Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UK: 2010-11 Season Review (+video)

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on May 25, 2011
Man United Champions

Manchester United sealed their 19th title this season

All four championships of the United Kingdom have been completed for another season. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews the situation in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

ENGLAND

Manchester United finally broke the stranglehold of their arch-rivals Liverpool FC and won a record 19th English championship thanks to a combination of some late-winners and ineptitude of their fellow title challengers. The Red Devils were unbeaten for their first 24 matches of the Premier League season despite the fact that they played far from free-flowing football but the team’s spirit allowed them to remain at the top of the table for most of the season. Manchester City, forever living in the shadow of their more illustrious neighbours, finally had a trophy to show for their efforts as they defeated Stoke City in the English FA Cup final. Chelsea FC, who were defending the title at the start of the season, started superbly but saw their form dip from November into the early weeks of the new year and allowed North London rivals Arsenal FC to overtake them as United’s main challengers. However Arsene Wenger’s men also collapsed in a manner which used to befit the English national cricket team as they saw their chances of winning four trophies in one season reduced to dust in the last couple of months and they finished the season empty-handed. Tottenham Hotspur pipped Liverpool FC into fifth place and the final UEFA Europa League spot but both teams will consider the season to have been a disappointing one. At the other end of the table West Ham United lost their first four games of the campaign and remained rooted to the bottom of the league all season. Birmingham City, who defeated Arsenal FC in the Carling League Cup final, also drop into the Championship (2nd tier) next season along with Blackpool FC.

WATCH MANCHESTER UNITED DRESSING ROOM CELEBRATIONS HERE:

SCOTLAND

It was a troubled season in the Scottish Premier League but, despite the negative headlines which affected Scottish football in the last few months, there was a fantastic title chase between the two Old Firm giants. Glasgow Rangers finally managed to clinch a world record extending 54th domestic championship on the final day of the season when their 5-1 victory away at Kilmarnock saw them over the line. Outgoing manager Walter Smith leaves the club having won his tenth SPL title with the Ibrox club and will go down as a club legend, especially as he also sealed a double triumph having beaten arch-rivals Glasgow Celtic to the CIS Insurance League Cup in a tense Hampden Park final in March. At least the green and white half of Glasgow had some silverware of their own to celebrate as they won the end of season showpiece Scottish FA Cup final with a 3-0 win over Motherwell, allowing manager Neil Lennon the chance to reward the loyal fans who had stood behind him during difficult times. Outside the Old Firm Hearts of Midlothian showed signs of a title challenge in the early months of the season which, sadly for them, evaporated as the season progressed but at least the Edinburgh club could claim to be the “best of the rest” finishing third in the table. They will play in the UEFA Europa League next season along with fourth place Dundee United whilst, at the bottom of the table, Hamilton Academicals will go down into the First Division (2nd tier) next season.

WATCH GLASGOW RANGERS TITLE CELEBRATIONS HERE:

WALES

The Welsh Premier League had a final day title decider which was worthy of the name. With just a single point separating them, Bangor City and defending champions The New Saints would face off on the final day at the former’s Farrar Road stadium to decide the destination of the title. Bangor City scraped a 1-0 win and claimed their third league title by just two points allowing them the opportunity to compete in next season’s UEFA Champions League qualifying rounds. Bangor City were in line to celebrate a league and cup double for the first time in the club’s history having also reached their fourth consecutive Welsh Cup final but blew their big chance, going down to a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Llanelli AFC which proved to be a maiden Cup triumph for the victors. The New Saints got their hands on the final piece of silverware, winning an exciting Welsh Premier League Cup final against Llanelli by four goals to three. As well as the two victorious cup sides, Neath Athletic will also feature in the UEFA Europa League next season after they won an end-of-season play-off tournament. At the bottom Haverfordwest County look set to drop down into the second tier having only accumulated 19 points in 32 games.

