Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

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:

FIFA World Cup Review – Europe

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on July 15, 2010
Spain World Cup champions

Spain finally managed to win the FIFA World Cup beating the Netherlands in extra-time

In the last of Stoppage Time’s continental reviews we look back at the varying fortunes of the thirteen European teams that competed in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

With the exceptions of Brazil and Argentina, most people’s predictions before the World Cup tended to centre on teams such as England, Germany or Italy but it was to be two nations that had never previously won the competition who were to reach the final. Spain, a very popular choice of team due to their 2008 UEFA European Championship success, would face off against two-time finalists Holland in a game which, as most finals do, tended to disappoint but did at least have the justice of seeing the right team win the game.

But more on the final later. In the group stages the biggest disappointments were unquestionably Italy, France and England. In the case of Italy and France it was difficult to believe that these two nations competed in the most recent World Cup final in 2006 such was the depths to which team had sank during this tournament. They both finished bottom in groups which, on paper, seemed amongst the kindest in terms of difficulty. England, on the other hand, did manage to make it through the group stage but even the most hardcore England fan knows that they were poor in their first two games, scraped past Slovenia in the final group match before going out to a classic Germany performance in the round of sixteen. Even arguments over Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal cannot escape the fact that the Germans were the better team.

After the group stage had been completed seven of the thirteen European nations had failed to qualify for the round of sixteen. As well as Italy and France, the countries who feel that they should’ve done better in the group stage were Denmark (third behind Holland and Japan), Switzerland (finished third after defeating Spain in their first group game), Serbia (who admittedly suffered some bad luck against Australia) and Slovenia (lost out when USA beat Algeria) whilst Greece would’ve been happy just to score a goal, let alone win a game, before the competition kicked off after their one and only previous appearance in 1994 saw them goalless and pointless. In the event they did finally score their first World Cup goal in their second match against Nigeria in which they also chalked up their first victory. Alas they lost to Argentina in their final game and failed to progress any further.

The round of sixteen saw England, Portugal and Slovakia say goodbye although in the case of Slovakia they did have many good chances to beat the Netherlands before suffering a 2-1 reverse at the hands of the Oranje. The quarter-finals saw previous talk about South American dominance turn to European dominance as Spain, Netherlands and Germany all made it through with victories over Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina respectively. The semi-finals saw Spain reassert their style of play over a Germany team who were perhaps weighed down with expectation after two earlier against England and Argentina. Despite the dominance of possession and territory for the Spanish it took until the 73rd minute for Carles Puyol to head home the only goal of the game to gift the Spain a place in their first ever FIFA World Cup whilst the Netherlands got the better of Uruguay with a 3-2 win securing their third World Cup final appearance.

So the only certainty about the FIFA World Cup final would be that it would create a first time champion. Many neutrals before the game saw it as a breath of fresh air that none of the previous winners had reached the final for, in theory, this should’ve provided the motivation for two hungry teams to go out and secure their place in the history books. Sadly the game as a spectacle failed to live up to expectations but that has happened on so many occasions. Much of the post-match reaction centred upon English referee Howard Webb who dished out a World Cup final record 14 yellow cards and one red card in a game which saw many tough challenges (how Nigel de Jong didn’t go for his lunge on Xabi Alonso is a mystery) and a controversial moment at the end where, just before Andrés Iniesta’s 116th minute winning goal, a Wesley Sneijder free-kick was deflected by a Spanish player and should’ve been a corner but Webb gave the goal kick for Spain instead. With this incident leading up to the goal the Dutch were understandably furious but even allowing for this incident the Spanish had the more positive approach and were deserved winners. Spain became the third nation in history to win the UEFA European Championship and FIFA World Cup double after West Germany (EC 1972, WC 1974) and France (WC 1998, EC 2000) and ensured that Europe overtakes South America in World Cup wins with a 10-9 lead.

