Mexican clubs have dominated the CONCACAF Champions League in recent years and Monterrey CF kept up that trend when winning their maiden title this year. Monterrey, therefore, will enjoy their first appearance in the FIFA Club World Cup with a quarter-final tie against the winner of the qualifying play-off between Oceania champions Auckland City and the J-League champions (as yet undecided).
Monterrey started off their CONCACAF Champions League campaign with a record of five wins and a draw from their six group phase games against Deportivo Saprissa (Costa Rica), CD Marathón (Honduras) and Seattle Sounders (USA). They then had to beat two fellow Mexican clubs in consecutive knockout rounds, a 1-0 win in each leg helping them through the quarter-finals against Toluca whilst the semi-finals against Cruz Azul was won by the odd goal in five. The 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League final against 2009 Major League Soccer champions Real Salt Lake was a tight affair, the Americans gaining the tag of slight favourites to win the trophy following a credible 2-2 draw away from home in the first leg with goals from Monterrey’s Aldo de Nigris and Humberto Suazo cancelled out by strikes for Nat Borchers and Javier Morales. The Mexicans though had enough in the tank to take the game to their hosts in the second leg with Humberto Suazo proving to be the hero, his goal on the edge of half-time proving crucial as Monterrey held on to win the second leg 1-0 and the tie 3-2 on aggregate.
Since Monterrey clinched the CONCACAF Champions League back in April they have been defending their title in the 2011-12 edition of the competition. So far Monterrey have kept up their impressive form, topping their group once again, and look forward once more to a quarter-final match-up against a Mexican side, in this case Monarcas Morelia, when the tournament resumes in March 2012. Domestically Monterrey have been struggling somewhat in the 2011-12 Apertura (Opening Championship) tournament; having won the previous two Opening titles Monterrey could only finish in 11th place during the regular season and failed to make the play-offs. Monterrey’s last competitive game came on November 5th so they might prove a little bit rusty going into the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. Should the Mexicans win their quarter-final tie they will face off against a Santos team who will be going straight to the tournament on the back of a tough Brazilian league season which finishes on December 4th.
MONTERREY CF v REAL SALT LAKE – FINAL, 1ST LEG
REAL SALT LAKE v MONTERREY CF – FINAL, 2ND LEG
Ecuadorians LDU Quito have managed to secure their place in another Copa Sudamericana final following their 1-0 second leg victory over Argentinians Vélez Sársfield on Tuesday evening.
The 2009 Sudamericana winners were already leading 2-0 from the first leg played in the Ecuadorian capital last week and it was first leg hero Hernan Barcos who made sure of Vélez’s departure from the competition by scoring the only goal of last night’s contest in the 48th minute.
Having won the Copa Libertadores and Sudamericana in recent years LDU Quito are starting to make their name as a footballing powerhouse in South America and they will hope to win yet another piece of silverware in the two-legged final on December 7th and 14th. They will meet the winners of tonight’s other semi-final between Universidad de Chile and Vasco da Gama, which remains in deadlock following last week’s 1-1 draw in Rio.
FC Barcelona won their final La Liga match on Tuesday night before flying out to Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup.
Goals from Alexis Sanchez (2), David Villa and Lionel Messi gave the Spanish and European champions a comfortable 4-0 victory at home to Rayo Vallecano. The win meant that Barcelona reduced the gap between themselves and league leaders Real Madrid to three points but the capital side do have the advantage of a game in hand.
FC Barcelona will now fly out to Japan in order to prepare for their FIFA Club World Cup semi-final match on December 15th, where they will meet the winners of the quarter-final tie between African champions Espérance Tunis and Asian champions Al Sadd in Yokohama.
Auckland City are beginning to make a habit out of playing in the FIFA Club World Cup. This year will see the New Zealanders make their third appearance in the competition since 2006 following another O-League success in 2010-11. They will face the Japanese champions in a qualifying play-off and, if successful, will go on to play CONCACAF Champions League holders Monterrey CF in the quarter-finals.
