Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

New Zealand: Play-Offs loom for title hopefuls

Posted in Oceania Football by peterbein on March 10, 2011
Waitakere United

Can Waitakere United repeat their 2010 title triumph?

The regular season is over and for the quartet that remain in New Zealand’s ASB Premiership it is an exciting climax to the season. Waitakere United won the Minor Premiership finishing top of the regular season standings and, thus, qualify for the 2011-12 OFC Champions League. Will they do the double or will one of the other three semi-finalists stop them from winning the overall title?

The final match of round 14 of the regular season fixture list was completed today due to Canterbury United having to re-arrange their fixture against Auckland City following the devastating earthquake which recently struck the city. Whilst Auckland had already qualified for the play-offs by virtue of a second place finish, Canterbury had to beat their hosts in order to leapfrog Hawke’s Bay United into fourth place of the ASB Premiership standings. That they did thanks to a late winner by Ken Yamamoto whose goal in the 8oth minute gave Canterbury the final post-season berth. It means that the top four from last season – Waitakere United, Auckland City, Team Wellington and Canterbury United – will fight it out for the title again this year.

Waitakere United, having finished top of the standings by six points from arch-rivals Auckland City, are the favourites to win the national title for a second straight season. They will meet Canterbury United, who ran them close in last year’s Grand Final, at home in the semi-final, first leg on Sunday, March 13th with the return fixture due to be played on Sunday, April 3rd as Canterbury have yet to find a venue to hold their designated home tie. The other semi-final will see Auckland City, who recently qualified for the 2010-11 OFC Champions League final, face off against Team Wellington who were unfortunate to be eliminated by Waitakere in last season’s semi-final after going out on the away goals rule.

Tagged with:

UEFA: Europa League Round of 16 Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on March 9, 2011

UEFA Europa League logoThe UEFA Europa League Round of 16 begins on Thursday with the business end of the tournament imminent and many thoughts of Dublin’s Aviva Stadium increasingly on the horizon as the teams still involved in Europe’s second-tier competition begin to dream of silverware.

The countries of Russia, Portugal and the Netherlands still have three teams left in the competition in what has been a successful competition so far. Russia is a country which takes this tournament very seriously and with 2005 UEFA Cup winners CSKA Moscow and 2008 UEFA Cup winners Zenit Saint Petersburg along with Spartak Moscow still active hopes remain high that the nation can savour some more success on the continental stage. CSKA play against one of Portugal’s representatives, namely FC Porto, whilst Zenit and Spartak face off against two of the Dutch contingent in Twente Enschede and Ajax Amsterdam respectively.

British sides are also doing well in the Europa League with Scottish champions Glasgow Rangers meeting the remaining Dutch side in the tournament PSV Eindhoven. English duo Manchester City and Liverpool FC are amongst the favourites to lift the trophy on May 18th and many expect them to get past the challenges of Dynamo Kyiv and Sporting Braga respectively but with both teams facing away ties in the first leg things may not be as easy as it appears. The remaining Portuguese contenders SL Benfica will meet Paris Saint Germain who have the hopes of an expectant French nations resting on their shoulders. It’s a similar feeling for Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Villarreal CF who are representing German and Spanish chances of progression into the last eight.

The first legs are played on March 10th with the return fixtures completed on March 17th.

UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE ROUND OF 16 DRAW

Ajax Amsterdam v Spartak Moscow

Bayer 04 Leverkusen v Villarreal CF

Benfica SL v Paris Saint Germain

Braga v Liverpool FC

CSKA Moscow v FC Porto

Dynamo Kyiv v Manchester City

PSV Eindhoven v Glasgow Rangers

Twente Enschede v Zenit Saint Petersburg

(All teams on the left are home in the first leg)

Tagged with:

England: Are Wenger and Arsenal doomed to fail yet again?

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on March 9, 2011
Arsenal FC

From cheers to tears: Arsenal FC lost yet again to FC Barcelona

This was supposed to be the season when Arsenal FC was to benefit from Arsène Wenger’s policy of matching limited spending with upholding the ethos of giving youth a chance. Only a couple of weeks ago Arsenal fans were quietly hopeful that anything from a single League Cup triumph to an amazing quadruple of Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Champions League could be on the cards as the club was progressing well in all four competitions. Sadly for all Gunners fans it seems that the club could slowly be losing momentum at a time when they should be gaining it and their latest elimination from Europe’s top club competition by FC Barcelona could hit them harder than they think.

Arsenal FC haven’t won a trophy since the 2005 FA Cup final triumph against Manchester United and have yet to lift silverware since playing in the Emirates Stadium, their home since 2006. For a club who have made great investment off the pitch the fans are starting to become impatient at the lack of investment and reward on the pitch as manager Arsène Wenger sticks to his guns in refusing to splash the cash on big name players, preferring to place faith in youth players either developed or bought from other clubs. But despite the progress of players such as Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Niklas Bendtner the Gunners are lacking strength in key areas. The absence of a top class centre half, a warrior in the heart of the midfield, a prolific goalscorer and a world class keeper are the key concerns for a club who are vastly underachieving.

