Stoppage Time – International Football Blog

Europe: Derby Days Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on September 18, 2010
Stadion De Kuip

Feyenoord's De Kuip Stadion plays host to Sunday's Klassieker

The word “Superclásico” has come into footballing lexicon in recent years as a way of describing those games which are amongst the biggest and most widely anticipated in world football. Sunday sees five such encounters taking place all over Europe and Stoppage Time – International Football Blog previews them all here (all times given are local):

FEYENOORD ROTTERDAM v AJAX AMSTERDAM (12:30)

A repeat of last season’s KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup) final, these two oldest and bitterest of enemies meet again in the first Klassieker of the new season. Home team Feyenoord last won this fixture in the 2005-06 season and their success starved supporters will feel that a victory over Ajax is long overdue. They start the game in eighth place, six points behind Martin Jol’s Ajax who, in turn, lie in joint second place with PSV Eindhoven and have the chance to go top of the table this weekend. Ajax have won five out of the last eight matches between the two sides in the Eredivisie and are favourites to win again on Sunday.

MANCHESTER UNITED v LIVERPOOL (13:30)

The most decorated fixture in English football takes place at Old Trafford with both clubs experiencing different fortunes. Manchester United are in third place and unbeaten in the 2010-11 season so far going into this game whilst Liverpool, under new coach Roy Hodgson, have had some teething problems and have only won one of their four matches and lie in 16th place before kick-off. Manchester United still has the whip hand in this fixture having won 59 games to 52 with 43 draws (league game stats only) but Liverpool’s recent record against United is pretty good having won three of the last four matches. The odds, though, are certainly more favourable towards the Red Devils with United expected to gain all three points.

SCHALKE 04 v BORUSSIA DORTMUND (17:30)

Die Königsblauen (Royal Blues) of Schalke 04 have caused controversy ahead of this game by significantly raising prices for visiting Borussia Dortmund fans who, in turn, have threatened to boycott the game in large numbers in protest. On the pitch Dortmund are in good form and have won two of their three Bundesliga matches so far in stark contrast to Schalke 04 who have lost all three of their matches and lie rooted to the bottom of the table. The head-to-head record between these two arch-rivals is close with just one Schalke win (27 wins) separating them from Dortmund (26) and it’s the Gelsenkirchen club who have had the better of it in recent times with six wins in the most recent ten league matches, die Schwarzgelben (Yellow and Blacks) from Dortmund last winning in 2007.

S04 - BVB
Schalke 04 v Borussia Dortmund is Germany’s biggest derby

FENERBAHÇE v BEŞIKTAŞ (19:00)

OK, so many people would argue that the true Superclásico of Turkish football is the game between Fener and Galatasaray but the statistics show that games involving Beşiktaş are every bit as important as those involving the original Big Two. Beşiktaş go into Sunday’s game three points better off having won three and lost one of their four games thus far in the Süper Lig whilst Fenerbahçe have won two and lost two. In recent years honours have been even in these games with each team winning one each in the last two seasons but the picture overall favours Fener who have won 122 of the 326 matches between them (all competitions) with Beşiktaş just three wins behind.

SPORTING v SL BENFICA (21:15)

Champions Benfica have struggled domestically this season with just one win and three defeats in their first four matches of the new campaign whilst local rivals Sporting lie in sixth place with seven points. The head-to-head record between these arch local rivals – despite FC Porto’s recent dominance this is still regarded as the biggest derby fixture in Portugal – goes in Benfica’s favour with 168 wins in 401 official matches (all competitions) compared to 153 for Sporting. Last season Benfica got four points from the two league derbies whilst Sporting last had the better of this fixture in 2005-06 when they did the ‘double’ over the Águias (Eagles).

FCK v Brøndby

FC København play Brøndby IF in the New Firm derby on Sunday

Two more important league derbies which take place on Sunday but are not quite of Superclásico status involve the derby of Hamburg between newly-promoted St Pauli and the traditional giants of the city Hamburger SV (kick-off 15:30) whilst across the border in Denmark an important derby in the capital city of Copenhagen sees the defending SAS Superliga champions FC København take on arguably the country’s most famous club Brøndby IF (kick-off 18:00). St Pauli won their opening match of the new Bundesliga campaign away in Freiburg but have lost both their subsequent games whilst HSV hope to jump into second place with a win against their local rivals from the local district of the same name. In Denmark the New Firm take centre stage with Brøndby IF needing a win away from home to stay in touch with their neighbours FC København who come back to domestic action following their 1-0 home win over Russian champions Rubin Kazan in the UEFA Champions League.