WATCH BANGOR CITY v THE NEW SAINTS TITLE DECIDER HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

NORTHERN IRELAND

There appears to be no stopping Linfield FC at the moment. The dominant force of the Northern Ireland Premiership easily won their 50th championship from nearest challengers Crusaders FC by a gaping margin of eleven points. The latest league triumph was the fifth in the last six years for Linfield who also secured the Irish Cup at the hands of Crusaders winning the final in their Windsor Park home by two goals to one. The League Cup final saw a new name on the trophy as Lisburn Distillery defeated Portadown and, at the very least, allowed somebody else to experience some success. Crusaders, Glentoran and Cliftonville FC will compete in the UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds next season whilst Newry City will find themselves playing second division football in 2011-12 having finished bottom of the table.

WATCH LINFIELD FC v PORTADOWN FC & TITLE CELEBRATIONS HERE:

Europe: Pahars struggling at Skonto; Summer Leagues Review

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 23, 2011
Marians Pahars

Marians Pahars (right), seen here with predecessor Aleksandrs Starkovs, has struggled as Skonto coach so far

Many of Europe’s major leagues are currently coming to a conclusion and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog shall cover them in depth when they have all finished. In the meantime there are a number of domestic championships which are in their infancy and will take up some of the spotlight during the summer months.

In Latvia defending champions Skonto Riga have got off to a dreadful start having lost four of their first nine games. This weekend saw Skonto FC, under the command of club playing legend Marians Pahars, lose for the second game in a row losing 1-0 to newly-promoted FB Gulbene-2005 with Arevshat Khachatryan’s 75th minute proving decisive. The defeat meant that Skonto are already twelve points adrift of league leaders FK Ventspils and seemingly have no chance of winning the championship so early in the season. FK Ventspils, who had the weekend off, lead the way on 25 points after nine games along with Liepājas Metalurgs, who have played one game more, following the latter’s 3-1 win away at FC Jurmala. FC Daugava, from Latvia’s second city of Daugavpils, currently occupy third place, five points behinds the leaders, having demolished Olimps Riga by six goals to nil.

In the neighbouring Baltic states it’s a case of as you were with defending champions FK Ekranas and Flora Tallinn topping the table in Lithuania and Estonia respectively with unbeaten records. FK Ekranas, six times winners of Lithuania’s A Lygaincluding the last three championships, got the better of FK Suduva Marijampole at the weekend with an Andrius Velicka goal separating the two teams. In Estonia’s Meistrilliga FC Flora, who won their first league title for seven years in 2010, were grateful to an 86th minute winner from Sergei Mosnikov on Saturday, his goal making it 2-1 in their home tie against Paide Linameeskond who remain third from bottom following this defeat. Another team predictably topping the table with an unbeaten record is BATE Borisov in the Belarussian Premier League. They have a healthy seven point lead over three teams despite drawing 0-0 this weekend to fifth place FK Gomel. With seven wins and four draws from their first eleven games BATE already look well placed to secure a sixth consecutive championship.

Jan Jönsson

Rosenborg coach Jan Jönsson is another who is struggling at a champion club

In Scandinavia, things aren’t quite so predictable at the moment in Norway’s Tippeligaen and Finland’s Veikkausliiga. Norwegian champions Rosenborg Trondheim are currently languishing in eleventh place and their 1-1 draw away at ninth place FK Start last Thursday certainly didn’t help their cause too much. There are three teams separated by just one point at the summit of the table right now with Tromsø, Strømsgodset (both played 8, points 16)and Stabæk all enjoying victories against Viking Stavanger, Brann Bergen and Odd Grenland Skien respectively in the last round of matches. In Finland champions HJK Helsinki are in third place and, having lost 2-0 away at IFK Mariehamn on Sunday, are now four points behind league leaders JJK Jyväskylä (played 6, points 16). The surprise leaders so far kept their unbeaten record in tact with a 2-0 win at home to Kuopio today and they retain their three point advantage over nearest challengers Inter Turku won won an eventful game 4-3 against Rovaniemi PS.

