Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Euro 2012: Spain confirm dominance with historic triumph

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on July 2, 2012
Spain Euro 2012 champions

Spain won its third UEFA European Championship with a 4-0 drubbing of Italy

The Spanish national football team did what so many people expected and won the 2012 UEFA European Championship. Spain defended their European title with a 4-0 hammering of Italy with goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and Juan Mata and helped to create history in the process. The title triumph was Spain’s third in a row, following wins in Euro 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the first time that any national team had achieved this feat.

Quite simply it’s been a fantastic four years for coach Vicente Del Bosque who took over from Luis Aragonés following the Euro 2008 triumph in Austria/Switzerland and who has expanded on his country’s playing style whilst maintaining his players’ hunger and desire which is no mean feat when the majority of the squad play for either FC Barcelona or Real Madrid and have already enjoyed such enormous success at club and international level. The FIFA World Cup triumph two years ago in South Africa may have confirmed that they were the best team on the planet but accusations during Euro 2012 of playing boring football were swept under the carpet as Spain took apart the Italian national team in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Right from the beginning Spain took the game to Italy, helping to dismiss any accusations of boring football, and were convincingly 2-0 up at half-time before two of their substitutes, Torres and Mata, helped kill the game off in the last ten minutes of the game and help put some gloss on the achievement which has re-confirmed Spain’s status as favourites for the next FIFA World Cup tournament in Brazil in two years’ time.

The Spanish, as one would expect, also enjoyed the success in the individual categories. Fernando Torres, one of six players to top score with three goals in Euro 2012, was named the Golden Boot winner as he had been on the pitch for the fewest number of minutes (189) compared to his rivals for the award. Andrés Iniesta won the Man of the Match award in last night’s final and then claimed the Player of the Tournament award whilst also being included in UEFA’S 23-man Team of the Tournament which looks thus:

Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), Iker Casillas (Spain), Manuel Neuer (Germany)

Defence: Gerard Piqué (Spain), Fábio Coentrão (Portugal), Philipp Lahm (Germany), Pepe (Portugal), Sergio Ramos (Spain), Jordi Alba (Spain)

Midfield: Daniele De Rossi (Italy), Steven Gerrard (England), Xavi (Spain), Andrés Iniesta (Spain), Sami Khedira (Germany), Sergio Busquets (Spain), Mesut Özil (Germany), Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Xabi Alonso (Spain)

Attack: Mario Balotelli (Italy), Cesc Fàbregas (Spain), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Zlatan Ibrahimović (Sweden), David Silva (Spain)

Vote: Who will win Euro 2012? (poll)

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 7, 2012

UEFA 2012 logoSo the big kick off is imminent. The 2012 UEFA European Football Championships are upon us just so soon after the domestic seasons in Europe’s major leagues have come to a close. It only seems like yesterday when Fernando Torres scored the winning goal in the final of the 2008 tournament to secure Spain their second Euro triumph with a 1-0 over Germany. Can Spain do it again or will one of the other fifteen nations go on to stop the defending champions in their tracks?

Spain remain the favourites to win back-to-back European Championships but Germany will be hoping to go one better than four years ago whilst the Netherlands, who lost to Spain in the 2010 FIFA World Cup final, will think they have a great chance to go all the way this time around. France have re-emerged as a credible force following a World Cup beset by infighting and rebellion in South Africa two years ago and under Laurent Blanc have found new direction and purpose to their game.

England, under new management under Roy Hodgson, have been downplaying their chances of success in this tournament. The English know only too well what it’s like to play with the heavy burden of expectation upon their shoulders so the understated approach to these finals may help them in the long run. Italy are always a threat in any tournament but they are not as strong as they have been in recent years and the 2006 FIFA World Cup victory already seems like a lifetime ago to followers of the Azzurri. Portugal still haven’t won this competition and having come so close in 2004 will think that anything is possible should they emerge out of the “Group of Death” which also contains Germany, Netherlands and Denmark.

Hosts Poland and Ukraine will be hoping to progress beyond the group stages in their home tournament  whilst the likes of Denmark, Sweden and the Czech Republic are always amongst those teams that people underestimate at their peril. Greece, surprise European champions in 2004, will hope to shock further should they reach the knockout rounds whilst the Republic of Ireland will feature in only their second ever finals and will hope to replicate the spirit of Jack Charlton’s men who caused the odd upset in 1988. Croatia have a great record in major international tournaments since they gained independence in 1992 whilst Russia, semi-finalists last time around, are hoping to hit the ground running en route to hosting their own FIFA World Cup tournament in six years’ time.

