Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

World: Falcao wonder goal is internet hit

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 22, 2012

Radamel Falcao has already had a great first season at UEFA Europa League winners Atlético de Madrid. Having scored 36 goals in 50 games the Colombian has already attracted the interest of many of Europe’s top clubs hoping to lure him away from los Rojiblancos. In his club’s friendly away at Colombian side America de Cali last week Falcao scored this wonder goal which will no doubt add another couple of million onto his value. Enjoy!

Europe: Bilbao helpless as Atlético claim second title

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 10, 2012

UEFA Europa League logoOnly a few years ago could one look at the history books and see that a club as grand in tradition as Atlético de Madrid had only won one European title in their illustrious history. Now, following their second successful UEFA Europa League campaign in three years, the history books are beginning to show the Spanish club in a much more favourable light.

Los Rojiblancos had only claimed a solitary European Cup Winners’ Cup title before 2010 and that triumph had taken place so long ago that there probably aren’t too many people left who remember it too vividly (for the record Atlético beat AC Fiorentina in the 1961-62 competition). In the last three seasons, however, the club’s pedigree has improved with some much-needed silverware making its way to the club. The 2010 UEFA Europa League triumph, in which Atlético scrapped to a 2-1 extra-time win over English club Fulham FC, was bettered last night by a convincing 3-0 defeat of compatriots Athletic Bilbao in the Romanian capital of Bucharest.

Bilbao were featuring in only their second continental final, their first since losing to Italian giants Juventus FC in the 1976-77 UEFA Cup, and had impressed many onlookers on their way to this year’s showpiece with some wonderful attacking football, most notably against Manchester United in the Round of 16 in which the English champions succumbed to a 5-3 aggregate defeat. Players such as Fernando Llorente, Javi Martínez and Iker Muniain, to name but three, had impressed throughout the tournament and one would imagine that their current transfer values are significantly higher now than they would’ve been at the start of the season.

Sadly for the Basques their inexperience on such a big stage proved to be their undoing as Atlético de Madrid, through the wonderful striking prowess of Colombian star Radamel Falcao, began strongly and were two goals to the good after just 34 minutes. Substitute Diego sealed the deal with just five minutes remaining in the second half following a game in which Madrid’s ruthlessness was such that it hardly mattered that Adrián López, who had been the club’s top scorer in the tournament before the final kicked off, failed to add to his tally of eleven goals for the competition. Falcao’s brace took his tally to twelve for this season and an impressive thirty goals in 31 European appearances in the last two years, during which the Colombian had also won the UEFA Europa League trophy with his former club FC Porto in last year’s final.

Atlético de Madrid’s reward for winning the UEFA Europa League is a place in the final of the 2012 UEFA Super Cup against either FC Bayern München or Chelsea FC depending on who wins this year’s UEFA Champions League final a week on Saturday. Athletic Bilbao, on the other hand, do have the consolation of knowing that another cup final awaits for them in two weeks’ time when they face FC Barcelona for the second time in three years in Spain’s premier knockout competition, the Copa del Rey.

Europe: Real and Benfica seal top spot amid derby triumphs (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on November 27, 2011
Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice from the penalty spot against Atletico

Real Madrid (Played 13, Points 34) took the initiative in the Spanish league last night as a 4-1 derby success at home to local rivals Atlético de Madrid was sweetened by a defeat to champions FC Barcelona whose 1-0 defeat to Getafe saw them go six points behind los Blancos at the top of the table. Next door in Portugal, SL Benfica (Played 11, Points 27) have provided themselves with a platform to challenge for the title this season by defeating local rivals Sporting by a narrow 1-0 scoreline.

In the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu last night local honours were once again afforded to Real Madrid who haven’t lost a league match against Atlético since 1999. The visitors did shock the home support by taking the lead through Adrián after quarter of an hour but that would be as good as it got for Los Rojiblancos who would see their goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois shown the red card for bringing down Karim Benzema in the box allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to equalize from the penalty spot in the 24th minute. The game ended 1-1 at the break but, not surprisingly, Real took advantage of the extra man to stamp their authority on the game in the second half. Goals from Ángel di María, Gonzalo Higuaín and another penalty for Ronaldo, which brought a red card heading in Diego Godín’s direction, capped off a good night for the home side whose 4-1 victory cemented top spot for at least a couple of hours until the result in the neighbouring suburbs of Getafe was known. A good night soon became a great one with the news later on that FC Barcelona had gone down to a 1-0 defeat to FC Getafe and the six point advantage had been preserved. Juan Valera’s goal midway through the second half proved the killer blow for Barcelona who now must look over their shoulder at the oncoming Valencia CF whose 2-1 defeat away to Rayo Vallecano brought los Che to within one point of the champions.