FIFA: Round of 16 Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 29, 2010
Germany v England

Thomas Müller and Lukas Podolski celebrate Germany's 4-1 win over England

So the Round of Sixteen is completed in the FIFA World Cup with eight teams having to face up to the stark reality of flying back home to face the critics whilst eight teams look forward to the quarter-final stage in what remains a fascinating tournament. South America has performed well with the possibility of all four semi-finalists hailing from that particular continent should they overcome their respective opponents in the last eight. However there are three European teams and the sole African representative remaining who would like to deprive the Latin Americans of complete domination. Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks back at the Round of Sixteen and provides the quarter-final draw.

The knock-out stages began last Saturday with Uruguay playing against South Korea who appeared to be Asia’s best chance of a last eight representative. Sadly for the Koreans it only took eight minutes to fall behind as Luis Suárez gave Uruguay the lead and, thus, added to the goal he scored against Mexico in his team’s final group game. The Koreans though didn’t give up and were back on level terms on 68 minutes when Lee Chung-Yong headed the equalizer from a free-kick and set up a fascinating climax to the contest. With ten minutes remaining it was to be Luis Suárez again who would settle the game in Uruguay’s favour showing his class with a beautifully curled shot into the top right corner of the net. The second game on Saturday saw Ghana create history as they defeated the United States to put themselves into a World Cup quarter-final for the first time. Kevin-Prince Boateng gave the Black Stars the lead after just five minutes after his run from the halfway line saw him steer the ball hard and low into the net past Tim Howard. The Americans restored parity in the second half when Landon Donovan shot home from the penalty spot after Clint Dempsey had been brought down by Jonathan Mensah in the box. It was a classic game of two halves which finished 1-1 and, thus, needed thirty minutes of extra-time. Just three minutes had passed when Asamoah Gyan continued his wonderful tournament by scoring an excellent goal from distance and, with no further scoring in the game, ensured that Africa had its sole representative progress into the last eight of the competition.

Sunday saw two potential classic matches on paper turn out to be pretty one-sided affairs. There was much controversy in the Germany versus England match (it wouldn’t be Germany v England otherwise) when a Frank Lampard shot hit the underside of the bar and came down at least a metre over the line but the linesman didn’t see it and denied England an equalizing goal which would’ve tied the game at two-all. Before then Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski had given the Nationalmannschaft a two-goal lead before Matthew Upson halved the deficit by getting on the end of a Steven Gerrard cross. Sadly for England that was as good as it got as even the most die-hard fan of the Three Lions would admit that they were outclassed by a Germany team whose splendid counter-attacking play created two goals for young starlet Thomas Müller in the final quarter of the match to give Germany a convincing 4-1 win. Later that evening any ideas that Mexico had to get revenge on Argentina for knocking them out of the 2006 tournament were soon dispelled in equally controversial circumstances. Carlos Tévez was in an offside position upon giving Argentina the lead on 26 minutes but the linesman, once again, failed to spot the indiscretion and the Mexico players were furious. Gonzalo Higuaín doubled the lead on 33 minutes and the Albiceleste sealed the win in the second half when Tévez scored his second seven minutes after the break. Javier Hernández did score a consloation for El Tri but Diego Maradona’s men came through any potential fightback to claim a place in the next round.

Carlos Tevez

Carlos Tevez scored twice for Argentina in their 3-1 win over Mexico

Monday night saw two of the tournament favourites, Brazil and the Netherlands, continue their good progress. The Netherlands continue to win despite playing football which is far from what we expect from the pioneers of Voetbal Totaal. Arjen Robben gave the Oranje the lead thanks to a trademark left-foot shot from the edge of the penalty box and one was expecting the Dutch to go on and stroll the game from there. However they were made to fight for their victory which they finally sealed in the 84th minute when Dirk Kuijt squared the ball to Wesley Sneijder in the box to make it 2-0. Up until then the Slovakians had plenty of chances which were spurned and, as a result, they would rue their profligacy in front of goal especially as they halved the deficit with the final kick of the game, a penalty from Robert Vittek after Martin Jakubko was brought down in the box. There was no time after the kick to continue and the Dutch went through to the next round with what was ultimately a slender 2-1 victory. Brazil made much easier work of their all-South American encounter with Chile, a team who finished just a solitary point behind them in World Cup qualifying. Two goals in three minutes at the end of the first half from Juan and Luís Fabiano were complimented by a beautiful finish from Robinho on the hour mark to give the Seleção an easy 3-0 win over a disappointing Chile team who did, to their credit, try to play some direct football once they conceded the third, no doubt believing that they had nothing to lose from such an approach. Dunga’s men are looking ominously good but many will feel that their quarter-final with the Netherlands will be their first real test of the tournament. A fascinating encounter awaits.

