Portsmouth among his former clubs, is part of a dangerous Henan Construction side who only finished three points behind the champions in 2009. Chinese national striker Han Peng will be the danger man for Shandong Luneng, two-time champions of the CSL in 2006 and 2008, and will want to build on the eleven goals he scored in last season’s championship, in which his team finished in the final AFC Champions League place by virtue of a better head-to-head record against Shanghai Shenhua and Tianjin Teda (who now have Dutch legend Arie Haan in charge).
Guangzhou FC and Chengdu Blades were the clubs who were expelled from the Super League for their part in alleged matchfixing, therefore allowing the teams that finished 15th and 16th in last season’s championship, Hangzhou Lucheng and Chongqing Lifan, to retain their places for the 2010 season. Liaoning Hunyong and Nanchang Bayi were the top two teams in China’s First Division last season and have swapped places with the expelled clubs. The sixteen teams in the Super League will play each other in a conventional home and away, round-robin basis with the team who accumulates the most points after thirty games declared the winner and the league runs until early November.
CHINA SUPER LEAGUE 2010 OPENING FIXTURES
Beijing Guo’an v Nanchang Bayi
Changchun Yatai v Liaoning Hongyun
Changsha Ginde v Shanghai Shenhua
Henan Construction v Chongqing Lifan
Qingdao Jonoon v Tianjin Teda
Shaanxi Chanba v Dalian Shide
Shandong Luneng v Hangzhou Lucheng
Shenzhen Ruby v Jiangsu Sainty
The AFC Champions League group stage has reached the halfway point in 2010 and Stoppage Time has the guide to how all of the groups have progressed so far:
GROUP A (1st. Esteghlal FC 3 games/7 points; 2nd. Al-Gharafa 3/6; 3rd. Al-Ahli 3/3; 4th. Al-Jazira 3/1)
Tehran outfit Esteghlal FC leads the way in Group A thanks mainly to the goals of veteran striker Farhad Majidi. His two goals against Saudi Arabian side Al-Ahli on Matchday 1 were followed with another brace against Qatar’s Al-Gharafa on Matchday 3 sandwiching a 0-0 draw with Al-Jazira (UAE) to leave the Iranian side top of the group with seven points out of nine. Al-Gharafa will be hoping to capitalise on any errors from the top side later in the group stage. They have won two of their three games losing only to Esteghlal so far having lost 3-0 in Tehran on Matchday 3 but have a chance of revenge on Matchday 4 when the table toppers travel to Doha.
GROUP B (1st. Zob Ahan 3/7; 2nd. Bunyodkor FC 3/6; 3rd. Al-Ittihad 3/4; 4th. Al-Wahda 3/0)
“Big Phil” Scolari’s Bunyodkur FC suffered their first defeat of the campaign on Matchday 3 losing 3-0 away to Iranians Zob Ahan who overtake their defeated opponents into first place in Group B. Goals from Hosseini, Ghazi and Kholatbari secured three points for Zob Ahan who currently lie second in Iran’s Pro-League and are transferring their good domestic form on the continental stage. In the other Matchday 3 encounter played in Abu Dhabi home side Al-Wahda lost out again going down to Saudi champions Al-Ittihad 2-0 and, thus, remain pointless in the standings.
GROUP C (1st. Pakhtakor FC 3/6; 2nd. Al-Ain 3/4; 3rd. Al-Shabab 3/4; 4th. Sepahan FC 3/2)
Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor have suffered at the hands of Bunyodkor domestically in the last couple of years but they are, unlike their arch-rivals, top of their group in the AFC Champions League. They defeated Iranian league leaders Sepahan FC 2-1 on Matchday 3 thanks to goals from Artur Gevorkyan and Alexsandr Geynrih to lead the table whilst Al-Ain (UAE) and Al-Shabab (Saudi Arabia) were involved in a tight game on Matchday 3 with Al-Ain prevailing with a 2-1 victory to leave them joint second on four points with Al-Shabab.
GROUP D (1st. Al-Hilal 3/7 ; 2nd. Al-Sadd 3/6 ; 3rd. Sanat MES Kerman 3/3 ; 4th. Al-Ahli 3/1)
Al-Hilal were just a minute away from maintaining their perfect 100% record in this year’s competition as they led from early on against an Al-Ahli side who, despite their position in the table, gave the group leaders everything they had in this closely fought contest. However Eric Gerets’ men conceded a stoppage time equaliser but the Saudi side won’t be too dispondent despite the dropped points as they are playing some of the most attractive football in the tournament so far. Iranian side Sanat Mes Kerman went down to a heavy 4-1 away defeat on Matchday 3 at Qatari side Al-Sadd having taken the lead early on through Luciano. Al-Sadd replied with four unanswered strikes in the second half thanks to a brace from Leandro and one each from Felipe and Talal Al-Bloushi to give the home side three points and outright second place over their Iranian opponents.
GROUP E (1st. Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 3/9; 2nd. Beijing Guoan 3/6; 3rd Kawasaki Frontale 3/3; 4th Melbourne Victory 3/0)
The last few days have been terrible for Australian side Melbourne Victory. Having lost out in a penalty shoot-out to arch-rivals Sydney FC in Saturday’s A-League grand final they then lost in their latest outing away at Japanese team Kawasaki Frontale. The Victory were three goals down after just 22 minutes of the match and suffered further agony when conceding a last-minute fourth to ensure that they remain pointless at the bottom of the group. Conversely South Korea’s Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma are one of only three teams in the competition to remain with a 100% record after three group games (the others being Kashima Antlers and, ironically, Melbourne’s compatriots Adelaide United). The Koreans won their latest match 3-1 against Beijing Guoan scoring three goals in the last ten minutes of the game.
GROUP F (1st. Kashima Antlers 3/9; 2nd. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors 3/6; 3rd Changchun Yatai 3/3; 4th. Persipura Jayapura 3/0)
Japanese champions Kashima Antlers kept up their good start to the AFC Champions League with a convincing and wholly expected 5-0 drubbing of Indonesians Persipura Jayapura. With two wins against Jeonbuk and Changchun already under their belt there was never any doubt that the outcome of Matchday 3 would be a victory for the Antlers who will expect to, at the very least, preserve their three point lead in the table when they travel to Indonesia for the return game between these two teams. All the goals in the other Matchday 3 game between China’s Changchun and Koreans Jeonbuk came in the last half-hour of the contest with Jeonbuk coming from behind to beat the home side 2-1.
GROUP G (1st. Suwon Bluewings 3/7; 2nd. Gamba Osaka 3/5; 3rd. Henan Construction 3/2; 4th. Singapore Armed Forces 3/1)
Suwon Bluewings kept up the good form of the K-League entrants in this competition with a 2-0 away victory at China’s Henan Construction thanks to Brazilian striker Mota scoring a brace early in the second half. The other Matchday 3 contest was more of a topsy-turvy affair with Japan’s Gamba Osaka suffering a couple of scares on their way to an eventually 4-2 victory away at Singapore Armed Forces FC. Osaka were expected to coast to victory in this match but had to come from behind twice before securing the three points to take them within two points of the top.
GROUP H (1st. Adelaide United 3/9; 2nd. Pohang Steelers 3/6; 3rd. Shandong Luneng 3/3; 4th. Sanfreece Hiroshima 3/0)
It was business as usual for Australians Adelaide United who have won three out of three to remain ahead of 2009 AFC Champions League defending title holders Pohang Steelers. Adelaide didn’t have it all their own way in their Matchday 3 game at home to Sanfreece Hiroshima, who were leading the contest 2-1 with fifteen minutes to go. However a couple of late strikes from Rob Cornthwaite and Brazilian striker Cássio gave United all three points in a match they could easily have let slip. Matchday 4 sees the return match between those two sides so Sanfreece will want to get some points on the board in their home match against the Australians. Pohang Steelers have recovered from the setback of their Matchday 1 defeat to Adelaide by winning their last two games. Matchday 3 saw a 1-0 win for the champions over China’s Shandong Luneng, No Byung-Jun scoring the only goal of the game to secure second place in the table for the Korean side.
