Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Spain: All square in Super Cup classic (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 15, 2011

The first leg of the 2011 Spanish Super Cup took place in the capital city of Madrid last night with those two arch-rivals Real Madrid and FC Barcelona doing battle once more. After five Clásico meetings last season one would imagine that these two giants of world football would be sick of the sight of each other by now. But where there is a trophy to be played for it is almost inevitable that these clubs will feature and their clash on Sunday night was one of the more enjoyable matches in recent history.

2010-11 La Liga champions FC Barcelona had to travel to 2010-11 Copa del Rey winners Real Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu and were caught a little off guard in the early stages as Madrid dominated proceedings. The home side’s superior possession and play was rewarded with the game’s first goal after just quarter of an hour when German international Mesut Özil coolly slotted home from close range. But Barcelona would, as they almost always do, come back strong and were 2-1 up at the break after David Villa’s stunning 35th minute equalizer was followed up by Lionel Messi’s strike in first half stoppage time.

But this match, and the tie as a whole, was salvaged by Xabi Alonso who beautifully controlled a low shot past a crowd of players to restore parity for Los Blancos ten minutes after the break. The second leg of this fascinating contest will be played at Barcelona’s Estadi Camp Nou on Wednesday evening with the home side slight favourites to win the trophy for a tenth time. Should Real Madrid defy the odds and win at the home of their arch-rivals then they would equal Barça’s tally of nine in this competition.

Poll: Are FC Barcelona really the greatest?

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 29, 2011

Following their fourth UEFA Champions League triumph on Saturday virtually every superlative has been used to describe Pep Guardiola’s current crop of FC Barcelona stars. The Catalans’ 3-1 triumph over Manchester United meant that Guardiola, in only his third full season in charge at the Camp Nou, has won ten major trophies including the amazing Sextuple triumph from the 2008-09 season. Are they, in your opinion, the best side ever? Or is there really a team that came before who deserve the accolade of the best ever? Decide from the following choices:

Real Madrid 7-3 Eintracht Frankfurt

Alfredo Di Stefano scores for Real Madrid in the 1959-60 European Cup final

REAL MADRID 1956-60

The team who took to the concept of the European Cup more than any other, the great Real Madrid side from the mid 50’s were European champions in the first five years of the competition. As well as winning two La Liga titles at home los Blancos had one of the greatest forward lines in the history of football including the likes of Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás who scored all seven goals between them in the club’s most famous win of the famous five, the 1959-60 European Cup final against Eintracht Frankfurt which they won 7-3 in front of a record 127,000 crowd at Hampden Park, Glasgow. The club also became the first unofficial world champions in 1960 after defeating South American champions Peñarol in the inaugural Intercontinental Cup match.

Internazionale 1964-65

Internazionale were Italian, European and World champions in 1965

INTERNAZIONALE 1964-65

The Italians were never also easy on the eye with their defensive brand of football, widely known as Catenaccio, winning few friends amongst their opponents. However the team known affectionately amongst all Nerazzurri supporters as La Grande Inter won back-to-back European Cups in 1964 and 1965 defeating Real Madrid and Benfica respectively. As well as the 1964-65 Scudetto, Inter also became the first European team to win successive Intercontinental Cups beating Argentinians Independiente on both occasions.

Ajax Amsterdam 1972

Ajax Amsterdam with the 1972 European Cup

AJAX AMSTERDAM 1971-73

Dutch football came to prominence in the early 1970’s with Feyenoord Rotterdam winning the European Cup in 1970 before their arch-rivals Ajax Amsterdam took their brand of Total Football to the international stage and won three successive European Cups. Players such as Johan Cruijff, Johnny Rep and Arie Haan took centre stage with final victories over Panathinaikos (1971), Internazionale (1972) and Juventus FC (1973), the latter as part of an historic treble, helping write the club’s name into the history books. Ajax also won the 1972 Intercontinental Cup against Independiente and were the inaugural UEFA Super Cup winners defeating Cup Winners’ Cup holders AC Milan in 1973.

FC Bayern 1975 European Cup

FC Bayern with the second of their European Cups in 1975

FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN 1974-76

In a manner similar to the Ajax team that preceded them, FC Bayern won the European Cup three times in a row from 1974-76 with a team full of international greats such as Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller and Uli Hoeneß. Their maiden European Cup win against Atlético de Madrid was achieved in a replay, the first and only such occasion this occurred, before going on to beat Leeds United and Saint-Étienne in the following two years. The Bavarians also won the 1973-74 Bundesliga title and their first world title with a 1976 Intercontinental Cup win over Brazilians Cruzeiro.

