Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

AFC: Japan and Jordan seal quarter-final berths

Posted in Asian Football by peterbein on January 17, 2011

There were eight goals in the final two Group B games in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup and the results determined who would meet up with Group A’s top two, Uzbekistan and Qatar, in the next round.

Japan sealed top spot in Group B turning over Saudi Arabia by five goals to nil. The Japanese went for it straight from the first whistle and were duly rewarded with a 3-0 lead in the first twenty minutes thanks to a brace from Shinji Okazaki and a strike from Ryoichi Maeda. Both players would go on to add a further goal each in the second half as the Saudis were dumped out of the tournament without a single point to their name after three matches.

In the other game Jordan had to come from behind to clinch second spot in a tough encounter against Syria. Mohamad Al Zino gave the Syrians the lead after a quarter of an hour but they would gift Jordan an equalizer just fifteen minutes later when Ali Dyab inadvertently put the ball in his own net. The deciding goal of the game came just before the hour mark when Odai Al Saify bagged the all-important clincher to give Jordan a 2-1 lead and a place in the quarter-finals.

Group B winners Japan will face off against Group A runners-up and hosts Qatar whilst Group A winners Uzbekistan will meet Jordan. The remaining quarter-final ties will be decided over the next couple of days.

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OFC: New Zealand and Tahiti to contest third consecutive final

Posted in Oceania Football by peterbein on January 17, 2011

OFC LogoThe final of the 2011 OFC Under-17 Championship will be played out for the third consecutive competition between New Zealand and Tahiti. Both teams qualified with a 100% record from their groups whilst Vanuatu and Solomon Islands will fight it out for pride in the 3rd/4th play-off which, like the final, takes place on Wednesday.

New Zealand expectedly came away from Group A with four wins over Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Fiji and American Samoa. The hosts, looking for a fourth title win in this competition following triumphs in 1997, 2007 and 2009, scored thirteen goals and conceded just one on their way to the final. In Group B winners Tahiti, who also completed the group phase with four wins out of four managed to defeat Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, Cook Islands and Tonga scoring one less and conceding one more than their final opponents did.

Solomon Islands will feature in the 3rd/4th play-off against Vanuatu who performed well in the tournament with only a 5-1 reverse at the hands of New Zealand standing between them and a place in the final. In stark contrast Tonga suffered the ignominy of conceding a massive 46 goals in just four games including a 17-0 hammering in their final group game today against New Caledonia.

Both the final and 3rd/4th play-off will be played at North Harbour Stadium, Auckland on Wednesday.

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AFC: Uzbekistan and Qatar through to quarter-finals

Posted in Asian Football by peterbein on January 16, 2011

AFC Asian Cup 2011 logoIn the 2011 AFC Asian Cup today hosts Qatar join Group A table-toppers Uzbekistan into the quarter-finals of the competition. Uzbekistan needed only a point from their game against China to secure progress whilst Qatar needed all three points in their final group game against Kuwait.

Hosts Qatar were desperate to go beyond the group stage in their second hosting of this tournament and they started their game against Kuwait in fine fashion scoring twice in the first quarter of an hour. Bilal Mohammed got the first on 12 minutes with a header from close range getting the better of Kuwait keeper Nawaf Al Khaldi whose misery was increased just three minutes later when he and his defence were unable to deal with the Qatari attack as Mohamed El Sayed scored the second after much uncertainty in the box. The game was a pretty comfortable affair for Qatar in the end as they were able to resist any attempts at goal from Kuwait and sealed the deal with four minutes of the game to go when a free-kick from Fábio César Montezine made it three for the hosts.

Uzbekistan were pretty much certain of a place in the last eight but made sure of their progression as group winners in an entertaining 2-2 draw against China. Yu Hai gave the Chinese the lead when heading home a fifth minute corner at the near post. Uzbekistan restored parity on the half hour mark when Odil Ahmedov slotted the ball home inside the six yard box and the game was turned on its head in the 46th minute when the Uzbeks made it 2-1 thanks to an unstoppable long-range strike from Alexander Geynrikh. But China didn’t take long to get back on level terms following a fantastic free-kick from Hao Junmin in the 55th minute, scoring what was arguably the best goal of a thrilling encounter.