B36 Tórshavn (played 9, points 21) lead the way in the Faroe Islands with a four point margin separating them from NSÍ Runavík and Vikingur in the early stages of the Vodafonedeildin. In nearby Iceland the table is currently led by KR Reykjavik (played 5, points 11) who remain the only unbeaten team in the Pepsideildin following this weekend’s 1-1 draw at Stjarnan F.C. Finally the Airtricity League in the Republic of Ireland sees defending champions Shamrock Rovers (played 13, points 28) enjoy a two point lead over second place Sligo Rovers, who have played a game more, following 3-0 victories for both teams at home to Drogheda United and Galway United respectively.

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South Africa: Pirates sneak title ahead of Ajax

Posted in African Football by peterbein on May 23, 2011

Orlando Pirates 2011 championsOrlando Pirates sneaked the South African ABSA Premiership title by virtue of goal difference and cruelly denied Ajax Cape Town the championship in the process.

With two points separating Ajax, who led the table going into the final round of matches, from the Pirates it seemed that the former would clinch their maiden title, especially given that they were at home to Maritzburg United who were languishing in the bottom half of the table. Orlando Pirates had to win their game at home to the Golden Arrows and hope that Ajax would drop points.

With both games being played at the same time Ajax Cape Town knew that they held the advantage at half-time as they were leading 1-0 thanks to a 43rd minute Khama Billiat goal whilst the Pirates were being held to a 1-1 draw in their game against Golden Arrows, Bongani Ndulula (Pirates) and Collins Mbesuma (Arrows) trading goals in the first half. After the break, however, the nerves started to show amongst the Ajax players as they allowed the visiting Maritzburg team into the game with goals from Gert Schalkwyk and Diyo Sibisi giving United the lead with twenty minutes remaining. As long as Orlando weren’t winning then even a defeat wouldn’t prove to be too devastating for Ajax.

The last ten minutes of the season for both teams sealed their fate. Orlando Pirates took a 2-1 lead against the Golden Arrows in the 84th minute with Isaac Chansa sending the home fans wild whilst, almost immediately, Ajax Cape Town equalized in their game with Sameegh Doutie restoring hope to his side’s supporters with four minutes remaining on the clock. There would be no more goalscoring action and the table showed both Orlando and Ajax as having 60 points each so the league was decided on goal difference. This was where the Pirates had the upper hand as they sneaked it with a superior difference of four goals; Orlando had an 18+ goal margin with Ajax only 14 goals better off and so it was that Orlando Pirates were crowned South African champions for the third time.

Brazil: São Paulo open Brasileiro with victory against champions (+video)

Posted in South America Football by peterbein on May 23, 2011

Following the umpteen state championships which have filled up the first four months of the Brazilian domestic calendar the national championship, known as the Brasiliero, is back for a new season.

Defending champions Fluminense got off to a terrible start in their opening game of the campaign going down to a 2-0 reverse at home to São Paulo. The visitors struck shortly before and after half-time thanks to Dagoberto and Lucas, thus allowing the Tricolor to get off on a winning note. Carioca state champions Flamengo are the provisional leaders of the championship following their 4-0 demolition of Avaí FC with former FIFA World Cup winner Ronaldinho amongst the goalscorers. Santos FC and Internacional SC, winners of their respective Paulista and Gaucho state titles, were the only teams neither to win nor lose as they played out a 1-1 draw against each other.

WATCH FLUMINENSE v SAO PAULO GOALS HERE:

In the other matches there were wins for some of the traditional powers such as Vasco da Gama (3-1 v SC Ceará), Atlético Mineiro (3-0 v Atlético Paranaense), Corinthians (2-1 v Grêmio) and Palmeiras (1-0 v Botafogo). Amongst the newly-promoted teams América Mineiro (2-1 v Bahia) and Figueirense (1-0 v Cruzeiro) secured three points on Matchday 1 whilst last season’s Serie B champions Coritiba went down to a narrow 1-0 defeat at home to Atlético Goianiense.

