Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

CONMEBOL: Uruguay provide a victory for football

Posted in International Football by peterbein on July 26, 2011

Uruguay Copa AmericaThere will be many who will have gloried in the success of Uruguay in Sunday’s Copa America final. The record champions of football’s oldest international tournament won the competition for the third time on Argentinian soil and 15th time in total in a 3-0 win over surprise finalists Paraguay, Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan (2) doing the damage with the goals.

After all the Uruguayans had shown attacking intent and a positive attitude from the very beginning even if it took them a little while to get into their stride. Paraguay, on the other hand, were prepared to play pragmatically even if it meant the football became devoid of entertainment and ambition. Ironically the only game in which Paraguay showed any ruthlessness in front of goal was also the match in which their defensive line was breached the most, albeit in the last couple of minutes, in the 3-3 draw against Venezuela in the group stage.

What made Uruguay stand out in this tournament was having a couple of stars such as the aforementioned Suarez and Forlan there to compliment the rest of the team. The two teams who were touted as tournament favourites before a ball was kicked, namely Brazil and Argentina, had many more stars in their squads but they couldn’t really gel as teams. After all both nations only managed to scrape a win in their third group stage game in order to seal qualification to the knockout rounds.

Uruguay admittedly got past Argentina in the quarter-finals thanks to the lottery of penalties but they took the game to their eternal rivals on their home turf and did so from early on, Diego Perez’s fifth minute goal proof of their early intent to take the game to their opponents.  However it wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that either team could’ve won it in the end such was the attacking nature of the match. Uruguay easily disposed of Peru in the semi-finals once Luis Suarez had grabbed both goals early in the second half. It would’ve been easy to presuppose that Uruguay would change their style ahead of the final in the face of a Paraguay team that had become used to closing teams down and denying them space. This, however, went against the grain of what Uruguay stood for and they proved it in fine style in the Estadio Monumental on Sunday.

Nearly 48 hours after the tournament came to a close and Uruguayan football has a lot to feel happy about right now. Not only did they win the Copa but it has been on the up in the last twelve months having reached the FIFA World Cup semi-finals, their Under-17 team finished runners-up in the FIFA World Under-17 Championship to hosts Mexico earlier this month and their record champion team Peñarol made it to the Copa Libertadores final for the first time since 1988 earlier this year only to lose out to old rivals Santos FC. Hopefully for a nation which was, until recently, a sleeping giant of international football this win will not prove to be a false dawn and that they can build on this success in the future.

FIFA World Cup Review – South America

Posted in International Football, South America Football by peterbein on July 15, 2010
Diego Forlán

Diego Forlán won the Golden Ball award after his performances in the World Cup

Stoppage Time – International Football Blog continues its continental journey to review the performances of those teams involved in the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. In this blog we review the teams from South America.

During the tournament the South American countries impressed everybody with their attacking play and their winning results. All of the five countries from this particular continent managed to progress to the round of sixteen with four of those getting through to the last eight. The luck started to run out in the quarter-finals with three out of four eliminated leaving surprise package Uruguay to fly the flag in their semi-final against the Netherlands.

Uruguay began the tournament with two wins in three matches in Group A, wins over South Africa and Mexico followed their opening day bore draw with France. They did have one of the ‘easier’ draws (a term I use loosely) in the round of sixteen when they faced off against South Korea who gave Las Charrúas a real scare before the Uruguayans eventually got through with a 2-1 victory thanks to a double strike from Luis Suárez. In the Africa review we highlighted the amazing catalogue of incidents that occurred in the quarter-final against Ghana in what was arguably the match of the tournament. After Uruguay won the quarter-final penalty shoot-out by four goals to two they faced the Netherlands in the semi-finals. Diego Forlán, who would go on to win the Golden Ball award for being voted the tournament’s best player, equalized for Uruguay late in the first half after Giovanni Van Bronckhorst had given the Dutch an early lead with, perhaps, the goal of the tournament. Sadly for Uruguay Wesley Sneijder and Arjen Robben scored two quick goals to give Holland a good enough cushion to protect late in the game. That was just as well seeing as Maxi Pereira scored a consolation for Uruguay deep into stoppage time to reduce the arrears but ultimately the Dutch came through 3-2 winners. Uruguay lost by the same scoreline to Germany in the 3rd/4th Place Play-Off match but the competition was already a success for the country who finished fourth for the third time in the nation’s history.

