Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Europe: Milan and United make statement against local foes

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 8, 2011
Milan Super Cup 2011

AC Milan celebrate their sixth Super Cup title

The weekend played host to two of the world’s most intense local derbies as the teams involved fought for the honours in their respective national Super Cup tournaments. Whereas the Italian Super Cup saw two clubs who are virtually equal in all respects face up to each other in the shape of league champions AC Milan and cup winners Internazionale, the same couldn’t be said in its English equivalent which saw record champions Manchester United meet up once again with local foes Manchester City with the latter finally demanding more respect from their more illustrious neighbours having won the FA Cup last season.

The National Stadium in the Chinese capital of Beijing, more commonly known as the Bird’s Nest stadium due to its design, played host to the Italian Super Cup for the second time in three years with Milanese neighbours AC Milan and Internazionale hoping to become the first club to win Italian football’s curtain raising fixture for the sixth time. AC Milan won their 18th Scudetto last season, thus equalling Inter’s number of title triumphs, but hadn’t won the Super Cup since 2004 whereas Internazionale, whose run of five straight Scudetti came to an end last season, were playing in their seventh consecutive Super Cup fixture having won either the domestic league or cup (if not both) every season since 2005.

In a contest which threatened to boil over at times, the Nerazzurri of Inter took the lead after 22 minutes thanks to a Wesley Sneijder free-kick in what could possibly be the Dutchman’s last appearance in an Inter shirt before a speculated move to one of the Manchester clubs becomes a reality. There would, however, be no fairy tale win with which Sneijder could seal his time at the San Siro as the Rossoneri came fighting back in the second half when both Zlatan Ibrahimović and Kevin-Prince Boateng got their names on the score sheet to give coach Massimiliano Allegri his second trophy at AC Milan since he took charge at the beginning of last season. For new Inter coach Gian Piero Gasperini, who joined the blue half of Milan from Genoa this season, it proved to be a disappointing start to life at the helm. He will now have some idea as to what will be required to keep his team at the top of the tree and he will need to put it into practice as soon as the league campaign kicks off in two weeks’ time if he is to knock AC Milan off their perch. The champions will begin their campaign away at Cagliari whilst Inter have a home tie against Lecce.

Manchester United Community Shield

United won the shield for the 19th time

Twenty four hours after the “Derby della Madonnina” had finished its English counterpart took place at Wembley Stadium. League champions Manchester United, who sealed a record breaking 19th championship last season, were hoping to claim the FA Community Shield for the fourth time in five seasons but faced opposition from “noisy neighbours” Manchester City who were appearing in this fixture for the first time in 38 years having finally won a trophy of their own last season in the form of the FA Cup. The two Manchester clubs had previously met in this fixture once before in 1956 when a Dennis Viollet goal sealed the win for United, a result which the Blues were hoping to reverse this time around. They gave themselves a great chance of doing just that when goals from Joleon Lescott and Edin Džeko late in the first half gave City a 2-0 half-time lead. However it was perhaps predictable that the champions would come back to win the game as only they seem capable of doing. Chris Smalling pulled one back seven minutes into the second half whilst Nani equalized six minutes later. United piled the pressure upon City and it seemed that the game would go into extra-time before Vincent Kompany’s defensive error allowed Nani to go through at goal and go around keeper Joe Hart to seal the 3-2 victory for the Red Devils with virtually the last kick of the game. Yet an ominous sign to the rest of the Premier League that no matter what changes Sir Alex Ferguson makes to his side that he always comes out smiling in the end.

Manchester United duly won a record extending 19th FA Community Shield and now face up to an away match at West Bromwich Albion in their defence of the Premier League title. Manchester City will want to bounce back from this defeat quickly with a home tie against newly=promoted Swansea City next Monday evening.

Poll: Are FC Barcelona really the greatest?