The final two matches in the Round of Sixteen were played today and, once again, there was joy for the South Americans but only after Paraguay had been taken all the way to a penalty shoot-out by a Japan team who were unfortunate to have to lose in such a manner. The only missed penalty in the shoot-out was by Japan’s Yūichi Komano whose spot-kick hit the crossbar and went over. Because Paraguay had the first kick in the shoot-out their final goal from Óscar Cardozo meant that a fifth kick for Japan was unnecessary and La Albirroja progressed to the quarter-finals by the skin of their teeth. To finish the round we had an Iberian derby between Spain and Portugal which looked like a mouth-watering match on paper but which, sadly, failed to live up to expectations. Cristiano Ronaldo, just like Wayne Rooney and Franck Ribéry, failed to shine during this tournament and he was amongst the most disappointed of the Portuguese side after the final whistle blew after their 1-0 defeat probably because he knew that he hadn’t done his talent any justice. The goal which won an otherwise poor game came in the 63rd minute from David Villa, whose initial shot at keeper Eduardo was parried back to his feet and then forced home going in off the bar at the second attempt. This meant that Villa joins Gonzalo Higuaín and Robert Vittek on four goals each and one wouldn’t bet against him adding to that total in Spain’s quarter-final match against Paraguay on Saturday.

FIFA WORLD CUP – QUARTER-FINAL DRAW

02.07.2010 Netherlands v Brazil (Port Elizabeth)

02.07.2010 Uruguay v Ghana (Johannesburg)

03.07.2010 Argentina v Germany (Cape Town)

03.07.2010 Paraguay v Spain (Johannesburg)

FIFA: Groups C and D Review

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 25, 2010
Jermain Defoe

Jermain Defoe scores the goal which gave England a 1-0 win over Slovenia

Figures given are as follows: games played/points scored

GROUP C: USA 3/5; ENGLAND 3/5; SLOVENIA 3/4; ALGERIA 3/1

The United States left it very late to clinch top spot in the group but their stoppage time winner in the 1-0 victory over Algeria provided one of the FIFA World Cup’s most dramatic finishes thus far. It was justice served for the Americans after they had two perfectly good goals disallowed earlier in the tournament and it seemed that they would lament those two particular moments of bad luck until Landon Donovan’s 91st minute winner over the North Africans settled the contest. Thankfully the late winner made any arguments about the legitimacy of the disallowed goals academic and meant that the United States finished top of the group on goal difference from an England side who were made to work hard for their place in the Round of 16. Jermain Defoe scored the all-important winning goal for England against Slovenia after 22 minutes to give the Three Lions their first win of the tournament and provide Fabio Capello’s men with a much-needed boost in morale ahead of their game on Sunday afternoon against a familiar foe.

GROUP D: GERMANY 3/6; GHANA 3/4; AUSTRALIA 3/4; SERBIA 3/3

And so it was meant to be. Germany, after the scare of losing to Serbia in their second group match, eventually saw off a determined Ghana side in the final group game to set up a Round of 16 clash with England. Mesut Özil scored the winning goal for Germany in their 1-0 success over Ghana when unleashing a powerful left-footed shot from the edge of the box to seal the deal for the Adlerträger. Despite the defeat the Africans were able to celebrate after the match as they too had qualified for the knock-out stages. Australia beat Serbia 2-1 but had an inferior goal difference to Ghana who became the only one out of five African nations to progress beyond the group stage. Ghana’s reward is a Round of 16 tie against the United States in Rustenburg on Saturday whilst Germany face-off against England in Bloemfontein on Sunday.

Mesut Özil

Mesut Özil (right) is congratulated by Bastian Schweinsteiger after his goal gave Germany a 1-0 victory over Ghana

FIFA: Setbacks for Germany and England; USA denied victory

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 19, 2010
Milan Jovanović

Milan Jovanović scored the only goal in Serbia's 1-0 defeat of Germany

The FIFA World Cup is far from predictable and the events of yesterday are a classic case in point. Germany, who had thrilled everybody with a great display in their opening match defeat of Australia, were on the receiving end of a defeat themselves going down to a Milan Jovanović goal moments before half-time. In the same group the United States came from two goals down to gain a 2-2 draw against Slovenia but the controversial decision to disallow Maurice Edu’s late goal could ultimately prove detrimental to the USA’s chances of progression. England had a chance to stamp their authority on the tournament but were denied by a resilient Algeria side who were worthy of the point gained in the goalless draw between the two sides in Cape Town.

Germany went into their game against Serbia as clear favourites but the Balkan nation had other ideas as they were far from willing to let the Germans walk all over them. The game was played at a lively pace throughout with both teams having a clear number of chances, especially Lukas Podolski who missed a seven attempts including a penalty kick on the hour mark which would’ve equalled the score for Germany. However there were sixty seconds of madness that decided the game for Serbia. Firstly, in the 37th minute, Miroslav Klose picked up his second yellow card and saw red thus reducing Germany to ten men. One minute later Serbia were ahead thanks to Milan Jovanović. His colleague Miloš Krasić ran down the right and crossed it for Nikola Žigić who knocked it down with his head for the unmarked Jovanović to steer home from six yards out. Germany’s keeper Manuel Neuer had been a little slow to come out and the Serbian hitman made him pay for his brief moment of indecision although, to be fair, Neuer had been left exposed by his defence. The game saw Serbia hit the woodwork another couple of times in the second half and the truth is that Germany, for all of their waste in front of goal, could’ve been beaten by a couple more and were ultimately grateful just to lose by the solitary goal. In Group D today Ghana meet Australia which, if the Socceroos win, would see all four teams on three points. An interesting game in Rustenburg awaits.

The United States were looking down and out in the Group C game against Slovenia who took an early lead in the 13th minute thansk to a great 25 yard strike from Valter Birsa who was left unmarked and had the time to weigh up his shot before rocketing it home. Things got better for the Eastern European side with three minutes to go before the break when Milivoje Novaković played a well-timed through ball into Zlatan Ljubijankič who guided it past an oncoming Tim Howard to double Slovenia’s lead. The half-time break came at just the right time for the Americans who had time to re-group and get their focus back after a disastrous first forty-five minutes. After the break the USA pulled one back through their talisman Landon Donovan who, having received a long pass from Steve Cherundolo down the right flank, chose to run direct to goal and hit the ball fiercely into the net from a tight angle and instantly brought his side back into the game. With ten minutes remaining the game was tied when Michael Bradley was on hand to steer home Jozy Altidore’s knockdown from a long pass from Donovan. The game had turned and the Americans were the only team who now looked like winning it and, three minutes later, thought they had but Maurice Edu’s goal was disallowed for a foul in the box and the Slovenians had been saved by what was a very harsh decision. Nonetheless the USA are still in the competition after what was a fantastic fightback and they will hope to progress in the final match against Algeria in Pretoria on Wednesday, June 23rd.

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney couldn't break the deadlock in England's 0-0 draw against Algeria

England had high hopes going into the tournament but those hopes are increasing wearing thin after another clueless display from Fabio Capello’s men against Algeria in Cape Town last night. It’s not that the Three Lions couldn’t create any chances, if anything they created a decent number with eight on target, but they just lack something up front. For all Emile Heskey’s work rate the sad fact is that he doesn’t look remotely like scoring when he gets the ball and seems to lack any natural inclination to want to strike at goal with the ball at his feet. Captain Steven Gerrard didn’t always seem to be on the same wavelength as his colleagues and the likes of Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney spurned their chances by not striking the ball cleanly enough. Algeria were tough to beat and had a resilient defence and should be congratulated for their determination to pick up a point although their attack does seem a little lightweight with striker Karim Matmour lacking any predatory instincts in the box. However it was a job well done for Algeria who will meet the USA in their final match whilst England, who faced the wrath of an angry supporter who invaded their dressing room after the match, will play Slovenia in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday, June 23rd in a game they have to win in order to progress.

