The Turkish Süper Lig has finally got under way over the last weekend following extensive investigations into match-fixing. Last season’s champions Fenerbahçe scraped a 1-0 home win against Ordurspor last night whilst both of their arch-rivals Beşiktaş and Galatasaray experienced losing starts to the campaign going down to Eskişehirspor and Istanbul BB respectively.
Fenerbahçe got their new campaign under way at their Şükrü Saracoğlu stadium last night with the remnants of the match-fixing investigations and their expulsion from the 2011-12 UEFA Champions League still hanging over the club. Despite this the champions were still expected to score plenty of goals against Odurspor who were promoted last season via the 1.Lig Play-Offs following their 5th place finish. Fenerbahçe never really got firing in front of goal but were still able to come through this opening day tie with all three points with Cristian’s goal on the half-hour mark helping Fener to a winning start.
Bursaspor, champions of Turkey for the first time in 2009-10, were the biggest winners of the weekend with a 3-0 home triumph against Kayserispor thanks to strikes from Ozan Ipek, Vederson and Pablo Batalla. Beşiktaş and Galatasaray, on the other hand, suffered defeats over the weekend. Beşiktaş went behind in their game to Eskişehirspor after Diego Ângelo had given the hosts the lead on 25 minutes only for Hugo Almeida to restore parity on the stroke of half-time. Batuhan Karadeniz scored the decisive goal for Eskişehirspor with seven minutes to play and subject Beşiktaş to an opening day defeat for the first time in five seasons.
Galatasaray suffered a 2-0 loss in a local derby with Istanbul BB on Sunday with goals from Efe İnanç and Pierre Webo helping the home side to victory over a Gala side which had been very active in the transfer market during the off-season and had hoped to start the new season on a positive note. Last season’s runners-up Trabzonspor may not have experienced defeat this weekend but were still disappointed not to come away with three points from their match away at Manisaspor especially as the hosts had to come from behind to gain the point. Canadian international Josh Simpson equalized for Manisaspor with just two minutes of the game remaining which cancelled out Burak Yilmaz’s first half strike for Trabzonspor.
The UEFA Europa League is back and has reached the Round of 32 stage. There are plenty of matches that whet the appetite in this competition and “Stoppage Time” has a guide to all sixteen ties in the first knockout round:
EVERTON FC (England) v SPORTING (Portugal)
The first leg of this game took place last night to avoid a clash with Liverpool FC’s home game against Unirea Urziceni on Thursday. Everton have a slight 2-1 advantage going into the second leg thanks to goals from Steven Pienaar and Sylvain Distin. However French defender Distin was sent off late in the game for a foul on Liedson and Miguel Veloso (pictured) was able to pull one back for Sporting from twelve yards out. An intriging return game in Lisbon awaits.
AJAX AMSTERDAM (Netherlands) v JUVENTUS (Italy)
This is a game worthy of Champions League status with both clubs sharing six European Cup triumphs between them. Ajax are currently third in the Dutch Eredivisie whilst Juventus are sixth in Serie A. With both teams harbouring realistic ambitions of Champions League qualification next season they may decide to play weakened sides in Europe. Nonetheless this should be a fascinating contrast of styles between two great clubs.
ATHLETIC BILBAO (Spain) v RSC ANDERLECHT (Belgium)
The Basque side should have more motivation to progress as the Europa League is the club’s only realistic hope of silverware this season. Anderlecht, one of three Belgian clubs remaining in the competition, comfortably lead the Jupiler League but may find Athletic a tough proposition. Although if the Mauves can get an away goal in the first leg in Bilbao then the tie could be in the balance.
ATLÉTICO DE MADRID (Spain) v GALATASARAY (Turkey)
The Spanish giants are in good form having reached the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) final and beaten Spanish, European and World champions FC Barcelona 2-1 at the weekend. Galatasaray are top in the Turkish Süper Lig, at the moment, and are taking this competition seriously having won it in 2000 becoming the first Turkish team to win a European trophy. With both stadiums expected to be at their intimidating best these two legs won’t be for the faint hearted.
CLUB BRUGGE (Belgium) v VALENCIA CF (Spain)
Club Brugge haven’t been such a force in Belgian football in recent years having to put up with their big rivals Standard Liège and RSC Anderlecht win the last four league titles. Valencia, despite being a distant third in the Spanish League, have high hopes of winning this competition and are likely to include big hitters such as David Villa and David Silva in order to progress to the next stage.
FULHAM FC (England) v SHAKHTAR DONETSK (Ukraine)
London outfit Fulham FC will have to get a good result at home if they want to progress in this competition as their away record this season is really bad, just one win in thirteen Premier League games on the road. However Shakhtar, the last ever winners of what was the UEFA Cup last season, haven’t played a league match since December as the Ukrainian championship is still in its winter break until February 27th so will be lacking in match fitness.
HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v PSV EINDHOVEN (Netherlands)
The German side will want to go one better than last season, when they were knocked out at the semi-final stage by rivals Werder Bremen, especially as the inaugural UEFA Europa League final takes place at their home stadium.PSV Eindhoven, currently top of the Eredivisie, are accustomed to the Champions League but have done well in the second competition having qualified for this stage with an unbeaten record so will be a tough grame for HSV.
HERTHA BSC (Germany) v SL BENFICA (Portugal)
Benfica are huge favourites to advance to the next round. The Portuguese giants are leading the Liga Sagres back home whilst the German capital team are propping up the rest of the German Bundesliga and were in second place behind the other Lisbon giants Sporting in the group stage. The second leg, to be played in Lisbon, will take place on Tuesday, February 23rd to avoid a clash with Sporting’s home game against Everton FC two days later.
KØBENHAVN (Denmark) v OLYMPIQUE DE MARSEILLE (France)
The Danish champions, known locally as FCK, have played well against big clubs in Europe in recent years but fail to score many goals. FCK will also be lacking match practice as the SAS Superligaen has been in hibernation since early December. Marseille, currently lying in fifth position in Ligue 1, should have too strong a squad and will want to go all the way having lost in their two final appearances in 1999 against AC Parma and Valencia CF in 2004.
LILLE OSC (France) v FENERBAHÇE (Turkey)
“Fener” are involved in a title battle with eternal rivals Galatasaray in the Turkish Süper Lig so may decide to rest a couple of players in the two games against a Lille side who lie in third place in Ligue 1, seven points behind leaders FC Girondins de Bordeaux. The Turkish side will be slight favourites as they play the second leg at their intimidating Şükrü Saracoğlu Stadium which hosted the UEFA Cup final last season.
LIVERPOOL FC (England) v UNIREA URZICENI (Romania)
Both teams are in the Europa League having finished third in their respective Champions League groups. Liverpool’s recent results have improved even if their performances aren’t always easy on the eye. However coach Rafael Benítez will want to win this trophy for a second time having previously won the title with Valencia CF in 2004. Romanian champions Unirea finished above Scottish champions Glasgow Rangers in their Champions League group but have seen coach Dan Petrescu jump ship to obscure Russian second league outfit FC Kuban Krasnodar during the winter break so may find it difficult against The Reds.
PANATHINAIKOS (Greece) v AS ROMA (Italy)
The Italian capital side are on fire, at the moment, having gone unbeaten in 14 Serie A matches stretching back to late October and have one foot in the Coppa Italia (Italian Cup) final with a 2-0 semi-final advantage over Udinese Calcio. Panathinaikos, including in-form striker Djibril Cissé, may be top of the Greek league but have stumbled in the last fortnight with their lead now just three points from perennial champions Olympiakos.
RUBIN KAZAN (Russia) v HAPOEL TEL AVIV (Israel)
The Russian side have had a dream couple of years winning back-to-back championships. However they’ve been out of action since the end of November and face a Hapoel side lying in second place of the Ha’Al League. If the Israeli side can sneak an away goal in the first leg then they may fancy their chances against rusty Rubin.
STANDARD LIEGE (Belgium) v RED BULL SALZBURG (Austria)
This is a fascinating contest between Champions League drop-outs Standard Liège and Red Bull Salzburg, who were the only team to qualify from the Europa League group stage with a 100% record. If Huub Stevens’ Austrian side can get a win in Belgium then expect the second leg to be a formality. However the Liègeois have one of the noisier stadiums in the competition and will make it difficult despite Standard having disappointed in the Belgian Jupiler League this season.
TWENTE ENSCHEDE (Netherlands) v WERDER BREMEN (Germany)
Steve McClaren, having taken unfashionable Middlesbrough FC to a UEFA Cup final in 2006, would love to take the Dutch side to the final in May. However Thomas Schaaf’s Werder side will be motivated to make up for last season’s disappointment in Istanbul against Shakhtar Donetsk by taking the short trip to Hamburg and, with their experience, will be favourites to go through.
VILLARREAL CF (Spain) v VfL WOLFSBURG (Germany)
Both teams have massively disappointed in their domestic leagues this season especially Wolfsburg who were surprise Bundesliga champions last season but who currently lie in 11th place this time around. Villarreal’s current form is slightly better, at the moment, and they seem to save their best performances for Europe.
