Australia’s Hyundai A-League has been unusually competitive this season, mainly due to the ineptitude of the reigning champions coupled with the inconsistency of the A-League’s most successful team since records began. Brisbane Roar, rather than Sydney FC or Melbourne Victory, are in pole position after the Christmas schedule and with the Play-Offs soon to come Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews the situation with just weeks of the regular season remaining.
The big success story so far in the 2010-11 Hyundai A-League is the Brisbane Roar who have had a dramatic change of fortune. Having finished in ninth place out of ten teams in last season’s championship, the team from Australia’s third city have stormed their way to the top of the table having accumulated 48 points in 23 games. Brisbane have achieved this by virtue of having the best attack in the league having scored 43 goals so far, seven more than Adelaide United who lie in second place, and also by letting in a mere 20 goals in return with Gold Coast United and Newcastle Jets, both of whom have currently played three fewer games, having a better defensive record (both have conceded 18 goals each). New Zealander Kosta Barbarouses and Costa Rican Jean Carlos Solórzano have bagged nineteen goals between them and make up the league’s most potent duo. This has helped the club as the Roar have only lost one game so far helping them to their eight point lead at the top of the table.
In contrast last season’s champions Sydney FC have gone down to their worst season ever having only won four of their twenty-two games this season and lie bottom of the table with just a point separating them from North Queensland Fury. It took the defending champions until week 11 to record their first win of the season and they have lost their last five games in a row to ensure that the club has a lot to do if they are to make the top six play-offs. Two-time champions Melbourne Victory have also struggled to some degree this season but seem to be finding form at exactly the right time of the season. Having recorded just four wins in the first 17 games the Victory have dropped only two points in their last five games (a 3-3 draw against the league leaders) and the run has helped the A-League’s most successful team to a respectable fifth place, five points ahead of new local rivals Melbourne Heart. The Victory suffered a defeat in the first ever derby match between the two sides and Melbourne Heart (played 23; points 27) can take comfort in that they have a great chance of making it to the post-season but they are being challenged by New Zealand’s sole representatives Wellington Phoenix who lie just a point behind with a game in hand as it stands. Newcastle Jets also have a great chance of the play-offs as they lie a further point behind with three games in hand.
One aspect of the league that has disappointed many this season is the crowds. The average number of people coming through the turnstiles has decreased so far with eight of the league’s eleven teams showing a decline in support with only Brisbane Roar and Newcastle Jets showing an increase whilst Melbourne Heart have no comparative fugures as they are in their first year in Australia’s top flight. Nonetheless the Play-Offs should provide an opportunity for the attendance figures to rise sharply especially as they look set to be the most open post-season fixtures since the league’s inception in 2005-06 season. Brisbane Roar will make it to the post-season and joining them, as it stands, will be Adelaide United, Central Coast Mariners, Gold Coast United and the two Melbourne clubs but there are still a lot of games to be played from now until mid-February when the real action really starts Down Under.
Every football league around the world has its own Clásico; in Spain there’s little denying that Real Madrid against FC Barcelona is as big as it gets whilst Boca Juniors against River Plate gets the pulses racing more than any other fixture in Argentina. On Thursday the Egyptian capital city of Cairo will witness yet another clash between eternal rivals Ah Ahly and Zamalek and it should prove to be the most important encounter between these two clubs for quite a few years.
Although there is a huge gap between the number of titles won at home between these two sides, the Cairo derby still stands out because of the huge success that both these clubs have shared on the continental stage. Domestically Al Ahly (which means “The National”) have won 35 league championships and the exact same number of Egyptian Cups compared to Zamalek (named after the Cairo suburb) who have 11 and 21 respectively. In African club competition, however, both clubs have fought it out more evenly with both clubs having accumulated a massive eleven CAF Champions League titles (Al Ahly 6, Zamalek 5), four CAF Cup Winners’ Cup (Al Ahly 4, Zamalek 1) and nine CAF Super Cups (Ah Ahly 4, Zamalek 5) making them the two most successful sides in African club football.
Despite these numbers the derby has been slightly dimmed in recent years by Zamalek’s inability to fight it out for the top prizes at home and abroad which, in turn, has allowed Al Ahly to dominate the Egyptian league for the last six seasons. In the ten most recent league matches between these sides Al Ahly’s dominance is reflected by the fact that they have won five and have lost only one, Zamalek’s last victory in this fixture came in the 2006-07 season. But Zamalek fans can have hope that they can put their seven year title drought to an end as they currently top the table with thirty points from 13 games, a four point lead over second place Ismaily who have played a game more. Al Ahly, meanwhile, lie in fourth place six points behind Zamalek and a win in front of their home supporters would take them into second place so expect a tough fought encounter with more than just three points at stake.