UEFA Europa League: Semi-Final Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on April 21, 2010
Roy Hodgson

Fulham FC coach Roy Hodgson has had plenty to smile about in the UEFA Europa League this season.

The semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League are approaching this Thursday with two very intriging ties. Liverpool FC, thrice winners of the old UEFA Cup, have made the journey to the Spanish capital and are ready to face battle against Club Atlético de Madrid. Meanwhile surprise outfit Fulham FC, who have had some glory European nights this season, will hope to add Hamburger SV to the list of high-profile scalps and, thus, deny the German side a place in the final to be played at their home stadium on Wednesday, May 12th. “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” previews the last four:

HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v FULHAM FC (England)

Will the fairy tale ever come to an end for Fulham FC? All fans of the Cottagers will be hoping that they’ll be returning to the northern German port of Hamburg for the inaugural UEFA Europa League final next month. Roy Hodgson’s men will be hoping that their defeat of another German club, VfL Wolfsburg, in the quarter-finals will prove to be a good omen. Hamburger SV, on the other hand, are determined to salvage something from what is fast becoming yet another disappointing season. Their fans have high expectations that the club can go one better than last season, when they were knocked out of the UEFA Cup semi-finals to northern rivals Werder Bremen, and are desperate to lift the trophy on home soil.

Having already disposed of last season’s UEFA Cup winners Shakhtar Donetsk, Italian giants Juventus FC and German champions VfL Wolfsburg in the knock-out rounds of the competition Fulham FC face another mammoth task in the form of HSV. Domestically Fulham FC are unbeaten in their last three games with a 2-1 win over Wigan Athletic and two goalless draws against fellow Europa League semi-finalists Liverpool FC and relegation threatened Wolverhampton Wanderers. On the European stage Fulham continue to surprise having overcome the challenge of VfL Wolfsburg in the last round. The first leg at Craven Cottage saw the London side score two goals in the space of three minutes around the hour mark thanks to Bobby Zamora and Damien Duff before the Germans pulled one back with just one minute of regular time to go thanks to a powerful header from Alexander Madlung. For Fulham the disappointment of conceding late in the first match, however, was counterbalanced by the euphoria of scoring early in the second. Bobby Zamora added to his tally of goals after just sixty seconds to seal another famous win for Fulham.

Hamburger SV have stuttered under coach Bruno Labbadia as the season has progressed and there are reports that many of the players in the team have lost faith in him. Despite this the club have reserved their best performances for the UEFA Europa League, no doubt hoping to satisfy the levels of expectation before their home public to reach the final in May. Domestically it has been mixed form in recent weeks for HSV who drew 0-0 at home to struggling Hannover 96 before beating VfL Bochum 2-1 and losing their most recent league game at home to 1.FSV Mainz 05 by a goal to nil. However the Hanseaten secured a priceless couple of wins in the UEFA Europa League quarter-finals against Belgians Standard de Liège. Having gone behind at home in the first leg HSV came back with two quickfire goals before half-time thanks to Mladen Petrić and Ruud van Nistelrooy to take a 2-1 lead into the second leg. Croatian intenational Petrić scored twice in the first half to increase HSV’s lead before his replacement as substitute Paulo Guerrero sealed the deal to give the Germans a 5-2 aggregate victory to take them one step closer to a first European final since they beat Juventus FC in the former European Champions Cup in 1983.

Diego Forlan

Diego Forlán scores against Valencia CF in the quarter-finals to take Atlético de Madrid through on away goals

CLUB ATLÉTICO de MADRID (Spain) v LIVERPOOL FC (England)

This game should’ve heralded the return of former Atleti hero Fernando Torres to his old club but, unfortunately for Liverpool, he has been told that his season is over due to the extent of a knee injury which he picked up in the last round against SL Benfica. Nonetheless this game will be interesting as it will test the energy of the Liverpool squad who have had to travel to the Spanish capital using various methods of transport due to the aviation crisis that has affected Europe in the last week since a certain Icelandic volcano erupted.