Who’s the biggest club NEVER to win the Champions League (formerly European Champions Cup)? There are clubs who have a decorated history in the other UEFA club tournaments over the past fifty years but have, sadly for them, failed to lift the greatest prize of all. The UEFA Champions League resumes next week and “Stoppage Time” is conducting a poll with a difference. We have selected six clubs who, we think, could be considered the best of the failures. Do you agree with any of our choices? If so please place your vote otherwise there is a space to choose another team if you so desire:
ARSENAL FC (13x English League, 10x English Cup, 1x Fairs Cup, 1x Cup-Winners’ Cup)
It still irritates the fans of Arsenal that, for all their domestic success, their North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur have won more trophies at European level, winning three to Arsenal’s two. However Arsenal’s success since the formation of the Premier League in 1992-93 has led them to be regular contenders for the UEFA Champions League but, thus far, they’ve failed to deliver the big prize to their loyal fans. The club’s first European final was the 1970 Fairs Cup (now Europa League) where they beat Belgian side RSC Anderlecht 4-3 on aggregate. Ten years later Arsenal would lose their first European final on penalties as they failed to beat Spanish giants Valencia CF in the 1980 Cup-Winners’ Cup. The nineties saw the “Gunners” reach back-to-back Cup-Winners’ Cup finals winning one against Italian team AC Parma (1994) but losing the other to Real Zaragoza (1995), the Spanish team winning in the last minute of extra-time thanks to a former Spurs player’s goal from the halfway line. Two further European defeats in the 2000 UEFA Cup (now Europa League) final to Galatasaray (losing on penalties) and, most painfully, the 2006 Champions League final to FC Barcelona rubbed more salt into Arsenal’s European wounds.
DYNAMO KYIV (13x Ukraine League, 9x Ukraine Cup, 13x USSR League, 2x Cup-Winners’ Cup, 1x European Super Cup)
Dynamo Kyiv are an institution in Ukraine and were very much the flagship club during the heyday of the Soviet era. Dynamo were the most successful team before the USSR broke up in 1991 with 13 domestic championships and, since independence, have continued to dominate the new Ukrainian set-up having won their 13th title in the 2008-09 season. In Europe Dynamo enjoyed Cup-Winners’ Cup success in 1975 defeating Hungarian side Ferencvaros 3-0 (following this up with a win in the European Super Cup against FC Bayern Munich) and in 1986 winning their second CWC against Spanish giants Atletico de Madrid (also 3-0). In terms of the Champions League Dynamo have reached the semi-finals, most notably against FC Bayern in 1999, but sadly the final continues to elude them.
GALATASARAY (17x Turkish League, 14x Turkish Cup, 1 UEFA Cup, 1x European Super Cup)
“Gala” created history when they defeated Arsenal in the 2000 UEFA Cup final to become the first, and so far only, Turkish team to win a European trophy. This was followed up by a 1-0 European Super Cup victory against European champions Real Madrid to create a new chapter in the history of this massive Turkish club. The fans of Galatasaray always provides a hostile welcome to visiting teams, most famously their ‘Welcome to Hell’ episode against Manchester United in 1993-94, but even this doesn’t give Gala an advantage as they have yet to even reach a semi-final of Europe’s elite competition. Despite the regular domestic success and a massive fan base Gala’s record in the Champions League is not worthy of their place amongst Europe’s biggest clubs.
GLASGOW RANGERS (52x Scottish League, 33x Scottish Cup, 1x European Cup-Winners’ Cup)
Despite being the world’s most titled club (over 100 domestic trophies if you include the Scottish League Cup triumphs) the blue side of the “Old Firm” are forever in the shadow of their eternal rivals Glasgow Celtic when it comes to European success. Whilst the Hoops won the 1967 European Champions Cup with the famous Lisbon Lions side, Glasgow Rangers could only muster a solitary European Cup-Winners’ Cup triumph in 1972 when defeating Dinamo Moscow 3-2 in Barcelona. All the other finals that Rangers have participated in have ended in defeats: 1960-61 CWC final against Fiorentina, 1967 CWC final against FC Bayern and, most recently, the 2008 UEFA Cup final against Zenit St. Petersburg. The best that Rangers have done in the elite competition is the semi-final of the 1959-60 tournament where a heavy 12-4 aggregate defeat to German champions Eintracht Frankfurt denied them a ‘home’ final at Hampden Park against the mighty Real Madrid. In the first ever Champions League of 1992-93 Rangers reached the group stage, the winners of which would go on to contest the final, but just didn’t have enough luck as they narrowly failed to top the group losing out to eventual winners Olympique de Marseille.
SPORTING LISBON (18x Portuguese League, 15x Portuguese Cup, 1x European Cup-Winners’ Cup)
Sporting Clube do Portugal, to give their correct name, are very much the third force of Portuguese football having never won the European Champions Cup nor Champions League in contrast to their rivals SL Benfica and FC Porto who have each been European champions on two occasions. Sporting’s only European success came in 1964 after they defeated Hungarian side MTK Budapest in the Cup Winners’ Cup final 1-0 after a replay. They had a great chance in 2005 to add to their honours as they reached the UEFA Cup final which was played at the club’s home stadium. However Russian side CSKA Moscow shocked the expectant ‘home’ support in the stadium by winning the game, therefore adding to Sporting’s European woes.
