Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Holland: Alkmaar belatedly triumph over Ajax in cup replay

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 19, 2012

Dutch CupThe KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) clash between Ajax Amsterdam and AZ Alkmaar, which was suspended due to an attack on AZ keeper Esteban Alvarado in the initial encounter, was completed today in the Amsterdam ArenA with the home side going down to a 3-2 defeat.

Siem de Jong gave Ajax the lead as early as the 10th minute only for the visitors to restore parity fourteen minutes later through Maarten Martins. AZ were then able to take the lead in the 32nd minute with Charlison Benschop getting his name on the score sheet only for the hosts to peg back six minutes before the break with de Jong grabbing his second goal of the game and that was how the game finished after a lively first half.

The second half, by way of contrast, only saw one more goal with Rasmus Elm netting the crucial strike from the penalty spot in the 55th minute to give Alkmaar a sense of justice following the first game which saw their players leave the pitch following the attack on Alvarado. Ajax, on the other hand, would be forgiven for thinking of what might’ve been as they had lead in the initial tie with a 1-0 score line after 38 minutes before the game had to be abandoned.

AZ Alkmaar’s reward for reaching the last eight of the competition is a quarter-final match against third-tier GVVV Veenendaal. The other games at this stage will see PSV Eindhoven take on NEC Nijmegen, Heracles Almelo at home to RKC Waalwijk and Vitesse Arnhem host SC Heerenveen. The games are due to take place on January 31st.

Holland: Keeper’s red card rescinded; holders Twente out (video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 23, 2011
Esteban Alvarado

AZ keeper Esteban Alvarado was sent off following this incident on Wednesday

AZ Alkmaar goalkeeper Esteban Alvarado has had his red card from Wednesday’s Round of 16 KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) match against Ajax Amsterdam rescinded.

The keeper was attacked by an Ajax fan only for Esteban to retaliate on the attacker by kicking him whilst he was on the ground, a response which was deemed inappropriate by referee Bas Nijhuis who then sent off the keeper much to the astonishment and fury of the AZ players and staff. AZ coach Gert Jan Verbeek brought his team off the pitch and, with Ajax leading 1-0 at the time of abandonment, it is not yet known whether or when the game will be replayed.  Ajax have identified the fan who has now been given a lifetime ban.

On a footballing note KNVB Beker holders FC Twente Enschede were knocked out of the competition suffering a 2-1 home defeat at the hands of PSV Eindhoven. All of the goals were scored in extra-time with Slovenian striker Tim Matavž proving to be the hero as he bagged both goals for PSV in his side’s win.

Netherlands: Twente claim successive Super Cup win over Ajax (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on July 31, 2011

For the second successive year FC Twente have won the Dutch Super Cup fixture against Ajax Amsterdam. The Enschede based side won this title in 2010 as defending league champions but were going into this season’s competition as cup holders having been pipped to the 2010-11 Eredivisie title by Ajax in a dramatic last day showdown. Saturday night saw FC Twente gain an element of revenge as they won the season curtain-raiser by two goals to one thanks to goals from Marc Janko and Bryan Ruiz with Ajax’s Toby Alderweireld scoring inbetween. With the 2011-12 Eredivisie season starting next week both teams are on the road for the opening match of the new campaign with champions Ajax away at De Graafschap and FC Twente locking horns against NAC Breda.

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?

Netherlands: Title showdown looms for Ajax and Twente

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 2, 2011
Christian Eriksen

Christian Eriksen scored Ajax's second goal against Heerenveen

With just one game left to play in the Dutch Eredivisie the situation at the top of the table couldn’t be any more exciting. Defending champions FC Twente Enschede lead nearest challengers Ajax Amsterdam by just one point with the two teams going head-to-head in the Amsterdam ArenA in a fortnight’s time.

This weekend saw FC Twente easily put the challenge of Willem II Tilburg to one side with a 4-0 victory. Goals from Luuk de Jong, Douglas and Theo Janssen as well as an own goal from Tilburg’s Dragan Jelič ensured that the Enschede club preserved the lead going into the final day and also sealed Willem’s relegation to the second division next season. Second placed Ajax visited SC Heerenveen needing a win to stay in title contention but things didn’t get off to a good start for Ajax as Heerenveen’s Mika Väyrynen gave them the lead after 19 minutes but Ajax weren’t down for very long, restoring parity just sixty seconds later thanks to Miralem Sujemani. The decisive goal of the match came just a minute into the second half when Christian Eriksen gave Ajax a lead they would never relinquish and sets up a double-header of crucial matches involving themselves and FC Twente who, as well as playing each other in the final matchday of the Dutch league, will also meet meet in the KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) final in Rotterdam’s De Kuip stadium this coming Sunday, May 8th.