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 29, 2011

Following their fourth UEFA Champions League triumph on Saturday virtually every superlative has been used to describe Pep Guardiola’s current crop of FC Barcelona stars. The Catalans’ 3-1 triumph over Manchester United meant that Guardiola, in only his third full season in charge at the Camp Nou, has won ten major trophies including the amazing Sextuple triumph from the 2008-09 season. Are they, in your opinion, the best side ever? Or is there really a team that came before who deserve the accolade of the best ever? Decide from the following choices:

Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt

Alfredo Di Stefano scores for Real Madrid in the 1959-60 European Cup final

REAL MADRID 1956-60

The team who took to the concept of the European Cup more than any other, the great Real Madrid side from the mid 50’s were European champions in the first five years of the competition. As well as winning two La Liga titles at home los Blancos had one of the greatest forward lines in the history of football including the likes of Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás who scored all seven goals between them in the club’s most famous win of the famous five, the 1959-60 European Cup final against Eintracht Frankfurt which they won 7-3 in front of a record 127,000 crowd at Hampden Park, Glasgow. The club also became the first unofficial world champions in 1960 after defeating South American champions Peñarol in the inaugural Intercontinental Cup match.

Internazionale 1964-65

Internazionale were Italian, European and World champions in 1965

INTERNAZIONALE 1964-65

The Italians were never also easy on the eye with their defensive brand of football, widely known as Catenaccio, winning few friends amongst their opponents. However the team known affectionately amongst all Nerazzurri supporters as La Grande Inter won back-to-back European Cups in 1964 and 1965 defeating Real Madrid and Benfica respectively. As well as the 1964-65 Scudetto, Inter also became the first European team to win successive Intercontinental Cups beating Argentinians Independiente on both occasions.

Ajax Amsterdam 1972

Ajax Amsterdam with the 1972 European Cup

AJAX AMSTERDAM 1971-73

Dutch football came to prominence in the early 1970’s with Feyenoord Rotterdam winning the European Cup in 1970 before their arch-rivals Ajax Amsterdam took their brand of Total Football to the international stage and won three successive European Cups. Players such as Johan Cruijff, Johnny Rep and Arie Haan took centre stage with final victories over Panathinaikos (1971), Internazionale (1972) and Juventus FC (1973), the latter as part of an historic treble, helping write the club’s name into the history books. Ajax also won the 1972 Intercontinental Cup against Independiente and were the inaugural UEFA Super Cup winners defeating Cup Winners’ Cup holders AC Milan in 1973.

FC Bayern 1975 European Cup

FC Bayern with the second of their European Cups in 1975

FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN 1974-76

In a manner similar to the Ajax team that preceded them, FC Bayern won the European Cup three times in a row from 1974-76 with a team full of international greats such as Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller and Uli Hoeneß. Their maiden European Cup win against Atlético de Madrid was achieved in a replay, the first and only such occasion this occurred, before going on to beat Leeds United and Saint-Étienne in the following two years. The Bavarians also won the 1973-74 Bundesliga title and their first world title with a 1976 Intercontinental Cup win over Brazilians Cruzeiro.

Liverpool FC 1977

Liverpool FC won their first European Cup in 1977

LIVERPOOL FC 1977-81

Liverpool, under the astute guidance of Bob Paisley, won the European Cup three times in the space of five years, thus assuring the reluctant successor to Bill Shankly his place in football history as the first, and so far only coach, to have won the trophy on so many occasions. Liverpool were dominant at home during this time with three league championship wins in 1977, 1979 and 1980 complemented by European triumphs over Borussia Mönchengladbach (1977), Club Brugge (1978) and Real Madrid (1981) which were won with a dynamic team including the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Phil Neal.

AC Milan

AC Milan were European champions in 1989-90

AC MILAN 1988-90

Just three years after the acquisition of the club by controversial figure Silvio Berlusconi, AC Milan started to make a mark on the European scene once again with back-to-back European Cup wins over Steaua Bucharest (1989) and Benfica (1990). Having won the 1988 Scudetto the Rossoneri, led by coach Arrigo Sacchi along with his team of superstars including the Dutch trio of Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit as well as Italian legends such as Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, began a spell of domination which also led to successive triumphs in the UEFA Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup.

