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)

England: Forget Hiddink, Roman should bring Rafa to the Bridge

Posted in UK Football by peterbein on May 25, 2011
Guus Hiddink

Guus Hiddink won the FA cup with Chelsea in 2009. Is he the right man for the Blues again?

As Chelsea FC lick their wounds after ending the 2010-11 season empty handed, much speculation continues as to the identity of the club’s new coach following the departure of Carlo Ancelotti. Much of the current speculation is pointing towards Guus Hiddink which is far from surprising considering that he led the club to FA Cup success in a caretaker capacity during the 2008-09 season after “Big Phil” Scolari was sacked by the club’s owner Roman Abramovitch. However if the Russian billionaire is really desperate for a top coach to come to Stamford Bridge then he shouldn’t look much further than former Liverpool FC coach Rafael Benítez.

Having owned Chelsea FC since 2003, Abramovitch has bought a galaxy of stars and hired and fired an assortment of managers in order to bring success to the west London club. This he has done with some aplomb having won three English Premier League titles, three FA Cups and two League Cups in that time. However there is a gaping hole in the Chelsea trophy cabinet which desperately needs filling and that can only be done with success in the UEFA Champions League. Having lost the 2007-08 final to English rivals Manchester United it is clear that Abramovitch really wants to win “Old Big Ears” and, in my opinion, Benítez would be the perfect choice.

Rafael Benitez

Rafael Benítez won the Champions League with Liverpool. Could he do the same with Chelsea FC?

After all, the Spanish coach began life with his former club Liverpool FC by winning the 2004-05 UEFA Champions League with a far inferior squad to the one he could potentially inherit at Stamford Bridge. Benítez, on many occasions, got the better of his arch-nemesis José Mourinho whilst the latter was Chelsea boss and proved himself on many a famous European night at Anfield with victories gained over such illustrious clubs like Real Madrid, Internazionale and Juventus FC. If there was anything that “Rafa the Gaffer” was particularly good at it was his ability to prepare for Champions League matches and his record of two finals, a semi-final and a quarter-final in Europe’s premier club competition stands that theory to the test.

But it isn’t just the European issue, important though that is, which should bring more attention to Benítez’s qualities as a coach. At Valencia CF he won two Spanish league championships in three years, as well as the 2003-04 UEFA Cup, and that team still remains the last one from outside the big two of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona to have triumphed in La Liga. Benítez also has FA Cup and European Super Cup triumphs to his name whilst at Liverpool and having run Manchester United close to the 2008-09 title it is clear that the Spaniard takes all challengers head on. If you take away the last 18 months of his time at Anfield his record is as good as most of the top coaches in Europe. One other important question to consider is this: if there is anyone who is going to bring out the best out of recent £50m Chelsea signing Fernando Torres, who flourished under Benítez while at Anfield, then surely that man is Benítez.

Think about it…….

Away Days: Liverpool FC v Lille OSC Métropole

Posted in Away Days by peterbein on March 19, 2010
Liverpool FC v Lille OSC

The two teams line-up before kick-off at Anfield

Strictly speaking this isn’t really an away day for me at all. Anfield is a stadium that I’ve visited on many occasions as for many years I used to live in the Liverpool district of the same name. Admittedly the hallowed turf of Anfield has been a less familiar place for me in recent years as I have indulged in other passions, such as travel, and have begun to follow other teams too. I make no secret of a passion for German club Eintracht Frankfurt and Latvian record champions Skonto Riga having made many visits to both clubs since 2005. However it is still imperative that I can get to see The Reds on that all too rare occasion that the ground doesn’t actually sell out and the UEFA Europa League Round of 16, 2nd leg tie with French side Lille OSC Métropole provided me with the perfect opportunity.