PSV Eindhoven are three points behind FC Twente but cannot expect to win the championship now as whatever happens in the Ajax v FC Twente game will lead to one of those two teams winning the championship shield. Nevertheless PSV did win their home game against Vitesse Arnhem on Sunday by two goals to one and still hope of snatching the second UEFA Champions League spot.

Europe: Derby Days Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on September 18, 2010
Stadion De Kuip

Feyenoord's De Kuip Stadion plays host to Sunday's Klassieker

The word “Superclásico” has come into footballing lexicon in recent years as a way of describing those games which are amongst the biggest and most widely anticipated in world football. Sunday sees five such encounters taking place all over Europe and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews them all here (all times given are local):

FEYENOORD ROTTERDAM v AJAX AMSTERDAM (12:30)

A repeat of last season’s KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) final, these two oldest and bitterest of enemies meet again in the first Klassieker of the new season. Home team Feyenoord last won this fixture in the 2005-06 season and their success starved supporters will feel that a victory over Ajax is long overdue. They start the game in eighth place, six points behind Martin Jol’s Ajax who, in turn, lie in joint second place with PSV Eindhoven and have the chance to go top of the table this weekend. Ajax have won five out of the last eight matches between the two sides in the Eredivisie and are favourites to win again on Sunday.

MANCHESTER UNITED v LIVERPOOL (13:30)

The most decorated fixture in English football takes place at Old Trafford with both clubs experiencing different fortunes. Manchester United are in third place and unbeaten in the 2010-11 season so far going into this game whilst Liverpool, under new coach Roy Hodgson, have had some teething problems and have only won one of their four matches and lie in 16th place before kick-off. Manchester United still has the whip hand in this fixture having won 59 games to 52 with 43 draws (league game stats only) but Liverpool’s recent record against United is pretty good having won three of the last four matches. The odds, though, are certainly more favourable towards the Red Devils with United expected to gain all three points.

SCHALKE 04 v BORUSSIA DORTMUND (17:30)

Die Königsblauen (Royal Blues) of Schalke 04 have caused controversy ahead of this game by significantly raising prices for visiting Borussia Dortmund fans who, in turn, have threatened to boycott the game in large numbers in protest. On the pitch Dortmund are in good form and have won two of their three Bundesliga matches so far in stark contrast to Schalke 04 who have lost all three of their matches and lie rooted to the bottom of the table. The head-to-head record between these two arch-rivals is close with just one Schalke win (27 wins) separating them from Dortmund (26) and it’s the Gelsenkirchen club who have had the better of it in recent times with six wins in the most recent ten league matches, die Schwarzgelben (Yellow and Blacks) from Dortmund last winning in 2007.

S04 - BVB
Schalke 04 v Borussia Dortmund is Germany’s biggest derby

FENERBAHÇE v BEŞIKTAŞ (19:00)

OK, so many people would argue that the true Superclásico of Turkish football is the game between Fener and Galatasaray but the statistics show that games involving Beşiktaş are every bit as important as those involving the original Big Two. Beşiktaş go into Sunday’s game three points better off having won three and lost one of their four games thus far in the Süper Lig whilst Fenerbahçe have won two and lost two. In recent years honours have been even in these games with each team winning one each in the last two seasons but the picture overall favours Fener who have won 122 of the 326 matches between them (all competitions) with Beşiktaş just three wins behind.

SPORTING v SL BENFICA (21:15)

Champions Benfica have struggled domestically this season with just one win and three defeats in their first four matches of the new campaign whilst local rivals Sporting lie in sixth place with seven points. The head-to-head record between these arch local rivals – despite FC Porto’s recent dominance this is still regarded as the biggest derby fixture in Portugal – goes in Benfica’s favour with 168 wins in 401 official matches (all competitions) compared to 153 for Sporting. Last season Benfica got four points from the two league derbies whilst Sporting last had the better of this fixture in 2005-06 when they did the ‘double’ over the Águias (Eagles).

FCK v Brøndby

FC København play Brøndby IF in the New Firm derby on Sunday

Two more important league derbies which take place on Sunday but are not quite of Superclásico status involve the derby of Hamburg between newly-promoted St Pauli and the traditional giants of the city Hamburger SV (kick-off 15:30) whilst across the border in Denmark an important derby in the capital city of Copenhagen sees the defending SAS Superliga champions FC København take on arguably the country’s most famous club Brøndby IF (kick-off 18:00). St Pauli won their opening match of the new Bundesliga campaign away in Freiburg but have lost both their subsequent games whilst HSV hope to jump into second place with a win against their local rivals from the local district of the same name. In Denmark the New Firm take centre stage with Brøndby IF needing a win away from home to stay in touch with their neighbours FC København who come back to domestic action following their 1-0 home win over Russian champions Rubin Kazan in the UEFA Champions League.