Manchester United 1999

Manchester United won the UEFA Champions League in 1999

MANCHESTER UNITED 1998-99

It is difficult to pinpoint any team over the last two decades which could stand out for Manchester United, such is the amount of success they’ve come to enjoy under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson. However the team which won the Treble in the 1998-99 season deserves special praise for their sheer will-to-win and ability to turn things around when all seemed lost. A team including most of the “Class of 92” such as Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Gary Neville went on to claim the English league and cup double before winning an unlikely UEFA Champions League triumph over FC Bayern München as the Red Devils, who were a goal down as the game went into the 90th minute, somehow scored two goals deep into stoppage time to claim the club’s second European Cup. Six months later Roy Keane scored the winner for United as they claimed the Intercontinental Cup with a 1-0 win over Palmeiras.

FC Barcelona 2011

FC Barcelona with the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League trophy

FC BARCELONA 2008-11

The Catalan giants have enjoyed considerable success at home and abroad over time but the club underachieved in the European Cup for many years. Having only ever been champions of Europe twice before Pep Guardiola took the coaching job in 2008, FC Barcelona have finally started to realize their potential under the current coach who has guided the club to two UEFA Champions League finals and a semi-final in three years as well as winning a host of other trophies including a grand slam of Spanish League, Spanish Cup, Champions League, Spanish Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup in 2009. With the likes of FIFA World Cup winners Xavi, Carles Puyol and Andres Iniesta as well as superstar Lionel Messi many predict that their dominance could continue for some time yet.

SO WHO GETS YOUR VOTE AS THE BEST?

Italy: Milanese tide turns as Rossoneri seal 18th title

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 8, 2011
Massimiliano Allegri

Allegri has won the Scudetto in his first season at Milan

After watching local rivals Internazionale dominate the Italian game over the last five years, AC Milan finally won the Scudetto for the first time since 2003-04 following their goalless draw away at AS Roma on Saturday night. The Rossoneri now join their arch-rivals on 18 league titles and still have the chance to win the Italian league and cup double.

Despite a lack of goals in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico the title celebrations could begin in earnest for  AC Milan upon the sounding of the final whistle. Although Internazionale could have, in theory, ended up on equal points as their local rivals, Serie A is using head-to-head records to decide the destination of the trophy. Following AC Milan’s victories in the league over Inter this season that meant that the former knew before Saturday’s game that a point in the Italian capital would be enough.

For the title win much praise will be heaped on AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri who has risen from relative obscurity to become a title winning coach. Following spells at some lower league clubs Allegri got his break in 2008 when he took on the role at Cagliari Calcio whom he led to ninth place in 2008-09 but struggled the following season with the Islanders avoiding relegation by seven points. Because of his previous struggles there were many people who doubted Milan’s choice following his appointment at the San Siro but he has won many critics round. His team is defensively solid having let in the fewest number of goals (23 to date) whilst, at the other end of the pitch, the goals have been shared around his team with the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović, Alexandre Pato and Robinho all featuring at the top of the Italian goalscoring charts.

AC Milan’s season still has the potential to get better as the club remain in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia in which they must play a tough away fixture at Palermo on Tuesday (the clubs drew 2-2 in the first leg). Should the Rossoneri negotiate their way through that they will meet either record cup winners AS Roma or local rivals Internazionale in the final on May 29th.

WATCH THE POST-MATCH TITLE CELEBRATIONS HERE:

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UEFA Champions League: Round of 16 preview 1

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 15, 2010
AC Milan v Manchester United

AC Milan and Manchester United last met in the 2007 Champions League semi-final.

The UEFA Champions League is back! We have reached the Round of 16 and there are some mouth-watering ties among the eight games that will take place over the next four weeks. “Stoppage Time” gives you the lowdown on the form of each team going into the knockout stage of the competition. Some teams fortunes have improved since the group phase concluded in December but in one or two cases form has got worse so we’ll make it easy for you to see who is hot and who is not. There are four matches this week and four next week with the second legs being played two weeks later in all cases (we’ll give you the dates to each match in each of the four previews). Today we focus on the two matches that will be played tomorrow with the second leg on Wednesday, March 10th:

AC MILAN (Italy) v MANCHESTER UNITED (England)

This may be a meeting between two giants of European football but, for most observers, the match has become the latest excuse to indulge in the ‘Beckham Circus’. Only this time there is sufficient reason for the former England captain to be at the forefront of preparations for what is, in any case, a widely anticipated contest. The former United star could play against his old club for the first time in his career but it’s not known yet whether his coach Leonardo will play him from the start. Either way Beckham’s view that “for the first time… I will have to hope Manchester United lose” could just be wishful thinking as the Red Devils go into the game in much the better form.