So who is your choice to win Euro 2012? Please vote in Stoppage Time‘s very own poll.

Euro 2012 Preview – Group D

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 4, 2012

Euro 2012 logoIn the final blog looking ahead to the 2012 UEFA European Championship, which begins on Friday June 8th, we preview Group D which contains co-hosts Ukraine as well as two-time winners France, England and Sweden.

ENGLAND: Best Performance = Semi-Finals 1968, 1996

Despite their status in the international game England still remains one of football’s great underachievers. It is perhaps for this reason, along with the fact that there are so many strong teams in this tournament, why the Three Lions go into Euro 2012 with dampened enthusiasm. Perhaps a downgrade in expectations could actually do the English some good as the pressure to perform in this year’s championship isn’t anywhere near as great as it has been in the last ten years or so. After all England have only ever reached the semi-finals of the European Championships on two occasions and even failed to qualify as recently as 2008. England qualified comfortably from qualifying Group G finishing unbeaten in eight games and topping the table six points ahead of Montenegro. It was against Montenegro, however, that Wayne Rooney picked up his three match ban, which was reduced to two on appeal, which will see him miss the first couple of matches in the tournament. In his absence the likes of Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll will be expected to step up whilst Theo Walcott will also be required to show that he has finally matured into a top class international.

COACH: Roy Hodgson


FRANCE: Best Performance = Winners 1984, 2000

It now seems like so long ago that the likes of Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry et al were setting the world alight with their free-flowing football and winning silverware. Twelve years since they won their second European Championship the French seem to be getting back on track following a turbulent couple of years in which internal strife and splits within the camp took centre stage rather than the action on the pitch. Under Laurent Blanc many fans of les Bleus will hope that they will show hunger and desire as well as purpose. Despite a shock 1-0 defeat the beginning of the campaign the French finished top of qualifying Group D by just a single point over Bosnia & Herzegovina. Franck Ribéry is the centre figure of the French team and with players of the quality of Karim Benzema and Samir Nasri around him they will be strong in attack and could score plenty of goals.

COACH: Laurent Blanc


SWEDEN: Best Performance = Semi-Finals 1992

The Swedes will be making their fifth appearance at a tournament finals since they made their debut in 1992. In that year Sweden, in front of their home supporters, reached the semi-finals but were unable to seize the initiative against Germany and went out 3-2. Since then the Swedes have failed to progress beyond the quarter-finals and not many expect to see them do so this time. Sweden, it must be mentioned, are a very capable side who are physically strong and resilient at the back. They qualified from Group E just three points behind the Netherlands and didn’t have to take part in the play-offs as they went straight through to the finals on the back of having the best record amongst runners up. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the undoubted major star of the team but much is also expected from 24 year old Rasmus Elm who is attracting some other Europe’s biggest clubs.

COACH: Erik Hamren


UKRAINE: Best Performance = Winners 1960 (as part of the Soviet Union)

Like their near neighbours Russia, Ukraine was a major contributor to the great Soviet Union sides of yesteryear. Since independence, however, Ukraine has failed to match the expectations of its public having only qualified for one major tournament in the last 16 years (i.e. 2006 FIFA World Cup). As joint hosts Ukraine will, therefore, enjoy its first experience in the European Championships and will fancy their chances of upsetting the big boys in their group. Veteran Andriy Shevchenko is hoping for one last swansong in front of his adoring fans but, whatever happens, it is a fitting stage for the legendary Dynamo Kyiv star to bid farewell to international football. Young stars Yaroslav Rakytyski and Andriy Yarmolenko have the ability to excite and to provide the firepower for Shevchenko and his striking partner Artem Milevskiy.

COACH: Oleg Blokhin



11/06/12 France v England

11/06/12 Ukraine v Sweden

15/06/12 Ukraine v France

15/06/12 Sweden v England

19/06/12 Ukraine v England

19/06/12 France v Sweden

Euro 2012 Preview – Group C

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 4, 2012

Euro 2012 logoIn the third installment of our Euro 2012 build-up, Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews Group C which contains the defending European champions Spain as well as Italy, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland.