For the other South American nations things looked very promising at the beginning with Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay finishing, along with Uruguay, top of their respective groups whilst Chile finished in second place in Group H behind eventual World Cup winners Spain. After the conclusion of the group stage it was clear that one of the continent’s teams would soon be going home when Brazil played against Chile. Juan, Luis Fabiano and Robinho secured an easy 3-0 win against Chile in what was, for the most part, a comfortable game for the five time world champions. To Chile’s credit they still attempted to attack after they conceded the third goal on the hour mark but that was as good as it got for La Roja. Argentina won all three games in Group B against Nigeria, South Korea and Greece whilst Paraguay were made to work for their progression as they eventually came top in the group involving Italy, New Zealand and Slovakia which was the tightest group of the lot.

In the round of sixteen Argentina’s win over Mexico, Paraguay’s over Japan (albeit via a penalty shoot-out), Uruguay’s over South Korea and Brazil’s over Chile had many pundits wondering whether this was going to be South America’s year with half of the quarter-finalists hailing from that continent. Sadly, for those of a Latin American persuasion, the Netherlands’ come-from-behind victory over Brazil signalled the beginning of the end for any perceived dominance. Wesley Sneijder was the inspiration for the Dutch as they got over the early setback of Brazil’s tenth minute goal to come back and win by two goals to one. Uruguay stemmed the tide with their win over Ghana but Paraguay and Argentina were to sample the taste of defeat for the first and only time in the competition going down to Spain and Germany respectively in two amazing quarter-final match-ups. The Paraguayans winning and then conceding a penalty in their contentious game against Spain in a game which saw all penalties saved and a late David Villa winner dispelling of the challenge from Paraguay who, by some way of consolation, had their best ever tournament whilst Argentina were hammered by a fantastic Germany performance. Goals from Miroslav Klose (2), Thomas Müller and Arne Friedrich ensured that Diego Maradona wouldn’t be joining the ranks of Franz Beckenbauer and Mario Zagallo as one of a unique club of people to have won the FIFA World Cup as a player and a coach.

One can say that the only conclusion for the South Americans is that their chances of winning the next tournament, to be played in 2014, will be significantly greater due to its being held in Brazil. Of course the host nation will want to secure a record-extending sixth title in front of their home fans but history shows that they can be beaten on home turf with Uruguay securing the title over Brazil in the 1950 tournament. Nonetheless, in the first tournament to be played in South America since Argentina won on home soil in 1978, the Brazilians have pledged to learn the lessons of the South Africans and will hope to put on as colourful a tournament as we have just experienced in the last month.

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….

FIFA World Cup draw – The Verdict

Posted in International Football by peterbein on December 5, 2009
Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron hosted the World Cup draw in South Africa

The draw for the 2010 FIFA World Cup took place in Cape Town, South Africa, yesterday. Presented by Charlize Theron (pictured) and including a host of figures from the football world including FIFA president Sepp Blatter and perhaps  the most recognisable sporting icon in the world David Beckham, the draw did throw up some intriguing individual ties and some interesting groups. “Stoppage Time” assesses the groups and the matches that should shape the fortunes at the beginning of the tournament:

GROUP A: SOUTH AFRICA, MEXICO, URUGUAY, FRANCE

The host nation should find it very tough in a group which looks like it will be very close. The French will be favourites to go through but their clash against Mexico could decide who wins the group. However the South Africans may harbour hopes of surprising Mexico in the opening game of the tournament. Uruguay, with their deadly strike force of Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, will certainly fancy their chances of finishing in the top two. Their final group game against Mexico could be amongst the most intense of the championship.