The AFF Suzuki Cup final, second leg, was held in Indonesia’s capital of Djakarta today and for the hosts it proved to be too much of a difficult task to come back from the three goal deficit they had suffered in the first leg against Malaysia three days ago.
After a goalless first half there wasn’t much hope left among the home fans of a fightback and the fears were confirmed just nine minutes into the second half when the tournament’s top scorer, Mohd Safee Sali, opened the scoring getting his fifth goal of the competition and gave Malaysia a 4-0 aggregate lead. Indonesia did manage to pull two goals back in the last twenty minutes through Mohammed Masuha and Muhammed Ridwan but the home side left it too little, too late. Malaysia’s 4-2 aggregate win gives them their first ever title in this tournament.
WATCH SECOND LEG HIGHLIGHTS HERE:
The semi-finals of the Emperor’s Cup, Japan’s equivalent of the FA Cup, were held today and for Kashima Antlers and Shimuzu S-Pulse the dream of lifting silverware on Saturday became one step closer to reality with wins over FC Tokyo and Gamba Osaka respectively.
Kashima Antlers had to come from behind in order to force extra-time in their semi-final match-up. Kenta Mukuhara gave FC Tokyo the lead just six minutes before the break but the Antlers restored parity midway through the second half thanks to Yuya Osako. With no further goals in normal time the game needed an extra thirty minutes and the crucial moment came in the last minute of the match when Shinzo Koroki struck to give Kashima a place in the final in the most dramatic of circumstances.
In the other semi-final Shimuzu S-Pulse had a much easier time of it defeating Gamba Osaka 3-0 at home to claim their place in the final. Norwegian striker Frode Johnsen scored a brace and Akihiro Hyodo scored the other as Shimuzu wrapped the scoring up by the hour mark to comfortably secure their passage into Japan’s showpiece knockout final which will take place in Tokyo’s National Stadium on Saturday.
The first leg of the 2010 AFF Suzuki Cup final was played today in Kuala Lumpur as both finalists Malaysia and Indonesia set out to win their maiden title in this tournament. However it seems that Malaysia will get their hands on the trophy following their 3-0 trouncing Indonesia. Following a goalless first half, the game came into life on the hour mark with Mohd Safee Sali opening the scoring for the hosts. Sali increased his tally in the 73rd minute to make the game 3-0, just five minutes after Ashari Shamshuddin had doubled the hosts’ advantage.
SEE MALAYSIA v INDONESIA HIGHLIGHTS HERE:
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– Player of the Year 2010
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The 2010 J-League champions Nagoya Grampus Eight are out of this year’s Emperor’s Cup. The main knockout tournament in Japanese football plays its final three rounds this week and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews the quarter-finals which were played today.
The Emperor’s Cup grants a berth to the 2011 AFC Champions League for the winner so there was a lot at stake in each of today’s last eight showdowns. Champions Nagoya Grampus Eight’s chances of doing a league and cup double were dashed by Kashima Antlers, who are guaranteed the fourth place to Asia’s top club competition if this year’s Emperor’s Cup winners have already qualified via the league. Shinzo Koroki gave Kashima the lead after just seven minutes and it took a long time for Nagoya to restore parity. The equalizer came in the 76th minute thanks to Yoshizumi Ogawa but the joy was short-lived as the Antlers scored the winning goal just two minutes later through Yuya Osako.
Kashima Antlers’ reward for progressing is a semi-final date with FC Tokyo who eventually knocked out Avispa Fukuoka after a pulsating 120 minutes of football. Avispa took the lead when Tetsuya Okubo scored on 13 minutes and the home side were preparing to celebrate progression tothe final four until FC Tokyo’s Naohiro Ishikawa took the game into extra-time with an equalizing goal three minutes into second half stoppage time. Suto Hirayama gave the capital side the lead on 94 minutes and when Ishikawa got his second four minutes later all seemed lost for the home side. Avispa reduced the deficit with two minutes of extra-time remaining, Daiki Niwa ensuring a tense finish but the game finished at 3-2.