CROATIA: Best Performance = Runner Up 1960, 1968 (as Yugoslavia); Quarter-Finals 1996, 2008 (as Croatia)

Following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia in 1991 the Croatian national team has performed by far the best out of the newly created independent states. As part of the former Yugoslavia, Croats played a part in the Yugoslavia teams who finished runner up on two occasions in the 1960s. Since independence Croatia has only failed to qualify for a major tournament on two out of nine occasions showing that the national team is still one for many teams to fear. In Group F of Euro 2012 qualifying the Croats finished two behind Greece in the standings before a convincing 3-0 aggregate win over Turkey in the play-offs gained them their place in the finals. Croatia’s main focus in the tournament will be Luka Modrić who has been in fine form for his club Tottenham Hotspur and whose distributive and creative qualities will be needed for attacking players such as Ivica Olić and Nikica Jelavić the opportunities to flourish.

COACH: Slaven Bilić


ITALY: Best Performance = Winners 1968

Even hard core fans of the Azzurri would begrudgingly admit that this is far from the most vintage Italian team that has ever graced an international tournament. For a nation which has been world champions on four occasions it is surprising that Italy has only one European Championship title to its name and not many would expect a second title to be winging its way into the trophy cabinet this time around. Despite the pessimism the Italians still have plenty of individual quality and it would be a fool who would completely write off their chances of performing well in this tournament. Italy qualified from qualifying Group C with an unbeaten record of eight wins and two draws and with experienced players such as Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo still playing an active role in the side anything is still possible if the team gets its tactics right during the tournament.

COACH: Cesare Prandelli


REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Best Performance = Group Stage 1988

They may be underdogs but the Irish wouldn’t have it any other way. Playing in only their second European Championship finals, the other being when Jack Charlton took them to West Germany in 1988, the Republic of Ireland will be something of an unknown quantity for their group opponents and, thus, they might be able to spring a surprise. Under the guidance of Italian legend Giovanni Trapattoni, the Republic of Ireland finished second behind Russia in qualifying Group B before sweeping aside Estonia 5-1 on aggregate in the play-offs. The Republic’s record goal scorer Robbie Keane will be spearheading the attack and if the likes of Damian Duff and Aiden McGeady can provide him with quality service from the flanks then there’s no reason why the Irish cannot upset some of the favourites.

COACH: Giovanni Trapattoni


SPAIN: Best Performance = Winners 2008

Victorious over Germany four years ago in this competition, the Spanish national team created history when winning the FIFA World Cup in 2010 to become only the third nation, along with Germany and France, to hold both the world and European titles simultaneously. Many superlatives have been used over the last few years to describe the current crop of talent at Spain’s disposal and they will be hoping to make further history by becoming the first country to win three consecutive major tournaments. The qualifying campaign was a breeze for Spain who finished with a 100% record in Group I and finished eleven points ahead of nearest challengers Czech Republic. Despite the absence of top scorer David Villa there are plenty of names who could win a game at any time for Spain. Names such as Xavi, Andres Iniesta and David Silva have been there and done that but there are also the likes of Álvaro Negredo and Fernando Llorente who are hungry and keen to show what they can do at the highest level.

COACH: Vicente del Bosque



10/06/12 Spain v Italy

10/06/12 Croatia v Rep. of Ireland

14/06/12 Italy v Croatia

14/06/12 Spain v Rep. of Ireland

18/06/12 Croatia v Spain

18/06/12 Italy v Rep. of Ireland

Euro 2012 Preview – Group B

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 4, 2012

Euro 2012 logoStoppage Time – International Football Blog continues its preview of the oncoming UEFA European Championships which begin on Friday. In this blog we look at Group B which contains Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Denmark.


DENMARK: Best Performance = Winners 1992

Most football fans will know of the legend that has built around the 1992 European Championship winning team. The country hadn’t even qualified for the tournament but an oncoming civil war in Yugoslavia meant that Denmark would enter the tournament in their place and with a team including Brian Laudrup and Peter Schmeichel the nation would go on to enjoy a 2-0 final success over favourites Germany. A repeat of that performance looks beyond the current crop as a tough draw has handed them three of the favourites in the form of Germany, Netherlands and Portugal. There is still hope for Denmark, however, who reached Euro 2012 by topping qualifying Group H over Portugal who, in turn, needed a play-off to reach the tournament. Many observers are expecting 20 year old Christian Eriksen to make his name in this tournament whilst Niklas Bendtner will hope to put a poor season firmly behind him and help Denmark progress.