Liverpool FC 1977

Liverpool FC won their first European Cup in 1977

LIVERPOOL FC 1977-81

Liverpool, under the astute guidance of Bob Paisley, won the European Cup three times in the space of five years, thus assuring the reluctant successor to Bill Shankly his place in football history as the first, and so far only coach, to have won the trophy on so many occasions. Liverpool were dominant at home during this time with three league championship wins in 1977, 1979 and 1980 complemented by European triumphs over Borussia Mönchengladbach (1977), Club Brugge (1978) and Real Madrid (1981) which were won with a dynamic team including the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Phil Neal.

AC Milan

AC Milan were European champions in 1989-90

AC MILAN 1988-90

Just three years after the acquisition of the club by controversial figure Silvio Berlusconi, AC Milan started to make a mark on the European scene once again with back-to-back European Cup wins over Steaua Bucharest (1989) and Benfica (1990). Having won the 1988 Scudetto the Rossoneri, led by coach Arrigo Sacchi along with his team of superstars including the Dutch trio of Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit as well as Italian legends such as Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini, began a spell of domination which also led to successive triumphs in the UEFA Super Cup and Intercontinental Cup.

Manchester United 1999

Manchester United won the UEFA Champions League in 1999

MANCHESTER UNITED 1998-99

It is difficult to pinpoint any team over the last two decades which could stand out for Manchester United, such is the amount of success they’ve come to enjoy under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson. However the team which won the Treble in the 1998-99 season deserves special praise for their sheer will-to-win and ability to turn things around when all seemed lost. A team including most of the “Class of 92” such as Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Gary Neville went on to claim the English league and cup double before winning an unlikely UEFA Champions League triumph over FC Bayern München as the Red Devils, who were a goal down as the game went into the 90th minute, somehow scored two goals deep into stoppage time to claim the club’s second European Cup. Six months later Roy Keane scored the winner for United as they claimed the Intercontinental Cup with a 1-0 win over Palmeiras.

FC Barcelona 2011

FC Barcelona with the 2010-11 UEFA Champions League trophy

FC BARCELONA 2008-11

The Catalan giants have enjoyed considerable success at home and abroad over time but the club underachieved in the European Cup for many years. Having only ever been champions of Europe twice before Pep Guardiola took the coaching job in 2008, FC Barcelona have finally started to realize their potential under the current coach who has guided the club to two UEFA Champions League finals and a semi-final in three years as well as winning a host of other trophies including a grand slam of Spanish League, Spanish Cup, Champions League, Spanish Super Cup, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup in 2009. With the likes of FIFA World Cup winners Xavi, Carles Puyol and Andres Iniesta as well as superstar Lionel Messi many predict that their dominance could continue for some time yet.

SO WHO GETS YOUR VOTE AS THE BEST?

Spain: Barcelona claim 21st championship

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 12, 2011

La Liga TrophyFC Barcelona have won a third successive league title, their 21st overall, with a 1-1 draw away at Levante UD securing the point they needed to seal the title. They currently lead the table from Real Madrid by eight points with just two games to play.

Mali international Seydou Keita scored Barcelona’s goal in the 28th minute only to see Felipe Caicedo equalize five minutes before half-time after a defensive mix-up between Gerard Pique and keeper Victor Valdes. Nonetheless the draw helped the Catalan giants seal the ninth trophy since 2008-09 under the tutelage of coach Pep Guardiola.

Once again Lionel Messi was the player of the season for the Blaugrana having so far notched 31 goals in La Liga this term, only Cristiano Ronaldo scoring more. But with plenty of goals from all areas this Barcelona team continually threatens to dominate the game for years to come and, with the domestic title sealed, allows Guardiola to rest his players ahead of the club’s date at Wembley Stadium against Maanchester United in the UEFA Champions League final on May 28th.

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UEFA: Thank God that’s the end of that one!