Uzbekistan finished the group with seven points from three games, one more than fellow qualifiers Qatar, and they await the outcome of tomorrow’s games in Group B before knowing who they will face in the next round.

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CAF: Hosts Rwanda among the final four in U-17 Championship

Posted in African Football by peterbein on January 16, 2011

CAF U-17 Championship logoThe semi-final line-up in the CAF Under-17 Championship in Rwanda has been decided. The four semi-finalists already have the pleasure of having qualified for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup so they will all take to the field this week in the hope of becoming continental champions.

Hosts Rwanda are amongst the final four after finishing second in Group A just behind Burkina Faso on goal difference. Rwanda defeated Burkina Faso in the opening match by two goals to one and had virtually secured qualification upon defeating Egypt 1-0 on Matchday 2. The final group game however saw the hosts go down to a late Senegal winner which meant that Burkina Faso’s 4-0 win over Egypt tilted the balance in their favour. Burkina Faso have reached their second consecutive semi-final at this level and will aspire to go one better than in 2009 when they lost out to Algeria.

In Group B the Ivory Coast and Congo have taken the top two spots, both of whom acculated seven points from their three games. Both teams had opening wins against Gambia and Mali before playing out a 2-2 draw against each other in Matchday 2. Qualification was secured on Matchday 3 this weekend with the Ivory Coast taking top spot on goal difference thanks to their 4-1 hammering of Gambia whilst Congo secured a slender 2-1 win over Mali. It was a disappointing end for Gambia who won the previous tournament in 2009 whilst Mali remained pointless having suffered three consecutive defeats.

In the semi-finals Burkina Faso will meet Congo on Tuesday whilst hosts Rwanda will hope home advantage counts in their semi-final encounter with the Ivory Coast on Wednesday. The winners will play in next Saturday’s final in the Stade Amaroho, Kigali whilst the losers will compete in the 3rd/4th play-off on Friday.

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CONMEBOL: Next generation to shine in Peru

Posted in South America Football by peterbein on January 15, 2011

Peru 2011 logoThe South American Youth Championship takes place in Peru from Sunday with ten teams hopeful of grabbing the title along with one of the four available places up for grabs in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup which takes place later in the year. The tournament which brought the likes of Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano and Alexandre Pato to worldwide acclaim welcomes in a new generation of potential superstars and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks back at the history of the event and previews this year’s tournament.

This competition came to life in 1954 and in the tournament’s early days it was neither Brazil nor Argentina who were to be the dominant force but Uruguay. They won the first three tournaments in 1954, 1958 and 1964 before suffering a drought in the next three events from 1967-1974 with Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina all claiming maiden titles. Uruguay then re-established their stronghold winning four successive titles from 1975-81 with all but the first title being won by a group stage format. The 1981 win would signal the end of Uruguay’s dominance as they haven’t won the trophy since. Brazil have been the main power since having won nine of the last 14 tournaments including a run of four successive wins from 1988-95. Argentina’s best period was winning three out of four tournaments between 1997-2003 with Colombia sneaking the 2005 title to finally get their hands on the trophy for a second time. After that Brazil have firmly re-positioned themselves as the dominant force at this level winning the most recent two championships in 2007 and 2009. Five countries – Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela – have yet to win the tournament.