COACH: Morten Olsen


GERMANY: Best Performance = Winners 1972, 1980 (as West Germany), 1996 (as Germany)

Footballing aristocracy at its finest, the Germans always expect to, and usually do, perform at the major international tournaments. West Germany became the first nation in 1972 to hold both the FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship titles, a fate only matched subsequently by France (2000) and Spain (2010). Further successes in 1980 and in 1996, under the guise of Germany, have helped ensure that the Nationalmannschaft maintain their position as the most successful European national team. A faultless qualifying campaign saw Germany top Group A with ten wins from ten, a massive thirteen points ahead of Turkey, and become the first team outside of joint hosts Poland and Ukraine to qualify for Euro 2012. In a side containing a quality blend of youth and experience there are lots of potential match winners including Miroslav Klose, Mario Gomez, Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski whilst the further development of players such as Mario Götze and Mesut Özil will be paramount to Germany’s chances in the competition.

COACH: Joachim Löw


NETHERLANDS: Best Performance = Winners 1988

The Dutch are always amongst the favourites in any international tournament despite only ever having been victorious in one major finals. The fabulous team of Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard swept all before them in the 1988 tournament in West Germany as the Oranje won their only major trophy so far when defeating the Soviet Union 2-0 in the final in Munich. The Netherlands kept up their marvellous record in qualifying by topping Group E with nine wins and one defeat in ten matches and heading the table over Sweden. Just like Germany, the Dutch are an exciting team with lots of potential match winners. Most eyes will be looking at Robin van Persie, who has been in exceptional form for Arsenal FC this season, but there are lots of other stars in the squad including Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder to name but three.

COACH: Bert van Marwijk


PORTUGAL: Best Performance = Runner Up 2004

Portugal is arguably the most talented footballing nation never to have won a major international tournament. Their disappointing defeat on home soil in the 2004 European Championship final was the nation’s best chance to win a maiden title but a shock defeat to Greece has set the Portuguese team back. The most recent European Championship in 2008 saw Portugal lose to eventual finalists Germany in the quarter-final stages and with the Germans in their group this time around as well as the Netherlands there is a chance that Portugal will struggle to progress beyond the group stage. Even in qualifying the Portuguese finished second in Group H behind Denmark, the third team in their group in the 2012 finals, so the omens aren’t looking favourable. This will mean more pressure heaped upon the shoulders of star player Cristiano Ronaldo whose personal levels of performance have grown to exceptional levels playing for Real Madrid over the last few years. He will, however, need to be supported by an able cast including the likes of Nani, João Moutinho and Hélder Postiga if Portugal are to defy the odds.

COACH: Paulo Bento



09/06/12 Netherlands v Denmark

09/06/12 Germany v Portugal

13/06/12 Denmark v Portugal

13/06/12 Germany v Netherlands

17/06/12 Denmark v Germany

17/06/12 Netherlands v Portugal

Euro 2012 Preview – Group A

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 4, 2012

Euro 2012 logoWith the 2012 UEFA European Championships due to begin this coming Friday, Stoppage Time takes a look at all four groups going into the tournament. First up is Group A which includes tournament co-hosts Poland as well as the Czech Republic, Russia and Euro 2004 winners Greece.

CZECH REPUBLIC: Best Performance = Winners 1976 (as Czechoslovakia); Runner Up 1996 (as Czech Republic)

The Czechs have a distinguished record in the European Championships. In 1976, as part of Czechoslovakia, they won the trophy following a penalty shoot-out victory over West Germany. In the post-independence period, the Czechs reached the final of Euro ’96 but were thwarted by Oliver Bierhoff’s Golden Goal winner in extra-time. They are far from fancied to get anywhere near the final this time around but have a reasonable chance of reaching the quarter-finals. The Czech Republic qualified for this tournament finishing in second place in Group I behind runaway leaders Spain and then negotiating their way through a play-off against Montenegro. If the Czechs are to progress far in the tournament much will rest on the shoulders of Euro 2004 top scorer Milan Baroš in what is expected to be his last international tournament. At the back UEFA Champions League winner Petr Čech will be instrumental in keeping what could be a potentially brittle defensive line in check.