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 4, 2011
Eric Abidal

Eric Abidal is thrown by jubilant Barcelona team mates into the air

Finally we can say good riddance to the soap opera that has been FC Barcelona versus Real Madrid CF. That’s until it comes back about three months from now for the 2011 Spanish Super Cup match which should feature Spain’s La Liga champions (surely FC Barcelona) and Copa del Rey winners (definitely Real Madrid). But, by that time, let’s hope all of the tedious nonsense that has marred this fixture over the last fortnight can, finally, be put to bed.

The only highlight of the five-part epic that has been Real v Barça this season was the first game which took place in late November, an unforgettable league game in which FC Barcelona gave their rivals from the Spanish capital the ultimate masterclass and disposed of them by five goals to nil. Perhaps, then, it was a little unfortunate that the return league fixture took place around the same time as both clubs were due to meet in the Copa del Rey final and UEFA Champions League semi-finals. This had the effect of making the occasion more tense than usual especially as neither of these great rivals can tolerate losing to the other at the best of times. Nonetheless the fact that these games were to take place should’ve allowed coaches José Mourinho and Pep Guardiola the opportunity to show the world that their clubs are the most exciting in world football.

Alas the occasion proved only to frighten both teams into a tactical battle of wills although it has to be said that Mourinho was far more guilty than Guardiola of cynical play. The league game in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium, played on April 16th, was pretty tame by the standards of El Clásico but this was perhaps bore out by the suspicion that Mourinho had privately conceded the league title to the Catalans and decided to place his priorities towards to the two knockout tournaments. The Copa del Rey final on April 20th did see los Blancos win Spain’s premier domestic knock-out competition for the first time since 1992-93 thanks to a glorious Cristiano Ronaldo header in the midst of extra-time in a game which either team could’ve won in regular time. But even that occasion proved to be overshadowed by the fact that Sergio Ramos dropped the trophy from the top of the team bus which was subsequently run over upon its landing to terra firma (see video below):

But the real sideshow happened in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League which was played in Madrid. Every refereeing decision was hotly contested by both clubs which was a throwback to the Copa del Rey final in which Madrid were the main perpetrators of a tactic in which the end result was to bully the referee into giving a decision their way. FC Barcelona had undoubtedly decided to use the same tactic in Madrid’s backyard and the temperature had already reached boiling point at half-time when the Catalans’ reserve goalkeeper José Pinto was sent off for his part in a touchline mêlée. Pepe was the next player to see red in the second half as the Madrid defender was sent off for a late challenge on Dani Alves who, it must be said, made a bit of a meal of it. This red card, the fourth in four games that Real had ‘earned’ against Barcelona, provoked Mourinho into getting himself sent into the stand following his protestations which, in turn, would lead to his post-match press conference. Following Madrid’s 2-0 defeat the self-styled Special One blamed everyone from the referee, European football’s governing body UEFA and even the children’s charity UNICEF (whose name adourns the Barcelona shirt) and claimed that there was a conspiracy in which FC Barcelona had all the power. The fact that the better team won clearly didn’t cross his mind.

And so we finally had the fifth and final instalment last night and even before a ball was kicked both teams were throwing insults and accusations towards each other. Madrid claimed that Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets had made racist remarks to Marcelo in the first leg whilst FC Barcelona hit back saying that they were true professionals. The fact that last night’s game didn’t generate much ill-temper on the pitch proved to be a surprise and the only highlight of the game was Eric Abidal’s return following his successful surgery to remove a liver tumour. Almost inevitably, however, the controversy still continued following the game which ended in a 1-1 draw following goals from Pedro (Barcelona) and Marcelo (Madrid). No doubt that Mourinho will believe the fact that Gonzalo Higuain’s goal was disallowed due to an innocuous off the ball incident proves his point regarding Barcelona’s power. Also Cristiano Ronaldo has accused Javier Mascherano of cheating saying he “….wasn’t like this when he played for Liverpool. He must’ve learned all these cheating tricks at Barcelona” which is quite comical given the Portuguese superstar’s apparently fondness for falling on the floor. To be fair to Ronaldo, Barcelona may have lost some friends for their histrionics over the last few weeks as more fans would’ve expected them to concentrate on playing the free-flowing football with which they have been synonymous in recent seasons. Nonetheless Barcelona are now in line to become European champions for the fourth time unless Manchester United or Schalke 04 have anything to do with it.