There are many pubs where fans could possibly meet up ahead of a game at Anfield but I tend to choose The Arkles, a pub just on the corner of Anfield Road where Liverpool FC paraphernalia adourns the walls especially that regarding the club’s recent great European nights such as the 2005 UEFA Champions League in Istanbul. However, on this occasion, I couldn’t help but think that I’d taken a wrong turning and somehow ended up in Northern France as this traditional watering-hole for Liverpool supporters had been taken over by fans of Lille OSC. It was a struggle to get to and from the bar as this pub can get packed with supporters before a game but it made a change, admittedly a strangely nice one, to be saying “excusez-moi, s’il vous plaît” rather than “can I get past there, mate” as I tried to find space to stand ahead of a meeting with my good friend Jörg, with whom I was going to enjoy this European encounter. After our first pint things began to get a little too rowdy amongst the Lille fans, many of whom acted like they were in a mosh pit in the middle of the pub, therefore we decided to leave and make our way to the stadium.

Having taken our seats in the world famous Spion Kop section of the stadium our thoughts began to focus on the game ahead. In the first leg of this tie seven days previously the French side, known as Les Douges (The Mastiffs), had secured a 1-0 victory late in the game thanks to an Eden Hazard free-kick which was taken from the left-side touchline and crept into Liverpool’s goal at the far post having avoided a mass of bodies in the penalty area. Things could’ve been worse as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck a shot against a post just moments after the goal and Liverpool were relieved to see out the first leg with just a one goal reverse. Therefore we were optimistic that if Liverpool scored first in the tie then we would be able to finish the French side off and progress to the quarter-finals. Before the game news was announced that Fulham FC, the other English team left in the UEFA Europa League, had beaten Italian giants Juventus FC 4-1 in their match, thus securing a 5-4 aggregate victory and a cheer from the Liverpool fans in the process. After the traditional rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone the teams came out to the comparable strains of the official UEFA Europa League anthem which, try as it might, doesn’t give that sense of importance as the UEFA Champions League anthem does. Nonetheless there was a game to be played and at 20:05 it kicked off in earnest.

Steven Gerrard

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard prepares to take a corner kick.

Liverpool started the game in a lively fashion, no doubt spurred on by the 4-1 defeat of Portsmouth FC in the English Premier League three days earlier, and it was after just seven minutes that the game’s first major incident occurred. Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva, a player who splits opinion amongst Liverpool supporters, won a penalty after being fouled in the box by Lille defender Adil Rami and talismanic captain Steven Gerrard disposed the penalty with great aplomb, leaving Lille keeper Mickaël Landreau no chance. Liverpool had levelled the tie early and were in the mood to attack further. Despite further chances in the first half from Fernando Torres, Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger Liverpool were unable to score any further goals in the first 45 minutes and were, ultimately, grateful at half-time to goalkeeper Pepe Reina who kept out a shot from Eden Hazrd who had burst his way through the middle of Liverpool’s defence late in the half.

After the break Liverpool began the second half as much as they did the first by looking for a goal and this they duly did just four minutes after the restart. A hopeful punt upfield from Ryan Babel reached Fernando Torres who, with a typically cool head, ran at Landreau before slightly lifting the ball over him into the bottom corner to give The Reds a 2-0 lead on the night, 2-1 on aggregate. From then, rather than attack further, Liverpool seemed to switch off and allowed Lille OSC the opportunity to gradually build up pressure especially during the last twenty minutes of the game. The French went close in the 73rd minute when Ludovic Obraniak’s free-kick found Aubameyang who had a great chance to score in front of the Kop but his shot hit the ground and bounced over the bar. With Liverpool fans starting to get anxious Dirk Kuijt finally reminded everybody that he was on the pitch as he made two hopeful attempts at goal from distance late on. Finally, on 88 minutes, the third goal came thanks to Fernando Torres shooting home from close range after Steven Gerrard’s initial shot had been parried out by Landreau.

The final whistle blew and Liverpool had won 3-0. This game may not have been as legendary as previous Liverpool victories in European competition but it was just as important in the context of the season as a whole. The team seems to be saving its better performances for European competition and the UEFA Europa League does provide a final attempt to salvage something from what’s been a frankly disappointing season. If Liverpool can reach the final in Hamburg on Wednesday, May 12 then some respect will have been brought back to the club but there is still a long way to go in the competition and the quarter-final draw will make interesting viewing.