Europe: 2011-12 Season Review – Part 3
In the third part of Stoppage Time’s 2011-12 season review we look at the leagues from Malta to San Marino.
Valletta FC are the champions of Malta for the 21st time having finished top of the table in both the regular season and Championship Pool finishing eight points ahead of Hibernians FC. The latter gained some consolation in the Maltese Cup final defeating Qormi FC 3-1, thus sealing their ninth victory in the competition. Mqabba and Marsaxlokk will both suffer relegation this season after finishing in the bottom two spots of the Relegation Pool.
Sheriff Tiraspol have wrestled the Moldovan league title back from last season’s champions Dacia Chişinău. It was another close fight between the top two with Sheriff persevering with a four point margin of victory to lift their 11th league championship. FC Milsami Orhei won the cup for the first time in their history with a penalty shoot-out win over CSCA Rapid following a goalless final. The losing cup finalists will also see themselves drop down into the second division next season as they, along with FC Costuleni, finished in the bottom two.
There was a tight contest in Montenegro where FK Budućnost Podgorica clinched their 2nd league crown by virtue of a three point gap separating them from runners up FK Rudar Pljevlja. There would be double disappointment for FK Rudar in the Montenegrin Cup final as they would suffer a 2-1 reverse at the hands of first time cup winners FK Čelik. At the bottom end of the table FK Bokelj are automatically relegated whilst FK Dečić and FK Berane have yet to feature in end of season play-offs.
Ajax Amsterdam, under the management of Frank de Boer, won their 31st Eredivisie title finishing six points ahead of old rivals Feyenoord Rotterdam. The latter, though, would’ve been happy at their second place finish following some poor campaigns in recent years. Both teams will play in the Champions League next season whereas PSV Eindhoven will play in the Europa League following their 3-0 KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) win over Heracles Almelo. Excelsior Rotterdam finished bottom of the table and went straight down whilst De Graafschap Doetinchem also went down following an unsuccessful play-off against Den Bosch. VVV Venlo will remain in the top flight after overcoming Helmond Sport in the play-offs whilst Willem II will return after a one year absence and will bring Eerste Divisie champions FC Zwolle along for the ride.
There appears to be no stopping Linfield FC at the moment. The Belfast club notched up its 51st league title with a healthy 14 point margin separating them from Portadown FC. The club also managed to secure a double following their 42nd win in the Irish Cup, where they easily saw off Crusaders with a 4-1 victory in the final. Despite defeat in the Irish Cup final, Crusaders had a great year in knockout football and managed to get their hands on the Irish League Cup for only the second time in their history when beating Coleraine by one goal to nil whilst in the cross-border Setanta Sports Cup they saw off Republic of Ireland outfit Derry City on penalties following a 2-2 draw in the final. At the bottom of the league Carrick Rangers must drop straight back down to the second division just one season after gaining promotion to the top flight and will be replaced by Ballinamallard United.
Śląsk Wrocław won only their second Ekstraklasa title, their first since 1977, after narrowly pipping record champions Ruch Chorzów to the title by a single point. Ruch Chorzów would also suffer in the Polish Cup at the hands of capital club Legia Warszawa who took the honours with a 3-0 win in the final, claiming the trophy for a record 15th time. ŁKS Łódź and Cracovia Krakow are the unfortunate teams who will drop down into the second tier of Polish football next season.
FC Porto are league champions once again. The club from Portugal’s second city are still hoping to become Portugal’s first club in terms of honours having won their 26th championship, now only six behind SL Benfica’s record. The Dragons finished six points ahead of Benfica with the latter having to be content with winning the League Cup for the fourth successive year with a 2-1 win over Gil Vicente in the final. Benfica’s cross-town rivals Sporting lost out in the Portuguese Cup final, going down to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Académica de Coimbra who enjoyed their second triumph in this competition. At the bottom of the table CD Feirense and União Leiria must say their goodbyes as they finished in the bottom two.
CFR Cluj claimed their third league championship in five years after pipping FC Vaslui to the title by just a single point. Vaslui led the table with just two games remaining but Cluj managed to overtake them on Matchday 33 thus leaving them needing only the draw against Steaua Bucureşti, which they duly did, to clinch the title. In a fiery Romanian Cup final, Dinamo Bucureşti emerged triumphant in a 1-0 win over local rivals Rapid to lift the trophy for the 13th time. Four teams – Târgu Mureş, Voinţa Sibiu, Sportul Studenţesc and CS Mioveni – are all relegated in to the II Liga next season.
Zenit Saint Petersburg won their third Russian Premier League title with four games to spare. The gap between themselves and nearest challengers CSKA Moscow was a distant 13 points and ensured that the second city club can bask in the success of this hard-earned championship win in a season which was effectively 18 months long due to the changing of the football calendar in Russia to correspond to the autumn-spring season enjoyed by most top European leagues. Tom Tomsk and Spartak Nalchik finished in the bottom two places of the relegation group and promptly go down whilst FK Volga and FK Rostov remain in the Russian Premier League next season following play-off wins over FK Nizhny Novgorod and FC Shinnik Yaroslavl respectively. The Russian Cup was won by Rubin Kazan following a narrow 1-0 win over Dinamo Moscow in the final.
Tre Penne won the San Marino championship for the very first time having negotiated their way through the end of season play-offs. After finishing third in Group B during the regular season, Tre Penne won the rugby league style play-offs by defeating Cosmos, Faetano and last season’s champions Tre Fiori en route to defeating Libertas in the final. La Fiorita won the San Marino Cup for only the second time in their history when getting the better of Pennarossa 3-2 in the final. There is no promotion/relegation structure in San Marino.