Let’s just hope that “Hell Clásico”, as some writers have dubbed it, reverts back to classic status next season but I, for one, am not holding my breath……

Spain: Madrid and Barcelona cement places as top two

Posted in European Football by peterbein on November 21, 2010
Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick in Barcelona's 8-0 win over Almeria

Both of Spain’s dominant footballing powers continue to edge their way further ahead in the race for the 2010-11 La Liga championship as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona recorded massive wins over Athletic Bilbao and UD Almeria respectively.

In a league which is becoming something of a more powerful version of the Scottish Premier League, there seems to be a massive gulf between the traditional big two of Spanish football and the rest of the league. With El Clásico on the horizon it was important for both teams to make a statement of intent going into next Monday’s crucial encounter and neither team disappointed.

First up were FC Barcelona and once Lionel Messi opened the scoring for the defending La Liga champions on 17 minutes there was no looking back as the Blaugrana had wave after wave of attack which left their opponents completely overwhelmed. Before they knew it Almeria were five goals down at half-time following strikes from Iniesta (penalty), Pedro, Messi again and an own goal from Santi Acasiente. Barça were in no mood to take their foot off the gas as they hit the back of the net a further three times in the second half. Bojan Krkić’s second half brace sandwiched Lionel Messi’s hat-trick goal and the 8-0 win was the biggest of the season for Pep Guardiola’s team who can now go into their home match against Real Madrid with confidence.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo also scored a hat-trick in Real Madrid's 5-1 win over Bilbao

Things are equally as good at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu where league leaders Real Madrid also hit a multitude of goals in a 5-1 rout over Athletic Bilbao. José Mourinho’s team got the ball rolling when Gonzalo Higuaín opened the scoring after 19 minutes. After that the game turned into the Cristiano Ronaldo show as the Portuguese superstar equalled Messi’s efforts by scoring a hat-trick of his own. A penalty from Sergio Ramos was Madrid’s other effort of the game whilst the hapless Basques at least mustered a consolation strike when Fernando Llorente’s 40th minute strike at least had fans thinking there would be a contest with the game ending 2-1 at the break. However the attacking nature of Madrid under Mourinho is, after a slow(ish) start, beginning to find a more fluent rhythm with Los Blancos scoring seventeen goals in their last five league games.

Villarreal and Valencia CF, the two teams directly behind the top two before this weekend’s games, played out a 1-1 draw at the former’s El Madrigal stadium which further encapsulates the view that La Liga is going to be dominated by Madrid and Barcelona once again. League leaders Real Madrid are still unbeaten with 32 points from 12 games, just one ahead of Barcelona whilst third place Villarreal are already a further seven points back. Considering that the gap between the top two and third place in last season’s championship was a distant 25 points there are already fears that the Spanish League is turning into a glorified Scottish League. Despite this there is a match-up betwen Spain’s version of the Old Firm coming up next Monday night and it looks like being one of the most interesting Clásico games in modern times.

Super Cup: Barça and Inter secure the honours (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 21, 2010

The last two winners of the UEFA Champions League have secured the first silverware of their respective domestic seasons tonight. The second leg of the Spanish Super Cup was played in the Camp Nou as La Liga champions FC Barcelona tried to overturn a 3-1 first leg defeat at the hands of Copa del Rey winners Sevilla FC. At the same time in Milan defending Serie A champions Internazionale FC, fresh from their historic treble-winning season under former coach José Mourinho, played against last season’s league and cup runners-up AS Roma and the Nerazzurri were hoping to give The Special One’s replacement Rafael Benítez a winning start to life in Milan.

After playing a weakened side in the first leg seven days ago, Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola decided to bring back some of his established stars back into the fold in the hope that the Catalan giants could begin the 2010-11 season with the first piece of domestic silverware and, thus, put down a marker for the rest of the season. After the Andalucians of Sevilla CF had won the first game 3-1 at home Barça pulled a goal back early in the second leg after Sevilla’s Abdoulay Konko put through his own net after fourteen minutes. From then on the game would turn into the Lionel Messi show. After a disappointing FIFA World Cup campaign which saw his Argentina team get knocked out so convincingly by Germany, Messi would carry on where he left off in the Blaugrana shirt with two goals in the 25th and 44th minutes which would give Barcelona the lead on the night and on aggregate by half-time. The second half saw both chances for both sides and there was a possibility that Sevilla CF could get a late goal and make things nervous again for the home side. However it was Messi who would seal the deal by securing his hat-trick strike in stoppage time to give Barcelona a 4-0 win on the night, 5-3 on aggregate. The success saw Barcelona win their ninth Super Cup title, one ahead of eternal rivals Real Madrid CF.