COACH: Michal Bílek


GREECE: Best Performance = Winners 2004

The Greeks stunned Europe when winning this competition in 2004, defeating hosts Portugal 1-0 in the final in Lisbon. They had seldom qualified for the tournament before their unexpected victory and failed to get beyond the group stage in 2008. Nevertheless the Greeks will fancy their chances of progressing this time in what is arguably the weakest group of the competition. Greece came top of Euro 2012 qualifying Group F with an unbeaten record and clinched the group with a two point margin ahead of Croatia. If Greece are to reach the group stages then the experience of Euro 2004 winner and captain Giorgos Karagounis will prove to be crucial whilst striker Theofanis Gekas will hope to keep up his impressive goal scoring record for his country.

COACH: Fernando Santos


POLAND: Best Performance = Group Stage 2008

It is something of a mystery that a country which has finished in third place on two occasions in the FIFA World Cup has only ever been able to qualify for the European Championship just once. The Poles made their debut in this competition four years ago and finished bottom of a group containing Germany, Croatia and co-hosts Austria. This year’s tournament co-hosts expect to do better this time around with the trio of players from Borussia Dortmund – Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Błaszczykowski and Łukasz Piszczek – hoping to transfer their fantastic form at club level into success at international level.

COACH: Franciszek Smuda


RUSSIA: Best Performance = Winners 1960 (as Soviet Union); Semi-Finals 2008 (as Russia)

As a member of the former Soviet Union, the Russians were part of the country to be crowned inaugural European champions when they defeated Yugoslavia 2-1 in the 1960 final played in Paris. Three further finals were played in 1964, 1972 and 1988 as part of the Soviet Union but they all ended in defeat. Since independence the Russian national team has qualified for all but one of the European Championships since 1992 but only got beyond the group stage on one occasion in 2008. The Russians lost out to eventual winners Spain and any repetition of four years would represent a good tournament this time. Russia qualified for the tournament after finishing top of qualifying Group B two points ahead of the Republic of Ireland. Forward Aleksandr Kerzhakov, who has won back-to-back domestic league titles with Zenit Saint Petersburg, looks set to be Russia’s most influential player.

COACH: Dick Advocaat



08/06/12 Poland v Greece

08/06/12 Russia v Czech Republic

12/06/12 Greece v Czech Republic

12/06/12 Poland v Russia

16/06/12 Poland v Czech Republic

16/06/12 Greece v Russia

UEFA: Keane makes history for Ireland; Euro 2012 qualifiers review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 5, 2011

Robbie Keane v MacedoniaRobbie Keane made history in the Republic of Ireland’s 2-0 victory away at Macedonia on Saturday after becoming the first player from his country to reach the 50 goal landmark. Keane scored both goals and thus helped the Republic (Pld 6, Pts 13) top Group B on goals scored ahead of Russia and Slovakia who also won their Matchday 6 games against Armenia and Andorra respectively. Two of the top three, Republic of Ireland and Slovakia, face off in Dublin on Matchday 7 whilst Russia have a home tie against Macedonia.

Germany left it late to claim all three points away in Austria. Mario Gomez scored both goals for the Bundeself  with the second of his goals coming in the 90th minute to give Germany (Pld 6, Pts 18) a 2-1 win in Vienna and preserve their 100% record at the top of Group A. Behind them Turkey and Belgium fought out a 1-1 draw in Brussels which left them way behind the group leaders and both can now only realistically qualify for a play-off spot.


It was business as usual for Italy who easily swept aside the challenge of Estonia on Friday with a 3-0 win thanks to goals from Giuseppe Rossi, Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini. The Azzurri (Pld 6, Pts 16) are five points ahead of second placed Slovenia in the Group C standings with the latter victorious in their game away at the Faroe Islands with a 2-0 scoreline.

France (Pld 6, Pts 13) dropped two points away at Belarus in Group D but remain top of the standings with a four point advantage over the latter. Eric Abidal’s 20th minute own goal was cancelled out by Florent Malouda just two minutes later, thus helping Les Bleus to a share of the points. Third place Romania closed the gap to five points between themselves and the group leaders with a convincing 3-0 win at home to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ciprian Marica (2) and Adrian Mutu scoring the goals.