This year’s tournament will be played in one of those five yet to be successful countries, namely Peru, with three stadiums based in the cities of Moquegua, Arequipa and Tacna hosting all of the matches. The first stage of the tournament, to be played from January 16-28, will see ten countries split into two groups of five with the top three in each group going through to the final group stage. All six teams in the final stage (January 31-February 12) will play each other once with the top team winning the tournament and going through to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup along with the teams placed in second, third and fourth. Colombia, as hosts of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, have already qualified for that competition so if they are one of the top four then the team finishing fifth will also go through. Two players to watch for this year include Brazil’s Neymar, a recent target for Chelsea FC who won both the Paulista and Copa do Brasil with his club Santos FC in 2010 and Argentina’s Rogerio Funes Mori who has featured regularly for River Plate in the last two years.

GROUP A (Argentina; Chile; Peru; Uruguay; Venezuela)

GROUP B (Brazil; Bolivia; Colombia; Ecuador; Paraguay)

Oceania: Lautoka go top in goalless draw against champions

Posted in Oceania Football by peterbein on January 15, 2011

OFC Champions League logoFijian champions Lautoka FC have gone top of Group A in the O-League, the elite club competition for clubs in the Oceania region, with a goalless draw against defending champions Hekari United.

This game had initially been postponed due to Hekari United’s involvement in the FIFA Club World Cup in December. Played in front of an expectant crowd in Lautoka the hosts were already top of the group before the game having a better goal difference than nearest challengers Amicale FC but Hekari United were hoping to establish their credentials with a win that would have them tied on three points along with the top two. However things wouldn’t work out like that as both teams cancelled each other out in a goalless stalemate. The result means Lautoka are the only unbeaten team in the group with seven points from three games, one more than Amicale whilst Hekari United will need to perform the sort of heroics which saw them win a maiden O-League title last season as they currently have four points. Koloale FC from the Solomon Islands prop up the rest of the table with just a solitary point to their name.

The next round of matches in the O-League will be played on February 4-5 with top playing bottom in Group A, Lautoka facing off against Koloale FC whilst Hekari face a tough match away at Amicale FC. In Group B the two New Zealand teams Auckland City and Waitakere United face away trips to AS Magenta (New Caledonia) and AS Tefana (French Polynesia) respectively.

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Brazil: Local pride at stake in state championships

Posted in South America Football by peterbein on January 14, 2011
Botafogo Carioca

Botafogo are the defending Carioca champions

As controversial as they are a regular feature of the Brazilian football calendar, the state championships are back in the next couple of weeks. Though derided as an unnecessary burden on teams and players alike it seems that these championships are going to remain for a long time as they are part of the country’s football tradition. The state championships are a throwback to the days when there was no national championship and it is surprising that they still remain forty years after the creation of the Brasileiro. Nonetheless the tournaments can still attract good crowds at the business end of the championships even if the teams are playing for merely local pride rather than Copa Libertadores or Sudamericana qualification. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews some of the bigger state championships ahead of the big kick-off in the coming weeks.

The Rio State championship, more popularly known as Carioca, begins this weekend with the first two inner tournaments which make up the competition. The first of these tournaments is the Taça Guanabara (from 19th January – 27th February) which sees sixteen teams split into two groups. Each team plays the other seven teams in its own group once only with the top two in each group going through to a knockout round comprising of one leg semi-finals and final. Almost as soon as the action in the Taça Guanabara is finished the second half begins with the Taça Rio (4th March – 1st May). Again the sixteen teams are split into two groups of eight but this time each team will play each of the eight teams in their opposite group once only. After eight games in the league phase there is another knockout phase involving the top two of each group using the same format as the Guanabara. If the same team wins both competitions then they are crowned Carioca champions. If the Guanabara and the Rio competitions see different winners then they will face off in a two-legged final to decide the overall champion of Rio State. In 2010 Botafogo won both competitions and took the Carioca championship for the 19th time in the club’s history. This time around the likes of record Carioca winners Flamengo, Brasileiro champions Fluminense and Vasco da Gama will fancy their chances of winning the title.