WATCH SPANISH SUPER CUP 2ND LEG HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

New Internazionale coach Rafael Benítez began his tenure in the same fashion that his predecessor José Mourinho did by winning the Italian Super Cup against AS Roma in the San Siro stadium. Inter’s opponents stunned the home support when John Arne Riise gave the Giallorossi the lead on 21 minutes but ultimately it was the treble champions who would take charge in the fourth Super Cup match between these two teams in the last five years. Goran Pandev made it 1-1, capitalizing on some really poor AS Roma defending, with just three minutes of the first half remaining and then Samuel Eto’o would do the damage for the Nerazzurri in the second half by scoring two close-range efforts in the 70th and 80th minutes. The win secured Inter’s fifth Italian Super Cup title which draws them level with city rivals AC Milan at the top of the all-time list of wins in this tournament. It was also Internazionale’s fourth trophy in 2010 as they hope to emulate FC Barcelona by winning every available piece of silverware in the same calendar year. The fifth leg of a possible sextuple is the European Super Cup match in Monaco where they meet UEFA Europa League winners Atlético de Madrid on Friday, August 27th. Read Stoppage Time – International Football Blog this week for a full preview of this prestigious clash.

WATCH ITALIAN SUPER CUP HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

Spain: Sevilla hold advantage in Super Cup (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 15, 2010
Freddie Kanouté

Freddie Kanouté's two goals could prove crucial for Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup

Copa del Rey holders Sevilla FC hold a 3-1 advantage over Spanish league champions FC Barcelona  following the first leg of the 2010 Spanish Super Cup in Seville. Zlatan Ibrahimović gave the Blaugrana the lead in the 20th minute getting on the end of a Maxwell through ball which the Swede took with great aplomb. “Barça” held on to the lead at the break but a very different Sevilla came out for the second half and, thanks to goals from Luís Fabiano and Freddie Kanouté (2), the Andalucians turned the game around in order to hold a healthy advantage for the second leg. Fabiano equalized on the hour mark after substitute Luca Cigirini found Fabiano whose pace took him ahead of Sergi Gómez to put the ball past debutant keeper Rubén Miño. Kanouté would then punish FC Barcelona with two goals in the final twenty minutes of the match; the first was taken inside the box following a beautiful pass from the right by Álvaro Negredo, using the outside of his left foot to find the Malian striker, and a header seven minutes from time sealed the win for Sevilla who now go to the Camp Nou on Saturday, August 21st for the second leg. Sevilla are hoping to win only their second Super Cup following their sole success three years ago whilst if Barça overturns the deficit they will win the trophy for the ninth time, taking them one victory ahead of their great rivals Real Madrid CF.

WATCH SPANISH SUPER CUP 1ST LEG HIGHLIGHTS HERE:

European Leagues Round-Up

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 9, 2010
Meisterschale

FC Bayern have won the Bundesliga title for a record-extending 22nd time

FC Bayern and Chelsea were amongst the teams crowned national champions in Europe this weekend whilst Italy’s champions-elect FC Internazionale have been taken to the wire by AS Roma who will complete the Serie A season next weekend. In other leagues Real Madrid and FC Barcelona also will fight it out on the last day in Spain after both teams won their Saturday night matches against Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla CF respectively.

FC Bayern München had pretty much sealed the title after the penultimate round of games after they had beaten VfL Bochum at the same time their only title challengers FC Schalke 04 were going down to home defeat against Werder Bremen. On the last day FC Bayern travelled to the German capital to face a Hertha BSC side who were already facing up to the prospect of Second League football next season. This game proved to be a stroll for the Bavarians with goals from Ivica Olić and a brace from Dutch sensation Arjen Robben sealing a 3-1 win in the Olympiastadion where FC Bayern have the chance to complete a domestic double against Werder Bremen in next weekend’s DFB Pokal (German Cup final). Schalke 04 could only draw 0-0 away at 1.FSV Mainz 05 to put a disappointing end to their campaign whilst Werder Bremen gave themselves a boost before the cup final by gaining a point at home to bitter local northern rivals Hamburger SV and clinch the third UEFA Champions League place. Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund and a rejuvenated VfB Stuttgart will take their places in the UEFA Europa League next season. As well as Hertha BSC the 2.Liga will be joined by VfL Bochum next season with the possibility of 1.FC Nürnberg joining them should they lose a promotion/relegation play-off to FC Augsburg.