Since the conclusion of the group stage United have won seven of their eleven Premier League matches including a 3-1 demolition away at fellow title-chasers Arsenal FC only a fortnight ago and sees the English champions only one point behind leaders Chelsea FC who have stumbled in recent weeks, most recently suffering a 2-1 reverse at Everton FC. With United having qualified for another League Cup final, their third in five seasons, things are looking up at Old Trafford. Milan, on the other hand, have won only half of their eight Serie A encounters and lie third in the Italian league, nine points behind defending champions and city rivals Internazionale. When Beckham returned in January for his second stint at the San Siro Milan’s form saw an immediate improvement, three wins in a row against Genoa, Juventus and Siena gave the side hope of a title charge. However since losing  2-0 in the ‘Derby della Madonnina’ to Inter the Rossoneri‘s form has been less impressive taking five points from the last three matches.

Despite all the Beckham talk there are two players on the pitch who will be the real stars to look out for. Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney has really shone since a certain Cristiano Ronaldo left Old Trafford to go to Real Madrid. Rooney’s goal tally in all competitions already stands at 23, although it is surprising that none of those goals have come in the Champions League so far. Milan have a player of such skill, class and experience in Ronaldinho but even he could be eclipsed by his fellow compatriot Alexandre Pato who, like Rooney, seems to have improved after another club hero, namely Kaká, went to Real Madrid. Pato has scored eleven goals so far in 2009-10 with two of those in the Champions League and he is hoping to show that Milan are far from a spent force. Milan have a great history in this competition which they have won on seven occasions, including, most recently, in the 2006-07 season when they beat United in the semi-finals.

OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS (France) v REAL MADRID CF (Spain)

With the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League final being staged at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, nine-times European champions Real Madrid are determined that they can win “la décima’ (‘The Tenth’) at their home stadium and forget all about the history-making year which their arch-rivals FC Barcelona have enjoyed in the last twelve months. Their chances of winning the tournament look good after they easily topped a group containing AC Milan, Olympique de Marseille and FC Zürich by a comfortable four points and their form in the Spanish League has been almost faultless. Olympique Lyonnais, on the other hand, have found it tough going in the French League since they surrendered their title to FC Girondins de Bordeaux last season. Although they finished second in their Champions League group they did so due to the fact that they played a Liverpool side who were lacking in confidence and the Hungarian champions Debreceni who were incapable of taking a single point from any of their opponents.

Real Madrid lie second in La Liga having won eight of their ten matches since the conclusion of the group stage in December. They have been playing catch-up to defending champions FC Barcelona for most of the season but their title aspirations improved this weekend with a 3-0 win away at bottom club Xerez CD whilst the Catalans succumbed to their first league defeat this season losing 2-1, ironically, to Real’s local rivals Atlético de Madrid. This reduced the gap between the top two teams to just two points with El Real now looking more ruthless especially now that Portuguese sensation Cristiano Ronaldo has returned after injury. Olympique Lyonnais are not yet playing like a team who could seriously challenge for the championship but they do lie in fourth place, eight points behind defending champions and league leaders Bordeaux so all is not lost yet. Since the group stage Lyon have won five of their nine league games including wins against Paris Saint Germain and Racing Lens but have lost two games in that period to championship challengers Bordeaux and Montpellier. Therefore Lyon must improve against all types of opposition if they are to claim their eighth domestic championship in nine seasons.

