Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Europe: Real and Benfica seal top spot amid derby triumphs (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on November 27, 2011
Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo scored twice from the penalty spot against Atletico

Real Madrid (Played 13, Points 34) took the initiative in the Spanish league last night as a 4-1 derby success at home to local rivals Atlético de Madrid was sweetened by a defeat to champions FC Barcelona whose 1-0 defeat to Getafe saw them go six points behind los Blancos at the top of the table. Next door in Portugal, SL Benfica (Played 11, Points 27) have provided themselves with a platform to challenge for the title this season by defeating local rivals Sporting by a narrow 1-0 scoreline.

In the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu last night local honours were once again afforded to Real Madrid who haven’t lost a league match against Atlético since 1999. The visitors did shock the home support by taking the lead through Adrián after quarter of an hour but that would be as good as it got for Los Rojiblancos who would see their goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois shown the red card for bringing down Karim Benzema in the box allowing Cristiano Ronaldo to equalize from the penalty spot in the 24th minute. The game ended 1-1 at the break but, not surprisingly, Real took advantage of the extra man to stamp their authority on the game in the second half. Goals from Ángel di María, Gonzalo Higuaín and another penalty for Ronaldo, which brought a red card heading in Diego Godín’s direction, capped off a good night for the home side whose 4-1 victory cemented top spot for at least a couple of hours until the result in the neighbouring suburbs of Getafe was known. A good night soon became a great one with the news later on that FC Barcelona had gone down to a 1-0 defeat to FC Getafe and the six point advantage had been preserved. Juan Valera’s goal midway through the second half proved the killer blow for Barcelona who now must look over their shoulder at the oncoming Valencia CF whose 2-1 defeat away to Rayo Vallecano brought los Che to within one point of the champions.

In neighbouring Portugal the Lisbon derby was played out with all the usual tension one would expect from a Benfica v Sporting game. The match was settled by Javi García with a goal just three minutes before half-time but it was far from plain sailing for the Eagles who saw Oscar Cardozo sent off for a second bookable offence in the 63rd minute. The win was Benfica’s sixth on the trot against their local rivals in all competitions and allowed them the opportunity to enjoy sole possession of top spot in the Super Liga for at least 24 hours until defending champions FC Porto play at home to Sporting Braga this evening. Benfica have 27 points from eleven games but FC Porto will draw level should they claim all three points tonight.

UEFA: Barcelona see off Porto to win Super Cup (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 27, 2011

FC Barcelona won the UEFA Super Cup in Monaco last night beating FC Porto by two goals to nil. It is the second trophy already this season for the Catalans who had also won their domestic super cup against Real Madrid less than a fortnight ago.

The spirited Portuguese started the game sharper and had some good early chances against the favourites. However a passback from Fredy Guarín provided Messi with a one-on-one opportunity against Porto keeper Helton and the Argentina superstar, who was awarded UEFA’S Best Player in Europe award at the Champions League group stage draw on Thursday, rounded him with relative ease and squeezed the ball home from an acute angle with six minutes of the first half remaining. New signing Cesc Fabregas sealed the deal in the second half after coming on as a substitute; Lionel Messi looped the ball over to Fabregas who controlled the ball with his chest before firing home with his right foot from close range to secure a 2-0 win and yet another trophy for the Blaugrana.

The win was FC Barcelona’s fourth title in this competition, just one behind record winners AC Milan, and was the sixth time that a Spanish club had won the trophy in the last decade.

UEFA: Barça and Porto get ready for Super Cup battle

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 24, 2011
Atletico Madrid

Who will follow Atlético Madrid as Super Cup winners?

The UEFA Super Cup will be held on Friday night with 2010-11 UEFA Champions League winners FC Barcelona ready to take on the 2010-11 UEFA Europa League holders FC Porto in a massive Iberian derby. These two clubs have been the dominant forces in their respective countries in recent years and both teams are hoping to add yet another trophy to their already bulging trophy cabinets this weekend.