Auckland City qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup having won their third continental title without losing a game. With a record of four wins and two draws in the group phase City got the better of AS Magenta (New Caledonia), AS Tefana (Tahiti) and compatriots Waitakere United with a six point margin separating the two New Zealand clubs who have dominated the O-League in the last six years. In the two-legged final against Vanuatu champions Amicale FC the New Zealanders narrowly won the first leg 2-1 away from home, with goals from Manuel Exposito and Luis Corrales, before sealing the deal in style with a 4-0 return leg victory. Alex Feneridis, Daniel Koprivcic, Exposito and Adam McGeorge hit the back of the net in the home leg and, thus, ensured that the trophy would be winging its way back to Kiwitea Street following previous successes in 2006 and 2009.
Since City won the 2010-11 O-League the club has continued to go from strength to strength in this season’s competition starting off their title defence with back-to-back victories over Koloale FC (Solomon Islands) and 2009-10 champions Hekari United (Papua New Guniea). Auckland City have also began the new domestic season strongly, winning the curtain-raising ASB Charity Cup match and winning all four of their opening ASB Premiership matches. Wins against Waikato FC Hamilton, Team Wellington, Waitakere United and Young Heart Manuwatu have seen City become the only team to maintain a 100% record after four games, scoring seventeen goals and conceding just four times so far.
Having only been founded seven years ago Auckland City have come so far in such a short time but they have yet to progress beyond the quarter-finals in the FIFA Club World Cup. In 2006 they lost to African champions Al Ahly in the quarter-finals before going down to Asian winners Jeonbuk Motors in the 5th/6th play-off. The 2009 tournament proved to be slightly more successful for the New Zealanders as they won a qualifying play-off against host representatives Al Ahli before losing to CONCACAF champions Atlante CF in the quarter-finals but Auckland did have the consolation of winning that year’s 5th/6th play-off game against Africans TP Mazembe. My prediction is that Auckland City may find it difficult to get beyond the qualifying play-off round this time but they continue to do New Zealand football proud just by being there and hopefully they will show some of the attacking football which has won them many prizes domestically.
AMICALE FC v AUCKLAND CITY – FINAL, 1ST LEG
AUCKLAND CITY v AMICALE FC – FINAL, 2ND LEG
In the second part of our European summer leagues review we look back at another six leagues which fell upon the 2011 calendar year.
KAZAKHSTAN: FC Shakhter Karagandy (Played 32, Points 42) finished the season as Kazakhstan Premier League champions but it didn’t look so clear cut throughout the season. With the number of points halved after 22 games the table was led by FC Zhestyn who enjoyed a four point advantage over FC Astana with the eventual champions a further three points behind in third place. However the Championship Group stage saw a turnaround in fortunes for FC Shakhter who gained 21 points out of 30 in their last ten matches compared to FC Zhestyn’s 13 and FC Astana’s 10 to take the championship trophy. In the relegation group FK Kairat and FK Vostok suffered anguish after finishing in the bottom two places. Sixth place FC Ordabasy became the 14th different club to win the Kazakh Cup in 20 years after beating FC Tobol Kostenay 1-0 in the final.
LATVIA: FK Ventspils (Played 32, Points 71) regained their position as Latvia’s top club and managed to make it double trouble for their arch-rivals Liepājas Metalurgs in both league and cup. Ventspils won their fourth Virsliga title in six years by the narrowest of margins, a final day goalless draw against outgoing champions Skonto Riga helped them claim the point they needed to crawl over the line. The champions also had the better of Metalurgs in the Latvian Cup final with a 3-1 score line helping the Yellow and Blues to their second ever domestic double. Skonto FC finished in fourth place behind surprise package FC Daugava and, thus, failed to qualify for Europe for only the second time in the club’s twenty year history. They did see some silverware though, denying Ventspils a famous treble by beating them on penalties in the final of the cross-border Triobet Baltic League tournament. At the bottom of the table Olimps/RFS will drop down after a five year stay in the top flight. After finishing bottom of the nine team league they lost a two-legged play-off to FK Spartaks who will join 1. Liga champions Metta/LU in the 2012 Virsliga.
LITHUANIA: FK Ekranas (Played 33, Points 80) made it a hat-trick of clubs to win the league and cup double in the Baltic States. Like their counterparts Flora Tallinn (Estonia) and FK Ventspils (Latvia) did in their domestic arenas, Ekranas complimented the A Lyga title – their fourth straight championship beating Zalgiris Vilnius by eight points – with a Lithuanian Cup triumph. In an eventful cup final FK Ekranas eventually saw off FK Banga with a 4-2 victory in extra-time. FK Suduva Marijampole finished in third spot to secure a place in the UEFA Europa League whilst bottom two clubs FK Atlantas and FK Klaipeda will go down into 1 Lyga in 2012.