With group E leaders Netherlands (Pld 6, Pts 18) playing a goalless friendly match against Brazil on Saturday it was left to Sweden to close the gap. The Swedes won easily away in Moldova by four goals to one with Johann Elmander (2), Ola Toivonen and Alexander Gerndt on target helping reduce the gap at the top to six points. Sweden still have a game in hand on the Dutch which they will play at home to Finland this Tuesday in Solna.

Things remain tight at the top of Group F. Group leaders Greece (Pld 6, Pts 14) expectedly won at home to Malta with goals from Ioannia Fetfatzidis (2) and Kyriakos Papadopoulos helping the Greeks come out with a 3-1 win. Croatia and Israel are hanging on the Greeks’ coat-tails however after both countries won their latest games against Georgia and Latvia respectively. Only one point separates Greece from Israel in third place with the two teams scheduled to meet other in the next round of matches in September.


England (Pld 5, Pts 11) remain top of the standings in Group G despite dropping two points at home to Switzerland. Tranquillo Barnetta scored twice from free-kicks to give the visiting Swiss a 2-0 lead at Wembley Stadium only for England to come back thanks to a 37th minute Frank Lampard penalty and an Ashley Young goal six minutes into the second half. Second placed Montenegro had the chance to overtake England at the top and went ahead in their game against Bulgaria through Radomir Đalović. The visitors equalized in the 66th minute thanks to Ivelin Popov and Montenegro blew their chance to put some daylight between themselves and England at the top of the standings.

There’s a three-way tie at the top of Group H with Portugal (Pld 5, Pts 10) leading the way on head-to-head records over both Denmark and Norway. Portugal beat Norway on Saturday with a solitary goal from Helder Postiga proving the difference between the two sides in Lisbon. Denmark had a comfortable 2-0 win away in Iceland with goals from Lasse Schøne and Christian Eriksen gifting the Danes all three points.

Finally there was only one game played in Group I this weekend with bottom side Liechtenstein clocking up their first international victory in four years after defeating Lithuania 2-0 at home. Goals from Phillippe Erne and Michele Polverino saw Liechtenstein win their first three points of the campaign and reduce the gap between themselves and fifth-placed Lithuania in the table to just one point.


Group I leaders Spain (Pld 5, Pts 15) were on friendly international duty in the United States and handsomely defeated the hosts 4-0 thanks to strikes from Santi Cazorla (2), Alvaro Negredo and Fernando Torres.

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UEFA: Montenegro still perfect in Group G

Posted in International Football by peterbein on October 9, 2010



Montenegro's national team play England on Tuesday


Mirko Vučinić’s 67th minute winning goal against Switzerland on Friday night saw the Montenegro national team make it three wins out of three matches in the current Euro 2012 qualifying campaign. Having already beaten Wales and Bulgaria in the previous two matches, the win against Switzerland sets up an intriging clash between the new Group G leaders and the only other team with a 100% record in the group England. Tuesday night sees the top two go head-to-head at Wembley Stadium in what should be a coming-of-age clash for international football’s newest national team.

Following many years of representation under different names the newly-independent state of Montenegro is finally starting to find its feet in the world, not just as a country but in the world of football. Montenegro voted for independence in 2006 having been a part of a wider nation with Serbia following the dissolution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 2003. Since then Montenegro is trying to copy other states in the region in trying to make its mark on the wider world and football is one of the most prominent ways of being noticed on the international stage. Croatia, for example, has always used football as a way of creating an image for itself and other newly-independent states such as Bosnia-Herzogovina and Macedonia are trying to do likewise. What makes the case of Montenegro special is the rate of success in such a short time.

Having  joined UEFA in January 2007 Montenegro have climbed from an initial 199th (i.e. last) place to a respectable 40th in the latest FIFA World Rankings. Montenegro’s first official match as an independent nation came against Hungary just two months later and they managed to claim the scalp of their opponents winning 2-1. It is perhaps fitting that the country’s best known player, Mirko Vučinić, was the man who scored the country’s first ever goal in international football and he’s been putting them away for the Montenegrins ever since. Vučinić, who plies his trade in club football with Italians AS Roma, has scored eleven goals in 23 international appearances including two crucial strikes that have helped decide games. As well as the current good bout of form in this qualification campaign the federation has begun a programme of development they have appointed former Crvena Zvezda and AC Milan legend Dejan Savićević at the helm as president.