FIFA: Slovenia and Ghana scrape wins; Germany impress in opener

Posted in International Football by peterbein on June 13, 2010
Robert Koren

Robert Koren scored the winning goal for Slovenia in their 1-0 victory over Algeria

Day three of the FIFA World Cup began with another contender for the Most Boring Match award, at least in the first half anyway, as Algeria and Slovenia played out a pretty dull forty-five minutes of football with each team having just one major chance each. Rafik Halliche had a great oppotunity to put Algeria ahead from a corner in the 36th minute but his header bounced wide of the far post. One minute before the break and it was Slovenia’s turn to register their first meaningful shot on target when Valter Birsa shot from long-range dipping at the last moment to force keeper Faouzi Chaouchi into making a great TV save, tipping the ball over the bar. Sadly the same couldn’t be said about Algeria’s custodian late on in the game. Algeria were already at a disadvantage in the 72nd minute upon having substitute Abdelkader Ghezzal sent off just fifteen minutes after coming on due to gaining a second yellow card through handballing in the box. Seven minutes later Robert Koren sealed the game for Slovenia when hitting a shot from 25 yards out which Chaouchi allowed to bounce over him and into the back of the net. Slovenia held on to the lead to secure their first win at a major football tournament and now have a two point lead over both England and the United States in Group C. The next games in this group both come on Friday, June 18th with England facing Algeria and the USA meeting up with group leaders Slovenia.

Group D got under way in the second game of the day between Ghana and Serbia and just when we thought the competition needed a shot in the arm to really kick start it in to life this game sadly failed to provide it. Save for free-kick opportunities for Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan and Serbia’s Alexsandar Kolorov the game saw precious few chances of any note and, like the pattern set in most of the games in the FIFA World Cup so far, we had a goalless first half. The game opened up in the second half but it was still a tactical stalemate with both teams cancelling each other out but then came a red card for the aforementioned Kolorov for a foul on Gyan in the 74th minute. Eleven minutes later came the pivotal moment of the match when Serbia’s Zdravko Kuzmanović handled the ball in the box and thus set up Gyan to score from the spot to give the Black Stars victory. A disappointing Serbia lost their first game of the tournament and it is difficult to see how they can pick themselves up for their next game against Germany on Friday, June 18th.

Miro Klose and Lukas Podolski

Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski were amongst the scorers for Germany in their 4-0 hammering of Australia

Speaking of Germany they sent shockwaves through the footballing world tonight with a mesmerising performance against an Australian team with plenty of experience but lacking any quality in attack. The Socceroos‘ best chance of the match came very early when Philipp Lahm cleared a Tim Cahill header off the line in the 4th minute with Richard Garcia unable to dispatch the rebound. From then on die Mannschaft took over with Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, whose performances and form in the German Bundesliga this season led many to question their inclusion in the squad, scoring the goals to put Germany 2-0 ahead at half-time. Most of the plaudits in the morning, though, should and will be set aside for Mesut Özil whose creativity and ability to run into any free space allowed by the Aussie defence means that he should be taken seriously by future opponents as a major threat. In the second half Germany were playing champagne football and a chance for Thomas Müller should’ve seen them further ahead before Australia’s Tim Cahill received a harshly given red card from Mexican referee Marco Antonio Rodríguez in the 56th minute. But, in any case, Müller got his goal in the 68th minute to make things comfortable for the Germans with Cacau coming off the bench to make it four just a couple of minutes later. There were no further goals but there was a demonstration of just how well Germany can keep possession when they put their minds to it and should they meet any of the favourites such as Brazil or Spain later in the tournament then they shouldn’t fear them. Australia have a chance to make amends for this ghastly defeat on Saturday, June 19th when they meet Ghana in Rustenburg.

FIFA: World Cup Guide – Part Three

Posted in European Football, International Football by peterbein on June 2, 2010
Morten Olsen

Can Morten Olsen guide Denmark beyond the group stage in South Africa?

In the final part of our build up to the FIFA World Cup, which kicks off on Friday, June 11th, Stoppage Time – International Football Blog looks at those teams that qualified from Europe (FIFA world rankings correct on May, 26th):

DENMARK – Winners of Europe Group One; FIFA World Ranking = 36

The Danes qualified from a tough group including Portugal, Hungary and arch-rivals and neighbours Sweden. Although not expected to win the competition Morten Olsen’s men will prove tough opponents and history has proven that anybody that takes the Danes lightly does so at their peril. Their group opponents are the Netherlands, Japan and Cameroon so may fancy their chances of reaching the last sixteen.

Coach: Morten Olsen

Star Player: Niklas Bendtner

PORTUGAL – 2nd in Europe Group One (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 3

Portugal were in danger of not even getting a play-off place after a dreadful start to the campaign. A strong finish saw them placed second, one point ahead of Sweden and Hungary. In the play-off they then beat Bosnia-Herzogovina 1-0 in each leg; Bruno Alves deciding the first game in their favour, Raul Meireles scoring the only goal in the second leg. Expected to get past the group stage.

Coach: Carlos Queiroz

Star Player: Cristiano Ronaldo

SWITZERLAND – Winners of Europe Group Two; FIFA World Ranking = 24

The Swiss qualified fairly comfortably in a group where Greece were the only real rivals for the first place position and Latvia threatened on occasions to spoil the party. Solid if not spectacular, Switzerland will see anything beyond the second round as a successful World Cup but first they must negotiate their way past a group containing Spain, Honduras and Chile. Can the wily old fox Ottmar Hitzfeld get the best from a limited squad in these finals?

Coach: Ottmar Hitzfeld

Star Player: Tranquillo Barnetta

GREECE – 2nd in Europe Group Two (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 13

Otto Rehhagel steered the Greeks to the World Cup after a two-legged play-off against the Ukraine. The 2004 European champions drew the first leg at home 0-0 but managed to win the away leg 1-0 thanks to a strike from Dimitrios Salpingidis. Like the Swiss not many pundits expect the Greeks to go beyond the second round but could, at the very least, qualify for the last sixteen from a group containing Argentina, South Korea and Nigeria.

Coach: Otto Rehhagel

Star Player: Theofanis Gekas

SLOVAKIA – Winners of Europe Group Three; FIFA World Ranking = 34

Slovakia qualified from what was an open group containing neighbours Czech Republic, Poland, Northern Ireland and Slovenia. A 1-0 away win in Poland on the final matchday of the qualifiers secured their place and succumbed Slovenia to a play-off. In a group involving Italy, Paraguay and New Zealand so will definitely be involved in a fight for second place but may just lack some quality to get to the knockout phase. Sadly for Slovakia they will have to play without their defensive talisman Martin Škrtel who injured himself in a friendly game before the tournament.

Coach: Vladimír Weiss

Star Player: Robert Vittek

SLOVENIA – 2nd in Europe Group Three (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 25

Slovenia surprised everybody by finishing second in the group above heavyweight eastern Europe neighbours Czech Republic and Poland. They surprised everybody again by beating the mighty Russians in the play-offs on away goals. After a narrow 2-1 defeat in Moscow, the Slovenians scored on the edge of half-time in the return fixture in Maribor thanks to Zlatko Dedič and the away goal proved to be the crucial difference between the two teams. Slovenia have a tough draw and may struggle for the third spot behind England and the United States but recent history proves that they can cause a shock on their day.

Coach: Matjaž Kek

Star Player: Milivoje Novakovič

Michael Ballack

Michael Ballack (left) will be a huge loss for Germany but they should still progress far in the tournament

GERMANY – Winners of Europe Group Four; FIFA World Ranking = 6

The Germans remained unbeaten in a relatively easy group although impressive home and away victories against Russia proved to be crucial as they won their group by four points. Joachim Löw will be quietly optimistic about his side’s chances in South Africa despite a list of pre-tournament injuries including the likes of Michael Ballack, Simon Rolfes and René Adler to name but three. With new captain Philipp Lahm ready to take charge the Nationalmannschaft will hope to progress from the group stage and reach the last sixteen with, perhaps, a potential clash with old foes England on the cards.

Coach: Joachim Löw

Star Player: Bastien Schweinsteiger

SPAIN – Winners of Europe Group Five; FIFA World Ranking = 2

It’s been a vintage couple of years for the Spanish national team; European champions in 2008, a 100% record in World Cup qualifying and a spell at number one in the FIFA world rankings, can they go all the way and be the best team in South Africa? Last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup saw them surprisingly knocked out by the United States at the semi-final stage so they will still have to be weary of so-called ‘lesser opposition’. Having been written off as chokers in previous tournaments the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa and Xabi Alonso will be determined to do it for Spain when it really matters and a group containing Honduras, Chile and Switzerland shouldn’t cause too many problems.

Coach: Vicente del Bosque

Star Player: David Villa

ENGLAND – Winners of Europe Group Six; FIFA World Ranking = 8

Fabio Capello’s men easily saw off the likes of Ukraine and Croatia in their group and qualified with two matches to spare. Hopes are high that the so-called “golden generation” including Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney et al will perform in South Africa but will there be the usual disappointment to follow all the hype? Fabio Capello thinks not and one can say that England are real candidates for the title mainly because of the Italian’s stewardship. The group stage shouldn’t cause too many problems but the mentality of the squad will be questioned once the knockout stages get under way.

Coach: Fabio Capello

Star Player: Wayne Rooney

SERBIA – Winners of Europe Group Seven; FIFA World Ranking = 15

Although Serbia could only get one point out of six against group favourites France other results in the group went in their favour and, therefore, they went through by topping the group by one point against their more illustrious opponents. Will be tough to beat and contain a number of technically skillful players with experience from many of Europe’s top leagues. They will find it tough in Germany’s group but can progress if they make full use of their ability.

Coach: Radomir Antic

Star Player: Dejan Stanković

FRANCE – 2nd in Europe Group Seven (won in play-off); FIFA World Ranking = 9

Les Bleus started the qualifying campaign in terrible fashion only collecting one point in their first three games. In the next seven games they took 17 from 21 points and, though never convincing, did what they had to do to secure a play-off place. France later played Republic of Ireland in a two-legged play-off and despite the controversy that surrounded Thierry Henry’s infamous handball leading up to the goal that secured France’s passage to South Africa the French will be considered one of the favourites to provide a strong challenge in South Africa although they are in an open group containing the host nation, Uruguay and Mexico so they’re not far from certain to qualify for the Round of Sixteen just yet.

Coach: Raymond Domenech

Star Player: Franck Ribéry

ITALY – Winners of Europe Group Eight; FIFA World Ranking = 5

The current world champions were taken all the way by the Republic of Ireland in their group but a late equalizing goal from Alberto Gilardino in Dublin secured the point that the Italians needed to top the group. If Marcello Lippi can steer the Azzurri to further World Cup glory in South Africa then they will join Brazil as record champions of the competition with five wins each. Should qualify with relative ease from their group which contains Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia and, despite an ageing squad, are expected to go far in the tournament.

Coach: Marcello Lippi

Star Player: Andrea Pirlo

NETHERLANDS – Winners of Europe Group Nine; FIFA World Ranking = 4

It’s difficult to judge just how tough an opponent the Dutch will be in South Africa. They qualified with a 100% record from arguably the weakest group in qualifying including Norway, Scotland, Macedonia, and Iceland. As usual there have been pre-tournament reports of internal arguments so it seems that the Dutch, despite their potential, never learn the lessons from previous mistakes. A further setback for the Dutch is the injury in a pre-tournament friendly against Hungary to Arjen Robben who may miss some, if not all, of the tournament with a hamstring problem. At the very least they should easily get past a group containing Japan, Denmark and Cameroon without too many problems but anything beyond that remains questionable knowing past history.

Coach: Bert Van Marwijk

Star Player: Robin Van Persie

Italy National Team

Will the Italians be celebrating World Cup success yet again in South Africa?