Fans of most other clubs would be desperate to have the sort of team that Arsenal possess with their football being some of the most impressive in European football but it was they who were put in their place on Tuesday night by an FC Barcelona team who have made an art form out of possession football and who can press any team to death when they don’t have the ball. Having won the first leg 2-1 in London, Arsenal FC were hoping to go into the second leg having learnt the lessons of twelve months earlier when Lionel Messi inspired his team to a crushing 4-1 win over Arsenal in the Camp Nou. Sadly for the North London outfit they hardly saw any of the ball with virtually all of the action taking place in Arsenal’s half of the field. The home side had 20 shots at goal whilst Arsenal didn’t have a meaningful shot all night; indeed FC Barcelona even had the good grace to score a goal for them. Following Messi’s opening goal on the stroke of half-time Arsenal restored parity on the night to 1-1 in the 53rd minute after Sergio Busquets put through his own net to allow the visitors to restore an aggregate lead of 3-2. Arsenal’s night would get difficult however when Robin Van Persie was sent off having been shown a second yellow card in the 56th minute after he shot the ball when failing to hear the referee’s whistle following an offside call. Despite Arsenal’s bad luck on that occasion it was only a matter of time until Barcelona ran them further into the ground with goals from Xavi and Messi (pen) in the last twenty minutes putting paid to the Gunners’ Champions League hopes for another year.

Birmingham City

Birmingham City won the English League Cup this season defeating Arsenal FC

But it wasn’t the manner of the sending off that should concern anybody connected with the club it was the manner of how Arsenal, for the second consecutive year, went to the Camp Nou and were taught a lesson in keeping possession and breaking down defences in a way which they usually do to teams back home. Despite regular UEFA Champions League football the club is forever failing in Europe and, without a meaningful European trophy in Arsène Wenger’s sixteen years in charge, some fans are now starting to publicly question whether it is time to finally replace the man at the helm. On the domestic front Arsenal just can’t seem to overtake league leaders Manchester United despite the Old Trafford club losing three times in their last five games. Arsenal also recently lost the first big cup final of the season after a defensive calamity between keeper Wojciech Szczęsny and centre half Laurent Koscielny gifted Obafemi Martins the winning goal and saw Arsenal go down to a 2-1 reverse at the hands of Birmingham City. With the FA Cup quarter final match to Manchester United iminent the priority for Wenger is to go to Old Trafford and get a result and, at the same time, strike a psychological blow in the race for the Premier League title. Should Arsenal lose to United on Saturday then that could be the ultimate hammer blow to their chances of any success this season.

Tagged with: ,

UEFA: Czechs win as Qualifying begins for Under-17 tournament

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on March 9, 2011
England U-17

England Under-17 team emerge triumphant in 2010

The month of March is going to be busy for the various Under-17 national teams hoping to make it to the UEFA U-17 Championship finals which will be held in Serbia later this year. Defending champions England, who defeated Spain in the 2010 final in Liechtenstein, begin their campaign on March 26th against Northern Ireland and will play three matches in the space of five days, the others coming against a revenge seeking Spanish side as well as Belgium.

The first games in qualifying kicked off today in Group 1 with the Czech Republic being the only team to enjoy a victory after beating neighbours Slovakia 1-0 thanks to a late Dan Fojtasek goal whilst Italy and Scotland could only muster a goalless draw. This is the only group which begins and completes in the first half of the month with the final round of games coming on March 14th.

Below is a list of the seven qualifying groups. The top team in each group qualifies for Serbia 2011:

GROUP 1: CZECH REPUBLIC, ITALY, SCOTLAND, SLOVAKIA

GROUP 2: AUSTRIA, CROATIA, NETHERLANDS, PORTUGAL

GROUP 3: DENMARK, GREECE, LATVIA, REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

GROUP 4: GERMANY, SWITZERLAND, TURKEY, UKRAINE

GROUP 5: BELGIUM, ENGLAND, NORTHERN IRELAND, SPAIN

GROUP 6: BELARUS, FRANCE, GEORGIA, NORWAY

GROUP 7: HUNGARY, ICELAND, ROMANIA, RUSSIA

Caribbean: CFU Club Championship 2011 Preview

Posted in North and Central American Football by peterbein on March 9, 2011
Puerto Rico Islanders

Puerto Rico Islanders are the reigning Caribbean club champions

The 2011 Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Club Championship kicks off on Thursday, March 10th. Puerto Rico Islanders, the 2010 title holders, will begin their campaign in the second round. The tournament has switched to a straight knockout format, as opposed to the league stages which took up the first half of the competition last season, in the hope that the event will see more exciting football. But, as seems to happen regularly in this competition, a couple of teams have had to pull out before a ball has been kicked.