WATCH SANTOS FC v SC INTERNACIONAL GOALS HERE:

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Mexico: Pumas clinch tense Clausura title (+video)

Posted in North and Central American Football by peterbein on May 23, 2011

UNAM Pumas have won Mexico’s Torneo Clausura thanks to a 3-2 aggregate victory in the final against Monarcas Morelia.

Both teams had shared the goals in a 1-1 draw in Friday’s first leg with Juan Francisco Palencia (UNAM) and Joao Rojas (Morelia) both hitting the target. So the scene was set for a thrilling finish in Sunday’s return fixture, played at the Pumas’ home ground of Estadio Olímpico Universitario, and it was the home side who opened the scoring on 14 minutes with Palencia converting an early spot kick. Just eleven minutes later parity was restored via the same method as Morelia won a penalty of their own which was scored by Jaime Lozano. The goal which ultimately decided the game and the championship came deep in the second half; Javier Cortés scoring an amazing goal which helped his team to their seventh national championship title.

WATCH 2ND LEG GOALS AND TITLE CELEBRATIONS HERE:

UEFA: FC Porto win Europa League title

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 19, 2011

The constant stream of comparisons between current FC Porto coach André Villas-Boas and his mentor José Mourinho are set to continue following the Portuguese club’s UEFA Europa League triumph over compatriots Sporting Braga. Radamel Falcao claimed the only goal of the game on the stroke of half-time to secure FC Porto their second success in this competition, adding to the UEFA Cup won with Mourinho in 2003. In truth the game was far from a classic but Braga did miss a glorious chance to restore parity early in the second half when Mossoró was through on goal following a defensive mistake but Porto keeper Helton kept him at bay. With chances few and far between in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium the team from Portugal’s second city held out in a tight contest.

Now the future of Porto coach Villas-Boas, who at 33 years old is the youngest coach to guide a team to a European club title, will certainly be the subject of much speculation after he guided his team to an unbeaten Portuguese SuperLiga triumph as well as last night’s piece of continental glory. Now “Mourinho Lite” has the chance to complete the treble this Sunday as Porto meet Vitória de Guimarães in the Portuguese Cup final.

WATCH FC PORTO WINNING GOAL HERE:

WATCH FC PORTO TROPHY PRESENTATION HERE:

Away Days: FSV Frankfurt v Erzgebirge Aue

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on May 16, 2011

After the trauma of Eintracht Frankfurt’s relegation on Saturday came a little bit of light relief on Sunday. Frankfurt’s second club is FSV and it was to their Frankfurter Volksbank Stadion that I went to in order to see their 2. Liga match against Erzgebirge Aue, a club hailing from the east of the country.

Fußballsportverein Frankfurt, to give them their proper name, are a small team from the Bornheim district of the city and have done well on limited resources to stay in the 2. Liga for the last two seasons. On both occasions they finished in 15th place and will, for the first time ever, play in a Frankfurt city derby when Eintracht play in the same division from next season. Erzgebirge Aue, a former three-time champion of the old East German Oberliga under their old name of SC Wismut Karl Marx Stadt, are also a modest club and have done well following last season’s promotion from the 3. Liga. The game yesterday was a chance to secure fifth place in the table with Energie Cottbus and Fortuna Düsseldorf waiting in the wings in case of a slip up.

Once inside the stadium I gained a sense of nostalgia in the sense that I was standing on an open terrace behind the goal, something which has alluded me in England for many years. At the front of the stand was a lone cheerleader who, tried as he might, found it difficult to motivate the fans in the Südtribüne despite having the advantage of shouting through a megaphone. To be fair to him the football on the pitch wasn’t exactly a feast for the eyes and one was wondering if the players’ minds were already on their summer vacation ahead of the post-season. There was one moment which defined the first half and that was Aue’s opening goal which went in of the head off the unfortunate FSV midfielder Christian Müller. Erzgebirge Aue were 1-0 up at half-time.

