Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UEFA: 2011-12 Champions League group stage draw

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 25, 2011

UEFA Champions League trophyThe draw for the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League has taken place amid some controversy in Monaco this afternoon. Less than 24 hours after Turkish champions Fenerbahçe were forced to withdraw from the competition by the Turkish Football Federation, the inclusion of Turkish League runners up Trabzonspor in the draw raised some eyebrows. After all Trabzonspor, who were knocked out of the Champions League 2nd qualifying round by SL Benfica, are also involved in the same match-fixing allegations that have beset Fenerbahçe. Alas, UEFA saw fit to include Trabzonspor in the group stage draw at such short notice and the Black Sea port team have been rewarded by being placed in Group B alongside 2009-10 European champions Internazionale, French champions Lille OSC  and Russian side CSKA Moscow.

Outside of the controversy the group stage draw has thrown together some wonderful pairings. The tie of the round should come in Group H where, in a repeat of the 1994 Champions League final, defending European champions FC Barcelona will face off against Italian champions AC Milan. There will be another repeat of a classic European Cup final in Group D where 1968 finalists Manchester United and SL Benfica will feature. Real Madrid will once again meet recent adversaries Olympique Lyonnais who they have met in the last two seasons in this competition while a meeting in Group G between Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg and their Ukrainian counterparts Shakhtar Donetsk will spice things up in Eastern Europe. Former Valencia star Juan Mata will be going back to his former club as his new side Chelsea FC were paired with the two-time Champions League finalists in group E.

Here is the full draw for the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League group stage:

GROUP A: Bayern München; Villarreal CF; Manchester City; SSC Napoli

GROUP B: Internazionale; CSKA Moscow; Lille OSC; Trabzonspor

GROUP C: Manchester United; SL Benfica; FC Basel 1893; Oţelul Galaţi

GROUP D: Real Madrid; Olympique Lyonnais; Ajax Amsterdam; Dinamo Zagreb

GROUP E: Chelsea FC; Valencia CF; Bayer 04 Leverkusen; Racing Genk

GROUP F: Arsenal FC; Olympique de Marseille; Olympiakos; Borussia Dortmund

GROUP G: FC Porto; Shakhtar Donetsk; Zenit St Petersburg; APOEL Nicosia

GROUP H: FC Barcelona; AC Milan; BATE Borisov; Viktoria Plzeň

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Recopa: Internacional claim second triumph in four years

Posted in South America Football by peterbein on August 25, 2011

Recopa SudamericanaThe 2011 Recopa Sudamericana (South American Super Cup) was won by Brazilian side Internacional on Wednesday night. The 2010 Copa Libertadores champions were 2-1 down from the first leg to 2010 Copa Sudamericana winners Independiente before they turned it around in the return fixture with a 3-1 win.

Leandro Damião gave the Brazilians a 2-0 half-time lead in last night’s second leg, played at their home ground in Porto Alegre, thanks to a brace scored in the first half but the Argentinians equalized through Maximiliano Velázquez just four minutes after the break. With the aggregate score tied at 3-3, and with the clock ticking away, any late goal would be almost certain to win the contest. The Porto Alegre side’s prayers were answered when they won a penalty kick in the 82nd minute which was converted by Kléber. Internacional saw out the rest of the game to hold on to the 4-3 aggregate victory to claim the club’s second Recopa triumph in four years.

UEFA: Fenerbahçe thrown out of Champions League

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 24, 2011

Turkish champions Fenerbahçe have been thrown out of the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League following their involvement in match-fixing allegations.

Developments over the last 24 hours have been contentious to say the least with the Turkish Football Federation (TFF) forced by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) to withdraw Fenerbahçe’s place in the competition or face further action in the event that they fail to decline their place. An extraordinary meeting of the Board of Directors, which was held today, resulted in the TFF forfeiting the Istanbul club from the competition, a move which has angered Fenerbahçe who had earlier refused to withdraw. The move would have affected last season’s league runners-up Trabzonspor too but for the fact that they had already been eliminated from the qualifying rounds by Portuguese club SL Benfica.

