Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

UEFA Champions League: Round of 16 Preview 3

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 22, 2010
Girondins de Bordeaux

Girondins de Bordeaux celebrated league and cup success in France last season. Can they add European glory to their honours this season?

In the third installment of our UEFA Champions League previews “Stoppage Time” focuses on the two games that will be played tomorrow night with the second leg played on Wednesday, March 17th:

OLYMPIAKOS (Greece) v GIRONDINS DE BORDEAUX (France)

Perennial Greek champions Olympiakos are finding it tough going in the domestic Super League this season, trailing behind eternal rivals Panathinaikos in the table. However the UEFA Champions League represents a chance for the Piraeus based side to show what they’re made of, especially in front of their fanatical supporters who make their Karaiskakis Stadium a real fortress against visiting teams. FC Girondins go into tomorrow’s clash with a three point lead and a game in hand in France’s Ligue 1 and coach Laurent Blanc will look for his players to repeat the impressive form they’ve shown thus far in Europe’s elite competition remaining unbeaten against FC Bayern, Juventus FC and Maccabi Haifa in their Champions League group.

Olympiakos, usually so dominant at home having won the league and cup double four times in the last five seasons, have endured mixed emotions by their usual high standards. Since qualifying second in their Champions League group behind Arsenal FC Thrylos (The Legend), as the club modestly call themselves, have won just half of the ten Super League games they’ve played. But despite suffering defeat to three of the top five sides, Aris, AEK Athens and PAOK, Olympiakos find themselves just two points of the pace due to Panathinaikos’ inability to pull away from their rivals. With only seven games left in the Super League there is a great chance that Olympiakos can claim their 13th championship in 14 years. Girondins de Bordeaux, a good outside bet for Champions League glory, won the French championship last season to end Olympique Lyonnais’ seven year domination and followed it up with success in the Coupe de la Ligue (League Cup). Since qualification for the Champions League Les Girondins are leading the way in Ligue 1 again and have reached yet another Coupe de la Ligue final, their third in four years, where they meet Olympique de Marseille on March 27th. Alas their chances of a domestic treble were dashed when they lost in the Coupe de France (French Cup) Round of 16 to AS Monaco, the Monégasque winning 2-0 away in Bordeaux.

Marouane Chamakh is becoming one of Europe’s most sought after footballers attracting interest in particular from English Premier League clubs. His 13 goals last season helped Girondins to their double triumph and he has scored ten more (two in Champions League) to keep Girondins ahead of the competition. Yoann Gourcuff is the playmaker through which most of Bordeaux’s goals come plus he has scored nine times in all competitions. For the Greek side Konstantinos Mitroglu has scored eleven goals (three in Champions League) and they will rely on his talent in front of goal as well as their vociferous support in the first leg if they are to have any chance of progressing into the last eight of the competition.

VfB STUTTGART (Germany) v FC BARCELONA (Spain)

Had this game taken place before Christmas VfB Stuttgart would’ve feared the worst going into the contest. After all memories of Barça’s first half destruction of FC Bayern at Camp Nou in last season’s Champions League are still very fresh to German football supporters. However the Swabians can go into the game against the European champions with new confidence thanks to coach Christian Gross who has really turned it around for Stuttgart. FC Barcelona though will still be huge favourites to progress to the next round. After winning their third UEFA Champions League last season the Blaugrana will want to successfully defend the title for the first time in their history.

Stuttgart have improved since Gross’s arrival only losing once in nine games in all competitions so far, that defeat coming at home to a Ruud van Nistelrooy inspired Hamburger SV a fortnight ago. Since VfB were victorious in a winner-takes-all clash at home to Unirea Urziceni on Matchday 6 of the Champions League group stage Stuttgart’s six wins in eight Bundesliga matches have propelled them from 15th up to ninth including a 5-1 away day demolition of 1.FC Köln on Saturday. Cacau scored four times to increase his tally to eight goals for the season. FC Barcelona also won their most recent league game by four goals comfortably defeating Racing Santander 4-0 at the Camp Nou. Barça have won ten of their thirteen games since the group stage, two of those wins helping secure their FIFA Club World Cup triumph in the UAE in December.

There are any number of matchwinners for Barcelona but the irreplaceable Lionel Messi is the man who really makes them tick. With sixteen goals and just as many assists his presence in the team ensures that they go into any game as favourites. If he should have an off day then any one from Thierry Henry, Xavi, Pedro, Iniesta or Ibrahimović can dig Barcelona out of any hole. Stuttgart have Cacau’s goals but also have Pavel Pogrebnyak coming into form at the right time and the industry of on-loan Barça star Alexander Hleb although the injury to left-back Arthur Boka is a huge blow to the German side.

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.