The new Major League Soccer (MLS) season is upon us. Philadelphia Union and Seattle Sounders, the league’s two newest franchises, face-off against each other on Thursday, March 25th to get things underway. In the second part of the “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” preview to the 2010 season we focus here on the eight teams that comprise the Eastern Conference.
Columbus Crew have been one of the most consistent teams in the league in the last couple of years. In 2008 the Crew topped the Eastern Conference and the overall standings for the league as a whole, thus securing the MLS Supporters’ Shield, and then went on to win their first MLS Cup defeating New York Red Bulls 3-1 in the final. In 2009 they repeated the feat of having the best record in the Eastern Conference and the league generally but were ultimately knocked-out of the MLS Cup by the team who would go on to usurp them as champions Real Salt Lake. American legend and club captain Freddie Hejduk will again be a pivotal figure with his many years of experience at the back as well as the goals from Argentinian Guillermo Barros Schelotto up front. With the club suffering disappointment in the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-finals recently the club will want to get back to winning ways once the MLS season begins.
D.C. United, the most successful club in Major League Soccer history with four MLS Cup wins (1996, 1997, 1999, 2004), haven’t enjoyed the best time of it in the last two years. The club finished 6th in the Eastern Conference in 2008 and only marginally improved to finish fourth last year but on neither occasion has qualified for the play-offs. United are still dependent on the goals of Bolivian striker Jaime Moreno who, at 36 years of age, doesn’t have many more years at the top remaining. The club has also done plenty of trade both in and out so it is difficult to predict how they might perform with so many comings-and-goings. Chicago Fire have improved in the last three years with one fourth-place and two second-place finishes since 2007 but they’ve been unable to get past the semi-finals of the MLS Cup in that time. In fact the “Fire” has found it hard to live up to expectations since their inaugural season in 1998 when they won the MLS Cup and US Open Cup double. The club will depend on another one of the many veterans who are still making a living in the MLS, namely Brian McBride for whom it could be the last chance he has to bring the cup back to his hometown club before the end of his career.
In the rest of the east all eyes will be on newcomers Philadelphia Union who have appointed experienced coach Piotr Nowak hoping that his previous success with Chicago Fire and D.C. United will stand them in good stead. Naturally for a new team the Union have had to draft in a roster of players who have come from other MLS outfits and will hope to get a perfect blend of youth and experience. Their opening day fixture against Seattle Sounders will prove to be an exciting test for the league’s newest franchise who will hope to emulate their opponents’ achievements from 2008. New England Revolution, under the leadership of former Liverpool FC player Steve Nicol for the eighth consecutive year, have been the “nearly men” of Major League Soccer in the last decade having reached four MLS Cup finals (in 2002 and from 2005-07) and lost them all. The last two MLS campaigns have seen the Revs finish third in the conference standings with the club going on to lose in the play-offs at the first hurdle.
The New York Red Bulls have never won the MLS Cup despite being one of the league’s founder members but did come close in 2008 when they lost out to fellow easterners Columbus Crew. Their Colombian star Juan Pablo Ángel has never quite hit the heights his talents have deserved since leaving Argentinian giants River Plate but he has been the Red Bulls’ top scorer for the last three seasons. However New York’s aspirations in 2009 were to win the MLS Cup but they ultimately finished as the worst side in the league at the end of the regular season and will believe that things can only improve on last season’s dismal showing. Kansas City Wizards, MLS Cup champions in 2000, are another one of the big boys who didn’t qualify for last year’s play-offs having finished in a disappointing 6th in the Eastern Conference finishing eight points ahead of the Red Bulls. Finally Canadian side Toronto FC are another recent expansion team whose inclusion has been justified by their high crowds with the second highest average in the MLS last season behind Seattle Sounders. However in the three years that they’ve participated in the league Toronto’s form has been less successful with finishes of 7th, 7th and 5th in the Eastern Conference since 2007. Can they qualify for the MLS play-offs this time round?