There were seven matches scheduled to take place in the next fortnight but due to financial pressures two teams, Bassa Sports Club from Antigua & Barbuda along with Dominican champions Centre Bath Estate, have had to withdraw. This has allowed both teams’ first round opponents, Guyana’s champions Alpha United and Haitian title holders Tempête FC, to qualify for the next stage by virtue of a walkover. Of the five two-legged ties that will go ahead the stakes will be high in the game involving Northern United All Stars (St Lucia) and Walking Bout Company (Suriname) as the winner will progress to meet Puerto Rico Islanders, who became the first team from outside Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica to win the competition last year. The Islanders’ compatriots River Plate, who won their national title in 2009-10, will hope to emulate their neighbours’ achievements but they have had to give up home advantage in the first leg of their clash with Bodden Town with the Cayman Islands outfit schedule to host both legs.

Defence Force, CFU title winners in 2001, will begin their attempts at winning a second title against Bermuda champions Dandy Town Hornets who very nearly had to forfeit their place in the competition due to lack of funds. Defence Force are the big favourites to progress as they are one of the top clubs in the region as well as national champions of Trinidad & Tobago. Caledonia AIA, who finished five points behind Defence Force in the 2010 T&T Pro League, face off against Newtown United from St Kitts & Nevis whilst the final match of the round involves Suriname champions Inter Moengotapoe and Guyanan runners-up Milerock FC.

The two-legged ties will be played over an eleven day period from March 10th-20th.

Tagged with:

AFC: Asian Champions League kicks off on Tuesday

Posted in Asian Football by peterbein on March 1, 2011
AFC Champions League

Title holders Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma are unable to compete this year. Who will take their crown?

The AFC Champions League begins a new campaign on Tuesday with defending champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma conspicuous by their absence. With title holders not being given an automatic berth into the following year’s tournament Seongnam had to finish in the top three places of the 2010 K-League championship or win the Korean Cup in order to seal their place in this year’s Champions League. Sadly for Seongnam they fell just short and now they must watch from the sidelines as 32 teams begin the task of trying to usurp the crown away from the current title holders.

South Koreans clubs have been successful in three of the last five finals and are much fancied to continue their recent dominance with the country being represented by national champions FC Seoul, Jeju United, Jeonbuk Hynudai Motors and Korean Cup winners Suwon Samsung Bluewings. The most likely nation to put up a new champion contender is Japan who haven’t tasted success at this level since 2008 after Gamba Osaka won their maiden title. Osaka make up one of the Japanese quartet along with J-League champions Nagoya Grampus Eight, Emperor’s Cup winners Kashima Antlers and Gamba’s local rivals Cerezo Osaka. The Chinese league doesn’t appear to be capable of making a challenge just yet but its clubs are gaining invaluable experience at Asian football’s top table. Chinese champions Shandong Luneng spearhead the nation’s challenge alongside Tianjin Teda, Shanghai Shenhua and Hangzhou Greentown but any hopes of a first success for Chinese football since Liaoning FC’s 1989-90 triumph still seem distant.

In the west of the continent clubs from Saudi Arabia still remain the best bet to put up a fight for the title with Al-Ittihad, the last Saudi club to lift the trophy in 2005, entering this year along with current Saudi champions Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr and Al-Shabab. Teams from Iran also feature prominently and the nation is desperate to savour a victory in this tournament having last seen one of its clubs, namely PAS Tehran, lift the trophy in 1992-93. With traditional heavyweights such as Sepahan, Persepolis, Esteghlal FC and Zob Ahan FC involved in the competition Iranian chances cannot be discounted but with each passing year without the title the expectations become greater.

Amongst the remaining nations it will be interesting to see how Australia’s representatives, Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory, will fare after suffering a disappointing 2010-11 Hyundai A-League campaign. The United Arab Emirates are represented by four clubs with national champions Al-Wahda hoping to gain more international recognition follwoing their appearance at the FIFA Club World Cup last December. Uzbekistan is represented once again by Tashkent rivals Bunyodkor FC and Pakhtakor FC, both of whom have reached the semi-finals in recent years. Qatari clubs Al-Gaffa, Al-Rayyan and Al-Sadd, who qualified for this tournament via the play-offs alongside UAE team Al-Ain, will hope for a respectable performance in the group stages whilst sole Indonesian representatives Arema FC will be happy just to be there. 

GROUP A: Al-Hilal, Al-Gharafa, Al-Jazira, Sepahan

GROUP B: Al-Nassr, Al-Sadd, Esteghlal, Pakhtakor

GROUP C: Al-Ittihad, Al-Wahda, Bunyodkor, Persepolis

GROUP D: Al-Rayyan, Al-Shabab, Emirates, Zob Ahan FC

GROUP E: Gamba Osaka, Jeju United, Melbourne Victory, Tianjin Teda

GROUP F: Al-Ain, FC Seoul, Hangzhou Greentown, Nagoya Grampus Eight

GROUP G: Arema FC, Cerezo Osaka, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Shandong Luneng

GROUP H: Kashima Antlers, Shanghai Shenhua, Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Sydney FC

Tagged with: