Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Eastern Europe: last two champions face-off in Romania

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 19, 2010
Dan Petrescu

Dan Petrescu took Unirea Urziceni to their maiden Romanian championship last season but has now departed for Russian club FC Kuban Krasnodar.

The winter break comes to an end in Romania this weekend. Liga 1 resumes with a very competitive championship table showing four points separating the top six teams and a top of the table clash between the top two teams Unirea Urziceni and CFR Cluj-Napoca, who are the two most recent championship winning sides with the former defending the title they won last season and the latter winning their maiden title in 2007-08. Should either or both of these teams drop points then record champions Steaua Bucharest are waiting to pounce and anyone from FC Timişoara, Rapid Bucharest or FC Vaslui can improve their prospects of a title challenge with victories against teams in the lower half of the table.

The big news in Romanian football over the winter break was the surprise resignation of Dan Petrescu from champions Unirea Urziceni in order to take over at Russian First League (second-tier) team FC Kuban Krasnodar. After guiding the club from south-east Romania to their maiden title in the 2008-09 season he led FC Unirea to third place in their UEFA Champions League group this season finishing behind Sevilla CF and VfB Stuttgart but ahead of Glasgow Rangers and ensured that they had European football after Christmas in the UEFA Europa League. He has been replaced by Israeli coach Ronny Levy who will hope to carry on where Petrescu left off with the club leading the way domestically.

However FC Unirea’s first match after the winter pause takes place on Monday against CFR Cluj-Napoca, the team who beat them in the 2008 Romanian Cup final. In the opening match of the 2009-10 season CFR Cluj-Napoca, famous for being resident in the Transylvania region, beat the defending league champions 2-0, this victory coming just a week after CFR Cluj had beaten FC Unirea in the Romanian Super Cup on penalties. Therefore FC Unirea will have a score to settle and will want to give their new coach a maiden victory especially as they narrowly lost to Liverpool FC 1-0 in the UEFA Europa League last night.

In the other important games in Liga 1 third-place Steaua Bucharest plays at home to bottom ranked team Ceahlaul Piatra Niamt in a game which the Militarii (Army Men) are easily expected to win in front of a partisan crowd. Should the top two draw in their encounter on Monday then Steaua could find themselves all alone at the top of the table. However should Steaua do the unthinkable and drop points themselves then there will be three other teams who harbour hopes of starting a run which could land them the championship. Fourth-place FC Timişoara, who were league runners-up last season, plays against second-bottom (17th place) Gloria Bastrita, fifth-place Rapid Bucharest plays against 13th place Politechnica Iasi and sixth-place FC Vaslui plays Gaz Metan Medias, who lie in tenth place. Even FC Brasov and Dinamo Bucharest, who occupy the seventh and eighth spots in the table, may have hope of at least finishing second in the league as they are both just seven points from the top three. A UEFA Champions League qualifying stage spot goes the team who finishes second in Romania’s Liga 1 with the champions gaining automatic qualification so there is everything to play for in one of the tightest championships for many a year.

ROMANIA’S TOP EIGHT

1. Unirea Urziceni Played 17/ Points 34/ Goal Difference +13

2. CFR Cluj-Napoca 17/34/+12

3. Steaua Bucharest 17/34/+11

4. FC Timişoara 17/31/+17

5. Rapid Bucharest 17/31/+15

6. FC Vaslui 17/30/+6

7. FC Brasov 17/27/+8

8. Dinamo Bucharest 17/27/+7

Champions League – Group Stage Round-Up: Part Two

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 10, 2009
Fiorentina v Liverpool

Gamberini (left) competes with Liverpool's Fernando Torres in Fiorentina's 2-0 win on Matchday 2

In the second half of our look at the Champions League group stage “Stoppage Time” focuses on groups E-H:

GROUP E (OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS, FIORENTINA, LIVERPOOL FC, DEBRECENI)

The biggest disappointment in this year’s competition, without any doubt, was five-time European champions Liverpool. After the opening group match against Hungarian champions Debreceni the Reds were caught short against group rivals Lyon and Fiorentina. Too many mistakes at crucial times proved Liverpool’s undoing and this was emphasized in the last minute of Matchday 6 where Alberto Gilardino was able to capitalize on a defensive error to give Fiorentina the three points needed to top the group. Lyon were impressive throughout especially in their games against Debreceni, against whom they scored eight goals without reply in two matches. Fiorentina finished top on fifteen points, two more than Lyon, whilst Liverpool have to be content with a Europa League place finishing on a dismal seven points in a group they were widely expected to qualify from. Debreceni’s maiden Champions League finished, as expected, in last place but no doubt their team would’ve enjoyed the experience.

GROUP F (FC BARCELONA, INTERNAZIONALE, RUBIN KAZAN, DYNAMO KYIV)

This was the most open group in the Champions League. All four teams harboured hopes of qualification to the Round of 16 prior to Matchday 6. In the end the big boys, FC Barcelona and Internazionale, managed to qualify but they were made to work hard for their place. Jose Mourinho’s Inter had the upper hand in their final game at home against Russian champions Rubin Kazan thanks to goals from Samuel Eto’o and Mario Balotelli whilst European champions FC Barcelona had to come from behind to beat Dynamo Kyiv in Ukraine 2-1. Goals from Xavi and Lionel Messi were sufficient for the Catalans to finish top of the group, two points clear of Inter. Rubin Kazan’s first season in the Champions League provided much drama, the 2-1 win against Barcelona in the Camp Nou was one of the highlights of the tournament so far. However they just didn’t have enough killer instinct to put the group to bed but at least they can be content with a Europa League place. For Andriy Shevchenko and his Dynamo side it’s another disappointing exit from a European campaign but they should be back next year barring a dismal second half to the domestic season in Ukraine.

GROUP G (SEVILLA CF, VfB STUTTGART, UNIREA URZICENI, GLASGOW RANGERS)

Sevilla were the clear winners of the group remaining undefeated through the campaign. Their 4-1 win over Rangers at Ibrox Park on Matchday 2 was their most convincing of the tournament thus far. The chase for second became a Matchday 6 “cup final” between VfB Stuttgart (who fired coach Markus Babbel and replaced him with Christian Gross in the weekend prior to the game) and Unirea Urziceni (coached by Chelsea legend Dan Petrescu). The German side started like a train and were 3-0 up inside eleven minutes. Despite Unirea pulling a goal back early in the second half the Germans managed to preserve their lead and the three points allowed them to overtake the Romanians into second place. Unirea go into the Europa League whilst Glasgow Rangers must swallow their pride and be hopeful that they can be back next season.

GROUP H (ARSENAL, OLYMPIAKOS, STANDARD LIEGE, AZ ALKMAAR)

Arsenal were comfortably the best team in the group and had already qualified for the Round of 16 when they went to Greece to play Olympiakos on Matchday 6. They played a young team with an average age of 21 but Arsene Wenger’s men couldn’t maintain their unbeaten record in Athens going down 1-0. Zico’s Olympiakos finished second thanks to some good results earlier in the tournament against Standard Liege and AZ Alkmaar. The third and fourth placed teams came up with some drama of their own on Matchday 6 in Belgium. Dutch champions AZ took the lead in the first half through Jeremain Lens and they held on to their advantage until five minutes into stoppage time. A free-kick was whipped in at pace and among the crowd of players in the penalty box was Standard’s goalkeeper Sinan Bolat who headed home to gain the ‘Liegeois’ a precious point and a place in the Europa League.