UEFA: Europa League Group Stage Review
The draw for the next two rounds of the UEFA Europa League takes place today. In the draw will be twenty four teams who have qualified for the group stages of this competition whilst another eight teams parachuted in from the UEFA Champions League will join them. Those eight teams, who finished third in their respective groups in Europe’s elite competition, are Spartak Moscow, Sporting Braga, Ajax Amsterdam, FC Twente Enschede, Rubin Kazan, FC Basle, Glasgow Rangers and SL Benfica. Before tomorrow’s draw is made Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews the competition’s group stages.
GROUP A (Manchester City 11; Lech Poznań 11; Juventus 6; Red Bull Salzburg 2)
Three-time UEFA Cup winners Juventus were the biggest casualties in the group stage. They could only finish third having been unable to win any of their games. English side Manchester City and Polish champions Lech Poznań took the honours while ambitious Red Bull must come back stronger next season if they’re to put up a better fist of it.
GROUP B (Bayer Leverkusen 12; Aris Thessaloniki 10; Atlético de Madrid 8; Rosenborg 3)
Crisis time could be looming in the Spanish capital as defending champions Atlético de Madrid have been eliminated from the tournament by Greek side Aris whose head-to-head record against los Rojiblancos proved to be the difference. German side Bayer 04 Leverkusen, UEFA Cup winners in 1988, topped the group unbeaten while Rosenborg were just too weak.
GROUP C (Sporting 12; Lille OSC 8; KAA Gent 7; Levski Sofia 7)
Arguable the weakest quartet of the group stage. Portuguese side Sporting lost twice in six games but still comfortably finished top of the group four points ahead of French outift Lille OSC. They clinched second place following their Matchday 6 encounter against their only challengers for the position KAA Gent from Belgium. The Bulgarian team Levski Sofia continue to struggle in European competition having failed to progress beyond the group stage of any tournament since 2005-06 although a last day victory over Sporting did restore some pride.
GROUP D (Villarreal CF 12; PAOK Thessaloniki 11; Dinamo Zagreb 7; Club Brugge 3)
Spanish side Villarreal clinched their place in the last 32 with a game to spare leaving it to Greek side PAOK and Croatian giants Dinamo Zagreb to fight it out for second place on the final match in the latter’s Maksimir stadium. A Dimitris Salpingidis goal on the hour mark stunned the partisan crowd and won the match for PAOK . Belgians Club Brugge finish with the wooden spoon.
GROUP E (Dynamo Kyiv 11; BATE Borisov 10; AZ Alkmaar 7; FC Sheriff Tiraspol 5)
Two eastern European clubs deprived Dutch side AZ Alkmaar of a place in the next round. Ukrainians Dynamo and perennial Belarussian champions BATE Borisov qualified with a match to spare. Moldova’s FC Sheriff showed early promise but withered away as the campaign went on. AZ were the big disappointment of the group, winning only twice in six matches.
GROUP F (CSKA Moscow 16; Sparta Prague 9; Palermo 7; Lausanne Sports 1)
2005 UEFA Cup winners CSKA Moscow dominated this group from start to finish, only dropping points on Matchday 6 away in Prague. The Moscovites scored at least three goals per game in each of their first five games making them the group stage’s highest scorers. Czech side Sparta were already at arms length from Italian Palermo and could take that Matchday 6 draw against Moscow in their stride. Swiss side Lausanne Sports were completely outclassed only managing to score a single point away in Prague.
GROUP G (Zenit St Petersburg 18; RSC Anderlecht 7; AEK Athens 7; Hajduk Split 3)
Zenit St Petersburg, UEFA Cup winners only two years ago, topped the group with a 100% record, the only team in the group stages to do so. Luciano Spaletti, coach of the Russian league and cup winners, has done a great job with his side confident of going far again in this season’s competition. AEK Athens lost their big chance to progress losing at home to Zenit on Matchday 6 allowing Belgian side Anderlecht, two-time winners of the old UEFA Cup, to the Round of 32 stage. Croatians Hajduk Split will probably be back next season but one wonders if they will have the resources to better this year’s campaign.
GROUP H (VfB Stuttgart 15; Young Boys Berne 9; Getafe 7; Odense Boldklub 4)
Although struggling in the Bundesliga VfB Stuttgart have done well on the European stage. They topped the group with five wins out of six matches, their only blemish coming at the hands of fellow qualifiers Young Boys Berne. The Swiss side have surprised many with their attacking potency in what was supposed to be a tough group for them. Spanish side Getafe have disappointed whilst Danish representatives Odense Boldklub have been just as inconsistent in Europe as they have been at home.
GROUP I (PSV Eindhoven 14; Metalist Kharkiv 11; UC Sampdoria 5; Debreceni VSC 3)
Dutch giants PSV, doing well in the Eredivisie, took their form into the Europa League and were already through before their Matchday 6 game with improving Ukrainian side Metalist Kharkiv. Metalist reached the quarter-finals in the 2008-09 season and their ambitions will be to at least equal that performance following their elimination of Italians club UC Sampdoria who were unable to beat the Ukrainians home or away. Hungarian champions Debreceni VSC prop up the rest of the group but at least managed to gain three points on Matchday 6 with a 1-0 win over UC Sampdoria.
GROUP J (Paris Saint-Germain 12; Sevilla FC 10; Borussia Dortmund 9; Karpaty Lviv 1)
PSG could afford to relax this week as they finished off their Group J campaign with a 1-1 draw away in the Ukrainian town of Lviv. The final matchday saw a cup final of sorts between two-time UEFA Cup winners Sevilla CF and former European champions Borussia Dortmund. The German side will rue a mixture of missed chances and poor defending as they gave up the chance to secure a famous win in Andalucia and could only draw 2-2, thus allowing Sevilla the point they needed to secure progression to the next round.
GROUP K (Liverpool FC 10; Napoli 7; Steaua Bucharest 6; FC Utrecht 5)
Three-time UEFA Cup winners Liverpool topped the table without ever taking total control of the group. Despite this they did gain the necessary results without too much fuss, only the two games against Napoli saw them need to dig in. The Italian side scored four crucial points in the group thanks to stoppage time goals from Edinson Cavani. His Matchday 2 equalizer away at Steaua Bucharest was complimented by his winning goal against the same opposition on Wednesday, thus sending the Neapolitans through at the expense of the Romanians.
GROUP L (FC Porto 16; Beşiktaş 13; Rapid Wien 3; CSKA Sofia 3)
There were only ever going to be FC Porto and Beşiktaş qualifying from this group as they overwhelmed their other group opponents. Rapid Wien and CSKA Sofia traded away victories against each other on Matchdays 3 and 4 but were no match for the Portuguese giants whose experience in recent seasons in the UEFA Champions League meant they were a class apart from all challengers. Beşiktaş, however, put up a good fight and a kind draw could see them potentially go far this season.