In England it was a topsy-turvy campaign in the Premier League with the leadership changing hands on no fewer than twenty two occasions during the campaign. Thankfully for the Blues of Chelsea FC it didn’t turn out to be twenty three as the Stamford Bridge side won with considerable ease against Wigan Athletic by eight goals to nil. A hat-trick for Didier Drogba and a brace for Nicolas Anelka was supplemented by solitary strikes by Frank Lampard, Solomon Kalou and Ashley Cole to give Chelsea their fourth English championship, their first since the days of Jose Mourinho in 2006. Present Chelsea coach Carlo Ancelotti has a real chance to win the Double in his first season in charge should the Blues do, as expected, win next weekend’s FA Cup final against Portsmouth FC at Wembley Stadium. Chelsea’s title rivals Manchester United saw off Stoke City 4-0 at Old Trafford but the Red Devils only have the League Cup to show for their efforts in the 2009-10 campaign. The top two will be joined by Arsenal FC and Tottenham Hotspur in next season’s UEFA Champions League while Manchester City, Aston Villa and a very disappointing Liverpool FC will be playing UEFA Europa League football next term. At the bottom of the table Portsmouth FC’s relegation was confirmed some time ago and they will be joined in the Championship (second tier) by Hull City and Burnley FC who go straight back down after their maiden Premier League appearance.

SL Benfica sealed their 32nd championship title in Portugal’s Liga Sagres thansk to an Oscar Cardozo double which gave the Eagles a 2-1 home win over Rio Ave. At the same time their only title rivals Sporting Braga could only muster a 1-1 draw on the island of Madeira against a determined Nacional side who ensured that the league title would’ve gone to Benfica even had the league leaders had surprisingly lost at home as Braga needed all three points coupled with a Benfica defeat to win the title. In any case Sporting Braga can be very proud of their efforts as they finished second and, thus, qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season. Deposed champions FC Porto finished three points further back in third and will only play in UEFA Europa League next season along with Sporting Lisbon and Marítimo. At the bottom last season’s surprise package SC Leixões were relegated along with Os Belenenses, both of whom will play in the Liga de Honra next season.

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi was amongst the scorers in FC Barcelona's 3-2 win at Sevilla CF.

Title races in Spain and Italy must be sorted out on the final day of the season as both the main challengers in both countries won their penultimate fixtures this weekend. On Saturday in Spain both defending champions FC Barcelona and arch-rivals Real Madrid won tough fixtures against Sevilla CF (3-2) and Athletic Bilbao (5-1) respectively. Pep Guardiola’s FC Barcelona side were coasting to a 3-0 lead thanks to goals from Messi, Bojan and Pedro before they allowed the Andalucians back into the game with two goals in the space of sixty seconds from Fredi Kanouté and Luis Fabiano to give the Blaugrana a real scare but the visitors held out for three very important points. Real Madrid were being held at one all with a little under twenty minutes to go before Gonzalo Higuaín opened the floodgates for los Blancos who went on to record a 5-1 win and keep up the pressure on the Catalans. Next week sees FC Barcelona at home to Valladolid and Real Madrid away at Malaga FC on what should be an exciting final day’s action.

In Italy FC Internazionale, who won the Coppa Italia final against AS Roma earlier in the week, thought that they were going to celebrate their fifth straight Scudetto as they were beating Chievo 4-1 with goals from Mantovani (own goal), Cambiasso, Milito and Balotelli, giving the Nerazzurri a healthy advantage whilst nearest challengers AS Roma were losing 1-0 at home to Cagliari Calcio. But in the last twenty minutes Chievo pulled two goals back to give Inter a scare and AS Roma’s talismanic captain Francesco Totti scored twice to give the Giallorossi hope of winning the title with one game left. Next Sunday’s action sees Inter away to already relegated Siena and AS Roma away at Chievo and many will fancy the Nerazzurri to do the domestic Double before meeting up with FC Bayern in the UEFA Champions League on Saturday, May 22nd.