NORWAY: FK Molde (Played 30, Points 58) won their maiden Tippaligaen title with a five point difference separating them from nearest challengers Tromsø IL, the triumph all the more remarkable due it to being achieved in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s debut season as a coach. Rosenborg Trondheim managed to claw their way back up to a respectable third place following a dreadful start to the campaign finishing the season four points further back. Aalesunds FK had Michael Barrantes to thank for landing the club their second Norwegian Cup in three years, his goals proving the difference when beating Brann Bergen 2-1 in November’s showpiece final. At the bottom of the league Sarpsborg 08 and IK Start are the unfortunate teams who must tough it out in the second tier next season.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Shamrock Rovers (Played 36, Points 77) crowned a hugely successful season by clinching their second successive Airtricity League of Ireland title by holding off Sligo Rovers in a tight contest. Shamrock Rovers had already won the all-Ireland Setanta Sports Cup in May beating Dundalk 2-0 in the final, and became the first Irish team to qualify for the Europa League group stages, before winning their record extending 17th league title in November. League runners-up Sligo consoled themselves by winning the FAI Cup over Shelbourne but needed penalties to win it following a 1-1 draw after extra-time. Derry City scored the only goal of the game when defeating Cork City in the League Cup final early in the season. Both defeated cup finalists managed to win promotion to the top-flight along with Monaghan United whose 5-1 aggregate win over Galway United in a play-off saw them through. With three teams coming up and only one dropping down, the league will consist of twelve teams from the 2012 season.
SWEDEN: Helsingborgs (Played 30, Points 63) won their seventh Allsvenskan title with five points proving a sufficient enough margin to clinch the trophy ahead of nearest challengers AIK Solna. The newly-crowned champions also won the Swedish Cup final in early November with a 3-1 win over Kalmar helping them to double success. Outgoing champions Malmö FF could only finish fourth in the league and were pipped to a European spot by third placed Elfsborg IF who were three points better off. At the other end of the table Halmstad and Trelleborgs went down to the Superettan (second division) whilst Syrianska FC managed to fend off relegation by defeating Ängelholms IF 4-3 on aggregate in a promotion/relegation play-off and preserved their top flight status.
With many of Europe’s top leagues now well under way it is at this time of year that we look back at those championships which take place through the summer months. In this two-part special we focus on twelve countries ranging from Armenia to Kazakhstan, Latvia to the Republic of Ireland and from Iceland to Belarus and highlight those who are celebrating title success, cup final triumphs or in despair following relegation.
ARMENIA: Ulisses FC (Played 28, Points 53) became Armenian Premier League champions for the first time in their history after seeing off the challenge of Gandsazar FC and record champions Pyunik Yerevan by a seven point margin. Mika FC will feature in next season’s UEFA Europa League alongside Gandzasar and Pyunik after winning the Armenian Cup for the sixth time. They defeated Shirak FC by four goals to one with Narek Beglaryan featuring prominently with two of his team’s four goals in the final. Bottom club Ararat Yerevan finished bottom of the league table with a measly ten points to show for their efforts and finished the campaign with twelve straight defeats.
BELARUS: Perennial champions BATE Borisov (Played 33, Points 66) strolled their way to a sixth consecutive title, and eighth in total, to overtake Dinamo Minsk as record winners of the Belarussian Premier League. They will look ahead to the UEFA Champions League again in 2012-13 whilst runners up Shakhtyor Soligorsk will play in the UEFA Europa League alongside Belarussian Cup winners FK Gomel, who defeated Neman Grodno 2-0 in May’s showpiece final with two goals coming in the last two minutes of the match. Dnepr Mogilev drop down automatically for finishing bottom of the league table while FK Vitebsk must face a two-legged promotion/relegation play-off with Partizan Minsk.
