Europe: Summer Leagues 2011 Review (Part 1)
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.