With the most recent Super Cup winners Atlético Madrid ready to relinquish the trophy, which they won in glorious fashion against Internazionale last year, their compatriots FC Barcelona are the favourites to maintain a proud Spanish record in this competition. Since the Super Cup became a one-off fixture in 1998, Spanish clubs have participated in all but five of the thirteen finals and have won five times in the last nine years. FC Porto, however, should not be underestimated as they have started their domestic season in fine form whilst their opponents have yet to kick a ball in La Liga which still remains postponed due to the ongoing dispute between the Association of Spanish Footballers and the Spanish Football League over unpaid player salaries.

FC Barcelona 2010-11 Champions League winners

FC Barcelona won the UEFA Champions League in 2010-11

FC Barcelona won their fourth UEFA Champions League final last season having topped Group D in the league stage – finishing ahead of FC København, Rubin Kazan and Panathinaikos – going on to eliminate Arsenal FC, Shakhtar Donetsk and Real Madrid in the knockout rounds before disposing of Manchester United with a sublime performance in the final at Wembley Stadium which they won 3-1.  This allowed Pep Guardiola’s men to qualify for their eighth Super Cup final in the process. The Blaugrana will, therefore, overtake AC Milan with the most appearances in this competition since its inception in 1972 although the Italians will still be record title holders with five wins even if Barcelona go on to win this weekend.

FC Porto qualified for this Friday’s showpiece match by claiming their second UEFA Europa League (formerly UEFA Cup) title in 2010-11. FC Porto are a team more accustomed to playing regularly in the UEFA Champions League but had to be content with the second-tier tournament following a third place finish in the 2009-10 Portuguese League campaign. The Dragões topped Group L in the league stage – ahead of Beşiktaş, Rapid Wien and CSKA Sofia – before overcoming Sevilla FC, both Moscow clubs CSKA and Spartak and Villarreal CF en route to defeating compatriots Braga who dropped down into the Europa League having finished third in their Champions League group. Radamel Falcao’s goal on the stroke of half-time separated the two finalists in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium and gave Porto coach André Villas-Boas a fantastic send-off as this victory sealed the treble following FC Porto’s domestic league and cup success.

FC Porto 2010-11 UEFA Europa League winners

FC Porto won the UEFA Europa League in 2010-11

FC Barcelona were previously victorious in this competition in the two-legged era with wins over German clubs Werder Bremen and Borussia Dortmund in 1992 and 1997 respectively whilst their most recent victory came in the famous 2009 success against ambitious Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk, the 1-0 win in extra-time helping Barcelona on their way to a famous Sextuple triumph later that year. However they have also lost on four occasions so it is fair to say that the Catalans have had mixed fortunes in this competition. FC Porto will take part in their fourth UEFA Super Cup final and have also experienced the good and the bad in this competition. Following their triumphant appearance in 1987, in which they defeated Ajax Amsterdam 2-0 on aggregate, they lost back-to-back finals in 2003 and 2004 in which they suffered one goal deficits to AC Milan (1-0) and Valencia CF (2-1) respectively. If FC Porto are to break their duck in Monaco’s Stade Louis II then this will arguably be their last real chance to do so as next season’s UEFA Super Cup final will be the last time the fixture will be played there before being moved all around Europe starting with Prague in 2013.

One area where FC Porto will have an advantage over FC Barcelona before Friday’s contest will be in the number of competitive fixtures they have played so far. The Portuguese champions were successful in their domestic super cup (defeating Vitória Guimarães) and have chalked up two wins out of two in the Super Liga whilst Spanish and European champions FC Barcelona have played just two domestic super cup matches against Real Madrid so far with last weekend’s opening La Liga fixture against Malaga CF called off, along with all of the other Matchday 1 league fixtures.