ESTONIA: Flora Tallinn (Played 36, Points 86) are back as the dominant force in Estonian football. They clinched their second successive Meistriliiga title by getting the better of Nomme Kalju by seven points. Arch-rivals Levadia Tallinn, who won five titles in six years from 2004-09, were lagging behind in fourth place. Flora clinched the double after the champions had already defeated Trans Narva in May’s Estonian Cup final with a 2-0 scoreline. At the bottom of the league Lasnamäe Ajax had a shocking season losing 32 of their 36 games, the other four were drawn, and had a goal difference of minus 181 which, not surprisingly, meant that they lost their place in the top flight. Kuressare managed to keep their place however following a 5-1 aggregate victory over second-tier side Infonet in a two-legged play-off.
FAROE ISLANDS: B36 Tórshavn (Played 27, Points 67) won their eighth Meistaradeildin title, their third in the last decade, by a seven point margin over EB/Streymur. The league runners-up did, at least, have some consolation in the form of a Faroe Islands Cup triumph. They defeated IF Fuglafjørður 3-0 in the final, with Arnbjørn Hansen bagging a brace, to secure their fourth cup win in the last five years. B71 Sandoy and 07 Vestur are the clubs forced to drop a division next season after finishing in the bottom two places in the league. Whereas the former always looked likely to go down, claiming just eleven points all season, the latter just missed out on staying up by two points, proving a huge relief to record champions HB Tórshavn who just managed to survive by the skin of their teeth.
FINLAND: HJK Helsinki (Played 33, Points 81) had one of their easiest Veikkausliiga title wins to date this season. The capital club cemented their domestic supremacy when winning the league by no fewer than 24 points with no real challenge at all likely throughout the season. HJK also won the Finnish Cup beating KuPS Kuopio by the odd goal in three with all of the strikes coming in extra-time, one of which came from Finland’s most decorated player Jari Litmanen in what would seem to be his last season in professional football. Honka Espoo won the final piece of silverware after beating Tampere United 3-0 in the League Cup final. RoPS Rovaniemi became the sole demoted team from the league after finishing the season on 23 points, eight behind FF Jaro.
ICELAND: KR Reykjavik (Played 22, Points 47) pipped FH Hafnarfjarðar by three points to secure their first Urvalsdeild title in eight seasons and 25th championship overall whilst outgoing champions Breiðablik had to be satisfied with a sixth place finish. KR further rubbed salt into the wounds of the rest of the competition by sealing their 12th Icelandic Cup with a 2-0 win over Þór Akureyri. The losing cup finalists were to suffer further disappointment when they, along with bottom club Vikingur, finished in the bottom two places in the league and were relegated.
Silao Malo scored the only goal of the game as Samoa defeated their neighbours American Samoa by one goal to nil in the final round of first stage FIFA World Cup qualification matches in the Oceania region.
American Samoa, a team who have become famous for suffering heavy defeats and propping up the FIFA World Rankings in recent years, had captured the hearts and minds of many football fans with their exploits this week. Having defeated Tonga and drawn with Cook Islands in their first two group matches, American Samoa had to defeat Samoa in their final group match in the Samoan capital city of Apia to progress to the second stage of qualifying.
Alas, it proved to be one step too far for American Samoa whose defence allowed Malo to score in the last minute of the game to give Samoa a 1-0 victory and top of the group. Tonga’s 2-1 win over the Cook Islands gave them second place in the four team table, just ahead of American Samoa on goal difference, but for many the highlights of the last week have come from American Samoa who can now hope that they will start to rise up the World Rankings very soon. Samoa, on the other hand, will play in the 2012 OFC Nations Cup alongside the likes of New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu in a competition which will also double up as the second stage of qualifying.
An announcement has been made by the Football Association of Wales today with the shock news of the untimely death of former Leeds United, Newcastle United, Everton, Bolton Wanderers, Sheffield United and Wales star Gary Speed. The news has shocked all of the football scene in the United Kingdom, and in his native Wales in particular, his national team he had recently led to three successive wins and had signalled a turn in fortunes since he took the job in February this year.
His greatest honour as a player came with the triumphant Leeds United First Division title winning side of 1991-92, the last season before the top-flight became the Premier League, plus he also appeared for his favourite boyhood team Everton and appeared in back-to-back FA Cup finals with Newcastle United in 1998 and 1999, albeit on the losing side on both occasions. He also became the most capped outfield player with 85 caps for his country and became the first player to clock up 500 Premier League appearances, scoring in every season in which he was a professional footballer.
Stoppage Time would like to send its condolences to his family and friends at this most traumatic time.