The other semi-final will see Gamba Osaka take on Shimuzu S-Pulse. The former ensured their passage with a 2-1 win over Urawa Red Diamonds in extra-time. Takashi Usami was the man whose goal in the 103rd minute broke the hearts of Urawa supporters gifting his team a 2-1 win following strikes from Yasuhito Endō (Osaka) and Tomoya Ugajin (Urawa) in normal time. The final match of the last eight stage went all the way to a penalty shoot-out as Shimuzu S-Pulse and Montedio Yamagata couldn’t be separated after 120 minutes of football. Yūzō Tashiro gave Yamagata the lead on 107 minutes only to see Australian defender Eddy Bosnar restore parity for Shimuzu two minutes later. Montedio Yamagata missed one spot kick in the subsequent shoot-out whilst Shimuzu had a 100% success rate from twelve yeards to ensure that they advance to the next stage.
The semi-finals will be played on Wednesday, December 29th.
This is the second Christmas period that Stoppage Time – International Football Blog has been active and Peter Bein is looking forward to the second year of action. Therefore I decided that I would provide all readers of the website’s address on Facebook and Twitter:
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Stoppage Time – International Football Blog wishes everyone a merry christmas and a happy new year. Please vote in our various awards for the year 2010.
Here is Stoppage Time – International Football Blog’s shortlist for Goal of the Year 2010:
ERAN ZAHAVI: A shame that this didn’t prove to be the winning goal for Hapoel Tel Aviv in their UEFA Champions League 2010-11 match against Olympique Lyonnais but a beautiful overhead kick nonetheless.
GIOVANNI VAN BRONCKHORST: An unbelievable strike from the Dutchman as he helped his team reach the FIFA World Cup final with this belter of a goal from long range against Uruguay.
LIONEL MESSI: No Goal of the Year shortlist would be complete without a contribution from the genius that is Lionel Messi. This goal was the first in a 3-0 win over Valencia CF in the 2009-10 La Liga season.
MARK DAVIES: If Brazil or FC Barcelona would’ve scored this goal we’d be talking about it for weeks. Mark Davies finishes a beautiful last minute move to equalize for Bolton Wanderers in their English Premier League game against Blackpool FC.
MATTHEW BURROWS: Glentoran FC’s Matthew Burrows with a goal you have to see to believe as he scores the winning goal against Portadown in a Northern Ireland Premier League match two minutes into stoppage time.
Here is Stoppage Time – International Football Blog’s shortlist for Coach of the Year 2010:
CARLO ANCELOTTI: The Italian ended his first full season in charge of Chelsea FC by bringing the English Premier League and F.A. Cup double to Stamford Bridge, something which even The Special One himself was unable to do. Ends the year in the top four of the Premier League and in the Round of 16 in the UEFA Champions League with the defence of the F.A. Cup due to start in January.
JOSÉ MOURINHO: What more is there to say about The Special One? Mourinho masterminded the treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia and UEFA Champions League with Milanese giants Internazionale FC and maintains his unbeaten record in home matches which has now stretched into its eighth year. Now at Real Madrid where his team lies second in La Liga and progressing well in the Copa del Rey and UEFA Champions League. Could another treble be on the cards in 2011?
LOUIS VAN GAAL: The Dutch coach made a slow(ish) start to life with FC Bayern but came good to help his team win the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal double in his first year in charge. Also got to the final of the UEFA Champions League but came up against a superior Internazionale team. At the end of the calendar year his team lies fifth in the league and has progressed to the last eight of the 2010-11 DFB-Pokal and last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.
LAMINE N’DIAYE: The Senegalese coach helped maintain TP Mazembe’s standing as Africa’s best club side coaching them to a second successive CAF African Champions’ League title. TP Mazembe hammered Tunisian side Esperance ST 5-0 in the first leg of the final and secured a draw in the second leg which helped the Congolese side qualify for their second consecutive FIFA Club World Cup tournament. In Abu Dhabi TP Mazembe shocked the world by defeating Brazilians SC Internacional to become the first side from outside Europe and South America to reach a final.
VICENTE DEL BOSQUE: The Spain national coach has helped solidify Spain’s standing as the best team in world football by guiding La Seleccion to their first ever FIFA World Cup triumph, defeating the Netherlands 1-0 in July’s final. This helped Spain become only the third nation to hold simultaneously the UEFA European Championship title and the FIFA World Cup following West Germany (EC 1972, WC 1974) and France (WC 1998, EC 2000). Spain also finishes the year top of their qualifying group for UEFA 2012 and the FIFA World Rankings.