Holland: FC Twente claim Super Cup in Amsterdam (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 1, 2010

The Dutch domestic season began in earnest yesterday at Ajax’s Amsterdam ArenA with the annual Super Cup match, known as the Johan Cruijff Schaal, played between last season’s Eredivisie (Dutch league) champions FC Twente Enschede and KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) winners Ajax Amsterdam. With home advantage Ajax were the slight favourites going into the game but it has been anything but an uneventful summer for the four-time European champions who fought tooth and nail to keep their coach Martin Jol at the club following interest from English Premier League club Fulham FC. The match got under way and within eight minutes Ajax were behind when FC Twente’s Luuk de Jong took advantage of a poor goalkeeping clearance from Maarten Stekelenburg and powered the ball past the hapless Ajax keeper. The match didn’t get any better for Ajax as Uruguayan Luis Suárez, back after a successful FIFA World Cup tournament in which his team reached the semi-finals, was sent-off with three minutes of the first half remaining for a two-footed lunge on Cheick Tioté. After a first half in which FC Twente dominated Ajax became more of an attacking force in the second half but, if truth be told, the Amsterdam club were very much second best overall. FC Twente won the trophy for the first time in the club’s history with their only previous appearance coming in 2001 when they were defeated by PSV Eindhoven. Is this victory a sign that the Enschede club can move on without Steve McClaren? Their current coach Michel Preud’Homme certainly hopes so….

Watch FC Twente v Ajax highlights HERE:

UEFA Europa League: Round of 32 preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 17, 2010
Miguel Veloso

Sporting's Miguel Veloso scores from the penalty spot in their 2-1 defeat at Everton FC on Tuesday

The UEFA Europa League is back and has reached the Round of 32 stage. There are plenty of matches that whet the appetite in this competition and “Stoppage Time” has a guide to all sixteen ties in the first knockout round:

EVERTON FC (England) v SPORTING (Portugal)

The first leg of this game took place last night to avoid a clash with Liverpool FC’s home game against Unirea Urziceni on Thursday. Everton have a slight 2-1 advantage going into the second leg thanks to goals from Steven Pienaar and Sylvain Distin. However French defender Distin was sent off late in the game for a foul on Liedson and Miguel Veloso (pictured) was able to pull one back for Sporting from twelve yards out. An intriging return game in Lisbon awaits.

AJAX AMSTERDAM (Netherlands) v JUVENTUS (Italy)

This is a game worthy of Champions League status with both clubs sharing six European Cup triumphs between them. Ajax are currently third in the Dutch Eredivisie whilst Juventus are sixth in Serie A. With both teams harbouring realistic ambitions of Champions League qualification next season they may decide to play weakened sides in Europe. Nonetheless this should be a fascinating contrast of styles between two great clubs.

ATHLETIC BILBAO (Spain) v RSC ANDERLECHT (Belgium)

The Basque side should have more motivation to progress as the Europa League is the club’s only realistic hope of silverware this season. Anderlecht, one of three Belgian clubs remaining in the competition, comfortably lead the Jupiler League but may find Athletic a tough proposition. Although if the Mauves can get an away goal in the first leg in Bilbao then the tie could be in the balance.

ATLÉTICO DE MADRID (Spain) v GALATASARAY (Turkey)

The Spanish giants are in good form having reached the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) final and beaten Spanish, European and World champions FC Barcelona 2-1 at the weekend. Galatasaray are top in the Turkish Süper Lig, at the moment, and are taking this competition seriously having won it in 2000 becoming the first Turkish team to win a European trophy. With both stadiums expected to be at their intimidating best these two legs won’t be for the faint hearted.

CLUB BRUGGE (Belgium) v VALENCIA CF (Spain)

Club Brugge haven’t been such a force in Belgian football in recent years having to put up with their big rivals Standard Liège and RSC Anderlecht win the last four league titles. Valencia, despite being a distant third in the Spanish League, have high hopes of winning this competition and are likely to include big hitters such as David Villa and David Silva in order to progress to the next stage.

FULHAM FC (England) v SHAKHTAR DONETSK (Ukraine)

London outfit Fulham FC will have to get a good result at home if they want to progress in this competition as their away record this season is really bad, just one win in thirteen Premier League games on the road. However Shakhtar, the last ever winners of what was the UEFA Cup last season, haven’t played a league match since December as the Ukrainian championship is still in its winter break until February 27th so will be lacking in match fitness.

HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v PSV EINDHOVEN (Netherlands)

The German side will want to go one better than last season, when they were knocked out at the semi-final stage by rivals Werder Bremen, especially as the inaugural UEFA Europa League final takes place at their home stadium.PSV Eindhoven, currently top of the Eredivisie, are accustomed to the Champions League but have done well in the second competition having qualified for this stage with an unbeaten record so will be a tough grame for HSV.

HERTHA BSC (Germany) v SL BENFICA (Portugal)

Benfica are huge favourites to advance to the next round. The Portuguese giants are leading the Liga Sagres back home whilst the German capital team are propping up the rest of the German Bundesliga and were in second place behind the other Lisbon giants Sporting in the group stage. The second leg, to be played in Lisbon, will take place on Tuesday, February 23rd to avoid a clash with Sporting’s home game against Everton FC two days later.

KØBENHAVN (Denmark) v OLYMPIQUE DE MARSEILLE (France)

The Danish champions, known locally as FCK, have played well against big clubs in Europe in recent years but fail to score many goals. FCK will also be lacking match practice as the SAS Superligaen has been in hibernation since early December. Marseille, currently lying in fifth position in Ligue 1, should have too strong a squad and will want to go all the way having lost in their two final appearances in 1999 against AC Parma and Valencia CF in 2004.

LILLE OSC (France) v FENERBAHÇE (Turkey)

“Fener” are involved in a title battle with eternal rivals Galatasaray in the Turkish Süper Lig so may decide to rest a couple of players in the two games against a Lille side who lie in third place in Ligue 1, seven points behind leaders FC Girondins de Bordeaux. The Turkish side will be slight favourites as they play the second leg at their intimidating Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium which hosted the UEFA Cup final last season.

LIVERPOOL FC (England) v UNIREA URZICENI (Romania)

Both teams are in the Europa League having finished third in their respective Champions League groups. Liverpool’s recent results have improved even if their performances aren’t always easy on the eye. However coach Rafael Benítez will want to win this trophy for a second time having previously won the title with Valencia CF in 2004. Romanian champions Unirea finished above Scottish champions Glasgow Rangers in their Champions League group but have seen coach Dan Petrescu jump ship to obscure Russian second league outfit FC Kuban Krasnodar during the winter break so may find it difficult against The Reds.

PANATHINAIKOS (Greece) v AS ROMA (Italy)

The Italian capital side are on fire, at the moment, having gone unbeaten in 14 Serie A matches stretching back to late October and have one foot in the Coppa Italia (Italian Cup) final with a 2-0 semi-final advantage over Udinese Calcio. Panathinaikos, including in-form striker Djibril Cissé, may be top of the Greek league but have stumbled in the last fortnight with their lead now just three points from perennial champions Olympiakos.

RUBIN KAZAN (Russia) v HAPOEL TEL AVIV (Israel)

The Russian side have had a dream couple of years winning back-to-back championships. However they’ve been out of action since the end of November and face a Hapoel side lying in second place of the Ha’Al League. If the Israeli side can sneak an away goal in the first leg then they may fancy their chances against rusty Rubin.

STANDARD LIEGE (Belgium) v RED BULL SALZBURG (Austria)

This is a fascinating contest between Champions League drop-outs Standard Liège and Red Bull Salzburg, who were the only team to qualify from the Europa League group stage with a 100% record. If Huub Stevens’ Austrian side can get a win in Belgium then expect the second leg to be a formality. However the Liègeois have one of the noisier stadiums in the competition and will make it difficult despite Standard having disappointed in the Belgian Jupiler League this season.

TWENTE ENSCHEDE (Netherlands) v WERDER BREMEN (Germany)

Steve McClaren, having taken unfashionable Middlesbrough FC to a UEFA Cup final in 2006, would love to take the Dutch side to the final in May. However Thomas Schaaf’s Werder side will be motivated to make up for last season’s disappointment in Istanbul against Shakhtar Donetsk by taking the short trip to Hamburg and, with their experience, will be favourites to go through.

VILLARREAL CF (Spain) v VfL WOLFSBURG (Germany)

Both teams have massively disappointed in their domestic leagues this season especially Wolfsburg who were surprise Bundesliga champions last season but who currently lie in 11th place this time around. Villarreal’s current form is slightly better, at the moment, and they seem to save their best performances for Europe.

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.