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER 2010 OPENING FIXTURES
Philadelphia Union v Seattle Sounders
Colorado Rapids v Chivas USA
Toronto FC v Columbus Crew
Houston Dynamo v FC Dallas
Chicago Fire v NY Red Bulls
D.C. United v Kansas City Wizards
Real Salt Lake v San Jose Earthquakes
New England Revolution v LA Galaxy
The build-up to the 2010 Major League Soccer (MLS) season has been dominated about talk over the potential for player strikes but, thankfully, the powers-that-be and the Players’ Union got together to find some common ground and the big kick-off will take place as planned on Thursday, March 25th. The league’s newest club Philadelphia Union, whose inclusion this season increases the size of the MLS to sixteen teams, will play in the opening match against last season’s expansion team Seattle Sounders. Now in its 15th season the MLS has slowly but steadily grown into a quality sporting product which is able to nurture its own talent whilst embracing top foreign stars and the top clubs have been busy building their roster ahead of the new season. Can anybody take the MLS Cup away from last year’s champions Real Salt Lake? In a two-part preview to the new season “Stoppage Time – International Football blog” looks at the two conferences which make up the league, starting here with the Western Conference:
Real Salt Lake were very much the surprise champion in the 2009 MLS Cup. Having scraped through to the eighth and final spot in the play-offs by virtue of having a better goal difference than Colorado Rapids and D.C. United in the overall regular season table, Real fought their way past the 2008 MLS champions Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire and LA Galaxy in the play-offs to become overall MLS Cup champions for the first time in their short history. Last year’s beaten finalists Galaxy will have to overcome the setback of star player David Beckham’s Achilles rupture injury, obtained whilst on-loan at AC Milan, but will welcome back a rejuvenated Landon Donovan from his loan spell at English Premier League side Everton. The two-time MLS Cup champions will hope to build on their solid, if ultimately unsuccessful campaign last season, and go all the way this time.
Elsewhere in the west the MLS’s newest franchise Seattle Sounders were the resounding success of 2009 having achieved in their maiden season the record average attendance in MLS history (30,943). The club, who have stuck to the old name from the halcyon days of the North American Soccer League (NASL), finished a respectable third in the conference last season but were ultimately knocked out of the MLS Cup by Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference semi-finals but made up for this disappointment by winning the 2009 U.S. Open Cup (an American knock-out competition similar in style to traditional European cup competitions) defeating D.C. United 2-1 in the final. With experienced players such as Freddie Ljungberg and Kasey Keller the Sounders will hope, at the very least, to match last season’s efforts and qualify for the play-offs. Houston Dynamo, who won consecutive MLS Cups in the first two years of their existence (2006, 2007), will rely on top-scorer Brian Ching if they are to keep up their perfect 100% record of qualifying for the play-offs.
Another two-time MLS champion San Jose Earthquakes, who were triumphant in 2001 and 2003, have struggled in the last couple of years having finished 7th in the Western Conference in 2007 and 2008. Another club who have struggled in recent years is the Colorado Rapids who haven’t qualified for the MLS Cup play-offs since 2006 and who have yet to win the trophy in the 15 years since the MLS began. A founder member of the MLS, Colorado came close to the title in 1997 but lost out to D.C. United, and haven’t come as close to winning the trophy since. Another original MLS club FC Dallas, formerly known as the Dallas Burn, have a number of South and Central American players in their squad in order to compete for a first ever title as have Chivas USA, who share the same Home Depot stadium as LA Galaxy, and who have had relative success in the MLS since their inclusion into the league in 2004 having qualified for the play-offs in four out of five seasons but have yet to progress beyond the Conference semi-final stage.