As previously mentioned Cristiano Ronaldo is the star man for Los Blancos having scored 17 goals so far this season including six in the UEFA Champions League. Imagine how many more he could’ve had if he hadn’t have spent a month on the sidelines due to injury. But such is the potential at Real Madrid that anyone can be a matchwinner on their day including club legend Raúl, French striker Karim Benzema (formerly of Olympique Lyonnais) and Argentinian wonder Gonzalo Higuaín who has chipped in with 14 goals this season. For the French side Lisandro López, the Argentinian who signed from Portuguese champions FC Porto at the end of last season to replace Benzema, is the current top scorer with 13 goals, five of which were in the Champions League including the crucial equalizer at home to Liverpool FC which guaranteed the French side’s progression to this stage of the competition.

Serie A: Milan derby preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 21, 2010
Milan 0 Inter 4

The first Milan derby of the season was emphatically won by Inter

At 20:45 local time on Sunday the second “Derby della Madonnina” will begin between Milanese giants Internazionale (46 points from 20 games) and AC Milan (40 pts, 19 games). Six points separate the sides and this has turned what is normally a grudge match anyway into something even more significant as both sides have separated from the rest of the league as the only likely challengers for lo Scudetto.

On Matchday 2 of the 2009-10 Serie A campaign the two sides met with experienced campaigner José Mourinho leading his Inter team to an emphatic 4-0 victory over a Milan side whose new coach Leonardo found the going tough in the opening weeks of the new season. Goals from Thiago Motta, Diego Milito and Maicon had already put the game beyond the Rossoneri by half-time before Dejan Stanković sealed the deal for the Nerazzurri with a long range strike midway through the second half. However one can only guess that, on current form, Inter won’t be finding their neighbours such an enticing proposition as Milan, and especially their charismatic talisman Ronaldinho, are in great form having only dropped three points in their last nine league games whilst Inter have stuttered in recent weeks scoring eleven points from eighteen available.

This particular fixture usually brings about the best in either one team or the other as there hasn’t been a drawn derby game in Serie A since October 2004. In the last nine derbies Inter have been victorious on six occasions including a ‘double’ in 2006-07, a result which, if repeated this Sunday, will extend Inter’s lead at the top to nine points albeit having played a game more. However if Milan can keep up their great recent form with a win against the champions they’ll close the gap to a mere three points which they can then equal with a win in their game in hand. Out of all permutations for Sunday’s game it is the latter option which is most important if the title race is to become a nailbiter. After being ‘given’ the Scudetto in 2005-06 due to the “Calciopoli” scandal, Inter have almost strolled their way to another three more titles by margins of 22pts, 3pts and 10pts in the last three championships. If Inter are to be denied being only the second team to win five Scudetti in a row (after the great Torino side of 1943-49) then it is imperative for the Rossoneri’s big guns to show on Sunday.

News from Milan’s camp has not been positive on the injury front. Players such as Alessandro Nesta and Clarence Seedorf are doubts whilst Pato will definitely sit the game out with a thigh problem. Inter have some problems of their own as two of the scorers from the 4-0 win this season, Motta and Stanković, are doubts and Sulley Muntari pulled up with a thigh strain in training earlier this week. Despite these problems both clubs have any number of players who can make a difference but one feels Milan have the advantage as they have Ronaldinho playing his best football since he left FC Barcelona, David Beckham looking like he hasn’t been away from the San Siro and Marco Borriello whose confidence has shone through in recent games, especially the 5-2 win over his old club Genoa. Inter will miss their top scorer Samuel Eto’o due to his participation in the African Cup of Nations but they still have potential matchwinners in Mario Balotelli, Goran Pandev and Diego Milito. Either way it makes for an exciting derby match which, hopefully, will set the scene for the rest of the season.

Goals fly in as ‘Serie A’ is back with a bang

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 7, 2010
Marco Borriello

Marco Borriello scored twice in a 5-2 rout of former club Genoa

Thirty-three goals were scored in nine games upon the resumption of Italy’s Serie A yesterday. The big three of Inter, AC Milan and Juventus all secured three points as they tightened their grip on the top three places in the table. Napoli overtook southern neighbours AS Roma into fourth place whilst at the bottom of the table Siena were heavily defeated and relegation threatened Bologna and Atalanta fared no better.