Los Colchoneros still have hopes of reaching a second cup final this season having already secured their place in the Copa del Rey against Sevilla FC to be played at the home of arch-rivals Real Madrid CF on May 25th. Unfortunately for Atlético they have taken their eye off the ball in La Liga recently having lost their last three matches against RCD Espanyol, Deportivo Xerez and Villarreal CF as they attempt to juggle the demands of three different competitions. In the quarter-finals Atleti secured a 2-2 draw away at Spanish rivals Valencia CF thanks to goals from Diego Forlán and Antonio López and rode their luck in the second leg where they held out for a 0-0 draw to go through on away goals.

Liverpool FC’s troubles have been highlighted by many this season but in the UEFA Europa League they seem to have found a competition in which they’ve impressed many. The club still harbour slight hopes of qualifying for next season’s UEFA Champions League but this looks unlikely as the Reds are still five points behind fourth-place Tottenham Hotspur having played a game more. Their last three Premier League games have included two draws against Fulham FC and Birmingham FC but they did easily see off the challenge of struggling West Ham United on Monday with an easy 3-0 win. In the Europa League quarter-finals two penalties from Portuguese league leaders SL Benfica coupled with a red card for Ryan Babel saw Liverpool go into the second leg trailing 2-1, an early Daniel Agger goal keeping the Reds close. In the second leg Liverpool were cruising with a 3-0 lead on the hour mark thanks to goals from Dirk Kuijt, Lucas and Fernando Torres before Oscar Cardozo made life slightly uncomfortable for the home side when pulling a goal back on 70 minutes. But Liverpool’s passage to the final four was sealed when Fernando Torres scored his second goal of the night to give the Reds a 5-3 aggregate win.

UEFA Europa League: Quarter-Final Preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on March 31, 2010
Benfica

Benfica beat Everton FC in the group stage. Now they aim to beat Merseyside's other team Liverpool FC in the quarter-finals

The UEFA Europa League, like its counterpart Champions League, has reached the last eight of the competition and “Stoppage Time – International Football Blog” previews the matches ahead:

SL BENFICA (Portugal) v LIVERPOOL FC (England)

Although they are seen as favourites to win this game Liverpool FC had better beware the very real challenge from the Portuguese giants of SL Benfica. After all, the last time these two European heavyweights met on the continental stage saw the Eagles of Lisbon turn over the then defending holders 3-0 in the Round of 16 of the 2005-06 UEFA Champions League. In the last round Liverpool FC came back from a 1-0 first leg deficit to dispose of French outift Lille OSC 3-1 on aggregate. Benfica had it tougher against another French side, 2003-04 UEFA Cup finalists Olympique de Marseille, who they beat 3-2 on aggregate thanks to a last-minute winner from Alan Kardec in the intimidating Stade Vélodrome. Since qualification Benfica have savoured domestic cup success defeating arch-rivals FC Porto in the Portuguese League Cup final and then consolidating their lead in the Liga Sagres by beating nearest challengers Sporting Braga. Liverpool, on the other hand, suffered defeat at the hands of their arch-rivals Manchester United before seeing off the challenge of a weak Sunderland AFC team in their latest outing at Anfield.

VALENCIA CF (Spain) v ATLÉTICO de MADRID (Spain)

All fans of Madrid’s “other” team Atlético are rejoicing in the fact they are the only side from Spain’s capital city who have a real chance of winning two trophies this season whilst their local neighbours Real Madrid CF ‘only’ have to contend with fighting it out with FC Barcelona for the La Liga title. However Valencia CF have a good recent record in European competition including the famous triumph over Olympique de Marseille in the 2003-04 UEFA Cup final and are seven places higher than Atleti in La Liga. Valencia are in third position in the Spanish League but have no chance of winning it as they are a distant 21 points behind the top two and are hoping for the only remaining silverware available to them. Both of these teams won their Round of 16 matches on away goals, Valencia CF were involved in arguably the tie of the round having drawn 4-4 away to German giants Werder Bremen after the first leg in Valencia had ended 1-1. Atlético were perhaps a tad lucky to emerge from the first leg with a 0-0 draw after Sporting Lisbon had the better chances. There was no arguing with Atleti’s second leg performance though as they took the lead twice before holding out for a 2-2 away draw in Portugal. Since qualification both teams have mixed records of a win and a defeat in La Liga.