UEFA: FC Porto win Europa League title

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 19, 2011

The constant stream of comparisons between current FC Porto coach André Villas-Boas and his mentor José Mourinho are set to continue following the Portuguese club’s UEFA Europa League triumph over compatriots Sporting Braga. Radamel Falcao claimed the only goal of the game on the stroke of half-time to secure FC Porto their second success in this competition, adding to the UEFA Cup won with Mourinho in 2003. In truth the game was far from a classic but Braga did miss a glorious chance to restore parity early in the second half when Mossoró was through on goal following a defensive mistake but Porto keeper Helton kept him at bay. With chances few and far between in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium the team from Portugal’s second city held out in a tight contest.

Now the future of Porto coach Villas-Boas, who at 33 years old is the youngest coach to guide a team to a European club title, will certainly be the subject of much speculation after he guided his team to an unbeaten Portuguese SuperLiga triumph as well as last night’s piece of continental glory. Now “Mourinho Lite” has the chance to complete the treble this Sunday as Porto meet Vitória de Guimarães in the Portuguese Cup final.

WATCH FC PORTO WINNING GOAL HERE:

WATCH FC PORTO TROPHY PRESENTATION HERE:

Super Cup: Bayern, Porto and Trabzonspor lift early season silver (+video)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on August 8, 2010

The domestic showpiece Super Cup match has been played in three countries this weekend and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog reviews events in Germany, Portugal and Turkey.

After a fourteen year break the DFB Supercup was re-instated back into the German football calendar and it was no surprise to see last season’s League and Cup double winners FC Bayern München lift the first silverware of the 2010-11 season. The game, played in Augsburg, saw the double winners face Schalke 04 who qualified for this match as last season’s league runners-up and who had a new high profile signing in the form of Real Madrid legend Raúl playing for the Königsblauen for the first time. Alas it was FC Bayern who would seal the deal in the last fifteen minutes of the match. Thomas Müller and Miroslav Klose scored the crucial goals which gave the Munich side their first official Super Cup title since 1990.

WATCH DFB SUPERCUP 2010 GOALS HERE:

In Portugal league champions SL Benfica met cup winners FC Porto in the 32nd edition of the Super Cup in the Estádio Municipal de Aveiro which has played host to the two most recent editions of this trophy. FC Porto took the lead very early when Rolando put them ahead after just three minutes with a header just a couple of yards in front of goal. Falcao secured the trophy for FC Porto midway through the second half after he hit the ball home on the half volley following a cross from Silvestre Varela after he’d produced some good work down the left. The victory meant that FC Porto lift the Portuguese Super Cup for the 17th time in the club’s history, ten more than their nearest rivals Sporting Clube.

WATCH HIGHLIGHTS OF THE PORTUGUESE SUPER CUP HERE:

In Turkey Bursaspor, who won their maiden Süper Lig title last season, met cup winners Trabzonspor to determine who would win the first trophy of the new season. The match was held in the Atatürk Olympic Stadium, Istanbul and it was to be a good day for the team from Trabzon who would run out easy winners of this match by three goals to nil. A hat-trick from Colombian striker Teófilo Gutierrez ensured that the team from Turkey’s Black Sea coast would win their eighth Super Cup title, fifteen years after winning their last one. Bursaspor, however, have a 100% losing record in this competition after losing in their only other appreance in 1986 where they lost to Istanbul giants Beşiktaş. For Trabzonspor the game serves as a confidence booster ahead of their UEFA Europa League play-off round match against English giants Liverpool FC.