Champions Inter (42 points from 18 games) got the ball rolling with an early kick-off away in Verona against mid-table Chievo. An early goal from Mario Balotelli was enough to seperate the sides as Inter temporarily increased their lead at the top to eleven points before the day’s other games began. Juventus (33 points, 18 games) kept up the chase as they scrapped to a 2-1 win away at Parma. The ‘Old Lady’ took the lead after just three minutes through a Hasan Salihamidzic header but Parma equalised mid-way through the first half courtesy of a Juve old boy Nicola Amoruso. Parma were unfortunate to concede an own goal though six minutes before the break as Paolo Castellini put through his own net. Juventus held on to the lead during the second half despite having Martin Cáceres sent off for a second bookable offence on 73 minutes. In the late kick-off at the San Siro stadium AC Milan’s Marco Borriello (pictured) overshadowed the returning David Beckham by scoring twice in a 5-2 win against his former club Genoa. Things initially seemed to go against the ‘Rossoneri’ (red and blacks) as an early Ronaldinho penalty save was compounded further by Giuseppe Sculli giving Genoa the lead after 25 minutes. Despite the early setbacks Milan (34 points, 17 games) upped the pace and were rewarded by Ronaldinho tucking away a second penalty followed by a Thiago Silva strike to give Milan a 2-1 lead at the break. The game was over as a contest eary in the second half as Borriello scored his two goals before the hour mark and his replacement as substitute Klass-Jan Huntelaar converted the game’s third penalty before David Suazo scored a consolation strike late on for Genoa reducing the arrears to 5-2.

In the rest of the league Napoli climbed up to fourth in the table as they beat struggling Atalanta 2-0 thanks to goals from Fabio Quagliarella and Michele Pazienza. Alberto Gilardino scored twice as AC Fiorentina crushed bottom side Siena (12 points from 18 games) 5-1 in the Tuscan derby. Sergio Flocaari also bagged a brace as Lazio easily overcame Livorno 4-1 while their local rivals AS Roma let slip a 2-0 lead in stoppage time as Lopez and Daniele Conti scored the goals that gave Cagliari a 2-2 draw and an unlikely point. Catania beat Bologna 1-0 thanks to a late Nicolas Spolli goal which now has Bologna looking over their shoulder at Catania who are just a point behind them in 18th place. Bari beat Udinese 2-0 while Sampdoria and Palermo shared the spoils after a 1-1 draw in Genoa.

European Leagues: Winter Break Round-up

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 22, 2009
Samuel Eto'o

Samuel Eto'o is all smiles as his club Internazionale lead Italy's Serie A

With the exception of England, Scotland and France, most of the league championships in Europe have taken a well earned break for Christmas time. “Stoppage Time” reviews the season so far in Europe’s top leagues:

SPAIN

This looks like it will be a two horse race between arch-rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. The Spanish, European and World champions FC Barcelona (39 points from 15 games) hold a slim two point advantage over ‘El Real’ whose performances haven’t always been great but whose capability of getting results has improved. Sevilla looked for a while like a potential ‘stalking horse’ candidate for the title, keeping close to the top but they have slipped off the pace in recent weeks. At the bottom of the table newly promoted sides such as Xerez (7 points from 15 games) and Real Zaragoza have found the going tough. A traditional giant of the Spanish game, Atlético Madrid find themselves just one point from the cellar after a string of poor displays.

ITALY

FC Internazionale of Milan (39 points from 17 games), including striker Samuel Eto’o (pictured) find themselves in charge of Serie A yet again. Going for a fifth consecutive championship, the Nerazzurri’s only challengers to date appear to be local enemies AC Milan, who are eight points behind with a game in hand. The Rossoneri have come back strongly after a really poor start under the stewardship of Leonardo. Juventus appeared to be going well under new coach Ciro Ferrara but have lost their last three games and remain a point further behind Milan having played a game more. At the bottom of the league six points separate Udinese in 14th place from AC Siena in last place (12 points after 17 games), signalling that a tight relegation battle could be just around the corner.