Play is about to re-start following Aue's first goal

The second half carried on in much the same vein, the only highlights proving to be each slurp of the cheap beer that was selling well around the stadium. What each person in the crowd of 4,011 thought about this game would probably prove negative with the exception of the travelling hoardes of supporters from Aue who had their second goal to celebrate with ten minutes remaining. Following more good work down the right side Robert Strauß crossed the ball for Jan Hochscheidt who ghosted into the box to put the away side 2-0 up, a margin which they never relinquished for the remainder of the game.

The Erzgebirge supporters unveiled a banner at the end of the game saying “Top Saison Männer!” which it ultimately proved to be as they cemented their fifth place spot thanks to the three points won on the final day. FSV Frankfurt, following a good start to the season, dropped markedly in performance as the season went on but not so bad that they had to worry about a relegation campaign unlike their more illustrious neighbours Eintracht. It will be interesting to see how the city takes to the derby next season.

Away Days: Borussia Dortmund v Eintracht Frankfurt

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on May 16, 2011

Things really have gone from bad to worse for Eintracht Frankfurt since the winter break. Only one win in 16 games going into their final game of the season away to the newly-crowned champions of Germany saw the club who occupied seventh place at the winter break start the day in second bottom and were involved in a real relegation dogfight which hadn’t looked like coming at Christmas.

I set off from Manchester airport on Friday morning and was very surprised to see a group of men wearing T-shirts with the club badges of Oldham Athletic, who currently play in England’s third tier, as well as that of Eintracht. Curiosity got the better of me and so I asked if they were going to the game on Saturday to which they said yes. It was a pleasant surprise, no doubt to the Oldham lads as well as myself, that there were quite so many English who not only wanted to go to the game but were playing an active supporting role in a club not many people in our country probably neither know nor care about. I’ve been following Eintracht since 2006 but these guys had a good 20 years experience on me so I was even more impressed by their love for the club.

I travelled to the game on Saturday morning with a fan group called EFC 11er-Freunde, about whom I wrote a piece in a previous Away Days trip to Nuremberg. With the beer flowing from just before 10am the fans were in good spirits despite the mammoth task which lay before the Eintracht team. We had to beat title winning Borussia Dortmund and hope that VfL Wolfsburg (away at Hoffenheim) and Mönchengladbach (away at Hamburger SV) both got inferior results. Upon arriving at the stadium I was surprised to bump into the Oldham group yet again as I got off the coach and our thoughts turned to the game before we had to separate into our respective areas of the Eintracht fan block. When I got into the stadium the Dortmund fans were preparing a chereography to herald their heroes and it seemed that the famous Yellow Wall, the nickname given to the massive 28,000 capacity Südtribüne which stands behind one of the goals, would generate a cracking atmosphere.

But once the game got under way the Yellow Wall resembled a real wall insofar as it didn’t make any noise for most of the first half. During the first 45 minutes Eintracht keeper Ralf Fährmann saved a penalty from Lucas Barrios whilst, at the other end, Theofanis Gekas hit the crossbar in the last minute, meaning that the game was goalless at half-time. At the same time Wolfsburg were also goalless whilst Gladbach were leading in Hamburg which meant that, if the scores remained the same after 90 minutes, Eintracht would be going down. But, just sixty seconds after the break, Eintracht took the lead through midfielder Sebastian Rode. Almost at the same time came the news that Hoffenheim had taken the lead in their game against Wolfsburg meaning that Eintracht’s destiny looked positive.