WATCH HIGHLIGHTS OF THE TURKISH SUPER CUP HERE:

UEFA: Now José really is the Real Deal

Posted in European Football by peterbein on May 23, 2010
Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho is almost certainly leaving Treble winners Internazionale for the challenge of Real Madrid

Like him or loathe him there is no denying that José Mourinho is one of the finest and most astute football coaches in history after the self-styled “Special One” led Italian double winners Internazionale FC to their third European Cup against German Double winners FC  Bayern München in an emotional night for the Milanese club in Madrid on Saturday becoming only the third coach after Ernst Happel and Ottmar Hitzfeld to win the competition with two different clubs. After the final his team flew home to Milan returning to a heroes’ reception at their legendary San Siro stadium but José himself stayed in Madrid to reveal football’s worst kept secret – that he would almost certainly be joining Spanish giants Real Madrid CF for the 2010-11 season.

José Mourinho is very much a man who has courted controversy throughout his maverick coaching career. Having started life within football as an interpreter for Sir Bobby Robson whilst the former England coach plied his trade for Sporting Clube do Portugal, FC Porto and FC Barcelona Mourinho would then work with Robson’s successor Louis Van Gaal before fate dealt him his first proper coaching  job at Portuguese giants SL Benfica. Sadly for Mourinho he lasted only nine games there before he took a modest provincial club União de Leiria to their best ever finish of fifth place in the 2001-02 season. After moving to FC Porto the beginning of the Mourinho legend was really starting to take off after he guided Os Dragões to two league titles, one Portuguese Cup, a UEFA Cup and UEFA Champions League glory. The manner of his departure from Porto upset some of the club’s supporters who thought that his cold and unemotional demeanour after the 2003-04 UEFA Champions League win over AS Monaco had soured his legacy somewhat. Nonetheless Mourinho then went to Stamford Bridge to guide a Chelsea FC side to their first league championship in fifty years before going on to win another five trophies with the Blues before club politics with billionaire chairman Roman Abramovich saw him discarded and move on in 2008-09 to Italian giants Internazionale FC with whom he has prospered immeasurably.

The Internazionale side that he inherited was already a successful one having won the previous three Serie A titles prior to his arrival albeit the first of these titles was won in the courts after a match-fixing scandal and the second won in a championship minus giants Juventus FC, who’d been forcibly relegated to Serie B, and an AC Milan team who were deducted eight points in the 2006-07 season. In Mourinho’s first season at the San Siro Internazionale won the Serie A title by a ten point margin from both AC Milan and Juventus FC but were denied the Double having surprisingly lost to Sampdoria in the Coppa Italia semi-finals. In 2009-10 the Nerazzurri had to tough it out against AS Roma in the battle for lo Scudetto as Claudio Ranieri’s men recovered from a poor early-season start to take Inter all the way in the championship fight. However Mourinho was able to take his Inter team ahead in the title race with three matches to go and the club stayed there and won the league by just two points. The 18th league title for Internazionale ensured that they overtook Milan’s number of 17 Scudetti and also secured the Double, the first half of which had been secured a couple of weeks earlier when Inter defeated old adversaries AS Roma again in the Coppa Italia final.

Now it was only Louis Van Gaal’s Treble-chasing FC Bayern team that stood in the way of Mourinho and history and the Special One had certainly done his homework on the opposition stifling the creativity of danger man Arjen Robben whilst playing the sort of combative, compact football which have become Mourinho’s hallmark. Diego Milito, a player who Mourinho had brought to the club from Genoa at the beginning of the 2009-10 season, was to play as fundamental a role for Inter as Pedro had for FC Barcelona in their Treble winning 2008-09 season. Milito scored the winner in the Coppa Italia final, the only goal of the game in Inter’s final Serie A game of the season against Siena to secure the league title and the two goals to win the UEFA Champions League for Inter, their first triumph in this tournament since 1964-65 in the old European Cup. The credit for the triumph has to go to Mourinho who has guided Inter into an elite group of clubs who have completed the Treble – domestic league and cup plus European Cup or UEFA Champions League – and has maintained a personal record of having not lost a home league game since February 23rd, 2002 (where his FC Porto team lost to Beira Mar) chalking up 136 games undefeated on home soil which is a truly remarkable record by anyone’s standards.