Santos Paulista

Santos are the defending Paulista champions

The other major state championship in Brazil is in São Paulo state known to all and sundry as the Paulista. This duration of this tournament is slightly longer than the Carioca beginning on January 16th and running until the May 15th. The format of this competition is rather more straightforward than its Rio counterpart with a twenty team league, each team playing the rest once only. After 19 games the top four go through to the two-legged semi-finals followed by a two-legged final. In the 2010 competition Santos finished top of the regular season table and negotiated their way through the knock-out rounds to take their 18th Paulista title but only after little Santo André gave them an almight scare in the final. Santos won the first leg 3-2 away from home but then went on to lose the second leg by the same scoreline recording a 5-5 aggregate score and the big boys only went on to receive the trophy not by extra-time and penalties but due to their superior regular season table position. In 2011 the likes of record Paulista champions Corinthians, São Paulo and Palmeiras will be determined to add to the honours board.

ABC FC Potiguar

ABC FC show off their record 51st Potiguar championship in 2010

There are some other notable state championships outside of the big two but many of these will contain an outstanding rivalry which has been the focus for many a tournament over the years. In the Mineiro championship, played in the state of Minas Gerais, Atlético Mineiro and Cruzeiro have won 75 of the 95 tournaments that have been played to date and their dominance is expected to continue this year. Record champions Atlético had a surprise contender to face in last year’s Mineiro final coming up against Ipatinga but overcame their ambitious opponents with a 5-2 aggregate score to win their 40th title. The Gaúcho championship will see the Porto Alegre rivalry between Grêmio and Internacional spiced up even further due to the former defending the state title whilst the latter have just enjoyed a second triumph in the Copa Libertadores. There’s more than just local bragging rights at stake for two clubs who have won this tournament 75 times between them, including all but two championships played since 1954.

A special mention must also go to the club ABC FC, who come from the city of Natal in Rio Grande do Norte state, who are the most titled club at state championship level. The current Potiguar championship holders recorded their 51st title triumph in 2010 and are hoping to extend on that record in preparation of the oncoming Brasileiro second division season which begins in late May. ABC FC begin their title defence from January 30th.

Europe: Real have advantage; Ipswich shock Arsenal; Cups Review

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 13, 2011
Tamas Priskin

Tamas Priskin scored Ipswich's winner against Arsenal on Wednesday

In yet another week of cup ties in some of Europe’s biggest domestic knockout competitions the biggest highlight came at the end of the week with local rivals Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid battling it out in the Copa del Rey. Other prominent ties were played in England, Scotland, Italy, Portugal, Turkey and Greece and there were a couple of shocks along the way. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews the best of the action.

The first legs in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals were completed on Thursday with wins for Real Madrid and Almeria. In the Madrid derby Atleti took the lead through Diego Forlan after just seven minutes but los Blancos restored parity within five minutes with a Sergio Ramos header. Further goals in the second half from Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Özil give Real a 3-1 advantage to take into next week’s second leg. In the other tie Almeria have a slender 1-0 advantage to take to Galicia after an own goal from Deportivo’s Knut Olav Rindaröy proved decisive.

In the other two games played 24 hours earlier there were a remarkable eleven goals scored as record holders FC Barcelona put five past Real Betis whilst Villarreal and Sevilla shared six goals between them in an eventful 3-3 draw. Lionel Messi collected his FIFA Ballon D’or award before the game against second division Betis began and he ended the game with a hat-trick in another vintage performance. Pedro and Seydou Keita completed the scoring as FC Barcelona comfortably won 5-0 to virtually seal their place in the semi-finals. Defending title holders Sevilla FC were 3-1 down away to Villarreal CF before clawing their way back to a 3-3 draw. Alexis got the equalizing goal two minutes from full-time to set up what will be a fascinating return leg.

The big shock in England’s League Cup semi-final, 1st legs was the defeat of Arsenal by second tier Ipswich Town. Tamas Priskin scored the only goal in a 1-0 win for the Trotters as they got themselves back on track in front of new coach Paul Jewell just three days after they were humiliated by Chelsea FC who scored eight goals past Ipswich in the FA Cup. The other semi-final tie sees West Ham United take a 2-1 advantage back to Birmingham City when the second legs take place from January 25-26.