GERMANY

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (35 points from 17 games) remain unbeaten to be crowned the unofficial “Herbstmeister” (autumn champions) in the Bundesliga. However the ‘Werkself’ (Work’s Eleven) have drawn a lot a games meaning that their lead is a narrow one point margin from nearest challengers Schalke 04, who have done well considering their financial troubles. Despite Bayern Munich’s less than impressive start to the season the Bavarian giants are a further point behind Schalke. Louis Van Gaal has withstood the criticism and has guided Bayern to third place at the halfway stage with 33 points. The surprise of the season so far is 1. FSV Mainz 05, who were promoted from the second division last season, who have a respectable eighth place finish after 17 games. Hertha Berlin is the surprise team at the bottom of the table (6 points/17 games), all the more surprising considering they won on the opening day against Hannover 96. Other big clubs close to the bottom are 1. FC Nürnberg, who sacked their coach Michael Oenning on Monday, and VfB Stuttgart, who replaced Markus Babbel with former Tottenham Hotspur coach Christian Gross in early December.

PORTUGAL

The Portuguese Superliga normally has three contenders for the title but one of this year’s contenders is an unfamiliar one: Sporting Braga. They lead the table jointly with SL Benfica (33 points from 14 games) with perennial champions FC Porto four points behind. Many hope that Braga can keep up with the big two especially since the tradional third power of Portuguese football, Sporting, are struggling domestically (21 points/14 games) but performing well in Europe. Also many remember last season’s surprise package Leixões, who led the table early on in 2008-09, falling away late in the season. Could Braga really become only the sixth club (after Benfica, Porto, Sporting, Belenenses and Boavista) to win the Portuguese championship? At the bottome Leixões’ glory days from last season are well and truly behind them as they now are fighting against relegation lying just one point above the bottom two clubs Olhanense and Belenenses (10 points/14 games).

HOLLAND

Steve McClaren has done an impressive job at FC Twente (47 points/17 games) thus far and he’s already hoping to go one better than last season. The club from Enschede were runners-up in both league and cup in 2008-09 but McClaren’s men currently lead the Eredivisie by two points from PSV Eindhoven. PSV’s coach Fred Rutten has given new purpose to the Philips owned club after they lost direction last season under Huub Stevens which led to them weakly giving up their run of four consecutive titles. Ajax, coached by Martin Jol, have suffered a few defeats and are nine points off the pace. Their arch-rivals Feyenoord Rotterdam have also been rejuvenated under new coach Mario Been and a further point behind having played a game more. At the bottom RKC Waalwijk (12 points/18 games) will hope to avoid the automatic relegation spot at the end of the season as they are not far off the teams above NEC Nijmegen, ADO Den Haag and Willem II Tilburg.

GREECE

It’s the same old story in Greece as champions Olympiakos Piraeus are involved in a two-way tussle with league leaders Panathinaikos (38 points/15 games) for the championship. As usual PAOK Thessaloniki threaten to make a fight of it but end up dropping too many points but they should easily get a place in Europe. Athen’s third club AEK have struggled for form and consistency in both Greek and European competition thus far and lie in eighth place on 21 points. At the bottom of the table it’s been a dreadful time for promoted Panthrakikos who remain without a win after fifteen games. They have only two points at this stage and are dead certs for the drop. Above them the likes of Giannina, Levadiakos (14 points), Larissa and Iraklis (15 points) will hope to avoid joining them in the second division next season.

TURKEY

The Turkish Superlig could be one of the most exciting for years. Fenerbahçe (37 points/17 games) lead at the halfway stage by just one point from eternal rivals Galatasaray. Then there are two unexpected title chasers in Bursaspor and Kayserispor (35 and 34 points respectively) as well as last season’s champions Beşiktaş (32 points). “Fener” will miss on the services of Roberto Carlos after the winter break as he heads back to Brazil to finish his career at Corinithians. Last season’s surprise package Sivasspor struggled in the early weeks of the season but will hope that they can take recent good form into the second half of the season. They are ten points ahead of second bottom Denizlispor (7 points/17 games) and seventeen ahead of Ankaraspor who are pointless (numerically speaking, of course) at the halfway stage and look certain for the drop.

Champions League – Group Stage Round-Up: Part One

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 9, 2009
Louis Van Gaal

Can Louis van Gaal win the Champions League again?

