Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UEFA: Can Atlético de Madrid carry on from here? (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 13, 2010
Diego Forlan

Diego Forlán proved to be the hero for Atlético Madrid in the first ever UEFA Europa League final

Finally Club Atlético de Madrid savour some silverware. The success starved club from the Spanish capital finally won their second European trophy after defeating a battling Fulham FC side 2-1 after extra-time to add the UEFA Europa League to the European Cup Winners’ Cup that they won in 1961-62. But this may not be the only silver which graces Atlético’s trophy cabinet this season as los Rojiblancos also have the opportunity to win the Copa del Rey (Spanish King’s Cup), the final of which they play in Barcelona on May 19th against Sevilla CF. In a season which could also see more illustrious neighbours Real Madrid complete the season empty-handed this has the potential to be quite some year for all followers of Madrid’s ‘other’ club (a term I use very loosely).

In 1995-96 Atlético completed, for the first time in their history, the domestic double of La Liga and Copa del Rey and good times seemed destined to grace the club for some time. Under the astute leadership of coach Radomir Antić Atlético, graced with names such as Caminero, Kiko and Simeone, finished four points clear of nearest challengers Valencia CF in the league whilst consolidating the success with a cup final victory over FC Barcelona with an extra-time goal from Milinko Pantić proving to be the cherry on the cake of the perfect season at the Vicente Calderón. Sadly the club didn’t capitalize on this despite signing players of the quality of Juninho, Christian Vieri and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and, within four years, the club were playing their football in the second division having been relegated in the 1999-2000 season. Two years later the club were back where they belong but the club, always beset by drama off-field as well as on-field, have had to be patient whilst watching clubs like Valencia CF and Sevilla CF enjoy occasional bouts of success along with the big boys of Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona. It has taken them fourteen years to sample that winning feeling again and one hopes that Atleti will learn the lessons which they failed to do the last time they won a trophy.

If the club can hold on to players such as Diego Forlán, Sergio “Kun” Agüero and Simão then the club will start from a good position. Unfortunately Atlético haven’t qualified for next season’s UEFA Champions League, a competition they’ve graced for the last two seasons, so they may struggle to bring in significant additional quality in the short-term. But as the team has shown in Europe and at home this season there is still sufficient quality already for the club to build on under coach Quique Sánchez Flores who has performed fantastically well given the terrible position the club was in when he arrived. Flores took over the club when they were lying one place above the relegation zone after eight games of the season and he has steadily taken the club up to a more respectable ninth position in the table despite Atleti’s usual bouts with inconsistency in the league. Flores has given the team a more attacking mentality with the star striking duo of Forlán and Agüero looking deadly scoring a combined thirty league goals between them whilst players such as Simão and Reyes, who looks a totally different player from last season, have provided quality from the flanks. The defence is a concern however with Atleti shipping in 58 goals in 37 matches so far this season, the worst record out of those teams in the top half of the table and the joint fifth worst record in the whole league with only Deportivo Xerez, Racing Santander, Tenerife CD and Real Zaragoza having worse records whilst Valladolid have conceded the same number of goals.

The UEFA Europa League won’t go down as a classic but there was still enough moments of drama to merit any showpiece occasion. Diego Forlán gave Atleti the lead in the 32nd minute turning home from an Agüero assist but Fulham FC, whose European adventure under coach Roy Hodgson had already had many a memorable comeback, equalized just five minutes later after a cross from Zoltán Gera took a minor deflection before reaching the foot of Simon Davies who volleyed home at the far post to make it one each. The game saw no further goal action in the ninety minutes which meant extra-time at the end of an already pulsating final. With just four minutes to go in the extra-time period Forlán just managed to poke home from short range when Agüero’s well struck low cross reached the Uruguayan predator on the edge of the six yard box to nudge the ball in the net just before Fulham defender Brede Hangelund could do anything to stop him. It was cruel for the Craven Cottage club to lose so late in the game but one can’t deny the fact that Atlético, ultimately, had the better quality players to decide the match. For fans of the Rojiblancos just winning the UEFA Europa League means a great season but if they can win the Copa del Rey next Wednesday evening then that would be a double triumph which, in the long term, could prove even sweeter than the one they won in 1995-96.