2. Bundesliga: The “Phantom Goal” for MSV Duisburg

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 19, 2010

Stoppage Time is looking forward to a trip to Germany this weekend so I have decided to write a short blog today in order to share a video from a German Second League game that was played last Sunday afternoon between MSV Duisburg and FSV Frankfurt. With nine minutes to play and the score already 4:0 to MSV Duisburg this goal didn’t have too much significance on the final outcome but a ‘goal’ such as this one only increases the case for video technology to be used in similar situations. That debate, I’m sure, we shall have on another occasion but, for now, just enjoy the comedy that is Christian Tiffert’s “Phantomtor”. The commentary is in German but the pictures are very self-explanatory:

Bundesliga Preview: FC Bayern not such big fans of The Hoff

Posted in European Football by peterbein on January 15, 2010
FC Bayern v TSG 1899 Hoffenheim

Ivica Olic quietens the crowd as he scores in the 1-1 draw between Hoffenheim and FC Bayern on the opening day of the 2009-10 Bundesliga

Thankfully, for all fans of Baywatch, FC Bayern have not taken a dislike to cult hero David Hasselhoff. After a shorter than usual winter break the German Bundesliga returns tonight with a modern day rivalry between FC Bayern and nouveau riche club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.

Since the promotion of the latter into the First League in 2008 there has been no love lost between the two clubs who indulged in public spats last season as both teams were hoping to challenge for the title. Despite winning the unofficial “Herbstmeister” (Autumn champion) title, upstarts Hoffenheim gradually fell away in the second half of the 2008-09 season but, generally, had given the Bundesliga a shot in the arm. Ultimately both clubs had to take a back seat while surprise team VfL Wolfsburg won the title. However, after a slow start this season, both clubs are in a healthy position going into the “Rückrunde” (latter half of the season). The bad blood from last season has been replaced with words of respect from both coaches Louis van Gaal (Bayern) and Ralf Rangnick in a game both teams must win if they’re to build on any hopes of a title challenge. FC Bayern could go top for the first time in 51 matchday rounds (since May 2008) whilst a win for Hoffenheim would see them go into joint sixth with Werder Bremen (seven points behind leaders Leverkusen) before the weekend’s other games.

On Saturday the current “Herbstmeister” Leverkusen will hope to retain the unbeaten record they had at the midway point of the season (Played 17, won 9, drawn 8, points 35) but will have it tough against the league’s surprise package 1.FSV Mainz 05 who have hopes of fighting it out for a European spot. Fourth place Hamburger SV are looking for a third consecutive victory as they face lowly SC Freiburg whilst Werder Bremen will hope to gain revenge for an opening day defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt whose coach, Michael Skibbe, has threatened to quit the club at the end of the season after he accused his employers of lacking ambition due to the lack of funds available for new players during the January transfer window. Ex-Frankfurt coach Friedhelm Funkel has his work cut out at bottom club Hertha BSC who accumulated the lowest number of points ever after 17 games (a measly six) and is up against Hannover 96, a team still suffering from the death of goalkeeper Robert Enke, and who are in danger of being dragged into the “Tabellenkellar” (relegation zone) as they lie in 14th place, five points away from 1.FC Nürnberg in the second automatic relegation spot. Borussia Mönchengladbach will hope to keep up their good form, 13 points from the last seven games, against a VfL Bochum side who currently lie in the relegation play off 16th spot. In the Saturday night game Armin Veh, who has a mixed record since taking over at champions VfL Wolfsburg, will hope for three points at his old stomping ground in Stuttgart, who he led to the 2006-07 championship. Now under new management following the dismissal of Markus Babbel, Stuttgart and their new coach Christian Gross will hope to start ascending up the league to the relative safety of mid-table.

In the Sunday games Felix Magath will hope to keep up the pressure on the top teams as his Schalke 04 side play at home against struggling 1.FC Nürnberg whilst Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund travel to 1.FC Köln, for whom local hero Lukas Podolski has only scored one goal in the Bundesliga following his much publicised return from FC Bayern at the start of the season. No wonder then that “Die Geißböcke” (Billy Goats) find themselves as the league’s least prolific team in front of goal having only scored ten times in 17 games.

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.