Investigations into match-fixing have already delayed the kick-off to this season’s Turkish Süper Lig which is now due to begin on September 9th. At the time of writing it is not known how Fenerbahçe will be replaced in the UEFA Champions League but with less than 24 hours to go before this season’s group stage draw is made in Monaco there will be some interesting developments anticipated in the coming hours.

UEFA: Barça and Porto get ready for Super Cup battle

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 24, 2011
Atletico Madrid

Who will follow Atlético Madrid as Super Cup winners?

The UEFA Super Cup will be held on Friday night with 2010-11 UEFA Champions League winners FC Barcelona ready to take on the 2010-11 UEFA Europa League holders FC Porto in a massive Iberian derby. These two clubs have been the dominant forces in their respective countries in recent years and both teams are hoping to add yet another trophy to their already bulging trophy cabinets this weekend.

With the most recent Super Cup winners Atlético Madrid ready to relinquish the trophy, which they won in glorious fashion against Internazionale last year, their compatriots FC Barcelona are the favourites to maintain a proud Spanish record in this competition. Since the Super Cup became a one-off fixture in 1998, Spanish clubs have participated in all but five of the thirteen finals and have won five times in the last nine years. FC Porto, however, should not be underestimated as they have started their domestic season in fine form whilst their opponents have yet to kick a ball in La Liga which still remains postponed due to the ongoing dispute between the Association of Spanish Footballers and the Spanish Football League over unpaid player salaries.

FC Barcelona 2010-11 Champions League winners

FC Barcelona won the UEFA Champions League in 2010-11

FC Barcelona won their fourth UEFA Champions League final last season having topped Group D in the league stage – finishing ahead of FC København, Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos – going on to eliminate Arsenal FC, Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Madrid in the knockout rounds before disposing of Manchester United with a sublime performance in the final at Wembley Stadium which they won 3-1.  This allowed Pep Guardiola’s men to qualify for their eighth Super Cup final in the process. The Blaugrana will, therefore, overtake AC Milan with the most appearances in this competition since its inception in 1972 although the Italians will still be record title holders with five wins even if Barcelona go on to win this weekend.

FC Porto qualified for this Friday’s showpiece match by claiming their second UEFA Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup) title in 2010-11. FC Porto are a team more accustomed to playing regularly in the UEFA Champions League but had to be content with the second-tier tournament following a third place finish in the 2009-10 Portuguese League campaign. The Dragões topped Group L in the league stage – ahead of Beşiktaş, Rapid Wien and CSKA Sofia – before overcoming Sevilla FC, both Moscow clubs CSKA and Spartak and Villarreal CF en route to defeating compatriots Braga who dropped down into the Europa League having finished third in their Champions League group. Radamel Falcao’s goal on the stroke of half-time separated the two finalists in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium and gave Porto coach André Villas-Boas a fantastic send-off as this victory sealed the treble following FC Porto’s domestic league and cup success.

FC Porto 2010-11 UEFA Europa League winners

FC Porto won the UEFA Europa League in 2010-11

FC Barcelona were previously victorious in this competition in the two-legged era with wins over German clubs Werder Bremen and Borussia Dortmund in 1992 and 1997 respectively whilst their most recent victory came in the famous 2009 success against ambitious Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk, the 1-0 win in extra-time helping Barcelona on their way to a famous Sextuple triumph later that year. However they have also lost on four occasions so it is fair to say that the Catalans have had mixed fortunes in this competition. FC Porto will take part in their fourth UEFA Super Cup final and have also experienced the good and the bad in this competition. Following their triumphant appearance in 1987, in which they defeated Ajax Amsterdam 2-0 on aggregate, they lost back-to-back finals in 2003 and 2004 in which they suffered one goal deficits to AC Milan (1-0) and Valencia CF (2-1) respectively. If FC Porto are to break their duck in Monaco’s Stade Louis II then this will arguably be their last real chance to do so as next season’s UEFA Super Cup final will be the last time the fixture will be played there before being moved all around Europe starting with Prague in 2013.

One area where FC Porto will have an advantage over FC Barcelona before Friday’s contest will be in the number of competitive fixtures they have played so far. The Portuguese champions were successful in their domestic super cup (defeating Vitória Guimarães) and have chalked up two wins out of two in the Super Liga whilst Spanish and European champions FC Barcelona have played just two domestic super cup matches against Real Madrid so far with last weekend’s opening La Liga fixture against Malaga CF called off, along with all of the other Matchday 1 league fixtures.