Now it seems that José Mourinho will take over at Real Madrid CF with whom it has been reported he could start negotiations to take over Manuel Pellegrini as recently as Monday. Should he take over los Blancos one can only imagine just how much more unpopular he will become in Barcelona but that will be the sort of thing that the Special One will thrive on. Always up for a challenge Mourinho will want to become the man who takes Real Madrid to their tenth European Cup/UEFA Champions League victory and only from Monday will we be nearer knowing that the Real Deal will soon be signed and sealed for Mourinho.

UEFA Champions League: Round of 16 preview 2

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 16, 2010
FC Bayern

FC Bayern have been celebrating a lot in the German Bundesliga recently. Will this continue in the Champions League against AC Fiorentina?

The UEFA Champions League is back! “Stoppage Time” continues its preview of the Round of 16 games with a focus on those matches taking place on Wednesday with the second legs on Tuesday, March 9th:

FC BAYERN MÜNCHEN (Germany) v AC FIORENTINA (Italy)

Whereas Italian side AC Fiorentina had a comfortable ride in Champions League group E disposing of Olympique Lyonnais, Liverpool FC and Debreceni to finish top, German Rekordmeister (record champions) FC Bayern had to go to Turin and win away at Juventus to claim the second qualification spot in their group. At the time FC Bayern were struggling for consistency under new coach Louis van Gaal but a heroic 4-1 win against Italy’s Old Lady signalled a change in fortune for the Bavarian giants. Since then FC Bayern have been faultless in the Bundesliga while AC Fiorentina have slid down the Serie A table and are now finding it difficult to qualify for European competition next season.

Since the conclusion of the Champions League group stage FC Bayern have gone from strength to strength having won their last eight games in the league and are now level on points with joint leaders Bayer 04 Leverkusen, trailing behind the Werkself (Work’s Eleven) by virtue of goal difference. Having also qualified for the DFB Pokal (German Cup) semi-finals all is rosy at the Allianz Arena, at the moment, with the German side quietly contemplating a chance at going for a treble similar to what FC Barcelona accomplished last season. AC Fiorentina, on the other hand, have struggled with form and injuries since sealing their place in the knockout stages. The Viola have won only two of their last eight games in the league (against Bari and bottom club Siena) and from the heady heights of fourth have gone sliding down the table to their current rank of eleventh leaving them seven points from a UEFA Europa League place.

Although Mario Gomez has hit 14 goals so far in his maiden season at FC Bayern all of the fans’ expectations rest on the shoulders of Arjen Robben, who has been a revelation since his two goal introduction to German football against champions VfL Wolfsburg on Matchday 4 of the Bundesliga. The Dutchman is backed up by a returning Franck Ribéry who is desperate to show the fans the sort of form which led him to the German Footballer of the Year award in 2008. AC Fiorentina will hope that Stevan Jovetić, who impressed with his performance against Liverpool earlier this season, can once again perform on the European stage having scored three times in the tournament so far this season. However the Florentines have suffered with injuries this season and the news that defender Alessandro Gamberini will miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury is bad news for the club. With the Italian side having never won a competitive fixture in Germany before the omens are against Fiorentina but at least they will be at home in the second leg so it is imperative that Fiorentina can score an away goal tomorrow night.

FC PORTO (Portugal) v ARSENAL FC (England)

Two-time European champions FC Porto will be hoping to continue their good form in the UEFA Champions League this season as they have struggled in their defence of the championship back home with both SL Benfica and surprise team Sporting Braga out in front. The Dragões (Dragons) progressed in second place from group B two points behind Chelsea FC and nine points ahead of both Atlético de Madrid and APOEL Nicosia. Arsenal usually progress with ease to the knockout stages in this tournament but find the tough going when the business end of the season arrives. Five years without a trophy would be a disaster for Arsenal fans who still lament how close they came to winning the trophy in 2006 when they were losing finalists to FC Barcelona. However they topped group H ahead of Greek champions Olympiakos and will hope that they can kick-start their season again in Europe.