Watch the match goals and trophy ceremony here:

La Liga – Have Atlético Madrid finally turned the corner?

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 18, 2010

Antonio Lopez scored the winner for Atleti in their 2-1 victory against Sevilla on Matchday 16

Finally there are positive things to say about Club Atlético de Madrid, a club whose consistency comes from their inconsistency both on and off the pitch. Whether it be sacking coaches only weeks after assuring them of their future in the job or beating big teams following defeats from smaller teams, Atlético have always made life difficult for themselves and this season has been no exception. However Quique Sánchez Flores, the latest man at the helm at the Estadio Vicente Calderón following Abel Resino’s dismissal in late October, has gone about his job in understated fashion and has seen his charges finally start to deliver results since the beginning of the new year, winning four out of  five league and cup games.

To say that Atlético were a laughing stock at the beginning of the season is an understatement. Los Rojiblancos (Red and Whites) failed to win any of their first five matches, which included a 5-2 defeat at the Camp Nou against champions FC Barcelona (some optimists claimed that this was progress after Barça hammered them 6-1 the season before). After their first win of the season against Zaragoza in early October the club embarked on a winless streak for another five games, taking just one point from fifteen. That point came against a Mallorca team reduced to nine men who scored the equaliser in the last minute of the game! Back-to-back wins against RCD Espanyol (4-0) and bottom club Xerez (2-0) was temporary respite before ending 2009 on a low note taking one point from the last two games against Villarreal (1-2) and Tenerife (1-1). The club’s poor league form was magnified upon the European stage, the lowest night of the UEFA Champions League campaign coming at Stamford Bridge where a 4-0 defeat against Chelsea FC saw the end of Resino’s reign. Atlético scraped through to the UEFA Europa League on goal difference by virtue of a better head-to-head record against Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia but the very least that can be said for Atleti at this time was that they secured further European participation after the winter break.

On paper it seemed as though the new year would continue in the same vein as their first game of 2010 pitted them against Champions League hopefuls Sevilla. However it was Atleti who finally got some last minute fortune, Antonio Lopez (pictured) scoring at the death to secure a much needed 2-1 win. However the first leg match in the Copa del Rey 1/16 round saw the expected fall for Atleti as they went down 3-0 to second division side Recreativo de Huelva. Despite this setback Atlético resumed league action and went about their business away to Valladolid in splendid fashion winning 4-0 including a “golazo” from much maligned winger José Antonio Reyes, whose first Spanish league goal in two years was an absolute beauty from long range. Following that was the second leg of their Copa del Rey encounter with Recreativo. Atlético Madrid had cancelled out their three goal deficit from the first leg by half-time. They took a 4-0 lead on the night thanks to star man Sergio “Kun” Agüero but then proceeded to give away their advantage when conceding an away goal with just twenty minutes to go. However Atleti found some inner strength which had been lacking throughout the season after Simão scored his second of the night with a well executed free-kick. An exciting match concluded with Atleti clawing through 5-4 on aggregate.

And so to yesterday’s game where Atleti’s opponents Sporting Gijón were starting the match in ninth position, four points ahead of their hosts in the table so a close game was expected. Diego Forlán gave Atleti the lead on 12 minutes after being put through by Kun Agüero but the visitors restored parity on 34 minutes. Goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo brought down Diego Castro who promptly got up to score from twelve yards out (or eleven metres if you prefer). In the second half Atleti played with purpose and were rewarded with two further strikes from Paulo Assunção (52 minutes) and Ibrahima Baldé (65′), both of whom scoring their first goals for the club. Despite a late scare from Luis Morán, who pulled one back for Sporting in the last minute, the Rojiblancos held out for their third successive league victory.

Having occupied the relegation zone for parts of the season Atlético Madrid have now climbed up to 11th in the championship table and now have ambitions of qualifying for Europe next season lying seven points behind sixth-placed Sevilla, who occupy the second UEFA Europa League spot via the league. With a Copa del Rey quarter-final against Celta de Vigo and a Europa League 1/32 round tie against Turkish giants Galatasaray to look forward to, it seems that Atlético’s season is really just beginning. But, such is life, one really has to take things one game at a time especially at a club as unpredictable as Atleti. All Rojiblancos will be hoping that Atlético have finally turned the corner….

