Europe: Summer Leagues 2011 Review (Part Two)
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.