In neighbouring Portugal the Lisbon derby was played out with all the usual tension one would expect from a Benfica v Sporting game. The match was settled by Javi García with a goal just three minutes before half-time but it was far from plain sailing for the Eagles who saw Oscar Cardozo sent off for a second bookable offence in the 63rd minute. The win was Benfica’s sixth on the trot against their local rivals in all competitions and allowed them the opportunity to enjoy sole possession of top spot in the Super Liga for at least 24 hours until defending champions FC Porto play at home to Sporting Braga this evening. Benfica have 27 points from eleven games but FC Porto will draw level should they claim all three points tonight.

UEFA: Super victory gives Atlético the Cup (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 28, 2010
Atlético de Madrid

Atlético de Madrid are the 2010 UEFA Super Cup champions

UEFA Europa League winners Atlético de Madrid claimed their first UEFA Super Cup title last night defeating UEFA Champions League holders FC Internazionale 2-0 in the Stade Louis II, Monaco. Since the game became an annual one-off fixture in 1998 the winners of Europe’s secondary club competition (Cup Winners Cup until 1999; UEFA Cup & Europa League thereafter) have been victorious in this tournament eight times in thirteen matches with Atlético’s triumph meaning that they became the fifth Spanish club to get their hands on the trophy in the last decade following Real Madrid (2002), Valencia CF (2004), Sevilla FC (2006) and FC Barcelona (2009). The defeat for Inter meant that their quest to emulate FC Barcelona’s “sextuple” of 2009 is over although they still have the chance to become Club World Cup champions in Abu Dhabi in December.

Rafael Benítez had begun life as Internazionale coach just seven days earlier by lifting the Italian Super Cup and had ambitions to win the European equivalent for the second time after he was successful in this competition with Liverpool FC in 2005. However Atleti coach Quique Sánchez Flores had other ambitions and wanted to build on his team’s Europa League triumph by winning another piece of silverware to his club’s fanatical supporters who were in much the better voice during the UEFA Super Cup match even before the goals went in. The first half was played at a good pace without many real chances being created although Sergio “Kun” Agüero should’ve had a penalty kick after just six minutes after being brought down in the box by Walter Samuel.

In the second half Inter began to have more possession but didn’t show the necessary desire to do anything with the ball whilst Atlético’s hunger for the win was more obvious and it was they who carved out the chances needed to win the game. In the 62nd minute the deadlock ws broken after José Antonio Reyes’ hard, low shot beat Júlio César to give los Rojiblancos a deserved lead. Atleti doubled the advantage with just seven minutes of the game remaining after the wonderful Simão broke down the left and crossed the ball to gift Agüero a tap-in from a couple of yards out with Inter’s defence remaining static behind him. There was still time for some late drama after Goran Pandev had been brought down in the box in the 88th minute but Inter’s luck had eluded them after David de Gea brilliantly saved Diego Milito’s penalty kick to ensure that the Super Cup would be winging its way to the trophy room at the Estadio Vicente Calderón.

Both teams now get back to business domestically on Monday night with Atlético de Madrid at home to Sporting de Gijón whilst defending Serie A champions Inter face a potentially tough away trip to Bologna, a match which Benítez must win if he is to silence any early-season doubters.

WATCH UEFA SUPER CUP HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

SEE THE TROPHY PRESENTATION HERE:


UEFA Europa League: Semi-Final Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on April 21, 2010
Roy Hodgson

Fulham FC coach Roy Hodgson has had plenty to smile about in the UEFA Europa League this season.

The semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League are approaching this Thursday with two very intriging ties. Liverpool FC, thrice winners of the old UEFA Cup, have made the journey to the Spanish capital and are ready to face battle against Club Atlético de Madrid. Meanwhile surprise outfit Fulham FC, who have had some glory European nights this season, will hope to add Hamburger SV to the list of high-profile scalps and, thus, deny the German side a place in the final to be played at their home stadium on Wednesday, May 12th. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” previews the last four:

HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v FULHAM FC (England)

Will the fairy tale ever come to an end for Fulham FC? All fans of the Cottagers will be hoping that they’ll be returning to the northern German port of Hamburg for the inaugural UEFA Europa League final next month. Roy Hodgson’s men will be hoping that their defeat of another German club, VfL Wolfsburg, in the quarter-finals will prove to be a good omen. Hamburger SV, on the other hand, are determined to salvage something from what is fast becoming yet another disappointing season. Their fans have high expectations that the club can go one better than last season, when they were knocked out of the UEFA Cup semi-finals to northern rivals Werder Bremen, and are desperate to lift the trophy on home soil.

