Europe: BATE and Skonto Riga win crucial clashes; Summer Leagues Round-Up
Although most of Europe’s top leagues have now got under way for a new season that doesn’t mean that we forget those championships which began earlier in the year and which are now entering the business end of the season. There have been, for example, top of the table clashes in Belarus, Latvia and Finland whilst league leaders dropped points in Russia and won three points in Estonia, Lithuania and the Republic of Ireland. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews the latest developments in Europe’s summer leagues.
In the Belarussian Vysshaya Liga on Saturday there were two important fixtures with the match of the round involving defending champions BATE Borisov, looking to win a fifth straight championship, playing against second place Soligorsk. At the same time there was a capital derby with bottom of the table Partizan Minsk taking on third place FC Minsk. BATE took control of their home encounter from the off and were two goals to the good after just half an hour thanks to strikes from Artem Kontsevoy and Edgar Olekhnovich. With no further goals in the game the home side had secured three points without too many problems. In the other game FC Minsk beat their cross-town rivals by four goals to one with Dzmitry Osipenko on target twice to keep up the chase on BATE Borisov (played 20, points 45), overtaking Soligorsk into second place and lie three points behind the leaders albeit having played a game more.
In Latvia’s Virslīga league leaders Skonto Riga (played 15, points 40) kept up their title credentials thanks to a 2-1 away victory at defending champions Liepājas Metalurgs. Brazilian Nathan Junior scored his twelfth goal of the season from the penalty spot to give Skonto the lead and it got better for the capital outfit on 35 minutes when Ruslan Mingazov doubled the lead. After that setback it was clear that Rüdiger Abramczik’s men needed to react and that was what they did just four minutes later, halving the deficit with Jurģis Kalns scoring from the spot. No matter how much the home side tried though they were unable to break through Skonto’s resolute defence for a second time and it was Alexandrs Starkovs’ men who went away with the three points. With Metalurgs now a full ten points behind Skonto in the standings the championship is now a two horse race with second place FK Ventspils easily beating FK Jaunība by five goals to nil to remain just two points behind Skonto. Their imminent clash on 12th September could be a fascinating duel.
The Russian Premier League saw Zenit St Petersburg drop two points at home to Dinamo Moscow. The visitors took the lead thanks to new signing Kevin Kuranyi who opened the scoring after 26 minutes but it only took Zenit eight minutes to restore parity after Danko Lazović scored only his second goal of the season to help preserve Zenit’s lead (played 16, points 40) which remains at seven points after Rubin Kazan, champions from the last two years, also dropped two points in a 1-1 draw away at Terek Grozny. CSKA Moscow went above Rubin on goal difference thanks to an impressive 4-0 home win against Anzhi Makhachkala, Sekou Oliseh scoring twice along with Zoran Tošić and Vágner Love. In the Moscow derby Spartak got back to winning ways with a 3-2 away win against Lokomotiv with Valeri Karpin’s men grateful to the shooting boots of Brazilian forward Welliton whose hat-trick was crucial in gaining three points for Spartak who now lie in seventh in the table on equal points to Lokomotiv.
The Veikkausliiga in Finland saw record champions HJK Helsinki lose at home to nearest challengers Honka Espoo, Rasmus Schüller’s goal midway through the second half was enough to separate the sides and narrow the gap between HJK and Honka to just three points with both teams having played eighteen games. KuPs Tuopio won their game away at JJK Jyväskylä on Friday by three goals to one to remain just a further point behind HJK and ensure that the championship race remains tight in Finland.
Estonia’s Meistriliiga saw both of the main title chasers predictably win their games against inferior opposition. Defending champions and league leaders Levadia Tallinn (played 25, points 60) easily disposed of fifth place Nõmme Kalju by five goals to one with Brazilian Felipe Nunes bagging a brace. Title challengers and eternal rivals Flora Tallinn are six points behind Levadia but have three games in hand, a situation that remains the same after their 5-0 home demolition of FC Lootus Kohtla-Järve with Hannes Anier scoring a hat-trick to keep up the pressure on the league leaders.
FK Ekranas (played 18, points 45) preserved their ten point advantage at the top of Lithuania’s A Lyga coming from behind to gain a point at home to FK Sūduva. Povilas Lukšys gave the away side the lead after 27 minutes only to see the league leaders equalize seven minutes later through Ramūnas Radavičius. All is not lost for the chasing pack however as Žalgiris Vilnius, who drew their weekend game 1-1 away at FK Banga, lie ten points behind with a game in hand and FK Sūduva are a further point back with two games in hand.
Finally in the Republic of Ireland’s Airtricity Premier League Shamrock Rovers managed to pull away from title rivals St Patrick’s Athletic on Friday night after the former’s 2-0 win away at Drogheda United was coupled with the latter’s 3-2 defeat at Bray Wanderers. Shamrock (played 25, points 48) have the advantage but will have to beware of the challenge not just of St Pat’s but also of Sligo Rovers who lie six points behind in third place (albeit having played a game more) after they beat University College Dublin (UCD) 4-0 on Saturday.