Russia: Nine games for clubs to decide their fate

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 22, 2011
CSKA Moscow

CSKA Moscow currently top the Russian League

The 2011-12 Russian Premier League may still have a long way to go but the next nine rounds of matches will prove intriguing. After 30 rounds the league is split into a championship group and a relegation group with eight teams in each. It is, therefore, vitally important for every club that they put some form together at this crucial time.

There is a seven point gap at the cut-off point with eighth place Lokomotiv Moscow able to breathe easily for the time being as they have a healthy margin keeping them in the top half of the table at the expanse of ninth place FK Krasnodar. The top two teams of CSKA Moscow (21 played, 45 points) and defending champions Zenit Saint Petersburg, who trail the league leaders by just two points, are certain of progression already. It would be a surprise if any of the next six clubs – Dinamo Moscow, Anzhi Machachkala, Rubin Kazan, Spartak Moscow, Kuban Krasnodar and Lokomotiv – were to drop into the relegation group given the margins and the recent form guide suggests that the top teams haven’t got much to worry about at this stage.

The eight teams at the bottom of the table face the daunting prospect of playing either a number of meaningless matches or a relegation battle depending on where they finish at the Matchday 30 cut off point. At the moment the clubs who have the most to worry about lie from 12th place Tom Tomsk to bottom 16th place club Krylia Sovetov Samara (21 played, 16 points) who are separated by just three points with any of the clubs – including Spartak Nalchik, FK Rostov and FK Volga Nizhny Novgorod – vulnerable to being sucked into the relegation zone at any time. The three teams who occupy 9th to 11th – namely FK Krasnodar, Terek Grozny and Amkar Perm – seem to be stuck in no-man’s land at the moment with none of the three so close to the top eight but none so close to the bottom two either.

The first weekend of November is when each club’s fate for the remainder of the 2011-12 season will be known. Hopefully there will be much to enthral us before the championship starts for real next Spring.

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Uzbekistan: Bunyodkor as good as seal fourth straight title

Posted in Asian Football by peterbein on August 22, 2011

Uzbekistan flagBunyodkor (17 played, 45 points) took a huge step towards a fourth successive Uzbek championship title on Sunday when defeating arch rivals and nearest challengers Pakhtakor 2-1. The win took the league leaders a massive nine points of Pakhtakor with just nine matches to play.

With over an hour of the game played it seemed a real possibility that the earlier goalless score line in the first meeting of the two Tashkent rivals this season would be replicated. However Bunyodkor finally broke the deadlock after 70 minutes when Viktor Karpenko shot from long range and the shot proved too hot to handle for visiting keeper Timur Juraev. The lead was doubled just two minutes later when Serbian forward Miloš Trifunović tucked the ball home to give Bunyodkor the cushion they needed to approach the end of the game. Pakhtakor did pull one back through Alisher Azizov’s header in the last minute of the game but it proved a mere consolation for the visitors.

The win should help Bunyodkor secure the 2011 Oliy League title whilst Pakhtakor will now have to fight it out for the second AFC Champions League spot along with third place Nasaf Qarshi whose 1-0 away win at Metallurg Bekabad leaves them just two points further behind. Nasaf, who knocked Bunyodkor out of the Uzbek Cup semi-finals last week, have never made it to the AFC Champions League and are determined to make it into next year’s tournament. Their league meeting on October 13th at home to Pakhtakor could tell us whether they will have the legs to go all the way this time around.

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Denmark: European hopefuls gain confidence with domestic wins

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 20, 2011
Cesar Santin

César Santin scored FC København's winning goal against AC Horsens on Saturday

Denmark’s two representatives in the UEFA Champions League, FK København and Odense Boldklub, have warmed up for their respective second leg ties against Viktoria Plzeň and Villarreal CF with crucial wins in their domestic Superliga championship.