Uwe Seeler

German football legend Uwe Seeler may have given his beloved HSV a good draw

HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v STANDARD LIEGE (Belgium)

German football legend Uwe Seeler, known affectionately by the Hamburg locals as “Uns Uwe” (Our Uwe), may have had some luck on his side when he picked the balls out of the draw for the UEFA Europa League in Nyon. Many people feel that HSV have a real chance of reaching the final in their home Volksparkstadion stadium but this would be to underestimate the potential of defending Belgian champions Standard Liège who now only have the Europa League to play for after failing to qualify for the Belgian Jupiler League championship play-offs recently. The fact that Standard have, like HSV, saved some of their better performances for European games doesn’t seem to have registered on many fans’ minds yet and Les Rouches (The Reds) seem more than capable of upsetting the odds on their day. In the Round of 16 they comfortably defeated a Panathinaikos side who had shocked Europe by knocking out Italian heavyweights AS Roma in the previous round. Hamburger SV have also had it tough against Belgian opposition in this tournament scraping through the last round against Belgian Jupiler League leaders RSC Anderlecht by the odd goal in eleven. Since qualification both teams domestic fortunes have not been too good. HSV have lost their last two games against Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach whilst Standard’s Belgian League odyssey now rests with participation in the play-offs for a 2010-11 UEFA Europa League place which is available to those teams that finished from 7th-14th after the regular season.

FULHAM FC (England) v VfL WOLFSBURG (Germany)

Perhaps the biggest surprise in UEFA Europa League this season was Fulham FC’s magnificent fightback in the Round of 16, 2nd leg against Italian giants Juventus FC where they came back from a 4-1 aggregate deficit early in the second leg to defeat the three-time winners of this tournament 5-4 with Clint Dempsey writing himself into Fulham FC folklore with a beautifully chipped goal in the dying minutes of the game. Since then Fulham’s form on the domestic stage has been dreadful having lost back-to-back league games against Manchester City and Hull City as well as suffering FA Cup misery away at Tottenham Hotspur. Defending German champions VfL Wolfsburg have endured a roller coaster ride throughout the season with many an up-and-down feeling as the season has progressed. Die Wölfe (The Wolves) needed extra-time to get past the Russian champions Rubin Kazan in the last round with Christian Gentner scoring a dramatic last-minute winner but this had an immediate effect on their domestic form going down 5-1 at home to Hertha BSC Berlin who have been in last place practically all season. Wolfsburg did recover to win their most recent league match against 1.FSV Mainz by two goals to nil.

UEFA Europa League Quarter-Finals (team on left at home first)

SL Benfica v Liverpool FC

Valencia CF v Atlético de Madrid

Hamburger SV v Standard de Liège

Fulham FC v VfL Wolfsburg

All games to be played on April 1st and April 8th

UEFA: Who will win the UEFA Europa League 2010? (Poll)

Posted in European Football by peterbein on March 19, 2010

The draw for the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League has been made today in Nyon, Switzerland. There are some very interesting ties to come in the remainder of the competition. Below we have listed all of the ties to come in the rest of the tournament and we have given you a chance to vote on who you think will win the trophy in Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion on Wednesday, May 12:

QUARTER-FINALS (1st leg 01 April; 2nd leg 08 April)

1. FULHAM FC (England) v VfL WOLFSBURG (Germany)

2. HAMBURGER SV (Germany) v STANDARD de LIEGE (Belgium)

3. VALENCIA CF (Spain) v ATLÉTICO de MADRID (Spain)

4. SL BENFICA (Portugal) v LIVERPOOL FC (England)

SEMI-FINALS (1st leg 22 April; 2nd leg 29 April)

5. Winner Match 2 v Winner Match 1

6. Winner Match 3 v Winner Match 4

FINAL (Wednesday, May 12)

7. Winner Match 6 v Winner Match 5

UEFA Europa League trophy

UEFA Europa League trophy

UEFA Europa League: Round of 32 preview

Posted in European Football by peterbein on February 17, 2010
Miguel Veloso

Sporting's Miguel Veloso scores from the penalty spot in their 2-1 defeat at Everton FC on Tuesday

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.

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.

UEFA Europa League groups Round-Up: Part Two

Posted in European Football by peterbein on December 19, 2009
BATE Borisov fans

Fans of BATE Borisov taunt their opponents Everton on Matchday 2. Everton, however, had the last laugh winning 2-1.