FC Porto lie in third-place in the Portuguese Liga Sagres nine points behind leaders SL Benfica having played a game less than the Lisbon side. In their seven games since the group stage FC Porto have won four of them but have suffered a solitary defeat in that time to Benfica which has left them trailing in their wake. The Dragons have found consolation in the Carlsberg Cup (Portuguese League Cup) having qualified for the final to be played next month against…..Benfica. Arsenal have won seven of their twelve Premier League games since the group phase but have suffered a recent dip by losing to their two challengers for the title, leaders Chelsea FC and champions Manchester United. They did recover by beating Liverpool FC at home in their most recent league encounter so are still third in the table only six points behind first place. However defeats in the two domestic cup competitions to Stoke City and Manchester City means that Arsène Wenger’s men only have the domestic championship and Champions League to play for.

FC Porto’s danger man is Falcao who, since moving to the club from Argentine giants River Plate, has scored 17 goals (3 in the Champions League) so far this season. If he can link up with Brazilian striker Hulk then the Arsenal defence may just have problems against such a strong forward line although the Portuguese do miss two key players in Ruben Micael and Ernesto Farias. Arsenal’s inspiration usually comes from captain Cesc Fabrègas and the Gunners will rely on him more than ever as they suffer from a list of injuries including the likes of Andrey Arshavin, Robin van Persie, Eduardo and William Gallas, to name but four.

REMEMBER: the other four quarter-finals ties play next week so we will continue with the previews from next Monday, February 22nd.

European Leagues: Winter Break Round-up

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 22, 2009
Samuel Eto'o

Samuel Eto'o is all smiles as his club Internazionale lead Italy's Serie A

With the exception of England, Scotland and France, most of the league championships in Europe have taken a well earned break for Christmas time. “Stoppage Time” reviews the season so far in Europe’s top leagues:

SPAIN

This looks like it will be a two horse race between arch-rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid. The Spanish, European and World champions FC Barcelona (39 points from 15 games) hold a slim two point advantage over ‘El Real’ whose performances haven’t always been great but whose capability of getting results has improved. Sevilla looked for a while like a potential ‘stalking horse’ candidate for the title, keeping close to the top but they have slipped off the pace in recent weeks. At the bottom of the table newly promoted sides such as Xerez (7 points from 15 games) and Real Zaragoza have found the going tough. A traditional giant of the Spanish game, Atlético Madrid find themselves just one point from the cellar after a string of poor displays.

ITALY

FC Internazionale of Milan (39 points from 17 games), including striker Samuel Eto’o (pictured) find themselves in charge of Serie A yet again. Going for a fifth consecutive championship, the Nerazzurri’s only challengers to date appear to be local enemies AC Milan, who are eight points behind with a game in hand. The Rossoneri have come back strongly after a really poor start under the stewardship of Leonardo. Juventus appeared to be going well under new coach Ciro Ferrara but have lost their last three games and remain a point further behind Milan having played a game more. At the bottom of the league six points separate Udinese in 14th place from AC Siena in last place (12 points after 17 games), signalling that a tight relegation battle could be just around the corner.

GERMANY

Bayer 04 Leverkusen (35 points from 17 games) remain unbeaten to be crowned the unofficial “Herbstmeister” (autumn champions) in the Bundesliga. However the ‘Werkself’ (Work’s Eleven) have drawn a lot a games meaning that their lead is a narrow one point margin from nearest challengers Schalke 04, who have done well considering their financial troubles. Despite Bayern Munich’s less than impressive start to the season the Bavarian giants are a further point behind Schalke. Louis Van Gaal has withstood the criticism and has guided Bayern to third place at the halfway stage with 33 points. The surprise of the season so far is 1. FSV Mainz 05, who were promoted from the second division last season, who have a respectable eighth place finish after 17 games. Hertha Berlin is the surprise team at the bottom of the table (6 points/17 games), all the more surprising considering they won on the opening day against Hannover 96. Other big clubs close to the bottom are 1. FC Nürnberg, who sacked their coach Michael Oenning on Monday, and VfB Stuttgart, who replaced Markus Babbel with former Tottenham Hotspur coach Christian Gross in early December.