Defending champions FK København (6 games, 16 points) had a tough tie away at AC Horsens who were unbeaten prior to kicking off today’s match. However a penalty on the stroke of half-time from César Santin gave the capital side a narrow 1-0 win and the three points which maintains FCK’s unbeaten start to the new season. The win was crucial in order to give the team a much needed confidence boost ahead of their trip to the Czech Republic on Wednesday especially with Viktoria Plzeň also winning today in a 4-2 away win at Dukla Prague in the Czech Gambrinus Liga. FK København lost their Champions League play-off first leg at home to the Czechs 3-1 and have a mountain to climb in order to qualify for the group stages.

Odense Boldklub had a slightly easier affair at home to Lyngby Boldklub with the hosts emerging victorious 3-1 and the game as good as over at half-time. Chris Sørensen, Kalilou Traoré and Bernard Mendy scored Odense’s three goals by half-time with Lyngby’s Macedonian forward Bajram Fetai scoring his team’s consolation goal from the penalty spot in the 78th minute. The win for Odense means that they lie second in the table and five points behind the league leaders but they could be displaced if Aalborg BK win their Monday night game away at fifth place SønderjyskE. Odense’s Champions League play-off opponents Villarreal CF, who lost their opening leg last week in Denmark 1-0, were scheduled to begin their La Liga campaign this weekend at home to Sporting Gijon but all of the opening games in Spain were postponed due to the ongoing players’ strike over unpaid wages.

Estonia: Flora and Nõmme share the lead in title race

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 20, 2011

Meistriliiga logoIt has been a very interesting week in the Estonian Meistriliiga with back-to-back derbies involving Tallinn rivals Flora and Levadia. With the former well-placed to defend their title it was imperative for Levadia to take some points off the league leaders and provide some hope for the rest of the chasing pack.

Before Tuesday’s game, in which Flora were the home side, the defending championship holders enjoyed a two point lead over nearest challengers Nõmme Kalju with two games in hand so it was important for Levadia to stall their local rivals’ momentum in the title race. Levadia were ten points behind and seemingly out of contention but a couple of victories could provide the title race with a major twist so they were never going to go into these games lightly.

Tuesday’s game saw Levadia shock home side Flora with the visitors winning 1-0 thanks to a late goal from Igor Subbotin and set things up nicely for today’s return fixture at the home of Levadia. A repeat result seemed on the cards for most of the game with Aleksandr Volodin’s 19th minute goal giving Levadia a lead which they were determined to hold on to. However, just as it seemed that the home side would be celebrating back-to-back wins over their arch rivals, Flora gained a penalty kick in second half stoppage time which Valeri Minkenen tucked away to sneak a 1-1 draw and a point for the table toppers.

The point ensured that Flora Tallinn (23 games, 54 points) held the league leadership on their own for at least a couple of hours. However Nõmme Kalju battled their way to a 1-0 win this afternoon against third place Trans Narva with Tarmo Neemelo’s goal in the 73rd minute securing all three points. Kalju have joined Flora at the top of the table with 54 points but have played a game more than the capital side who they meet at home on September 10th in a game which will be highly anticipated.

Japan: Four way title battles ensures tight finish to season

Posted in Asian Football by peterbein on August 20, 2011

J-League logoWith twelve rounds of matches to play in the Japanese J-League there is an intriguing four way battle for title honours. Last season’s champions Nagoya Grampus Eight are, along with Yokohama Marinos, just one point behind the top two of Gamba Osaka and Kashiwa Reysol (22 games, 43 points).

Gamba Osaka were involved in the tie of the weekend getting the better of  Kawasaki Frontale by six goals to three with Brazilian Rafinha scoring a hat-trick and helping stretch Gamba’s unbeaten run to seven matches. They have the privilege of first place due to a better goal difference over second place Kashiwa Reysol who also triumphed at home this weekend with a 3-2 win over bottom club Avispa Fukuoka. Kashiwa were a goal down early on but came back to ensure the three points and second place.

Champions Nagoya could have been top of the table but were surprisingly beaten 1-0 at home to Vegalta Sendai. Noaki Sugai’s 17th minute strike for the visitors proved to be the difference as Nagoya went down to their first league defeat since May, bringing a sixteen match unbeaten run to an end. Nagoya are now looking over their shoulders at Yokohama Marinos for whom Yuji Ono’s late winner six minutes from time gave the fourth placed side a 1-0 win over Jubilo Iwata.