Having already disposed of last season’s UEFA Cup winners Shakhtar Donetsk, Italian giants Juventus FC and German champions VfL Wolfsburg in the knock-out rounds of the competition Fulham FC face another mammoth task in the form of HSV. Domestically Fulham FC are unbeaten in their last three games with a 2-1 win over Wigan Athletic and two goalless draws against fellow Europa League semi-finalists Liverpool FC and relegation threatened Wolverhampton Wanderers. On the European stage Fulham continue to surprise having overcome the challenge of VfL Wolfsburg in the last round. The first leg at Craven Cottage saw the London side score two goals in the space of three minutes around the hour mark thanks to Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff before the Germans pulled one back with just one minute of regular time to go thanks to a powerful header from Alexander Madlung. For Fulham the disappointment of conceding late in the first match, however, was counterbalanced by the euphoria of scoring early in the second. Bobby Zamora added to his tally of goals after just sixty seconds to seal another famous win for Fulham.

Hamburger SV have stuttered under coach Bruno Labbadia as the season has progressed and there are reports that many of the players in the team have lost faith in him. Despite this the club have reserved their best performances for the UEFA Europa League, no doubt hoping to satisfy the levels of expectation before their home public to reach the final in May. Domestically it has been mixed form in recent weeks for HSV who drew 0-0 at home to struggling Hannover 96 before beating VfL Bochum 2-1 and losing their most recent league game at home to 1.FSV Mainz 05 by a goal to nil. However the Hanseaten secured a priceless couple of wins in the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals against Belgians Standard de Liège. Having gone behind at home in the first leg HSV came back with two quickfire goals before half-time thanks to Mladen Petrić and Ruud van Nistelrooy to take a 2-1 lead into the second leg. Croatian intenational Petrić scored twice in the first half to increase HSV’s lead before his replacement as substitute Paulo Guerrero sealed the deal to give the Germans a 5-2 aggregate victory to take them one step closer to a first European final since they beat Juventus FC in the former European Champions Cup in 1983.

Diego Forlan

Diego Forlán scores against Valencia CF in the quarter-finals to take Atlético de Madrid through on away goals

CLUB ATLÉTICO de MADRID (Spain) v LIVERPOOL FC (England)

This game should’ve heralded the return of former Atleti hero Fernando Torres to his old club but, unfortunately for Liverpool, he has been told that his season is over due to the extent of a knee injury which he picked up in the last round against SL Benfica. Nonetheless this game will be interesting as it will test the energy of the Liverpool squad who have had to travel to the Spanish capital using various methods of transport due to the aviation crisis that has affected Europe in the last week since a certain Icelandic volcano erupted.

Los Colchoneros still have hopes of reaching a second cup final this season having already secured their place in the Copa del Rey against Sevilla FC to be played at the home of arch-rivals Real Madrid CF on May 25th. Unfortunately for Atlético they have taken their eye off the ball in La Liga recently having lost their last three matches against RCD Espanyol, Deportivo Xerez and Villarreal CF as they attempt to juggle the demands of three different competitions. In the quarter-finals Atleti secured a 2-2 draw away at Spanish rivals Valencia CF thanks to goals from Diego Forlán and Antonio López and rode their luck in the second leg where they held out for a 0-0 draw to go through on away goals.

Liverpool FC’s troubles have been highlighted by many this season but in the UEFA Europa League they seem to have found a competition in which they’ve impressed many. The club still harbour slight hopes of qualifying for next season’s UEFA Champions League but this looks unlikely as the Reds are still five points behind fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur having played a game more. Their last three Premier League games have included two draws against Fulham FC and Birmingham FC but they did easily see off the challenge of struggling West Ham United on Monday with an easy 3-0 win. In the Europa League quarter-finals two penalties from Portuguese league leaders SL Benfica coupled with a red card for Ryan Babel saw Liverpool go into the second leg trailing 2-1, an early Daniel Agger goal keeping the Reds close. In the second leg Liverpool were cruising with a 3-0 lead on the hour mark thanks to goals from Dirk Kuijt, Lucas and Fernando Torres before Oscar Cardozo made life slightly uncomfortable for the home side when pulling a goal back on 70 minutes. But Liverpool’s passage to the final four was sealed when Fernando Torres scored his second goal of the night to give the Reds a 5-3 aggregate win.

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.

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.