North of the border Heart of Midlothian were the big casualties in the Scottish Cup 4th round as they were eliminated on home turf by fellow SPL side St Johnstone on Tuesday. Glasgow Rangers sealed their progression on Monday defeating Kilmarnock FC 3-0 in front of a sparsely populated Ibrox Park and set up a mouth watering tie against Old Firm rivals Celtic FC in the fifth round to be played on February 5-6.

Samuel Eto’o bagged a brace for Coppa Italia holders Internazionale FC as they went through to the quarter-finals courtesy of a 3-2 win against Genoa in the San Siro on Wednesday night. They join Parma FC (who defeated AFC Fiorentina before Christmas), Palermo (1-0 winners over Chievo on Wednesday) and Juventus (2-0 winners over Catania on Thursday) whilst the four remaining Round of 16 ties take place next week with the highlight being the Rome derby between AS Roma and SS Lazio on Wednesday.

Hulk FC Porto

Hulk sealed FC Porto's place in the Portuguese Cup semi-finals

In Portugal FC Porto have already secured qualification to the semi-final as they beat finally managed to defeat third tier Pinhalnovense on Wednesday thanks to two late goals from Hulk giving them a 2-0 win. In the Round of 16 record champions Benfica easily saw off Olhanense with a 5-0 win, Vitória Guimarães won 2-0 at home to União Torreense whilst Académica Coimbra and third-tier Merelinense also sealed a place in the last eight with wins over União da Madeira and SC Varzim respectively.

The Türkiye Kupasi is in the middle of its league stage and there were wins for cup holders Trabzonspor (3-1 over Şekerspor) and Beşiktaş (3-2 v Manisaspor) in Group B which helped those clubs into the top two places in the five team group. Galatasaray have all but sealed their place in the next round already having defeated Şekerspor Ankara 3-1 on Wednesday to give them a share of the lead with Gaziantepspor on seven points from three games, six ahead of third place Şekerspor Ankara who have only played two games. Fenerbahçe are out of the competition following a 2-1 defeat away at Yeni Malatyaspor. Two of the smaller clubs in Istanbul top Group D with Kasımpaşaspor sealing their second win in two games following a 1-0 win over Kirikhanspor whilst Istanbul BB also have six points having played a game more when defeating Karşıyakaspor Izmir 2-0 on Wednesday.

Finally in Greece there were two replayed Round of 16 matches on Wednesday with second tier Diagoros FC upsetting Super League club Ethnikos Asteras thanks to a solitary strike from Bartosz Tarachulski on the half-hour mark. In the all-Super League tie Kerkyra FC needed a penalty shoot-out to defeat Iraklis Thessaloniki following a goalless 120 minutes of football. Kerkyra FC were 100% from the spot whilst Iraklis’ Karim Soltani was the only player to miss for the visitors as Kerkyra won the shoot-out 5-3. The quarter-final, first legs will be played next week with two potentially explosive clashes including Olympiakos v PAOK Thessaloniki and defending holders Panathinaikos v AEK Athens. The other games see Kerkyra FC rewarded with a tiw against Olympiakos Volou whilst Diagoros FC have been paired with Atromitos.

CONCACAF: Copa Centroamericana kicks off in Panama

Posted in North and Central American Football by peterbein on January 13, 2011

Copa Centroamericana logoThe Copa Centroamericana, a tournament for Central American nations, takes place in Panama starting Friday. With five places up for grabs in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup seven countries will take part in the 11th edition of the Centroamericana, which was previously known as the UNCAF Nations Cup, in the hope of qualifying for the main competition, to be held in the United States this June. Panama are the defending champions having won their maiden title in Honduras two years ago against Costa Rica in a final decided on penalties following a goalless draw. Can they hold on to the trophy or will any of the other six contenders go all the way? Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews the tournament:

GROUP A (Belize; El Salvador; Nicaragua; Panama)