In the second half of our UEFA Europa League group stage round-up “Stoppage Time” looks at the groups that concluded on Thursday, December 17th:

GROUP A (RSC ANDERLECHT, AJAX AMSTERDAM, DINAMO ZAGREB, FC TIMISOARA)

Blessed with years of European experience and tradition, Benelux neighbours Ajax Amsterdam and RSC Anderlecht of Brussels easily negotiated their way through this group. Their Matchday 6 match in Amsterdam still had some importance, though, as Anderlecht’s 3-1 win meant that they topped the group on account of a better head-to-head record over their Dutch challengers, both teams finishing on eleven points. Dinamo Zagreb were optimistic of further progress earlier in the competition as they had three points from two matches but they failed to build on their good start. Champions League Play-Off losers FC Timisoara scored a respectable five points on their maiden Europa League campaign but still finished fourth in the group table.

GROUP B (VALENCIA CF, LILLE, GENOA FC, SLAVIA PRAGUE)

Valencia secured qualification and the top spot on Matchday 6. They went into their game away at Genoa needing only a point to be certain of going through to the last 32 whilst hosts Genoa needed all three points to finish at least second. With the game tied at 1-1 in stoppage time, David Villa was gifted the ball from Genoa goalkeeper Alessio Scarpi to secure the victory in the 94th mnute. Elsewhere Lille’s 3-1 win at home to Slavia Prague ensured that they finished second, two points behind the leaders. Slavia, who have dominated the Czech league in the last two seasons, have been struggling domestically this season and this form was transferred into Europe as they remained without a victory after six games.

GROUP C (HAPOEL TEL AVIV, HAMBURGER SV, GLASGOW CELTIC, RAPID VIENNA)

Israeli side Hapoel were the surprise winners of this group finishing two points ahead of German giants Hamburg. Their Matchday 6 encounter in Tel Aviv ended as a 1-0 win for the hosts and it was they who leapfrogged “HSV” into first place. The biggest disappointment of the group were Scottish club Celtic who were unable to re-create their many great European nights under new coach Tony Mowbray. Among the highlights of the group were the encounters involving Celtic and Austrians Rapid Vienna, whose little known rivalry dates back to a controversial European Cup Winners’ Cup second round match in 1984-85. Both games ended drawn but the Matchday 6 encounter would’ve felt like a win for the Glasgow giants as they came back from 3-0 down after 18 minutes to draw 3-3 with virtually the last kick of the game and demote their Austrian hosts to last place.

GROUP G (RED BULL SALZBURG, VILLARREAL CF, SS LAZIO, LEVSKI SOFIA)

The only team who finished their campaign with a 100% record was Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg suggesting that they could be a good outside bet to go far in the competition. Huub Stevens’ men beat all challengers home and away to finish a clear nine points ahead of second place Villarreal. Italian capital side Lazio frustrated their followers as they could only win two of their six games and finished three points behind the little Spanish village team. Bulgarians Levski Sofia fared little better than their local rivals CSKA (see previous blog) finishing bottom with three points.

GROUP H (FENERBAHCE, FC TWENTE ENSCHEDE, STEAUA BUCHAREST, FC SHERIFF TIRASPOL)

Steve McClaren’s FC Twente were looking comfortable after two games but then nearly blew their qualifications chances. After Turkish side Fenerbahce secured the leadership of the group, FC Twente were relying on them to do them a favour on Matchday 6. Twente needed a win away at 1986 European champions Steaua Bucharest but could only manage a 1-1 draw in very cold, frosty conditions played in front of a sparse crowd. However the surprise team FC Sheriff from Moldova had to win against the already-qualified “Fener” to grab the second spot but the Turkish team did McClaren’s a favour beating the Moldovans 1-0.

GROUP I (SL BENFICA, EVERTON FC, BATE BORISOV, AEK ATHENS)

No surprises in group I were Benfica and Everton went through to the Round of 32 with one match to spare. Benfica, in particular, showed their class in their two matches with nearest challengers Everton scoring seven goals without reply in their two games (5-0 at home and 2-0 away). The Merseysiders, however, did progress thanks to three wins out of four against their eastern European opponents, the only defeat coming on Matchday 6 at home to Belarussian champions BATE Borisov but Everton were already through to the next round and played a very young team on the night. Benfica finished top with 15 points (only a shock defeat away at a very poor AEK Athens denied them a 100% record), Everton scored nine points, BATE avoided the wooden spoon scoring seven points compared to AEK’s four points.