Although Montenegro could only finish fifth out of a six team group in the FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign it has proved a useful introduction to life at this level and they are now reaping the benefits in the UEFA Euro 2012 campaign. The opening game against Wales saw Vučinić score the only goal after thirty minutes in Montenegro’s 1-0 win in front of a home crowd in the capital Podgorica. The next test looked quite daunting, an away tie against experienced campaigners Bulgaria, but the hosts flopped and were unable to break down a compact, organised Montenegro defence. Elsad Zverotić’s goal from distance came against the run of play and it ultimately proved enough for Montenegro who sealed a second consecutive 1-0 victory. Last night saw another narrow one goal victory for Montenegro who put Switzerland to the sword and it was Mirko Vučinić who pounced once again to claim another three points for his country. Switzerland, who beat future FIFA World Cup champions Spain in their group in South Africa this summer, were humbled by Zlatko Kranjčar’s men and remain without a point after two games. Kranjčar has only been the coach of this team for nine months having taken over from previous coach Zoran Filipović in February 2010 and he is blessed with having a good collection of players who include AC Fiorentina striker Stevan Jovetić, midfielders Simon Vukčević from Sporting Lisbon and Vladimir Božović from Rapid Bucharest.

Montenegro can now travel to London and take on an England team who are still trying to get over the World Cup disappointment but who have also started off with a perfect 100% record following convincing wins over Bulgaria (4-0) and Switzerland (3-1). Tuesday’s game will be one to watch in the next round of matches in Euro 2012 qualifying.

Euro 2012: qualifying round draw made in Warsaw

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on February 7, 2010
Fernando Torres

Fernando Torres scored the winner to give Spain a 1-0 win over Germany in the 2008 final. Can they become European champions again in 2012?

The draw for the qualifying rounds of the UEFA European Championship 2012 in Poland/Ukraine was made in the Polish capital of Warsaw today. Here is the draw for each of the nine groups (top seeds in each group in CAPITALS):

GROUP A: GERMANY, Turkey, Austria, Belgium, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan

GROUP B: RUSSIA, Slovakia, Republic of Ireland, FYR Macedonia, Armenia, Andorra

GROUP C: ITALY, Serbia, Northern Ireland, Slovenia, Estonia, Faroe Islands

GROUP D: FRANCE, Romania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Belarus, Albania, Luxembourg

GROUP E: NETHERLANDS, Sweden, Finland, Hungary, Moldova, San Marino

GROUP F: CROATIA, Greece, Israel, Latvia, Georgia, Malta

GROUP G: ENGLAND, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Wales, Montenegro

GROUP H: PORTUGAL, Denmark, Norway, Cyprus, Iceland

GROUP I: SPAIN, Czech Republic, Scotland, Lithuania, Liechtenstein

Euro 2012 draw preview

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on February 5, 2010
Euro 2012 logo

The logo for the 2012 UEFA European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

There may be a world cup happening later this year but for the European teams competing in South Africa this summer there is something to take their focus off that tournament. On Sunday (12:00 CET) the draw for the 2012 UEFA European Championship qualifiers will take place at the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw.

The 2012 tournament will be the third European championship to be held jointly in two countries. Poland and Ukraine are the hosts for the forthcoming competition and will follow in the footsteps of the joint ventures between the Netherlands/Belgium in 2000 and Austria/Switzerland in 2008. To help with Sunday’s draw will be four legends of the game from the host nations, Zbigniew Boniek and Andrzej Szarmach representing Poland, Oleg Blokhin and Andriy Shevchenko representing Ukraine.

At the end of the draw there will be six groups of six teams and three groups of five teams. Because the host nations qualify automatically for the tournament the defending champions Spain must go through the qualifying process. The teams in each pot have been chosen according to UEFA’s national team coefficient table. Here are how the pots look ahead of the draw:

POT 1 – Spain, Germany, Holland, Italy, England, Croatia, Portugal, France, Russia

POT 2 – Greece, Czech Republic, Sweden, Switzerland, Serbia, Turkey, Denmark, Slovakia, Romania

POT 3 – Israel, Bulgaria, Finland, Norway, Rep. of Ireland, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Austria, Bosnia & Herzogovina

POT 4 – Slovenia, Latvia, Hungary, Lithuania, Belarus, Belgium, Wales, Macedonia, Cyprus

POT 5 – Montenegro, Albania, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova, Iceland, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein

POT 6 – Azerbaijan, Luxembourg, Malta, Faroe Islands, Andorra, San Marino