VALENCIA CF (6x Spanish League, 7x Spanish Cup, 2x Fairs Cup, 1x Cup-Winners’ Cup, 1x UEFA Cup, 2x European Super Cup)
Valencia’s record on the European stage is remarkable and would be truly complete if they could win the Champions League. Valencia’s run of success began when they won two consecutive Fairs Cups against FC Barcelona in 1962 and Dinamo Zagreb in the following year before losing their first final in 1964 against compatriots Real Zaragoza. Their next European success came via a penalty shoot-out against Arsenal FC in the 1980 Cup-Winners’ Cup final following that with a Super Cup win over Nottingham Forest. It would be another two decades before Valencia reached another European final but when they did it was in two consecutive Champions League finals where they lost convincingly to Real Madrid in 2000 and unluckily to FC Bayern on penalties in 2001. In 2004 Valencia won the UEFA Cup beating Olympique de Marseille 1-0 before going on to claim their second Super Cup later that year beating FC Porto 1-0.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
The final matches of the group stage have been taking place in the UEFA Europa League, the final of which will be played in Hamburg on May 12th, 2010. Having looked at the Champions League last week, Stoppage Time rounds up the twelve groups in the Europa League, starting with the six groups that concluded on Wednesday, December 16th:
GROUP D (SPORTING LISBON, HERTHA BERLIN, HEERENVEEN, FK VENTSPILS)
This was an easy group for Sporting having qualified by Matchday 5 for the Round of 32. Second spot was up for grabs on Matchday 6 and despite Heerenveen’s best efforts at home to Ventspils (winning 5-0) they were ousted by German side Hertha Berlin whose European form was in stark contrast to their dreadful domestic form. Hertha’s 1-0 win over Sporting on the last day meant that they finished on ten points in second place (one point behind Sporting) whilst Heerenveen settled for third and Latvian champions FK Ventspils were unlucky not to gain more points in the tournament and finished bottom of the group.
GROUP E (AS ROMA, FULHAM FC, FC BASLE, CSKA SOFIA)
Fulham were made to work for their place in the last 32 but Roy Hodgson’s men secured qualification in the best way possible beating nearest challengers FC Basle 3-2 away to clinch the second spot behind Roma who led the group on 13 points, two ahead of Fulham who, in turn, finished two ahead of Basle. CSKA Sofia proved to be the whipping boys of the group after they finished the campaign with one point gained on Matchday 1 in a home draw against Fulham.
GROUP F (GALATASARAY, PANATHINAIKOS, DINAMO BUCHAREST, STURM GRAZ)
Galatasaray and Panathinaikos easily qualified for the next stage. Turkish giants “Gala”, UEFA Cup winners in 2000, finished one point clear of their Greek rivals but there was nothing for the Athens based club to fear as they ended the group stage six points in front of Dinamo Bucharest. Dinamo secure third place after they got the better of Austrian side from Graz, the teams finishing on six and four points respectively.
GROUP J (SHAKHTAR DONETSK, CLUB BRUGGE, TOULOUSE, PARTIZAN BELGRADE)
Shakhtar Donetsk, the last ever UEFA Cup winners in 2009, are hoping to defend the trophy under its current guise of the Europa League. The Ukrainians won the group in dominant fashion having qualified by Matchday 4. In the end Club Brugge finished second as they defeated nearest challengers Toulouse 1-0 on Matchday 6 to clinch a spot in the Round of 32. Alas the French side had more than further progress in the competition to mourn as one of their fans, Brice Taton, was tragically killed after being attacked by Partizan supporters in Belgrade ahead of their match on September 17th.
GROUP K (PSV EINDHOVEN, SPARTA PRAGUE, FC COPENHAGEN, CFR CLUJ)
PSV Eindhoven’s European experience was evident in Group K as they topped the table with 14 points. The second place went down to the wire as Sparta Prague played Danish champions FC Copenhagen in a winner takes all encounter on Matchday 6. Two Dame N’Doye goals and a Jesper Gronkjaer penalty secured the Danes a place in the last 32. Sparta finished third on seven points, three points behind FC Copenhagen, whilst CFR Cluj only won once in six games and finished bottom.
GROUP L (WERDER BREMEN, ATHLETIC BILBAO, NACIONAL MADEIRA, AUSTRIA VIENNA)
Last season’s UEFA Cup losing finalists Werder Bremen made easy work of their group only dropping two points out of eighteen (in a 2-2 draw against Austria Vienna on Matchday 3). Athletic Bilbao’s campaign also went well finishing six points behind Werder and five ahead of Portuguese side Nacional. Austria Vienna ended up with the wooden spoon with two points from six games all to show for their efforts.