FC Barcelona voted Team of the Decade

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 6, 2010
FC Barcelona

FC Barcelona won the Treble in 2008-09 following it with three more trophies late last year

It was perhaps no surprise that in Stoppage Time’s poll to find out who our readers thought was the best team in the last ten years that the accolade should go to the current Spanish, European and world champions FC Barcelona.They won the poll after securing 56% of the vote ahead of Real Madrid (23%) and Boca Juniors (11%).

Despite the fact that the first half of the decade was success-free for the Catalans it was the club’s more recent exploits that have earned them such acclaim. When Frank Rijkaard took over as coach of the club in 2003-04 the club were looking on enviously at arch-rivals Real Madrid who had already won two Spanish championships, two UEFA Champions Leagues and the Intercontinental Cup (now FIFA Club World Cup) since the noughties decade began. However the club’s fortunes began to change in 2004-05 when the “Blaugrana” won their first Spanish championship in six years finishing four points ahead of “El Real”. The following season, 2005-06, proved to be even more spectacular for the club as they successfully defended their Spanish crown, again beating Real Madrid to the title, this time by a whopping twelve points. In the same season, with a team including Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto’o and Deco, they went on to become European champions for the second time in their history following a 2-1 win over English club Arsenal FC in Paris.

Frank Rijkaard left the club after FC Barcelona finished the 2007-08 empty-handed after it initially seemed to promise much in terms of silverware. However a third-place finish in La Liga was deemed insufficient for the club president Joan Laporta who replaced Rijkaard with inexperienced coach Pep Guardiola, a club legend who had won six championships and the Champions League with Barça as a player. In the new coach’s first full season it was, even by Barcelona’s high standards, truly remarkable. The 2008-09 league championship was secured finishing nine points ahead of perennial challengers Real Madrid. The domestic double was secured after Barcelona won their first Copa del Rey (King’s Cup) in eleven years beating Athletic Bilbao 4-1 in the Estadio Mestalla in Valencia. Then, on a glory night in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico, the Catalans achieved the unthinkable by beating defending European champions Manchester United 2-0, thanks to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Lionel Messi, to secure the title of “Tri Campions” (Treble Champions). Not even Real Madrid, for all their previous success, had managed to achieve such a feat. FC Barcelona joined the likes of Manchester United, Glasgow Celtic, PSV Eindhoven and Ajax Amsterdam as the only European clubs who had won their domestic Double and the European Cup/Champions League in the same season.

But much more was to come from Guardiola’s new Barça “Dream Team”. FC Barcelona won the Spanish Super Cup beating Athletic Bilbao 5-1 on aggregate in the traditional two-legged curtain raiser to the new season. As the 2009-10 season was getting into full swing Barça had to travel to Monte Carlo to play in the European Super Cup against 2008-09 UEFA Cup winners Shakhtar Donetsk from Ukraine. It was a tough match which went the distance but Pedro’s winner in extra-time gave the ‘Blaugrana’ a hard-earned 1-0 victory and the “Sextuple” was on the cards. Finally, in December 2009, FC Barcelona went to the United Arab Emirates to try and achieve the only honour to have eluded the club in their distinguished history: the FIFA Club World Cup. Having lost in the 2006 competition to Brazilian side Internacional, the Catalans were in no mood to give up another chance to be crowned best in the world. In the final against Argentinian side Estudiantes de La Plata the match started slowly before Mauro Boselli gave Barça’s opponents a shock lead on the half-hour mark. For much of the game the Argentines defended their goal as if their lives depended on it but they were ultimately broken down by Pedro who scored two minutes from the end of normal time. In extra-time it was to be cruel for the Argentines that it was to be one of their compatriots, Lionel Messi, who scored the winner for Barcelona. The “Sextuple” was won, Pep Guardiola and his team had created history and for new Barça star Pedro it was to be a unique individual achievement in that he scored in every major competition that Barcelona had won in the Sextuple year.

The people have spoken and it was a unanimous decision. “Stoppage Time” hails FC Barcelona as the 2000-09 Team of the Decade.