Fifth placed Kashima Antlers, who won the J-League title three years in a row from 2007-09, have now won their last five games in a row, the latest being a 2-0 victory over Sanfreece Hiroshima today with both goals coming in the second half, but they are still some way off the leaders trailing Gamba by ten points.

At the bottom of the table it was a mixed bag of results for those teams in relegation trouble this weekend. Following their defeat to Kashiwa, bottom club Avispa Fukuoka’s position wasn’t helped by 16th place Ventforet Kofu’s 3-2 home win against Urawa Red Diamonds whilst second bottom Montedio Yamagata gained a point away to 15th place Omiya Ardija who are four points outside the relegation zone as the table currently stands.

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China: Promoted clubs experiencing contrasts in fate and form

Posted in Asian Football by peterbein on August 17, 2011

Chinese Super League logoThe 2011 Chinese Super League has reached the two-thirds stage and the fate of this season’s newcomers Ghangzhou Evergrande and Chengdu Blades is one of stark contrast. The former, who won promotion last season as League One winners, are the team that currently leads the way in the Chinese Super League whilst the latter are, like most promoted sides, struggling at the bottom of the 16 team league.

The story involving these two clubs is one of many parallels for most of the last two years. These two clubs were forcibly demoted into Chinese League One (second tier) after the 2009 season due to their involvement in a match-fixing scandal. Chengdu had finished seventh in the 2009 Super League and Ghangzhou in ninth before the Chinese Football Association told them that they had to forfeit their spots in the top flight in the following season.

These teams comfortably came back up in 2010 with Ghangzhou and Chengdu finishing that year’s campaign on 57 and 56 points respectively with a margin of sixteen points separating the top two from third place Yanbian Baekdu Tigers. But this is where the two teams’ similarities in fate and fortune begin to end as the 2011 season has seen Ghangzhou wipe the floor of the opposition with Chengdu struggling at the foot of the table.

Ghangzhou Evergrande have never been Chinese champions before 2011 but look set to end their long wait for a league title this season. After twenty rounds of the thirty game season, Ghangzhou still remain unbeaten with a record of fourteen wins and six draws and enjoy a nine point advantage over nearest challengers Beijing Guoan. On the other side of the coin are the Chengdu Blades who acquired the latter half of their name after linking up in 2005 with English third-tier club Sheffield United whose nickname is The Blades. Sadly for Chengdu they are not quite as razor sharp as their nickname would have you believe. They currently prop up the rest of the table with just thirteen points along with Shenzhen Ruby with both teams five points adrift of safety.

Ghangzhou Evergrande

Ghangzhou look set to win the title

Ghangzhou have been helped by the goals of two Brazilian born players. Cléo, now a naturalized Serbian having played with distinction for Partizan Belgrade in the last two seasons, is the top scorer with ten goals in ten games so far. Complimenting him is Mariqui who signed from Atlético Mineiro in 2010 and has added another nine goals. Gao Lin, a Chinese striker and a prominent figure in the national team, also plies his trade with the club and has chipped in with five goals including four in Ghangzhou’s last four league games. This staple supply of goals has helped Ghangzhou maintain their first place position since they acquired it in Matchday 10 and they haven’t looked back since.

Chengdu, on the other hand, have chalked up just two wins all season (for the record they came against Tianjin Teda and Shannxi Chanba) and it is no surprise to learn that they have one of the weakest attacks in the league having scored just thirteen goals, a tally shared by Shenzhen Ruby and worsened by one goal by 14th place Nanchang Hengyuan who lie five points ahead of them in the table. Their defence is the weakest in the league having conceded 35 goals and their current run of form has brought in just four points in the last fourteen games. Relegation “on merit” certainly seems likely this time around but such is the lack of depth in League One that the club would probably come straight back up in 2013 in any case. But with ten games to go Chengdu are going to have to pull their socks up if they are to avoid the virtually inevitable.

Both of these clubs meet on the last day of the league season in November and it will be a big surprise if Ghangzhou are not lifting the league championship trophy in front of their jubilant supporters and Chengdu preparing for life in the second tier.