Real Madrid (Played 13, Points 34) took the initiative in the Spanish league last night as a 4-1 derby success at home to local rivals Atlético de Madrid was sweetened by a defeat to champions FC Barcelona whose 1-0 defeat to Getafe saw them go six points behind los Blancos at the top of the table. Next door in Portugal, SL Benfica (Played 11, Points 27) have provided themselves with a platform to challenge for the title this season by defeating local rivals Sporting by a narrow 1-0 scoreline.
In the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu last night local honours were once again afforded to Real Madrid who haven’t lost a league match against Atlético since 1999. The visitors did shock the home support by taking the lead through Adrián after quarter of an hour but that would be as good as it got for Los Rojiblancos who would see their goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois shown the red card for bringing down Karim Benzema in the box allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to equalize from the penalty spot in the 24th minute. The game ended 1-1 at the break but, not surprisingly, Real took advantage of the extra man to stamp their authority on the game in the second half. Goals from Ángel di María, Gonzalo Higuaín and another penalty for Ronaldo, which brought a red card heading in Diego Godín’s direction, capped off a good night for the home side whose 4-1 victory cemented top spot for at least a couple of hours until the result in the neighbouring suburbs of Getafe was known. A good night soon became a great one with the news later on that FC Barcelona had gone down to a 1-0 defeat to FC Getafe and the six point advantage had been preserved. Juan Valera’s goal midway through the second half proved the killer blow for Barcelona who now must look over their shoulder at the oncoming Valencia CF whose 2-1 defeat away to Rayo Vallecano brought los Che to within one point of the champions.
In neighbouring Portugal the Lisbon derby was played out with all the usual tension one would expect from a Benfica v Sporting game. The match was settled by Javi García with a goal just three minutes before half-time but it was far from plain sailing for the Eagles who saw Oscar Cardozo sent off for a second bookable offence in the 63rd minute. The win was Benfica’s sixth on the trot against their local rivals in all competitions and allowed them the opportunity to enjoy sole possession of top spot in the Super Liga for at least 24 hours until defending champions FC Porto play at home to Sporting Braga this evening. Benfica have 27 points from eleven games but FC Porto will draw level should they claim all three points tonight.
To coin a well-known footballing phrase, it’s squeaky bum time in two of Asia’s biggest leagues.
In Japan the title will go down to a last day showdown with any one from Kashiwa Reysol, Nagoya Grampus Eight and Gamba Osaka all capable of winning the championship. Kashiwa currently hold the advantage of topping the table with 69 points from 33 games whilst Nagoya and Osaka trail the leaders by just one and two points respectively with one round of matches to be played next weekend. The title race has become all the more tension filled due to Kashiwa’s inability to beat Cerezo Osaka at home today, both teams having to be satisfied with a point following a 1-1 draw. The slip allowed Kashiwa’s title rivals to reduce the gap at the top with defending champions Nagoya and third place Gamba Osaka enjoying wins against Yamagata (3-0) and Vegalta Sendai (1-0) respectively. Next weekend’s final round of fixtures sees all three title chasers on the road with Kashiwa away to Urawa Red Diamonds, Grampus Eight hosted by Albirex Niigata and Gamba Osaka travelling to Shimuzu S-Pulse. Not only will the team at the top of the table enjoy championship celebrations next weekend but they also have the added incentive of participating in the FIFA Club World Cup as representatives of the host nation from December 8th.
In South Korea the championship play-offs have brought about a surprise finalist as Ulsan Hyundai, who finished sixth in the regular season table, defeated experienced campaigners Pohang Steelers with a slender 1-0 score line in today’s semi-final. Seol Ki-Hyeon scored the only goal of the game from the penalty spot in the 72nd minute of the game and managed to hold on to their precious lead despite a late flurry of attacks from the home side. The K-League enjoys a play-off system similar to the one used in the sport of rugby league at the end of its regular season, the system usually weighs heavily in favour of the top teams who play the fewest matches in order to claim the championship title. However Ulsan have surprised everybody by fighting their way through every round of the post-season tournament beating the likes of last season’s defending champions FC Seoul, Suwon Samsung Bluewings and today’s opponents Pohang to reach the final. They will play Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the two-legged showpiece with Ulsan hosting the opening leg on Wednesday, November 30th and Jeonbuk, who have rested throughout the play-offs up to this point, hosting the return fixture on December 4th.