BELIZE: The Jaguars will have their work cut out to qualify from the group as they are undoubtedly the weakest team amongst the four in Group A. Belize have never qualified for the CONCACAF Gold Cup in their history and finished bottom of Group A in the previous tournament which eliminated them instantly from the 2009 competition. FIFA World Ranking = 173

EL SALVADOR: The best that El Salvador have ever done in this competition is third place on three occasions (1997, 2001, 2003). Two years ago they could only manage fourth place having lost to Costa Rica in the semi-finals and Honduras in the 3rd/4th play-off and will be keen to get to their first final but will find the going tough once again beyond the group stage. FIFA World Ranking = 116

NICARAGUA: Not expected to trouble the leading lights in this tournament but would like to emulate the feat of two years ago when they won the 5th/6th play-off defeating Guatemala 2-0 to qualify for their first ever CONCACAF Gold Cup. This is probably the best they can hope for in this year’s tournament. FIFA World Ranking = 157

PANAMA: The hosts and defending champions will be hoping to regain the title won in 2009 but will face a stern challenge from the likes of Costa Rica and Honduras for the trophy. Have improved in recent years and have the second highest FIFA ranking of the teams in the tournament. FIFA World Ranking = 67

Panama Copa Centroamericana

Panama are the defending champions in this competition

GROUP B (Costa Rica; Guatemala; Honduras)

COSTA RICA: Record champions with six titles to their name (1991, 1997, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007) Costa Rica only lost out on a seventh title in 2009 due to a penalty shoot-out and los Ticos are determined to get their crown back. Will definitely reach the semi-finals only a mixture of quality and luck will determine whether they make it lucky seven. FIFA World Ranking = 69

GUATEMALA: Champions for the one and only time back in 2001 Guatemala reached the final in the following tournament but have failed to reach it since. In 2009 Los Chapines lost in the 5th/6th play-off and failed to make it to the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the first time since 1993. They expect better luck this time and hope for a minimum 5th place finish to get over the disappointment of two years ago. FIFA World Ranking = 117

HONDURAS: Two-time champions in 1993 and 1995 Honduras have only reached the final one time since those glory days with a losing appearance in 2005. The country hosted the 2009 UNCAF Nations Cup, the last time it was played under that name, and were knocked out in the semi-finals by eventual champions Panama. FIFA World Ranking = 56

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CIS Cup: 2011 Tournament Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 13, 2011
Rubin Kazan CIS Cup

Rubin Kazan won the trophy in 2010

The 2011 Commonwealth of Independent States Cup takes place in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg from January 15th-23rd. Having failed to win the 2010 Russian Premier League, CIS Cup holders Rubin Kazan are unable to defend the title they won last year. Although not every team participating in this tournament is likely to send a full strength side the event is still prevalent on the calendar and is now its 19th year. Who will take their place as the best football team in the former Soviet Bloc? Here is a preview of each of the four groups in this year’s competition:

GROUP A: (Inter Baku; FC Iskra-Stal; Istiqlol Dushanbe; FC Neftchi Kochkor-Ata)

INTER BAKU: Qualified as champions of Azerbaijan having pipped FK Baku to the 2010 championship title by a point with FK Qarabağ and Khazar Lankaran a further point behind in a tightly fought contest. Have only had one previous appearance in this tournament in 2009 where they reached the semi-finals only to be knocked out by FK Aktobe.

ISKRA-STAL: Moldova’s representatives following FC Sheriff Tiraspol’s refusal to enter. FC Iskra-Stal, from the town of Rîbniţa in eastern Moldova, came second in the 2010 Moldovan league finishing a distant 19 points behind Sheriff. This is their first appearance in the CIS Cup.

ISTIQLOL DUSHANBE: The club from the capital city of Tajikistan won their maiden national title in 2010 having seen off the challenge of FK Redar-TegAZ by a comfortable 13 point margin in 2010. Their reward is a first appearance in the CIS Cup.