UEFA Europa League groups Round-Up: Part Two

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 19, 2009
BATE Borisov fans

Fans of BATE Borisov taunt their opponents Everton on Matchday 2. Everton, however, had the last laugh winning 2-1.

In the second half of our UEFA Europa League group stage round-up “Stoppage Time” looks at the groups that concluded on Thursday, December 17th:

GROUP A (RSC ANDERLECHT, AJAX AMSTERDAM, DINAMO ZAGREB, FC TIMISOARA)

Blessed with years of European experience and tradition, Benelux neighbours Ajax Amsterdam and RSC Anderlecht of Brussels easily negotiated their way through this group. Their Matchday 6 match in Amsterdam still had some importance, though, as Anderlecht’s 3-1 win meant that they topped the group on account of a better head-to-head record over their Dutch challengers, both teams finishing on eleven points. Dinamo Zagreb were optimistic of further progress earlier in the competition as they had three points from two matches but they failed to build on their good start. Champions League Play-Off losers FC Timisoara scored a respectable five points on their maiden Europa League campaign but still finished fourth in the group table.

GROUP B (VALENCIA CF, LILLE, GENOA FC, SLAVIA PRAGUE)

Valencia secured qualification and the top spot on Matchday 6. They went into their game away at Genoa needing only a point to be certain of going through to the last 32 whilst hosts Genoa needed all three points to finish at least second. With the game tied at 1-1 in stoppage time, David Villa was gifted the ball from Genoa goalkeeper Alessio Scarpi to secure the victory in the 94th mnute. Elsewhere Lille’s 3-1 win at home to Slavia Prague ensured that they finished second, two points behind the leaders. Slavia, who have dominated the Czech league in the last two seasons, have been struggling domestically this season and this form was transferred into Europe as they remained without a victory after six games.

GROUP C (HAPOEL TEL AVIV, HAMBURGER SV, GLASGOW CELTIC, RAPID VIENNA)

Israeli side Hapoel were the surprise winners of this group finishing two points ahead of German giants Hamburg. Their Matchday 6 encounter in Tel Aviv ended as a 1-0 win for the hosts and it was they who leapfrogged “HSV” into first place. The biggest disappointment of the group were Scottish club Celtic who were unable to re-create their many great European nights under new coach Tony Mowbray. Among the highlights of the group were the encounters involving Celtic and Austrians Rapid Vienna, whose little known rivalry dates back to a controversial European Cup Winners’ Cup second round match in 1984-85. Both games ended drawn but the Matchday 6 encounter would’ve felt like a win for the Glasgow giants as they came back from 3-0 down after 18 minutes to draw 3-3 with virtually the last kick of the game and demote their Austrian hosts to last place.

GROUP G (RED BULL SALZBURG, VILLARREAL CF, SS LAZIO, LEVSKI SOFIA)

The only team who finished their campaign with a 100% record was Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg suggesting that they could be a good outside bet to go far in the competition. Huub Stevens’ men beat all challengers home and away to finish a clear nine points ahead of second place Villarreal. Italian capital side Lazio frustrated their followers as they could only win two of their six games and finished three points behind the little Spanish village team. Bulgarians Levski Sofia fared little better than their local rivals CSKA (see previous blog) finishing bottom with three points.

GROUP H (FENERBAHCE, FC TWENTE ENSCHEDE, STEAUA BUCHAREST, FC SHERIFF TIRASPOL)

Steve McClaren’s FC Twente were looking comfortable after two games but then nearly blew their qualifications chances. After Turkish side Fenerbahce secured the leadership of the group, FC Twente were relying on them to do them a favour on Matchday 6. Twente needed a win away at 1986 European champions Steaua Bucharest but could only manage a 1-1 draw in very cold, frosty conditions played in front of a sparse crowd. However the surprise team FC Sheriff from Moldova had to win against the already-qualified “Fener” to grab the second spot but the Turkish team did McClaren’s a favour beating the Moldovans 1-0.

GROUP I (SL BENFICA, EVERTON FC, BATE BORISOV, AEK ATHENS)

No surprises in group I were Benfica and Everton went through to the Round of 32 with one match to spare. Benfica, in particular, showed their class in their two matches with nearest challengers Everton scoring seven goals without reply in their two games (5-0 at home and 2-0 away). The Merseysiders, however, did progress thanks to three wins out of four against their eastern European opponents, the only defeat coming on Matchday 6 at home to Belarussian champions BATE Borisov but Everton were already through to the next round and played a very young team on the night. Benfica finished top with 15 points (only a shock defeat away at a very poor AEK Athens denied them a 100% record), Everton scored nine points, BATE avoided the wooden spoon scoring seven points compared to AEK’s four points.