PORTUGAL

The Portuguese Superliga normally has three contenders for the title but one of this year’s contenders is an unfamiliar one: Sporting Braga. They lead the table jointly with SL Benfica (33 points from 14 games) with perennial champions FC Porto four points behind. Many hope that Braga can keep up with the big two especially since the tradional third power of Portuguese football, Sporting, are struggling domestically (21 points/14 games) but performing well in Europe. Also many remember last season’s surprise package Leixões, who led the table early on in 2008-09, falling away late in the season. Could Braga really become only the sixth club (after Benfica, Porto, Sporting, Belenenses and Boavista) to win the Portuguese championship? At the bottome Leixões’ glory days from last season are well and truly behind them as they now are fighting against relegation lying just one point above the bottom two clubs Olhanense and Belenenses (10 points/14 games).

HOLLAND

Steve McClaren has done an impressive job at FC Twente (47 points/17 games) thus far and he’s already hoping to go one better than last season. The club from Enschede were runners-up in both league and cup in 2008-09 but McClaren’s men currently lead the Eredivisie by two points from PSV Eindhoven. PSV’s coach Fred Rutten has given new purpose to the Philips owned club after they lost direction last season under Huub Stevens which led to them weakly giving up their run of four consecutive titles. Ajax, coached by Martin Jol, have suffered a few defeats and are nine points off the pace. Their arch-rivals Feyenoord Rotterdam have also been rejuvenated under new coach Mario Been and a further point behind having played a game more. At the bottom RKC Waalwijk (12 points/18 games) will hope to avoid the automatic relegation spot at the end of the season as they are not far off the teams above NEC Nijmegen, ADO Den Haag and Willem II Tilburg.

GREECE

It’s the same old story in Greece as champions Olympiakos Piraeus are involved in a two-way tussle with league leaders Panathinaikos (38 points/15 games) for the championship. As usual PAOK Thessaloniki threaten to make a fight of it but end up dropping too many points but they should easily get a place in Europe. Athen’s third club AEK have struggled for form and consistency in both Greek and European competition thus far and lie in eighth place on 21 points. At the bottom of the table it’s been a dreadful time for promoted Panthrakikos who remain without a win after fifteen games. They have only two points at this stage and are dead certs for the drop. Above them the likes of Giannina, Levadiakos (14 points), Larissa and Iraklis (15 points) will hope to avoid joining them in the second division next season.

TURKEY

The Turkish Superlig could be one of the most exciting for years. Fenerbahçe (37 points/17 games) lead at the halfway stage by just one point from eternal rivals Galatasaray. Then there are two unexpected title chasers in Bursaspor and Kayserispor (35 and 34 points respectively) as well as last season’s champions Beşiktaş (32 points). “Fener” will miss on the services of Roberto Carlos after the winter break as he heads back to Brazil to finish his career at Corinithians. Last season’s surprise package Sivasspor struggled in the early weeks of the season but will hope that they can take recent good form into the second half of the season. They are ten points ahead of second bottom Denizlispor (7 points/17 games) and seventeen ahead of Ankaraspor who are pointless (numerically speaking, of course) at the halfway stage and look certain for the drop.

Champions League – Group Stage Round-Up: Part One

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 9, 2009
Louis Van Gaal

Can Louis van Gaal win the Champions League again?