GROUP B: ARGENTINA, NIGERIA, SOUTH KOREA, GREECE

Almost an exact copy of Group D in the 1994 FIFA World Cup (Argentina, Nigeria and Greece played in a group that contained Bulgaria instead of South Korea). Despite qualifying the tough way Argentina should top this group quite comfortably, the opening match against Nigeria will probably be their toughest assignment. However the Greeks may wish to spring a surprise in much the same way that they did in EURO 2004 when they became European Champions. South Korea can only expect to finish bottom.

GROUP C: ENGLAND, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, ALGERIA, SLOVENIA

Almost after the draw had finished the English media were in overdrive, hyping up their country’s chances of winning the 2010 World Cup. It’s true that they should expect to top this group with relative ease. The only match of real interest is England’s opening clash with the USA, a game that throws back terrible memories for the “Home of Football”. If the Americans can repeat their 1-0 victory in the 1950 World Cup (so unbelieveable a result in those days that the English media initially reported a 10-0 victory for England!) then it would leave the group wide open. The match will have a personal edge involving the LA Galaxy footballers David Beckham and US Captain Landon Donovan, a war of words between the two earlier in the season may add a bit of extra spice to this match. Algeria and Slovenia will be fighting to avoid the wooden spoon.

GROUP D: GERMANY, AUSTRALIA, SERBIA, GHANA

Not as easy for Germany as it may appear on paper. The Australians were very unlucky to lose to the Italians in the 2006 World Cup (a dubious penalty tucked away by Francesco Totti five minutes into stoppage time) and they will hope to put up a challenge for the top spot in this group. Serbia are competing in their first finals as an independent nation and have a leader in Manchester United player Nemanda Vidic. Ghana could be a team that plays open, attacking football but their defence will concede plenty of goals. Germany are quietly optimistic that they can go far in this tournament. The matches between themselves, Australia and Serbia should determine the outcome of the group.

GROUP E: NETHERLANDS, DENMARK, CAMEROON, JAPAN

This group looks to be a fairly comfortable one for the Dutch. As I reported in my blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part Three” the Dutch had a very easy group in qualifying and they will look to take that form into this group. Cameroon will be a strong contender for second place and with players like Samuel Eto’o and Geremi can give the Danes a tough challenge when they meet in their second group match. Japan have improved as a nation in the last decade but won’t be expected to trouble the other three too much.

GROUP F: ITALY, PARAGUAY, NEW ZEALAND, SLOVAKIA

The current world champions Italy won’t have too much trouble getting through this group. The opening group game between themselves and Paraguay should be among one of the better ones in the group stages. Slovakia are a tough team on their day and won’t go down without a fight. However they may be just a little too inexperienced at this level and will find it tough to get to the Round of 16. New Zealand will be ecstatic to be in South Africa but their squad is very limited, therefore expect defensive tactics from a nation that will want to avoid embarrassment in this tournament.

GROUP G: BRAZIL, NORTH KOREA, IVORY COAST, PORTUGAL

There’s a 1966 World Cup feel to this group; it was Portugal who, literally, kicked Pele and his great Brazilian team off the park (Goodison Park to be precise) and it was Portugal who had to come back from 3-0 down to defeat the surprise package of the tournament North Korea 5-3. This time, though, matches in this group involving North Korea should be more clear-cut as they’re the outsiders of this tournament. The Ivory Coast, involved in a tough group including Argentina and Holland in the 2006 World Cup, will be expecting as tough a time in 2010 but some will feel that they can beat Portugal, whose qualification for the World Cup was only confirmed via a play-off. If the Ivorians can get three points against Portugal in the opening group match then they should reach the second round.

GROUP H: SPAIN, SWITZERLAND, HONDURAS, CHILE

The current European champions Spain are currently the favourites to win the FIFA World Cup and they will be encouraged further having seen the draw. They should easily overcome the challenges of their group rivals leaving the rest to fight it out for second place. Honduras qualified thanks to events elsewhere (see blog “FIFA World Cup draw preview – Part One) but aren’t expected to get through this group, therefore the match between Switzerland and Chile (both teams’ second group match) should prove to be amongst the more important.