Dortmund players on the stage waiting for the Meisterschale

Sadly for us the hope began to fade once more in the 68th minute when Dortmund striker Lucas Barrios, following some clever play from Łukasz Piszczek, restored parity. Just four minutes later Eintracht’s world turned upside down as a Marco Russ own goal gave the champions the lead whilst Wolfsburg had turned it around in their game winning 2-1 with fifteen minutes still to play although Hamburger SV had equalized in their game against Gladbach so a bit of luck for Eintracht could still have kept die Adler up in the top flight. The last ten minutes of the game for Eintracht, however, proved to be a nightmare as substitute Marcel Titsch-Rivero, who came on in the 79th minute to replace goal scorer Rode, got himself sent off just 43 seconds later after bringing down Marcel Schmelzer in the box to give away another penalty. But one person who didn’t lose his nerve was Fährmann who, having saved a penalty from Barrios in the first half, then kept out Dede to keep a glimmer of hope alive. This hope would finally be extinguished in the last minute of the game when Barrios headed home a Robert Lewandowski cross from the right flank to secure the three points for Dortmund who could now finally begin their championship celebrations.

Strangely there were many Dortmund fans, acclaimed by the club’s stadium announcer as “the best fans in the world”, who seemed more intent on coming outside to give Eintracht fans grief about their oncoming relegation rather than see captain Roman Weidenfeller lift the Meisterschale inside the Signal Iduna Park stadion. Thankfully the heavy police presence outside ensured that trouble was kept to a minimum around the stadium as emotions ran high on both sides after the game. For the record Mönchengladbach drew 1-1 at Hamburger SV which means that the former will take place in a two-legged Relegation Play-Off match with VfL Bochum, who claimed third place in the 2. Liga on Sunday. VfL Wolfsburg, meanwhile, managed to secure 1. Liga football next season following their eventual 3-1 away win at Hoffenheim.

Spain: Barcelona claim 21st championship

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 12, 2011

La Liga TrophyFC Barcelona have won a third successive league title, their 21st overall, with a 1-1 draw away at Levante UD securing the point they needed to seal the title. They currently lead the table from Real Madrid by eight points with just two games to play.

Mali international Seydou Keita scored Barcelona’s goal in the 28th minute only to see Felipe Caicedo equalize five minutes before half-time after a defensive mix-up between Gerard Pique and keeper Victor Valdes. Nonetheless the draw helped the Catalan giants seal the ninth trophy since 2008-09 under the tutelage of coach Pep Guardiola.

Once again Lionel Messi was the player of the season for the Blaugrana having so far notched 31 goals in La Liga this term, only Cristiano Ronaldo scoring more. But with plenty of goals from all areas this Barcelona team continually threatens to dominate the game for years to come and, with the domestic title sealed, allows Guardiola to rest his players ahead of the club’s date at Wembley Stadium against Maanchester United in the UEFA Champions League final on May 28th.

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Scotland: Attacks on Lennon must stop

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on May 12, 2011

Neil LennonThe attack on Glasgow Celtic coach Neil Lennon by an opposing supporter in Wednesday’s Scottish Premier League match against Heart of Midlothian is the latest in a string of unsavoury incidents that have been directed at the former Northern Ireland international player. Surely now is the time for such ugly personal attacks on Lennon to stop.

It has been well documented in the recent past that Lennon, a lifelong Celtic fan from Northern Ireland, has been the victim of a targeted campaign including death threats, parcel bombs and assaults throughout his career and the latest episode, which took place in Celtic’s 3-0 win over Hearts in the SPL, has completely overshadowed what has been an exciting championship chase between the Bhoys and their Old Firm counterparts Glasgow Rangers.

How much more abuse and personal vitriol Lennon is expected to take is open to question and one wonders whether he will tough it out beyond this season. The attack on him from the Hearts supporter, who was promptly arrested at the scene, was all the more suprising considering he has 24 hour security on the back of the recent discovery just two months ago of a parcel bomb which was intended for him in the post. This incident, therefore, could either be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, thus calling time on Lennon’s insofar brief tenure at the club, or it will drive him on to show his critics that he will continue no matter the provocation. Lennon appears to be, on the surface, a tough nut who has handled most things thrown at him but even the man himself must wonder if it is worth carrrying on given the circumstances.

One hopes, for his sake and for that of Scottish football, that this catalogue of disgraceful incidents will stop before he, or anyone else for that matter, ends up on the receiving end of something truly tragic.