This week sees the conclusion of the group stages in the UEFA Champions League. “Stoppage Time” takes a look back at how each group has shaped up, starting with groups A-D today, followed by groups E-H tomorrow:

GROUP A (BORDEAUX, BAYERN MUNICH, JUVENTUS, MACCABI HAIFA)

Bordeaux surprised the pundits with a near faultless performance in group A. “Les Girondins” only dropped two points away at Juventus on Matchday 1 leaving the traditional big boys “Juve” and FC Bayern to fight it out for second place. During the campaign it seemed as if Bayern’s domestic troubles were going to destroy their European ambitions and, with two matchdays to go, Juve seemed to be going through. However the four time European champions from Bavaria still had a chance on Matchday 6, all they had to do was beat Juventus away in Turin. What seemed a tough task proved, ultimately, to be a stroll in the park for Louis van Gaal’s men as they won 4-1 including a penalty goal from Bayern keeper Hans-Jörg Butt. Juventus are now confined to the Europa League whilst Israeli champions Maccabi Haifa couldn’t even score a goal in the whole group stage and, unsurprisingly, remained pointless after six games.

GROUP B (MANCHESTER UNITED, CSKA MOSCOW, VfL WOLFSBURG, BESIKTAS)

As expected Manchester United topped the group in comfortable fashion. CSKA Moscow claimed the second place after a 2-1 success away in Istanbul against Besiktas on Matchday 6. The celebrations were dampened somewhat by the news that two of their players, Alexei Berezutsky and Sergei Ignashevich, were tested positive for banned substances. However UEFA has decided to punish the players rather than the club for what officals of CSKA Moscow called “a clerical error”.  German champions VfL Wolfsburg had a good maiden campaign in Europe’s elite class with Edin Džeko attracting the notice of some of Europe’s biggest clubs with some good performances, most notably against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Besiktas were struggling from the start but a consolation win over Manchester United in Matchday 5 proved to be their only highlight. With players such as Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen showing glimpses of their best “ManU” finished with 13 points at the top of the group with CSKA three points behind. Wolfsburg’s European campaign will continue in the Europa League whilst Besiktas have to revert back to the travails of domestic football.

GROUP C (REAL MADRID, AC MILAN, OLYMPIQUE MARSEILLE, FC ZÜRICH)

Before a ball was kicked in this group virtually everybody had tipped Real Madrid and AC Milan, two clubs with sixteen European Cups before them, to qualify for the Round of 16 and so it was proved. The only real blip which the Spanish side suffered was their 3-2 home defeat by the Italian giants on Matchday 3. FC Zürich had their moments too, a 1-0 defeat of AC Milan in the San Siro on Matchday 2 had their fans dreaming of further glory. Sadly for the Swiss champions their double header against Marseille proved disappointing and effectively knocked them out of the competition. On Matchday 6 Marseille still had a chance of progressing but they had to defeat Real Madrid, who were already through, at home and hope Milan dropped points in Zürich. The latter scenario happened as Milan could only manage a 1-1 draw but Cristiano Ronaldo was in scintillating form for Real Madrid scoring twice in a 3-1 win at Stade Vélodrome to send Marseille into the Europa League.

GROUP D (CHELSEA FC, FC PORTO, ATLÉTICO DE MADRID, APOEL NICOSIA)

Chelsea and FC Porto were clearly the two best sides in the group easily seeing off a poor Atleti and a weak APOEL team although the Cypriots were far from expected to qualify for the last 16. Chelsea’s two matches against FC Porto determined the top two placings with the London club winning 1-0 home and away. This was the difference between the two teams even allowing for the fact that Chelsea drew 2-2 away at Atleti and at home to APOEL on Matchday 6 when they’d already qualified. Chelsea finsihed on 14 points two ahead of Porto who some people fancy as a good outside bet in the tournament. “Los Rojiblancos” (the red and whites) of Madrid scraped through to the Europa League going through on their head-to-head record against APOEL. With both teams finishing on three points each after six games Atleti’s away goal in the 1-1 draw in Cyprus proved crucial as APOEL were only able to manage a 0-0 draw in Spain.