UEFA Champions League: Semi-Final Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on April 18, 2010
Ribery and Robben

Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben played crucial roles in FC Bayern München's progression to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals

The UEFA Champions League reaches the semi-final stage and there are two great games to look forward to. There have been fears that the games would be postponed because of the travel disruption that has affected Europe since the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted last week, bringing the whole continent to a standstill. According to the UEFA website on Sunday “the two UEFA Champions League semi-final first legs will go ahead as scheduled this week despite the current restrictions on European air travel due to the volcanic cloud.” Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews the two fixtures ahead of the first leg ties which, we presume, will still take place later this week:

INTERNAZIONALE FC (Italy) v FC BARCELONA (Spain)

Both of these teams have already played against each other this season in the UEFA Champions League group stages with FC Barcelona getting the better of their Italian opponents. After the teams drew blank in a Matchday 1 stalemate the European champions made Inter pay at the Camp Nou on Matchday 5 with a 2-0 win thanks to goals from Gerard Piqué and Pedro Rodríguez. Inter coach Jose Mourinho has had many battles against the Catalan giants in his managerial career and he will hope that the Nerazzurri can provide him with more cause to celebrate against the club who once employed him as Sir Bobby Robson’s interpreter.

In the quarter-finals FC Barcelona performed amazingly well against an Arsenal FC side who came back well in the first leg to claim a 2-2 draw having been two goals down at one stage. The London side even had the cheek to take the lead in the Camp Nou in the second leg after much-maligned striker Niklas Bendtner gave the Gunners an 18th minute lead. After that the game became a one man show and who else but Lionel Messi was going to step up to the plate? After scoring a hat-trick just before half-time the Argentinian superstar capped off a wonderful performance two minutes from the end of the game with a fourth goal, the first player to score four in one game during the UEFA Champions League knock-out stages. Since defeating Arsenal the Blaugrana have continued their impressive league form including a 2-0 away win at Real Madrid in “El Gran Clásico” and an easy 3-0 win at home to Deportivo de La Coruña before dropping two points in the derby of Barcelona drawing 0-0 against local rivals RCD Espanyol on Saturday.

Inter defeated CSKA Moscow in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals with two 1-0 victories home and away. Diego Milito scored the winning goal for Inter in the first leg whilst Wesley Sneijder scored the only goal in the second leg in Moscow. In Serie A, however, the Nerazzurri have lost top spot to AS Roma despite having taken four points in the two games since defeating CSKA in the second leg. A 2-2 draw away at AC Fiorentina could prove to be the pivotal moment in the domestic season for Inter as the two dropped points allowed AS Roma to overtake them at the top of the table. They have kept the pressure on the capital side though having defeated Juventus FC 2-0 in the “Derby of Italy” on Saturday.

FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN (Germany) v OLYMPIQUE LYONNAIS (France)

FC Bayern are dreaming of The Treble after knocking out English champions Manchester United in sensational fashion in the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals. Olympique Lyonnais are still just about involved in the title race domestically too and took great satisfaction from emerging triumphant in the Battle of France against FC Girondins de Bordeaux, going through with a slender one goal advantage over the two legs.

FC Bayern have seemingly got the 1999 UEFA Champions League final defeat out of their system having put Manchester United to the sword in the last round. After Wayne Rooney gave the Red Devils the lead after two minutes of the first leg in the Allianz Arena, there was late drama which decided the outcome of the match thanks to a deflected free-kick from Franck Ribéry and a last minute winner from Ivica Olić. It was to be Olić who began the comeback for FC Bayern in the second leg at Old Trafford after United had raced into a 3-0 lead on the night after just 41 minutes. Two minutes before half-time Olić struck home from an acute angle to reduce the arrears for the Bavarians and it wasn’t until the 74th minute when Bayern’s Dutch maestro Arjen Robben beautifully struck from the edge of the penalty box to equal the match 4-4 on aggregate which was how it stayed, much to the relief of Bayern who went through courtesy of the away goals rule. Domestically they have taken charge in the race for the Bundesliga title having defeated nearest challengers Schalke 04 away from home as well as picking up a point from suffering Bayer 04 Leverkusen. On Saturday FC Bayern disposed of Hannover 96 in style putting seven goals past their hapless opponents without reply with Arjen Robben scoring a hat trick.