This week sees the conclusion of the group stages in the UEFA Champions League. “Stoppage Time” takes a look back at how each group has shaped up, starting with groups A-D today, followed by groups E-H tomorrow:

GROUP A (BORDEAUX, BAYERN MUNICH, JUVENTUS, MACCABI HAIFA)

Bordeaux surprised the pundits with a near faultless performance in group A. “Les Girondins” only dropped two points away at Juventus on Matchday 1 leaving the traditional big boys “Juve” and FC Bayern to fight it out for second place. During the campaign it seemed as if Bayern’s domestic troubles were going to destroy their European ambitions and, with two matchdays to go, Juve seemed to be going through. However the four time European champions from Bavaria still had a chance on Matchday 6, all they had to do was beat Juventus away in Turin. What seemed a tough task proved, ultimately, to be a stroll in the park for Louis van Gaal’s men as they won 4-1 including a penalty goal from Bayern keeper Hans-Jörg Butt. Juventus are now confined to the Europa League whilst Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa couldn’t even score a goal in the whole group stage and, unsurprisingly, remained pointless after six games.

GROUP B (MANCHESTER UNITED, CSKA MOSCOW, VfL WOLFSBURG, BESIKTAS)

As expected Manchester United topped the group in comfortable fashion. CSKA Moscow claimed the second place after a 2-1 success away in Istanbul against Besiktas on Matchday 6. The celebrations were dampened somewhat by the news that two of their players, Alexei Berezutsky and Sergei Ignashevich, were tested positive for banned substances. However UEFA has decided to punish the players rather than the club for what officals of CSKA Moscow called “a clerical error”.  German champions VfL Wolfsburg had a good maiden campaign in Europe’s elite class with Edin Džeko attracting the notice of some of Europe’s biggest clubs with some good performances, most notably against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Besiktas were struggling from the start but a consolation win over Manchester United in Matchday 5 proved to be their only highlight. With players such as Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen showing glimpses of their best “ManU” finished with 13 points at the top of the group with CSKA three points behind. Wolfsburg’s European campaign will continue in the Europa League whilst Besiktas have to revert back to the travails of domestic football.

GROUP C (REAL MADRID, AC MILAN, OLYMPIQUE MARSEILLE, FC ZÜRICH)

Before a ball was kicked in this group virtually everybody had tipped Real Madrid and AC Milan, two clubs with sixteen European Cups before them, to qualify for the Round of 16 and so it was proved. The only real blip which the Spanish side suffered was their 3-2 home defeat by the Italian giants on Matchday 3. FC Zürich had their moments too, a 1-0 defeat of AC Milan in the San Siro on Matchday 2 had their fans dreaming of further glory. Sadly for the Swiss champions their double header against Marseille proved disappointing and effectively knocked them out of the competition. On Matchday 6 Marseille still had a chance of progressing but they had to defeat Real Madrid, who were already through, at home and hope Milan dropped points in Zürich. The latter scenario happened as Milan could only manage a 1-1 draw but Cristiano Ronaldo was in scintillating form for Real Madrid scoring twice in a 3-1 win at Stade Vélodrome to send Marseille into the Europa League.

GROUP D (CHELSEA FC, FC PORTO, ATLÉTICO DE MADRID, APOEL NICOSIA)

Chelsea and FC Porto were clearly the two best sides in the group easily seeing off a poor Atleti and a weak APOEL team although the Cypriots were far from expected to qualify for the last 16. Chelsea’s two matches against FC Porto determined the top two placings with the London club winning 1-0 home and away. This was the difference between the two teams even allowing for the fact that Chelsea drew 2-2 away at Atleti and at home to APOEL on Matchday 6 when they’d already qualified. Chelsea finsihed on 14 points two ahead of Porto who some people fancy as a good outside bet in the tournament. “Los Rojiblancos” (the red and whites) of Madrid scraped through to the Europa League going through on their head-to-head record against APOEL. With both teams finishing on three points each after six games Atleti’s away goal in the 1-1 draw in Cyprus proved crucial as APOEL were only able to manage a 0-0 draw in Spain.