FC NEFTCHI KOCHKOR-ATA: Hailing from western Kyrgyzstan, FC Neftchi just held out to win a first ever national league title in 2010. Having beaten traditional powers FC Dynamo-Dordoi to the championship by a solitary point FC Neftchi can now look ahead to a first appearance in the CIS Cup.

 

GROUP B: (FC Bunyodkor; Mika Yerevan; Skonto Riga; FC Tobol Kostanay)

FC BUNYODKOR: The new dominant power in Uzbekistan sealed their third consecutive championship in 2010 seeing off their traditional Tashkent rivals Pakhtakor with an eight point margin. In their only CIS Cup appearance to date Bunyodkor reached the quarter-final stage in 2010 but succumbed to HTTU Ashgabat after a penalty shoot out.

FK MIKA YEREVAN: None of Armenia’s top three teams opted to send a team to Russia for this tournament so FK Mika, who finished fourth in their league championship last season, are left to fill the void. This will be their maiden showing in this tournament.

SKONTO RIGA: Latvia’s record champions finally ended a six year trophy drought in 2010 winning their 15th league title following the usual three-way tussle with FK Ventspils and FHK Liepājas Metalurgs. Skonto have participated in this tournament on many occasions and have finished runners-up three times in 2001, 2003 and 2004.

FC TOBOL KOSTANAY: Situated in northern Kazakhstan FC Tobol finished one point ahead of FK Aktobe in the title race and, thus, became champions for the first time in the club’s history. This is the first time that FC Tobol will participate in this tournament.

 

GROUP C: (FC Balkan; Flora Tallinn; Schakhtsyor Salihorsk; Zenit St Petersburg)

FC BALKAN: Turkmenistani champions in 2010, FC Balkan secured their second domestic title with a five point margin over Altyn Asyr FC. Have competed in this tournament once before in 2005 under the name of Nebitçi Balkanabat but failed to get past the group stage.

FLORA TALLINN: Finally got their hands on the Estonian Meistriliiga title for the first time since 2003 when getting the better of eternal rivals Levadia by five points. Flora have reached the quarter-finals of the CIS Cup in three consecutive years from 2002-04 but have never got beyond this stage.

SCHAKHTSYOR SOLIGORSK: Belarus runners-up Schakhstyor finished six points behind perennial champions BATE Borisov in 2010 but will take their place in this year’s CIS Cup. Have competed in this tournament on one occasion in 2006 but failed to reach the knockout rounds.

ZENIT ST PETERSBURG: The host city will see local team Zenit represent Russia having won their second Russian Premier League title last year. Zenit reached the quarter-finals in their only appearance thus far in 2008 but were surprisingly knocked out by FBK Kaunas. Heavily fancied to go all the way this time.

 

GROUP D: (Dynamo Kyiv; FK Ekranas; HJK Helsinki; Russia U-21)

DYNAMO KYIV: Dynamo finished second in the 2009-10 Ukrainian Premier League last season finishing six points behind Shakhtar Donetsk who have refused to send a team to this tournament in 2011. Dynamo have won this trophy four times (1996, 97, 98, 2002), more than any other club, and will be strong contenders for a fifth crown.

FK EKRANAS: Lithuania’s A-Lyga champions for the sixth time following their seven point triumph over FK Sūduva in 2010. FK Ekranas reached the semi-finals in the inaugural competition in 1993 and repeated the feat last year but have yet to go one step further.

HJK HELSINKI: Finland’s Veikkausliiga champions have been invited to this tournament for the last three years and this will be a second consecutive appearance for HJK. Having won the 2010 Finnish championship by a four point margin the Helsinki club will want to better last year’s CIS Cup appearance where they lost in the last eight stage to Rubin Kazan.

RUSSIA U-21: The Russian Under-21 side is invited to take part only in the group stage of the competition. Should they finish in the top two places in Group D then the next best teams will go through to the quarter-finals.

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