There was much anticipation in France ahead of the battle between Olympique Lyonnais, seven times French champions from 2002-2008, and Girondins de Bordeaux who took OL‘s title away from them in 2008-09. With both teams dropping points in the domestic title race this European clash became more important as they both wanted to be the team that would represent French football going into the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. The first leg in Lyon was a fantastically open affair with many chances for both sides, especially in the first half. Lisandro López scored the opening goal on ten minutes only for Marouane Chamakh to equalize just four minutes later for the Girondins in a frantic set of opening exchanges. Olympique Lyonnais regained the lead after Michel Bastos had put them 2-1 up before the break. A penalty from Lisandro López further enhanced OL‘s lead in the 77th minute and it was the men from Lyon who were celebrating going into the second leg. Understandably the return fixture in Bordeuax was a more tense affair with both sides cancelling each other out for most of the first half but then came the breakthrough on the stroke of half time thanks to Maraoune Chamakh scoring the opening goal of the night. Try as they might in the second half Les Girondins just couldn’t find that crucial second goal which they needed to take them through. Olympique Lyonnais won 3-2 on aggregate and will hope to upset the odds against FC Bayern in the next round.

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE SEMI-FINALS (Team on left at home first)

Internazionale FC v FC Barcelona (1st Leg 20th April; 2nd Leg 28th April)

FC Bayern München v Olympique Lyonnais (1st Leg 21st April; 2nd Leg 27th April)

El Gran Clásico: Barça regain advantage over Real Madrid

Posted in European Football by peterbein on April 11, 2010
Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi scored the first goal in FC Barcelona's 2-0 win at title rivals Real Madrid

The game didn’t quite manage to live up to the hype but it still provided an important outcome as FC Barcelona won the latest version of “El Gran Clásico” with a 2-0 victory away at eternal rivals Real Madrid CF thanks to goals from Lionel Messi and Pedro either side of half-time. The win gives Barça a three point lead at the top of La Liga with seven matches left to play and although the title is far from over the Catalans do have the psychological advantage of having the better head-to-head record over Los Blancos having won both encounters against Real Madrid this season. Those results will decide the title in the event of both teams finishing level on points this season.

Although the headlines will be dominated by Messi’s contribution more credit should be given to the role played by Xavi Hernández who further cemented his position as one of the world’s great playmakers, whose distribution in this encounter was as near to faultless as it could get. His beautifully timed chip over to Messi in the 33rd minute allowed the Argentinian superstar to control the ball on his chest before steering it past Real Madrid keeper Iker Casillas from just in front of goal. The home side had the chance to equalize not long after but Xabi Alonso could only manage to head over the bar from close range when the goal was at his mercy. Despite the statistics showing that Real Madrid had the most chances in the first half FC Barcelona were far from troubled in a game which they controlled with their superior possession and strong defence. The game was practically over as a contest when Xavi (who else?) provided the killer pass to Pedro which the young starlet beautifully shot low past Casillas in the 56th minute to double Barça’s lead. Having scored in every competition in FC Barcelona’s sextuple winning year Pedro has now also scored his first goal in “El Gran Clásico”, a record that any player would love to have at the end of his career, never mind a 22 year old.

At this point Real Madrid decided that they needed to attack and, for a while, they did create a couple of chances but the ever-improving Barcelona custodian Victor Valdes was comfortably controlling everything that Real threw at him, whether it be crosses into the box or shots from long range. Even Real Madrid’s £80 million (€94m) signing Cristiano Ronaldo was easily shut out by the Barcelona rearguard. His trademark free-kicks failed to trouble the keeper or the wall in front of him and his impact on the game was limited. As Real Madrid chased the game their opponents were able to soak up any pressure and hit the home side on the counter attack. Xavi provided Lionel Messi twice in the last twenty minutes of the game with a pair of fantastic opportunities which Messi should’ve scored but for some good goalkeeping by Spain’s numer one Casillas. Very late in the game it looked like Real Madrid’s talisman Raul had finally provided them with a lifeline but his goal was chalked off becuase of a handball by substitute Karim Benzema, a decision the Frenchman was seen to clearly disagree with by gesturing at the linesman. At the end of the game there were just four hundred people within the capacity 80.000 crowd who were celebrating up in the heavens of Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu stadium as FC Barcelona had secured the win which takes them one step closer to a 20th Spanish league title.